Mad Hatter

Maybe I’ve seen too many Daily Mail pictures of fleshy women in skin-tight dresses, staggering around bawdily, bowls of fruit perched precariously atop their bleached bonces. Or perhaps, it’s the thought of hoards of hoo-ra Henrys quaffing champagne and braying brashly.

I don’t know what it is about the races but I’ve never had an interest in going whatsoever.

So when the husband arrived home from work and announced: ‘We’ve been invited to Royal Ascot!’, instead of saying ‘Wow. That’s great! How lucky am I?’ – like any normal, grateful being – my response went along the line of: ‘Oh no! Now, I’m going to have to get dressed up and drive to the other end of the country to make small talk to drunken people I don’t know, while some horses canter past in the distance.’

I’d much rather spend my Saturday quietly reading The Guardian, sipping an extra-hot-one-shot latte, and mulling over the merits of Mallorca with me old mucker Malcolm (more on him next week!)

In the maelstrom of the end-of-term madness, I pushed the impending Ascot trip to the back of my mind.

But approximately two days before, I woke in a cold sweat with only one thought on my mind: I needed a hat. It was the ultimate first world problem.

I needed a hat but worse still, I didn’t have time to get a hat. I was up to my eyeballs in writing reports and controlling over-enthusiastic children.

Still, from my limited knowledge of Ascot, I knew that attending sans hat was simply not an option.

I hastily jumped on the Royal Ascot website. ‘Skirts must be of modest length, preferably to the knee. Hats must have a base of at least 4cm,’ it said.

Like a true mad hatter, I hared out of work that night and headed straight to town. I had about one hour to procure a hat, otherwise we had a major problem on our hands.

I don’t know if you’ve ever attempted to panic buy a hat but let me tell you now, it’s a hideous experience. First of all, hardly ANYWHERE actually sells the blasted things. You can’t just nip into your local Marks and Sparks and grab one-off the shelf. All the usual haunts in town led to dead ends. The only thing I could find was this garish fuchsia thing in Topshop, which was the size of Jupiter.


I tried it on. It was HUGE. You could barely see my eyes.

‘Great,’ I thought. ‘No one will try to talk to me because they would just be addressing a giant expanse of pink. I could even tape a copy of the Guardian magazine to the inside of the brim and just sit and read that all day, thus reducing the need to converse with anyone. Perfect!’

I texted my friend Anna the picture. ‘Does this look like a ludicrous sun hat or an acceptably outlandish hat for the races?’

‘Ludicrous sun hat,’ she texted back. ‘Have you not read that Daily Mail’s coverage? It’s too floppy!’


Floppiness aside, in my panic hat buy, I’d forgotten one critical problem: the size of my head. It’s preposterously small. Some mean people even call me ‘pea head’. This was a new problem for me; quite the opposite of the having feet the size of a man.

For one insane moment, I actually toyed with the idea of MAKING a hat. Surely it was just a case of scrunching some papier mache together and gluing a few feathers on the sides? Perhaps I could even top it off with a bunch of plastic grapes?

But before I could begin my millinery mash-up, I suddenly remembered trusty old Debenhams.

I’d been fighting the need to enter Debenhams because I imagined it quite simply sells the dullest, mumsy-est hats imaginable. Up until that point, I’d still been hoping to stumble across a Philip Treacy-inspired piece, preferably at Primark prices.

Now it was a case of beggars can’t be choosers.

Entering Debenhams, I tried on a taupe number. It made me look like some sort of weird air cadet.


I donned a pink flowery cloche, which made me look like a deranged Hyacinth Bucket.


An announcement came over the tannoy. ‘The store will be closing in five minutes.’

I began to feel very, very panicky.

As I exited to street level, another text came through from Anna.

It was a picture of a Saturn-shaped black hat with two peculiar stripy sticks protruding from it.

I texted back. ‘I’ll take it.’

The Rise And Fall Of A Fashionista

I went clothes shopping last week – hoping to find a way out of the 60 denier black tights trap I’ve been stuck in for the last five years.

But I couldn’t identify with anything. All around me there were girls in Cressida scrunchies, fluffy knits and hi-top boots. I felt all at sea.

I headed straight to Topshop – the undisputed honcho of the high street. Toppers has been a trusty companion over the years: a true stalwart of my wardrobe. These days it’s gone a bit teenagery but it can still pull it out of the bag when it needs to. Need some work trousers? Head to Topshop. Going out dress? Head to Topshop. Want a crop top emblazoned with sparkly pineapples and luminous tassels? Head to Topshop.

I think it’s fair to say that as far as relationships go, Topshop and I aren’t quite what we once were. But every now and then, a little gem jumps out at me – this burgundy number for instance – and faith is fully restored. I love Topshop.


Have you ever been to Cos? You’ll find stores dotted around London although its roots are firmly based in strange Scandinavian design. It’s completely wacky and I want to love everything in there.

But literally every item makes me look like I’m wearing a giant sheet of cardboard. Go and try it out. I promise you that any dress in there will instantly transform you into a huge cereal box. It’s the strangest shop in the world. Same goes for American Apparel. If you’re in the market for a velvet crop top and some high-waisted shiny leggings, Apparel’s your place. Apart from that, I just don’t get it… and probably never will.


Good old H&M. Back in the day, it went by the more convivial name of Hennes – the elusive pearl of Oxford Street that regularly cropped up in fashion magazines but seemed completely out of our reach before it crept up North. These days, they seem to have adopted a ‘stack ’em high and pile ’em in’ policy. The prices are still cheap but so is the clothing.

My cool friend SLJ once took me to the store in Camden, circa 2009, and I was momentarily on board with it all. But the Leeds store is a different beast altogether: a dark basement of tat. I went in last week and it was a sordid affair: rails stuffed with too many garments and a mind-boggling mush of knitwear that would leave Mary Portas in a cold sweat. I set my sights one jumper I quite liked and briefly toyed with the idea of wrestling it off a mannequin. But then an overwhelming urge to get out of there overtook me – and I fled, gulping in air as I got back to street level. I doubt I’ll be back.

Dear old Mango. I loved Mango. It was my go-to place for super-long trousers back in the mid-noughties. I have fond memories of snapping up a brown leather biker jacket from there too, which I wore to death and still lurks in the recesses of my wardrobe somewhere. But like all Spanish lovers, Mango was a short-lived romance. The clothes became tacky; the material cheap and clingy. Mango recently made its debut in Leeds much-vaunted Trinity shopping centre but I haven’t been in for years. Are its trousers still super long? Who knows. Maybe it’s time to take my long shanks back in there.

There was a time when I could walk into Zara and want nearly everything in there. I used to head down to Zara in the out-of-town White Rose Centre after work sometimes. It was desolate and I’d have the whole store to myself. I snapped up all sorts of long-term investments: a much-loved black Audrey-style dress, a Prada-esque skirt that’s still going strong… Those were the days. But in the last couple of years, Zara’s become a slightly tired scene, with mismatched garb sardined onto rails. I think it might have lost its way – or maybe I’m out just of the loop.

Who didn’t want to wrap themselves in a twisty bin bag dress held together by safety pins and head to Back To Basics when they were 21 years old? Enter All Saints. Remember that phase around 2001 where you started distressing your jeans with a cheese grater and spraying them with silver paint? Maybe it was just me. But All Saints have been doing it for years and then charging you £80 for the pleasure.


The problem with All Saints is it’s stuck in a noughties time warp. The grungy, distressed look went out of fashion about 10 years ago but All Saints is gamely sticking with it. Those Singer sewing machines have been adorning its window for about five years now (excuse the lamppost) – but we’ve long since parted company.

I never really got on board with River Island and I’m not quite sure why. It had quite a presence on Preston high street back in the 90s. We’d congregate at the back in the shoe section and mull over the different pairs of Kickers. But strangely, I can’t recall ever buying one garment from there. Now Rhianna’s on board, I thought I’d pay a visit. I was greeted by an array of gold sparkle, tartan and black fluff. It was a bit overwhelming. I couldn’t wait to get out. Sorry River Island, I’m afraid the island ferry has sailed.

Morgan, Morgan, Morgan… The very name fills me with nostalgia. Who could forget Morgan’s signature logo – that little red heart that oozed Parisian catwalk and class? Didn’t it even go by the name of Morgan de Toi at one point? Classy. It’s hard to believe it now but in 1998 Morgan could do no wrong. It was the essence of sophistication, with its matching floral two pieces. My friends and I would finish work on a Saturday and head straight to Morgan to spend our wage on a new dress for a night out at Preston’s infamous Tokyo Jo’s.

I can still picture the layout of Morgan: the colour-coordinated pieces hanging nearly on those wooden hangers; the tailored leather jackets; the mix of pillar-box red, oatmeal brown and marl greys. I think I might even be able to smell it. Am I getting carried away? Probably. Morgan was a true love affair of the late nineties – which made its subsequent downfall in the noughties (along with Kookai – yep, remember old Kookers?) all the more staggering.

Jane Norman. Who is she? She’s the girl at school who you kind of knew but never actually spoke to. I think our paths might have crossed once. I went into the Jane Norman store in Sheffield in 1998 and bought at bargain beige coat in the sale. It made me look like Arthur Daley. I kept it in my wardrobe for years and would wheel it out occasionally, to check if it still made me look like a secondhand car dealer. It did. What became of Jane Norman? I think she might have been crunched out in the recession. I wish I cared. But I didn’t even notice she’d gone.

Whistles/ Reiss/ Ted Baker/ Karen Millen – all stores with delusions of grandeur. Sure, they can pull out the stops when they want to (hello much-coveted Whistles navy jumper dress with a leather top) but they always seem to be punching above their weight: designer prices for a high street tag. Have you ever bought anything full price from Whistles or Reiss? Not me. You’d have to either marry an investment banker or sell a kidney. I usually wait til the inevitable 50 per cent off sale and then swoop and grab.

Actually, I lie. I waltzed into Selfridges the other month and – quite out of character – frivolously bought a dress from Ted Baker, and one from Karen Millen. I must have been in a daze when I went to pay because when I got my credit card bill the following month, I genuinely thought I’d been robbed. I was half-way to picking up the phone to Natwest to report retail fraud until I went to look at the price tags on said dresses – and realised that the only crime that had been committed was me setting foot in there in the first place.

A Pearly White Christmas

I have a small confession to make: in the last two years I have spent £750 on toothbrushes. Please don’t be alarmed. At the time, it seemed perfectly rational. But now, in the cold light of day, I can see how things got a little out of hand.

My poison pen nemesis Barry Scott already think I’m the most frivolous and vacuous person in blogosphere. And when he reads this latest spell of frivolity, he’s going to have a field day.

My addiction to toothbrushes began innocently enough. In November 2011, my sister texted me to say that she’d like an electric toothbrush for Christmas. This might seem strange in itself but if you knew my family, this is the kind of thing we buy each other (see My Parents… and the Christmas Wishlist).

Unable to simply hop on Amazon and click ‘buy’ at the first brush I saw, I immediately set about researching the best electric toothbrush. It’s quite normal for me to spend up to three weeks reading reviews and researching voraciously. At the end of this research spell, I might be finally ready to commit to the purchase – but then spend the week ahead of its delivery racked with anxiety that I might have Bought The Wrong Thing.

In the case of the toothbrush, it was fairly clear from the onset that there was only one contender to the crown of Best Brush In The Business.

Let me introduce you to… Philips Diamond Clean – aka The Daddy of Dentistry.


Beautiful, isn’t it? I’m not quite sure which of its many merits I should mention first: its supreme sonic cleaning action with five different settings from whitening to polishing; the glass it sits in which automatically charges it; or the fact that you can charge it up through your laptop when on the move.

I was so taken with the reviews that I decided to buy myself one as well as my sister.

And then I bought my dad one.

And then – in a moment of extreme madness and possibly because it sprang up in my inbox as part of a £95 flash Amazon sale – I bought my father-in-law one too!

The Husband came home, took one look at the credit card bill, and had to sit me down for ‘a chat’.

It wasn’t normal behaviour, he said, for me to be spending £100 – £150 on toothbrushes for members of his extended family.

The husband likened me to a deranged milky bar kid, handing out over-priced electric toothbrushes to distant aunts like toffees.

He couldn’t stay cross for long though because awaiting him in the bathroom was his own shiny new Diamond Clean toothbrush: a limited edition black bad boy – matt finish and with a sleek black carry case; basically, the Ferrari of the toothbrush world.


Have you ever seen anything quite like it? I haven’t.

After one use, the husband said he couldn’t believe he had ever attempted to brush his teeth with anything else. And while he didn’t exactly endorse spending half of my monthly salary on top-dollar toothbrushes, he grudgingly admitted that he could certainly see its benefits.

As for the father-in-law, I’m not sure whether he even uses his brush. He did look a bit perplexed when he unwrapped his Christmas present last year. When I asked how things were going in the dental department, he muttered something about the brush being too tickly for his teeth. Too tickly?!

Last time I visited the in-laws, I peeked in their bathroom and it was nowhere to be seen. Sometimes I lie awake at night worrying that it’s lying abandoned in a dusty cupboard somewhere and that his teeth will never know what they’re missing.

I went to the dentist the other week. He took a peek in my mouth and, as usual, declared my teeth the best set of pearlies he’d seen in a long time.

I’m strangely proud of the fact that I have reached the ripe old age of 30-something without a single filling, despite my twice-weekly Haribo gorge in petrol stations across Leeds.

I thought I should let the dentist in on the secret, given he’s in the trade and all that.

‘It’s all thanks to the Philips Diamond Clean brush,’ I said. ‘Currently retailing on Amazon for a bargainous £99, RRP £250.’

He looked completely non-plusssed by this news.

I paid my usual £18 fee and trotted off, relishing the fact that I wouldn’t need a check-up again for another year.

The Barry Scotts of this world might scorn my toothbrush splurge.

But when I think of what my teeth could be costing me, £150 seems almost a bargain.