Skirting The Issue

I’m stuck in a black opaque tights fashion trap. I wear them pretty much every single day. I don’t own a pair of jeans and I don’t feel comfortable in trousers. In fact, I only wear skirts or dresses and tights. I’m weird.

Black opaque tights are the Volkswagen Golf of the fashion world – fail safe and trustworthy. I’ve begun to dislike my ageing knees but enveloped in 60 denier, all nobbles are covered (Marks and Spencer’s Autograph Velvet Touch 60 denier, since you’re asking – trust me, I’ve tried them all); I can’t even begin to comprehend a future without them.

For a couple of years, I was quite happily cantering around at work, 60 denier-clad shanks on display until… disaster! Someone at work allegedly bent over a child in a strappy top and managed to expose an inappropriate amount of cleavage. This led to a lot of serious talk from the powers-that-be, followed by a new dress code thrust into our hands – ironically, on the very same day I had chosen to showcase my rather short pillar-box red Whistles mini-skirt.

The dress code said: No strappy tops (obvs – see cleavagegate); No leggings; Skirts to just above the knee; Culottes acceptable.

Skirts to just above the knee? CULOTTES?!

One stray boob and we were all paying the price.

I trudged dismally home and peered ruefully into my wardrobe. Of my many skirts, 90 per cent fell into the category of ‘above knee’.

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I wasn’t alone. A stealth group had formed at work. Let’s call us the Skirt Crusaders. We had one thing in common: hitched up hemlines and a depleted work wardrobe.

For a few weeks, we all played it safe: trousers and pencil skirts being the order of the day. There wasn’t a flash of thigh in sight – 60 denier or not. I even went as far as purchasing a long maroon circle skirt. The husband said I looked like a member of the Amish community. I toyed with the idea of a pair of culottes but then realised that I’d look like a Victorian school ma’am. The threat of only being able to shop at Long Tall Sally hung over us all like a grey cloud.

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One Skirt Crusader broke protocol and arrived at work in a thigh-skimming grey number. In my mind, the length of it was okay. But later that day, she was summoned to the big cheese’s office and told that although she had a ‘lovely figure’, she needed to show a little more decorum in her choice of skirts. Can you think of anything more mortifying?

After the hemline hoo-ha had died down, the skirts gradually began to creep back in: an a-line skirt here and pair of leggings there. I began to wear the odd above-knee skirt again but unzipping it slightly at the back to gain a few extra inches. It’s like when you used to roll your skirt up at school – only in reverse. My long legs had become the enemy.

I’ve been on ‘Skirt Watch’ for a while now. The worries of old seem to be diminishing. My fellow Skirt Crusader decided to brave another risqué skirt the other day. I observed it quietly, with a knowing nod of acknowledgement – but later made the following report:

‘Hello Long Limbs. Well, today’s skirt was certainly borderline, with the split at the front flashing the odd extra inch of thigh. It wasn’t quite grey skirt territory but I would describe it as your boldest move yet. However, the length was tempered by the black tights and black pumps, complemented further by the black polo neck. This created a slightly deceiving silhouette. In conclusion, this particular number was passable – just.’

She appreciated my honest feedback.

There’s a new boss at work. Rumours have circulated that he’s already said, ‘I don’t want to be able to see up it or down it’. This might be a myth though.

The black opaques are still going strong.

But, for now, the red Whistles mini-skirt has gone into retirement.

The Crack Cocaine of Fast Food

The husband and I have a guilty little eating obsession that we’ve been keeping quiet about for some time. Like most addictions, it crept up on us slowly – a brief visit here and there if we happened to be passing.

But the lure of Nando’s neon rooster soon became too much. Before we knew it, we were bombing down there every Sunday to ravenously stuff our jowls with spicy chicken, licking our greasy fingers feverishly, as peri peri sauce dribbled down our chins.

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In the unlikely event that you’ve never entered its dark doors, Nando’s is basically a fast food restaurant that specialises in Portuguese-style chicken, accompanied by bottles of peri peri sauce, which range from mild to extremely hot. One hit and you’re hooked.

Some people go to Nando’s for a date night; some for a fun night with friends. But we visit Nando’s purely to get our fix. There is no element of enjoyment involved; like true addicts, we’re only interested in getting in there, feeding the addiction and getting out as quickly as is humanly possible.

Having to wait for a table is our worst nightmare. But we’ve developed a method that works quite well: the husband joins the queue to order, while I await a table allocation. Once seated, I text the table number to the husband, usually with the parting message, ‘Do what you need to do’.

There’s no need to go through the motion of pretending to look at the menu. We both know exactly what we want. And the beauty of Nando’s is that there’s no waiter interaction involved; better still, because you’ve paid upfront you can get the hell out of there as soon as the gorge is over.

Sometimes we don’t even speak to each other as we hungrily tuck in, swamping our chicken in hot peri peri sauce and shovelling spicy rice down the hatch at a revolting speed. At the end of the feast, we both sit in subdued silence, clutching our stomachs and fighting a rising sense of self-loathing, swearing that this really will be the last time we visit this rotten establishment.

But, of course, the next week we’re back.

The lengths that we will go to sate our peri peri craving are quite extreme. We’ve been know to travel 20 miles out of our way just to sink our gnashers into a medium-spiced half chicken. We were once forced to get a Nando’s takeout and eat it in our car, in a darkened alleyway. With our bare hands.

At my lowest ebb, I once sat on my own in a Nando’s in London gluttonously feasting on a double chicken wrap. At midnight. After downloading an app called Find My Nearest Nando’s. It was sick.

The addiction took a brief hiatus after a bad incident with a bottle of peri peri sauce. Disembarking at Leeds train station after a weekend away, we dragged our suitcases through the city centre with only one destination in mind. We had arrived just before closing, where one of the waiters was busy unscrewing the tops of the sauces to clean them.

Unfortunately for the husband, I happened to pick up one of the loose-topped bottles, which slipped in my greasy hands and did a rather dramatic somersault through the air, simulataneously showering the husband head to toe in peri peri sauce.

The poor husband had to travel home covered in sticky sauce. His suitcase stunk of it for weeks after. We had about a month off after that – swearing that this Really Was The End and that we were through with that place Once And For All.

That was, until a little voice started whispering ‘peri peri chicken, peri peri chicken’ and the cycle of gluttony started all over again. Going cold turkey on the Nando’s rooster was never going to last.

The husband might say, ‘What do you fancy for dinner tonight? I was thinking a little bit of chicken, a little bit of rice…’

‘Hmm… a little bit of chicken and rice – with perhaps a… spicy sauce?’ I’d reply innocently.

‘What could be the harm in that?’

My Family… and the Dawn French fixation

We are in the middle of the annual family sojourn to Cornwall, where my father has taken up residence on his favourite seat in the garden to study the passing ships with his binoculars (no doubt contemplating his own imminent foray out to sea in his beloved dinghy ‘Chrismick‘).

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This was, until his binoculars fell upon a particular palatial home, built into the cliff directly opposite. My father sat studying the house for quite a long time and pondered who might live in such an opulent mansion.

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That afternoon, my sister visited the cove below and reported that she saw a girl ‘fitting the description’ of Dawn French’s daughter Billie, padding from the beach and into the mouth of its imposing gates.

A lengthy discussion was then held by the whole family (along with lots of Googling) at the end of which it was decided that all the evidence pointed to a firm conclusion that this was in fact the residence of non other than Dawn French.

The next morning, my father rose early, filled his flask with coffee, took up position in his chair and trained his binoculars on the house, looking for any sign of movement.

‘Dawn Watch’ continued that evening, followed by another discussion about the rotund comedienne. My sister had been following her on Twitter and discovered she had been at a book signing in nearby Falmouth. There was every chance that Dawn might be at her Cornish home, fuelled by my father’s report of a light going on in the house at approximately 9pm.

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And then, finally… a firm sighting! At 2.09pm yesterday afternoon, my father excitedly summoned us all to the garden and one by one we peered through the binoculars. Before our eyes was the unmistakable silhouette of Dawn French, on the balcony of her 40-room mansion enjoying the afternoon sun in a billowing kaftan.

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Swept along by the excitement of the celebrity spot, the family began a running dialogue of her movements, with even my mother getting in on the act: Dawn’s looking out to sea; Dawn’s now leaning on the balustrade; Dawn’s now going inside the house; Dawn’s just scratched her bottom…

Dawn French is beginning to take over our holiday: my sister has been googling all about her divorce from Lenny Henry and recent marriage to a man called Mark Bignell (after a 16-month romance!); my father has been on Google Earth investigating the layout of her gothic-style house (it can’t possibly have 40 rooms!); my mother has become something of an expert in Dawn’s weight loss and then subsequent gain (it must be all those Cornish cream teas and pasties!).

Gripped by ‘French fever’, my father was last seen roaring off to Fowey in Chrismick to get a closer look at Dawn’s house from the sea.

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I’m not sure where this obsession will end. Camping outside her house until she invites us all in for a traditional cream tea?

Probably.

Watch this space…

Big Grey Man’s Back

At 7.45am on any weekday morning, Big Grey Man (see Gym Buddies) is usually queuing for a coffee at the gym – and attempting to make inane talk with me.

So imagine my shock when at 7.45am, I joined the queue at my local Caffe Nero (several miles from the gym) and who should be lurking ahead of me but… Big Grey Man, seemingly bigger and greyer than ever.

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He appeared completely unfazed by this random coincidence, simply beaming moronically at me and making small talk about the weather.

Same time, same coffee queue, completely different location.

I’m a little scared.

Let Them Eat Cake

It started with a simple lemon drizzle. I bought a few ingredients, threw them into a mixer and marvelled at the simplicity of it all. If there’s one way of garnering instant gratification with colleagues and loved ones alike, it’s presenting them with a homebaked cake.

And so began The Great Baking Obsession of 2012. I went from having never baked a cake in my life, to attempting several creations in one night alone.

For several months last year, this cake-making frenzy escalated to worrying heights. Most evenings saw me careering manically around the kitchen, head-to-toe in flour, with one hawk-like eye fixed permanently on the oven.

When The Husband arrived home from work, and tentatively enquired as to where his dinner might be, I would yell: ‘Dinner?! Can’t you see I’m up to my EYEBALLS here!’, whilst furiously whisking eggs like a deranged Mary Berry.

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Carrot cake, banana nut, raspberry and passionfruit… my great bake-off continued to be met with glee by both my workmates in the staff room, and the husband’s cake-loving colleagues.

I was, what women’s magazines would dub, an ‘office feeder’: taking some sort of perverse pleasure in fattening up my fellow teachers with cal-horrific muffins, yet eschewing the cakes myself and smugly pecking on my porridge. As the compliments rolled in, I would mutter modestly, ‘It was nothing, really. I just threw a few ingredients together and… voila!’ – all said with a sanctimonious bat of the hand.

I was flying high on waves of gratitude, ever-hungry for appreciation of my newest creation. I thought I was the new Nigella.

Then one morning, I left my latest offering on the staff room table unattended. When I came down a little late for break time, some of my gluttonous colleagues had already helped themselves, wolfing down the coffee and walnut cake without so much as a crumb-spluttering mumble of thanks.

My cakes were no longer being appreciated.

Worse still, it was The Husband’s birthday the following day, and with it the expectation from his workmates that I would be creating ‘something special’. He had already put in a request for a Victoria Sponge, his favourite.

Wearily, I trudged down to Waitrose to procure the necessary ingredients. It had been a long day. The cake obsession was beginning to wane. Just as I was reaching down to pick up a bag of flour, I spotted it: a perfectly-formed Victoria Sponge, winking at me from behind the glass counter. Resistance was futile.

Arriving home, I removed it from its pink Waitrose packaging, poked at it a bit to give it more of a ‘home-baked’ look, and packed birthday boy off to work with it the very next day, passing it off as my own creation.

His workmates declared it ‘delicious’… ‘the best yet’, no less!

It was nothing really, I claimed. (No, really – just a simple drive up the road to the supermarket).

They wanted more but it was already too late. Overnight, the baking obsession had ended, leaving me with a couple of extra inches on the waist line, a burnt out blender, and a ludicrous amount of cake tins.

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Let them eat cake.

But next time, I’m going to Waitrose.