A small shoe shopping rant

Actually, I should correct myself. It’s a large shoe shopping rant – in some people’s opinions, an exceedingly large shoe shopping rant. For clarification purposes, it’s the shoes that are large, as opposed to the rant…

I have big feet. I was a size 8 by the time I was 14 – thank goodness that’s also when they stopped growing! To put this into context, the average size for British women is a 5. Fortunately, I’ve never felt too much of a freak in this respect, as I seem to be gifted at making friends with girls who are similarly blessed. In my gospel choir alone, there have been at least four others with size 8 (if not 9) footsies.

Having large feet can be a trial, for a number of reasons, including:

  • Certain shoe styles only serve to make your feet look freakishly huge. Pointy shoes would be a classic example of this – the pointy bit at the front not being wide enough for any flesh, thus simply adding length to an already long foot. I like to call such things “canoes”.
  • Shoe shops rarely stock many pairs in their biggest sizes, thus they are often out of stock. (Though it has to be said that this is an improvement upon days when shoes stopped at a size 7.) 

Having big feet makes it exceptionally annoying when shop assistants do the classic “I’m sorry, we don’t have it in a [insert your shoes size] but we do have it in a [insert size below], so I brought a pair so you could try it on.” When you’re an 8, it’s often the biggest size available, so it’s unlikely that they’ll have brought a bigger size for you to try – it’ll always be the smaller one. Thing is, I know I’m an 8, that’s why I ask for it. I know my feet are big, that they won’t fit into a 7 (except in Birkenstocks) and therefore do not ask “please could you bring me this in a 7 and an 8?”. It’s exceptionally disappointing when you see the assistant coming back with a box, you’ve got your shoes off in readiness, and then discover that they’re not in your size. Perhaps the former shoe shop workers amongst my readers will criticise me for this, but it really is a pet peeve of mine.

On Thursday, I had an hour in which to do some emergency shoe shopping. ‘Emergency shoe shopping – how can such a thing exist?’ I hear you muttering to yourselves. Let me explain… 
Monday was an exceedingly wet day in London town. Before I was half way to the tube, I sensed that my left foot was exceedingly wet. Closer inspection revealed a crack along the sole, going right through the rubber and leather (Dr Marten soles – so this is an impressive feat). These boots are my winter stand-bys, I practically live in them from October to March. Since 2005 I’ve had two pairs and couldn’t be without them. Thus, replacing them became an urgent task for which I had little time. 
New boots were identified (these ones) and on Thursday afternoon I dashed to Covent Garden to acquire them. To my distress, the exact scenario I described above took place – the shop assistant insisted I ought to try on the 7’s, even though I’ve worn the 8’s in the same style consistently for five years and hadn’t noticed my feet having acres of extra space, I was deeply forlorn and feared that my toes would remain damp for several days to come – not a good thing given the weather forecast. 
Fortunately, though the weather god was against me, the shoe god was for me. Down the road I found another DM retailer where not only did they have the ones I wanted in the correct size and colour, but for £10 less than their RRP. Happy days. 
The observant amongst you will realise that it’s only three weeks since my last boot purchase. I normally wouldn’t spend so much money on footwear in such a short amount of time, but I’m sure that you’ll appreciate that the latter purchase truly was an emergency! 

A minor rant

London Transport and I generally have a pretty good relationship. It gets me to work smoothly – most of the time. It gets me home at unearthly hours courtesy of the ever-eccentric night bus. I’m never far away from a bus that will get me somewhere useful.

However…

Have you tried travelling anywhere in London at the weekend? It’s a minefield of entirely closed lines, partially closed lines and shut stations. My line – the newest of the entire network – has had some sort of closure almost every weekend for about two years. It’s got to the point now where you assume it won’t be working, so that when it is it’s a huge excitement. I can’t face looking at the 6 monthly guide for closures any more, it’s far too irritating. Instead, I function on a week-by-week basis, checking the posters when they appear every Monday.

Last night my friend and I uttered audible groans when we spotted this week’s poster – the entire line’s out all weekend – wonderful.

The Jubilee line’s fabulous when it works. When it doesn’t it’s a huge pain and frustration. It’s especially ridiculous that the newest bit (on which I live) is shut so often when it’s barely a decade old. Hmphhh. For your benefit, I’ve just looked at the 6 month pdf and sure enough, it’s closed entirely over Easter and the first May Bank Holiday. We get a weekend’s respite just after Easter (handily, I’ll be out of London) and then it begins again. It’s officially rubbish.

Yesterday, I got to the station after another weekend of closures, to discover that the line was suspended Waterloo-Finchley Road thanks to a ‘defective train at Green Park’. After half an hour of going slowly through 3 stations, we got to Waterloo to discover the line was open again – a relief, but it still made me late when (unusually) I was running early.

In fact, yesterday was just a catalogue of TfL frustration. Emerging from Canada Water (having spotted the weekend closures already) I discovered that its bus station was being dug up – no warning of this happening the night before! The bus station is pretty handy – from right outside the tube, under cover & with great lighting, I can catch one of three buses home which is great after a late night out.

In their wisdom, TfL have moved the bus stops round the corner on to the road about 5mins walk away. Locating the relevant bus numbers on the map, I discovered that my 3 buses were now divided between 2 stops. Reaching the new location, it emerged that whilst near each other, they weren’t quite close enough to run between them depending on which bus appears at the top of the road. To make things worse, one bus begins at that stop and is usually standing there, waiting for its appointed time – if you’re looking up the road for the other buses, you’ve got your back to that one, making it all too easy to miss it should the driver suddenly decide it’s ready. It’s sheer stupidity.

Apologies. Just needed to get that off my chest – thanks.

The world is your Oyster – unless it’s a Saturday or Sunday, obviously.
[Incidentally, this is my new Oyster card holder, courtesy of Doris at Christmas – genius.]

The grinch that stole new years

I hate new years. There, I’ve said it. I don’t get what the fuss is all about and I strongly object to the fact that from the moment December begins everyone – including complete strangers – feels compelled to ask you what your plans for the ‘big night’ are.

Over the years I’ve had some dismal NYE’s and probably only one really good one. Many have simply been good, fun evenings involving wine, board games, films and friends. Kind of like any regular Friday night really – but with fireworks. Why does it have to be hyped up at all?

Add to that the fact that this year marks the end of one decade & the beginning of another and the stakes get raised even higher. Ten years ago I celebrated The Millennium with a few friends and (as far as I can remember) some jelly, a lot of random TV, some manic dancing as Big Ben chimed midnight and a trip to a park to (presumably) watch fireworks. Nothing to write home about, but it was a fun night.

I wonder if I simply have unrealistic expectations and therefore have been consistently disappointed, or even stopped trying to meet these expectations many years ago? Perhaps I’ve watched one too many romcoms that encourage me to believe in NYE’s spent with a handsome man in black tie whilst a jazz band plays in the background… Maybe it’s because this year I’m itching to wear a gorgeous blue evening gown that I finally fit into again – yet opportunities to do so are few and far between. (Anyone fancy hosting a ball just so I can wear it??)

And the worst thing? I don’t even see why the end of one year should be celebrated. It’s a bit like the slight malaise I feel on birthdays thinking that another year’s passed with little achieved. At New Years there’s the added bonus of being guilt tripped into making resolutions everywhere you look – detox diets, joining gyms, only buying ethical goods, celebrity fitness dvds… It’s just another day, so why all the fuss?

Do I just come across as a bitter and twisted old witch? I hope not.
It’s just that I’m not much of a clubber (I know, shocking isn’t it?!); I’ve grown up to be someone who doesn’t see the point in getting drunk for no good reason (this saddens me, but nevermind); am single and therefore lack someone to make decisions for me (or make decisions on their behalf); and live in a city to which thousands flock for the momentous night, making simple trips across town something of an expedition.

Come Thursday night I’m sure I will have a plan and I’ll have fun. It’ll be a nice night but not earth-shatteringly amazing. On Friday morning I’ll wake up and nothing will have changed and this will not be a bad thing. The ridiculously named ‘noughties’ will be over and a new year and decade will begin…no big deal.
End of story.

Food glorious food

This is not one of my normal posts. 
In a fit of contemplation on Saturday night I wrote this essay and after a few days in the drafts folder I think it’s ok to bring it out. My ‘serious’ writing always goes against the grain of my regular stuff, but it’s the only forum I have to publish my work. Skip it you want, I won’t hold it against you. Come back tomorrow – I’ve got driving updates and a treatise on mittens for you. 
(If that’s not enticing, I don’t know what is!!) 
Food (noun): any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb to maintain life and growth.

One word. Four letters.
Our need for it fuels our ealiest instincts.

The lack of it kills over 20,000 people per day.
The over-consumption of it contributes to the death of 300,000 people per year.

We love to talk about food – to share recipes, recommend restaurants, offer a taste of something new, different, exciting… But for so many people, food – whether it’s the lack of it or the over abundance of it – is a major issue.

If food is essentially about nutrition – about ‘maintaining life and growth’ – then it should be a fairly simple equation. Calories consumed should roughly equal those used in activity. The major food groups should be accounted for, plus those providing vitamins, anti-oxidents and other nutrients.

But, because food (usually) tastes good, it becomes so much more than simple nutrition. It’s about taste and texture, sensation, subtleties, sweetness, spice – even endorphins.

Food is something I find it hard to talk about. I realised some time ago that I’m quite categorically not a foodie. I very rarely find myself in ecstasies over a particular product or taste. Quite honestly, when I look at a menu I’m looking for the things that fall into both the ‘food I will eat’ category, and are preferably fairly low-fat.

Fussy eaters aren’t uncommon. Everyone has their particular foibles when it comes to food. My father won’t eat brocolli or cucumber; my sister wouldn’t eat eggs for a very long time; I don’t eat raw tomato… It’s perfectly normal. But what about when fussiness gets out of control?

I’m a massive fan of the BBC3 show Freaky Eaters – where individuals who only eat cheese, or chips or who are scared of salad, are treated by a nutritionist and psychologist to find the root of their food issues. It makes total sense and raises awareness that idiosyncracies regarding food are actually a more serious issue than they first appear.

Not that I’m at that level, but I’ve been afraid of food. One of the main motivations for my mostly vegetarian diet was that I didn’t trust myself to cook meat safely. Even now, I am incredibly suspicious of any meat that doesn’t look ‘quite right’. I don’t eat fish, mostly owing to its taste, but also partly out of genuine fear regarding the bones. I’m generally not adventurous because I don’t want to run the risk of not liking it, or feeling ill.

The other day I had my first ever mussels. (Well, I managed precisely three – at which point my dinner companion said I could stop as he could see my grimaces and knew I wasn’t enjoying it!) But it put a dampner on the whole meal. I was so nervous about them – in terms of taste & horror stories I’ve heard of food poisoning from them – that I could barely eat my main course, which is a bit of a sad state of affairs.

In actual fact, I’m on a journey as far as food is concerned. After many years of abusing it, whether it was for comfort or simply a lack of understanding, I’ve gradually been altering my attitude towards it. I understand the nutritional element of it, but I’m still a way off reaching ‘foodie’ status. It’s difficult to glory in food when you need to keep track of its calorific content in order to lose weight. Low-fat food doesn’t taste that great either. (Chilli flakes are a great way of making low-fat pizza palatable.) But I’m improving and taking the time to experiment with cooking styles and flavours; embracing food rather than let it intimidate me.

Would I like to become a foodie? Maybe. In the mean time, foodie friends should have patience with me, perhaps introducing me slowly to this world they inhabit. And, maybe we should all think more carefully about the food we shove into our mouths…is it the best we could consume? Would something else taste better or be better for us? What are we eating for – basic nutrition or a pleasurable experience, or both?

When it comes down to it, surely it needs to be about so much more than ‘maintaining life and growth’, or else we’re no better than animals…?

Unrealistic Expectations

Sometime ago, I discovered that a number of friends had joined the amusingly titled facebook group: Disney gave me unrealistic expectations about love. Essentially, it’s for those who believe that ‘swapping your voice and family for legs is a good deal’…

As a realist, I don’t suffer from such delusions (i.e. I understand that I do not live in a cartoon world of fairy tales). However, it’s struck me that another film genre has given me unrealistic expectations about life in general – Richard Curtis movies…

Today I had several moments of what I like to call ‘The Notting Hill Effect’. I don’t know if it’s simply because I live in London, or because I’m a hopeless romantic, or because it’s getting colder, or that it’s getting near Christmas, but they seemed to come at me from all angles.

It’s those moments of a sudden flash of realisation that this specific moment in time would be marvellously accompanied by a musical score – like crossing The Blue (Bermondsey’s answer to Walford market) this morning and seeing the stalls becoming Christmassy, entirely reminiscent of the time lapse scene in Notting Hill. Or this evening, walking home along the river, with the lights twinkling on Tower Bridge – a scene that could have been straight out of Love, Actually.

Because do you know what that fool of a director has done to me? He’s made me expect that the stuff of his films should happen in real life. That I should live in an idyllic mews house in Hampstead, with a fabulously gorgeous husband, with whom I’d walk hand-in-hand with on the Heath; that my travels round town should be accompanied by a string-heavy orchestral score; that it should snow every winter; that I should have fabulous dinner parties with equally fabulous guests…I could go on, but I think you get the picture!

I’m sure you do it too though. Who hasn’t emulated the fabulous excited dance Sarah executes when finally bagging her long-term office crush in Love, Actually? Oh no, wait, that would be just me again, wouldn’t it?

It’s lucky that I’m a realist (or rather, as I like to term it, a pessimistic optimist), else I’d be constantly disappointed with life. As it is, I’ve learned to laugh at these moments of ridiculousness and only indulge them on the sofa, in front of one of the films…