Category Archives: General

Whiffs

I was going to do a little rant about bad breath and how antisocial it is to have breath that literally smells of poo in a land where you can easily buy floss. I was also going to mention how it’s strange that the more senior you are in a workplace, the more likely you are to have pongy breath. Then I would have said that if you have a medical problem, that’s different and you can’t help it – but I experience people with halitosis so frequently that it’s unlikely always to be the result of illness. I would have gone on to say that people with constant bad breath should probably be told of the problem, but that it’s should be down to their close friends and family to tell them than an employee. I would have concluded by saying that most dog breath is easily preventable with good dental hygiene, which is a good thing in any case.

However, I’m not going to say that, cause something else happened. See above.

Funeral

My aunt Carolyn died on 9th August of metastatic breast cancer, so today I went to her funeral in Tunbridge Wells. This was my first funeral, so I suppose I’m quite lucky that I’ve got to 29 without having to go to one before.

The English are funny about food. We went to my uncle’s house first of all, and my cousins put some bread, cheese and salad out as it was lunchtime. My mother told them that we’d all eaten already and that we didn’t want to look like gannets. This was a fib – we’d all driven a long way and were hungry. In a Mediterranean or Arab household, a guest is offered food and hospitality, and it’s very rude to refuse, even if the guest genuinely isn’t hungry. Since these are the sort of people I usually mix with, I accept food if it’s offered. In England, the opposite is the case: it’s rude to *accept* the offer of food because one doesn’t want to appear greedy and to put the host to any trouble. This is fine, but my cousins seemed genuinely to want to bustle about, make tea and tidy. Eventually, we caved in and had some nibbles.

Carolyn’s dog, a black Labrador called Kilo, was wandering agitatedly round the house with a different toy in his mouth each time he went past me. I’m sure he was wondering what all these people were doing in his home, and still trying to fathom what had happened to his mistress.

At about one o’clock, we headed off to the crematorium in a convoy. Our GPS kept disagreeing with my cousin Emma’s route, but we decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. We knew we’d come to the right place when we rounded a corner to see a long, low, engineering brick-built place with a huge chimney behind it. Grim and municipal from the outside, the waiting room resembled a doctor’s without the elderly magazines (and in the case of my doctor’s surgery, frightening paintings done by the head GP). There was a fag burn in one of the seat cushions, a map of Tunbridge Wells surrounded by advertising, bland art and some plastic flowers on coffee tables.

I went to the loo, followed by my mother. We discussed briefly Nick’s outfit, which he’d been fretting about because he thought it wasn’t smart enough, and I said he felt a bit awkward and didn’t know what to expect. It was just as well we didn’t say anything contentious, because when we emerged, Nick told me that my conversation had been amplified through the wall and heard clearly in the waiting room. I wonder how many faux pas had been committed in that very toilet over the years.

The room filled up with a lot of people I didn’t know. Carolyn had specified that nobody should be in black, so I think most people were a bit confused about what to wear.

We then filed into the chapel, and my first thought was “Plywood!”. The stuff was everywhere. There was a big plywood cross on the wall in front, with big blue velvet curtains that presumably could be drawn to hide it if appropriate.

The service was non-religious, and quite sweet. Two family friends presented it, reading something Carolyn had written just before she died, some poems and a brief summary of her life. Robin’s choir sung one of her favourite songs, and we filed out to Otis Redding. Contravening Carolyn’s request that there should be no tears were three people. My aunt Nanette, theatrically dabbing her eyes, Carolyn’s friend who was bravely battling them, and my mum, who had given up any pretence and was in floods. She has colon cancer and though she won’t admit it, I’m sure she was picturing her own funeral. I wasn’t going to stop her crying, but I did put my arm round her which none of her offspring ever, ever do. (NB: My siblings and I are not cold fish, but we’re not huggy people. If you’re the sort of person who likes hugging, try hugging one of us – we’ll shy away like a diffident pony unless we really, really like you. I’m not sure why we’re all like that, but we’re all reasonably well-adjusted, get colds only rarely and none of us have herpes.)

From the crematorium (which we were quite glad to leave), we went to a hotel for the funeral tea of sandwiches and cake. The hotel suggested to Robin that morning that he put out the cards he’d received and some photos of Carolyn. It was a brilliant idea – he laid out some holiday photos and their wedding album, featuring some photos of my dad looking like a Cockney mafioso.

My aunt Nanette and my grandma H were just busting to put their feet in it, as they like to do. Grandma H asked my youngest brother if he had a job (he’s 24, of course he does), and then rounded it off by asking my mother if a) she was still having treatment, b) if there was any hope and c) that she (Grandma) had always been blessed by being in the best of health.

Nanette (for a big fan of NLP, she’s amazingly rubbish at working out what other people are feeling) told us all in intense detail about her campaign to stop her local council from imposing the politically correct hegemony of wheelie bins and recycling boxes. It’s a shame that my siblings and I found her crusade rather amusing. We must be bad people, but at least we were doing what Carolyn wanted, and laughing at her funeral. Carolyn would probably have found Nanette’s rant hilarious.

I hope Nanette doesn’t find this.

For a funeral, it wasn’t too bad an experience. Carolyn really had had enough of being ill. She wasn’t able to breathe on her own towards the end and was getting more and more distressed about what she saw as the mutilation caused by the extensive surgery. Her daughters have both become oncologists, and in a way, she lives on in the numerous tissue and blood samples she donated to medical research in the hope that some way can be found of treating the rare and invasive cancer she had suffered from.

If you’re worried about any lump, bump or innocuous symptom, visit the doctor. It’s probably nothing but if it is something horrible, the earlier it’s treated the better.

Robbery

I have a problem with poker. I think it’s quite boring and I find playing with real money distressing on a level I can’t explain. I know how to play it, but unfortunately I find it very difficult to give a toss whether someone is bluffing or not. I just want to know and if they’re not going to tell me, I’m not interested.

So I was playing poker in a friend’s kitchen in Brixton. I wasn’t bothered about actually playing properly since I am still learning, and I suppose I didn’t do that badly since I lost less money than anyone else. After a million years, the game finished. I went into the living room, which seemed a lot *emptier* than before. The two big ground floor bay windows were open, as were the curtains.

My friends’ playstation, games, two laptops and *my bag* had been nicked. *My bag* had been nicked, containing my nice Radley wallet, cards, a *blank cheque*, phone, my house keys and my driving licence with *my address* on it. Froth. I cancelled everything immediately, including the cheque. The phone isn’t really worth much – it’s four years old and I don’t think anyone will desperately want it because it works well and doesn’t make irritiating tinkly noises or take grainy photographs. The thing I find most irritating is that nothing in the bag was worth much apart from the wallet and the bag itself. It’s unlikely the crims will know this, and the bag will probably get dumped somewhere.

I must be a bit strange, because despite the inconvenience of having to claim on the insurance and have the locks changed in the house, I don’t want to shoot the burglars in the back and let them bleed to death as they call for their mothers. There must be something wrong with me.

After this experience, we went home. We got on the Thameslink, and overheard the driver talking to a colleague. He said “I’ll get home five minutes after my shift ends.”

The next thing we heard was an announcement that this train wouldn’t now stop at our station and two others. Fantastic! We got off at Hendon, and found the next train wasn’t for another hour and a half. It was ten past midnight. There was no taxi rank and no night buses. We had to walk home, which took an hour.

I was more aerated about this than the theft. I had no phone, no money and no keys. If I had been alone, I would have had to have walked home, alone, on a clement evening through deserted parkland in an area where police have strongly suggested that women should not walk alone due to the regular attacks. I was under the impression that a train driver operates a public service, and I’m staggered at the selfishness of someone that can make at least 25-30 people walk home in the middle of the night just so he can get home bang on time. Had I been alone, I would have counted on the train to get me home safely – clearly this would have been a mistake.

Sods.

Mr Burglar, if you’re reading this, I’d really like my bag and purse back, and the phone if you can’t sell it on. I’d like to have my Goldsmith’s application back too. Oh, and I’m quite fond of the umbrella. I’m sorry I didn’t have any big wodges of dosh in my purse, but I’m sure you can understand why I don’t carry a lot of cash with me. Go on, guess.

If you were thinking of using the address on my licence and hanging around to try and use the house key to get in and nick more suff, you’re welcome to try but (a) you’d stand out like a sore thumb in this suburban cul-de-sac with extremely nosey neighbours, and (b) I had the locks changed this morning.

PS: that credit card in the side pocket that you think I’ve forgotten about? I haven’t. Please try using it in a shop today and see what happens. I hope you bought yourself something nice with the proceeds from the playstation and laptops, and didn’t just squander it on crack.

Big Bras

“Why are your larger size bras so frumpy?”
“I am a larger size lady who wants pretty, sexy bras. Why can’t I find any?”
“I am 38HH and have a very active job, but I still want to feel feminine and sexy.”
“I am a 28DD and would like more choice in the bras I wear.”
“Your selection in my size is terrible!”

Emails and customer comments like this are received every day by lingerie retailers. Although the average UK woman’s bra size is still relatively bijou at 34B/C, bust sizes are increasing, along with the demand for pretty bras just like everybody else.

The demand for the bras is increasing more than the number of larger ladies. This is due in no small part to the recent social acceptance of underwear advertising in the mainstream.

Many larger ladies, especially younger ones, are no longer happy with frumpy, mumsy over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders and want the Moulin Rouge boudoir look. However, is this really feasible?

Structurally, a bra is a very complex item and must withstand many different sorts of stresses and strains, exerted on it by a body part that is partly fluid, can weigh up to a stone or more, and changes its size and shape over time. Clearly, two little delicate triangles of lace, ribbon and silk are not going to offer much support to breasts the size of an adult’s head.

It’s important to know before I go any further that bra sizing (a source of endless confusion for both women and men) reflects the ratio between the underbust size and the bust size. It’s often thought that a bra with a 40 back size means the woman wearing it has a 40 inch chest – this isn’t the case. She either has a 35 or 36 inch chest. 4 or 5 is added to the chest measurement to get an even number (your ‘back size’), and then the bust is measured. The difference between the bust and your adjusted chest measurements gives you the bra size.

Brands like Freya have blazed a trail in the UK by offering pretty bras up to a quite impressive GG cup (that represents a difference of over 10 inches between a woman’s underbust and bust size) and Panache offer the cult Superbra, offering uplift, control and separation up to a J (up to another five inches around).

However, it’s important to remember that, in the UK, a relatively curvy 34D woman has a choice of over 300 different sorts of bra, her 34G sister (only a few inches larger) has a choice of around 30 styles including nursing bras. The US woman does rather better, and indeed many of the top brands for larger sizes (Bali, Goddess, Vanity Fair and Glamorise), are American. Even so, they do seem to specialise in sensible, supportive, no-nonsense undergarments which are hardly the lace wisps of fantasy.

Go beyond a 38 back, and things look increasingly grim. There is a wider range of bigger cup sizes in the normal back sizes these days, partly due to the increase in breast implant surgery. The glamour model Jordan is about a 32FF (no matter what she may claim – I know because, well, I can’t say). However, older and larger women tend to have bigger back sizes as well.

A 48FF woman has a choice of bras closer to single figures. The American brand Goddess has cornered the market here with plain, sensible bras that offer good support. The iconic Triumph Doreen -the biggest selling bra in the world- also dominates. Doreen, as its name suggests, is sensible, well upholstered and an example of classic, no-nonsense, German engineering. At this size bracket, underwires become scarce. Wires (the last relic from the era of popular corsetry) are designed to fit just below the breasts, resting on the ribcage, and will not dig in if the bra is properly fitted. I would conclude that wires are not often found on larger back sizes because basically there is a much thicker layer of fat here and a wire might prove very uncomfortable, sinking in rather than lying flat against the bone. The cups completely encase and separate the breast – smaller back sizes can choose a sexier demi cut, and push their lils together for cleavage. The straps are broad, and often padded: bear in mind how much these big puppies can weigh.

And here, I think, is the reason why you simply don’t find many pretty, dainty bras in very large sizes. With the best will in the world, larger women have more to support and there is a limit to the tensile strength of lace. This is a question of *engineering*, not discrimination.

So, back to the customers. I don’t want to bitch as I imagine it’s utterly miserable to walk past the rows of teeny, pretty lingerie in the shop, or scroll down and even further down a box on a website to find your bra size, but these are the answers I wish I could give.

“Why are your larger size bras so frumpy?”
Because larger sized ladies tend to be older and frumpier, and I’m afraid frumpy bras sell really well, especially to Americans, who like frumpy bras. The market for them over there is *huge* (haha). The top selling larger sized bra in the US is a real passion killer that makes the Doreen look positively alluring. When you consider that Americans can’t tolerate a covered nipple on TV, and complain bitterly when a lingerie site shows photos of women in, well, lingerie, you can see why they like to be completely covered, even in their undies. American bras often tout their ‘opacity’: European bras flaunt the fact that they are ‘sheer’. America has many websites devoted to underwear that has more in common with factory overalls than seduction – all this in a country with the most eye-watering hardcore pr0n in the world. Funny place. Getting back to your question, Americans like frumpy bras and they are the biggest (scuse) market.

“I am a larger size lady who wants pretty, sexy bras. Why can’t I find any?”
Because there aren’t as many of you as you think; the market for these bras is tiny. There are some, but I’m afraid if they’re not to your taste, it takes at least a year for manufacturers to design, test, make and market a new model. Even the pretty ones are quite bland, because a manufacturer will want to play it safe. Sorry.

“I am 38HH and have a very active job, but I still want to feel feminine and sexy.”
Wear a sports bra at work. You may not feel feminine or sexy but you’ll be a lot more comfortable during and after work, when you can change your bra. You have absolutely *enormous* knockers and they need specialised equipment to rein them in.

“I am a 28D and would like more choice in the bras I wear.”
You have one of the rarest bra sizes in the world. You should feel very special. Sorry. Panache might be able to custom-make one of their standard bras in your size. Otherwise, see below.

“Your selection in my size is terrible!”
I can only apologise. If you were a 28AAA you’d have even fewer, although if I were that size I wouldn’t bother with a bra anyway (who are you trying to kid?). Look, modern manufacturing, distribution and buying methods mean companies and retailers invest a lot in their ranges. They don’t buy a lot of bras in less common sizes (mainly large) because if they buy or make too many, they may lose money and have a pile of bras that are difficult to shift. The same holds true for clothes (many shops only have 1 or 2 size 8s in stock) and shoes (only a small range of 3s and 4s).

There is a solution for all these ladies, but it’s expensive. The only sure way to get a beautiful, comfortable bra in a large size is to have it custom made. Yes, this will set you back around �200, which would get you 5 or 6 unsatisfactory off-the-peg bras, but do you want beautiful, sexy, supportive lingerie or not?

Kitten

After a typically tedious day at work (usual illiterate emails, crap left in the sink for me to put in dishwasher), I went along to Medivet with Maureen. Maureen is a mink Berkshire rat of about eight months, who had developed a tumour in what I suppose would be her groin. The vet removed the lump at vast expense, and I had to go back today for a post-op checkup.

Maureen has been in solitary confinement since the operation last Friday, in a cage slightly bigger than a shoebox. Her two half sisters, Pamela and Agnes, are too rumbunctious for Maureen at the moment, since she has a two-inch scar on her belly and they would undoubtely damage her stitches. So Maureen, easily the most intelligent and outgoing rat of the three, has been in her little cell.

The vet kept me waiting for some time, and while I hung around reading last week’s free local paper (when you pay 200 for something the size of a marble to be removed from something the size of a mobile phone, I expect better reading material), I heard shrieks of delight from the reception. The nurses were playing with something small, wriggly and black, about the same size as Maureen. I couldn’t work out what it was from where I was sitting, and then the vet called me in.

After giving Maureen the once-over and sentencing her to another week in chokey to heal, he invited me to see the black creature that was causing such excitement. It was a three-day-old black and white kitten, being hand-reared by one of the nurses. The kitten was so tiny it could sit on my hand and had yet to open its eyes. Maureen looked up, intrigued. Here was a cat, and it was smaller than her.

The kitten tried earnestly to suckle the palm of my hand and still had its umbilical cord attached. The nurse told me that this kitten had been found mewing, tied up in a bin liner and dumped with some rubbish for the bin men to take away (they come on Monday mornings, so this kitten was lucky to be found when it was).

Cats are notoriously promiscuous, and animal charities constantly harp on about the need to neuter or spey pet cats. It’s quite possible that this kitten’s mother was very young, and had had just the one. The owner either didn’t know or didn’t care that their cat wasn’t speyed, and when she produced a kitten, didn’t even have the guts to despatch the unwanted offspring humanely, but simply threw it away.

Maybe they had their reasons, no matter how warped. Maybe the cat’s owner was too old, too young or simply panicked when they realised they had two cats, instead of one. Regardless of that, I think it takes a certain psychopathic tendency to treat any living thing in that way.

But before I despair of human nature (and I’ve had a lot of strangely natured humans whining at me this week, seemingly unable to exercise any sort of critical facility on a piece of unsubstantiated tripe from a former circus performer in Iraq, to the extent that an attack on the writing is taken as tacit admission that Iraq is a lovely place to live and everyone’s fine), I thought about the nurse.

She looks about 17 or 18, and her badge says she’s a trainee. She was handed this kitten by the person who found it, and took it upon herself to hand rear the animal. Hand rearing any baby animal, of course, involves regular feeding – in this case, every two hours, day and night.

So, in a half-mile radius of my house, there is a person who will throw a live kitten in a dustbin and another who will stay up all night hand-feeding it with an eye dropper.

Funny old world. Of course, one kitten is neither here nor there, but I hope it survives. In a perfect, comic book world, that kitten would grow up to be an enormous, stinking tomcat, track down his mother and exact his revenge on the humans that would throw him in the wheelie bin by piddling all over the house, scratching furniture, curtains and wallpaper and finally depositing a big cat turd behind the TV. He’d watch, covertly, the people’s confusion and eventual horror as they turned the house upside down to locate the source of the fetid pong.

Probably not.. apart from anything else, the nurse thinks the kitten’s female.

Update: Friday 20th August – Maureen’s healing fine and the kitten is doing well.