Get real people off the TV! (Part I)

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A few years ago, I was saying the opposite. “More real people on TV please!” Dozens of house-hunting programmes later with ordinary people competing with sewing/cooking/singing and I’ve changed my mind…

I now see the appeal of people trained to perform.

As one with a compulsive house-hunting programme obsession, I rarely miss a programme. But the Escape to the Country one must top the lot.

Shiny, smooth, friendly, tolerant people faced with deadpan voices, estranged couples, chubby, badly dressed real people who’ve made no effort to smarten up for TV… it’s awful.

They shuffle about trying to sound like they know what they’re talking about and just ape the presenters with their catchphrases and slick comments. (See Part II.)

I’ve seen it all. I worked many years at an estate agent showing these people around houses and flats. They all seemed to think they had to contribute something knowledgeable to the viewing.

“Is the attic boarded?” and “Is this a partition wall?” and “I don’t think we’d fit our king-sized bed in here.”

No dearie. You wouldn’t. This cottage was meant for poor people. The builders didn’t envisage young’uns like you with your home-offices and LinkedIn profiles and annual amassing crap living in a humble worker’s cottage like this in 150 years. They had a fire and some tools maybe.

But these ordinary people are now on TV. Commenting on the wallpaper and floor tiles of someone else’s house. Making a mess with cake mixture or zips and Velcro. Get off! Go and do all this in the privacy of your own homes.

I want experts on my TV. Reasonably well-dressed, people who’ve bothered to brush their hair and wear clothes that fit. Telling me things they know and I don’t.

It’s a mistake I hope programme producers realise that the ‘docu-drama’ approach is failing. Real people doing real things, God! I wouldn’t sit in my neighbour’s house for an hour watching them just… live.

Glamour, that’s what I want. People who’ve been transformed by the make-up artist. People who can speak… Can we just leave it to the professionals? Leave the rest of us at home on this side of the camera. That’s where we belong.

The experiment’s over. The findings are: it didn’t work.

 

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Is Clarks being sexist?

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(In response to Emma Dixon’s Change.org campaign: ‘Remove outdated, sexist signage from Clarks shoe shops. #letshoesbeshoes’

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m going to offend a lot of people by what I have to say. Some women will want to shake me, slap me, shout at me or just lecture me.

This campaign seems a misuse of public space and Change.org’s resources.

The first thing I notice is that, going by the style of shoe pictured for girl and boy, the wording/signs are aimed at young children. Under eights? These children are taken shopping by a grown up (Mummy maybe?)

If they’re aimed at the children, they’re not the ones who are going to pay attention; if they’re aimed at the grown up, adults know better. So suggesting the ‘sexist’ notions are absorbed by the children is erroneous and uninformed. Kids look at the shoes, not the subliminal messages in marketing material. And clever Mum (the military engineer/IT consultant/CEO or Dad the househusband) isn’t going to be influenced.

Then there’s the reality. When girls grow up to be women, they’re interested in the look of the shoe and the style – less so in the durability when kicking walls or squashing bugs.

Men buy differently. Would it help women’s cause if the wording was reversed and the ‘destruction’ copy was used for the girls’ shoe and vice versa? No. Shoppers would be baffled and would make a laughing stock of Clarks for getting it so wrong.

On a subtler point, aren’t the campaigners underestimating the parents’ influence and overestimating the propaganda’s pull?

Is a line in a shop really going to shape a child’s attitude to gender and what’s expected of them? Ha – not likely!

Aren’t the hours of nurturing our children and carefully choosing how to answer their questions, encouraging, explaining, supporting and describing the world to them, is this futile in the face of – gasp! – a copywriter’s bad day at the office trying to meet Clarks’s looming deadline?

Parents raise their children, not shoe shops. Are we so easily offended that we can’t just come out of the shop and say to our son/daughters, ‘Ha, what a silly notice.’

And is there anything wrong with suggesting boys are rough with shoes (they are) and girls aren’t? Are we going to help women by pretending things are otherwise?

The most bizarre and idiotic example of trying to reverse gender expectations is in nursery rhymes. For a while I saw the Doctor Foster one assuming the doctor was female. Nothing wrong with that. But is this the petty kind of change we think will really move things forward (if that’s where we’re really going)?

My respect for Change.org hasn’t faltered. But taking on a really minor issue like this casts a different light on them.

I’m a woman. I too have a son and a daughter. This does not offend me or worry me. I don’t find it sexist.

And the campaigner Emma Dixon, who ‘grew up in the carefree 1970s when kids were kids…’ might be using the era to strengthen her argument since the 70s are now very much in fashion in a nostalgic, glowing sort of way.

As a 70s child myself, I remember being slapped in front of my classmates, made to stand on a chair for being naughty by a male teacher (yes, I think he was hoping to see my undies) and seeing ads which had woman cleaning and cooking for their family as standard. My career advice was awful and the girls’ school I attended assumed we wouldn’t want to do well academically because we were girls (a subliminal message, but there all the same.) We have moved on.

You only need to read footwear descriptions for men and women to see things as they are. I randomly chose Kurt Geiger’s site and saw that their women’s shoes had words like ‘feminine’ ‘lady-like’ ‘delicate’ and ‘style’ where men’s include ‘finish’, ‘on or off duty’. But women still buy the shoes… Regardless of the writing.

This isn’t a personal attack but it can’t be taken seriously. To me, the signage is a fairly accurate portrayal of what boys and girls are innately like.

It must be time to consider what sexist really means today. And let’s not pretend it’s found in thoughtless copy like this.

Am I hoarding?

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When does ‘having reserves’ become greedy stockpiler? I don’t think I know but think I’ve crossed the line.

Last week I reached for a tin of (dolphin friendly, line caught) tuna. Before I’d even opened it, I wrote ‘tuna’ on my shopping list. Why? So I had a tin to replace this one. I already had another one in the cupboard. So I had two spare tins. I never use more than one at a time so I’ve always got one spare. But regardless, it seems in my mind I’m insecure unless I have two tins of tuna fish.

I surveyed the tin cupboard. Soup, beans, corn, fruit… probably things most people have. But always in pairs. What a waste of space.

Does having all those tins of food make me feel I’d be OK if all the shops closed for a week? Some bizarre strike to teach us a lesson that we should be more self-sufficient. Well I am! I have all those tins.

A buzz of panic invades my body when I reach for a tin and can’t see another identical one in reserve. What will happen if I want to cook and don’t have a tin of the required tinned ingredient? What will we all do?

Suddenly I feel my family will suffer hardship if they have to eat eggs and nothing else one night. What if I don’t’ have any eggs either? (With eggs no less than half a dozen keeps me feeling secure.) I could use two and then… Godl I’d only have four left. What if I needed five for something? I panicked prematurely6. Maybe six eggs aren’t enough after all. Maybe to stop any panic I should always have twelve. But my fridge egg tray only holds ten… And then I have to use the space usually reserved for little containers of unused food. (Homemade Chinese dipping sauce, a little bit of grated cheese, mayonnaise…) That would mess up my fridge system.

Let me be clear. I don’t have two tins of every tinned food available. Just the ones I use regularly. Though I do have tins of things I haven’t used in months namely Borlotti beans, pilchards (I didn’t buy them) and mixed beans (I did buy them.)

I wonder how my psyche would cope if I donated all my tins to the bucket in my supermarket appealing for food for those in need. I’d feel needy and probably raid the bucket the next day searching for my own tins. I certainly wouldn’t want someone else’s. Tinned carrots, mackerel in olive oil, chopped tomatoes with herbs? You can keep them for the needy. I want what I’m used to, what I’m familiar with. Security.

So I admit to having low level Hoarders Disease. I think I can cure myself but only slowly. Start with just having one tin of each in my cupboard. And get rid of the pilchards.

It highlights a social illness. Now that shops are open almost 24 hours a day, I’m more fearful of not having tins than people were when their cupboards were virtually empty, shops had a limited stock (tinned corned beef) and closed half day Wednesdays.

I’ll post a follow up in a month when I hope to have used up at least half my tinned foods. Any recipes which include pilchards in tomato sauce, Borlotti beans and maybe mixed beans welcome.

A little more than a day in the life of a professional writer…

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Version I

Yesterday was a good day. I wrote 5000 words and I when I look at them today, I still want to keep most of them. This means that when I tell him, my agent and publisher will also have good days.

4.30pm

Wake up and smell red wine on the sheets. Ah yes, there’s actually wine spilled on my Egyptian cotton bed linen. Irene the housekeeper will wash it out. She’ll be in soon and will wave her finger at me and tell me in wonderfully staccato English that I drink too much and am wasting my (alleged) talent. And my liver.

Downstairs, I see she’s left me another note: Please don’t put cigarettes in the sink. Please use one glass for the same drink. I need to change your sheets but you’re always in them when I come. Thank you for my wages.

6.00pm

With eyes still shut, I make a black coffee and have with a shot of whisky and the leftover sandwich from this morning’s snack. It might be marmalade.

7.00pm

Meet Angus my agent at L’Argent Disparú. A dark place which smells of oak casks and loose women. Many’s the night I’ve ended up rolling around a cask after cavorting with a loose woman. Or something similar…

He tells me he’s waiting for the next few chapters. What I’ve shown him so far is of course genius but could I do some more please.

I buy him a drink and we stay there talking about memorable films, travels around Argentina and loose women.

2.10am

The house smells of Irene’s lemon cleaner and she’s left me another note.

I sent Mme. Pinochet home. I found her sleeping in the cow shed wrapped around Stendhal the pregnant cow; her clothes were with the chickens. If you weren’t so (allegedly) talented I’d resign. But leaving you in the hands of a less experienced, less worldly housekeeper would be irresponsible. Eh bien, til Friday…

2.30am – 6.45am

I put on a Bach CD and make myself comfortable at my desk. The last line I wrote reads:

If Harris married Adele, that would make them not only husband and wife but criminals.

I made a note to myself after this: when you read this tomorrow you must delete it and continue when you’re sober.

7.00am

Another five thousand words written and I write another few.

Adele would never wear white to her own wedding: she’d known that since she was nine. Franz would marry gleefully, gratefully. Adele would love Franz. Within two years they will have ruined each other’s reputation, trust and estate.

8.00am

Even from my remote chateau the village church bells summon me. I open a bottle of wine. It will fortify me for the sermon.

10.00am

I return home feeling cleansed and in need of a drink. My agent has slipped a note under the door: I’m coming round at noon to collect the next chapters of your work. I don’t want a drink and I don’t want another woman. Your audience is hungry and Max Melting is on my back about whether he’ll be able to make your next book into another blockbusting film.

Considering I live very well off the last book Max Melting made into a film All Good Things, I get back to my desk and with a bottle of white wine beside me and continue my story.

10.15am

Five thousand words later, I feel I’ve done a good day’s work. I finish the (third) bottle of champagne and call my brother in LA.

‘Martin… it’s me…’

‘You *****. It’s the middle of the night here. My children asked about you. I told them you were dead. I’m busy.”

He hangs up. Suddenly I’m sober.

He runs my condo over there but doesn’t want to speak to me personally. My sister runs my Knightsbridge penthouse and is the same. ‘You selfish drunkard. You haven’t called Papa in months. No one’s that busy. He asks about you. He’s old and lonely.”

“He should have contemplated that before he beat me with a palette knife and ridiculed me all my young life. I’ll write him a letter.”

She hangs up.

4.00pm

I hear cows and smell the field outside my window. My door bell sounds. Right on time as usual.

The ten poorest children from the village (I think they’re mostly Mme. Hachette’s, some may be mine) stand in an uneven circle looking up at me expectantly. I lead them to the kitchen and they wait obediently.

We sit down and Irene serves chocolat chaud and her freshly made croissants and pastries to us all.

I started doing this a year ago as it stopped the children taunting me and writing rude things on my house wall in colourful chalk.

Then they play in my garden for a couple of hours and leave. I go to bed.

 

Version II

6.50am

Wake up to Radio 4. I can hear birds. One of them is twittering prettily, another is screeching and one other is just nagging in rhythmic squawks. I hear two bulky pigeons fighting.

My pyjamas are too baggy and have stuck to the sheets. I can’t really move…

Prepare breakfast for the family.

7.20am

Wake family.

8.30

School run. Except it’s not a run. The teenage boys on their bikes have overtaken me and are probably at school now. The Micra in front of me gives way to everything when there’s room for two cars in that gap.

9.00am

Shop for the third time this week.

Jobs to do sometime this week.

Find car insurance

Think of something to cook when child has friend over for tea. They won’t eat tomatoes, cheese, pork, pulses or fish.

Contact accountant

10.00

Return home. Make beds, empty bins, clean bathrooms, prepare evening meal (chicken fillets in creamy mushroom sauce, steamed green beans, rosti potates).

1.00

Sit down at PC

Reply to emails. Make dental appointment. Check accounts. Chase up invoice. Input data into business account. Check bank balance. Log onto HMRC. What do I have to do today? VAT, PAYE…

2.00

Open up my ongoing written work.

My shared desk is strewn with other people’s stuff: headphones, coloured pencils, letters… I move it all to another place.

Read over what I wrote the last time (some days ago). It’s not going anywhere. Have I got any ability at all? With my level of self-esteem can I even write an interesting cover letter to an agent?

Continue writing and thinking for an hour in between calls from people wanting me to make a claim for mis-sold PPIs and convincing me I need a UPVC orangery/conservatory.

3.20

Leave house and do school run.

Snacks, homework help, chatting time, bath and bedtime mean I don’t get to write until after 9.00pm.

9.10pm

Load dishwasher, make packed lunch, spend time with spouse. Sleepy, feel like I’ve run out of ideas, get into pyjamas and open up ongoing written work.

Write about 300 words, 50 of which might be any good.

Wonder what I’d feel like if I was a well-selling author. I’d move to France, buy a chateau, have a study of my own… Life would be good.

Can I cook? Who’s to say?

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Mmm food, one of my favourite topics.

In my conceited moments I feel highly able, quite brilliant and a producer of some of the most wonderful foods.

In between I feel incompetent and as useful as a tin opener in pieces.

I’ll start by being conceited.

My Christmas special for a few years now has been crispy Peking duck with pancakes. It’s good and compares well to the best places I’ve eaten it. As does my crispy shredded chilli beef.

My crème brulees (when I had a grill) were superb. Rich, a good consistency and with the right mix of delicate vanilla (I like to leave the seeds visible in the finished work of art); they always have my family wishing I’d made more.

My spaghetti alla puttanesca… well… the tangy capers and ancient taste of the olives seem perfectly balanced.

I’ve shared my recipe for goat’s cheese and caramelised red onion tart with many who claim it’s failsafe and my caraway biscuits aren’t around long in this house.

But what defines a good cook?

I think it must mean ability all across all styles and must, it just must include good mashed potato. On that point alone I’d have to relinquish my (self-awarded) good cook rosette.

Because I’ve been thinking about buying a potato ricer, I feel not just a poor cook but a fraud. Isn’t that cheating? Shouldn’t I be able to produce creamy mash without one? Bad workman. Tools…

OK. I peel and cut up my potatoes. I boil them in salted water. I drain them and put a slab of unsalted butter in with them. Lid back on, wait for it to melt. Lid off, add whole milk and cream, a bit of grated nutmeg. Mash vigorously.

Ah. After mashing I beat it with a wooden spoon. Mainly because there are little lumps. I beat it again more aggressively. They remain.

Can’t everyone make mash?

To add to my degradation, I can’t really do a very good fried egg either…

And I avoid cakes completely.

So. If I were a judge in a culinary court, I’d pronounce myself guilt, guilty, guilty of ruining raw ingredients with intent. Sometimes anyway.

My lawyer would probably ask the jurors to consider this: is the list of things I can’t do longer than the list of things I do very well? We could be here a long time.

Maybe there’d be evidence for the jurors to chew over. Ah, I could win them over that way.

Lamb kebabs with yoghurt dip. Salade Niçoise. Lamb biryani, Spanish croquetas, a majestic sea bass fillet, very fine tasting dahl, robust four cheese macaroni cheese, satisfying German kartoffel puffer, refreshing Waldorf salad…

If asked to include mash and fried eggs though, I’d be locked up indefinitely. And forced to eat my own mash and fried eggs three times a day. The judge might even pronounce my sentence with a black cloth on his head…

What about people who can do really good mash but not other fancy dishes?

My own conclusion is that a good cook must be able to do it all. Still a bit inflated, I won’t call myself a bad cook. Just a limited cook.

I’ve mastered many things and will master a good, smooth mash one day.

In the meantime, my family will have to put up with (oh God, can’t she stop boasting?) langoustine in garlic and tomato sauce, homemade burgers, pate with the finest flavours in the county, chilled carrot and orange soup…

Short and sweet: do you take sugar?

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You can no longer say, ‘no’ truthfully.

Which for me is good. Because I’m quite tired of the good-goodies and their sanctimonious rejection of this delight.

Channel 4 news on Friday reported the amount of sugar we consume – some natural (in fruit juice), some added (cereals, bread, confectionery).

I’m the only person I know who takes sugar and honey in their coffee and two sugars in their tea. It’s better that way.

On those rare occasions when I have people round and offer tea or coffee, the ‘no’ guests give me is laden with martyrdom and sacrifice. As though they’ve given up sleep or blinking.

I know, I know, sugar, obesity, medical problems… I know.

But it’s the saintly, almost religious holiness that accompanies the refusal of sugar. Like those people who go about telling you their religion, as though they’re spiritually richer just by having a faith. Tripe.

People might have stopped having sugar in hot drinks but I bet they pour Red Bull or Fanta down themselves when they fancy. And would feel like sinner if all the ‘invisible’ sugar they consumed each day were added up and put in a bucket in front of them. By their bed. At the end of the day. They could kneel by their beds at night and ask for forgiveness…

They haven’t really given sugar up, just given up the public face of its intake. A charade.

But then again I get a lot of malevolent pleasure from heaping granules luxuriously into my drinks in front of them while they stare voyeuristically, enviously at my primitive and unashamed habit.

“Yes, I’ve cut down. I used to take four teaspoons you know. Aren’t I good?”

My virtue is that I home cook virtually everything we eat. I monitor fat and sugar. I take great pains to balance meals. It’s a rare occasion that I’ll serve up something someone else has made and I’ve just warmed it up. But I’m not hypocritical enough to claim that I never do it. No, I err too.

So can all the sugar-refusers adopt a different expression and tone of voice when I ask if they want any? Get rid of that pained but godly look that implies a dietary superiority. It doesn’t work on me.

Don’t take a high-handed approach to my gluttonous sickly sweet coffee and I won’t reprimand you for not home cooking your own food. I take sugar. I eat fat. You may have to watch your figure; I don’t!

The joy of networking

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Oh, we’re in a pub today are we? OK. I feel overdressed in my polished shoes and good jacket.

Everyone seems to be able to speak publicly – with just that delicate touch of humour. Colourful anecdotes about pets and embarrassing moments (that only serve to make them look even more charming). Harmless gossip that shows you as understanding and likeable. Struggles with a project that highlight your ability to get the job done despite all obstacles

People seem to think that if you’re a writer, you can also talk. I can’t.

I can’t think of any words with more than one syllable. I can’t even think of the right word. Or tense. Or language sometimes.

So we mill about with our horrible hot drinks.

Everyone’s loud and confident. And when I look around the room, everyone’s deep in conversation in pairs or small groups. There’s loud laughter (I can’t conjure that no matter what I say, I’m just not funny.) I imagine people are making contacts and being interested in what other people do.

“I’m Rebecca. I’m a writer.”

People think of J.K. Rowling.

“A freelance copywriter.”

Their face glazes over.

I explain. Everything you read – every box of cereal, website, brochure and press release – has been written by someone. That’s what I do.

I hear about one woman’s growing nature foods business, someone else’s independent estate agency and some man’s business services venture. I wondered whether he means serving businessmen after a while as I couldn’t make out what he did.

I fail at networking. I’m reclusive, introverted and cannot perform. I sound dull. My sense of failure translates as a monotone in my voice which just turns people off. I can’t talk.  I don’t want to talk.

This problem has come up repeatedly on writers’ forums: is there a place for the quiet, shy, thoughtful introvert? My conclusion is: no.

We need to be able to promote ourselves – online and in person. It’s not natural. Man has lived a quiet life for many thousands of year. In small, quiet units, wandering about for food, making fires and shelter.

Making noise seems to signal the opposite of survival for most of our existence: you don’t want the enemy/predators to know you’re there.

But now, we all have to sell ourselves everywhere to everyone all the time (freelancers at least).

I know this is a business survival technique but it feels very unnatural to me. I’m a writer. I sit at my desk. I’m alone. I think. I write. I think some more. I write some more…

Somehow I have to grow another facet to my personality. The tweeter. The forum poster. The talker. The self-promoter.

And then I’m aware that my resistance is because I loathe that sort of person.

Maybe that could be my introductory remark at the next networking event. My humorous quip.

“You know, being a boasting loudmouth doesn’t come easily to me; I’ve had to work at it. And I’ve had to work twice as hard as you lot because I’m actually deep and studious. So standing here and telling you how wonderful I am is a real challenge. I’ve had to overcome my disdain for blustering, showy types and become one myself…”

Yes… I feel that would alienate more potential clients than my grim look and dull voice.

I just feel like a child again being taken off to my awful uncle’s house: “Do I have to go?”

“Yes, he’s going to leave us his estate; you have to go. And be nice. Smile for God’s sake…”

OK. But only if I really have to.

If I were a robot…

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All my ‘time-saving’ equipment has lights and gauges to monitor, help and warn me; alarms, dials and readings of all sorts. Wouldn’t it be good if I was like that?

I think a panel somewhere around my collar bone with a decorative front (like the face off car radios) would be fine. Here are a few things I think I’d like included.

Most importantly a speak-tone option. My phone has ringtones I can set up for different callers. I can download thousands more and even make my own up. My speak tone function would be the same: a different one for each person. I think it could help me socially.

So for those people that irritate me and with whom I have nothing in common but have to have dealings with, I’d have one called something like, ‘All front’. My voice would be polite and I’d be able to say just the right things without compromising my morals or offending them. If I was a very sophisticated version, I’d have a beeper to tell them when I’d had enough. A very sophisticated model would emit a nasty vibe and make them want to go away on their own accord.

Of course I’d need a complimentary one when networking. The B2B tone.  It’d make me sound confident, competent, but also likeable and educated and that anything I say about myself is true.

Something else I’d appreciate would be a sort of graphic equaliser-style function. To help me monitor my diet. Depending on the model (again) I could have any number of options – up two forty to include sub-categories of things my body needs. Vitamin D, vitamin C, sugar, fat, protein… you get the picture. I’d enjoy seeing all of them showing the top level of intake of everything important.

Alarms? I’d need lots. A squeamish alarm; a boredom alarm, one that made a sound when I realise I’m talking to a name-dropping boaster, another which maybe sent a light electric shock to me when I was  going to be blunt or offensive… But also a warm, loving tone to alert me to kind words and real affection. It can be so easily missed if the person’s way of speaking doesn’t fit. (Aaah, they also need to be fitted with the speak-tone device…)

Other things like the ‘opportunity alert’ function, the ‘trouble ahead’ reader and the dial that could filter my creative ideas and buzz when I had a really good one. It would look a bit like the RPM dial in the car (x1000 of course because brilliant ideas are never in single digits.)

You’d have to read it straight on though because the effect of parallax might mean it looked like a reading of 9000 when it was only 3000. You’d cancel your family and quit your job and embark on following your dream with the idea that was going to make your name in the literary world.

Ten years later, you pick up a science magazine at the doctor’s surgery (your front computer panel is loose and everyone can see what you’re thinking and feeling) and read about the effect of parallax… And go back to your family and get another job.

Well it was just an idea…Image

Charity donations: guilt and decision making

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How do we decide which charities to donate to? And how much should we be giving?

This comes as a lovely lady called at my door this evening. It’s all calculated. They time it well. Dinner time, lights on, someone home.

Only I know how much this household gives to charity on a monthly basis. And I’m counting money buckets in the street, a standing order to another charity, clothes donations to shops and charity shop purchases. Yet still I feel mean saying no.

So another plea for a worthwhile cause has to get a ‘no’ from me. How can I say no and still feel good? I can’t.

I admit I’ve been deceptive in the past. I began using a line. It worked and on top of that I got thanks and gratitude from the charity official.

“Oh, I already donate regularly to (fill in any number of charity organisations.)”

“Oh then you’re a hero. Thank you for your support. It means a lot to our fundraisers…”

That felt terrible. I was almost tempted to get the chap wearing the Hi-vis jacket and kind expression to go on thanking me. I maintained a hallowed silence in the expectation that he’d continue thanking me.

But, but, but… I’m a great help to your charity aren’t I? You love people like me. I’m a good citizen and you love me. You wish there were more like me, you like me don’t you, I’m a good girl aren’t I?

He’d done being grateful.

Sure, they play on our guilt and expect us to feel wretched when we refuse.

“Two pounds a month… less than a Happy Meal… Less than 50p a day… as little as £1 a week….”

OK, I can add up. Don’t do it by the day sonny, tell me you want between £48 and £730 a year.

That would assuage my guilt at least. “I can’t afford that!” That’s why they do it by the week. And we’re supposed to think to ourselves, ‘well… I did just spend £2.50 on makeup brushes I won’t use…’

 I can’t feel good about saying no even with their clever tactics.

I don’t expect to give nothing. I accept it’s a sort of friendly tax. The government may squeeze money from me for weapons; at least I can choose whether to help kittens or the deaf.

I need a way of stating that I’m overstretched on my charity donations. Maybe a card like an organ donor card. ‘This is to certify that I donate equal amounts each month to…’ and I could just present this to anyone asking for money.

No, the answer is in being self-assured in the knowledge that I really am good enough and give as much as I can without threatening the welfare of my household or my family.

I think the old ‘stuck record’ approach should work: repetition. ‘I can’t. I’m sorry I can’t. No, I can’t…’

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Digitally altered models… so what?

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I say this to draw attention to the myriad of other tampered with arts we’re exposed to.

Music, photographs (landscapes, seascapes, food and just about everything else), most of what we watch on TV… Why is the biggest focus a) women b) the fashion industry?

Who out there has listened to Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Little Mix, Ollie Murs? You’d think they were machines. You never hear them take a breath!

What is it about the manipulation of images that so disturbs us? And as some reader gets set to blame eating disorders on these false images, does it work the other way? Surely the problem is that the nation/world is getting bigger? How does that make sense?

It’s the focus on the visual that irks. Because we can’t trust what we’re seeing? Because we then feel unsure about everything we see? Because that makes us feel insecure? Doubtful? Does it make us question reality?

Long talks can be had about the ‘reality’ of what we see with our own eyes anyway. How can we know what we see is what our friend sees? Aaaah…

And if we venture into the realms of writing… well… how many first drafts of anything do you see published? How many would you want to see? I’d be mortified if my scatty, illegible, incomprehensible jumble of thoughts were published ‘as is’. (No, this is an edited version you’re reading…)

We seem to have turned into hypocritical purists. Images must be raw, as they come out of the camera.

OK. Is the model allowed to wear makeup, have their hair tonged or straightened, adjust the light so it doesn’t show his/her under eye shadows? No? How far do we take the purity of the image? Make-up and hair products already alter our own images; we’re not so rigid about that though.

High heels, body shapers, false eyelashes… I just wonder where the high and might stance to photoshopped female models gets so radical.

It just feels like a new hobby horse. Yes, the fashion now is for flat tummies and long legs. But does this obsession in the fashion industry have a real impact on us? Would we complain if bodies were busty, rounded and fuller? Would that make the slim women upset as they were naturally slim? Probably?

We forget that eating disorders are mental illnesses, not whimsical dieting fads. The sooner we understand this, the more a sensible approach to both image manipulation and eating disorders is found.