Slippery soap opera

“So Madge spoke to Harold…”

Neighbours. Always about The Neighbours. My friend Sarah is attempting to explain her Great Analogy on relationships, via her favourite soap opera of all-time. This isn’t surprising. “I’ve seen the 1pm and 5pm one today,” she’d confess. She even treats it in the same BBC vain since its move to Channel 5. The dedication is incalculable. That said – the last time I watched it, I’m sure Madge was still alive. Hang on. Isn’t Madge dead?

“Isn’t Madge dead?”

“Oh, yeah, she came back from the dead. Anyway –”

“What? How?”

“Harold was hallucinating. She came to him in a hallucination.”

Hallucinating? I couldn’t imagine Harold Bishop on LSD but I didn’t want to probe this. I thought the man just went around eating biscuits. Just what had Channel 5 done to him?

“He hallucinated her? Well, that’s one way to get on the payroll. I can only hope one day Harold Bishop hallucinates about me…”

Harold Bishop: husband, hallucinator, Hobnobs.
Christ. Just what is it with past soap characters conveniently rising from the dead when the storylines dry up? Not that I’m completely sure Harold Bishop hallucinating meant Madge was resurrected on Ramsey Street, as opposed to in his (drugged? Biscuit deprived?) head.

Anyway, turns out hologram Madge is a stirrer who should just keep out of real-life relationships. The cameo probably earned her the equivalent of a private consultation with Karl Kennedy at the very least. But still. Still. It’s one thing Harold returning from ‘the dead’ as someone even he couldn’t remember. Now we have his dead wife returning from the dead in the form of a hallucinated Jeremy Kyle. Are you following this? How?

Now they’re all at it. Nick Cotton. Dirty Den. That one off Emmerdale. All coming and going like that t-shirt you’re still not sure about. It’s sick, wrong and will only end up in some form of bible (Lad or Holy). In the spirit of Easter, I explain why.

Save it for Sci-fi

Back when there was no kale or mystery or wi-fi, soap audiences talked about a lost sheep or someone falling over for weeks. Stories which screamed, “basically real life but a bit worse.” With affairs and deaths now done to the aforementioned, producers are forced to take everything to a whole new genre. The genre reserved for horror and zombie films. Not a fictional suburb of Chester where a squirrel steals your lunch.

There’s fiction and there’s fiction

When Madge waltzes into a cafe to reunite with Harold after his five-year disappearance, hardly a tear is shed before they all just get on with it. “Well if I really am this Harold Bishop, I suppose I’d better get used to the name, eh?” accepts amnesia-laden Ted – I mean Harold. Come on, Madge. At least look like you’ve seen a ghost. Or a talking gerbil. Your dad on Facebook. Anything vaguely unnerving. The entirety of Pat Butcher’s earring collection couldn’t give any weight to that exchange. I don’t care how dangly they were.

There’s dying for your sins – and dying for “other projects”

Because that’s what they say, isn’t it? “Killed-off actress Michelle Keegan leaves Coronation Street to pursue other projects.” One day – and we’re not sure what day but it doesn’t really matter – one day, Michelle Keegan will realise those projects aren’t working out and decide she wants to be resurrected as Tina McIntyre once again. And there we’ll see her, sat in the Rovers Return like it never happened. We read it on the Mail Online. It happened.

Should I be sad?

When Jamie Mitchell was killed off after a Christmas car accident (when else?) that, according to Wikipedia, attracted 16 million viewers and was named one of the best soap exits of all-time, I vividly remember my family gathered around the TV sobbing into various furniture. Jack Ryder then went on to divorce Kym Marsh, become the next Justin Timberlake (on Stars in Their eyes; don’t worry) before disappearing into the soap opera abyss. Job done. Will things ever be guaranteed this emotional, this raw – this final ever again? No. No they won’t.

Well. Except if you’re Arthur Fowler. Or Pauline Fowler. Or Pat Butcher’s earrings. We’re still getting over that one.

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Oxford Circus clown

There’s a furniture shop on the high street where I grew up that I’m not sure is a furniture shop at all. In all the years of me passing it, I had not once seen anyone go into it. Or come out of it. Or actually inside it. Which makes me wonder – who placed the seventies sofa that nobody bought in the shop window, in the first place?

I’m sure many people know a shop like this. A forgotten space full of forgotten items for sale, ran by forgotten members of society, if at all. It’s sad, in a way, though I’m not sure in what way. The fact no one cares for the discarded items? The fact the space could be used for something far more useful, such as a library or a Pret a Manger? Only kidding. We have far too many libraries.

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Three piece suite gone sour – Peter Adams furniture

On a frantic mission to buy a Christmas jumper today, I passed a man with a megaphone standing on a railing outside Oxford Circus station. He had gathered quite a crowd. “You’ve helped yourselves by buying stuff today, now I am going to help you save money – by telling you to take it all back to the shops!” “You with the Zara bag, what did you buy today? Did you really need that? Did you?”

I was momentarily mesmerised, amused that the one thing stopping shoppers in their tracks on Oxford Street was a man telling them not to buy anything. What could all this be a symbol of? Megaphone seemed to know:

Can I stop you there, sir. What have you bought, a coat? It looks like you’ve already got a coat – and a jumper! It’s all to do with the Dystopic, you know, err, the Dystopia… the corporations making things up so we buy more! What’s that? It’s a bit like me, I just make everything up?

And so this public pantomime went on. No one made a serious fuss. No one called for his extraction from the railing to be forced somewhere far more hazardous, like the nearest Starbucks. Is he still there? Is everyone in Soho now walking around naked, freezing but euphoric they’ve beaten ‘The Dystopic’? Probably not. I’d take a wild guess and say it will take more than one man and his megaphone to crack down on consumerism. Even if we do only really need one coat.

Still, the man had a point – turns out Christmas jumpers, once knitted by your aunt, are a stressful modern minefield. Maybe a vintage recliner could come in handy, after all. Peter Adams, whoever you are – I’m on my way.

Air con artist

‘I am the manager of this hotel!’

We are sitting opposite the manager of the hotel.

‘We arrived back last night to find we had no air conditioning!’ my friend Emily protests. I personally don’t mind this fact. I sleep better with no air conditioning. But I’m not going to let this guy know. More fool him! Like Pingu’s dad ironing clothes he’d never wear, he’ll never see the error if it isn’t pointed out (evidently, it never was).

‘You mean to say this has never happened to you before?’ Or not.

Never!’ I’m unsure what else I can contribute. I’m in flip-flops facing a psychopath. It can’t help.

‘This is a five-star hotel!’ Emily reminds all of us.

He starts channelling his best Basil Fawlty. ‘Essential maintenance work needed to take place! I admit we forgot to put a sign up beforehand…’

Emily enquires just how essential it is to risk fatalities in the middle of the night.

‘Why are you in here on this nice day, anyway? Shouldn’t you be out enjoying the sun?’ His response makes me start questioning the office surroundings, such as the representative/bodyguard to his left or the exact contents of the filing cabinet behind him. The suit he is wearing in 40 degree heat confirms to me he is, in fact, a Mafia boss posing as a hotel manager. I attempt to coax my friend from the office, muttering something about the calming benefits of lilos.

Pingu's dad: not a clue
Pingu’s dad: not a clue

‘We’re not leaving here until this is dealt with!’ Maybe not, Emily. But his diversion tactics will see us well in to next year. I half- consider ordering a Visa when the conversation then takes a turn to surpass all sat navs. ‘Can I ask, are you married?’ Was I daydreaming that long? Had the issue been dealt with and was he now looking for a wife? I ponder suggesting match.com but omitting certain details of his childhood, or quite how he fell into hospitality management.

‘What’s that got to do with anything!’ Emily barks back.

‘Well, you would have other things to focus on besides the air conditioning…’ The man evidently doesn’t know any married couples. Or anyone who ever worked in an office. Everyone argues about the air conditioning! Look at us now! It’s the thing to do!

‘We want compensation for the evening!’ Emily firmly states, as if confirming my thoughts. Yes, let’s get back to business, I silently agree. And what strong, solid business this is! Straight down the line. No room for diverting. Fifty quid and we’re out of here.

‘I am the manager of this hotel and what you’re asking is outrageous!’ exclaims the psychopath – sorry – manager of the hotel. Outrageous would have meant £1000 and locking him in a sauna for three days but who am I to argue?

‘We want a discount!’ I argue.

Inexplicably, my weak protest works. Either that or he finally runs out of answers that have nothing to do with the questions. ‘I’ll give you 15%. Fine – 20%!’ He is now officially arguing with himself. Just your basic split personality disorder, then. We reluctantly agree to one or both of him. Aside from flattening him with a large beach ball this is the most compensation we are likely to get.

For ten seconds, I consider a career in politics. I then decide the profession is more reserved for this man. Along with a psychological assessment and an annual subscription to Air Conditioning Today.

A few threats regarding Trip Advisor later and we are out the door, glad to have survived something so inexplicably temperamental. That’s air con for you.

Dried fruit loop

I began the long trek down the dried fruit aisle.

“Hey! You used to work here, didn’t you?”

Excuse me?” I turned to see a man in his fifties, maybe sixties, possibly with missing teeth and definitely with missing information waving a packet of apricots in the air and gesticulating in my direction.

I can understand why he’d assume this. I’ve worked in a lot of places. I pondered his question for a moment. Had I worked here before? I’d have kept the name tag and worn it for pure amusement, or at least that’s what I considered with my Selfridges badge. With great power, though, comes great responsibility, like knowing the precise location of guacamole. Probably not.

Nicole Scherzinger: doesn't work here
Nicole Scherzinger: didn’t work here

He was looking expectantly at me. He was the type you’d avoid on the bus but sort of feel sorry for all the same. I should point out he was, in fact, a member of staff. Surely he’d know I never actually worked there?

“Yeah! You used to work here!”

This was getting weird. I thought about agreeing and suggesting a trip down memory lane, or in this case the dried fruit aisle, while we reminisced about our time together at Tesco. I’d laugh encouragingly at his stories and maybe make a few up myself. I had a feeling this guy believed anything. “Remember when I threw you that Hovis loaf and it knocked that man off his scooter? Good times!” “How about the day you gave out biscuit samples that were actually for dogs? What a hoot!”

“Sorry, you must have me confused with someone else.” There, that should do it.

“No – you used to work here!”

At this point he was so animated I feared for the apricots. I hadn’t worked there but started to wish I did. I bet he was a right talking point in the staff room. Either way, I really needed tinned cherries.

“Sorry, I didn’t. Anyway, got to go!” And with that, I grabbed the cherries and ran.

Yellow mellowed

I always feel a bit queasy at commercialism’s attempts to associate itself with anything other than money. Take all adverts, for example. Specifically perfume ads; if you have no idea what product your TV is bombarding you with, it’s usually perfume:

We are no longer being blinded by science, rather such philosophical questions as, ‘Can you iron a guitar?’ (I don’t care what they tell you on QVC.) As it turns out, Philosophy – not Lynx – is the opium of the consumer masses. And this can only be a good thing.

High street department store Selfridges has taken this concept to its very extreme with their ‘No Noise’ campaign. In their own words: In an initiative that goes beyond retail, the project invites you to celebrate the power of quiet, see the beauty in function and find calm among the crowds. My initial response to an ‘oasis of quiet in the chaos of Oxford Street’ was to suggest the HMV down the road – but what do I know, eh?

On the project’s website there’s a ‘No Noise’ button that when clicked, offers such philosophical tidbits as:

Headspace does not mean an absence of goals, wishes and dreams. It simply means that we hold these things lightly, not allowing them to interfere with our experience of now.

Experience of now… right. The shopping experience, I’m presuming. Whatever – this all screams perfume ad.

Special ‘headspace pods’ are also dotted about the store, offering the subject audio advice from love through to sanity and self-esteem. Five minutes walking through Selfridges fashion department recently caused me to mislay all three. ‘Beauty comes from within, if we just know where to look for it’, says ‘No Noise’. Turns out it’s found at the MAC counter, third floor. Pleasure’s all mine.

The standout entity of this whole pretence is surely the Silence Room, designed to emulate that of Selfridges founder Harry Gordon in 1909 where busy shoppers could “retire from the whirl of bargains and the build up of energy”. ‘We think we need it now more than ever’, say the No Noise crew. More than, say, online shopping? I’m not convinced.

‘All we ask is that you leave your shoes, phones and 21st century distractions in the lockers provided.’ Picture the scene: shoeless, phoneless members of the public staring blankly at each other like patients in a GP waiting room thinking, “I wonder what he’s got?” (in their de-branded yet still garish yellow shopping bag, you understand).

I guess it’s easier to quarantine stressed-out customers for ten minutes than command everyone to purchase in silence to the sound of crashing waves, or a dolphin. But by God, I’d pay to see that (missed a trick there, you lot).

I worked at Selfridges in 2008 for three blissful weeks in the Christmas department. In that time, I dealt with a child suffering a nervous breakdown due to breaking a bauble (around eight quid each, to be fair), a man who brought the broken head and body of a model squirrel to the counter which I frantically debated how to wrap and a woman who was infuriated upon waiting a full two minutes for her one penny change. And all to the backing track of relentless festive hymns.

And I loved it. None of this ‘Silent Room’ camaraderie – if you choose to shop in a bustling high street department store, in my opinion, you should suffer. I don’t know what Selfridges is complaining about, anyway. It’s not like it’s Primark at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon – the only thing more bewildering than a perfume ad. I rest my case.

Kindle-itis

Oh, it was everywhere this Christmas. Everyone caught it. You couldn’t avoid it. You’d stand next to someone who had it, trying to resist the urge to follow suit. But this virus is catching – and it’s set to go viral.

Like all good illnesses, it has a silly name mindlessly accepted by the general public. ‘Martin won’t be able to attend the budget meeting today, he’s got The Flu. Honestly – snot everywhere.’ Last time I checked, The Flu had joined U2 and Snot was a new character on CBeebies. All Martin needs is a lie down with a good book. All 200,000 of them. Someone get this man a Lemsip and an Amazon voucher – he’s got Kindle-itis!

Martin is, as it were, just another book in the library. Everyone’s getting a Kindle nowadays – from your dad to your dog (though Kindle rumoured to soon replace pets). What once was viewed on the tube with distressed whispers (‘what is that thing?’) is slowly becoming the ultimate name drop (‘You’re not coming in’ ‘But I’m with Kindle!’ ‘Come in!’).

For the 1% of you not in the know, the Kindle is an e-book reader which enables users to shop for, download, browse, and read e-books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, and other digital media via wireless connectivity (thanks again, Wikipedia). With all this at your fingertips, trips to your local library will become a thing of the past (come to think of it, did David Cameron invent the Kindle?).

Hanging around book corners – the Kindle

Waterstones will act as a museum for children of the Noughties; the only shop the London looters avoided. To quote an employee, ‘We’re staying open. If they steal some books they might learn something’ (to be fair on the looters, they may have been waiting for the aptly-named Kindle Fire to come out in September).

But is Kindle-itis empowering, or does it produce bizarre symptoms? When my cousin whipped her Kindle out on the beach, I didn’t know where to look. The juxtaposition of nature and technology made me feel uneasy. When it comes to the sun and sand, you’ve got to expose your back: hard, paper or otherwise.

Greediness is another symptom, verified by one man’s quip on the Tube. ‘There’s an advert for the Kindle. That one holds only 250,000 books. I saw one that holds three million – there’s a big difference!’ I doubt he’ll read more than 100 books in the next 20 years. And if the Kindle really does promote such improbable levels of reading, Martin may have to cancel every future social engagement, including his own funeral.

“Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators”, says Stephen Fry. While most people are happy to squeeze into that lift, I still get greater satisfaction climbing those steps. A sprained ankle beats Kindle-itis any day, in my book.

Christmas cracked

‘Christmas Day is an annual commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ’. So why, Wikipedia, does Jesus think I need a plastic harmonica? Or a nail brush? Or a small bag of marbles? It’s a bad joke – wait, he thinks I need that, too.

To be fair, the nail brush comes in handy. And to a three-year-old, the harmonica is a virtual pulling tool. Marbles… well, there’s never really a reason (oh Jesus, you tease us). But if you compare, let’s say, an Xbox 360 with a crayon it is easy to see why your average Christmas cracker gift is readily discarded (though if someone out there can fit an Xbox into a cracker it is sure to change everything).

Lady Gaga decomposed

And, OK, so they’re meant to be a novelty. Nobody busts open a cracker only to exit the table in disgust declaring, ‘How do you expect a plastic harmonica to further my music career? I’m leaving!’ Besides, your average eight-year-old is more than happy with an inexplicably small water gun not big enough to drown a gerbil.

House of Fraser has useless tat for kids/fans of incompetent crayons down to a tee, their £6 crackers offering such trinkets as a large plastic paperclip, mini sellotape dispenser and (of course) that small bag of marbles. If retailers really want to get children’s attention, why not mix things up a bit? Pop in some Morse code, spelling ‘SANTA DOES NOT EXIST’, for instance. Or a Brussel sprout (I may have got this tip off festive genius Kirstie Allsopp’s Homemade Christmas but I can’t say).

What about the adults? Plastic whistles and monkey-shaped erasers are all well and good when you’re six but what if you’re 36 and holding a sophisticated festive meal for acquaintances you want to impress? Fear not, says Marks and Spencer (‘This isn’t just a plastic whistle’ was never going to work). Their selection contains not so much gifts but office stationery. And quite so – there’s nothing like pulling a calculator out of a cracker and starting on your taxes early in view of the Christmas turkey, eh M&S?

But if this industrious image fails to tempt, Harrods aims to make you look like a true pimp. For a month’s rent in Hammersmith you can ‘win’ a cigar leather case, Swarovski crystals whistle keyring or even a diamond encrusted padlock. Perfect for, say, P-Diddy. Not so much your auntie Carol. I don’t care if she drizzles balsamic vinegar over everything.

Harrods: accessorising pimps since 1824

Tesco has achieved the perfect middle ground between plastic harmonica and leather cigar case, in my opinion. For £20 (OK, in the sale) these crackers contain photo frames, a candle and playing cards. Normal yet nice. Practical yet pleasant. Bear Grylls yet Eamonn Holmes.

And my Christmas cracker gifts this year? A red cellophane fish that tells your fortune (options included ‘fickle’, ‘restless’ and ‘constipated’) and – you guessed it – a small bag of marbles acquired at the office party. Last seen rolling across Zizzi floorboards. Guess it beats being nailed to a cross. Nightmahr.

Blegging for it

First day of new job. Panic! What to wear? Must buy outfit. Off to shopping centre. Go! Where to? Ahh – the green lights. It must be M&S. Run in. Clothes section. Stop.

And there it was. The sign: TREGGINGS. Like it was just a normal word you’d put on a sign. Treggings. Seeing this to advertise formal attire was, in my opinion, ridiculous. In my haste I thought I’d misread it. But no.

Is Treggings in the dictionary? Who knows? Who cares! OK, a quick Google shows Wikipedia cares – but then again it cares about Butlins. Anyway on a more ‘serious’ note, Oxford Dictionaries online defines them as:

‘Women’s leggings that are designed to resemble a pair of trousers’.

Oh – so leggings, then? Not quite. The overall web consensus is they’re basically leggings, but a bit thicker. A stretchy trouser, if you will? No – not that either, as Wiki’s sorrowful anecdote dictates:

There has been some controversy about whether they can be considered trousers. A British school decided to send 60 students showing up in treggings home on the reason that the clothing was too tight to be worn as trousers.

I mean, setting the place on fire’s one thing. Who can blame the kids for their fashion faux-pas if it’s all so bloody confusing? The head teacher never had treggings in his day, evidently (what a loser!).

Treggings - 12 points in Scrabble, no points in sense

It seems I’m behind the times. Apparently, Treggings first appeared circa late 2007. Casual treggings, anyway. Primark treggings. I’d fully expect Primark to have a sign in flashing lights with ‘Treggings’ written on it, possibly a different colour for every letter, causing tweenagers to go delirious with lust.

But now with M&S jumping on the bandwagon, while to advertise ‘smart’ treggings, it just looks plain wrong. A portmanteau of leggings and trousers, I guess the temptation to combine the two words was all too great. But this is M&S, for god’s sake. Can you really imagine that woman breathing, ‘These aren’t just treggings…’ See! Ridiculous.

They may as well come up with ‘Blumper’ and scrawl that on a sign. Oh, you don’t know what a Blumper is? It’s like, a cross between a blouse and a jumper – stay with me on this! It’s gonna be massive!

I personally can’t wait for the upcoming shirt and tights combination. This isn’t just a sign, M&S – this is a swear sign.

Colgate-gate

When High Street chemist Boots opened its doors in 1849, it was a modest, quietly confident sort of place attracting well-dressed gentlefolk perusing rows and rows of similarly shaped boxes. But don’t take my word for it:

"Three similarly shaped boxes, thank you, darling"

These days it’s having a bit of an identity crisis – it’s an opticians, a dentists, a sex shop (nearly), a supermarket, a space station, hell on earth:

Sale... of your soul

But it’s not Boots’ fault it has slowly come to resemble some sinly-lit, hypnotic pharmaceutical haven for the masses. Oh no. Back in the day there were possibly one, maybe two, brands of toothpaste. Now there are 33,432. Just one of the reasons some stores are the size of Wales.

When in Boots the other day, the abundance of choice froze me in the aisle causing more decisive shoppers to brush past me hurridly as they scrambled for mouthwash. Colgate now supplies 22 varieties of toothpaste. TWENTY-TWO! Moreover, on Colgate online, each one has its own website. Colgate Total‘s firmly tells me, ‘You may think all toothpastes are the same – they’re not.’ I know you were thinking it. They’re not, OK?

I mean, it’s a wonder they didn’t stop at Colgate Total. You’d think it covered most tooth-related hangups. Now we have other aspirational varieties such as Colgate Time Control and Colgate Oxygen, promising your mouth will be ‘as clean and fresh as pure oxygen’. What this could possibly mean I do not know. Nobody knows.

I’m not sure what goes down at Colgate headquarters but I’m guessing people get pretty bored. “Well, that’s lunch over with. Wanna invent another toothpaste? I’ve got a great idea for Colgate dentures effect.”

In the end I opted for Colgate Max White (what can I say, I’m a sucker for micro-crystals). There’s a lot going on in this toothpaste, namely weird bits of shiny confetti that promise to bring out the natural whiteness of my teeth. I’m not going to argue.

Choice is turning consumers into lunatics and Boots their asylum. All hail online reviews and the neurotics what write them. You save us hours of deliberation. Just ask Michael McIntyre (2:07):

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