Friday, 27 November 2009

And they all lived happily ever after?

We all love Happy Endings, don't we? I can't be the only one that spins out Happily Ever After conclusions to what's happening in my life, sometimes forgetting to enjoy the moment I'm in.

The trouble with "Happily Ever After" is that they are precisely NOT what they claim to be. There must be something that comes after the Happy Ending - we just never hear about it.

So, in my quest for the truth (the Public has a right to know, you know), this occasional investigative journalist has dug deep to bring you the news of what happened after some of our better-known Happily Ever Afters:

Years of therapy have had only limited benefits for this former child performer, now in his late 40s. He now - finally - considers himself "A Real Boy" but continues to have body image issues and pines for the carefree days of his firm-bodied youth. Convinced that his nose it too big (at least some of the time), he is in discussions with several plastic surgeons about the possibility of transplanting the nasal tissue to another part of his body.

Most of her friends abandoned her when they were in their 20s, unable to tolerate her relentless optimism and insistence that they look on the bright side every time their hearts were broken. After hitting the menopause, she sunk into a depression and now needs a handful of Prozac to even think "I'm glad".

Snow White
Well, her Prince did come all those years ago, but there are times when she wishes he would go away again - or at least get out out of the armchair and do the dishes. Life is hard enough for her with a fat, balding, unemployable Heir to the Throne (will his mother NEVER die?) snoring in front of the TV, without her seven small but very demanding permanent houseguests. Sometimes she wishes she had eaten the whole apple. While it's good to keep in touch with her friends from before her marriage, she's had enough of the whole "surrogate mother" gig.

Years of obsessive brushing, braiding and supporting suitors clambering up walls have taken their toll on Rapunzel's flowing locks. After one particularly tearful break-up, she shaved her head and spent a year in a bobble hat to cover the grey stubble that grew back. Now considering having extensions added.

Yes, she got her Prince - but her ugly step-sisters are still trying to get into his pants. They have had gastric bands fitted, Botox injected and spray tan applied. Traumatised after catching the three of them in a drunken orgy, Cinders turned to junk food for comfort. The only thing the glass slipper fits these days is her little finger.

Changed his name by deedpoll to Kenneth.

Dick Whittingdon
Now lives alone with his cat, never leaving the house, plotting against Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson.

The Famous Five
Once inseparable, Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the Dog rarely see each other these days. George finally had the op. Dick and Anne have set up home together and moved to a remote village where no-one knows they're brother and sister. Julian hit the hippy trail and fried his brain in Kathmandu. Timmy the Dog is now a leading Reality TV star.

Pippi Long Stocking
Now making a good living as a pole dancer in a Moscow nightclub. Her signature striped stockings, plaits and freckles are a key part of her act (very popular with the Dirty Mac Brigade lurking in the darkest corners of the club).

Stig of the Dump
Has opened his own home improvement and decorating business.

The Borrowers
Facing an uncertain future after calling in the receiver and declaring bankruptcy.

So, maybe there really is no such thing a Happy Ending, after all? Just "the continuing story"....

Friday, 20 November 2009

They're out again...

...but this time it's the WOMANnequins.


Friday, 13 November 2009

So tight, you squeak when you walk...

It must have been a man that came up with the idea of tights. A bitter, twisted man. With a special talent for sadism.

There's no other explanation for the trials and tribulations we submit ourselves to every time we feel the need to cover up our leggy imperfections with a sheer layer of unforgiving nylon in attractive shades of "Sable", "Capuccino" and the ubiquitous "American Tan".

If nothing else prepares women for the challenges, disappointments and pain of life, the daily routine of putting on a pair of tights certainly does.

You open up the pack, and hold up something that looks like two lengths of empty sausage skin joined at the top with a series of reinforced bands, intrusive seams and tortuous control panels.
It looks big enough to fit an anorexic Barbie doll - at a stretch.

Undaunted, you go through the ritual your mother handed down to you all those years ago. You insert your arms into the legs and stretch the nylon to something approaching human dimensions. If you're lucky, you won't snag the delicate fabric with your nails, rings or dry knuckles in the process.

That done, you're ready for a sit-down. You know what's ahead, and the very thought has you breaking out in a cold sweat.

Sitting there in their underwear, in the morning chill, and without the benefit of your first shot of caffeine, you're feeling pretty vulnerable. But you screw up your courage and get on with it. Carefully gathering each tube of nylon onto your hand, you ease it onto your legs and wiggle it upwards....
Blocking out the pain of the torniquette forming round your knee or groin, you soldier on.

Pantyhose MANufacturers (again, there's a man in the formula) must think most women are the height of your average Oompla-Loompla. If you're not, this is where you'll encounter the first major humiliation of the day.
The crotch of your tights will reach exactly 2 inches above your knees, making you look and walk like a penguin with special needs. You tug and pull, jiggle and wriggle, and eventually you reach the mid-thigh region. That's a far as it will go. You slap an extra pair of knickers on over the top of your tights to bring them closer to where they should be (maybe that explains Superman?), and try to ignore the rub of gusset seams against the delicate blubber of your inner thighs.

Red of face, with sweat oozing out of your scalp, you congratulate yourself on "mission accomplished" and reach for your skirt or dress.

And then... you spot a ladder working its way relentlessly the full length of your legs. As you watch, motionless, it grows like the popcorn in a microwave into a series of gaping holes spanned by a few strands of nylon cutting into the sweaty, throbbing flesh splurging through.

Cue desperate rifling through undies drawer for a replacement. And the whole thing starts over again.

Even if you do manage to get your tights on without incident, by lunchtime you'll be nursing a red welt round your waist (or worse, around the lower hip-line) and the sore tingling where the sensitive skin or your inner thighs is oozing through the weave like boiled spuds in a potato masher.

And before you say it - don't.
Stockings are just as bad. The truth is most of us girls only ever wear them when we want to... get some action. Any other time, friction burns on our naked loins and cutting off your circulation with elasticated hold-ups just aren't worth it.

So why, I wonder, would ANY man want to subject themselves to the same agony and humiliation that we put ourselves through every time we fancy a break from our trusty trousers?

The truth is, most blokes I know wouldn't.
Phew, that's a relief! The sight of the men in my life in the top of the range of M&S's control top hosiery is not one I am impatient to see.
That's why I'm still trying to get my head around the news of a range of 'mantyhose' being tipped as the next Big Thing in Men's Fashion this winter. (Tell you one thing, mate. Once you wrestle your tackle into the vice-like grip of elasticated nylon, it'll be anything BUT a Big Thing!)

I'm sure there will be an elite group of metrosexuals who will give it a go, cheerfully trotting off to Selfridges for their supply. I just don't think they'll be making a return trip to replace the first lot of shredded nylon in a hurry.

Face it boys, the only men that look good in tights are Robin Hood and his Merry Men, Nureyev and a few superheroes...

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Not to be forgotten...

Like almost every former British schoolkid, I was exposed to the 1914-18 War Poets as a teenager. Although poetry never really did that much for me, these verses did. There are countless examples that throw the poignancy of so many young lives lost into sharp relief, especially after the jingoism of post-Victorian sentiments at the beginning of the war. Some reduce me to tears.

The below - "Dulce et decorum est" by Wilfred Owen - is possibly the best-known...

Bent double, like old beggards under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Til on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for soem desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The author of this powerful poem did not survive the war. He was killed in action at the Battle of the Sambre just a week before the war ended, and the news of his death reached home as the town's church bells declared peace. His poetry, including "Dulce et decorum est" and "Anthem for Lost Youth" were published posthumously in 1919.

"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" translates very roughly as "It is good and right to die for the Fatherland".
As they say in exam questions: Discuss.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Athens Portraits: Bouzouki Nights

He's as Greek as you can get - and fiercely proud of it. A creature of the night, you're unlikely to see Bouzouki Man in his full glory before 1am. If you do spot him during daylight, he'll be nursing his morning coffee in the kafeneion or sitting outside smoking ad clacking his worry beads.

His natural nocturnal habitat is the bouzoukia, a uniquely Greek breed of night club named after the stringed instrument that forms the mainstay of its music. There, Bouzouki Man thinks nothing of shelling out 200 Euros for a bottle of whisky and another 200 for tray after tin-foil tray of carnation flower heads to shower the singers churning out a repertoire of Greek hits at full blast.

The ultimate social animal, he's usually found in large group in which the Alpha male establishes his dominance by mounting the stage to perform an intense 'zebekiko' dance that requires a special kind of concentration and endurance as he stoops to the ground, balancing on one foot, before leaping up and switching legs. Purists frown on women joining in. It's considered a fiercely masculine dance - females are expected to simply kneel in homage around the dancer, looking up in adoration and clapping the slow rhythm.

The ladies' chance to shine comes when they climb onto tables to wiggle and squirm their sparkling evening wear in a 'tsifteteli' (a kind of Greek belly dance) that could make Madonna blush. Even middle-aged matrons sometimes climb onto the stage to shimmy frantically next to the singer.

It gets more and more crowded on stage as the night wears on, and it's only by virtue of the club's offical sweepers armed with brooms that performers and audience alike don't slip up on the mountains of flower heads thrown in tribute. But as fast as they can clear the stage, shapely young girls weave between the tables selling more carnations to fill it up again.

Come 5am, the die-hards are still going strong, Even when the bouzouki players and singers have left the stage, Bouzouki Man and his gang are heading for an all-night restaurant on Syngrou Avenue for a plateful of 'patsa' (tripe) to soak up all that whisky.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Wartime memories, reunion hopes

Anyone who might have read my tribute to my 99-year-old Nana ( back in June this year will probably have an inkling of what a little diamond she is and how much I love her.

I always thought I knew everything about her. But I was wrong, as I found out this week.

Though I never knew it, during those hard days of World War II, she was more than just a rock of domestic security for my mum. Like countless other country housewives, she opened up her home - and her heart - to a young lad evacuated from London during the blitz.

It was on 11 November 1941 that she welcomed a dark-haired, well-spoken seven-year-old boy from East London to her Surrey home. And during his time with her, she grew so fond of him that when she gave birth to my uncle a few years later, she named him Alan after that wartime visitor.

When Alan returned to London, Nana wrote to him but sadly never received a reply. Since then, she has hoped that some day, some how, she might hear word and learn how that 'lovely young boy' turned out.

Now, in her 100th year, she's giving it one more try as detailed in a BBC news story today at

Sadly, no-one remembers Alan's surname, but who knows? Stranger things have happened. Maybe the wonder of the Internet might just make that reunion my Nana has waited more than six decades for a reality?

If anyone thinks they might know Alan, please let me know...

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

All or nothing

It's just as well I've never done drugs.
I'm a bit of an 'All or Nothing' kinda girl, so I probably wouldn't be burbling away to myself today if I had tried much more than a few exploratory aromatic puffs in my early 20s (my response was "Is THAT what all the fuss is about?" Coincidentally, precisely my same reaction to another not so momentous first - but that's another story).

It's not just illicit substances - I'm just not capable of having "just one" of anything.
When I smoked, I could happily wheeze my way through a couple of packs before even noticing that my mouth and throat felt and smelt like the sad remains of a bonfire on a rainy November morning.
I've been known to gulp my way through 12 cups of coffee in a day, and then wonder why I can't sit still.
And don't even get me started on tea, especially when back in the home of the cuppa....

And then there's biccies.

I rarely buy cakes or biscuits. When I do, all it takes is for me to break the seal to be possessed by a creature that is somewhere between the Cookie Monster and Taz the Tasmanian Devil. My intentions may be pure ("Just a couple of Rich Teas with my cuppa") but the moderate, halo-crowned Alter Ego on my right shoulder is quickly shouted down and beaten to a sobbing pulp by the red & black-clad Mini Me waving a pitchfork next to my left ear. A flurry of unwrapping follows, then much crunching and spraying of crumbs. Before you know it, all that's left is a dejected looking bit of plastic that once housed some digestives.

You can imagine the carnage when there are Chocolate Bourbons, Fig Rolls or Jammy Dodgers in the house.

That same 'All or Nothing' attitude bleeds over into other aspects of my life. Whether it's love, friendship, beliefs or hobbies, I throw myself into it with a fierce and burning passion (I once scared some girl witless with my declarations of friendship. She reacted like I'd suggested we run away and spend the rest of our lives in a Sapphic idyll. For the record, all I fancied was an occasional coffee with someone who made me laugh).

For me, it's no half measures, no compromises. Either that, or I just don't bother.

So, it's probably just as well that I was either too much of a wimp or a nerd in my youth to dabble. If I had, I probably would have given Keef Richards a run for his money (but made a lot less dosh in the process).

On the other hand, it also means that when I set my heart on something, I usually get it.

Speaking of which, where did I put those ginger nuts?