Monday, 31 October 2011

Embarrassed? Moi?

I was out and about today in the chemist buying soap, deodorant, the usual stuff, and noticed the euphemisms for products that should endorse 'Embarrassing Bodies' on TV. I wondered why they didn't have an 'embarrassing aisle' that you could head to. It would be easier to locate the products you needed. And they could have environmentally friendly paper bags to put over your head, holes cut out for vision, so nobody would know who you were. Couldn't have plastic of course, not just for the sake of the environment but for safety reasons - asphixiated while looking for Athlete's Foot cream would be tragic.

According to this article in Glamour, the following are: 

The 10 Most Embarrassing Things to Buy at a Drugstore

Buying tampons from a male drugstore clerk used to embarrass me, but not so much anymore. Tampons are a fact of life. But, somehow, buying any of the following very personal and revealing items, could be a tad cringe-worthy...
Maxi pads (especially the super-duper, almost-a-diaper variety you have to wear after having a baby)
2. Anything "anti-fungal"
3. Wart medicine
4. Condoms and lubricant
5. Yeast infection medicine
6. Pregnancy tests (you know the clerk is looking at you like, "is she, or isn't she?")
7. Personal wipes (because you're announcing to the world that "toilet paper isn't enough to clean this business.")
8. Prescription-strength deodorant
9. Lice shampoo (set it on the counter and watch everyone around you take a big step back)
10. Anti-stink foot powder

I'm not sure I totally agree with this list. There are things on it that are mortifying - often classified under 'feminine hygiene' - but some aren't too bad. Condoms at least show you are attractive enough to have a sex life. That's good isn't it? Pregnancy test ... well, I wouldn't care unless it was the local chemist who knows me and would start staring at my belly every time I went in. Maxi pads - after you've had a baby you tend to lose any dignity in that area and so these things really don't cause much concern. I'd be cringing if I had to buy Tena Lady at my age because there's no excuse for not keeping up my Kegels.

Interestingly they haven't put things like constipation medicine. I remember, a week after giving birth, going to Boots to ask what I could take to speed things along pleasantly and painlessly. I muttered my problem in front of the Indian chemist who obviously didn't think constipation was a humiliating condition at all, and proceeded to discuss options at full volume.

- 'Have you tried okra, madame?'
- 'Er, no. Can't stand the stuff.'
- 'It is a traditional remedy in my culture. It is very good for constipation!'
- 'Oh.'
- 'Are you getting enough fibre? Lack of fibre is a main cause of constipation, you know!'

At this point, the queue forming behind me did take a visible step back, in unison. I felt my face flushing very red and I started to sweat.

- 'I do eat enough fibre. I just can't ... go'
- 'Well you must try some natural senna. It is very good for getting things moving again!'

I agreed hastily, shoved the packet in my bag and raced out of the shop... as a breast pad fell out at my feet. I've never asked for advice on personal matters again at a chemist although now I see they have special cubicles where you can divulge your problems in private.

You can of course buy things online and some chemists have a useful link to embarrassing problems. Great - except these problems tend to be acute and you need relief in hours, not days. And I am damned if I am going to pay express 24-hour delivery for a packet of Cystitis powder. Then there's the recommendations that come through via email. If the website is like Amazon, it might remember your purchase and then send you an email 'Selected especially for you from your favourites!' - with a list of anti-fungal medicines. Nice.

The other oddity is the naming of these things. Why, for example, do they put a twee sign for 'feminine hygiene' above a section including sanitary towels, tampons and 'feminine wipes' but they then call something for piles 'Anusol'? Where's the logic in that? And why are women meant to be wearing barely-there underwear and rollerblading in hotpants when they have their period - because if they wear the latest silky towel they will feel beautiful - when no one dares to suggest to haemorrhoid sufferers that they should go space-hopper racing?

Bodies and their products are funny things. Perhaps if we took the euphemisms away we'd all feel happier and less worried that one problem was worse than another. Until then, I'll send my husband out for the shopping...

Sunday, 30 October 2011


You know what children's birthday parties are like. Unless you are hosting one, you make your best excuse to not have to be there. The noise, the Teletubbies music, the chance to have an hour or two of peace and quiet mean that you'd be mad to stay.
I admit that today I was bordering on insanity as I stayed at a fifth birthday party because my daughter didn't know anyone there except the birthday girl and I agreed to lend her some moral support. Little did I know that I would be the one needing that support, and that my traitor of a daughter would withhold it. It's OK. I have years to plot my revenge.

Anyway, back to the party... Feeling redundant, I offered to help face paint as I'd never attempted this before in my life and an impatient queue of girls had been forming in front of another crazy mum who'd volunteered. However, when I sat down with an eager smile and a 'who's next?' I was met by stony silence. Seriously, it was like walking into one of those unfriendly western bars in films where the cowboys look at strangers through narrow eyes, like they're going to eat you for breakfast. I nervously suggested my daughter be my first victim client but she sniffed 'No, mummy. I want the other lady to do it.' Her reluctance sealed the doubts on the other children. No - they didn't want me to touch them. It was the other lady or no way lady. 

The humilation... I always get this. I admit that I am not an artistically talented person. Back at school my art teacher used to hold my work up as excellent examples of exactly what NOT to do ('Your pebbles look like potatoes planted on the beach', 'No, the sun does not have a happy, smiley face') and my daughter is always telling people that daddy sews and knits because mummy can't. Who is more embarrassed I wonder - my husband for being girly or me for not being feminine enough?

So I sat there feeling humiliated as the kids stubbornly sat in their queue and glared at me. I shrugged and accepted the host's offer of a glass of sparkling rose. Why the hell not? Deadens the embarrassment and complements my reputation as an Unskilled Mother. As I knocked back the plonk, I wondered - when did kids have such exacting standards? I remember being impressed when my grandfather burnt the end of a cork at a restaurant and, with the resulting charcoal, rubbed a Charlie Chaplin moustache under my nose. And it didn't take five hours to wash off afterwards.

This technique is probably a health and safety hazard these days. Danger of smoke inhalation from corks, possible risk of fire... Or maybe an allergic reaction to corks or charcoal. This seems most likely - at any party these days you'll be lucky if you can find a child who isn't lethally allergic to something. Shame that something isn't the party itself...

As I mulled this over, a wonderful child dressed as Snow White decided that I wasn't as freaky as everyone thought I was. OK, she hadn't been in the room when my own daughter had rejected me but I promise I didn't pay her to sit down and brave my artistic attempts. She came of her own free will. 

If anyone has ever tried face painting can attest, it's not as easy as one might expect. You have this brochure of children all with Oscar-winning designs on their faces. The little ones stab at a picture and your heart sinks as you realise that you need a Rembrandt-like ability for the result to look anything like they are hoping. There is even an official Face Painting Association whose job it is to improve standards of practitioners. Gulp. 

My first design was to be an angel, with the nose being the focal point (the angel's dress) and the head with a halo just between the eyebrows. The dress had to flow gracefully out along the cheeks in romantic wisps and silver glitter was to catch the light. 

The great thing about kids aged 5 or so is that they don't have huge and exacting aesthetic standards. My angels had eyes the size of buttons and fat, botox-like lips and the girls were rushing around squealing and saying 'That's so cooooool! Another advantage was that there were no mirrors to show the models the results. So as far as they knew I could have painted them like Rambo and they would have been delighted.

My daughter's jaw dropped visibly as she saw that mummy could paint something and she proudly started telling people that her mummy had done that. Still, she chose the other face painter and said condescendingly 'It's OK, mummy, we can buy a kit and you can paint my face at home another time.' Really? I think not. Because I am sometimes what you might call a vindictive and grudge-bearing mother. And, yes, we do exist. We're not all saints and forgivers.

My last client was a little girl, as scared as a rabbit, who wanted to be ... a rabbit. Marginally easier than an angel, the test of my skills lay in the ability to add buck teeth. Her mother seemed very pleased with the result, saying that this was the best face painting she'd ever had. She must have been to a few parties with half-trolleyed mums, unsteady hands and a propensity to scare children. At least I wasn't the worst (or best... whichever way you want to put it). It was fun but I don't think I will be made an honourary member of the Face Painting Association any time soon.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Changing Room Rage - it's all the rage!

In the days where there's a name for everything, I should have known there was a term for what I experience every time I stupidly try to try on a pair of jeans, as Sky News reported earlier this year

Most Women Suffer 'Changing Room Rage'

5:20pm UK, Sunday April 17, 2011

Three-quarters of women suffer from 'changing room rage' when they are shopping, according to a new study.

Woman shopping
Women often become frustrated when clothes shopping

I hasten to add that the woman above is not me. She looks far too relaxed. If that is a woman who is feeling frustrated with her retail experience then I guess I must be in some sort of hellish opposite to Zen. Perhaps she's on her phone to her retail therapist asking why she's looking at a mish-mash of pyjamas. Let's give the article a chance: 

Cramped, cluttered and exposed fitting rooms can make trying on clothes such a traumatic experience that it manifests itself in feelings of anger, disappointment and bouts of bad temper. The condition - dubbed CRR - can cometimes lead to shoppers snapping at retail assistants, storming out of stores and even losing self-confidence, according to the study of more than 1,200 women for

Around 75% of shoppers questioned said they had stopped trying on clothes due to the state of changing rooms and half said they waited to try clothes on at home. 'If the shopping experience itself is negative, the whole event can be utterly destructive.' Adult behaviour psychologist Susan Quilliam
I only wish that my frustration and rage could be attributed to bad curtains and cluttered fitting rooms. What planet are these women being surveyed on? Or are they being dishonest? I mean, yes, it's bloody annoying when a door that you shut behind you takes up such an enormous amount of space in the changing room that you can't get yourself in without standing on the tiny chair or bench that they put in there for relatives or girlfriends to perch on. But it's what happens after the door shuts and the clothes come out which is what gets me swearing like a trooper.
Recently this has been because I've been trying - and failing miserably - to find a pair of jeans that will fit me correctly. Or even closely - I'm not fussy. As I have reached middle age I have seen the unwelcome appearance of the muffin top everyone talks about in magazines (usually women who look like they have never eaten a muffin in their life). How do you fit this into jeans nowadays? The low-waisted types cut in under the muffin top, making your body look like it's having a major baking disaster. Higher-waisted styles encompass the bulge but instead of muffin top, you get a cupcake base. Tasty? I fear not.
And this all depends on whether I can get the blasted jeans up my calves in the first place. I did lots of sports when I was younger (failing joints now make this tricky) and I find that designers must expect women to have drainpipe legs. So I steer clear of the skinny, ultra-skinny, fitted, and straight legs and try bootleg and boyfriend styles. These, if I can get them past my thighs (the next level of problematic cushioning) are normally cut close to the crotch making me feel like I am walking like a sidewinder. And the bit at the back gapes.
By this point, no amount of flattering lighting or plush curtains can assuage my despair and rage. Who makes jeans? Men? The same men who might the fitting room doors too big so you have to squash yourself against a wall and kick the door shut with your foot to get inside? The same design is evident on ladies' loo cubicles. Perhaps this is a ploy to get us all to hurry up.
Back to the article.
Adult behaviour psychologist Susan Quilliam said: "Beautiful clothes will always make a woman feel more beautiful and therefore more positive about her appearance, more confident in herself and more optimistic in general. But if the shopping experience itself is negative, the whole event can be utterly destructive. Instead of boosting our self-esteem, it saps it; instead of making us feel good about ourselves and our lives, it brings up frustration, irritation and anger."
The thing is, I don't really care about the state of the changing room. As Susan Quilliam points out - it's the beautiful clothes that make women feel beautiful. Do we want posh surroundings that only make us feel even more ashamed in our ill-fitting clothes? Like a lick of a very dark, moreish cake that is then taken away from us because we're too fat to indulge in it? Temptation and then denial - so cruel.
The worst changing room I went into was one in town where it looked like a prison cell from a war zone. Walls kicked in, paint scuffed, graffiti on the wall. I could only look better than my surroundings, surely? The jeans in there fit me the best out of all I had previously tried on. Maybe they put their money into designing clothes for us muffineers rather than into plush changing rooms.
Even though I didn't buy the jeans, I walked out of there feeling happier that they at least sat where they were supposed to. No walking like a scarecrow, robot or sidewinder either. Since then I have decided to stick at what I wear best and avoid denim like the plague. Though I expect in another six months or so I will have a go - glutton for punishment that I am. And then I can storm out the shop, ranting about fashions that don't celebrate the way women were meant to be built. Ruben's women didn't wear jeans, did they? Yes, OK, they didn't wear much else but if they can do without denim then so can I. Lycra leggings it is...

In the beginning

This is my first post, so bear with, as the lovely Miranda Hart says. I'm just trying to get something down on cyberspace? HTML? (I still think paper sounds much better) so I can start blogging.

I've had lots of ideas but at the moment when it comes to seeing them committed to, er, screen, they look odd. I guess it's strange for me to see the words that I speak to other people in their stark reality. Maybe it's because I fear they look less funny than they are.

This post, for example, is becoming turgidly dull. So I will end by saying that my aim in these blogs is to find something humorous in the sometimes mundane. Thoughts, musings, comedy in situations that might otherwise be cringeworthy (and I have enough of those, believe me). I hope I can make you laugh or at least entertain you. Perhaps you will just rejoice that your life isn't as bad/crazy/bizarre as mine.