Thursday, 28 October 2010


A grand entrance... the X Factor judges
It's the hottest show of the moment. Nearly a third of the British population tune in every weekend to watch it. Everyone's talking about it, with the nation poring over every single detail from Dannii's wrinkle-free forehead to Simon's waistband and Louis' (fast) receding hairline.

It can only be the X Factor. After hitting screens in 2004, Simon Cowell's brainchild has fast become a TV favourite, regularly raking in the kind of viewing figures not seen since Eastenders' Den divorced Angie in the late 80s. In a digital generation where we are inundated by choice and variety of media channels that is no mean feat.

Each weekend, viewers are treated to a drama-fuelled double dose of the X Factor spectacle; complete with feuding finalists, warring judges, catty comments and the kind of bitching that makes the dorm of an all-girls boarding school look tame. Throw in a few sob stories, a lot of crocodile tears and a weekly fash-off between the female judges and it's a clear recipe for success.

And it's not all over after the final credits. Before the last wannabe has even finished their performance bloggers in their thousands have already begun typing frantically about Cheryl's latest outfit. Twitter goes crazy with X Factor hash-tagging and the show dominates tabloid headlines all week long.

Come monday, offices nationwide are buzzing with news from the previous evening's episode - with the men getting equally as carried away - and as bitchy - as the women. And bookies' cash registers are constantly ringing with fans placing bets on who will win the contest.

The X Factor brand is just one big PR machine, with stories churning out of the contestants' shared house at an alarming rate. We've heard it all; finalists found in bed together, arrests for drug offences, arguments over who gets the best song choice - the list is endless.

Catapulted from being nobodies to the most famous people in Britain overnight, the wannabes are subjected to a media circus; with some forced to deal with lynch mobs of press and paparazzi hell bent on their downfall. Readers are told that a 'source close to the show' has leaked some juicy gossip... but it's more than likely the 'source' also doubles up as the show's publicist.

But what is it about this simple concept that has a nation hooked? It is, undoubtedly, the drama. There's nothing Brits love more. The show would be nothing without it; and contestants who attract the least controversial column inches are quickly booted out.

Let's put things into perspective; as entertaining as the show is, there's something slightly unsavoury about the audience being given a chance to play God. We all forget, whilst caught up in the drama, that this is people's lives we're dealing with.

Each week, hearts are broken and dreams shattered as another finalist faces the axe. Their 15 minutes of fame over, they are forced to go back to the lives they led before... never forgetting how they once came within an inch of fame and fortune.

In the meantime, Simon Cowell and ITV are laughing all the way to the bank, making millions off the back of the finalists, who are reportedly paid peanuts to appear in the show. Something seems morally amiss here. These fat cats don't care about the individuals - they only care about how much publicity they generate and, ultimately, how much cash they can make out of them. With contestants such as this year's villains Katie and Wagner kept in purely for entertainment value, it feels more like a circus than a serious talent show.

The whole thing reeks of exploitation. The problem is, the show's bosses are perfectly aware most people would chuck their grandmother under a bus to get into the final 12... meaning they can get away with whatever they want and the whole sordid affair continues year upon year.

So, the show will go on. And we'll all just carry on watching it.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The overactive imagination

Ever since I can remember I’ve been terrified of the dark. But as the years go by, this fear seems to have developed into the world's most overactive imagination.

The moment the sun goes down it leaps into overdrive, often fuelled, I'm certain, by eating cheese for dinner. My flat, which, during the daylight hours, is a safe and cosy haven, quickly transforms into an eerie, shadow-filled hiding place for ghosts, ghouls and murdering maniacs as soon as night draws in.

It seems physically impossible for me to watch a horror film without enduring weeks of sleepless nights afterwards. For a fortnight after Silence of the Lambs, I slept with the light on, maintaining the logic that doing so would fend off any crazed local transvestites who got their kicks from spying on me through night vision goggles.

Psycho was probably a film that had the most influence on my daily routine. Try as I might to buy a clear shower curtain, they don't seem to be in vogue at John Lewis. So I generally speed through my shower, positive the curtain will be whipped back any moment by an assailant ready to subject me to a frenzied attack.

Although my imagination is one of my best features, I wish it wouldn't automatically assume a hooded maniac brandishing a kitchen knife is hiding in my wardrobe every time I'm home alone. Call it barmy, but I've even adopted a routine of checking inside the cupboards and behind each door whenever I come into the house. Never mind that the burglar alarm was on and there's no sign of a break-in. An ordinary person might call me neurotic.

I'm not quite sure what to do to banish my irrational fears. I’ve tried facing them - forcing myself to watch horror films in a dimly lit room whilst alone in the house. That, unsurprisingly, did nothing but freak me out even further. And my attempts to give up cheese failed miserably after I got halloumi withdrawal symptoms one day in.

So I've decided to cut the scary movies out of my life altogether. Friends who invite me to watch SAW in 3D are immediately turned down. My small collection of horror DVDs have been carted off to the charity shop. I even spent a fortune buying an array of lighthearted films and rom coms.

 Now I'm not sure what I'm most terrified of - grisly films or the fact I now have the same DVD collection as my mother. But I'm certainly sleeping a little better at night.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Keeping it real...

Just popping to the shops...
Whilst ambling idly along the streets of Covent Garden at a recent lunchtime, I came face to face with a rather shocking sight. It was well over six foot, skinny as a rake...and wearing a skin-tight leopard print leotard with towering ten inch platforms. And nothing else.

A model. The only humans other than Karl Lagerfield able to go out in broad daylight wearing a fancy dress costume without running the risk of being bundled into a van and carted off to the local loony bin.

The woman before me looked like another species. She was stunningly beautiful. There wasn't an ounce of fat on her. And she certainly hadn't inherited the childbearing hips and cellulite most females are dogged by.

I wouldn't have minded had I not just that moment wolfed down a huge burrito with extra cheese. My general feeling of inadequacy wasn't helped by the fact I was donning my frumpiest (yet comfiest) Primark cardie and a pair of flats - only heightening my insignificance in comparison to the raven-haired supermodel towering over me in her giant heels.

It got worse when she sat down and whipped out her lunch - which consisted of a sole celery stick, a few carrot batons and a miniscule piece of sushi. Not a single carbohydrate to be seen. I could almost feel the fat from my burrito oozing from every one of my pores.

Just as I was ready to take a nosedive from Waterloo bridge, yet another of these creatures came tottering towards me. Equally sky-high platforms. Equally skimpy outfit. Equal stunning beauty and effortless grace. In the words of Carrie Bradshaw, I felt like a cheap perfume in a room filled with Chanel.

I wanted to look away but I couldn't. I was transfixed by them, much the same way as I am when I witness something horrific or completely disgusting. I began to wish I'd just choked on that damn burrito.

The penny finally dropped when swarms of similarly easy-on-the-eye and fabulously dressed human twiglets suddenly descended upon Covent Garden. Pulling up in chauffeur driven, blacked-out Mercedes people carriers, they all headed in the same direction: to Somerset House.

London Fashion Week. The biggest event of the year on the capital's fashion calendar. Where the fashpack rub shoulders with the glitterati on the front row, watching endless amounts of beautiful, yet completely unrealistic women strutting along the runway with beautiful, yet completely unaffordable clothes draped over their slinky shoulders. 

All followed by glitzy invitation-only afterparties, where underdressed riff raff are turned away at the door and fashionistas sip champagne, chomp on canapés and network with the a-listers of the fashion world. 

Whilst there’s nothing I love more than keeping up with the latest trends and having the odd rummage through charity shop bargain baskets for a ‘vintage gem’, I have issues with the fashion world being so inaccessible. After all, not only would each catwalk piece set an average lady back the best part of a month’s salary, but the designs are clearly only made for those blessed with a body like a bamboo stick.

Whilst paving the way for next season's trends, the glitz, glamour and wealth associated with events such as LFW is so far removed from the real world it would intimidate the hell out of the vast majority of us. After all, proximity to that level of beauty and style can do no good to a woman's self esteem. And despite relentless campaigning to remove 'size zero' models from the catwalk, the world of the runway is still no place for the curvier lady - with most labels still only catering for size 12 and under.

The entire ideology behind LFW is aspiration. The problem is, no matter how ambitious we are, 99% of women will never be the editor of Vogue, look like Kate Moss, or earn a million a year.

This year, LFW began to recognise that cutting edge fashion doesn't have to break the bank, by hosting high street shows from Topshop and Look Magazine. And, shock horror, one designer even used a size 14 model to showcase his designs.

Here's hoping they continue to push these boundaries next year - after all, breaking a few of the fashion rules really wouldn't hurt.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Once a cheater always a cheater?

Happier times ... is it all over for Wayne and Coleen?

Celebrity love rats sem to have become all the more common in recent years. These butter-wouldn't -melt stars used to be able to preserve their squeaky clean images relatively easily with the help of a good publicist, but these days even Max Clifford would struggle to keep their bad behaviour under wraps. Ever since exposés and zoom lenses became tabloid favourites, it was only a matter of time before cheating celebs were exposed to the world.

Catching a philandering husband red-handed has to be every woman's worst nightmare. Finding out about his antics from the front page of the News of the World is something else entirely.

Whilst 99% of betrayed wives are able to come to terms with their marriage breakdown in private, the other 1% have no choice but to suffer in the public eye, under the watchful gaze of the papparazzi camping outside their multi-million pound mansions.

First it happened to Posh. Then Sienna. Closely followed by Cheryl Cole, Elin Nordegren, Toni Terry and Abbey Clancy. Now Coleen Rooney is the latest wife at the centre of a media frenzy surrounding her marriage...and her husband Wayne's roving eye.

From an outsider's perspective, these women are invincible. It seems they have it all - bikini bodies to die for, millions in the bank, perfect relationships, a jetset lifestyle and all the Mulberrys money can buy.

But despite their beauty and wealth, they are just like the rest of us. Their men cheat. And these blokes aren't just average Joes, but superstars with everything to lose. It's a sad state of affairs when, even at the risk of losing their families, their lucrative sponsorship deals and their carefully crafted public image, men will always put their penis first.

There's nothing us Brits love more than a very public celebrity downfall. We, of course, help to raise their profiles in the first place by forking out for glossy magazines with exclusive wedding pictures and buying the latest z-list eau-de-toilettes. Yet when it comes to the extra-marital affairs, we all relish in the drama whilst retaining zero sympathy.

With the exception of Posh and Cheryl who made their cash long before they met their hubbies, the rest of the wives are seen as gold-digging wags who simply use their husbands as a golden ticket to a life of luxury. After all, aren't the women who go on the hunt to bag themselves a rich sportsman as bad as the men who cheat on them?

But whatever happened to love? In our money-obsessed, consumer-driven, publicity-hungry world, it's hard to believe that a couple might just be together because they love one another. Which is the case, I believe, for Wayne and Coleen. The evident problem is that Wayne can't keep it in his pants for longer than five minutes.

So will Coleen do an Abbey and stay, or a Cheryl and run for the hills? There's only so much humiliation a self-respecting woman can take, and Coleen has had her fair share with Wayne. After all, who can forget the tabloid headlines when he was caught in the act with a grandmother nicknamed 'the auld slapper'?

The pressure any woman faces to leave when their man does the dirty is immense, but for celebs this pressure is even greater. Life under the media microscope is tough and they are damned if they do and equally damned if they don't.

But the question is, can a leopard ever change his spots?

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Forget the marriage, it's all about the wedding

Bet theirs didn't cost 25 grand...
Marriage. A beautiful union of two people joined together for a lifetime. For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and...forget that, isn't the gown a Vera Wang?

The flashy wedding is so vogue right now. And there's no wonder why. It's virtually impossible to browse a magazine newstand nowadays without being faced with a wall of tangerine-skinned 'celebrities' celebrating their big day.

With the average event costing more than most earn in a year, everyone from vintage car owners to cupcake bakers are laughing all the way to the bank. Everyone, that is, apart from the happy couple and their long-suffering family and friends.

Overindulgent weddings became all the rage in the late nineties - around the same time a post ceremony knees-up at the local village hall stopped being the classy option. Registry offices have been ditched in favour of posher venues and organists have found themselves booted out of churches to make room for the 80-piece orchestra. It's a fact: society loves keeping up with the Joneses and if that means inevitable bankruptcy then so be it.

After their special day, not only will the newlyweds have a piece of paper certifying their marriage, they will, no doubt, also be the proud owners of at least five maxed-out credit cards. With a luxurious honeymoon on some far-flung isle to look forward to, they can relax and try to push thoughts of those hefty bills on the doormat to the back of their minds.

But it's not just the bride and groom whose bank balances are drained during the wedding season.  Friends and family practically have to take out a second mortgage to pay for lavish stag and hen dos in exotic locations. Not to mention travel expenses to the wedding itself, hotel rooms, suits, frocks, hats, childcare, department store gift could go on forever.

And that's after putting up with months of the kind of behaviour you'd usually only ever come across on Jeremy Kyle - family feuds, pissed off partners, warring friendship groups and bridezillas more terrifying than the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

So where does it all end? Surely these insanely pricey weddings are beginning to overshadow the real cause for celebration: the marriage itself. On the most romantic day of their lives, numerous couples spend the entire wedding at loggerheads because the flowers are slightly droopy or the chair covers are the wrong shade of lilac.

And guests are so busy quietly comparing the food and table decorations to the last wedding they attended they forget they should be supporting two friends as they begin their lives together.

I once heard a saying that the more expensive the wedding, the shorter the marriage. After all, no matter how much you flash the cash, money can't buy love.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Glamping it up

British summertime ... the ultimate camper's dream
Camping at Glastonbury Festival a few weeks ago gave me a whole new taste for the great outdoors. Having not so much as unzipped a tent since Eurocamping with my parents in France aged 10, it was practically a brand new adventure for me.

Obviously, festivals are far from a perfect camping experience. Picking your way through haphazardly arranged tents in the sober light of day is no easy task, but drunk in the dark it is nigh-on impossible. Of course, it didn't take me long to have an unfortunate encounter with a stray guy rope whilst stumbling back one night - virtually pulling a toe out of its socket in the process and ending up with a wide array of cuts and bruises.

Being a lady who enjoys her home comforts, it only occured to me upon arrival that I'd have no access to electricity in a tent in the back of beyond. It wasn't until I'd bounded into the campsite with a smorgasbord of goodies wrapped up inside my brand new wicker hamper that I realised I was lacking an essential item: a fridge.

I found myself caught in a quandary: it was at least 100 degrees in my tent and, unfortunately, the majority of my food would only survive below zero. After much consideration, I had no option but to hold an emergency midnight feast on the first night to save my banquet from going to waste. So much for my healthy eating was a diet of pure fast food and carbonated drinks from then on.

The guy ropes and greasy food I could deal with. The toilets I could not. Pongy enough to have me retching from 50 yards away, the smell inside each cubicle was comparable only to the loos in the most downmarket Thai backpackers. With no showers to be seen, those who entered without a supply of toilet roll regretted it for the remainder of their stay. Those who had the stupidity to look down into the cesspit were probably put off food for life.

Needless to say, I ensured I was pretty sparing with the fluids to prevent making too many visits to the hateful portaloos.

Negative as the experience sounded, I packed away my tent feeling rather uplifted. I'd made it. I'd survived with just a sheet of canvas protecting me from the elements. I'd even managed to sleep using a grubby towel as a pillow. And it was a lovely feeling to peacefully drop off without the sound of sirens and the number 37 bus filling my ears.

Slumming it may not be my bag, but something was certainly drawing me to the idea of an English camping holiday instead of my usual stint on the coast of Spain. But of course I'd need running water. And a fridge. And maybe even a microwave...

Researching 'posh camping' on the internet, I realised there were plenty of options to match my crazy criteria. Yurts in Devon, 'ecopods' in Cornwall, safari tents in Scotland, teepees in Sussex and (my favourite of the lot!) revamped traditional gypsy caravans in East Lothian.

However, despite the plethora of posh camping venues, every single yurt and gypsy caravan I desperately wanted seemed to be fully booked. Glamping, it seems, is more popular than Saint Tropez.

Since the recession hit it's become all the rage with trendies across the nation. They're all doing it and, unlike a traditional camping trip, they aren't doing it on the cheap. These may be glorified tents but they certainly come at a  price - the cost of being at one with nature starts at 50 quid a night.

Looks like I might be booking that cheap last-minute deal to Spain after all...

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The art of the resignation

Does icing it on a cake make it any easier?
Just over 5 weeks ago I commuted to work feeling like a nervous wreck. I began my journey with sweaty palms which gradually worsened as I neared my the point where I nearly lost grip of the handrail and sprawled to the floor of the tube carriage.

Having spent the entire duration of my commute psyching myself up, I arrived at the office shaking like a leaf. In fact, I could easily have been mistaken for a Parkinson's sufferer as I tried to get my key into the lock. As if this wasn't bad enough, I had that horrendous dull ache in my stomach which only ever seems to rear its ugly head when I'm a bag of nerves.

The reason for my panic? The freshly-printed letter sitting guiltily in my handbag. I'd finally decided to quit my job and concentrate all my efforts on my quest for journalistic fame. All I needed to do was leap over that final dreaded obstacle: the small matter of my resignation. 

Being a person who avoids confrontation like the plague, handing in my notice is my idea of a nightmare. Even after the deed has been done it's impossible to relax for the remainder of the notice period. What if the boss didn't take it well? What if my colleagues treat me differently? What, (and this was my worst fear) if I'm relegated to office skivvy? It's a total minefield. 

No matter how many times I planned the scenario in my head, I realised there is just no good way to tell your boss you no longer want to work for their company. Whatever the reason, it's out in the open that you've been secretly planning to leave for God knows how long and they're not going to be best pleased.

Suddenly my panicky haze cleared and I remembered the best lesson I've ever learned in life. Never burn your bridges. That is the true art of the resignation. Flattery is still the best way to an egotistical man's heart, so of course I used it in abundance. And any grievances I felt towards my company went unmentioned as, rather terrifyingly, I'll never know if I'll ever encounter that boss again.

Thankfully, it all went quite well. He seemed relieved (and, I noticed, ever-so-slightly smug) that I hadn't been poached by a hateful competitor. In fact, the company's only concern about my departure seemed to be the placement I'd landed at The Sun newspaper. Naturally they worried they'd be seeing a little too much of me on page three.

Ah well, I guess now is the time to start building up my spray tan and booking my boob job. I'll always need a backup plan if this journalism malarky doesn't work out...

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

It's not what you know...

There are many things in life that scare the hell out of me. Horror films, people with B.O and the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street to name just a few. But two online newspaper "columns" I've read during the last week have to top the lot. Both have been published on prestigious online newspaper sites. Both bring a whole new meaning to bad journalism.

A small part of me died when I read Richard Dennen's 'gay party animal' piece for the Evening Standard. And words cannot describe my reaction to sex-obsessed 51-year-old Julie Burchill's column for the Indy. I wouldn't know where to start in critiquing either article. It was clear from the offset neither writer has the ability to string a sentence together, never mind master the art of punctuation. In fact, the only journalistic talent on the page came from the readers themselves in the comments section.

Never in my life have I read such rubbish. Not even in my local free paper, which, to be fair, has printed some very questionable material. Having never heard of either writer, I googled them and found, to my horror, they are both successful journalists. Burchill in particular has had a very lucrative career - starting out aged 17 at the NME and moving steadily upwards to reach the dizzy heights of the Sunday Times. Dennen hasn't done too badly either, writing for Tatler - the magazine for the privileged social elite. Which leads me to talentless the new talented?

I've since heard rumours that both pieces are spoofs; publicity stunts designed to attract as much traffic to each site as possible. If this is the case they've certainly been successful. Dennen's piece has attracted 65 reader comments, with Burchill receiving a staggering 111. With the average article drawing 1-2 comments they've kicked up a storm. 99% may be negative, but hey, don't they say any publicity is good publicity?

Spoof or not, there's no getting away from the fact these people can't write. Being an aspiring journalist myself it saddens me to see talentless writers getting the gig whilst others with genuine ability are thrown on the reject pile. The much-used phrase "it's not what you know, it's who you know" seems very applicable here. Richard Dennen's shameless name-dropping makes it clear one of his contacts got him a foot in the door. In fairness to Julie Burchill, she got into the NME off her own back, but now has an array of famous friends (and ex-husbands) in her phonebook who have no doubt helped her along the way.

Call me envious (and I am!) but I beg these two to find another profession before they're hunted down by an angry mob. Oh, and please give their columns to me...

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Too many action films?

Men seem to have a strange obsession with action flicks. Take a muscle-bound vigilante who can save the world with just a sub-machine gun in hand and you've already whetted their appetite. Throw in a couple of sexy, scantily-clad woman and you've got their full attention. Add a little blood and gore alongside a few unnecessary explosions and you've got them pre-ordering the DVD.

The truth is, action films bring out the feral side of men; the side that makes them want to go and hunt a large beast before returning and mounting the nearest woman. Luckily for both the female and animal populations of the world, 99.9% of male action film fans would have to down a litre bottle of vodka and take 20 E's before they'd  consider emulating the behaviour of their hunky heroes. 

Unfortunately that still leaves 0.1% who fantasise about it when they're sober as a judge. And - even more terrifyingly - act upon their fantasies. 

Raoul Moat is the most recent example. The steroid-injecting fugitive has waged a one-man war against police since allegedly shooting three people five days ago. Claiming he won't stop until he's dead, Moat started a nation-wide manhunt after it was claimed he gunned down ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbart, her new boyfriend Chris Brown and a police officer in a jealous rage.

Only two days after being released from prison for assaulting his daughter, the bodybuilding ex-doorman got his hands on a sawn-off shotgun before tracking down his ex and her new man at a family party. He allegedly opened fire through a window, critically injuring Samantha, before shooting Chris in the head at point blank range. He is understood to have also shot local policeman David Rathband in the head after making his escape.

Chillingly, other inmates at Durham prison have claimed Moat boasted about carrying out the shootings on his release, after being dumped by Samantha for another man. He also wrote "watch and see what happens" on his Facebook page and claims to have made a 'hit list' of other victims. Five days later and he's still on the loose after committing an armed robbery, releasing two hostages, writing hate letters to police and making at least two abusive phone calls to detectives. 

This all sounds very familiar. The plot isn't too far removed from several late-night action films I've had the misfortune to sit through when there's nothing else on TV. Having two brothers, I've also noticed a certain similarity to the video games they used to play when we were teenagers. Worryingly, these films and computer games can glorify extreme violence - encouraging deranged types to carry out insane 'copycat' crimes. 

The Moat saga could very easily be turned into a Hollywood blockbuster. The problem is...this isn't a game of Grand Theft Auto. This is real life. Innocent people are getting critically injured and killed. Residents across the whole of Northumbria are petrified to leave their homes, whilst those on his 'hit list' have been forced into hiding.

Sources close to Moat claim he'll continue his quest until he's killed in a showdown with cops; going out in shower of bullets. I only hope it doesn't come to that - he doesn't deserve the martyrdom it would bring. They should throw him in a maximum security cell for life instead; that would give him plenty of time to gather his thoughts and realise he's not Rambo...just a loser who watches a few too many Hollywood films. 

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The Beautiful(?!) Game

It's arrived. World Cup fever is officially upon us - bringing joy to millions of men and, no doubt, misery to equally as many women.

After sitting through endless Premier League matches during the football season you'd think long-suffering wives and girlfriends of football supporters would be entitled to at least a summer off. But the minute the Premier League winners have finished nursing their champagne hangovers we're immediately treated to a new form of torture: the football tournament. An entire month of  blanket coverage through every possible medium, with TV schedules practically obliterated to accommodate for the beautiful game. 

The only alternative for bored viewers seems to be Channel 4, where they are faced with the Big Brother freak show around the clock.  Either that or a Friends re-run. Clearly not a great time to be a football hater.

Now don't get me wrong - I'm all for a bit of patriotism. In fact, the World Cup is pretty much the only time us English dare wave the St George's flag for fear of offending others. So I'm more than happy to tune in and cheer England on and, dare I admit, often find myself getting quite into the game when I do. The reason? I love the drama. Judging by the fans' reactions you'd think a life-or-death scenario was unfolding before our very eyes rather than a group of overpaid men kicking a ball around. 

What utterly baffles me is people's insistence upon watching every match. Understandably the Brazil games may be of interest, along with a few of the other major players. But Serbia vs Ghana? South Korea vs Greece? And, worst of all, Japan vs Cameroon? Sorry, but I just can't see the attraction. To be honest, the idea of being forced to sit through every game (and listen to those flaming Vuvu horns blaring) for the next month fills me with dread.

It just might be worth it if we were in with a chance of winning. As each World Cup comes around, desperate fans keep up their hopes with completely unrealistic dreams of England suddenly becoming champions. Seeing as we've won squat since 1966 I'd say it's pretty unlikely. Fans face hot, sweaty and tense conditions in crowded pubs and for what? To witness another inevitable defeat and have their dreams shattered.

So let's look at this objectively: it's just a game. Enjoy it while it lasts...and then get over it. 

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The Cumbria massacre: should UK gun law be tightened?

Just a week ago, Derrick Bird was an inconspicuous cabbie from Cumbria; now his smiling face stares out from the front pages of newspapers across the globe. His infamy stems from a crime shocking people the world over; a horrific shooting spree in several sleepy Cumbrian villages which saw 12 innocent people murdered and 25 injured.

Armed with a shotgun and a .22 rifle, Bird's reign of terror lasted over 5 hours and saw him cover 45 miles before turning the gun on himself. Alarmingly, he was fully licensed to keep both the firearms he used to gun down his victims; predominantly shooting them in the face at close range.

To friends and family he was a quiet but sociable and seemingly 'normal' man whose only frivolity was a taste for foreign holidays with friends. But deeper digging has uncovered his fondness for Thai prostitutes, a theft conviction, a £100,000 unpaid tax bill, a secret bank account and strong evidence of self-harm on his body. A few months before the shootings he allegedly walked into the A&E department of his local hospital claiming he wanted to commit suicide.

As police peel back the layers of his life it becomes all the more apparent there was more to Derrick Bird than met the eye. Understandably even those closest to him weren't aware of much of the above. He has been described as a private man who clearly kept much of his inner feelings to himself. But it was widely known he was a registered gun keeper, inheriting his weapons from his late father who left them to him in good faith as a family heirloom.

Yet no one questioned the need for an ordinary man, a taxi driver with a modest home and no surrounding land to keep two powerful guns. Even more worrying is that, despite meeting the rigorous criteria needed to legally own a gun in the UK, Bird was clearly not in his right mind. He may have appeared a sociable and contented man on the surface, but scratch slightly below and things become decidedly more ugly. This brings a strong argument to light: can anyone really be trusted to keep a gun?

In the days following the shootings, several calls have been made for the Government to review the laws surrounding gun ownership. Surely this kind of tragedy highlights the flaws in legislation; in the last 25 years three madmen have been allowed to murder a total of 44 innocent people in rampages years apart from each other. All of whom were ordinary men; gun enthusiasts registered to keep the lethal weapons in their homes.

To me, allowing a person to take a gun out of a controlled environment seems both completely pointless and incredibly dangerous. In a society such as ours where the violent crime rate is relatively low in comparison to other countries, there is no need for firearms to be kept in private houses for self-defence or any other reason. Gun enthusiasts should be able to use the weapons in the safety of the club...and leave them there at the end of each day. The same goes for fox and game hunters; there's no reason why they shouldn't drop their guns off in a secure place at the end of a day's hunt.

When David Cameron visited the villages devastated by Tuesday's shootings, he opposed what he called a "knee-jerk" reaction on the nation's gun laws saying: "You cannot legislate to stop a switch flicking in someone's head and this sort of dreadful action taking place." But you could try. Take away people's rights to keep a gun and just maybe we could help prevent such a terrible and pointless massacre from happening again.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Caught red-handed

We've all done it. Said something we shouldn't have - and immediately regretted it. Whether it's having a crafty bitch and being caught out, or making a controversial joke in the wrong company, it's a horrendous feeling.

Luckily for the majority of loose-tongued people, this feeling is one that lingers a few days and quickly dies a death. A new piece of juicy gossip replaces it and all is practically forgotten, with the culprit having well and truly learned their lesson.

Shame the same can't be said for poor Fergie. A woman who's made more fatal errors of judgment than Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig on the battle of the Somme, she's enjoyed a few tabloid-free years before once again being slaughtered by the press.

Candidly claiming she was so broke she "didn't have a pot to piss in," the Dutchess thought she was chatting to an international business tycoon when she offered to 'open doors' and set up a meeting with her Trade Envoy ex-husband. And all for the measly sum of £500,000.

Unfortunately for her, the businessman was actually an undercover News of the World reporter with a camera hidden somewhere in his lapel. That camera was whirring away as she pocketed her £40,000 deposit. And the story was soon splashed over the front cover of every red-top in the country, leaving her highly embarrassed (yet again) and with no other choice but to make a public apology.

You've gotta hand it to Sarah. It's probably the most spectacular gaffe of the year so far (with Gordon's 'bigoted woman' coming close second). But it's the latest in a string of faux-pas made by the former Princess since marrying Andrew in 1986. In fact, the woman's committed social suicide on a number of occasions, with the long-suffering Queen finally washing her hands of her and encouraging other red-faced royals to do the same.

But is all of this Sarah's fault? Okay, she's lived a privileged life most of us could only dream of. Never has she had to brave the tube at rush hour with someone's sweaty armpit in her face. Come winter, despite being dogged with debt, she's the first to hop into a first class seat, champagne glass in hand, headed for sunnier climes and some millionaire's luxury yacht.

She's also peed a considerable sum of cash up the wall when most responsible adults on a divorce settlement of £15,000 a year might have saved a few pennies for a rainy day.

But being posh doesn't mean she's the sharpest tool in the box. Neither does it mean she's streetwise - least of all when it comes to the media. You'd think with all the millions the royals had stashed away they might have sent the poor woman on a media training course. Prince Philip really should have joined her...they might have even been able to haggle a BOGOF deal.

Her latest slip-up was crazy behaviour even by her standards, but it's also desperate behaviour from someone who should have just been paid off by the tight-fisted royals in the first place. If the £15,000 a year settlement rumours are true, it's a surprise she's even got a roof over her head, never mind a pot to pee in.

So come on Queen Liz, pay off Fergie's debts and buy her a place in the Caribbean. That way you may never have to read about her again. For another few years anyway...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The joys (and pitfalls) of the comfort zone

Last weekend I decided to do something a bit different. Instead of the usual lie-in, lunch and shopping, followed by a few mojitos, I attended a 2-day ‘inspirational and motivational’ course.

Always the cynic, I was sceptical from the start, refusing to wear my name badge and darting towards an empty seat on the back row (in case I fell asleep or needed to make a quick getaway).

The minute I sat down I’d resigned myself to the fact this course was going to be utter rubbish. No doubt the speakers would be preachy and unqualified do-gooders and it would be a total waste of time.

As time went on, my train of thought lost all sense of logic. I looked around me. No one looked like my kind of person. They all looked a bit weird. It could be a cult. What if they brainwash me and then, when I’m least expecting it, kidnap me and bundle me into the back of a van?!

I felt tense. I was outside my comfort zone and I definitely didn’t like it. I longed for my familiar Saturday routine; my lie-in and shopping. Panicking slightly, I checked out the windows to see if they provided a viable escape route.

All of a sudden I was brought back to reality by the sound of a woman’s soothing voice. I thought I may as well hear it out for a while. I could always scarper at break time if it wasn’t my kind of thing.

Fast-forward an hour and I was on the edge of my seat hanging off the woman’s every word. My earlier fears had completely vanished. I’d learned it was perfectly normal to move outside your comfort zone. In fact, by getting out of bed and attending the course I’d actually taken myself into ‘stretch zone’ without even realising.

I pinpointed my fears and ‘limiting beliefs’ and found myself telling total strangers my life story. The speakers encouraged us to set lifetime goals for ourselves and break them down into five achievable steps. Suddenly my crazy fantasies and daydreams actually became realistic.

By the end of the course I felt on top of the world. I’d realised my biggest limiting belief was a lack of confidence in myself and my general ability. I always look at others and think they're better than me.

But last weekend changed my entire way of thinking. Obviously I’m not planning to become an egotistical bag of hot air any time soon, but I’ve definitely got some new-found self belief. I've even decided to leave my job so I can focus 100 percent on becoming a journalist. 

The moral of the story? Ditch the shopping and take yourself out of your comfort zone once in a while. You never know where it might get you.

Monday, 3 May 2010

An ode to mayonnaise (and all the other fatty food I no longer eat often)

I treated myself to a pea-sized portion of full fat mayo on my sarnie today. Doing so made me think back to the days when I would slather the stuff over everything I ate, blissfully unaware I might as well be wolfing down a lump of lard.

After a night at the student union it would be considered almost rude not to head to the local kebab shop for a large portion of chips, cheese and mayonnaise. Followed by a greasy fry-up the next morning and a burger with chips between lectures.

From the way I've just described my student lifestyle you'd think my physique was comparable to a spacehopper. But it was actually the opposite. I was 8 and a half stone and a size 8.

When I started working I learned the importance of being healthy. No longer could I rely on getting my energy from long lie-ins and my exercise from throwing shapes on the dance floor.

Developing 'office arse' scared me into action. As each day passed I could feel the gradual expansion of my bum as it started spreading itself across my office chair...and it didn't feel good. Then, whilst shopping in H&M I caught sight of my cellulite in the mirror and nearly dropped dead from a heart attack.

So, I started eating my 5-a-day, cooking from fresh and even (in a desperate attempt to maintain my weight) subscribed to Good Food magazine. Okay, admittedly I only choose the tasty looking recipes, which generally aren't in the 'Super Healthy Suppers' section, but there's no doubt I've cut out some serious calories.

Not to mention joining the local gym and vowing to do four workouts a week. After a hellish session on the treadmill and cross-trainer (my fourth in the space of 5 days), I decided to weigh myself. Feeling completely smug and very proud of myself, I was imagining huge weight loss as I stepped onto the scales. After all, I'd virtually killed myself over the past few weeks with my heavy exercise regime. I'd envisaged I'd dropped at least half a stone, if not more!

I gasped loudly as I found out my true weight...and not in a good way. A million thoughts instantly flashed through my mind, the first being that the scales must have been broken. I mean that was the only way. How, how could I weigh an entire stone more than I did at Uni? It was just so unfair and seemed clinically impossible.

After I'd calmed down a tad, a light bulb pinged inside my head. Instead of focusing upon the weight I was, I need to be happy with the weight I am. It's unlikely I'll ever be a size 8 again, but I'm a size 10 which isn't exactly massive. Living in London and being constantly surrounded by willowy women who sashay past in their Chanel sunglasses and trendy clothes made me lose a sense of who I am. What I hadn't thought was they probably survive on a lettuce leaf a day to maintain their weight.

One of my best friends - a qualified nutritionist - once told me I could eat everything as long as it was in moderation. So I spread some mayo on my sarnie then had a slice of my brother's birthday cake. And guess what? I didn't feel guilty at all.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

To tell or not to tell? That is the question

The latest leaders' debate sparked a rather interesting discussion in my office on Friday. Sitting at my desk, I was engrossed in writing an urgent email when a booming voice from the upstairs office nearly gave me a coronary.

My boss, in his typically inappropriate fashion, had begun hollering his opinion on the previous evening's debate to anyone who'd listen. A staunch Lib Dem supporter, he wouldn't hear a word against Nick Clegg's performance, announcing it would be 'a complete joke' if the opposing parties came into office. He then launched into a tirade, criticising just about everything from David Cameron's immigration policy to Gordon Brown's choice of tie.

It soon became apparent this was a one-man debate. The few who'd dared disagree were immediately lambasted, so we all shifted in our seats uncomfortably, hoping the outburst would soon come to an end. It only got worse. Finishing a long-winded speech slating David's fake tan, my boss turned to me saying: "So who are you voting for?"

The dreaded question. I'm the most open person in the world under normal circumstances, quite happy to divulge details of my life to pretty much anyone prepared to listen. However, there are a couple of things I think should be kept quiet. Call me old fashioned, but I've been brought up to believe there are two topics you should never discuss: your salary and who you vote for.

My Dad (a Conservative who always pretends to vote Lib Dem) told me to keep my mouth shut when it came to politics; especially in the workplace. I pointed out I wasn't about to shave my head and join the BNP, but he told me to keep quiet all the same.

Hence why I refused to tell my boss (and eavesdropping colleagues) who I'll be voting for come May 6th. Admittedly I was being a bit self-righteous in the wake of his completely unprofessional outburst, but I had the right to remain silent and I was using it.

His response? "Oh you're such a fucking Tory!" Errr, hang on a minute. He’d just slapped a label on me despite having no facts whatsoever. I’d been front of all my colleagues. 

The whole debacle got me thinking. Should you tell? Why are politics still such a taboo subject? Why, in this day and age, should people worry they'll be judged by others for supporting a particular political party?

The answer is they shouldn't. We're lucky enough to live in a 21st century democracy, not a dictatorship. People should keep their views private because they want to, not for fear of being discriminated against because they have differing opinions to others.

Whatever the outcome on May 6th, I'll be safe in the knowledge I didn't shout my views from the rooftops. My boss, on the other hand, might be forced to eat a rather large slice of humble pie. 

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Every cloud has a silver lining...

Move over election…all everyone’s talking about right now is that cloud of ash.

Its continued presence over Europe’s airspace is dominating the headlines and causing all hell to break loose on the ground.

Unlike the Eurostar debacle last Christmas, it’s not just the average Joe who has been affected by the flight ban. A whole host of celebs have been forced to unpack their Louis Vuitton luggage and chuck out their first class tickets.

Demi Moore has cancelled her press junket. Miley Cyrus can’t attend the premiere of her latest film. Katie Price is marooned in Egypt. And, shock horror, Whitney Houston had to brave the passenger ferry to Ireland.  

Joking aside, there are still over 150,000 British people stuck abroad, which probably isn’t the biggest barrel of laughs.  Especially if you’re travelling alone. There’s no doubt if it happened to me (being the drama queen I am), I’d have sent a melodramatic text to everyone in my phonebook telling them of my ‘horrific’ ordeal and warning them they may never see me again.

However, if there’s one thing us Brits are good at it’s pulling together in times of difficulty. I’ve heard all kinds of heart-warming stories from honeymooners giving up their luxury hotel suite to stranded pensioners, to triumphant backpackers cycling across Europe to get home. 

But let’s put things into perspective. Nobody’s been killed or hurt. The world hasn’t come to an end. Quite the opposite - the 6-day flight ban has actually saved around 2.8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from being pumped into the Earth’s atmosphere. This is more than the annual emissions produced by developing countries such as Malawi and Rwanda put together.

We’re so used to having everything instantaneously at our fingertips we’ve forgotten air travel is a privilege not a right.  If the hullaballoo surrounding the flight ban teaches us anything it’s that Mother Nature rules. And she’s allowed to be bossy occasionally!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The moment of truth...

I've got to admit I don't usually have a eureka moment on a Saturday night whilst I'm sipping a cocktail in some trendy bar. But last weekend I made an exception. After a long conversation about careers with a group of friends it didn't take long for me to realise only one out of the five of us was actually happy in our jobs. No one was desperately unhappy...just plodding along in jobs they didn't enjoy.

It was still on my mind the next day, prompting me to do a bit of internet research into job satisfaction. I was shocked to find an article on the BBC website claiming over 50% of workers in the UK hate their jobs. And it only got worse. Since the recession hit Britain things have apparently got so bad nearly 20% of these workers can't even face getting up in the morning.

Reading that article made me wake up and smell the cappuccino. It's not that I hate my job. It's just not what I want to do. It doesn't inspire me. I can't see myself still doing it in ten years' time. In fact, I'd been so busy attempting to climb the career ladder I'd tried very hard to ignore the fact it was propped up against the wrong house. So, it was that moment, that very second, I decided to turn my life around and pursue my dream career.

I've always known what I really want to do. Aged ten we had a 'career day' at Primary School. Everyone in class had to do a five minute presentation 'in character', playing the role of whoever they wanted to be when they grew up. There were the standard doctors, nurses, teachers and lawyers. Then there was me.

Loving being centre of attention for a full five minutes, I went all out, dressed in my smartest skirt and blouse, with a pair of fake plastic glasses to make me look 'professional.' I also brought along a prop to make me really look the part - my gran's old typewriter. I thought I looked like a real journalista. Truth was, my look was more Enid Blyton than Jo Elvin ;-)

Fast-forward fourteen years and here I am. It's now or never...after all I have a quarter century birthday looming! So I decided to start this blog to document my quest for journalistic fame and use as a platform to express my opinions, ideas and occasionally vent my frustrations! Watch this space.