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The Spike

Bloody wrapping

Every year I think I am going to be so amazing at wrapping presents with, like, themed paper and contrasting ribbon. And yet every year it is an utter bad-backed scramble, completely random wrapping paper, some left over from last year, bulging corners, lumpy ends.

Too late for me this year. I had a spare hour just now and so I’ve wrapped pretty much everything – but it’s possibly not too late for you? Or it’s not too late for me next year to get a grip. My mistake was not having a good old perve over Pinterest before I started.

It’s the story of my life, really. I’m constantly all up in my head with ambitious ideas about how I’m going to do this and that, and then the reality falls so incredibly far short of expectation, (like a cartoon character attempting a leap across a canyon and peddling wildly in mid-air before falling…. *paff* into the valley below), that my usual berserk high self-esteem takes a tiny prang.

Anyway, here from me to you (and also from me to myself in one year hence) are my favourite wrapping themes off Pinterest:

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Not so much feeling the copper ribbon, (makes it look like a gift from a posh chocolate company: not what I’m after), but I love the mini-star dark blue wrapping paper – still available at Cox&Cox.

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Dark blue wrapping paper – just generally classy? Kids would hate this though – WHERE’S THE NAFFING GLITTER IS THIS CHRISTMAS OR WAHT????

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I don’t expect you or myself or anyone to attach actual baubles to a present, but I like this idea of gold, brown and white. That way to don’t have to commit to any one type of wrapping paper.

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This is all brown kraft paper, with all different kinds of red ribbon going round. Clever, as the brown paper is practical and inexpensive (and can be reused as fire lighter) and you can go crazy with all different sorts of ribbon. God damn it.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to have a cry while picking sellotape out of my hair.

 

Keep Cup

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About £10

May I please encourage you for 2017 to consider getting yourself a reusable coffee cup? Many of you probably already have one, but for those who don’t, or who have one but never remember to use it, shall we all, like, get together and have a go at using one next year?

I, like many, was appalled by news this year that takeaway coffee cups can’t be recycled and I am more acutely conscious each day of the importance of not contributing to landfill.

So I went in search of a good reusable coffee cup. I didn’t want anything heavy or massive – I don’t especially need my coffee to be kept the temperature of molten lava for 2 hours. I also wanted to buy at least two, so that one could be on the draining board and one could be left on the hall table to remind me to tuck it into my handbag in the morning – fully prepared for any coffee opportunity that presented itself as I went about my day.

And I came across this Keep Cup. I got the 6oz cup, which holds a restrained amount of flat white (about 150ml). I love the fact that it is so little and light and that its lid is not silicon, therefore doesn’t soak up every slightly yucky taste and smell going. It does make it a little bit more of a bugger to get the lid off, but this is a small price to pay for saving the planet.

I love the fact that my plan of buying two worked out and I now never leave the house in the morning without one somewhere about me. It feels efficient and streamlined and good.

You might need something with more of a thermal capacity, or one that holds more liquid or something. The details are not important, what’s important is that we all do this. Let’s make it as normal as taking your own bags to the supermarket.

Don’t worry, I won’t be on about MoonCups next. Or will I…?

 

Dear Husband…

… or boyfriend, or “partner” or wevs.

Your wife wants a good present this year and so far you’ve given her rubbish, which is why she has emailed and Tweeted me in her thousands, begging me to write to you and give you some direction.

She doesn’t want to tell you how shite you are at “gifting”, she doesn’t have the heart. But I don’t have a heart, at all – famously, ask anyone. My husband.

And I am here to tell you that a sodding Dyson handheld, a set of knives or a charging case for her iPhone doesn’t constitute a good gift.

SO THANK GOD FOR ME, YES? Just think of me as your guardian gift angel.

And also just by the by, thank god that I am not actually friends with your wife. I am the most nightmarish friend-of-wife. Husbands quail when they see me, with my arms folded and my laser eyes boring into them, going “I see you, fuckhead…”

So give thanks I’m not literally in your life and humbly read these words.

1: Charlotte Olympia Kitty shoes  £££

I don’t know why these are popular, they are just mad. But I want some, so I can only conclude others want a pair, too. Just think of them as that impulsive third child/third ear piercing/tattoo that your wife wants, and just be grateful that she hasn’t gone fully Mrs Bercow. Yet.

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2: Anina Vogel necklace £££

Anina Vogel is niche and prohibitively expensive, therefore just cool. The fact that everything she makes is fall-to-your-knees-gorgeous is by the by.

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4 Astley Clarke Evil eye tiny earring £

If your life is perfect, you need an evil eye about your person somewhere to ward off bad spirits, which seek to undermine your happiness. This is quite a confident gift to give – it says “I know I’ve made you so happy, baby” but if you reckon you can pull it off, do it.

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5 Charlotte Tilbury WonderGlow £

Your wife will like this, it will make her skin all pretty.

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6 Wyse cashmere sweater ££

And this is cuddly and soft, from a cult cashmere house, meaning not every other bronde on the school run will have one, naming no names Bella Freud.

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7 Canada Goose parka £££

This is a tiny bit of an edgy gift – it veers into man-gift (i.e. too practical) territory. Look out for signs that she wants one/is constantly cold/admires someone else’s. Its extortionate price tag means that most people do want one. It’s the Birkin bag of parkas -when you’ve got one everyone else has to COWER BEFORE THE GOOOOOOOOOOSE.

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8 Eve Lom Kiss Mix £

Best lip salve ever, but this is definitely an add-on gift. If I see this as anyone’s “main” present I will hunt you down, Mr Husband Sir, and run you over.

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9 Bodas pyjamas £

These pyjamas are slightly impractical with their tie rather than elasticated waist, but they are soft as satin and walk a very straight and perfect line between dowdy and mimsy.

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10 YSL bag ££££

Errrrrmaaghaaad. Just… want… this… so… bad…lyyyy

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11 Dinny Hall earrings ££

Everyone needs a very good, solid, quality pair of gold hoops. What we usually have is a clattery collection of old shit from Accessorize. The problem is that a good solid pair of gold hoops is something we’d never buy for ourselves because we, I don’t know, can’t be bothered? It’s the kind of thing that a stylish godmother would get for you but we mostly all do not have godmothers, stylish or not.

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12 Scarf  ££

Black and white gingham just like this is going to be ultra-fashionable in about three months’ time and everything by Isabel Marant is cool. Note: do not get an Alexander McQueen skull scarf. They are over. I mean, fine to wear around and about if you’ve already got one, but you do not want to be buying one now.

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N.B. Obviously please do not be a total penis about this: if she openly states how much she hates pyjamas, don’t get her the pyjamas or doesn’t have pierced ears don’t get her the earrings. I can’t believe I have to say that but I know how dim some of you are. And also fuck’s sake keep the receipt because if she doesn’t like it, you can blame it squarely on me and then she won’t feel guilty taking it back.

Ready, steady… CHRISTMAS!

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Don’t think I don’t I see you, there.

I see you!

I see you all stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. So now Rejoice! Because the game really is afoot and today after those long lustful days since Bonfire Night, you now have my permission to go completely WILD with yuletide insanity. Because it is now actually actual Christmastime. It is advent. It is December.

Up go the advent calendars and the wreaths, down goes the faux ivy garland, on goes the Christmas sweater, round and round go the fairy lights…

You can eat mince pies without thinking “hang on, it’s November, this is a bit fucked up”, earnestly discuss wrapping schemes with a fellow aesthetic maniac on WhatsApp, do all your shopping, adjust your 23rd December 11am Ocado order nine times in one day, write out elaborate menu plans in the manner of the Duchess of Downton Abbey and put Now That’s What I Call Christmas on repeat.

As previously discussed, without my husband here most of the time, (he is abroad, working), there is no-one to cast a disapproving eye over some of the madder purchases that flow through my front door. And I have gone really quite insane with my Christmas decorations this year. There is a new pot pourri wreath, two new sets of coloured fairy lights – I am really feeling coloured fairy lights this year – a light-up little wooden church, candy canes and whatever exciting shit I can lay my hands on at the Alexandra Palace Garden centre tomorrow morning.

Is it just me? Is it just me feeling like this Christmas the is year is going to be (has got to be) the best Christmas ever?

I am doubly excited about my pan-European, cross-faith “Christmakkuh” celebration I am having at my house in a few weeks’ time. Our usual massive Christmas party is cancelled this year because a) Sam doesn’t like it and b) Giles is away so much it’s a bit tricky.

So instead my friend Simon who is Jewish is bringing dreidels and chocolate money for the kids and also my friend Max who is Catholic is coming with his wife and their new baby. Also Dr Chris off Operation Ouch and his wife – faiths unspecified.  Dr Xand is joining us from New York over Skype. We are going to have doughnut eating competitions and play with the dreidels to the sound of Now That’s What I Call Christmas, while Kitty and Sam sulk with their iPads upstairs because they get freaked out when people off the telly arrive at our house (get used to it, kids).

It’s going to be so Christmassy!!!!! I might start mulling the wine now.

Happy advent, tout le monde! And God bless us, every one.

 

Shopping for the apocalypse

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If you have a power cut, dial 105 from any phone

 

We had a power cut last night. It was quite full-on and came off the back of two other brief power cuts last week. On top of this, over the summer the other side of the street was without power for a whole day and then the West End had a four hour power cut over the weekend. So when the lights just cut out, blammo, at 7pm, I did sort of think “Christ… is this is? Is this how it’s going to be? Is this the beginning of the end?”

In fact I might have rather enjoyed the cut if it hadn’t been for our bastard burglar alarm going haywire going NEEEEEEEEEP NOP NEEEEEEEEP NOP at top goddamn volume every five minutes. This was to tell me that it was unable to connect to mains power – yes thank you I know there’s a power cut you stupid stupid bastard plastic piece of shrieking shit.

My children were hysterical (“What’s the bad sound mummy?? Are we going to die mummy?”) and the alarm people were unable to instruct me on how to silence the fucking thing. They got a rocket off me, I tell you.

Anyway I eventually managed to make the alarm emit a regular but much quieter neeep noise, muffled the alarm unit with loads of cushions, shut the living room door and went upstairs.

But the whole alarm/apocalypse thing didn’t half leave me a bit jangled and I realised, as I peered in the dim candlelight at my iPhone battery standing at 31% how woefully underprepared in this house for any power cut lasting longer then a few minutes.

So the next day (the power having come back on after three hours) I went to the shops and bought:

1. More pillar candles

2. 2 x battery operated camping lanterns. I was really after cool oil-powered hurricane lanterns but Homebase didn’t stock them

3 An ENORMOUS flashlight

4 More hot water bottles. Our boiler goes off during a power cut and we only have 1 hot water bottle, so I got more to keep our spirits up if it happens again on a chilly night.

5 A landline phone that doesn’t need to be plugged in. Because you feel like an absolute tool during a power cut when you cannot use your landline because it’s a stupid cordless set that needs an electricity source.

I was insanely grateful to find that I had an extra battery for my mobile, which was in my house from sheer dumb luck. It’s a fob thingy that I got free in a goodie bag over the summer. I had charged it up, intending to keep it in the car, but in fact found it lying in my bedside table drawer looking like a cross between a flashlight and an executive sex toy.

There are many extra battery options for mobiles available, from charging cases to devices in the manner of the executive sex-toy design and I recommend that you get one for emergencies such as these.

While we’re on the subject of “prepping”, *wipes foam off chin*, I also keep in my kitchen an empty plastic 4-pint milk tank. On a chilly morning such as the one I woke up to this morning you fill it with luke warm water (it doesn’t need to be at all hot) and a dash of screen wash, which contains anti-freeze, and glug it over your windows to clear them fast. Make sure you clear the driver’s side last otherwise it will have started to re-freeze by the time you’ve done the rest of the car and by the time you get in to drive away, you won’t be able to see out.

Once again, don’t forget that if you experience a power cut you dial 105 from any mobile or landline and it will connect you to your local national grid.

If you have any brilliant tips on shopping for the apocalypse, please leave them as a comment in the handy box below.

 

Socks

A mum friend of mine at Kitty’s school asked me about socks the other day.

“I just want some socks,” she said, “that are warm and also not hideous.”

I pondered the enormity of how my friend could possibly not already own, as I do, socks in a million different shapes, sizes and textures. But she doesn’t! I saw her yesterday in a pair of black ankle socks and I went “Are those your fucking socks, mate?”

And she stuttered, (I am a bit alarming when I am on the attack at pick-up): “These are just because I’ve been working out!”

And I went “But are these basically your socks?”

And she went “Well yeah. I mean, I’ve got some Falke ones…” And I went “RIGHT I see, okay yes you need my advice about socks…”

These are the socks that everyone ought to have in their wardrobe, come winter:

1 Bridgedale walking socks. Ignore, if you can, that these are walking socks. These are the best warm socks ever made. They have a cunning elasticated grip thing  around the arch of the foot that means the socks don’t slide off your goddamn feet when in boots. Also brilliant for padding round the house in. I had two pairs when I trekked through Namibia when I was 19 and they saved my feet. Best socks ever.

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2 Long black knee-high socks. Not to be worn actually over the knee, but ruched down around the top of any given boot or trainer. A nod to Fame, here. But only a nod. I’ve got some from TopShop – these from John Lewis are very similar, for £10.

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3 I love wearing boys’ sports socks. I sometimes wear a pair of my husband’s football socks when he’s away. They are bright yellow and they are fabulous when worn with trainers and  some junky old joggers tucked in and, like, a denim jacket. The louder, stripier and more colourful the better. These cute ones are from John Lewis again, £8.

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4 An alternative to the Bridgedale walking socks are these nice Norwegian ones from Burlington, by Falke. Reassuringly expensive at £16.

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Postcodes

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I have for ages been trying to get thing in the paper about postcodes, but I’m constantly met with commissioning editors’  blank silence on the end of the phone as I go: “No it’s interesting! It is! It is!?” and so I gave up. But I’ve got to tell someone!! And it might as well be you.

So the thing is that if your house has a weird or inaccurate postcode, or the postcode that you have been assigned sends deliverymen and – more important – the emergency services to a McDonald’s three miles way, there is a solution!

All you have to do is write an email to Royal Mail explaining this problem (and it is such a goddamned bore if you do have this problem) and they will most probably assign you a new, more accurate postcode! The email address is addressmaintenance@royalmail.com.

They did for us in our house in Gloucestershire and I am slobberingly grateful for it.

Royal Mail’s records are updated within 48 hours but it can take SatNavs, (who buy new and updated information from Ordnance Survey), up to six weeks to register a new postcode.

Anyway that’s it. For some of you this will be like a thunderbolt and will change your lives. And for that, you are most welcome.

My favourite norovirus story

I know this is a weird thing to have here, but ever since I read about this noro story, back in 2005 as a 25-year-old down-desk writer in a dark corner on the third floor of Times House, I have been totally fascinated by it.

It’s the first time I became aware that the norovirus even existed, having never caught it or known anyone who caught it (IS it just me, or is noro quite a new thing? Not around in the 80s?) and I was horrified and captivated by the tale, which goes like this:

After a Charlatans concert in Abderdeen’s Music Hall in 2004, 500 of the 1,500 concert-goers were struck down with severe vomiting and diarrhoea. No-one knew how or why or what had happened: was it food-poisoning? Some other airborne toxin?

It was so strange and so scary – possibly a genuine health crisis – that the local health authority, NHS Grampian, produced an entire scientific report into what happened, which you can read here.

It isn’t very long and I find it fascinating, but if you can’t be bothered to read it, the conclusion is that all of those people got noro from one single person vomiting on the steps outside the concert hall before the performance.

Everyone stepped in it as they walked into the venue and there you have it. You only need 100 virus particles to start an infection and a single vomit releases 30 million.

I don’t know why I think this is so interesting, possibly it’s just a demonstration of the awesome and unstoppable power of nature, which I find amusing to gawp at (I’m also to frightened to watch Planet Earth and so have to find amusement elsewhere).

The unexpected item

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There has been in my wardrobe for an awfully long time a black lace tunic that I bought in my massive Isabel Marant-for-H&M-splurge about three years ago. I basically have never worn it because I don’t know how. On its own it looks like Hallowe’en fancy dress. It is too long to tuck into things satisfactorily, it is to short to be a dress. Do not be fooled by the picture: it is entirely see-through.

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But it was hard-won, well-made and I like it and don’t want to get rid of it. I just thought – at some point, I will work out what to do with this and how to wear it.

And yesterday, I think I found the answer.

I have been for a while following a French girl on Instagram called @meleponym. I try to overlook the fact that she is a size eight, probably about 23 with a cool minimalist Parisian apartment, (rage, vomit, die),  and just bleed her for outfit inspiration. She wears only black, grey, denim, white and sometimes a leopard print accessory and just mixes it all around in the epitome of a capsule wardrobe in action.

She has recently been wearing a lot of lace under denim as casual daywear and actually, it looks perfectly alright, not slutty or weird (especially with a pair of trainers). So I followed suit, putting that grey Uniqlo cardigan over the whole lot and rescued my lace tunic from a lonely life on the hanger.

It is a good philosophy generally when looking at your wardrobe in despair, to see if you can take a racy, mad thing you bought in a fit of hormonal madness and drown it in dowdy items in order to turn it from slutty mc-slutsville into the unexpected item in your outfit, which makes the whole thing shine – like a 23 year old French girl.

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