I tried silent dating, and it pretty much went as you would expect

Silent dating

About four years ago, when I’d first moved to London, I was on the last Tube home, slightly tipsy from an evening of getting hammered for free ‘freelance networking’. This was a time when taking the Tube was a grand anthropological adventure for me, and not – as it is now – an exercise in soul-crushing horror and other people’s body odour.

As I sat slightly fuzzy-headed in the corner of the carriage, I caught the eye of a handsome fella opposite me. We exchanged a coy glance and a cheeky smile, and we continued this game of visual tag for the rest of the journey, peeking at each other through the tightly-packed bodies of standing commuters. I knew nothing about this guy apart from what he looked like, that he was reading a Murakami novel, and that he had an air of confidence about him, even in his silence.

He got off one stop before me, and as he made his way past he dropped a piece of paper in my lap and gave me a heart-stopping, parting smile. It was the perfect meet-cute, I thought, and my imagination ran away with itself, projecting onto this mystery man all the qualities I’d ever want in a partner. He was thoughtful and kind, I decided. Proactive. He had a great sense of humour and was clued-up about current affairs. He was confident without being arrogant and probably knew something about wine, yadda yadda yadda.

Only once the train had pulled away did I unfold the paper, which read: “You’ve got well blue eyes. Fancy a shag?”

So when I more recently found myself standing in front of a glossy London bar, about to embark on an entire evening of gawping at other people in silence, aka ‘silent dating’, I was apprehensive to say the least. Apprehensive, and increasingly despairing that this is what it had come to: going to a gimmicky dating event in a bid to find a human man that can tolerate my exclusive company for a not-insignificant period of time.

I was already in a bad mood, because I’d only agreed to go along in the first place to appease a friend, who’d since dropped out, and I couldn’t find anyone else to come with me because literally every other woman I know in London was at home with her other half watching The Apprentice and making brunch plans. But I’d wrangled a commission to write about the experience, so I had to go. But then as I was on the bus on the way over I got an email from my editor saying that they didn’t actually need the piece any more. And then when I arrived, having decided that I didn’t want to waste my good hair day on my housemates and that I might as well give it a go, I bumped into two other journalists who were there covering the event for magazines I’d also (unsuccessfully) pitched to. Then I tripped over a chair. Oh yeah, and this all coincided with a self-enforced booze embargo.

Nice one, Universe. That was quite the coup.

After being assigned a number (I was number one, which I assure you held no glory for me on this occasion) the organisers outlined the format for the evening. For the first hour we’d be playing ice-breaking games – in silence of course – designed to bring the group together as a whole and ‘dissolve tension’. LOL. I’m a pretty outgoing and confident person, providing I have the opportunity to wow everyone with my DAZZLING WIT AND CHARM. But I can’t even watch a musical without wanting to rip my face off in cringe, so the thought of silently taking part in forced silliness, with a bunch of strangers to whom I’m trying to look alluring and mysterious, made me want to run into a wall. HOW COULD I SHOW EVERYONE I WAS BEING SELF-DEPRECATING IF NOT THROUGH MY WORDS?

The games were fairly simple: shake someone’s hand while making eye contact; find a partner and try to synchronise a jump in the air (which one guy took extremely seriously, becoming visibly exasperated – and not jokingly so – when we couldn’t get it on point); movement mirroring (one lad – and I say lad because he couldn’t have been more than 20 – was apparently so overwhelmed by the simple task of moving his limbs that he just kept shrugging at me and then eventually stared at the floor); and ‘finger-to-finger movement’, which one guy totally misunderstood and turned into a game of thumby war, which frustrated me greatly because I’m the kind of person that needs rules and structure amid whimsy and shtick.

There was also a section where we were encouraged to do some slow-mo martial arts ‘fighting’, which my friends will tell you I’m actually totally ace at, by the way, but the guy I was paired with got a little too involved and ended up punching me in the boob (which was the most action I got out of the evening).

Then we had a break where we could only order drinks at the bar in silence, much to the bemusement of the barman and to my sober chagrin, because I probably would have taken a lot of pleasure in miming the actions for ONE MASSIVE GLASS OF ALCOHOL, PLEASE.

And then to round two, where in traditional speed-dating style (not that I’ve been to one of those, either. See? Baptism of fire, this) the ladies were seated around the outside of the bar and the fellas – in a cavalcade of silent awkwardness – played musical chairs every time the bell rang. And for one whole minute, we’d sit facing our partner in total silence. The organisers encouraged ‘deep eye gazing’, which is basically just ‘looking’, but a lot of people – myself included – opted for a bit of voiceless banter in a bid to alleviate the crushing discomfort of the situation. Here’s what I learned.

    • If you’re in a pretty intense one-on-one situation, it’s probably not a great idea to stare at your partner’s tits, because they’re gonna clock you. And nice try, but my identifying number sticker is actually on the other  side.
    • Anxious people make me anxious. Thinking about this on the way home, this is probably why I’ve been described as ‘intimidating’ by some folk, because I can’t bear awkward silences so I tend to fill them with gibbering observations. This is also probably why I’m usually foisted upon quiet people at parties by others, because I’ll just talk at them until they feel a bit more relaxed (or they leave).
    • By extension, then, confident people make me feel at ease. Some of the guys I ‘dated’ at this event exuded an aura of calm self-assurance which made the business of staring into their eyes much more comfortable. This was completely unrelated to any physical attraction I felt (which was none, for all of them. Sorry guys), so I can’t really explain how that works. SCIENCE, probably.
    • Regardless of where I was on the scale of comfortable-to-face-meltingly-awkward, being stared at, by anyone, is HARD. I have a pretty severe residual ugly-duckling hangover from my teen years, so while these chaps were ‘eye-gazing’ (looking – LOOKING) at me, all I could think was that they must be staring at my nose, or that my lips were flaky, or that I had mascara gloop in the corner of my eye.
    • I’m probably never going to be the person who says things like ‘You don’t need a drink to have a good time’.
    • My nails are sharp as hell, as evidenced by the deep and near-bleeding indentations on my palms, forged in an attempt to prevent myself from combusting with embarrassment.

In the end, I put a tick in just one of the 20 boxes on my score sheet, and that was only because the guy was wearing the wrist band of a relatively-unknown festival that I go to (which was, thinking about it, a while ago, so that’s actually pretty gross). It had nothing at all to do with his eye-gazing looking skills, and when I spoke to him for an extremely brief few minutes after the event, he managed to allude to the female attendees as ‘birds’ and another male participant as ‘a bit of gayer’. It was four years ago all over again.

Of course, this isn’t to say that silent dating doesn’t work for everyone. According to the organiser – who found his own girlfriend at a similar event – at least nine relationships have sprung from these silent beginnings, and one couple even got married. Maybe it was a case of right place, right time, for these couples. Or maybe, in a world where modern dating is primarily conducted behind the safe curtain of a computer screen, these individuals were simply more prepared to put themselves on the line and embrace an intimacy which is almost unheard of nowadays. I certainly wasn’t, but I went away feeling like that was more to do with my own emotional stuff than the behaviour of any of the ‘dates’ I encountered. And for that reason, I’m still glad I went along. But next time – if there is a next time – I’ll be having a mighty large drink beforehand.

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Rachel and Becky’s Monster Adventure

Saturday night in London

Once upon a time there were two girls, called R and B.

R and B lived in a great sprawling city – the grandest and most expensive in all the land – so the girls had to work long, tiring hours in order to survive. R and B had been friends for many years, but because they each worked so hard they didn’t see each other as often as they wanted to. They looked forward to their meetings a great deal, knowing that their time together was special.

This is the story of their latest meeting, and of a group of nasty trolls far more sinister and dangerous than any you’d find under a bridge in other fairy tales.

R and B had been for dinner, and were in a bar discussing their long, tiring jobs, when the first troll lumbered into their conversation.

“I really like your hair,” it slurred at R, without so much as an introduction. “Are you too, like, together?”

The girls told the troll that while they were indeed at the bar together, they were not together in the way that very often agitates such trolls into an excitable frenzy. They resumed their conversation, and the troll briefly disappeared.

Suddenly, R was aware of a great looming presence behind her, and as she turned around, the troll thrust a piece of greasy paper into her hands, before scurrying away. On it, in illegible, childish handwriting, was the troll’s name and a phone number, followed by the request: ‘Let’s go for drinks as friends even’. The girls laughed in disbelief, and decided to go to another bar.

But as they waited patiently at a bus stop, chatting comfortably about many things, another troll appeared, shouting and flapping and making a terrible noise at the girls. R and B tried to ignore it, but when the troll’s loud squawking became too intrusive, they politely asked the troll to be leave them be, since they were talking.

“You girls can talk on your own time,” screeched the troll. And as the girls expressed their displeasure at such a bewildering notion, it yelled, louder still: “BUT IT’S NOT MY FAULT YOU’RE BOTH SO BEAUTIFUL.”

Exasperated, the girls left the bus stop and decided to walk to their destination, leaving the flapping troll barking desperately in their wake.

They walked along, talking about the trolls they’d encountered, and trying not to let it spoil their night, when they heard shouting. Both of the girls suddenly felt very uneasy, because this shouting was familiar to both of them. Their hearts sank as they looked up and saw yet another troll, hanging out of a lorry, yelling.

“Go away!” the girls shouted back. “Don’t you have anything better to do than shout at girls on dark roads?”

But the troll simply smirked, and kept shouting.

Angry and upset, the girls flagged down a passing cab to take them to their destination. The driver asked them all about their night so far, and the girls told him about all the trolls they’d had the misfortune to come across. The driver was sympathetic, and the girls were relieved.

But their relief was short-lived, because the driver then looked in his mirror at one of the girls, licked his lips and said: “I suppose this is because you’re single?” And with a great rush of horror, the girls realised that he, too, was a troll – the worst of all the trolls, for on the outside they appear to be just like normal people. But how they fool everyone!

R and B quickly left the cab, and went to another bar. They ordered their drinks and sat down, relieved to be away from the horrible trolls that were ruining their night. But before they could relax, another troll reared its ugly head.

“Do you like Sean Paul?” the troll inexplicably asked R.

“No, I actually really don’t like his music,” she replied, and with that the troll turned around and announced to his troll friends: “Don’t bother with this one, she’s a massive bitch.”

R and B did their best to ignore the troll gang, and tried to change the subject, but they soon found that all they could talk about now was the trolls, and how sad they felt about them, rather than the things they had wanted to talk about originally.

Eventually, the bar closed, and R and B decided to go to one more place. After all, they’d not had much of a chance to talk since they’d spent so much time battling all these horrible monsters!

They arrived at their destination and sat down, once again talking between themselves and not doing anything at all to attract the attention of possible trolls. But oh no! There was one in the corner, staring at the girls. And there was another one, dancing far too close to the girls and making them feel very uncomfortable. And there was another! And another! The whole place was full of trolls, and when R returned from a brief visit to the bathroom, B told her a horrible story about how while she was sat by herself, one particularly nasty troll wouldn’t leave her alone despite her asking him to go away six whole times! B even asked the security guard – who is supposed to assist those in distress – to help her, but he did nothing! R and B thought that he was probably a troll too.

And so the girls, angry and upset, decided to go home. And as they sat on the bus they found that they hadn’t talked about very much at all apart from the trolls, and then they found themselves apologising to each other for all the nasty troll business – which doesn’t make very much sense at all, does it!

R and B then decided that next time they have a meeting, it will be somewhere far away from the trolls – like on top of a mountain, or perhaps on the actual fucking moon! The girls thought that maybe there wouldn’t be any monsters there.

The End.

Discussions for reading groups

What is the significance of the simplistic language used throughout the story? Does the writer intend the story to be a cautionary tale for young girls? Or is the story meant to be understood by the trolls themselves, who would perhaps benefit from basic, accessible language? Or both?

Notice the writer never makes any reference to the girls’ appearance, beyond the terms used by the trolls. Why is this?

Some have condemned the writer’s inclusion of a profanity at the end of the story, claiming that it’s unnecessary and indicative of an overreaction on the writer’s part. Do you agree?

Is it misleading to underscore the story with ‘The End’, given that the tale will likely continue for many years to come?

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How to have adult braces

Almost exactly seven months ago, I wrote a post about my decision to get adult braces. In the months between then and now, my teeth, lips and jaw – my face in general – have endured a considerable amount of aggro: teeth shifting in my skull, wires cutting into my cheeks, lips drier than the Sahara no matter how much Vaseline I slapped on them – not to mention the inevitable skin capillary damage incurred from the routine face-reddening that followed the discovery of small forests of salad protruding from my mechanical smile.

Pain. Expense. Humiliation. But was it worth it? Yes. Absolutely, unequivocally, yes. I feel more confident about my smile, it’s much easier to clean my teeth, my recurring jaw pain has lessened as my bite has straightened out, and as a lovely bonus, I feel a kind of pride about the whole thing – not in my appearance necessarily, but the fact that I worked hard and endured a lot of discomfort and rigmarole to change something I didn’t like. Empowerment, if you will. (Of course, there were numerous days when I would find it all so tedious and difficult that I felt like taking pliers to my gob and just ending it there and then.)

I’ve had lots of questions about the process, and about my own experience of having adult braces, so sit back and enjoy as I harp on knowledgably…

My teeth at the start, getting mad-cosy with each other up in there

My teeth at the start, getting mad-cosy with each other up in there

Choosing a dentist

I cannot stress enough how important it is to do your research, here. There are hundreds of cosmetic dentistry practices out there offering ‘straighter smiles’, and while the actual technology is largely the same across the board, what really makes the difference is the level of time, care and trust you receive. You’re essentially putting your physical wellbeing in the hands of somebody else, and choosing a dentist based purely on price or proximity means you could be setting yourself up for a very miserable few months – or longer. Pay attention to online reviews and go to free consultations to make sure you’re comfortable with the place you choose. I went for a consultation at a clinic in Harley Street – thinking that its prestigious location would guarantee quality – and left vowing never to return after the staff spent little time talking about my needs and a lot of time talking about payment plans. In the end I chose UltraSmile, and I’m so glad I did, even if their Limehouse location was a total ballache for me in Tooting.

And they're on

And they’re on

What type of braces?

‘Dental alignment technology’ (ha) has come a long way since I first had metal train tracks as a teenager (which are actually still available). Nowadays, it’s usually a toss-up between Invisalign and Six Month Smiles (although as I discovered you can get totally bitching gold – yes, GOLD – braces fitted behind your teeth for like, a million pounds or something). I’m not qualified to really comment on Invisalign, although I am currently using it for retainer purposes (more on that, later), as I opted for Six Month Smiles (SMS). SMS is essentially a train track technology, but the brackets and wire are tooth-coloured, so it’s not so obvious (unless you drink orange juice or eat a curry. More on that later, too). I chose this one because it promised quicker results and less faff than Invisalign.

How much does it cost?

Costs will vary depending on the type of braces you choose, your clinic and whether they’re offering any deals (almost all of them are at some point). My complete treatment cost £2,795 including retainers (these are vital, and a lot of clinics will try to charge you extra for them). Ultrasmile gave me the option to pay half up front, and the rest in interest-free monthly instalments over four, six or ten months. It wasn’t the cheapest deal I’d seen, but I was happy with the clinic and the staff – it certainly wasn’t the most expensive, either.

What happens first?

Before I had the braces fitted I had to have a thorough check-up, an appointment with the hygienist and a set of x-rays done. This was to make sure my teeth were in good nick before I imprisoned them in plastic for six months (getting a filling or having a scale and polish with braces is basically impossible). Once I had the all-clear the dentist took an impression of my teeth, which involved having my mouth packed with gummy plaster and sitting quietly for 15 minutes waiting for it to dry, all the while dribbling and gagging like a moron.

The braces were fitted at my next appointment. I won’t go into a huge amount of detail here because the process is pretty stressful and I don’t want to put anyone off. Because my main problem is overcrowding the dentist had to file in between my teeth first (sounds worse than it is), before gently scraping the front of each tooth a little to create a bit of ‘grip’ for the brackets, which were then cemented on using some high-tech jiggery-pokery. A wire was then placed in the grooves in the brackets, and secured with little clear plastic bands. The wires were then trimmed down at the ends, so as ‘not to cause discomfort’ (that’s the theory) and I was on my way.

One month in

One month in

Does having braces hurt?

Yes. Yes, it bloody does. The first few days after having them put on were horrendous and I honestly rued the day I’d ever even considered the treatment. But of course it’s going to be painful. Your teeth – otherwise happy and content in their position in your skull – are being pushed, pulled and dragged around your jaw bone, and the soft skin of your lips and inside of your mouth suddenly has to contend with jagged bits of plastic and metal jabbing into it. The first few days are nothing short of miserable.

Here are some things you can’t do (particularly well) with freshly applied braces:

  • Eat anything that isn’t pureed into mush
  • Smile
  • Talk properly
  • Wash and dry your face
  • Lie on your face
  • Wear lipstick
  • Chew absentmindedly on a pen
  • Use your teeth to separate a kirby grip (something you can’t do for the duration unfortunately – trust me, I tried)
  • Enjoy a cigarette
  • Do kissing
  • Various sexy activities

I made the colossally stupid error of planning a fancy dinner out the day after I had mine put on. “I’m sure it won’t be that bad,” I reasoned, like an idiot. It was. I spent the whole time staring sadly at my delicious steak, as it became increasingly salted by my tears of pain and sadness.

But! The pain and discomfort doesn’t last forever. I promise. I was given a load of dental wax to coat rough bits of plastic and wire, and the ol’ alternate paracetamol/Ibuprofen system helps. I’d also say that Anbesol works a lot better than Bonjela, which just tends to slide over gums (thanks to Hayley and her teething tot for that recommendation).

After the first few days the pain subsided and I was left with a very vague – and tolerable – aching. The braces do need to be tightened every month or so which is also painful, but it’s nothing at all like the first time. Soon enough I’d stopped noticing them altogether.

It is worth noting, though, that I could go for days on end without any pain or discomfort at all and then one day I’d wake up and one particular tooth or group of teeth would be sore. Annoying, but that just meant the braces were doing their thing.

Three months in

Three months in

How do you look after them?

It’s a lot harder to give your teeth a good clean when they’re covered in scaffolding, so brushing took on a new, laborious dynamic. Top notch hygiene is important for two reasons: 1) It’s easy for plaque to build up around the brackets and cause cavities, and 2) When the brackets come off it’s not uncommon for there to be a lot of weird and unattractive staining where they used to be. Traditional flossing was out (not that, I admit, I was particularly devout about flossing in the first place), so I was told to use those little pipe cleaner sticks instead. For someone who never flossed regularly, this was a bit of an assault on my gums, but they were useful for removing all the bits of trapped food that would otherwise drive me nuts. (I kept one in my bag at all times for covert trips to the bathroom when I was eating out). Also, don’t use whitening products (even ones that claim to work but don’t actually do anything), because that can lead to weird discolouration when the brackets come off, too.

Even though SMS is billed as being ‘nearly invisible’, the clear bands around the brackets are liable to staining. “Avoid anything that would stain a shirt”, my dentist told me, which I did with due care (apart from the time I drank orange juice and was left with what looked like a neon glowstick in my gob. See below). Nonetheless, come every adjustment appointment they were looking a bit grubby. It probably didn’t help that I’m a filthy smoker, of course. (FYI – chewing gum is out when you have fixed braces, but there are loads of breath-freshening sprays that do the job in banishing faggy breath).

Finally, my lips took more of a battering than I’d anticipated, and keeping them moisturised and chap-free was a struggle. I bought a load of lipsalves and put them everywhere – the lounge, the kitchen, in all my bags and coat pockets – so there was always one to hand. I also got into the habit of slapping a load of this on before bed.

The braces are pretty tough and are designed to withstand a lot of force, but it’s not uncommon for brackets to ping off if they’re put under too much stress. So harder food (apples, beloved Toblerones), sticky stuff (toffee, caramel) and gritty snacks (popcorn, seeds) should be given a miss. I didn’t find this too much of a sacrifice, but the one thing that really bummed me out was turning down Nandos’ corn on the cob. I bloody love Nandos’ corn on the cob.

Thanks, orange juice!

Thanks, orange juice!

Did you feel like a dick wearing adult braces?

Nope, not really. Although the day I had them put on I went to Superdrug for supplies and the guy behind the counter was looking at the dental wax in my basket. He asked what it was for and I pointed to my mouth and he looked so embarrassed and apologetic. So I guess there is a bit of a stigma around it. Most people, I found, were pretty inquisitive about the process, and I heard “I’ve been thinking about doing the same” at least 20 times. The main issue I encountered was with bits of rogue food getting stuck in them, yapping away happily to people and not realising until later – a lot of people seemed reluctant to tell me I had whole lettuce leaves hanging out of my mouth (artistic license) for fear of offending me. But that’s where the shiny surface of smartphones comes in handy – it’s very easy to do a covert check.

I actually quite enjoyed flaunting my braces. They made me feel a bit unique and, like I said, empowered. (Plus they gave me a super pouty smile).

When did you decide to have them taken off?

There’s no obvious ‘end point’ with SMS. It’s pretty good at sorting out gaps and overcrowding, but it won’t change the shape of your teeth or do any major jaw reconstruction (for example, I still have an overbite, and I always will unless I opt to have my jaw broken and realigned – nope). They call it Six Month Smiles because that’s the average length of time it takes for patients to decide they’re happy with the results. I was pretty lucky that I had “malleable arches” (yay?), so my teeth moved quickly and I was done in less than five months, but for some it’s longer. Personally, I could’ve kept them on for a little longer to tweak one or two tiny areas, but it was coming up to Christmas and I didn’t want to go into the New Year with them on, so off they came.

Having them taken off is a bit more traumatic than having them put on (after all, they’re cemented to your teeth), but the payoff is that you’re going to have a lovely new smile at the end of it.

Is that it?

‘Fraid not. The reason my teeth were in such a mess was because I never wore my retainer the first time around, so they just shifted back to their original position. Teeth will do that, unfortunately. After the braces came off I had more gummy, gag-inducing moulds taken to create a single Invisalign brace, which I now use as a retainer, currently wearing it mostly full-time for four to six months, then only at night. It’s a bit of a faff, to be honest, but I know wearing it is important – when I go out in the evenings I tend to leave it at home and when I finally get around to putting it back in I can feel my teeth have already started shifting slightly.

My Invisalign retainer

My Invisalign retainer

I’ve also had a permanent, fixed retainer fitted (can’t get a camera in my mouth to take a picture, looks like this). At first I was a bit disheartened at the prospect of having yet more stuff in my mouth, but I’ve quickly gotten used to it, and it doesn’t cause anywhere near the same problems as the actual brace did (although one tooth did come unbonded the other day, which warranted a tedious trek back to the clinic – so that does happen). I’ll likely have this one on for around four to five years.

But I’m okay with that *beams*.

Bizarre smile for display purposes

Bizarre smile for display purposes

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A few thoughts on turning 29

Today I turn 29. Another year none the wiser.

And despite well-meaning words from my mother and a Twitter community of superb women who don’t give a toss about ‘The Big 3-0’, there exists on my radar an unrelenting stream of popular culture that really does like to make a big fucking deal about it: ‘listicles’ divisively, hilariously, separating those in their 20s from those in their 30s; landslides of journalism banging on about declining fertility and average home-buying ages; a quiet consensus that 30 signifies the getting together of one’s shit. So despite my relative unconcern about being older, per se, I am dazzled by the unavoidable 30 up ahead, flashing vulgarly like a fairground ride.

And in a way I just wish I was there already, because once I am, there’s no going back. Sure, as an act of defiance I could get a load of botox done, or take off to India for three months, or drink myself into oblivion in a student bar, but even my extensive drinking skills are no match for the march of time. It will be as it will be.

Here, though, at 29, there’s very much the sense of a great, ominous foreboding, inescapable for the reasons detailed above. Some sense that I still have a tiny window of opportunity to ‘do something’. Not because being 30+ heralds the end of life – far from it – but because our society has put so much emphasis on this landmark age. Before and after.

 Of course, the problem here is that I don’t actually know what that something is. How many 29-year-olds do? This question itself is part of the problem.

Being 29 is like the moment before you step on a plane, or strap yourself into a rollercoaster. It’s the second before you apply the wax, or before you must relinquish the flash cards and go into an exam. It’s the breath before you say ‘I love you’ or ‘It’s over’. Because once you’ve committed to these things – said the words or smeared the hot goo on your legs – that’s that. You’ve just gotta make peace with it. But in that gut-churningly pressurised instant beforehand, there’s still the chance, the opportunity, to do something differently.

But what?

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Six apparently ‘normal’ behaviours I’ll never understand

People that listen to talk radio at an above-normal volume

Music is good loud. I get that, I get that it’s designed to be an immersive experience, and that at the end of a shitty day it’s pretty cathartic to turn Pink’s ‘Try, Try, Try’ up to 11 and belt out all the bad feels, but I don’t understand why people listen to predominantly chat-based radio shows at an ear-splitting volume. It’s just people talking. Is the experience of listening to people talking more enjoyable when it feels like they’re actually shouting at you? Or does it just in fact piss off your neighbours or housemates or anyone walking past your car who doesn’t derive any enjoyment from hearing Ted from Basingstoke talk about his opinions on hot-housing at a booming sound level?

Barmen who ask if I ‘mean diet coke’

If you go into a shop and ask for a can of blue paint and the assistant says ‘Is that blue paint or red paint?’ then you’d give them an odd look. And if they held your stare while gesticulating impatiently at all the paint, you’d probably just back away slowly. So why is it acceptable for a barman to ask me ‘Is that coke or diet coke?’ when I’ve clearly asked for a coke? IF I WANT DIET COKE, I’LL ASK FOR DIET COKE. This situation is made much worse when they use the term ‘full fat’. Watch it, buddy.

Being weird about food stuck in teeth

If you go into the office and your colleague has got a bit of fluff on their face, you’d be like ‘Dude, there’s something on your face’, and they’d remove the fluff, and everyone would get on with their lives. But when that fluff is food and the face is teeth, people get super weird about it, thus resulting in many hapless individuals spending their days talking, laughing and smiling in front of people that are like ‘Ugh, gross’, before going home to a mirror and deep embarrassment. I currently have braces which makes this a really major problem, but even though I’ve explicitly told those around me that they should just say if I have something stuck in my teeth, I still find myself revealing forests of salad every time I do a quick cursory check after lunch. So to better align my behaviour with others’, next time an angry wasp lands on a friend’s head I’ll just be like ‘Oh yeah, erm, sorry. Didn’t see it *mumble mumble*’.

The total futility of ‘tasting the wine’

In the olden days, patrons of hospitality establishments were offered a small sample from a newly-opened bottle of wine to check that it wasn’t corked. Nowadays, the majority of wine served in restaurants comes in screw-top bottles, so the entire exercise serves no purpose other than to make customers feel uncomfortable as a relative stranger watches them imbibe a tiny bee-mouth’s worth of liquid before declaring ‘Yes, lovely thanks’, even if it tastes like expired milk.

Small children on the rush-hour underground

Children need to learn to walk, and they need to learn to socialise. Is the underground at rush hour the best place for that? IS IT? Is the best place to put your toddling offspring in front of hundreds of tired, irritable commuters storming from one platform to another each with flailing bags and briefcases in perfect alignment with your child’s soft bonce? Is the best time to ‘practice stairs’ at 6pm on a Monday evening when said staircase is full of gnarling office workers chomping at the bit to get on the tube before it becomes so rammed they have to spend the journey home pressed into the greasy, finger-smeared doors? Is it?

Women peeing on the toilet seat

Nothing makes me so seriously consider abandoning the sisterhood than walking into a toilet cubicle and finding pee all over the seat. What is HAPPENING in there? Maybe you’re a hoverer, fair enough. But if your distaste of public conveniences is such that you’d perch uncomfortably over the toilet to avoid making contact with it, then surely you’re aware that leaving the vicinity in such a state makes you just as culpable as those you fear yourself. SORT IT OUT, YOU’RE GROSS.

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How to find a house in London

Start your search early. Far too early. Take a cursory look at Gumtree and Spareroom and find loads of properties that match your reasonable requirements. Confidence level: 100%.

Then start your search for real. Find all the good places have gone, but that’s okay, because there’s still time. There’s still time to be choosy. Laugh scornfully at adverts boasting ‘Lovely and good’ or ‘Cheap and nice’ rooms. We all know what that means. You’ve got standards, thanks very much. Confidence level: 90%.

Go to a few viewings. Find that the rooms are not anywhere near as ‘gorgeous’ or ‘spacious’ or even as ‘good-sized’ as the ad description suggests, but that’s okay! It would be unheard of to find somewhere decent straight away, right? It’s London! Confidence level: 80%.

Go to more viewings. View several houses with palatial ensuites that can only be accessed through a partially open door as the adjoining bedroom is a cupboard. View a house occupied by pasty, translucent boys that all but wet themselves shaking your hand and ask if you have many single girl friends. View a house with giant pictures of vaginas all over the walls and be scolded by the landlord for looking at them. View a house where the available room is advertised as having its own conservatory but find that it’s basically a lean-to featuring a clogged toilet. View a house where the door is opened by an imposingly large Turkish man who yells ‘YOU A CLEAN GIRL, OKAY?’ in your face. Confidence level: 50%.

Eventually, find a place you really like. Text the tenants to express interest. Hours, then days, pass without a reply. Become wracked with self-doubt as your self-esteem takes a battering. Maybe you came on too strong. Maybe your joke about baking a chocolate cake was interpreted as needy, or mental, even. WHAT’S THE BLOODY ETIQUETTE FOR THIS SHIT? Struggle with the idea that the tenants have put you in the same league as sweaty hands boy, or mad vagina lady.

Spend hours and hours on room share sites. Destroy your phone battery by hitting refresh every five minutes. Send hundreds of awkward ‘I’m super cool and normal!’ emails to people who never respond. Find dozens of gorgeous houseshares advertised by awesome-sounding people requesting gay applicants only. Damn the gays and their beautiful mould-free houses.

Manage your expectations. Broaden your search parameters. You don’t really need a garden. You don’t really need a living room. Sure, you can work from your bed, and it’ll be fine sharing with four couples. Fun, even! Confidence level: 30%.

Lament your woes to your friends and listen to them wax lyrical about how hard they found that one week they spent searching for a flat, or how they had to view ‘like, six or seven!’ places before they found their current house, or how it actually took them upwards of two months to find somewhere because the lettings market in London is completely fucked and they’re not telling you this to dishearten you, but ‘you know…’.

And you do know. You ‘know’ to the point that you’ve started viewing rooms that have been advertised without pictures and wishing some kind of property Lemon Law existed so you didn’t have to spend whole hours traipsing around an inhabitable dive answering questions about what you do for a living and listening to fucking News of the World jokes. You ‘know’ to the point that you’re starting to think that an advert mentioning the fact that the room’s radiators have valves is probably pretty useful to know actually, and you ‘know’ to the point that you’re seriously considering responding to the likes of these ‘Cheap and lovely’ adverts you’d previously pooh-poohed.

Looks nice.

Looks nice.

It would have taken exactly 30 seconds to clear that crap off the bed.

It would have taken exactly 30 seconds to clear that crap off the bed.

JUST THROW A BLANKET OVER IT OR SOMETHING.

JUST THROW A BLANKET OVER IT OR SOMETHING.

Can only assume that bedside cabinet had eaten the previous tenant, hence photographers reluctance to move it back 10 damn centimetres.

Can only assume that bedside cabinet had eaten the previous tenant, hence photographer’s reluctance to move it back 10 damn centimetres.

Look at all these rooms to rent at the Tube station!

Look at all these rooms to rent at the Tube station!

Literally, take FIVE SECONDS to pick up the damn chair.

Literally, take FIVE SECONDS to pick up the damn chair.

I can't even.

I can’t even.

Confidence level: 5%

And then one morning, three and a half months and 23 viewings later, sit in the bedroom you’ve come to hate and load up Gumtree for the millionth time, and find a new advert. A new advert with pictures, and an adequate description written by people that sound sane, and go into your message drafts and copy/paste the same tired message you’ve looked at five times a day for the last 117 days. Send it off. Expect nothing. Don’t even allow the smallest sliver of hope or optimism into the dark, rough void where your soul used to be, for only disappointment resides there now.

Receive a reply straight away. Go through the motions, arrange a viewing. Plaster a smile over your tired, lifeless face and trudge to the address. Ring the bell and take a deep breath as the door opens…

Confidence level: 100%.

Ta-dah!

Ta-dah!

 

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Brace Face. In London.

Six Month Smile for adults‘Kids can be so cruel’.

I hate that expression, namely because usually the people that throw it around with reckless gay abandon, chuckling and rolling their eyes as they do, were the very kids propagating the cruelty. I find that those that were on the receiving end tend to keep their mouths shut, pushing their unpleasant memories into an untapped pocket of their mind where it can all fester quietly as a mental illness.

Still. Kids can be horrendous creatures, and it only takes one knuckle-dragging child to come up with an insulting nickname that’ll plague you for the rest of your days. Something the rest of the drones will latch on to and throw like spears in a bid to avoid their own persecution. Child psychology 101.

The problem is, once you’ve grown up and gotten your shit together, and have long since revelled in seeing the offenders clocking off at McDonald’s, or waddling down the high street with a farm of children nipping at their heels, that nickname still scratches around the corners of your consciousness. It embeds itself in your psyche, and becomes a quiet part of your identity.

Even if you no longer demonstrate attributes of the name, the name was once responsible for the shape of your entire world. Despite the ‘love yourself!’ rhetoric that dominates much of the conversation we’re party to nowadays, where self-acceptance and self-assurance are the ultimate goals, your heart will still miss a beat when you hear the name mentioned (entirely out of context, of course), or are in on any kind of discussion revolving around features linked to the name. Like it or not, that bloody name is an albatross around your neck no matter how many inspirational ‘U R so unique’ quotes you read on Tumblr.

Which is partly why, at the age of 28, I’m getting braces.

Again.

I had braces when I was 15 in a bid to counteract the attributes of the name which had long before been bestowed unto me. The requisite train track types that marked a rite of passage for the dentally disadvantaged teenager, but were liable to rip open the inside of your cheeks and drive pieces of errant metal wire into your gums every time you attempted an apple or a Mars Bar. But so desperate was I to be rid of them, and the name, that the retainer given to me by the orthodontist once they’d come off was gleefully flung into a drawer and quickly forgotten about. It was only a few weeks afterwards that I tried to put it back on and realised that my teeth had already moved too far to do so. Good work, teenage me.

So the name stuck, and I have been hugely paranoid about my teeth ever since, especially since they have now shifted quite significantly back into their original, overcrowded position.

The few people I’ve spoken to about this have of course assured me that my teeth are fine. And I know they’re not that bad, really. But this has nothing to do with emulating magazine-standard beauty or aspirational living, it’s because every time I look in the mirror, see a photograph of myself smiling awkwardly, or even see my erratic, jumbled bite mark in a piece of fruit, the name reverberates around my skull like a trapped bird, along with all the anxiety, paranoia and nervousness associated with it. So I’m taking charge of the name by banishing it for good.

The irony is that I’ve spent all of my adult life trying to hide my teeth, and now I’m drawing attention to them in the most overt way possible: “I’m an adult with braces! I’m unhappy with my teeth! Look at them!” It’s something that makes me feel quite sick and uneasy, but if I don’t do this now, then when? I definitely don’t want to make it to old age and look back at photos of milestone moments and think ‘Fuck, I wish I’d just gotten it over with’.

So after nearly eight years of saving (son, this shit is expensive and I’m a freelancer), I’m off to purposefully regress into my teenage self, and exorcise her of the demons of the name.

Just gonna get my fill of apples and Mars Bars first.

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