Modern life. It’s just so busy isn’t it? All you do is go go go, from one appointment to the next, from one gym class to another, from one date to his bedroom.
Actually, I just spent twenty minutes picking bits of food out from under the ring I never take off, BUT we do spend a lot of time doing things. And too often, time spent in repose is decried as a waste. But there’s a particular kind of repose, a moist kind, that isn’t a waste. The bath. The humble bath. You know what will make you feel better about your doubtful hygiene and confusing life, and possibly also mine? A bath.
It Is An Excuse To Be Wet And Naked For A Prolonged Period
As a society we’re far too ashamed of the naked form. But we do accept that in order to cleanse that form, that it might look better clothed in whatever slightly a-symmetrical thing we have purchased from Zara this month, we must get naked. And though we shy away from it, we are designed to be naked.
We came in to this world naked. And wet. And covered in stuff. Be naked. Be wet. Try to avoid the stuff unless you are partial to bath bombs with bits in them.
It Is The Best Way To Assess Your Method Of Pubic Hair Maintenance
Whether your hair drifts in the ebbing tide of your breath like seaweed, or your mons slowly turns pink like the blush of an affronted gentleman, there is no better state in which to consider the state of your bits than in the bath.
You’re at the right angle. It’s right there. Does it look good? Does it look happy?
Drinks Taste Better In The Bath
If you think that nothing in the world tastes better than gin and tonic on a hot day, then I advise you to try the same beverage in a hot bath. It’s colder. Crisper. And you can rest it on your breasts if you need two hands to read. Have you ever used your nipples as coasters? Life changing.
Netflix Is Better In The Bath
Many people fail to realize that anything you can do lying on your bed covered in Pringles crumbs, you can do in the bathtub, smelling gently of limes. Put the laptop on the toilet. Choose your favourite show. Do not watch something that might lull you to sleep because you cannot drown in bed, except in emotions, but the same cannot be said for the bath.
It Will Make You Feel Like Human Tea
British people love tea. The heat, the routine, the comfort. But don’t just drink the tea; become the tea. Some people might view baths as stewing in one’s own filth, but those people are the coffee drinkers. Visualise yourself as the tea bag; call yourself Lady Grey if you must. Stew. Soak. Free your essence. Do not drink the bath water.
Originally published here.
My name is Scarlett Cayford and I had bedbugs.
They’ve been gone from my life for over a year now, those tiny lentil-shaped embodiments of horror and of filth, but I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fear they inspired in me. Every time I feel an itch, or am bitten by a mosquito, I feel it rise in me again. Impossibly tiny; impossibly awful.
I live in London and that means that I share my space with all manner of small scurrying things. As I stand behind the yellow line in the hot Underground station, mice move beneath the tracks. If I’m late walking home, the yellow eyes of urban foxes follow me. Most recently, my lovely, clean, wonderful flat was invaded by a rat, who was dispatched with only when he got a paw stuck in a trap and got caught when he tried to escape through the dishwasher. It was not a nice experience for me, my housemates, or the rat whom I was not allowed to name on account of the fact that we had to kill him.
But by far the worst of my experiences was with the insidious immortal life form that is the bedbug, which invaded my first flat in North London after I’d been living there for six months.
There are any number of ways you can get bedbugs. Hotel rooms are the obvious ones, but you could pick them up by standing too close to an unfortunate stranger on the bus. I suspect our home invaders were brought in by a new couple who moved in at about the same time, who were French, quiet and lovely but exist only in my memory as The Carriers.
I noticed it before my boyfriend did, because I am allergic to anything that bites me, except for him, and what showed up in the form of small red dots on his skin was huge red welts on mine. There were paths of bites down my neck and across my arms, maddeningly itchy and tenacious. Despite my courageous attempts not to scratch, they stayed for weeks, between my fingers and even on my palms, forcing me into long sleeves and gloves.
There aren’t the same laws in place here as there are in NYC, and so I did not involve my landlord but battled them alone, armed with rubbing alcohol and lavender oil. New to London, neither of us could afford the costs of a professional exterminator.
I sprayed down the mattress and the linens, until our room reeked of a booze-hungry grandmother. I went to bed each evening in socks, leggings, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a scarf, slathered in oil and bitterly angry. I love sleeping; I love bed, and to have it infested by something upset me beyond reason. My one place of retreat was a battleground, and I was losing.
But I told no one –- not my other flatmates, not my friends. Because quite apart from the anger was the shame, akin to being an 8-year-old with head lice, the certainty that despite all evidence to contrary, the bugs had moved in because I was dirty. If people asked about the bites on my hands, I said I’d been sitting in the park and was attacked by mosquitoes. I washed everything I owned on the hottest setting properly. I bagged up my clothes. I touched people less. I felt diseased and disgusting.
We got rid of them in the end by sacrificing our bed. Yep, after nearly a month of battling bugs to no avail, my boyfriend and I snapped our bed in the middle, then went to the landlord citing ordinary wear and tear and got the bed replaced. (In the UK, loads of apartments are rented furnished. Ours came with the big furniture.) To this day he probably just thinks we’re energetically kinky in the sack. We took the old bed to the skip, threw out all our linens, washed everything that could fit in the washing machine and crossed our fingers.
We were lucky -– it worked. The bugs were gone and my existing bites healed -– and also scarred. I’d never been more relieved in my whole life. I’m still scared of hotels. And, perhaps unreasonably, French people.
But I still don’t really understand why I felt the way I did. It might be because the whole incident was genuinely, literally scarring. At one point I had upwards of 50 bites and felt repulsive, hot and ill. No matter how innocent the host might be, there’s no ignoring the fact that showing that kind of disfigurement, even to people who like you, opens you to judgment.
And people are scared of bedbugs, as they should be. I didn’t want to be Bedbug Girl. I didn’t want to be The Carrier. So even though it might have been easier to ask for help, especially in a time where nearly everybody has suffered from them at some point, I suffered in silence and waited it out. Shame exists in so many forms, but it seems absurd that I was so utterly embarrassed by something that was beyond my control.
But that’s bedbugs for you — a curse that gets you on a psychological as well as a physical level. I hope never, ever to go through it again. As I write this, I’m lying on my bed. When I finish it, I’ll inspect the seams of the mattress. You should too.
I’m not really a fan of the Brazilian wax but I still get them occasionally, mainly because sometimes I think about how I must look, standing in the shower, one leg crooked on the lip of the tub, scraping a trio of Venus-branded blades against the most intimate parts of my body, and it just seems like one of those situations that must inevitably end up as a Daily Mail headline. WOMAN FOUND IN SHOWER IMPALED UPON RAZOR BLADE; REPORTS SAY SHE DOES NOT FEEL AT ALL LIKE A GODDESS.
I could go natural and I have done on many occasions -– for example, whilst I lived in Japan, where temperatures would plunge to the kind of lows that meant I kept my toothpaste in my fridge to keep it from freezing solid, because that was the warmest place in my apartment. In those kinds of primal situations, it seemed like you had to be an idiot to rid yourself of any evolutionary advantage against the cold, and I took warmth where I could get it.
But in my relatively young life I have had many a Brazilian wax, and it struck me recently that very few of them come unaccompanied by some horrific or funny anecdote. There’s just something about holding your own butt cheeks open for a stranger to spread them with hot pink wax that lends itself to stories.
My first ever Brazilian was at a very nice salon in my university town, which I was able to afford only because of a voucher. The walls were very white and the couches were leather and I perched on very edge of my seat clutching a satchel full of study materials and feeling wholly out of place.
My tactic in life has always been to befriend the people with the capacity to make me look ugly or render me clitoris-less, so I chatted to my waxer gregariously about the weather and our favourite bars. She was receptive to a conversation -– too receptive -– and it wasn’t until the last strip of wax had been ripped from my skin that we both realized that she’d removed every single bit of hair from down there. I was as bald as an egg, if eggs were pink, mottled and stippled with blood.
As we were best friends by then, I found myself unable to complain, even as I stared at myself in horror in the mirror that night. It being my first wax, I had not considered that the end result would be anything less than beautiful -– that my intimate areas might need some time to recover from the stripping. The following evening, after a long plane ride, I presented my long distance boyfriend with something that resembled a thin spreading of raspberry jam on unrisen pizza dough.
A later Brazilian occurred in the same city in a considerably less affluent salon, where an extremely friendly Hungarian woman talked about her home while she cheerfully ripped pieces off me. Before this, however, she had entered the room where I lay pantsless, removed the towel, frowned, and then presented me with scissors to “tidy myself up” before she got started.
“Too long, too long” she said like a mantra as she left the room. Crouched over the wastepaper bin, wielding the blades over my bits, I wondered if I’d ever been in a less elegant situation.
As we neared the end of the wax she frowned again and leaned in a little too close for my liking.
“Hmmm” she said, “hmmmm.”
I realized afterwards that I was having a mild reaction to the wax, but instead of telling me, she squirted a large portion of very cold cream onto me and began to rub it in briskly, all the while saying “Poor baby, poor baby, poor baby.” I wish I was making this up.
My most recent Brazilian occurred in London, where I once again endeavoured to find the cheapest option possible, because I never learn my lesson. I found myself in a very small room on the third floor off The Strand, where three or four people were having their nails done. I checked in with the receptionist, who pointed me in the direction of a bed in the corner.
I walked toward it slowly, wondering if it was where I was waiting, when she followed me over, pulled a paper partition across, and told me to take off my clothes. As I removed my clothes I realized that I could see the manicurists through the slats in the partition, but then I thought about how cheap it was and lay down. The wax commenced uneventfully, the beautician bored and efficient, until she paused, walked around to my head and said, “You’re going to have to be quieter.”
Naturally, I’d been giving off the odd yelp, but I hadn’t given it a thought. Now all I could think about was the very quiet room I was in with about eight other people, all of whom had all their clothes on. I felt like a teenager having furtive sex with her parents in the next room. Without the sex, and with a whole lot of pain.
I know I’m not the only one who can’t have a wax without a good helping of humiliation. Although talking to my colleague whose friend was a beautician once helped. Because she once waxed a tampon right out of a customer. And once, while giving a pedicure, she had a piece of toenail hit her in the back of throat. So at least I know it could always be worse.
Originally published here.
Sometimes I want to cry. And I don’t mean tear up. I don’t mean touching the corners of my eyelids with my sleeve and soldiering on. I mean proper honking crying, the kind that sounds like an elephant in the throes of unimaginable passion, the kind that makes your face look like a salty cross between a cat anus and a used towel.
Like most women I know, I internalize a lot of the bad things that happen to me. When things happen that really make me feel like I want to cry – passed over for an opportunity at work, I leave my family again, someone takes the seat on the subway that I was aiming for, that I wanted, that I had already mentally embroidered “Scarlett’s Arse Wuz Here” upon – I suck it up and choke it down. Swallow it along with my pride, and my Pret sandwich. I’ve never cried easily, and nowadays I don’t really cry at all.
Part of that is being a girl. It’s hard being a woman these days. I mean, it’s probably hard being a man as well, what with wondering what to spend all your extra money on, and whether the lumberjack look is truly dead, but it’s definitely hard being a woman. That hallowed ideal of a wistful and wanting waif has been melded with the manic-pixie-dream-girl Zooey Deschanel trope and pinned up on a poster under the ideal of Having It All, As Long As “All” Doesn’t Include Inappropriate Outbursts In Public Or Pubic Hair. We’re still supposed to have that female empathy, but weakness, in a space where we’re constantly having to prove our equal strength, is unforgivable. This is a world you shout about, not one you cry about.
It doesn’t go away though, that teenage urge to open the gates and flood the world with everything unfair, unreasonable and uncertain. And storing it up means disaster, in the form of throwing a proper tits-out strop in Tesco’s because they’ve run out of salt and vinegar Pringles.
So this is an ode to the avenue and the outlet, in whatever shape it comes, for tears.
For me, when I need to cry, but I don’t want to think about things that actually matter, I watch Grey’s Anatomy. Just about any episode will do it – an elderly couple clutching hands, a young man dying before his time, any time Derek says something nice to Meredith. My perfect poison, though, is Izzy and Denny – and anyone who’s suffered their way through Season 2 is nodding along with me right now. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even have to bother with whole episodes – YouTube has it sorted for me. YouTube is my own personal emotional vending machine and poor dying Denny is my Reeses Cup. And it’s not like I don’t know I’m being manipulated; I just don’t care. Shonda Rhimes is the puppet master and I am Punch AND Judy and the girl who starts to get a bit weepy just typing in the search terms Izzy + Denny + What About Me; the perfect two minutes and twenty two seconds of mourn porn.
Books do it too. The Horse Whisperer; The Time Traveler’s Wife; The Book Thief. I idiotically watched the movie adaptation of the latter on a recent flight back from New Zealand, and I’m pretty sure that the young mother sitting to my left thought I was experiencing some kind of spiritual and physical breakdown. She gave me apple slices and congratulated her three year old son on being less of disturbance to other passengers than the wreck of a twenty six year old she was sat by.
My most recent emotional outlet has been The Fault In Our Stars, which I am too afraid to see at the cinema because I think the ushers might have to take me to hospital. I read the book in one ovary-motivated binge on a recent evening, alternating between proper gut-wrenching sobs and the odd brief angry reading hiatus because I was crying too much to actually see the page. I highly recommend it.
It’s emotional torture, that deliberate stimulation of the parts of your brain that feel things the most. But the sensation afterwards, that limp and luxurious purged state, is akin to lying down after a long hard day. It’s perfect. And none of your family pets have to die in order to achieve it – just Denny Duquette, again and again, his heart stopping and body failing at my command.
What’s your emotional porn? What’s your release? Do tell. And do go and watch The Fault In Our Stars for me. My friend was sobbing so powerfully during it that she had to take off her bra, so that’s something for you to aim for.
I’m a busy woman. This weekend alone, I ran up a hill four times, vomited in a park, visited a baby, terrorized a baby, chased a duck and had three baths. I visited people and was visited. I cleaned a fridge. Did three loads of laundry (t’was the same load three times because I forgot to hang it out). I notionally read some work emails whilst gnawing on the remains of an Easter Egg. I recited an ANZAC day poem to some drunk non-Antipodeans. I spent 20 quid in Marks and Spencer buying only discount items, resulting in a dinner of goats cheese, salmon pate and gluten-free Percy Pigs.
Once upon a time, I was a voracious reader. As a kid, I read 2 or 3 books a night and then shoved them to the bottom of my bed with my feet. As I kid, I woke up 3 or 4 times in the night, convinced that I was being attacked, only to find 3 or 4 kilograms of Enid Blyton had clunked to the floor. I studied English at university and was reading at least 2 books a week, wending my way through In Cold Blood whilst trying to remember why I’d taped a $5 note to my own bottom.
Then work hits. Reality hits. If I’m being honest, the internet hit. And suddenly the time I spent reading was spent trawling blogs, composing elaborate (unsent) letters of resignation and looking at pictures of babies on the internet.
I’m a member of a Book Club, a wonderful Book Club, who this month made the collectively insane decision to embark upon reading The Luminaries. If you haven’t seen The Luminaries, just imagine a house with a fancy book jacket. Imagine your front stairs. Imagine every book you read in the last three years haphazardly glued together. Imagine your own life transcribed into a book, then lengthen it by 800 pages and make it more interesting. That’s The Luminaries. Setting aside my own ill-concealed disgust at the fact that the author is from my own country, is my own age, went to my own university and is now the youngest-ever Booker Prize winner, my main beef with this book is how goddamn difficult it is to slot into the empty spaces in my life.
Because where do I read now? Not in bed before I sleep, like times of yore, because I’m too busy reading up on the life of Bronnie, an Australian I’ve never met, because her cat just died.
No, I read on public transport and in the bath and on the toilet, almost exclusively (you might think that that would not be conducive to a lot of book reading, but you don’t live my life). The Luminaries, though, defies my lifestyle. An attempt to read it in the bathtub led to a near drowning and a tidal wave. Carrying it on public transport seems risible – not only is it so large that any bag that could comfortably contain both the book AND everything I need to live my highly glamorous life would essentially be a one-bedroomed flat with a handle; but the looks I get when I pull it out are damning. Oh reading that, they say, of course you are. Not fishing for literate young gentleman with an eye for fonts and complicated plots involving Hokitika whores, are you? I don’t need that kind of judgment in my life. As for reading it on the toilet – no. I have one toilet book, it is 50 Shades of Grey, because one kind of shit leads easily to another kind of shit. Disengage brain, engage sphincter. It’s just science.
So when do I read it, this Kiwi tome, this literary luggage? I’m not exactly sure. I’m not allowed to attend Book Club if I haven’t finished it. Tell me, readers, when do you read? How do you have time to read this? Shouldn’t you be reading something more fulfilling? I recommend The Luminaries, but only if you don’t have a job or any friends, or hair that is time-consuming to blow-dry.
Originally published here.
My New Zealand was always a political one. My Dad was a member of the now-defunct Alliance party under Jim Anderton, and I was a six-year-old standing on a soap-box, announcing Dad’s intention to speak to potential voters on street corners on Saturday afternoons.
My own face was on the leaflets I got paid $5 to deliver to local mailboxes. His picture was screen-printed, along with his name and the Alliance colours, on the side of our two family cars, and when we were dropped off at school, my sister and I would emerge from the car proudly, politically.
I got told off at school for handing round sheets of Alliance stickers that I’d stolen from my parents’ office. “Politically neutral,” my teacher explained. My friends wore the stickers on the inside of their clothes anyway – they liked the stars. I won our class elections. Later, I stayed with Green MP Jeanette Fitzsimons and her husband in the Coromandel. They had a self-composting toilet and we slept in the barn.
The first time I voted, I did so in my old primary school only two days after my 18th birthday, the same school in which I’d won my own election. I voted the same as my parents did.
I moved to Wellington and attended law school – a fairly lacklustre and uninvolved student, if I’m honest, more invested in my English degree and my difficult relationship to care much about judicial review. But there was no escaping the impressive nature of a law school ensconced in government buildings, the lawns crawling with judges on their way to various courtrooms, the ever-present Beehive squatting above it all. Once, in a sandwich shop on Lambton Quay, Peter Dunne took the last veggie roll in the queue in front of me, and then dropped it on the ground. “Justice,” I thought, even though he still had the lunch he wanted, albeit a little bruised, and I didn’t.
The second time I voted, I wandered, still drunk, down the sunny street from my flat. I forgot my voting card and it took me a long time to fill in my details, my still-new address failing to come to me in the dim repurposed community centre.
Even though politics was an ingrained part of my life, it wasn’t something that struck me as relevant to my wellbeing, except insofar as my father having a job. I knew the parties and their politics at a precocious level as a child, and then I forgot them. My awareness of governmental policy extended to student loan pay-backs and minimum wage increases.
The concept of an apolitical law student might seem like a strange one, but I don’t believe that I was alone – as long as I kept passing my exams, the content and application of public law to my own life amounted to nothing. I was selfish because I could afford to be – because the safety nets of part-time employment, student loans and parents had let me lead a life abstracted from politics. I studied what I wanted to, and I bought what I wanted to. I learnt the intricate details of a legal system, both public and private, that seemed to have no real power over my life, because all the problems I had were solvable. I grew from a child deeply interested in all aspects of politics to a young adult interested only if they directly affected me.
Now I live in London, where neither my working, nor my private life, has anything to do with law or politics. Legislation is no longer a central part of my familial or academic existence, but since leaving the safety of a political framework that works for me, politics have become important again. Starting out in a new industry in a new city, I earn a low wage – and nothing, not even a father on a soap box, will make you more politically aware than treading the breadline. I’m more aware of politics than I’ve been in years – I follow the personalities and proposals of politicians closely – but issues surrounding welfare and pensions are not the ones that grab me, but hikes in mortgages and changes in tax brackets. My politics are selfish, and the policies I care about are the ones that could change my life.
There’s not the same proximity to law-makers that there is in New Zealand, but with the heightened sense of hierarchy that exists in the United Kingdom there is a greater feeling both of impact and of alliance. The vague listing ships of left and right that exist as Labour and National in New Zealand are solid and unyielding in their politics here, and one’s political identity does not shift.
Not long after I moved here, Margaret Thatcher died, and on the day of her funeral I left work to join the crowds that lined the route her coffin would take. There were thousands of us – some mere onlookers like me, some expressing their sadness, but the vocal majority sported signs and sang “Ding dong, the witch is dead”. In New Zealand, plenty of politicians have been loathed, but none of them have fractured a country the way this woman had, with her prioritising economic stability over jobs – in such a way that years after her fall from power and retreat from public eye, years into a slow decline into dementia, they still abandoned everything they were doing to smile at her passing coffin.
These gestures, these moments, though, are leftover from a period of political unrest and Thatcherism – these days, there are similar trends in voter statistics to those in New Zealand. In New Zealand’s last general election 77 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds registered to vote – as of February 5 2014, one in four young people living in Britain had not yet registered to vote. In the 2010 general election, only 44 per cent of 18- to 24-year-oldsvoted. As a general trend, voter participation in developed democracies is gradually sliding downwards, but why? Is it because of what I’ve recognized in myself – that unless a proposed law change directly, negatively affects my quality of living, I don’t care about it?
Politics might be decried as a murky, opaque process, but in absence of outrage, there is apathy. This is the self-defeating nature of democracy – wherein when the equilibrium of contentment is reached, we stop.
The solution to voter apathy, then, might be to stir the pot – which is what I witnessed recently in the UK. The recent Budget announcement by the Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition government was one that was eagerly awaited by social media punters – and rather less eagerly by myself, and the others in my office.
Perhaps the Conservatives knew this – perhaps this was instrumental in their key Budget points. Because, in the end, the most striking point of a speech that included dramatic pension reforms and a welfare cap was the “Beer and Bingo” tax – a halving of bingo duty to 10 per cent and a reduction by one penny in beer duty.
Tweeting out an advertisement that looked like nothing so much as a spoof of his own party, Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps entreated his Twitter followers to “spread the word”. And those hard working people did so, in their thousands, heaping such scorn upon this patronizing missive that all other points from the Budget were over-shadowed.
One can almost put oneself in their shiny leather shoes, those Conservative law-makers constructing a Budget that many would ignore. In between laws and allocations that would affect potholes and fuel duty, the kinds of things that would draw no real media or public attention, and affect Average Joe in only the most fleeting of ways, they decided to chuck in – and then highlight – a couple of boons for the working class. A way to entertain themselves, they might have nodded, and a cheaper way for them to drink, as they do. A couple of shiny things to tide them over, while they awaited reforms that might actually affect the quality of their lives. Brilliant. Inspired.
Shockingly enough, the plan backfired. High-school Orwell was called to mind, at least to literature fans on Twitter, who were quick to spoof the eminently spoof-able advert:
“Bread and circuses” was whispered, then shouted – satiation and entertainment the only necessary requirements for satisfaction? It was hard to pinpoint which element was more insulting.
It’s not just the content of the advertisement that is so patronising – though the assumption that beer and bingo is the way that “hardworking people” fill their days is fairly pointed – but the use of the word ‘they’. That division, that very deliberate line in the sand, between the people who own the houses and make the money – and the law – and those that don’t. Does Grant Shapps play Bingo? Probably not. Does he drink beer? Probably – but then, he probably doesn’t notice the 1p price difference.
The policy might have been sound, but the pitch was flawed – and yet: suddenly this dry political document that would usually cause a stir only amongst political commentators became the biggest talking point of the day. “Beer and Bingo”, the catchy misplaced mantra, rang out across the internet. Is this what it takes, then, for people to become truly cognizant of political manoeuvring that will one day affect them? A social media slip, one patronising comment too many?
To my mind, though, this was the ultimate example of the politics of if not selfishness, then certainly self. The second people felt like a policy was pitched at them, they took note – and the minute they felt offended by it, they spoke out.
Here’s what I’m prepared to bet on – it felt good to get mad.
It felt good for me to turn to my colleague and ask her if she’d ever played Bingo. Ask if, perhaps, that’s what we should do this evening. It felt good to go to the local pub and find the tip jar – labelled Shapps’ Tax – filled with 1p coins. It felt good to be aware of policy, to be offended and angered, and to bite back in any small way.
The nature of my own political selfishness is that it takes a bursting of my bubble for me to say something, do something, feel something. It’s not something that makes me proud, when I have friends who actively stand up for youth justice when they’re no longer youths, for the 99 per cent when they number among the 1 per cent – it’s a flaw, a big one, born of a political consciousness that never extended beyond my own backyard. But, in London certainly, the combined effects of increasing costs of living, population booms and a weak and failing job market, means that my own backyard will no longer be a safe place to be. I – along with about one million other Londoners – am about to find out what happens when selfishness is no longer safe.
We live in a marvelous-type world, where there are nine thousand different ways to cook chicken and you can buy every single one of them for under a fiver. We live in a confusing world, where everything you want, or need, or some combination of the two, is available to you from one hundred different outlets, all within walking distance.
What this means for someone like me, with some small bits of disposable income and disposable time, with a chronic inability to make up my mind and a predilection for the nearest, shiniest thing, is that the best way of selling something to me is to couple it with a gimmick.
Want me to buy your food? Make me eat it in pitch blackness. Make me shell out fifty quid for something I won’t see until it comes out the other end the next day. Make a short man in dark glasses guide me to my table. Make sure he spills my wine, just a little bit. Make me smear my fingers across my plate, identify the bits of meat beneath my fingernails as crab. Tell me afterwards that I ate crocodile and springbok. Ensure that I know that it could have been the fingers of babies, the heart of my mother, and I’d never be the wiser.
Want to me to stay in your hotel? Make it a love hotel, with a garish sign, next to a sushi bar in an alleyway that smells of fish. Make my room classroom-themed, so I can have sex on the same kinds of desks my students sit at every day. Put a locker in the corner and lay out a plaid skirt on the bed. Cherry-flavoured lubricant isn’t exactly on-theme but I won’t complain if it’s free. I’ll still enjoy writing crude messages on the blackboard with the chalk I hate.
Want me to go to your cinema? Best make it a multi-sensory cinematic experience (yes, really). Give me a little cardboard tray with numbered pottles that sync, in the form of dramatic flashing digits, with events onscreen. I want to eat spun sugar studded with black pudding at the very moment that shard of glass enters Mercutio’s body. I want to drink poison with Romeo. I want to eat Juliet’s heart. I didn’t know that I wanted this before, but I do.
Want me to drink your cocktail? Use words like “infused”. Turn it upside down. Freeze it. Heat it. Dance naked around it and filter it with your eyelashes. Fill it with things like rosemary, which isn’t drinkable and is therefore confusing. Infuse my drink with rosemary smoke, so that I choke as I drink, so that my insides melt, so that I’m convinced that this is the best thing I have tasted, simply because I have never tasted anything like it before, even though it tastes terrible. If you can serve it to me in a birdcage, so much the better.
Want me to go to your party? Don’t have it in a bar. Don’t have it in a house. I’ve been in many; I have my own. No – let us celebrate whatever needs celebrating in the abandoned train tunnels under Waterloo station, so that brackish water drips into my drink. Make a forest of pine-trees; create an underground lake complete with flat-bottomed boats – make me row it after several glasses of bad white wine so that I nearly drown in water up to my knee. I want to be cold. I want to be confused. I think I want to be a train.
Want me to buy your lipstick? It’s not enough that the shades are beautiful, that they suit me, that your prices are reasonable. There are so many for me to choose from in this reeling rainbow, how could I possibly know that yours is better? Make a star sign her name to it. Convince me that this is how they became famous, this one slash of colour. I need the smack of celebrity about it, I want Rihanna on my face, Lady Gaga smeared across my lips. I want to look like Maleficent. I want to be Angeline Jolie. This one, the red one, does it taste like Brad Pitt?
Want me to run your 10k race, the expensive one, when there are so many others for less, for charity, when I could run that distance for free in the park near my home? Give me a DJ. Give me smoky tunnels of flashing lights to run through, so that I might forget that I can’t breathe. Don’t give me a medal at the end – give me a dainty necklace in rose gold engraved with a bird. I can fly. I am a bird. I think I’m going to vomit.
I’m going to have to get married in space, and be buried in a clear Perspex box suspended across the Thames. I’ll live my life wearing clothes constructed of real pieces of fruit and used condoms. I’ll breathe cinnamon-scented air that makes me choke and have live grass sewn into my scalp in lieu of hair. I can’t do anything normal anymore. Roast meals with my family, a chick flick, a walk in the park. What’s the point? I’ve done it before.