A Random Lunch Review

What: Boots Shapers Fish Sushi Selection

How much: £2.80

Contents: 1 tuna mayonnaise and red pepper Californian roll with white sesame seeds, 1 smoked salmon nigiri, 1 prawn mayonnaise and red pepper Californian roll with black sesame seeds, 1 smoked salmon and dill mixed nigiri, 1 smoked salmon hosomaki, 1 tuna mayonnaise hosomaki, 1 pickled ginger sachet, 1 wasabi sachet, 1 bottle low salt soy sauce.

First of all, what kind of dewy-eyed tree-hugger decided that eliminating the chopsticks from this pack was a good idea? I ended up eating with my fingers because frankly, if I’m going to eat sushi with a fork, I might as well grate some cheddar over it and bung it under the grill. To this end, the only other thing missing from the pack is a wet wipe. Well, that and decent sushi.

Overall it’s an unimpressive offering. Sushi rice shouldn’t be refrigerated but obviously as this pack is designed to sit on the shelf for a day, it must be. This turns the rice into a rather unpleasant, crumbly lump. The salmon and dill mixed nigiri managed to remain fairly pliant but is slightly sour and reminiscent of the kind of dill sauce you find on the shelf of a Cost Cutter store next to the Sandwich Spread.

The California rolls (along with the mayonnaise inside them) are a Western development in the world of sushi, taking the high street sushi range even further away from the traditional sushi and sashimi; much like the relationship a packet of prawn cocktail crisps has with an actual prawn cocktail. The ones in this pack were like two seed-covered boulders. Rock hard rice and slimy nori were wrapped around red pepper and prawn mayonnaise and yellow pepper and tuna mayonnaise. The prawn version was as bland as Lembit Opik in a beige tracksuit doing long division. Its tuna-based brother was almost artificially fishy; the pungent tang of the tuna together with the solid block of rice made it feel as though I was eating fish paste on a chunk of polystyrene.

The hosomaki, bless them, are barely worth mentioning. Suffice to say, without a good glug of soy sauce they would probably have passed unnoticed into my digestive tract, save for the five seconds of chewing.

The wasabi sachet is a blessing as one of the only two sources of flavour in this pack. It’s not as punchy as it could be, but it is at least plentiful. The pickled ginger however, is revolting; all pickle and no ginger.

Overall, the time spent picking black sesame seeds out of my teeth and wishing I’d chosen a salad or sandwich overrides any warm feelings I may have had towards this disappointingly insipid selection.

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Dear Nan: An Open Letter

Dear Nan

This is the most painful letter I’ve ever had to write. Well, except for the one I had to write to that woman saying sorry for when I thought her toddler was a Jack Russell and threw a chunk of my Zinger Burger at it outside KFC. Oh and that time I had to email Auntie Jackie to explain why smearing coronation chicken into the hair of your son’s bride on their wedding day, just because she didn’t want you to play the tambourine during the service was wrong. So actually, this is the third most painful letter I’ve ever had to write.

All my life you’ve been there for me. Every time I had an argument at home I knew I could go running round to your house and you’d get out the Battenburg and a pot of whelks and I’d pretend to know what Gin Rummy was and we’d have a game. You never let me win which you always said was a very important lesson. It certainly was important; I never try to win anything these days and my squalid, pointless life is all the easier for it. That’s down to YOU, Nan.

Now everything’s changed. I received your card in the post on the morning of my birthday and I could barely contain my urine. ‘A card from Nan!’ I thought. Mainly because I thought it was a card from you. What happened next shocked me so much I’ve only just felt able to publish a letter on the internet about it. I held the unopened envelope in my fingers and felt for the hard disc, the little coin I felt sure would be taped within, but I felt nothing. I blinked back tears of disbelief and, barely noticing the padded cartoon of a cat in a Wellington, I shakily opened the card.

THERE WAS NO POUND COIN SELLOTAPED INSIDE.

Do you know how that felt, Nan? It was as if you’d reached your nicotine-stained fingers into my chest cavity, pulled out my heart and baked it into one of your revolting upside down cakes. It felt THAT BAD. I may be thirty-two and employed but that doesn’t mean I’ve got everything I need. Do you know what a pound can buy you these days, Nan? I mean, I know you only spend your pension on pop socks and Baileys but let me tell you the real value of the humble pound. Let me tell you what I could have bought with that pound of which you so callously deprived me.

ANYTHING IN POUNDLAND.

Yes, that’s right Nan. I would have wandered into that emporium of possibility, your lovingly bestowed pound clutched in my hand and surveyed the shelves like someone in Poundland with a quid to spend. I’d have spent hours trying to decide between an ashtray shaped like a frog, three hundred toilet rolls or a fleece with a wolf on it. That dream was shattered, Nan. Shattered by an old woman hellbent on destroying her grandchild’s faith in humanity.

All things considered, I should never speak to you again and if I ever become a world-famous chef you can fuck off if you think you’re going to be my CEO. But I’m a grown up now, Nan and I’ve decided that the only way we’re going to get past this and become a close, loving family once more is if I publicly publish this letter that has absolutely no bearing on anyone else’s life and that I could quite easily have put in an envelope and posted to you rather than whining on about it to the whole world like a giant moron. I think you’ll agree Nan that this way you and everyone else who reads this will see how hurt I am but that it’s me that’s the bigger person, that truly deserves everyone’s sympathy and some money from a magazine to bang on about it a bit more under a predictably sensationalistic headline.

Please remember I love you and if you’re any kind of human you’ll write back publicly, reminding everyone of this all over again so I get a bit more attention.

Your loving granddaughter

x

London

London: Your Guide To Mastering The Capital

So you want to move to London. Any change in life can be scary but it’s important not to worry. London is not only the fashion capital of the bottom right corner of England, it’s also full of incredibly interesting people all waiting to shake you by the hand (they may or may not let go so check for any open sores before you accept). You may be moving to our great city because you have managed to secure one of the ten or so jobs currently available, or perhaps you have relations here. Maybe you just fancy living life as though you’re in a particularly aggressive computer game. Whatever your reasons, you’ll need to know the basics before you even think of trying to work out the queueing system in Pret A Manger.

Finding Somewhere To Live

Unless you’re Bear Grylls or that bloke who built a tree house in a conifer outside Sydenham, you’ll probably need to rent a room. Many people embarking on life in London are young and usually quite poor so your best bet is a ‘flat share’ (or prostitution but that’s frowned upon by many law enforcement professionals). There are many websites that list available rooms so once you pick your desired side of the river (see next point) you can quite easily find somewhere cosy. London flat shares are famously luxurious and it’s not uncommon to find seven or even eight people with whom to share that luxury. Imagine the fun of getting home from a long day behind the till to fight over the single gas ring with three burly Australians and a worryingly thin Eastern European in order to cook your Lidl noodles. Afterwards, you can retire to your room to lie back on your sleeping bag and pile of rolled up jumpers while ignoring the animalistic sex noises. This is truly how friends for life are made!

Your Side Of The River

As you may know, London is divided by the Thames river (the ‘h’ is silent). When you move to London you are required by law to select your side of the river based on the many guides available and once you live there, you’re there for life. You MAY NOT change sides at any point, as this would lead to anarchy, chaos and fluctuating property values. You are permitted to cross the river for employment purposes but without the correct permits and properly displayed badges you are liable to be pushed into the river Thames (silent ‘h’) by a Beefeater.

Public Transport

London’s famous tube network is among the most reliable tube networks in London. Technological advances in recent years mean it is now possible for up to FIVE out of every seventy people to get a seat. Impressive I’m sure you’ll agree! Now obviously service like this doesn’t come cheaply and you will find most if not all of your wages going on your weekly travel. However you wouldn’t be able to afford to get to work if you didn’t work so it’s like the circle of life, really. When using the tube network it’s important to remember four things:

1. Your elbows are your jabby, annoying tickets to that cushy square foot of space near the door. Keep them pointing out at all times and use them to move people out of your way (don’t forget to dip down for children).

2. Learn how to read while walking along. Studies show that people trapped behind you as you meander aimlessly along with your nose buried in The Metro are likely to become calmer and happier as a result so try and do it whenever you can, especially as you approach the escalators.

3. You encounter many different types of people on the tube, most of whom don’t actually realise they’re on the tube. Remember; it’s not your job to point this out to them. If you interrupt their singing, argument with someone invisible, or enthusiastic defecation you’re likely to receive a sharp, often physical admonishment!

4. Do not speak to anyone. Ever. This really can’t be emphasised enough. In recent times, accidental eye contact accompanied by an embarrassed smile has become almost acceptable but is still ideally avoided. If you address someone it must only be to insult them in the traditional fashion, or to point out that someone has just stolen their purse.

Nightlife

London comes alive at night. Don’t worry, there are no (dangerous) zombies! Rather its bars, clubs and pubs present a myriad of possibilities, all involving alcohol. Whatever your tipple, be it a glass of chilled wine, a pint of beer or a mix of the two, you will find it in London. Many of the traditional pubs will have a fascinating array of characters. You can spot them by their medals, scruffy dogs and yellowy beards. They’ve always got a story to tell so buy them a pint and sit comfortably! If you find yourself in a bar with a large amount of exposed brickwork and/or giant silver pipes running along the ceiling that look as though a builder got bored halfway through and walked off the job, then you must employ certain phrases. These are:

“Fourteen pounds for a mojito is extremely reasonable, have one yourself barman!”

“The DJ has picked just the right type of music and volume for 5.30pm on a Tuesday.” (This is usually shouted)

“Yes, toilet attendent, I would very much like a paper towel, a squirt of knock off perfume and a Chuba Chups lolly for a pound, you’re so kind! I wish you worked in MY toilet! Hahaha.”

Hopefully you have found the points in this guide useful and your resolve to move to London to join the hoardes of blissfully happy and fulfilled people is even stronger. Once you understand the way our glorious city works, you’ll find you never want to leave. Obviously you can leave, London isn’t a prison! Well bits of it are, but don’t think about that. Anyway, before you start applying for those coveted café jobs, don’t forget to send your bank details to the address on the back page so we can send you your ‘Stick a fork in me, I’m lonDON(e)’ badge (£7.99 inc p&p). Good luck and see you soon!

Underwear

As a commuter in London I’m bombarded every day with thousands of adverts. Normally it all passes me by in a blur but this week one craftily snuck by my mental filters. The advert in question features the unbelievably gorgeous Bar Refaeli posing for Passionata in their latest lingerie range. The images are, of course, extraordinarily provocative. Bar poses casually on a swing in a tutu, much like I do after a long hard day at the office. The underwear in the advert is, frankly, secondary to her beauty.

The problem I’ve got is that as a woman, I’m supposed to look at those adverts, ignore the ludicrous staging/perfect hair/perfect make up/and…well, not so much ‘come to bed eyes’ as ‘I hope you’re going to wipe that up’ eyes and think ‘By jove, that underwear’s great. If I buy that, I too will look as amazing as that twenty five year old Israli siren.’

I don’t think this.

What I think is more along the lines of: ‘Oh for God’s sake look at that smug cow, I haven’t even had coffee, my cheap bra is digging into my side boob and that bint’s being forced through my retinas. Must lose weight! Oh bugger, look at the queue for the escalator…’ I don’t think this response was Passionata’s aim.

I understand, of course, that the average woman isn’t suitable for underwear modelling. You have to be tall, curvy yet inexplicably thin and photogenic. By contrast, I don’t want to look at some pale, round-shouldered girl who’s been shoe-horned into a peach bra and knickers set and plonked on a swing in a draughty studio in Basildon. I do appreciate that the inherent sexiness of the model displays the underwear in its best light but my point is, how many women actually look at that advert and think ‘Them’s the undercrackers for me!’ Not many, I’ll wager.

I have one friend who exclusively owns ‘sets’ of underwear. Each bra has a matching pair of knickers and she never interchanges them. To her, underwear is a joy. She feels great if she knows she looks great underneath it all. The rest of us can only dream of being so perfectly coordinated and groomed.

If you’re anything like me (not you blokes obviously, although I’m sure the images of David Beckham displaying his ‘golden bulge’ in jockey shorts for Emporio Armarni didn’t exactly make you feel good about last night’s curry), then you’ll own underwear in the following categories:

Possible Shag: Yes that’s right, a man is probably going to see your underwear. He may not actually identify it as underwear at the crucial moment, rather as a scratchy, fiddly hinderance that needs to be disposed of sharpish. Unless of course you go in for the strip ‘n’ prowl move but if you do you’re probably wearing a set of underwear so flammable that if you get within ten feet of a Bic lighter it will be welded to you for all eternity. I think men appreciate underwear but only really as a challenge. No man has ever paused in the throes of passion and said ‘Good lord! Is that the new Agent Provocateur half padded plunge with the crown elastic trims?’ It’s probably more like ‘Pink and black stuff! Must…remove…must…aaahhhh boobs.’ Women do feel more confident in a nice set of underwear though and so we keep two or three sets of fancy stuff with lace for just such an occasion. Obviously if the relationship progresses, you’ll probably never see that underwear again.

Work Underwear: If you do an office job, you inevitably spend most of the day sitting about and while this doesn’t sound like much of a challenge for your average high street underwear set, achieving comfort for 8 hours in a chair is fraught with difficulty. VPL is hideous, we all know this and so to avoid the ‘four bum cheek’ look in your smart work trousers, you wear a thong. Unless you’ve discovered a thong made from kitten fur and silk, the chances are that bit of lace-edged cotton up your crack is going to start chafing and not just at the back. Every girl has, at some time or another, popped to the loo to pull the thong out of their intimate regions for five blessed seconds before wearily letting it ping back into place to rub for another hour or so. Bras are another challenge. Most people have appalling posture so unless you sit like with a back like a ramrod then you’ll probably spend a large amount of time with a small portion of underwire digging in. Giant pants and miraculously supportive wire-free bras in seamless cotton would be best but high street retailers have yet to bring out the ‘Desk Job’ lingerie range.

Time Of The Month: (Men – skip this bit. Honestly, you don’t want to know.) So Flo’s in town and we’re feeling several thousand degrees below terrific. All we want to do is lie on the sofa shouting abuse at Come Dine With Me while drinking tea by the gallon. We do not (and I really can’t stress this enough) want to go rollerblading. No woman has ever, EVER worn white jeans on her period. The nineties tampon adverts were designed to make us believe we could but most women would rather play chicken on the M25 than attempt something so dangerous. Of course, advances in sanitary product technology mean you can now wear a thong during your period but most women I know have a greying, holey, limp collection of knickers that once a month at the peak of the discomfort are guiltily put on underneath our otherwise fabulous outfits. They’re Period Pants and by God, they’re wonderful.

Every Day: Most women, most of the time wear pretty boring underwear. There is nothing exciting about a white cotton set but it’s comfortable and practical. We don’t expect anyone to see it, bar an impromptu liaison or freak accident involving the office shredder and we wear it in the knowledge that it’s supporting where it should, isn’t showing and is generally inoffensive to the world at large. M&S are the masters of this and their underwear adverts are far more realistic (even though hardly anyone looks like Ana Beatriz Barros).

You may also own a couple of pairs of stockings, bought on a whim and either never worn, worn once on a date or laddered before you’d got one over your knee and shoved them angrily back in the drawer. Stockings are one thing but I don’t know anyone who wears suspenders, seriously I don’t. It’s hard enough stopping most pairs of knickers rolling up at the sides without then having to strap yourself into the lingerie equivalent of a safety harness.

Underwear choice is of course, deeply personal but I honestly don’t think the over-sexed adverts are aimed at women. I think they’re aimed at men and in turn women think ‘Oh blimey, I bet he’s expecting all that frou-frou nonsense, I’d best nip down La Senza and see what’s on sale.’ I’m sure I don’t speak for all women but on the whole, comfort is paramount and this has never involved wearing a tutu on a swing.

Exercise

It’s good for you isn’t it, exercise? Oh yes, all that running about, squeezing things, pushing things, pedalling things, jumping up and down, going puce. It’s healthy! Muscles get bigger, bums get smaller and one emits the smug glow of someone whose endorphins smell of raw achievement.

I hate exercise. God, I hate it. Unsurprisingly I’m quite lazy by nature. I find it hard to motivate myself to do anything you’re ‘supposed’ to do, anything tedious but essential or anything that’s going to leave me feeling as though someone has doused my muscles in Deep Heat then run me over with their Land Rover.

Ever since school people have said ‘You just need to find something you enjoy! Then exercise won’t seem like such a chore!’ Generally these are people who have as much need for a sports bra as a hedgehog does for a provisional driving licence, go baby pink when they exercise instead of ecclesiastical purple and count fruit as carbohydrates. Or they’re my mother.

Well I’m sorry but I have yet to find any form of exercise that doesn’t make me want to claw my face off with boredom. For a start I was always rubbish at games at school. I’m tall and quite strong so on Sports Day I was always forced into discus, shot put or javelin which I was fine with as I didn’t have to run anywhere. I just stood and chucked things with varying degrees of accuracy and injury to spectators. In the fifth year I was inexplicably signed up for the 1500m race. 1500m! Do you have any idea how far that is?! Well obviously it’s exactly 1500m but in terms of the number of times round the track it was close to a million (give or take). When the day came I turned it into a comedy event. I walked it, making faces at my mates and taking exaggerated bows every time I did a full circuit of the track. The event had finished and they were setting up the hurdles by the time I sauntered nonchalantly over the finish line. I couldn’t have run 1500 metres if there’d been a pack of rabid dogs chasing me.

Over the years I’ve tried netball (rubbish at team games), basketball (ditto), volleyball (can’t hit straight), yoga (boring), pilates (boring and farty), swimming (lung capacity of a toddler) aerobics (fuck off) and have been a member of several different gym chains. One of my major issues is having the coordination of an epileptic elephant, so when it comes to doing aerobics I’m always the one going the wrong way and knocking my lycra-clad classmates over like dominoes. I once did a step aerobics class and was so out of time the teacher took my step away because I was putting the others off their rhythm. I continued the session stamping away on the floor like a drill sergeant in a tap class. I was mortified.

Gyms completely intimidate me. The smell of sweat and envy heavy in the air as all the really toned people stretch and flex in front of mirrors. The girls with their perfect ponytails swinging in time as they pound the treadmill or swish their legs about on the cross trainer. The matching lycra, complimentary rucksacks and ear-splittingly loud music. I would sidle in, clad in my gigantic man’s t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms and do an apologetic half hour workout before dashing into the changing rooms to have a panic attack in a cubicle before going home.

I don’t have the stamina or attention span for running. Pounding mindlessly along a pavement, your skeleton rattling with every step, sweat plastering your hair to your face and motorists pointing and laughing…OK so not that last one unless you’re really unlucky but the rest is right. Besides, who wants to go out running when the kettle’s just boiled and Columbo’s on?

The truth of the matter is, I wish I wasn’t like this. I wish I loved exercise, that the memory of the endorphin high post-workout was enough to keep me coming back for more. I wish I cared less about what people thought so that looking like a beetroot having a stroke didn’t bother me. I wish I was coordinated and energetic and enthusiastic instead of clumsy, lethargic and cynical, but I’m not. This is, unfortunately, me. I am destined for brittle bones, clogged arteries and a heart that will probably require a bypass by the age of 45. Unless I can motivate myself, find the spare money every month for gym membership and find the time to travel the three hour round trip to a gym where no one knows me, then perhaps it’s not too late to discover a love of exercise. I’ll just put my feet up and think about it.

Sunday

Poor Sunday. If it weren’t for the fact that Monday hangs off it like a hideous and sinister growth we’d probably all feel quite well disposed towards it. Sunday should represent the end of one week and the doorway to seven freshly minted days of possibility and opportunity. Of course what it really represents is roast meat, rubbish TV and by about 6pm, a burgeoning sense of dread.

When I was a kid, Sundays ran as follows: Church followed by a hefty lunch, an afternoon of arguing over Swingball if it was sunny or staring blankly at the TV if it was rainy, sardines on toast in front of the Antiques Roadshow and Last of The Summer Wine, then bed. Later on, homework was wedged into the schedule. Well, my attempt at homework which was usually forty minutes of doodling love hearts while listening to Take That, followed by ten minutes of scribbled rubbish, vaguely approximating the given subject matter.

Nowadays in an attempt to forget the impending horrors of Monday, I throw fun overarm at Sunday like a particularly aggressive bowler. It may involve the pub, shopping, movies, anything to create escapism. It doesn’t work, of course. Even when the fun has been sun-dappled, happy-faced, Magners advert-type fun it still dissipates to reveal the gaping, bloody maw of Monday morning.

I’m sure if you do something for a living that you actually enjoy, your Sunday evenings are pleasantly relaxing. However if, like me, you do a job you hate because you have to, Sunday evenings are cloaked in foreboding. I used to wring every last second out of my weekends. I ran a Sunday afternoon party in the upstairs room of a pub in Brixton and would be on the dancefloor from 1pm to 10pm. The party was called ‘We Continue’ and the whole ethos was about forgetting Monday and making the most of our last few hours of freedom. These days it takes me until 3pm on Tuesday afternoon to fully recover from a couple of glasses of Pinot on a Saturday so I can forget about any raucous behaviour on a Sunday night.

Why do I invest every Sunday with such malaise and misery? After all, they happen every week, surely I should just embrace it as a part of my weekend as enjoyable as Friday night or Saturday. I can’t though, I just can’t. Friday night is delicious possibility, relief at the end of another working week, fun and indulgence. Saturday is laziness, food, friends and excitement. Sunday is the countdown to another week of drudgery, the loss of freedom and the sound of strimmers wielded by reluctant husbands. It is a day of mental preparation and the move towards our work persona.

I can’t ramble on about Sunday without mentioning Morrissey who of course, wrote this:

Everyday is like Sunday/Everyday is silent and grey

Trust Morrissey to nail it. Sunday perfectly summed up by a chap who knows a thing or two about malaise.

Funky Cold…what?

When I was around twelve years old I had train track braces, a corkscrew perm and had just started noticing boys for reasons other than one had thrown my bag over the science block or yanked my ponytail in the playground. It was slowly dawning on me that the approaching teenage years held great potential for sulking, mood swings and obsessional behaviour. Amidst all this I was given an album, Now That’s What I Call Angst or whatever, with a selection of tracks seemingly hand-picked to coincide with my coming of age. For example, Boys by Sabrina (remember the video? Oh yes you do), Can I Play With Madness? by Iron Maiden and the pinnacle, the jewel in the crown of this appallingly inappropriate cheese-fest; Funky Cold Medina by Tone Loc.

Have you listened to that song recently? If not, set aside four minutes and eight seconds of your life and you’ll discover that what we have here is a rap record advocating early use of Rohyphnol in the pursuit of getting laid. Loc casually buys a mysterious substance from some dude draped in glassy-eyed ‘hos in a bar one night and proceeds to pepper every woman he meets with this potentially fatal narcotic.

Cleverly, Loc doesn’t just wait for the victims to come to him. He decides to increase his chances of roofie-rumpy by applying to be a contestant on the American equivalent of Blind Date. He is accepted onto the show and despite the fact that any girl on a dating show is probably a safe bet, he decides to drug the girl who picks him. He can’t have thought that through in my opinion. Surely she’d mention it the following week when they popped back to the Love Connection for a chat about the date. “Well, dinner was lovely but I don’t remember much about the horse back riding on the beach. I am quite sore though…”

As if that weren’t bad enough, in an act of animal cruelty that would have the RSPCA weeping into their polyester shirt sleeves, he drugs his own dog causing it to be gang-raped by the local hounds in a Medina-induced frenzy. Loc’s logic that female dog equals female human in all but number of legs probably goes some way to explaining why he feels he needs to drug women in the first place.

The only highlight of the song is that in a situation reminiscent of a scene from Crocodile Dundee, he encounters a transvestite (‘Sheena’ – a dead giveaway for anyone but the sex-blind Loc) and fails to realise it’s a man. Only when the old boy comes out does he realise the potential pitfalls of dosing all and sundry with the monstrous Medina (Medina, incidentally, is a city in the Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia – apparently nothing to do with love potions or novelty rap). Additionally, we never find out why it has to be cold.

Tone Loc may have written the song as a cautionary tale to all about the dangers of drugging helpless women in bars so that they’re ‘good to go’ but given the current rampant abuse of the drug, I would say he failed. I have a suspicion his dubious turn in Ace Ventura Pet Detective was merely the result of a community service order on the way to well-deserved obscurity. Tone Loc, where are you now?