They’ve failed us

Four hours of my christmas holidays were spent watching Barracuda, a box-set beauty I stumbled across on BBC iPlayer. The four-part drama is based on a book about Australian wannabe Olympic swimmers. It is set in the late 1990s, appropriately prior to the Sydney games.The story follows the rise of Danny from a working-class family and his subsequent fall. We can’t all be Olympians and Danny doesn’t end up being one of the lucky ones.

I loved the mini series so much that I begged my mum and sister to watch it; I couldn’t possibly contain my excitement alone! When they had complied to my plead, I asked for feedback. My mum responded with her disappointment in the ending; Danny didn’t make it. He screwed up and took it badly. And I could empathise with her deflation. But isn’t that what happens in real life? Daily disappointments haul us downwards. Dead ends threaten every path. And for every winner there is at least one loser. But no one tells their story.

I’m sure we all remember the motivational ‘Thought of the Day’s preached incessantly by teachers as if they were devout nuns reciting the Apostle’s Creed. We hear the heroic stories of Mo Farah, Maggie Thatcher, Nelson Mandela and even Lance Armstrong (before he was denounced an ungodly liar and cheat). We are told to aspire to their achievements and, if not, at least make it to university, for goodness sake! We are forced to the limits and made numb to physical and emotional pain as we reach for that final goal.

But it doesn’t always work. And then you’re left without a map to guide the way. Without an authoritative shove in the right direction. Without a flickering light in the distance. You’re left on your knees picking up the pieces whilst the rest of the world walk passed chasing towards their own flickering lights that they might never reach. No doubt you’ve been the passerby before too; we all have but have been too oblivious to notice anything but our flickering light.

In Danny’s case, he was an excellent swimmer but less excellent than the three other boys who took bronze, silver and gold in the qualifiers. He finished fourth. Albeit its fictitious storyline, reality certainly dishes the same dirt. My own school does it to the kids they’ve nurtured for 5 years. Results day determines whether you’re safe for another year or off to Southgate College. How many boys will be dropped by the Arsenal youth team this year? How distraught will they be and how many of them will cope with the failure and actually carry on to their full potential? And how many people will be rejected from their dream university by the fault of an A rather than the necessary A*? Will anyone be there to aid the bruises and fatalities of the ‘failures’? Mum and Dad maybe.

I don’t think it’s fair. This is not a ‘gap’ in the system; it’s a cliff at the end of the system waiting to devour you. We are taught how to succeed. The flaw is that we are not taught how to succeed when we fail.  You can’t prepare for that.

BBC’s Barracuda

The ‘Healthy’ Dilemma

Meet Esme. Esme turns her nose up to anything resembling a vegetable. She also goes to McDonalds much more often than she ought. She is constantly told by her mum that she is not healthy. And she knows it.

On a bid to become healthier, Esme taps the Instagram icon on her phone and types in ‘#cleaneating’ . Instagram is the mother of this popular movement and Esme has high-hopes it could work for her. Scrolling through posts by clean-eating instagrammers, she drools over flawless bowls of chia, goji and coconut porridge; stacks of Matcha green tea protein pancakes; gorgeous displays of vegan cacoa-nib-chip cookies and bright green glasses of spirulina, coconut and hemp smoothie… Transfixed by what she sees, Esme decides to become a ‘clean-eater’!

But the problem emerges when Esme tries to recreate one of the aforementioned recipes. To afford the ingredients, she would need to delve deeper into her jean pockets that humanly possible to reach the cash needed to buy the ingredients. And this is a lifestyle she has tried to adopt. She can’t afford one spirulina, coconut and hemp smoothie, let alone one-a-day, 365 days of the year!

Luckily Esme is sensible enough to ditch clean-eating approach and turn for help elsewhere: Holland and Barrett. They are the self-proclaimed ‘leading UK health retailer’ so it seems an appropriate choice, right? But browsing the brimming shelves of bottles, jars, bars and bags is like learning a foreign language…

“G-ginko bil-oo-ba?” Esme attempts to pronounce her new vocabulary. “And what sort of capsules are these? Ac-id-o-phil-us capsules… but do I get Ultra Maximum acidophilus capsules or Mega-potency acidophilus capsules?” She opts for neither in the end after looking at the price tag. That’s a common problem in Holland and Barrett like most health shops: something snatches your attention but the extortionate price sends you packing…

“Oh, a chocolate bar! Something I recognise!” Esme exclaims with a sigh of relief. “Oh. Hang on. £1.09 for 35g of chocolate can’t be right.” Puzzled, she notices the Nakd bars her mum buys from Asda for 59.3p each. Here they are priced as 99p. Horrified, Esme makes a dramatic exit and crosses the road, heading to McDonalds instead.

Whilst queuing for her Happy Meal Esme decides to have one final attempt at this whole ‘healthy lifestyle’ thing. A youtuber springs to her mind: ‘Freelee the Banana Girl’. Typing her name into the search bar, it quickly appears as a Google suggestion. She clicks and, after a little reading, starts to get the picture…

Freelee promotes ‘raw till four’ meaning no cooking till after four. So definitely no Full English. Ever.

Freelee promotes ‘mono-meals’- meals of one ingredient. So Fish and Chips is a no-no.

Freelee also eats up to 51 bananas a day. But Esme doesn’t like bananas.

“What would you like?” Esme is interrupted by the smiley McDonald’s cashier.

Without hesitation, Esme blurts, “Big Mac, with large fries and no gherkins please.”

 * *

Esme is not real. But I reckon many will relate to her story. And I believe blame can be placed on greedy health food retailers and irresponsible clean-eating bloggers; they are privatising a healthy lifestyle. Their obscure ingredients, myths and magical remedies overcomplicate health, pretending that health is only attainable to those who follow strict regimes and have bottomless bank accounts.

It is not the green smoothies I snub. And I don’t even have an issue with chia seeds, flaxseeds or linseeds. Admittedly I whip up courgetti as a snack and ‘banana nice cream’ for pudding sometimes, both popular with clean-eaters. But what I do disagree with is basing your lifestyle on a trend.

So here are my three handy tips:

1) Don’t follow the restrictive rules defined by instagrammers; the self-proclaimed experts on nutrition. Your only lifestyle rule should be that it works for you. 

2) Don’t compare yourself to ‘Deliciously Ella’, Madeleine Shaw or Freelee. Their flaws are conveniently hidden from their millions of followers.

3) Don’t let health food shops bust your bank account with their totally unnecessary remedies and capsules that they say will ‘boost your brain power’. They won’t, trust me.

Whether you agree with my stance on this or remain unconvinced of an issue, I highly recommend the 30 minute documentary by the BBC: Clean-Eating’s Dirty Secrets. Both an entertaining and eye-opening watch!

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A not-very-reassuring thought

What has just happened?! Core 1 Maths is meant to be the ‘easiest’ and I might as well have vomited on the exam paper… And question 7… *shudders*. That’s it; my dreams of a decent career are over.

Maybe it didn’t go as terribly as I’m imagining… And question 7 was only one of eight, right? And the others seemed okay. Maybe I’m over-reacting…

But I didn’t even have time to check it…

[speaking to self] Ruth, I’m sure you’ve done fine.

No. You really didn’t.

* * *

You’ve guessed it; Maths did not go well. I am bitterly disappointed and have spent the last 48 hours desperately reassuring myself that it wasn’t that bad. I’ve been fiercely batting away the negative uprising of maths misery and doubt with a more optimistic outlook. Just looking on the ‘bright side of life’, following the wise words of Monty Python back in ’79. Can’t be anything wrong with that, right?

Wrong. I have decided that this so-called ‘positive approach’ is the most counter-productive way to spend your waking and sleeping hours, like I have done since emerging emotionally lost from the exam hall. Although the positive approach appears innocent, it is actually a false path that steals your sanity. Negativity is like an amazingly energetic bouncy ball that will simply continue to jump right back in your face the more you hit it away. Or one of those annoying crocodiles at the arcade; its ugly head will just keep popping up to suck any positivity left. Basically the more you convince yourself that it is not the end of the world and things are not as bad you envisage, the more convinced you become that it is the end of the world and things are worse than you are envisaging. So you retaliate with the positive approach and Mr. Negative has a brutal comeback. And the cycle continues to spiral downhill…

Not only does the positive approach not work; it also wastes time. Learn from my mistake; spending a day and a half worrying about the past when I really ought to be revising for the fast-approaching Unit 2 Geography tomorrow is not the best idea. Neither is writing a blog post, but we’ll ignore that…

It applies to all walks of life, I think. It may be the best option to accept things as they are, rather than trying to fool yourself with the positive approach. The best way to prepare is to face things head-on. Take a cheating husband: upon suspicion, faithful wife should confront her partner abruptly, rather than convince herself there is no lady-on-the-side!

So, those are my thoughts, which I hope will serve as a cautionary tale for all. Hopefully, you’ll hear from me shortly, but if not, it’s probably because I haven’t survived exam season…

From the other side

It seems strange that only since July 2015 have I been able to empathise with retail staff. I have been in daily contact with them since 1998. They directed me towards the carrots in Asda; solved my ‘pink or blue top dilemma’ in Topshop (the fab sales girl told me to buy both which I did, unwittingly boosting her sales records); gave me too much change- which I obviously didn’t notice until I had left! We’ve had some discrepancies in the past, such as the time when I was scalded by the Starbucks barista *cries*, but hot coffee aside, my modest 17 years have several splendid memories involving shops and their teams.

However life on the other side of the counter is far more complicated than I ever fathomed. With one job at Vue under my belt, I will never EVER leave my popcorn under the seat again. I will never EVER complain about a queue at the checkout. And I will be exceptionally understanding if the 17 year old serving me doesn’t quite know how print up tickets… Or puts cheese ON TOP of the nachos rather than on the side… Or accidentally locks the till rather than giving me my change… Please note none of those RIDICULOUS scenarios ever happened to me as a cinema assistant… Okay, maybe they did…

But my two months there were well spent. I earned my first wages; I kept my parents sane by keeping myself busy; I met some funny, clever, genuinely lovely individuals and learnt how to deal with the not so great aspects of life. Like picking up popcorn, cleaning toilets and handling impatient managers that seemingly forgot that their staff had break entitlement. I also received free movie tickets and discounted Fanta frozen; what more could one dream of?!

And now I have a new supermarket job, as a food service gal, which I love. The other staff, (most of) the customers and the sprightly 6:30 Saturday morning starts are as brilliant as the divine aroma of buttery butter croissants that tempts me throughout my shift. I do, however, have sympathy for the customers I serve sometimes, when I fail to give good information. I frequently feel extremely unprofessional when I am asked a question or a request that completely confounds me. For example, a customer asked for a ‘minute steak’ last week.

“Minute steak?! What does that mean?!” My head panics as I begin to slice a nice hefty hunk of steak for the lady.

“‘Minute steak. That means thin.” She kindly prompts me and I pretend I knew it all along…

I blame the fact I am relatively new to the job and calm my embarrassment knowing that I will learn more as I progress.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I love my job, especially on the deli because there are always things to do. But the cheese. It haunts me. When I first began training on the deli counter, I was astounded by how little I knew about cheese. As a moderate fan of the cows’ gift to us, I thought I was relatively competent with the cheese world. I knew there was cheddar, goats cheese, Parmesan, ricotta, the blue stuff… But I now know there are about a billion different types of cheddar, cheeses with incomprehensible names, ‘ewes’ cheese and million types of those, French bries, English bries…. Apparently I will get the hang of the cheeses soon. Fingers crossed.

So what have I learnt from my working life so far? Well, firstly I will no longer assume that customer assistants know absolutely everything about the shop. Because if they’re new or just anything like me, they will be as clueless as the next person. I have developed an empathy for other customer assistants, particularly the newbies. But I have also learnt that we do not learn from a single mistake; we have to repeat it at least three times before we can get any better! That’s my theory anyway.

Being Big Sis

It’s taken me almost 17 years to realise this but, as the oldest child of three, I was the ‘experiment’. Confused, first-time parents, my mum and dad greeted me with obligatory cuddles and kisses, amid curious prodding and testing of their new-found parental skills. One and a half years later, after the realisation that they were just about capable of the whole mummy-and-daddy thing, it was time for a second child. Some may call it a ‘friend’ for the me; more like a ‘second chance’!
I’ll hold my hands up and admit that the former paragraph may have been a slight exaggeration, caused by my frustration at being the oldest. Undoubtedly, I am not alone with this feeling of dejection as a first-born. The pain, the struggles, the endless battles -fought not only for me but for my baby sis and bro- will eventually swallow me whole, I’m sure. But in the meantime I will endeavour to preach the ugly truth of being big sis…

1. The aforementioned ‘battles’ are real. I have fought for everything and consequently enabled the two younger ones (Amy and Conor) free access to my triumphs. Nintendo DS, Heelies, Facebook, MSN… After a few months of persistent begging for the latter and whining the phrase ‘But ALL my friends have it’, it tended to work… eventually. If it wasn’t for my top-notch persuasion skills, the eyes of my siblings and I would have ventured no further than CBBC and the infamous Bill and Ben jigsaw puzzle.

2. The second most famous quote of mine is, ‘But I get the blame for EVERYTHING!’ According to my parents (and presumably the millions of other parents around the world who have more than one child), younger siblings are exempt from punishments. They are littler, less experienced, oozing with innocence, completely confused and ultimately too cute to hold any responsibility for anything. So, being the resilient big sis I am, I bare the blame and say nothing (if my outrage succeeds in staying hidden, that is). When Conor was 5 and I was 10, he was ‘five years younger’ so I ‘should know better’. Fair enough. However, as the years passed, I noted that he was always five years younger, so when he was 10, poor me still suffered the blame. And now he is 11. And I continue to carry the blame that deserves to be shared equally.

3. The whole secondary school transfer experience has left me permanently scarred. At age 9 I could barely reach the bookshelf in my bedroom, but there I was, marching off to Barbara-the-tutor’s house, keenly carrying my special tutor folder as my worried mum watched with wishful eyes, praying that I would pass all those bloody entrance exams. If I could only do that, then the next 10 years would be sorted; Conor, Amy and I would all be educationally-homed until we turned 18. Woopee. But note the ‘if’. The onus was slowly squashing mini me… Despite failing all but one entrance exam (sorry Mum and Dad), I managed to squeeze into Ashmole by tooting my flute. (Literally. I got a music place #lifesgreatestachievement)

4. Since the tender age of two when my little (although she’s taller than me now…) sister appeared, I have been withheld from winning a game. Maybe not so much with Amy, as she she is 14-nearly15- and seems to be able to stifle the streams of tears when I thrash her at Bananagrams. Conor, on the other hand, is another story. Whether it’s Monopoly, Logo Billionaire, scrabble or cards, my overbearing mother gives me the ‘let him win, Ruth’ eyes. ‘He is younger than you!’ I hear in reply to any complaints I make regarding the matter. Like they need to remind me…

5. One final thing which seriously hacks me off about being the oldest is how I have lost my right to freedom of speech. Amy and Conor’s ears must be shielded from any derogatory words about anything. For example, I was forced by my parents, against my will, to sing joyously of the utter brilliance of the secondary school Conor would be joining me at. “Yes, Conor. You will love PE; the PE teachers are simply delightful,” I blatantly lied. “And science lessons are great, so many mind-blowing wondrous experiments.” Yeah right?! The best experiment I ever did in science was experimenting how patient I could be with Miss Abdulmalik, who was apparently qualified to teach chemistry…

It is more than crystal clear that the lives of older siblings are the toughest in the family. But wait till you hear the worst part: there is no reward. Being the oldest child will mean I’ll need to start dying my hair earliest to hide the grey strands. I will have to invest in botox first. And if I choose to grow old naturally, I will just have to bear the grey hair and wrinkles alone… I will grow too old to join my little siblings when they go out partying. I’ll enjoy lonely nights in front of Take Me Out whilst they dance late into the night at the bar down the road.

It’s a sad life. *cries*

Mother Duck and Me

Thinking back to the days of when we were forced to stand huddled, shielding ourselves from the perilously icy winds which avidly tried to gain entry into our waddle; when we endured malicious scowls and verbal caning for not having the buttoning on our shirts quite correct; when the boys experienced harsh criticism for ties which were 2cm too short… brrrr, it makes me shiver.

It was a painful, condescending, arduous journey, but myself along with hundreds of thousands of 16 year olds around the country have finally reached the end of KS3 and 4. Most of the restraining shackles have been removed, albeit some which remain (I’ll develop that point later). On the final day of year 11, we were disciplined by uniform and packed into classes of 30 students and a teacher who relishes on giving out detentions. And after a three month break, an epic transformation seems to occurred. Our home clothes can now seek sunlight; our phones are liberated after 5 years struggling to breathe at the bottom of our school bags; and teachers seem more humane than ever before. It’s weird.

Inspiration for this post came two days ago, when I was sitting in a maths classroom during lunchtime, catching up on some work I’d missed. Rain slid down the windows and it was bleaker to look outside than in front of me at the 50 questions on equations of a circle. In mid-daydream I was abruptly interrupted by the screech emitted from the roaring mouth of a teacher.

“WHY ARE YOU UP HEEEREEEEEE??!!!!” she screamed, as I jumped and wondered whether her head had been knocked off by the swathing blow of her voice. I consequently heard a nervous scuffle, which I assume were the terrified year 7 victims of her abusive yell.

“YOU KNOW YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED UP HERRRREEEEEE!!!!” I envisaged her head rolling through the door any second.

Silence. I fell back into my half-hearted attempts to tackle the questions when I was awoken again, with the repeated shriek.

“YOU KNOW YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED UP HERRRREEEEEE!!!!”

Flashbacks flooded back to me to the days when I too had been a year 7, paralysed in fear of the teachers. I recall the virtually sleepless nights frantically worrying that Mr G would shoot me for losing my book. I recall the panicked moments when I realised I had left my PE kit in my locker. Now that would be a disaster: to go upstairs at lunchtime!! Surely not!! I recall the trembling me in PE when the terrifying Miss C would start evacuating the changing rooms when I was still half-naked.

“YOU MUST BE OUT OF THESE CHANGING ROOMS IN 10 SECONDS!!”

Hopefully you can understand and maybe even empathise with my liberated emotions upon my arrival to sixth form. Overall school now feels less like an ‘institution’ and more like a place where you want to learn.

Admittedly sixth form is far from perfect. Despite the increased freedom, it is clear that my school is like an over-controlling mother duck who can’t quite fathom letting go of her precious ducklings. In form today my drooping Monday morning eyes were greeted with a horrendous sight: a timetable with ’S’s for ‘study period’ scrawled over two thirds of my ‘free’ periods. Seriously? I thought we were being prepared us for university, not sent back to primary school…

Sixth form is better. Hands down. Feet down. Face down. Maybe I’m being unfair complaining despite the improvement since year 11. I guess I was just hoping that free periods would actually be ‘free’. I would work anyway, but feel less inclined to do so when I am being forced! I am just praying for the excessive commandeering to ease as the term progresses, just like homework does when teachers realise that they have an obligation to mark it. Fingers crossed!

READ IF YOU ARE SUFFERING FROM THE BACK TO SCHOOL/WORK MOTIVATION SLUMP

Could. Would. Two words which rhyme and, at first glance, have a similar meaning too. But I endeavour to bust that myth by the end of this post…

We all know Usain Bolt is the fastest person in the world, right? Well I wouldn’t be so sure.

Consider renaming Bolt the ‘fastest KNOWN man on Earth’, instead of the ‘fastest man on Earth’. What if there is someone else hiding from the daunting world of athletics who could outrun Bolt given the opportunity? He or she could be a nomad wandering in the desert with their pet camel; they could simply be living next door to you; or it could be you or me. Imagine that: Ruth Nugent, the fastest human in the world! I could get used to that…

Or even in science. Sir Isaac Newton was and still is highly admired and Google tells me he is one of the most foremost scientific intellects of all time. Quite rightly so. He did, after all, theorise gravity. However how can we be certain that none of the six million others alive at the time (or previously) thought that SOMETHING surely pulled the apple DOWN rather than up? Another man or woman could have envisaged that simplistic idea but modesty or lack of conviction their voice. Or even if they did preach their thoughts, it could have been misheard or ignored by a domineering rival.

Or in Art. On numerous occasions I have snubbed a piece of artwork in a gallery, that appears pretty simplistic to my amateur eyes.

“How is that art?” I proclaim, turning my nose up dismissively. “I could do that.”

But ‘could’ is the key word. Maybe I could paint a 4 foot canvas with multiple splatters of paint. But would I really spend my precious time doing that? No. Maybe a select few in the world could outrun Bolt given the chance. But would they work as hard as Bolt has done to attain his status? No. Maybe someone else did theorise gravity prior to Newt. But would they have pursued their beliefs with conviction, practically bundle it down the throats of other scientists in order to gain enough attention and support? Evidently not.

I am all for the belief that we do whatever we want to do; become whatever we want to become; go wherever we want to go in life. But whether we get there is our own responsibility and our’s alone. Not teachers, parents or even luck. If you want something badly enough, YOU are going to have to get it. But you most certainly can. Being a ‘natural’ or ‘gifted’ in something will get you nowhere. It helps, I admit, but the ‘gift’ can only grow on a healthy diet of hard work and perseverance.

So next time, when you complain that you could have done better in that test, that you could sing better than that meagre contestant on X Factor, that you could work harder, rephrase that to what you would actually do in order to achieve it.

Only swimmers will understand…

Something which I really wish I could do is play team sports. My incapability to do so is not because of the ‘team’ idea. In fact, I would regard myself as a highly sociable person and love working and talking (popular opinion is that I talk too much…) with others, but team sport usually requires coordination and skill. Football: it helps to be able to kick the ball in vaguely the right direction. I can’t do that. Hockey: it helps to be able to move the ball looking somewhere other than the ground. I can’t of that. And rugby… swiftly moving on…

It’s safe to say that it is the safest option for me to remain a loyal fish, down at Southgate swimming pool. You see, swimming does not require skill. And why? Because upon entering the pool, you are given the irksome role to swim back and forth, up and down the lanes until your poor arms cry for you to stop. Not tricky.

Swimming and I have a love-hate relationship. After nearly 16 years of experience, I still cannot fathom why I do trek religiously down to the pool and this confusion has been intensified in the last few years, since I began lane swimming with the ADULTS!

So firstly I arrive and am greeted by a queue full of too many people with too many questions. All I want to do is hand over my £2 and make my way quietly to the changing rooms. But the preceding customers and their caterwauling kids seem to have other plans. One wants to rearrange her yoga class because it clashes with her pilates class at LA fitness just up the road (traitor). But oh no! The creche doesn’t run during the new yoga so we have another wait while she makes amendments to her diary. The next one wants to apply for a gym membership but wait! He left his proof-of-address to work in the car. He’ll be two minutes whilst he goes and grabs it (though I reckon he went home he took so long). And when there is eventually only one person ahead of me, he starts questioning to the receptionist why his ‘Pump-it hard’ class is not on after being ‘well-assured by Southbury leisure centre’s website’ that it was on! Mate, this is SouthGATE, not SouthBURY! He slopes ashamedly away. Finally! It’s my turn. By this time, I could have returned home unsuccessful, like a fox returning to his family, after a fruitless hunt. But that would be failing, so I dutifully hand over my £2 coin and walk on through…well almost. I walk straight into the turnstile, which fails to budge as the careless customer assistant forgets, once again, to press the activating button.

I proceed to change and am already to jump into the pool. I’ll admit it: I’m a wimp and slowly but surely edge my way into the water ambivalently, preparing myself for the unpredictable temperature of the pool. I have come to the conclusion that the water temperature depends on their budget. If they can spare some cash, they’ll decide to burn us primitive creatures of the pool with scalding heat, making it almost impossible to swim (imagine swimming in a bath!). If not, we will have to submerge our bodies into the bitingly cold water. After climatizing to the unpredictable temperatures, I begin my lengths. Ridiculously, I allow myself to believe that the antics are over and I may now enjoy my swim. But no. Once again, I am proved wrong. I inevitably encounter a painfully slow lady who, to my disbelief, considers herself to be somewhat ‘fast’, hence locating herself in the fast-lane. She is not. In fact, is she even moving? Probably not. Vexed, I take a gamble and overtake her on the outside. But charging towards me is the butterfly man. What do I do? Once again, I am faced with the inexorable decision. Panicked, I plunge myself under and wait. Wait for the butterfly man to hurtle passed me. Another mystery to me is why the most volatile stroke, is named such a beautiful name, ‘butterfly’. I for one have never seen a true butterfly create such unnecessary havoc. Anyway, once he has passed, I race to the surface and, in my desperate attempt to inhale some oxygen, choke on the tsunami the butterfly man has generated in his path. Exasperated, I continue on my swim, until the next obstacle. I reach the end of the pool and, here, I am greeted by a line of swimmers clinging onto the end of the pool, holding on for dear life. How on earth am I meant to kick off against the wall when it is lined with inconsiderate halfwits? Instead I improvise and start my second length, failing to even finish my first. Could this possibly get any worse? Apparently, it can. A funny feeling has erupted on my lip. Naively, I curse what I think is a coldsore, but then I realise. It’s a plaster. A flimsy, bloody plaster has plastered itself to my face.

As a loyal swimmer, I am now quite immune to the antics in the pool, but something I doubt I will ever be unperturbed by is the changing rooms. Don’t get me started on the showers. I mean, why is there always a mane of hair tangled around the plug hole? And the pitifully weak water supply, which sporadically sprays some water on me. Once I have given up with the shower, I re-enter the changing rooms and am welcomed by ten middle-aged donkeys flaunting their unenviable, naked carcasses around the changing rooms. I take this as my cue to leave (obviously, I dress first).

Despite the relentless array of annoyances and misdemeanours, I will, without a doubt, return tomorrow for more punishment. It is engrained within me. Instinctive. Innate. Impulsive. Maybe I will age and shrivel in the water, becoming increasingly irritable and petulant, all because of the pool. But without it, I might sink.

Much Ado About Nothing

‘Tough decisions’- a phrase which could be associated with picking A levels or universities, jobs, love dilemmas… However, there is no tough decision quite like the calamity of choosing the perfect chocolate bar at the sweet shop.

Rent asunder by the audacious wrappers squealing, ‘Pick me! Pick me!’, I fiddle anxiously with the 60p I am holding. My eyes dart across the shelves from the golden encasing of the Galaxy bar to the bold purple armour of the Cadbury bar. Personally I favour the valiant purple. Congratulations Cadbury, you can humbly accept the crown. But the difficulty lies much further afield than the heart-wrenching choice between Galaxy’s classic Smooth Milk and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk… 

Often overshadowed by their domineering siblings, Picnic and StarBar were, too, born and bred by Cadbury. They perch idly by whilst Crunchie and Flake showcase themselves gallantly at the front line. I question whether I have the courage to venture into the unknown world of the underdogs? Picnic bar? Are you worth the exchange of my 60p? Or Daim? Will you satiate my lust for a serotonin-fuelled, indulgent chocolate bar? But what about Fudge? Will you really be ‘just enough until it’s time for tea’?

For someone who automatically charges passed the crisps and sweets, heading for the elite array of chocolate, you’d presume I would make a pretty speedy decision in the sweet shop. After all, with the crisps and sweets aside, I am left with a third of the choice the rest of the world have. But no. 

The length of my nails reduce by at least 5mm throughout the apprehensive biting of them* as I judge which bar is worthy enough to be devoured. My face grows redder and redder with embarrassment by the second as customers come and go whilst I am still deciding.

“This is ridiculous Ruth. You’ve been here far too long. It’s just a chocolate bar,” I tell myself.

But this is more than buying a chocolate bar. Chocolate is an avenue to happiness. But choose the wrong one and you are admitting yourself into the wrath of regret. You feel guilt towards the other chocolate bars who you abandoned and shame for your inability to identify the perfect chocolate bar.

So far I have survived the distressing trips to the sweet shop and tend to emerge outside again having made a decision I do not regret. And even if I do pick a dodgy bar, I can rest assured that I will learn from my experience and steer clear from making the same mistaken purchase in the future.

I endeavour to continue my regular trip to the sweet shop to make the painful choice. With time the struggle should dwindle. And I assure you that this is not simply an excuse to eat more chocolate… Promise!

*please note that due to the hyperbolic nature of this post, some facts are not 100% accurate, including that I bite my nails. I DO NOT BITE MY NAILS; in fact I gave up that habit 5 years ago!

BREAKING NEWS!! FOUR YEAR OLD WEARS DUMMY!!

Young Harper with Daddy Dave

Young Harper with Daddy Dave

Breaking news! Someone call social services! The supposedly responsible David and Victoria Beckham, have been unveiled by the heroic Daily Mail as neglectful and delinquent parent. It is alleged that the couple have committed the sinful crime of- wait for it…-allowing their daughter, Harper, to suck a dummy at the ripe age of 4! Absolutely outrageous, isn’t it!

Note the sarcasm.

They say news in the summer has little substance but I reckon the Daily Mail must really have been stumped in terms of ideas for articles this time. They, somehow, perceived this piece of news to be worthy of a place on the front page, usually the home the most important, remarkable news.

How low are you going to dive, Daily Mail, before you realise you have sunken too far? Ridiculing a four year old is disgusting. Demeriting blameless parents is disgusting. And feeding the brains of Brits with news resembling mule worms is disgusting. Are these editors totally oblivious to the detrimental impact their intangible stories can have upon a person? Harper Beckham may not be able to read these scathing stories yet, but just wait a few years when she is smart enough to type her name into Google. Then, she will find that hateful article and a mocking photo of the young her with pigtails and a dummy.

Thinking back, as a young vulnerable child, I was easily embarrassed. Things that should not bother a 6 year old would play on my mind.

“No one else in my class has these shoes, Mummy”, I would whine, too embarrassed to be seen out of the house in what were perfectly reasonable school shoes.

“Oh no, I don’t go to church!” I would lie to my atheist friends, who I would desperately try to please, as I felt like I was ‘different’ if I went to church.

I’m sure if I was ridiculed by a national newspaper at the age of four, confidence would have fallen off me like flaking skin. Personally I was a very sensitive child and a ridiculing like the one young Harper has been given would be enough to send me running under the covers of my safe bed and hiding there until the relentless tears were dry.

Not that the Beckhams need to justify themselves, but I am very keen to add that I still sucked my thumb at five. The evidence remained for the rest of my childhood due to the bunny teeth I carried around in my mouth which had been caused by the incessant sucking of my thumb…

Daily Mail, I urge you to quickly reassess your priorities when writing articles. Write what you want (within reason) about adult celebrities and the mishaps and mischief that shapes their lives, but please, please restrain yourselves from writing derogatory reports about 4 year olds. Otherwise your audience will relinquish to equal the amount of self-respect you have: none.