Monday, 31 August 2009

Why I hate that BT advert

We're not friends, adverts and me. Considering that I grew up during what many consider the heyday of advertising jingles (“A Double Diamond works wonders”, “Nuts, whole hazelnuts”, “Naughty but nice”, “Go to work on an egg”, “T'were 'ard work getting to t'top o' hill” etc.) my experience has been a painful one.

I blame Fruity Pops. Hopefully none of you remember these disgusting sweets, but whenever I hear hysterical mummies babbling about the dangers of E numbers I think of Fruity Pops and feel far more sympathetic. The Fruity Pops ad was so much better than the product it advertised because I can still remember, all these years later, one of its central images. A bespectacled girl with lank plaits (horribly old-fashioned even in the 1960s) opens a bag of Fruity Pops and drops one in her mouth. Presumably on contact with her saliva the Fruity Pop makes a noise that sounds like a farting Clanger and her plaits fly up, almost meeting over her head. This was completely enchanting to me in a way that is comprehensible only to children.

One day my cousin arrived home from school with a small bag of Fruity Pops, presumably having stopped off to buy them at our Auntie Mary's sweet shop on the way. In the manner of Pete Doherty concealing a baggy of heroin he slipped me a sweet under the table. I surreptitiously pushed it into my mouth and waited for the Clanger-breaking-wind noise and...nothing happened! Admittedly my hair was more Prisoners of Cell Block H than long and plaited, but I was hoping for something. Oh, and they tasted vile as well. That was the end of the brief love affair between myself and the world of advertising.

Yet even the Fruity Pops ad wasn't quite as unbelievable as the BT ad. You know, the one where the happy couple break the news of their mended realtionship/forthcoming marriage to their parents and friends. Such unconfined joy! Such happy optimism! Have you EVER known a situation like that in your life? Isn't it usually more a case of the parents putting down the phone, looking at each other with grim faces and saying, “Well, he's got to live with her, I suppose”? And the friends retiring to the pub to pick over the relationship and decide that he's way too selfish to have a dog, never mind a woman with twelve kids, or however many the bint in the advert has? Isn't it just the most unbelievable thing you've ever seen?

Compared to that scenario, Fruity Pops are indeed gorgeous, Maltesers are a chocolate-covered health food and the Abbey National really does employ a flying Ninja squirrel.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

My sixteen months of tears

So scientists have worked out that women spend 16 months of their lives crying; well, you can add an extra two months to that for pet owners, obviously.

I've never had much patience for the weird female compulsion that induces otherwise sensible women to hire a copy of some cheesy old movie like “Now Voyager” so that they can spend the evening snivelling into a growing pile of tissues. Any film that sets itself up as a tearjerker gets very short shrift from me.

Bereavement apart, the thing that reduces me to tears most often is anger. You know, the situation that winds one up beyond endurance, to the point at which a sort of red mist of inarticulacy descends and words stick in the throat.

The last time I experienced this was at my last job, working for an international property company.

It was great at first. The entire workforce was shoe-horned into a tiny space and a pioneer spirit prevailed. We all had the same aims and a commission system that was passed on to every employee secured our loyalty.

Then we moved to a massive office in a glitzy building and it all went decidedly Pete Tong.

The corporate mind-set must be one of the most unpleasant phenomena in the world, something that is so female unfriendly that the new-look company featured only two women at the highest level: one who was promoted through hard work, application and real dedication to her job, the other who was appointed late in the day and maintained her position through a technique that can best be described as horizontal. I refused to believe this until practically the entire staff (male and female) assured me that the stories that were circulating were not scurrilous rumour but the truth.

In the 1980s I worked for a South African retailer called OK Bazaars. Grand and petty apartheid was still in full swing, but there was less of a gap between the salaries of the lowliest shelf-stacker and the CEO than there was in this company between the average skilled worker (I was employed as a copywriter) and middle-management.

There was a clear divide – if you were a bloke (a key issue, this) with a good grasp of jargon you could start on a salary that was about four times more than a female employee could expect, however poor your basic education. This situation was maintained by a transparently unfair process whereby female workers were dubbed “not high-fliers” and told that their lack of value to the company was such that there was no way they'd ever be considered for a raise. This wasn't the case for the men who could expect to take home a pay packet five or six times larger than all but two of the women. Worse, the commissions that allowed us to bolster our salaries were withdrawn.

Since so many women have commitments outside their professional lives and find it difficult to stay late, this was another stick with which the male managers beat us. Most of the female workers had similar hours: I worked from roughly 9:15 until 18:00 every day and took less than an hour's break. It simply wasn't necessary for us to stay late, seeing as we didn't fritter away our days on unnecessary meetings.

And as for the times that an idea presented by a female staffer was ignored, but later adopted when suggested by a male manager – don't get me started.

This is just one woman's personal experience – I know there are millions of women in similar situations and far, far worse.

Given that our status in the workplace is so low, with female salaries still lagging way behind that of our male colleagues, while magazines and tabloids tell us that feminism is dead, long live post-feminism, have you seen the dress that Cheryl Cole wore to that premiere and wouldn't you just LOVE to have a pair of Louboutin's like Victoria Beckham's, is it any wonder that we need our sixteen months of tears?

Sunday, 23 August 2009

I'm literally furious!

As my friends will attest, I have a tendency to sound off like a bargain basement Lynne Truss (she of “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” fame) and I have an inkling that this blog will eventually disintegrate into a platform from which I can bemoan the death of the English language.

My current obsession is the omnipresence of “literally”. It's reached the point that I find myself skidding away from using it, even when 'literally' is, er, literally the most logical choice.

My mornings are already occupied with playing my favourite game which I call, with mind-boggling originality, the Literally Game. It's easy to learn the rules and it's suitable for one or more players. Just tune in to the news channel of your choice, whether it's Radio 4 or Sky News and count the times that it appears in any half hour period. It's one point for a 'literally' that is redundant (i.e. merely used for emphasis) and two points if the offender has used it erroneously (that is, when it is used in a figurative sense). There are some wonderful examples of the latter: “I am literally DYING for a cup of tea” and “I was so happy – I was literally over the moon” are two of my favourites.

I have been reprimanded by some fabulously misguided people who have claimed that this situation has been instigated by immigrants, for whom English is often a second, third or even fourth language, but this is obvious nonsense. If I want to hear English spoken well I'll ask an Indian or African friend. Now they speak PROPER English.

It's the locals who don't know their literal arse from their figurative elbow.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

(Processed) meat is murder

You've got to feel sorry for parents these days. Not only do they have to worry about the possibility of little Gwyneth or Guto suffering some life-threatening injury in the playground, but they must negotiate the usual battles of teaching basic manners and social skills, only to find that their offsprings' education is being retarded while the teacher instructs a battalion of junior cavemen and cavewomen that stabbing them with their knives is not the way to eat peas.

Just when they're giving themselves a much deserved pat on the back for not raising the next generation of Liam Gallaghers they're told that, yet again, they've made a complete horlicks of the job.

When I was an ankle biter all my Mum had to help her was a battered copy of Dr. Spock and her common sense, an attribute that is in short supply these days. What she didn't know was that forty-odd years later she would have run the risk of having me taken into care (An overweight child? What a disgrace! Clearly she doesn't have the brains to cook nutritious meals!), while the contents of my lunchbox would give social workers conniption fits.

Morrissey, bless his twisted little heart, will be ecstatic; a bowel cancer action group has been given maximum press coverage to air its new campaign, advising parents not to put ham sandwiches in their children's lunchboxes. Like heroin, early exposure to the evil that is processed meat will result in the nipper becoming addicted, which in its turn raises the chance of bowel cancer later in life. Fact.

Or is it? These infernal food warnings do tend to be a bit of a swings and roundabouts lottery. Admittedly some foods are best avoided altogether, but even so-called healthy products have been exposed as potential killers by scientists. Grapefruit, for instance, is allegedly good for my arteries, but not so fantastic for avoiding breast cancer.

So, no ham, no chorizo, no salami (I can just imagine the howls of derision from my much more sensible Spanish and Italian friends). We already know that sending your children off to school with crisps and chocolate biscuits is the nutritional equivalent of wishing them dead, so what do the experts recommend?

Chopped vegetables. No, don't laugh. As we all know, cooking vegetables removes their nutritional value and, in any case, cold cooked vegetables? Even adults would find the idea pretty nauseating. So raw vegetables – we all know how well they'll be received. In the summer you could substitute salad items I suppose, but since most schools don't provide refrigeration facilities it's unlikely that a piece of cucumber will be quite as inviting at one o'clock as it was at seven-thirty in the morning, when it was cut straight from the fridge.

Any more ideas? Well one bowel cancer action group member posited processed cheese as an acceptable alternative. Processed cheese. Dairylea Cheese Triangles and Slices. Presumably she wasn't in the country when another food expert stated that if you feed your rugrats processed cheese you might as well empty an economy size tub of Polyfilla into their arteries.

Maybe I'm getting old, but surely I can't be the only person who longs for the time when what constituted a child's packed lunch was a personal choice and nobody else's bloody business?

Monday, 17 August 2009

Don't disrupt the status quo, Status Quo!

September 10th is Gibraltar Day and, as anyone who lives there or is a regular visitor will know, it's an opportunity for the locals to wear their red and white gladrags and reaffirm their national identity.

After a few political speeches the rest of the day is dedicated to entertainment as numerous bands take to the stage and, as anyone who loves Gib knows, there are more budding musicians per square metre in Gibraltar than anywhere in the world – and this coming from someone who was brought up in Wales! Honestly, considering that the place is the size of a gnat's bottom, the locals should give themselves a pat on the back. In fact, there are so many bands brushing up their skills every night that rehearsal space must be at a premium.

However, this year someone had the brilliant idea of turning September 10th into a fabulous commercial opportunity and booked Status Quo to perform at night in the car park in Ocean Village. While the practical side of my brain is thinking of the trade that will flow in to Gib's numerous cafes, pubs and restaurants, the hopeless old romantic part (yes, I do have one!) is thinking that this could be very bad news for local bands.

No question that The Quo is a pretty good choice - they've been around long enough to appeal to the oldies, are loud and lairy enough to appeal to the youngsters and are apparently terrific live, but is this really a good idea for Gibraltar Day? How are the Melon Diesels of the future going to reach a large live audience if a huge chunk of their one annual shot at the big time is being handed to the wrinkly rockers?

What do my friends in Gib think? Answers on a postcard, please...

Monday, 10 August 2009

Bitch Wars: The Fatty Strikes Back

So Amanda Platell has finally come out of the closet and admitted that she's fattist. Mein Gott! I haven't been so amazed since Herr Hitler admitted that he wasn't terribly keen on gefilte fish.

Still, you have to hand it to La Platell, she's consistent. A dedicated gym bunny she's probably the sort of woman who would block the aisles in Waitrose for hours, reading the contents on every item before deeming them sufficiently healthy to grace her shopping basket. Her steadfastness on the subject of physical fitness does her credit, unlike dear Sue Carroll who regularly lambastes the obese in her Daily Mirror column before ranting about the draconian anti-smoking laws that make it difficult for her to enjoy a fag.

And we all have our little irrational prejudices, don't we? In the course of my life I have met people who have admitted their hatred of poodles, Irish accents, Geordies (they sound thick and common, allegedly), bald men, men with beards, hairy chests (the same woman, for whom matters of hair distribution are obviously key), kilts, outie navels, teetotallers and pineapples.

It's differences of opinion like this that make the world go round. How wonderful to think that, for every person who cringes every time Jayne Middlemiss opens her mouth, there is another who swoons at every cry of, “Away the lads!”

And all of these people at least confess that there is no rational explanation for their dislikes.

Admittedly, most of these personal Room 101-isms are eccentric rather than harmful. These days many groups are thankfully protected from more Hitlerian censure. Should I harbour a hatred of – for instance – Hispanic people or homosexuals they would be shielded by law from any attack by me. I certainly wouldn't be paid by a national tabloid newspaper for an article in which I explained why I disliked gay men, offering a series of spurious rationalisations (they prey on straight, married men, they all lurk around Hampstead Heath looking for casual sex, their strict regime of personal grooming has led to the general feminisation of men) concocted to legitimise my prejudice.

This is exactly what Platell has done.

Those who know me will suspect that I have a very personal interest in her recent article (“My Visit to Fat Central”, Saturday, August 8th 2009) in The Daily Mail. I am a woman who is not big-boned, not Rubenesque, not cuddly, but definitely (and, these days, defiantly) FAT. In fact, this blog should be called A View From a Broad Broad – or even A View From a Broad Broad Abroad. I have always been fat and, given the fact that my main hobbies involve sitting on my lardy Welsh arse reading, writing or watching movies while drinking copious cups of tea (semi-skimmed milk but no sugar, thanks for asking), I probably always will be. I admit that this is hardly the most mature or responsible response to life but it's my choice and I really don't need the Social Tourette's brigade crossing the road to ask me whether it's my glands (no, it bloody isn't!) or reminding me every whipstitch that I currently enjoy the least fashionable body shape in the history of Western civilisation. If I fancy a biscuit, I´ll have a sodding biscuit but, as far as so-called junk food goes, I'd sooner eat the container in which it's served than tackle a greaseburger and fries.

Get this Platell, I don't spend my days sitting in a darkened room eating clotted cream and butter in order to maintain my fighting weight. I have no idea who ate all the pies, but it wasn't me. Lack of exercise is my downfall. As Vanessa Feltz once memorably said, the reason that I am what I am is that most of my hobbies involve reclining on a chaise longue reading poetry rather than hitting the gym. I'm not blaming the government, a difficult childhood, my pet cat or anyone else.

That said, I don't drink alcohol (the recommended weekly units for a female would last me at least 18 months), I have never smoked and the idea of taking drugs makes me feel quite queasy. I have friends that happily indulge in a combination of all three. That is their choice and I certainly don't think any the less of them for doing so; it just doesn't appeal to me. It's a matter of personal choice, no more and no less.

The main problem that we fatties have to contend with is that our shape immediately gives us away. I'm sure that we all know several normally proportioned people who present a relentlessly professional front during the week but, come the weekend, like nothing better to down so many pints and/or shots that they spend most of Saturday night lying on the street in a puddle of their own wee and vomit. So long as they maintain their sobriety at work, their weekend revelries can remain a secret.

When living in South Africa I met a Human Resources Manager who refused to employ anyone remotely obese on the grounds that “they have no control over their lives”. At the same time – and in the same place - an acquaintance of mine maintained her size 8 figure on a combination of cocaine and bulimia. No question of her life being thought out of control, obviously.

Platell confesses that her main objection to lardies is that she doesn't much like the look of them.

I think that we can all admit to finding some people more attractive than others; even the less than physically perfect are entitled to a say in the matter. For instance, I tend to find people who are smallish, stocky and dark (i.e. the classic Celtic or Mediterranean type) far more attractive than tall blondies. That's not to say that I feel that Scandinavian stringbeans have any less right to exist on the planet, which is what Ms. Platell is implying in her toxic article. Wander too far along the path that privileges the rights of one physical type of person over another and ultimately one enters the gas ovens of Auschwitz and Dachau.

However, Platell is far too intelligent not to offer some justification for her prejudices.

Fat people have no self-discipline, apparently. Well, it depends on what you mean by self-discipline. I might have a backside the size of Greater Manchester but, as a features writer, I know how much self control is needed to meet a deadline.

We also have no self-respect. This is a dubious claim, but were it true, it's good to know that we're receiving so much help in rectifying this matter by the tabloid Monstrous Regiment of Glenda Slaggs who simply can't resist reminding us how loathsome we are in body, mind and spirit.

We're a menace on public transport, taking up too much room. Now, that I cannot deny. Obviously someone who shops at Evans is going to take up more millimetres than someone who can fit into the latest basque from Agent Provocateur. However, most fatties that I know would sooner squeeze themselves into an unfeasibly tiny space in order to avoid being accused of bagging too much room. Unlike the curious breed of über-macho man who likes to sit with his legs wide apart, presumably in the desperate hope that the birds on the bus will imagine that he's packing the biggest tackle since King Dong. Or the businessman who takes up two seats on the train with his laptop, briefcase, Blackberry and assorted bits of technology. Or the woman with the enormous pushchair and assorted screaming toddlers. Or the troop of hoodies that clear the bus or train with a single collective glare. Need I continue?

Then, we are the products of uncaring parents who shovel junk food into our gaping maws and are far too unintelligent to see the damage that they're doing. My parents were very careful about my diet. I was brought up in a rural area where most of the food I ate was local and most of the vegetables I consumed travelled from my Grandad's veggie patch at the bottom of our garden direct to my plate. I was taken to see a specialist in obesity at Cardiff Infirmary when I was eight and, when I went to boarding school at the age of 11, the headmistress offered to oversee my weight loss. I played sport sometimes three times a day, a plate of stewed tomatoes on toast was considered an adequate meal at the end of a winter day when I'd just spent almost an hour outside playing hockey or lacrosse and, as a special treat, I was summoned before the school doctor once a term who told me how fat and disgusting I was and how I would never find a university place, job, love etc. if I failed to mend my ways. And – guess what? When I left school I was still fat.

Finally, Platell delivers her coup de grâce; fat people are a burden on the National Health Service. This is where fattists normally adopt that infuriatingly smug expression that says, “There! You can't argue with that, can you?” Admittedly I don't have access to any figures, but I would have thought it unlikely that the obese were any more of strain on the poor old NHS than Saturday night binge drinkers or the growing ranks of the elderly. In Platell World death and decomposition can be delayed by frequent vigorous exercise. If this is true then we can possibly look forward to an era when the post-Fonda Workout brigade all reach 90 and gum up the NHS or its successor with their old age complaints, while we fatties (if the same theory is to be believed) have had the good grace to drop dead in our comparative youth.

Perhaps the argument that posits that the obese have no right to health treatment is the most troubling of all. When medicine loses its sense of compassion we're all in for a rocky ride. Consider the growing list of illnesses and diseases that are considered self-inflicted. Lung disease? You shouldn't have smoked, it's all your fault. Been a drinker? No liver transplant for you then. Overweight? Well, the world's your oyster when it comes to illnesses that you could have prevented.

Self-inflicted? How about attempted suicides? No point in treating those selfish bastards, is there? Had a car accident after driving too fast? Sorry, we're only treating injuries that we can prove were inexplicable acts of God today.

If this sounds stupid to you then speak up, because this is the way we're heading.

I'd like to reclaim the word “fat”. I have no problem with it being used to describe me in its pure form. Obviously I'm fat. I'm not medium sized and I'm sure as hell not thin. It's the associations that I dislike: fat and stupid, fat and slow. Slow physically, perhaps. I narrowly avoided lamping an acquaintance once who suggested that, “You probably drive your boss mad because you're slow”. Since I wasn't at the time employed as a postie, I can only assume that she thought that my shape means that I'm mentally slow. Come closer to me and say that again, bitch. You'll soon find out how slow I am. Me and my M.A.

So this is the fat woman's burden. Having people ask you what your “excuse” is (I don't have one, still less one I'd care to offer you – what's your excuse for being crass and rude?) or whether any man has ever found you attractive (yes, and oddly enough not all of them had white sticks and guide dogs).

Still, it has its compensations. It opens your mind up to a new world where sometimes being human is more important than being right.

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Platell.