About pixiepott

Like millions out there, I am just another person with an opinion. I am a 40 year old woman from London, originally from Ghent - Belgium. I am a music fanatic, prefer vintage over modern but love my gadgets nevertheless. This blog was created with the eye on sharpening my English as even though I've lived in London for the past 15 years, my English is still not as good as my Dutch - though come to think of it, that is not exactly great either. Oh well, here's to trying.

5 Tips For Tourists To Avoid Death and Injury On London Underground

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London commuters know all too well about the perils of using the tube during rush hour. There is the aggression and searing temperatures they have to deal with on a daily basis, but even if most of them dislike using this method of transport very much, it is something they got accustomed to. Living in a city of such magnitude they have no other choice, and over time all will adapt to the tough world underground.
 
There is no denying however that many tourists have returned home with tales of horror and despair about the tube – scaring a lot of potential visitors in the process. A tourist on its maiden voyage in London can understandably be terrified of using this ingenious yet dangerous system but they do not need to worry as here are some guidelines on surviving the tube and as such avoiding injury or even death.  
                                                                   
Image1. Read, Play With Your Phone, Do Something – Avoid Eye Contact
 
You must pick up a free paper or magazine, which are available in most stations. There are lots of them. In the morning you can get your hands on the Metro, the City Am – though nobody has ever been spotted reading this paper- and there are various magazines distributed during the week: Shortlist, Stylist, ES Magazine, and Time Out, to name only a few. And after 4 pm you can pick up the Evening Standard. 
 
What may well surprise you is the enthusiasm – bordering on aggression – of the staff helping to shift these papers and magazines. If it’s free, why do they then insist so much for you to take one? And why do they barricade your way and shove a newspaper in  your bag, is it just so that they can go home early or have they been given a quota to reach due to the costly advertisement inside? 
It is none of these reasons above actually. Their motive for being there and forcing a paper on to you is with the sole purpose of saving your life. Please bear with us whilst we explain. 
 
You see, as you board the train your vision will be filled with people engrossed in their papers, phones, e-books, and some will pretend to sleep. Nobody will look at each other, people are aware of the dangers when doing so. Aside from leaking earphones and a 55-year old Financial director playing Candy Crush at maximum volume, there will be nothing but an eerie silenece. We would request that you respect this silence, it helps the commuter prepare for his/her day.
 
And you may notice a collective of women juggling with mascara brushes and lipsticks whilst looking intensely into their pocket mirrors. We hope to re-assure you that these public make-up sessions are not a direct result of female commuters requiring an extra 10 minutes in bed. Moreover, if you see commuters discarding their newspapers nonchalantly on the back of the seat, don’t get upset with them. If they could, they would of course take their papers with them to throw these in the nearest bin available. Instead consider that all these occurrences are no coincidence during rush hour. It is all done with the eye on survival.
 
The unfortunate truth is that on London Underground, people must avoid staring at each other at all cost as the person who’s been caught staring may die instantly. As it is, London commuters have been programmed not to look at anyone during rush hour – unless strictly necessary. And as the commuter has the ability to sense when someone is looking at them, your life will be at stake if you attempt to do so. We would therefore ask you to:
 
AVOID EYE CONTACT WHILST TRAVELLING ON THE TUBE IN RUSH HOUR.
 
Should you fail to do so, the commuter will then automatically retaliate by shooting off an invisible, intravenous laser, one that instantly penetrates the left eye – causing all organs to shut down. The laser is active between 7 am and 7 pm, Monday to Friday. Though caution is recommended at all times.
 
We must stress that you do not take any risk as this will result in sudden death. Always ensure that you have something to read or play with. Carrying a fully charged phone is desirable should you not be proficient in reading English. We also recommend you bring a pen along in case you wish to fill in the Sudoku in the Metro. 
 
 
Image2. Stand On The Right Side Of The Escalator
 
Commuters want to get on that tube even if it is packed, and they don’t care if the next one is due in one minute only. London commuters do not like to wait. Luckily and in order not to waste any precious time, along with the lethal eye-laser, commuters are also programmed to storm down escalators at extraordinary speed. Whilst doing so they will show no regard for people, whether they are carrying bags, holding children or are walking on crutches. It is what the commuter has been programmed to do. He or she will be on auto-pilot as soon as they’ve left their properties. 
 
One of the benefits of such hazardous moments on escalators is that you may get to witness someone breaking through the sound barrier by rushing down to the platform at high speed. Statistics have demonstrated that there is a greater possibility of seeing a commuter break through the sound barrier than it is to spot a Humpback Whale in New Zealand.
 
Relish the moment, and feel free to applaud and cheer the commuter on. But please do not attempt to do the same, commuters will sniff out your weakness right away and you may regret your actions.  
 
The only way to keep you and your travel companions safe is to stand on the right-hand side of the escalator.  Failing to do so may have fatal consequences. Please understand that commuters are amicable people in their private lives but during office hours, they morph into soulless machines who bear nothing but contempt for tourists. Please don’t endanger your life by following their example. It is therefore important that you leave the left side of the escalator free for the commuter.
 
Should you nevertheless feel the urge to rush down the escalator yourself, be prepared to get abuse shouted at you. This may scare you and you may lose your balance as a result.  
Recent surveys also indicated that 7 out of 10 commuters would happily push a tourist to the side if they believe they are blocking their way. As you may appreciate, tumbling down a metal escalator will inevitably result in serious injury or death.
 
Please take into consideration that an accident will ruin your and your travel companions’ holiday but most of all it will ruin the commuters day. Because of your careless action, the station may have to be shut down for at least half an hour – whilst they attend your emergency – and naturally, this will inflict a lot of unnecessary distress to the always stressed commuter. Past experience has demonstrated that a combination of impatient, angry commuters and a station closure, lessens the chances to survive London Underground considerably. As such remember, staying right means staying alive. 
 
 
Image3. Protect Yourself From Germs – Use The Tube During Rush Hour
 
London Underground is full of sick people, it’s a dirty place. It is easy to be tempted to use the tube solely outside rush hour but please consider that this may increase your chances of getting sick. 
In an emptier carriage, germs expelled from a sneezing person can hit you in a second and you may end up getting terribly ll. In a hot, packed tube, germs will understandingly brew quicker than in an empty train. That said, the chances for the germ to hit you when you are on a packed tube becomes a lot slimmer. You may come to this conclusion when you’re trying to balance on one leg whilst holding on to an arm you realise is not your friends’ – and your head will probably be twisted in a curious angle whilst trying to avoid eye contact.
 
Also, on a crowded tube, the temperature inside can raise to 50 degrees Celsius, and the carriage will as such convert itself into a natural sauna. Before you know it, you will sweat bullets and any germs which managed to slip through eyeball, nose or pore, will drip out of you in no time. 
 
We would also ask you not to get irritated by someone hogging the pole by leaning their whole body against it. As a tube pole is covered in germs and dirt, holding one increases the risk of getting sick significantly.
Should you get the opportunity, thank the person for being so committed to protect us from diseases. 
 
If you believe you are in real danger of catching someones cold, a final option would be to get close to someone you have identified as having consumed a lot of garlic and alcohol. The success rate of finding such person in London is great. Remember, garlic and alcohol are known to protect against germs. Like you, your chosen commuter will be grasping for air because of the sweltering heat but don’t shy away from holding your face right in front of theirs – you must avoid eye contact at all cost –  and let their breath do the work. This technique should be used sparsely, and only in clear emergencies. A small token of appreciation towards to the commuter would be to thank them for saving your life- but do not look them in the eyes whilst doing so.
 
Finally, you must avoid sitting down on a tube seat at all cost. The materials are swarming with millions of germs. It is therefore recommended that you leave any vacant seat at the disposal of the commuter – who is already infested with these germs and as such needs it more than you do. 
 
 
Image4. Enjoy The Free Buffet & Drinks
 
London is terribly expensive, we all know that. Particularly London transport will set you so much back that you may end up with little money for food and beverages. In fact, you may find that all your money is going towards topping up your Oyster card and you risk dying from hunger on your trip. But don’t despair, help is at hand.
 
I realise that by now you have made up your mind about commuters. In your eyes they are booted and suited barbarians who’ve cashed in their hearts a long time ago but rest assured nothing could be further from the truth.
 
After-hours, commuters become very charitable people and will feed the hungry and needy whenever they can. Therefore, we would strongly suggest that you use the tube In the evening as you will be treated to a splendid free buffet of food and drink. From 10 pm onwards most commuters getting on the tube will be inebriated – this weakens their build-in defense mechanism which is highly recommended in order to avoid fatalaties after working hours – and the alcohol will make them very hungry. 
 
So please, we would kindly ask you not to act surprised if you see many people boarding the tube carrying polystyrene boxes and big paper bags which release a strong smell that can be pretty much brutal underground. The beautiful thing is, these bags and boxes contain culinary delights such as kebabs, KFC and McDonald’s. You will see the commuters chomping away on their food but as ravenous as they are, you can always count on them for leaving something behind for the hungry tourists. Commuters are good samaritans like that. Feel free to grab anything you want, it has been laid out especially for you. We don’t want you to die, and more so, we don’t want the tube to get held up. 
 
If you fancy a drink, look out for the plastic containers and cans but always shake it first as some commuters have been known to drop the remains of chicken wings in there. But – if you are in need for something stronger, make sure you go and sing along with the guy standing in between the seats who tries to do a rendition of ‘Up There Where We Belong’ whilst swigging from a Jägermeister bottle. He will offer you a drink in no time.
 
Once finished with your meal and drinks, please remember to take all your rubbish with you and to dispose of it in the nearest bin. As always, show your gratitude –  in this instance write a little thank you note. 
 
 
Image5. Mind The Gap – MIIIIND THEEE GAAAAAP 
 
For the final tip, you are helping us commuters not to die. There are several stations in London where the gap between the platform and the tube door  is considerably wide – and as such implies a health and safety risk. Several signs will point to this danger. They are painted on the edge of the platform and you can also find them on walls – there is even a ‘Mind The Gap sign made out of mosaic in Victoria station. If you are not pressed for time, you could visit this station to see the artwork for yourself.
 
Recorded messages can also be heard upon boarding or leaving the train but by now London commuters have become immune to these – as such imposing a big danger on themselves. We would therefore ask you to repeat the message out loud as soon as you hear it. In quick succession, and preferably in varying, funny tones for effect. It has been reported that tourists tend to have a preference for baritones and cartoon voices when mimicking the ‘Mind The Gap’ recording. Feel free to be creative.  Yes, you will notice some rolling eyeballs and raised eyebrows but you must remember: by doing this, you will have saved many lives. Without your input most commuters would have fallen through the gap. Please accept that commuters will not thank you for your kindness. 
 
Should you wish to find out for yourself, you can visit the following stations where the Mind the Gap recording can be heard: 
 
  • Bank – Central Line
  • Piccadilly – Bakerloo Line
  • Embankent – Northern Line, northbound
For health and safety purposes we recommend using this phrase when getting off at any station regardless of whether there being a gap or not. Ultimately, the commuter will realise you are doing this with your best intentions. However, please refrain from repeating the warning message on the escalator as this may result in serious injury.
 
 
We wish you a great and happy time in London. Stay safe and remember, you do not need to die whilst using the London underground. 
 
 
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The Snooty Ms Hopkins and Her Talking Backside

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Über elitist and personification of the Daily Mail’s wet dream Katy Hopkins has done again what she does best from her artificially inflated platform; projectile vomiting bile onto anyone she considers low-class.
 
This time the stuck-up, equine-like creature who is completely obsessed with the outdated class system, managed to put her foot right into it again by claiming that children with certain names should automatically be discarded as undesirables.
 
She was invited back to the daily TV show ‘This Morning’, to have her say on the matter. Throughout her recitation she sat wild-eyed with flailing arms to add punch to the snobbish soundbites she spat out – she could have been Hitler in drag. Her behaviour reminiscing of the tyrant addressing his ‘volks’. She looked like a woman possessed.
 
You see, the former ‘Apprentice’ contestant is convinced that she can tell a great deal from a name as to her, a name is a shortcut for establishing class and background in an instant. Of course, she could not allow her children, – who appear to have climbed out of her golden womb – to play with kids bearing names like Tyler, Chantelle, Charmaine and Chardonnay. Such children must be the spawn of the devil. Well she didn’t use these exact words, there was no denying however that this is what she precisely meant.
 
Of course anyone has the right to their own opinion. If this is what she believes,  she has the right to fester in her ignorant state of mind. What I nevertheless don’t condone is the cruel methods she uses to make her point.
 
And she was called cruel by the presenters for having such a haughty mentality and most of all for being unfair to kids who did not even choose their own name. And who was she to say that children with such names would automatically grind to a halt upon entering adulthood, and settle for a life of welfare instead of forking out a career?
 
Holly Willoughby got so incensed by Katie Hopkins that she told her ‘to stop right there’ and that was the end of the interview. But there were some funny moments too. For instance when she was mocked for mentioning that she didn’t like parents naming their child after geographical locations like Brooklyn and London. Philip Schofield commented in a splendidly dosed dry tone: “but did you not name your child India?”
 
“Yes but the name does not refer to a location.”
 
As always, talking right out of her rectum.
 
It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last that we will hear the fame-hungry businesswoman/columnist speak out the unthinkable. Controversy is what keeps this loathsome person in the papers, and on TV it seems – and she is very aware of this.
 
So far she has written one piece about overweight people (she would never hire a fat person, they can’t be but lazy), another piece about her nanny being pregnant (how despicable!), she also had a go at people on benefits, and then in one of her Daily Mail sponsored columns, she explained how she doesn’t allow her children to socialise with kids from a lower class. She even attacked her own family by writing a piece on how she cannot respect her husband, and in the last 48 hours she thought it was such a hoot to hit out at babies with ginger hair.’They are so much harder to love’, she tweeted.
 
This woman is on a quest to become the UK’s biggest villain and there is no reason why she shouldn’t get that thorny crown. She is nothing but a bigoted, nasty piece of work and a sensationalist to boot.
 
The thing however is, she has an audience, people are tweeting and talking about her and like The Guardian stated: she has become a ‘rent-a-gob’. In her little self-centred world this equals success. Not only does she get paid for doing this, she gets noticed as well, and if this means people hating her, that’s the price she’ll happily pay. As, so great is Katie Hopkins’ desire to be noticed that firing off these virulent social observations has become her modus operandi. The more she gives, the more she gets back. At present, she has been tweeting like a maniac, all sorts of ridiculous statements, and obviously many people reacted to these. If she could, I am sure she would throw all her tweets on a bed and roll naked in it.
 
Looking at the reactions of people, it is good to see that most people do not agree with her views. Of course, there will always be the ones with encapsulated minds who consider Ms Hopkins as their poster girl of classism. And, there will also be people who may tut at her insolence but will secretly agree with some of the things she’s said.
 
But does she have a point? Will a name make a difference in life?
 
I absolutely believe it should not be the case but at the same time, I am in two minds about this. A successful life should not depend on name nor class. But I have to agree somehow that certain names may not be that well received, and may as such potentially result in a child being bullied just because their parents wanted something quirky on the birth certificate. Or, later in life if they have to deal with an interviewer as bigoted as Ms Hopkins there is a chance they’ll get overlooked for a job just because their name is Desteeny Lambrini. Such is the reality of life unfortunately.
 
Yet we need to realise that it isn’t the child’s fault that such name was chosen and that surely living in the 21st century, it shouldn’t even matter. But of course, we may have a little chuckle when we hear someone ponder on whether to name their daughter Chandelier Or Chardonnay. Yet like Katie Hopkins we won’t ostracise that poor child and treat her and her family like the bourgeoisie used to treat the peasants in what must have been bygone times to her.
 
Such class-shooting is strange coming from a woman known to have little class herself. Yes, she may have been privately educated and has done pretty well for herself in life but that does not automatically grant her a certain level of class. In fact, I believe there are Kais, Kylies AND Katies living on council estates who have more class in their little finger than she will ever have. After all, this former Big Brother standby candidate is a woman who seeks her fame and fortune by digging her claws and tail into anyone she considers sub-standard – including her husband. She is a paid troll. Let’s also not forget that this is the woman who was caught on camera having sex in a field with her lover, a married man – not exactly high-class is it?
 
It’s a fact that this modern-day society has given birth to limelight seekers pushing as many buttons as they can, just so that the bare light bulb shining on their heads could turn into a blinding spotlight. Their hunger for attention is big.
 
For example, look at the former actrice Amanda Bynes, the reigning bully queen of social media.  She seems to fill her day by tweeting abusive comments about others, and she even called her own sister ugly.  I believe this girl has seen attention slipping away after her career faltered, and she probably tried several things before settling for this sort of life, full of instant gratification.
 
It is curious yet unsettling to observe that the only raison d’être for Bynes and Hopkins, is to attract as much attention as they possibly can by being cruel to others. Being nice didn’t get them anywhere after all. And, if their malignant thoughts result in mockery, anger and distress, it empowers them even more and spurs them on to continue. A cycle of biting, gorging on blood, rejuvenation and clicking refresh. Some people really are that desperate.
 
Katie Hopkins has now fuelled the argument further by claiming that she stands by what she said. She also believes that there are many closet Hopkins around. So that made me think: it’s my birthday next week and when I’ll blow out the candles I won’t wish for stuff that dreams are made of. What I will wish for however is that one day, her children will bring home a ginger, obese, working-class Ty or Sky – all the elements she clearly finds abhorrent.
 
Now, I realise that by giving my wish away, it may probably not materialise. Though, I have not too many worries as I know that come a certain age, her children will revolt against their obnoxious mother and as such, a Ty or Sky will never be far out of the picture – which is good. There is nothing wrong with them anyway.

Glastonbury Or The Expensive, Muddy Catwalk

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After last year’s break, the mother of all festivals is upon us again. Glastonbury is currently in full swing and it appears that The Rolling Stones made quite the impact last night.

Festival organiser’ Michael Eavis’ long standing dream finally materialised when he got The Stones to appear on the Pyramid stage. He has been quoted as saying that their Glastonbury debut was ‘the high spot of the festival in 43 years’.

Fees for the most expensive band on earth have not been disclosed, but who cares, it is after all about the music –  or is it?

Well, it’s not totally clear anymore what Glastonbury is all about these days. Sure, we know that music is still the main reason for the 135.000 revellers to suffer through the mud and madness of the event and flock to Somerset to see the hundreds of bands appear on the many stages dotted across the farmland.

The atmosphere has been described as incredible and unique in its genre. In all these years, nobody has ever said anything but that

Having said that, there is no denying that in the past decades, Glastonbury, has turned into an elite festival where music for the masses has been replaced with music for the certain classes.

At £205 per ticket for a four days’ event (+ £5 booking fee per ticket + £6 P&P), and factoring in the cost of trains and coaches to and from, car parking, food and drinks on the grounds, it’s not exactly like people living on the breadline will be able to partake in the annual musical feast. The cost for a couple going to Glastonbury would be around £600 to £700 – minimum. Needless to say that for this amount, you could spend a week abroad in the sun and still have money left for the duty free shop upon returning home. Then again, you won’t get to see the best music around (minus Rita Ora and the Mumford lot) whilst slapping on coconut oil on a Spanish costa.

For the rich, richer and very rich, there is also the option to stay clear from the hoi polloi. They can for instance hire a tipi (a more luxurious tent but one where any comfort must be brought in from home) at £950 for the duration of the festival. Also for hire are the opulent yurts, which are all dressed up with Egyptian bed linen, side boards and candles and can be yours for around £3000. Mick Jagger slept in a yurt. But even though Mr Jagger’s bank account rises up to the moon, he still didn’t stretch himself all the way like the Rooneys did by hiring a £6000 Winnebago. Wayne and Coleen Rooney, who arrived by helicopter to the festival (well it’s only natural) also treated their friends to £3500 podules: boutique style hotel rooms on the grounds.

That just shows you, even festivals allow people to demonstrate wealth and prestige.

But it’s not only the cost and expenses that have changed when it comes to festivals as these days, you can find cash points, mobile charging docks, weird and wonderful shops, food stalls offering world cuisine and delicacies, and you can drink complex cocktails and expensive champagnes. I remember the time where a shower on the festival ground was the epitome of luxury and if a food stall sold falafels, you were shouting out to everyone how wordily festivals had become.

Then of course, beside the implementation of great amenities, you also have the transformation of the festival goer.

Where once people wore their old rags, ransacked boots and didn’t shy away from wrapping bin liners around their bodies, the festival fashion du jour has taken a life of its own. People go to great lengths to make themselves look ‘festival worthy’. A lot of them, spending a lot of money and effort on their outfits. As, if it’s not you, someone else will be taking thousands of pictures, so better arrange great looking memories by dressing appropriately for the event. Celebrities in particular consider Glastonbury to be a muddy catwalk where one can parade their carefully selected outfits on whilst blowing some cool wind into their never-stopping P.R. machine.

Like with the ‘Oscars’, the media happily indulges in the festival phenomena too by releasing worst and best fashion lists. From the Towies to the Credible Celebs, every single piece of garment they wear will be scrutinised and rated.

Most people however, look more or less the same in their originality. There are thousands of cut-off jeans, stringy cardigans, floppy hats, military jackets, flower arrangements in the hair and of course, a festival cannot be attended without a pair of ‘Hunter’ wellies. In fact, looking at all the pictures of this weekend, it’s almost like Glastonbury has become one extended advertisement for these Wellington boot creators.

But yes, no attention-craving celebrity will miss out on the chance to doll themselves up in festival wear with the eye on feeding their pictures straight into their Twitter account, showing their fans and followers how cool they really are – even when in reality, they wear prom dresses to work. Like Katherine Jenkins for instance. I am sure the girl likes her music, but observing the way she portrays herself on Glastonbury this year, (the obligatory cut offs and flowers in the hair) it is clear to me that she studied the festival fashion guide to pick out the right garments to shine. She went for navy blue Hunter boots by the way. It matched the rest of her blue outfit.

When I saw Coleen Rooney pictured online, a little red Chanel bag strapped over her shoulder, I knew that festivals as we once knew them, were a thing of the unsanitary past. I didn’t even consider the helicopter or £6000 Winnebago, that red bag nevertheless made me see clear on the subject. The rebellious, ‘whatever’ mentality that prevailed back in the days, have once and for all been replaced by something a little bit too orchestrated for me. That bag just said it all.

Glastonbury, I believe it’s still about the music, of course, how can it not be? But – observing cost, flaunting of wares and blatant extravaganza, we have to accept that this festival, along side with the type of holidays we take, the class we fly or brand of car we drive, has become yet another symbol of status.

It’s not all bad though, Glastonbury remains the best there is out there when it comes to festivals and line-ups. And, even if the hippie-ethics which were the original foundations for the festival, are no longer in place, to this day Glastonbury  donates most of its profits to charities – which I think is admirable.

For me, it will always be about the music and I don’t care so much for plastic flowers in my hair but one final thought I have is that despite the recession, people are still willing to fork out so much money for music. Even if for some of them, parting with their cash will result in sitting in front of their tent whilst pouting into the camera of their mobile phones – for the whole four days. At least, the world will know they were there and you can’t beat Glastonbury when it comes to location supremo. Cooler than that, you probably won’t get and it will always remain an item to tick off on the bucket list.

But for those who prefer a mud-free environment and a short walk to refreshments, snacks and shower, do like me: press the red button on your tv, stretch your legs on the coffee table and indulge in the best spectacle on earth – from the comfort of your sofa that is.

Iggy and The New Older Generation

L1010106You may have watched The Apprentice last week, the episode where the candidates were asked to create a profitable online dating service. One of the teams chose the 50-plus market.

A great idea, if it had not been for that team being so ignorant about the age group they intended to target. The commercial and barely finished website they created for the task, made it look like the 50-plus generation were one big geriatric yawn. The cringing promo filmed in dull decors, featured an older couple whose crotch appeared to have been ‘Barbified’ for the event – all smooth surfaces, and lobotomised of any carnal desire.

The young, vibrant and mostly stupid gave us an impression of what they believed the older generation were all about: boring people with an inane grin cemented onto their faces, lacking any fashionable style – extinct genitalia thrown into the sombre mix. Their vision of a love affair for over 50’s was a sterilised one. Even Lord Sugar seemed offended by the patronising portrayal of their online dating venture. And so were his sidekicks; ‘Lizard King’ Nick Hewer and ‘Silent Hatchet’ Karren Brady. Watching this sad spectacle, I was also vexed – and I am 40.

As, what I see around me these days when it comes to the ‘older’ generation is an image vastly different to the one of my childhood. In fact, when I was a child in Ghent, people over 60 were considered old. I am sure that this vision was clouded with the harsh innocence of youth – nevertheless most will agree that people in those days appeared to look older than they actually were, whether in Belgium or here in the UK. Compared to now at least.

It was partially due to the way they dressed: older women wore apron-style dresses with a wall-coloured coat on top and these ladies would never venture outside without a scarf wrapped around their pastels-rinsed bouffants. Older men were often seen in colours matching soil and sand, their hairstyle kept short, usually covered by a flat cap. It was extremely rare to see a fashionable, young-looking older person back then when this is practically the norm these days.

But to me, it’s not that long ago that older people, looked like, well old people. It was just so much easier then to say such and such is old. The image gave it away but so did their stilted behaviour. Theirs was a world of clear set boundaries and very few would step outside of this confined space. If they did, they would be referred to as being ‘eccentric’.

In my younger days, I cannot recall the 50-60-70-plus and older undertaking adventurous travelling, getting tattoos and rocking it up so much at a gig, it makes the younger ones look like they are at a tea dance. Obviously, this won’t be everyone’s idea of fun, but the option is there without having to think: can I still?

Thankfully this is how it is now, but only a few decades ago, once you moved up to an older age box, it was as if life as you had always known it got archived whilst a new manual was provided stipulating the code of conduct befitting a senior status more.

But maybe things were different indoors or amongst themselves, it’s just that we never really got to see this. Perhaps it was a case of nobody noticing the older generation that much as even so the middle-aged and elderly were in the majority in Belgium, most of the time, theirs was an invisible group.

Now, we’ve got an ‘older’ generation, the baby boomers, a great number of them looking absolutely amazing. This generation will sport eclectic hairstyles, wear Converse shoes or highly sexed stilettos and at times live through more exciting days than the generations below them.

Of course, you need to factor in the fact that the baby boomers have more disposable cash than their parents ever had, and for sure they will have led exciting and interesting lives before turning a certain age – so why stop now?

Such is the appeal of the electrifying baby boom generation that retailers are finally starting to realise the potential of marketing their brands to them as much as they once did to the treasured 18 to 34-year old demographic. As a matter of fact, the 18 to 34-year olds are pretty much broke these days, and unemployment in this age group is high. It would therefore not surprise me if in the near future, we will get to see a lot more advertisements starring mature men and women, flocking products far removed from denture adhesives and incontinence pads. In the last years we’ve had Paul McCartney, Helen Mirren and Samuel L. Jackson, both well over 60-years old, promoting iPods, iPads and iPhones respectively.

With all this bon-vivant spirit going on in this age group, it is understandable how some resort to potions and plastic surgery. The exterior may just be ever so slightly corroded but the need to correct this in order to match the blazing energy inside, is something I find only normal.

Naturally, some go too far in their quest of keeping up with the young and end up looking overstretched, a creature nor lamb or mutton. That said, if it makes a person feel better, why not?

Last Thursday, I went to see Iggy & The Stooges again and was amazed at the spectacle 66-year old Iggy delivered on stage. He struck me as being even more energetic than when I saw him in Hammersmith in 2010. The songs were delivered in his great punk-rocker style and as always, he crawled on all fours over the stage whilst singing ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, accentuating every muscle embroidered on his naked torso in the process. I don’t think there was a single person in the audience who thought: you old man, just put it away.

It’s the same for my parents. Well, it’s not that they climb on stage singing Cock In My Pocket but like Iggy Pop, they don’t consider age. I even think at times, they forget how old they are and continue with life as they’ve always known it. My mum is 61, listens mainly to Leonard Cohen, Queen and Daft Punk (the old Daft Punk, she hates the new album ‘far too commercial’), she wears long boots over her skinny jeans and is a social media fanatic. I wouldn’t expect anything else, she has always loved music, fashion and a life of discovery.

My 68-year old dad is like a man on rocket fuel, skipping through life, always dressed in an almost ‘cool student’ style and through gritted teeth appears to call everyone who annoys him: an old fart. Sometimes the object of his ageist sneering is much younger than him. As such, my mum has to often remind him that the person he is calling an old fart. is most likely 10 years younger than he is. My dad never seems to care, he doesn’t see himself as an older man anyway.

The guys and she-devils of the Apprentice didn’t grasp the fact that the middle-aged and over were in fact just like them, only a lot wiser and hopefully with more money at their disposal. One of the girls, Luisa (mean and clueless = dangerous combination) proclaimed that she could totally not relate to this age group – at all. She made it sound like the 50-plus group were not made out of the same cloth as her and had been bred somewhere in outer space. Nick Hewer who is 69,  described their work as ‘mumsy’ and ‘cosy’.

“This is my age group,’ he commented. “I would run a mile.”

I guess it is something which gives hope, the reassuring feeling that all will be okay later in life. There is no mandatory manual to follow any longer, and I am sure the fun I am having now, will still be happening in 10-20 years time and hopefully much longer. I realise that like my parents, I may forget my age at some point, though I also know for fact that the youth, despite seeing the outfits, the style and such zest for life of the older generation, probably never will. But when I think about it, it has always been a little bit like that. It’s one of these things that comes with time, the realisation that the older you get, the more you accept that age is nothing but that cliché of a saying.

North West Even More Ridiculous Than The Rest – But What’s In A Name?

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Following tradition of celebrities naming their children after a place of conception or any other random thing, being the people they are, it just had to be ludicrous. And they didn’t disappoint. 

As, today we found out that Über-ego, self-proclaimed god and copycat meister Kanye West, along with his limelight hogging girlfriend, have named their child North West. 
 
Myself, I don’t listen to Kanye’s horrifying repertoire nor have I ever watched Kim K’s sordid tv show or whatever it is she doing on the back of that conveniently leaked sex tape – but of course, living in today’s society, there is no escaping the lives of the imbecilic duo. 
 
What a name. North West. You can’t but feel sorry for that child. 

The parents may believe they’ve invented the Internet all over again by giving the tot such ridiculous name (he probably had a Eureka moment, high-fived himself and considered this to be another great deed of his own divine holiness – I am Yeezus! No you are a bloody idiot, now go away) but the reality is, for the rest of its life, that child will be referred to as what is an intercardinal point on a compass. 
 
You wonder what the deal is with a lot of celebrities. Why the need for a name which demonstrates the parent’s self-importance and brings up future visions about the child, of playground bullying and a speedy journey to the nearest administrative building to claim a name change, upon reaching 18 years of age – really why?
 
I mean, when I was a child, a name like Saskia or Marko was as wild as you could get. 
 
Laura Wattenberg, a name expert and author of the name guide “The Baby Name Wizard” believes that unusual baby names are likely to emerge among populations of creative people.
 
She quotes: “They didn’t get where they are today by being conventional thinkers.”
 
Of course, such creativity of the non-civilian bunch can only result in the most unusual names, like Gwyneth Paltrow’s child Apple or the actor Jason Lee who named his son Pilot Inspektor. Furthermore, currently walking around in mini-celeb land are also a Moxie Crimefighter, an Audio Science and a Tu (her surname is Morrow – you get it? ha!) 
 
It’s a strange trend to call your child something that us simple mortals would not even consider to call our dog. Still, for famous people, this appears to be a must-do, like selling your soul to the devil and changing your face to make it look like an ironed-out handbag.
 
I am not saying that we, the audience, won’t be tempted to name our babies something stupid, there is after all a child named Hashtag in the UK. That said, it strikes me that celebrities, just can’t help themselves to come up with these names which scream: look at me, look at me, aren’t we cool, wacky and fun OR WHAT? 
 
That child will get the looks for sure, in fact it will become a visual/audio spectacle for them throughout their life. It’s not hard to imagine the jibes and insults they may have to endure and they will certainly observe more raised eyebrows that any one of us will ever get to see. 
 
But there will always be children with silly names who later in life, will change it to something more mundane, like Bowie’s son, Zowie, who decided that the name Duncan was the way forward. That really says it all.
 
I can imagine little North West playing with Blue Ivy Carter, Beyoncé’s and Jay Z’s daughter. And maybe, after having put down the Swarovski encrusted Barbies, they will plot together to change their names upon entering adulthood – to Mary Smith and Ann Jones. Plain and simple, not a raised eyebrow in sight.
 

So Where Are You REALLY From?

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I did not want to be rude in Starbucks a while ago, but I guess it came out in an abrupt fashion, even when I had tried to soften the blow by throwing in a cackle of giggles at the end of my sentence.

Of course, it was not because of this new thing at Starbucks, where your name is asked upon ordering your cup of choice.

Though, I must say that I am not a fan of this Starbucks name request thing. I could perhaps understand it more if we’re talking about a huge branch where lots of people are waiting for their coffee but my local branch is as big as a phone box and aside from the moody baristas, it’s usually empty. And – it’s just odd to walk around with a name tag in your hands.

So I don’t see the point of sharing my credentials with them. As such, I tend to give a fake name. Thanks to Starbucks I have been a Lucy, a Marilyn, and a Marie-Antoinette, the last one causing a little headache as they demanded me to spell it. I told them to call me Coco instead.

Drifting off as always – what happened in there which caused my mood to burst, was that I got irritated with the barista’s attempt to scratch through my surface.

As , when he handed me my cup of Espresso Macchiato over, his eyes darted over my face. Inspecting and ready to process.

‘Where are you from?’, he asked.

‘Belgium,’ I answered.

‘No, I mean, where are you REALLY from?’

‘Ghent,’ I answered, knowing very well where this was leading to.

‘Seriously, I mean what is your origin? You don’t look Belgian,’ His voice sounded a little irritated.

I answered Mars, did that giggle thing, grabbed my coffee and walked out of the coffee shop.

He seemed dumbstruck but I couldn’t care less.

You see, I never understood this scrutinising of genetics. I don’t see why someone needs to know the exact origin of a person, as does it really matter? It just feels that sometimes, people get annoyed with you when you tell them one thing when they expect the other. As if they want to assert your value this way. Trust me, people usually do not ask the ‘true origins’ out of simple curiosity. Though most of the times it’s just plain ignorance.

Of course, I am not ashamed of my origins, on the contrary. It’s just that i don’t see the point in explaining my medium-sized Maghreb looks. Particularly as I am not that very familiar with the Arab culture myself. Their way of living is at times as foreign to me as it is for the one enquiring about it.

My father is Algerian, my mother a mixture of Belgian, French, German, Spanish – and Jewish. I probably have the moonlike face, dark brown eyes and hair of a Berber whilst I have the European features of my mum.

My childhood felt cosmopolitan, living in the city centre, with two young, liberal parents who loved travelling, art and books. There was no religion as both are atheists and we spoke French when it was the three of us and when I was alone with my mum, I spoke Dutch.

I never learned to speak Arab, my dad didn’t think it was necessary. The only thing that reminded me of Algeria was the great Arab food my dad would make from time to time but there was never pork, as that was banned. My mum would nevertheless have it, my dad didn’t care if she did and I would eat salami and ham with her whenever he wasn’t around – my dad just didn’t want to know about it.

I feel a little bit Arab, a lot more Belgian but I see myself as a Londoner by now.

But it is very rare to get asked what your ‘real’ roots are in London. Most people are from somewhere else and if you tell them what your nationality is, they will just accept and not probe deeper. I would even say it is considered rude to do so.

I do nonetheless accept that there will always be people asking you the ‘really really from’ question because they simply want to know -without afterthoughts.

They might themselves be from there or know someone and are just trying to match your features to the ones they recognise.

You develop a radar to separate these people from the ignorant, enquiring ones. Perhaps, my experiences back home in Belgium, have made me more touchy about this, who knows – but more on this later.

That said, as soon as I arrived in London, I straight away got confirmation that this is not the best question to ask someone.

On my third day here, I found a temping job in a soul destroying place, a printing company in Elephant & Castle.

The  place and work itself was dreadful but the people were fun. We had to walk around a huge table with piles of pages on top of it. Our job was to collect page after page, to finally bundle it into a book. There were six of us, a few South Africans, an Australian, a French girl and me.

We were all chatting away, lots of ‘Why are you here?’, whilst doing the merry-go-round and picking up the pages off the table, when one of the South African guys asked the French girl THE question.

‘France,’ she answered.

He seemed puzzled by her answer.

‘You must be from somewhere else, you’re black!’

I looked at her and saw her face crumpling up in discontentment.

‘Born and raised in France – because I am French, yeah?’

Still not satisfied with her answer, he asked her whether she was ashamed about her true origins.

The girl positioned herself in front of him and said: ‘look, I am French, my parents are from Guadeloupe but I was born in Paris and have always lived there. Guadeloupe, as your ignorant little brain may not realise it, is part of France so really, that makes me double French.’

He laughed and said: ‘I don’t think so no, you just got lucky I guess.’

And she exploded, grabbed a pile of papers from the table and threw it at him. Then she grabbed some more and tried to hit his face this time but missed again.

Her reaction was completely over the top but at the same time, it confirmed that I had been right all along to feel weird about people delving deeper to find my hidden roots.

As years ago, when Belgium was a lot more ignorant than it is now, I would go into, say, a shop, to see the cashier ask me in slow-motion, lips stretched to the limit to enable the exaggerated pronunciation to follow:

‘Do – you – speak – Dutch?’

‘Of course I do,’ I would say in my best TV-Dutch. Usually adding I spoke fluent French, English and German as well. I lied about the Geman but it wasn’t like I was going to become friends with them anyway.

‘So where are you from then?’

I would tell them I was Belgian, which was true but their response would most likely be: ‘c’mon, you don’t look like you’re Belgian, what’s your REAL nationality?’

Naturally, I always felt offended, their tone did not suggest simple curiosity. It was a mixture of disdain and perhaps yes, a little curiosity but one of the inquisitive type. There was always a hint of third degree about it.

Being born in Belgium and having lived a similar life to them, I didn’t like being pigeonholed as something that I didn’t really feel myself.

And I am sure there are millions of people like me, not ashamed of our origins but feeling more like the nationality we’ve got stamped on our passport than the one that is supposed to flow through our veins.

In the case of the French girl in Elephant & Castle, her blood was French, mine is partially Belgian, the South African guy however, if you think about it, had zero South African blood. It’s something the French girl missed to ask him. A white man born and bred in South Africa, surely his ancestors must be from somewhere else? It’s one of these situations where you think: how I wish I could have reciprocated. If only I could turn back the clock with 15 years so I could ask him where he was ‘really really’ from.

Oh Germany? I love black forrest gateau! How do you find life in South Africa? Spitze?’

From one featherbrain to another, oh the laughs we would have had.

Fifteen years on, I can happily say that I’ve barely been asked THE question in London, so the Starbucks situation came a bit as a shock.

Oh I’ve had people asking me: are you Morroccon, Turkish, Greek, Italian, French, Spanish, Iranian maybe? But I don’t mind that, it’s just curiosity. Like people wondering about my accent.

The ‘really really from’ question, there is no need for it. If someone provided you a nationality, just go with it and don’t start interrogating them further.

Can you imagine asking every Australian or American for instance? And what about Asians in the UK who’ve lived here for generations too?

But Londoners, I think, are cool about that and not in the slightest bothered. Belgium, thankfully, has changed so much since I’ve left and I haven’t had anyone asking me the question again.

The Starbucks barista, I don’t know where he is from. He had an accent, that I know. I’ve been back since and he’s called me the woman from Mars, though he hasn’t tried to shake the family tree again.

Maybe he is going to think twice before asking someone why their skin is darker than the stipulated colour on the Nationality Colour Chart.

And if it hasn’t clicked yet, one can only assume that he’ll get more disgruntled people giving him the eye and the huff.

Oh and last time I went into that Starbucks, I gave my name as Zhang Wei. They didn’t flinch.

Why Did Nobody Help Nigella?

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Yesterday, I was shocked to see the pictures of TV chef Nigella Lawson in the news. The ones where Charles Saatchi, her husband of ten years, put his hands around her throat and pinched her nose – and which showed the utter terror on Nigella’s face.

The way she looked at him was like an abused child would look at its violent parents, never giving up on their quest for unconditional love. I found it frankly haunting.

The audacity of that man is stupefying. The fact he’s done this in public, in such nonchalant fashion, seems to strike me that this is nothing out of the ordinary for him.

I was also shocked to find out what else happened in there. Or to be more precise, what did not happen.

As reading up on the incident at Scott’s, a high-end restaurant in Mayfair, I found that no one, including the staff, tried to help that poor woman.

Neither did the paparazzi who took and then sold the pictures on to a tabloid – but that was to be expected from a celebrity stalker sans scruples.

The spokesperson of the restaurant stated: ‘we do not comment on the private affairs of clients.’

And the diners, they just gawped or continued with their meal, as if nothing happened. Then of course, there were the ones who felt the need to capture the scene on camera.

That, I found revolting and inhumane. Sure, sitting there was a famous person having lunch with her husband but at the same time there was also a scared woman being physically abused by that same man. Still whether the diners were amazed at seeing a celebrity eat or whether they were transfixed by the torment she had to endure, they should not have taken this up as a valid reason to point and shoot at her.

What happened yesterday proves yet again how the masses have turned into voyeurs, prepared to banish any empathy if it allows them to raise their Twitter profile or enables them to trend.

These days, gaining followers or getting that scoop, could be as big an ambition for some as it is for others to get that house on the lake.

It’s hard for me to grasp how these people can observe cruelty yet don’t believe it’s necessary to help the person in distress.

Instead they’ll whip out the phone, ready for camera-light-action.

It’s something I see more and more and I have written about it a few times already. One thing is, I will never get used to the imagery of seeing someone in clear need for help, to then see some idiots film or photograph the whole thing.

I realise that most of us have this burning desire to report big news to others, hoping to be the first one to do so. I am like that too and when I catch something important and tell others who in turn tell me they already know about it, I can’t but feel disappointed.

And, sometimes, being able to capture a drama developing in front of our eyes, can be a good thing too. Like last year, when that racist woman went berserk on the train and spat her xenophobic bile onto a fellow traveller. Luckily she got arrested in the end and that was thanks to someone filming the incident.

I also think that in some ways, the paparazzi, may have helped Nigella by exposing the potential domestic abuse she has been suffering behind closed doors.

Though, it makes you wonder, why did the filming person on the train not put his/her phone away to assist the victim who was being verbally abused? And what about the paparazzi, he could have helped too, no? I guess for him, his working day was finished once he filled up his digital card with more than he had bargained for.

Isn’t it though that if you see someone in clear need for help, you help? And if you can’t manage yourself, you get help? I thought this was always the rule.

Recently however, the abundance of technology has allowed abscesses to grow on today’s society, their poison twisting perceptions and re-defining some of the rules we got accustomed to. It may have changed our character too.

Our altruistic nature, slowly replaced by an attention-seeking, soulless and scoop-snagging freak. Not everyone will turn into such media monster of course, but the ones who do, will ruin it for the rest.

So how much more apathy towards our surroundings will we develop in years to come and what will be the result? Will we at some point, choose an image over a life?

It is possible. I just have to think about the accident on the New York subway last year, to realise we’re practically there.

The harrowing image of a man trying to drag himself back onto the platform after he had been pushed on the tracks, was beamed around the world.

The picture was taken by a reporter from the New York Post who happened to be on the subway platform.  Moments later, the train rolled in.

His excuse for photographing someone seconds away from death was: ‘I wanted to warn the approaching train by using my flash’.

For me, his excuse was pathetic. I’d like to believe that every normal thinking person would run to the edge of the platform to try and pull the man up to safety. He didn’t and chose to become the news instead.

It cost a man’s life but what is this compared to crawling out of obscurity and being known by millions of people? Even if that claim to fame is the result of showing death in the face.

Obviously most who heard about the subway tragedy, reacted with disgust but I am sure that should the opportunity presents itself again one day, several amongst us wouldn’t hesitate to do what the reporter did.

There is however no denying that there are people who genuinely freeze up when confronted with a perplexing situation. It’s something beyond their control.

It seems that these days, whoever claims they don’t know why there were watching, they just froze in place, still managed to point their camera in the right direction.

Today, Mr Saatchi has announced that the photos showed a couple having a playful tiff.

As such, we can all assume this is why Nigella ran out of the restaurant crying then. Their fun and games ultimately resulting in a playful finale – with racking sobs for effect. Oh how wonderful it is to joke around.

The thing is, if it had been a ‘playful tiff’, no one around them would have been aware of their penchant for sinister role playing and as such, they should have intervened no matter what. Not just sit there, watching, snapping away, uploading the pictures on a social site with caption: ‘Nigella Lawson is getting strangled here at Scott’s! :- ( ‘

I hope they’re ashamed now, the diners, the restaurant staff, though I have no hope for the paparazzi. Some I am sure, will feel remorseful for not reaching out when they should have.

Though, there will be others who will browse through their cherished pictures and feel privileged they were in the right place at the right moment, full battery and all.

They’ll be dining out on this for years to come. And –  they’ve got the pictures, the retweets and the obvious absence of a philanthropic gene to show for.

When it comes to Nigella, I hope she is okay and that she hasn’t become disillusioned, not only with her husband and her relationship but also with the ones who believe that life is nothing but a zoo.