Archive for July, 2011

When Your Friends’ Mothers Start Asking For The Recipe, You Know You’re Really Onto Something

Lemon Drizzle Cake is the first recipe I’ve ever felt possessive about. Normally when people ask me for a recipe, I display the kind of over-the-top enthusiasm you get when you offer to take a labrador for a walk, like, “Oh, sure! Of course! Oh boy oh boy oh boy, you’re going to love this! Let me write it down! And can I email it too?  How about my blog – shall I post it on my blog? And then you can share it with all your friends…?”

But with this recipe – my own, perfect, world-beating lemon-drizzle-cake recipe – I feel a compelling urge to keep it All To Myself. I secretly sort of love the notion that there is some secret and unimaginable skill required to make this cake, which can only be attained by years of patient effort and dedication.

I actually have a recipe that I don’t want to give away! It’s a very strange feeling. For the first time in my life I am in touch with those mad and endearing characters in books like Mapp and Lucia, where the denouement for the entire novel is triggered by the theft of a recipe for Lobster Salad.

But keeping it to myself would be mean and pointless, and if I accidentally got run over tomorrow, the secret of the Perfect Lemon Drizzle Cake would die with me. So, here it is. Just…be careful who you share it with.

And it goes without saying that EVERY SINGLE STEP in this recipe must be followed exactly. To the letter. No arguments.

To make:

175g margarine

175g caster sugar

175g self-raising flour

2 eggs, beaten with 4 tbsp milk in a mug. Preferably a pretty one

2 lemons, zested and juiced

An unknown quantity of icing sugar

A 3lb loaf-tin

Baking parchment

A pretty apron

To serve:

A beautiful heirloom cake-stand

A pretty china teaset (preferably either received as a wedding-gift, or inherited from an elderly female relative)

Some matching pretty cake-plates

A group of discerning friends


1. Tie on your pretty apron. For best results, put it on over a pretty frock. You may also want to freshen your make-up.

2. Cream the margarine and sugar together. For years I resisted using an electric whisk, because electric whisks are cheating. Then I saw Nigella using one, and thought it might be all right, and bought one. I can’t begin to describe how much quicker, easier and fluffier cake-making becomes if you have an electric whisk. They only cost about £20. Just do it. You’ll never go back.

Oh, and make sure it’s caster sugar. This really matters.

3. Whisk in the eggs and milk. As we all know, curdling the fat-and-sugar-mix by adding the egg too quickly is the curse of beautiful sponge-cakes. So, use your electric whisk, and add it in the following proportions, whisking well after each addition:
– One carefully-measured tablespoon
– One not-so-carefully measured tablespoon
– Two tablespoons at once
– One large, incautious slop of mixture using up almost all of what’s left, followed by a rather frantic whisking session on the fastest setting
– The dregs remaining in the bottom of the mug

3. Using a spatula, fold in the flour and the lemon zest.

4. Grease your loaf-tin, and line the bottom with baking parchment. Baking parchment is another thing I refused to contemplate for years. I honestly thought it was one of those inexplicable relics of a previous age that old people insisted on clinging to, like Vim scouring powder and antimacassars. But as it turns out, it really does make a difference to how easy it is to pry your cake out of its tin later. Hold the front page – my grandma really did know what she was talking about! Who knew?

5. Pop into the oven at 180C for about 55 minutes.

6. While it’s in there, occupy yourself by mixing your lemon juice with enough icing sugar to make a nice, thin, watery icing. Since all lemons are variable, the amount of icing sugar you’ll need to achieve this is also quite variable. The only clue I can offer is that it’s generally quite a lot more than you’d think. Begin with a heap in the bottom of a bowl, then pour your lemon-juice over the top and mix it in. Stir, taste and add more icing-sugar accordingly. It’s important it tastes sweet rather than sharp – we’re not making lemonade here – but it’s also important it remains pourable.

7. In the remaining cooking-time, do something dainty and feminine. Embroidery is an excellent choice, as is the light dusting of some fragile china ornaments on a high shelf. Alternatively, do something to enhance your environment. For example, you could decant your washing-up liquid into a decorative container. Or maybe you could try beautifying your scrubbing-brush. In Stepford World, even the most mundane task can be turned into a pleasure!

8. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, and while it’s still in its tin, spoon the icing all over the top. There will be a lot of it. Use it all. It will hiss, and steam a bit, and then disappear down the sides and into the body of the cake.

8. Leave the cake in peace to cool down. It usually takes about two hours to get to the perfect temperature, i.e. cool enough to handle, but still a little bit warm and steamy. Don’t try and get it out before then, because it will just fall apart. When it’s time to serve, loosen it all around the edge with a palette knife. Put it on your beautiful heirloom cake-stand.

9. Break out all the ancient and beautiful china you inherited from female relatives. Pause to enjoy the sensation of having generations of dainty, cultured female ancestors – all with minds like razors, tongues like barbed-wire dipped in honey and a stare that could turn milk sour through an iron door – standing at your shoulder, approving of your cake. Then, invite your friends round for afternoon tea.

10. Serve slices of your cake on pretty plates, with fragrant cups of tea, made properly in a teapot and poured into your most impractical tea-cups. Enjoy the taste of civilisation. Enjoy even more the taste of small-minded suburban triumph as they all ask for the recipe, and you graciously manage to avoid giving it to them. Alternatively, send them here. The occasional bit of Stepford Cooking is the way forward for all of us.

Stupidly Easy Recipes are just that – stupidly easy. Every single ingredient they contain can be bought from my local supermarket, and most of them are stuff I just happen to have in the house most of the time. They all produce results which are insanely nice compared to how little work you need to put into preparing them, and most can be eaten one-handed, with a fork, over the head of a Moray Eel nursing baby. Quantities are usually for two people.

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Dear Mr Detergent Manufacturer,

I think we need to have a little chat about a couple of slightly scary subjects, as follows: Pregnancy, and Commitment.

See, back when I was first pregnant, in the summer of 2002, you got together with Bounty and gave me a large plastic carrier bag full of free samples. Specifically, you gave me a lot of detergent samples.

And you know what? I threw them all away.

Then, in 2005, I was pregnant again. And you went right ahead and did it again! Plastic bag! Filled! Free samples! Washing detergent! I was all set to throw them away again, but this time my husband was too quick for me, and he put them out in the shed, where the washing-machine lives.

I’m proud to say they have been there ever since.

Free samples of detergent make me cross. I don’t like the implication that I can be convinced so easily, after just one date. How dare you assume I’m the kind of woman who will change her washing-powder because some smooth talker catches me at an emotional moment, and invests a small amount of money to get my attention? I notice that you carefully timed the arrival of these samples so as to not in any way coincide with the arrival of my baby.

You claim I’ll want to wash all my baby’s clothes before he / she arrives. Why on earth would I want to do that? And what can I possibly learn from your performance under these circumstances? How does you being able to wash clothes that are already clean help me assess your capacity to clean up after a small toxic person who has just pooed up their own back and into their hair for the fifth time in twenty-four hours? This is the washing-powder equivalent of taking me out to a restaurant neither of us can afford to visit ever again, then projecting the next forty years from this one experience.

Alternatively, you’re saying something even more disturbing, which is that it actually doesn’t matter if I put myself about a bit, and try a few different products before making my choice.

I can see only two possibilities here. Option one: my baby’s delicate skin requires a specialist washing powder and only the very best specialist washing powder will do, in which case I can’t possibly afford to risk getting it wrong even once and will not be swayed by your feeble attempts to romance me. Option two: it’s all a load of marketing bullshit, you’re all the same, and I might as well stick with what I’ve already got.

If your washing powder is really so great, stop messing around and give me a whole box of the stuff. That will give me enough time to see you under all conditions, not just this frankly unrealistic let’s-wash-some-clean-stuff-under-stress-free-conditions first-date nonsense you’re trying to talk me into.

Do you hear what I’m saying to you, Mr Detergent Manufacturer? Your entire approach is wrong. If you want to win my heart, then either commit properly, or leave me alone.

Thank you.

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So, I know it’s a bit lazy to laugh at stuff in IKEA. Spotting homophones for words that English people find rude isn’t big or clever. If the word for a bookcase in Swedish happens to be Künt or Orshøl – well, for all I know, the word “bookcase” is simply hilarious in Sweden, but because they have better things to do with their time, they’re not going to bother making a big deal about it.

But I do think this one is sort of worth it. The kids and I were wandering through IKEA’s toy section this afternoon (the back-story involves plates, and is boring) and we came across…this.

There’s only one way to interpret this. It’s quite clearly a bin full of rats.

I always find IKEA soft toys a little bit sinister. They’re always a bit closer to taxidermy than I’d really like. Also, they often have tragic expressions, as if they contain the trapped souls of  their real-life equivalents.

But, come on now. A bin full of rats?

It’s no nicer in close-up. The rats lie there, limp and pathetic, piled in on top of each other like…erm…well, frankly, like a whole bunch of rats all piled into a bin.

When I did A-level Biology, we each had our own Dissection Rat. It took us all of the Autumn term to reduce them to their component parts. When they weren’t being inexpertly taken apart by sixth-formers, they had a big cool-box to hibernate in. That cool-box looked a little bit like this rat-bin.

Even their faces are scary. They have small ratty eyes and big sticky-out rat teeth. They know they are unloveable. This bin is the best fate they can ever hope for.

I also found the most fantastically self-regarding book I’ve ever seen in my life – it’s called “Billy”, and it’s a history of the late twentieth century, seen through the unexpected prism of the IKEA Billy bookshelf. On a normal day  it would make an entire post all in its own right. I have a couple of pictures of this, too:

But today was all about the rat-bin. The rat-bin is brilliant. There is a twisted genius at work in the IKEA Merchandising department. All hail the rat-bin.

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Attention, everyone:







That is all.

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In Which It Turns Out That Zombies Plus Superheroes Equals An Unexpectedly Good Read

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Lisa and Grandpa are complaining to each other about how no-one ever listens to them. No-one listens to me, Lisa sighs, because I’m too young. No-one listens to me, Grandpa mumbles, because I’m too old. And then, Homer sticks his head round the door and announces cheerfully, “I’m a white male aged eighteen to forty-nine. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are!”

That’s kind of how I felt when I read Ex-Heroes. There’s no shortage of stories about Zombies, or Superheroes, or Zombies Versus Superheroes. But the idea that someone who can, you know, actually write proper a book with a plot and characters and surprises and everything would volunteer to write one…well, that’s when I started thinking that actually, I must have reached some magical milestone where the world is being run entirely for my personal, selfish benefit.

So, the plot. First thing to say is, there actually is one. Ex-Heroes is set in post-Zombiepocalypse Los Angeles. The uninfected survivors are crammed into uncomfortable compounds and living off mushrooms, plus whatever they can scavenge from raids on LA’s increasingly mean streets. They’re being guarded and supported by a bunch of Superheroes, whose Superpowers handily began manifesting more or less at the same time as the Zombiepocalypse struck. Everyone’s hungry and scared and pissed off. Apart from the odd episode of frantic, dirty sex and a bit of Zombie-baiting, no-one seems to be having any fun. As cabin fever sets in, people are starting to feel as if, somehow, the Superheroes must be part of the problem…

When I started the book, I was expecting it to go one of two ways. Either the survivors (with the help of the Superheroes) will make a break for it and find some new, Zombie-free sanctuary somewhere cold; or the survivors (with the help of the Superheroes) will find some sort of Doomsday Weapon that allows them to destroy all the Zombies in one glorious splurge. To my surprise and pleasure, neither of these things happen.

Instead, there’s some stuff about magic, and some stuff about gangs, and a really interesting theory about why the bite of the Zombie would prove so fatal. There’s a totally surprising plot-twist (I should have realised that the Clever guy who I instinctively felt would also speak with a British accent would also prove to be Secretly Evil, but there you go; I didn’t), and a Giant Dinosaur (who is utterly kick-ass, by the way. Really. Can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed the Giant Dinosaur). There is a fantastic set-piece ending with a compelling end-of-level baddie, and the ending strikes just the right balance between okay-we’re-alive-but-the-world’s-still-shot-to-hell angst, and fragile-green-shoots-of-hope cheeriness. I’m trying hard not to spoil here, because this is a story where you actually can’t tell what’s going to happen just by reading the title. So you’ll just have to trust me here; the plot is good.

Second, the genre elements. The Empire of the Ambulant Dead seems to get bigger every time I look up from my keyboard – these days you can even discuss the finer points of your Zombie Plan on Mumsnet – so most of the time, the pleasure of the Zombie genre is seeing how they’ve managed to mix it up this time. I really wasn’t expecting anything new. I really wasn’t expecting it, but – who knew? Peter Clines actually managed to find some totally new space in the well-trodden Zombie territory.

The nickname “Exes”, for one thing. It’s a small detail, but I really like it. It’s clever, and appropriate, and snappy, and well-rationalised. Up until this book, my favourite was The Walking Dead’s “Walkers”; but “Exes” blows that out of the water. Then, there’s the way the Exes are both monumentally stupid (to check if there’s one waiting for you on the other side of a door, just make some noise and listen for frantic scrabbling), and casually fatal (early on, someone gets bitten by an Ex he essentially has under control, just because he’s not concentrating properly – like a Chihuahua biting the vet). Clines’ take on the child-Zombie trope chilled me, at least, to the bone – the scavengers meet an Ex with an Ex-child on a wrist-leash, “most of its face raw and bloody from being dragged across miles of pavement, [with] bones and teeth everywhere”. There’s a pleasing re-hash of the old shooting-Zombie-celebrities-for-points joke, where the ultimate Zombie-kill (Angelina. Did you really need to ask?) is taken by some guy who isn’t even playing the game properly.

Given how effortlessly great the Zombie part is, it’s disappointing that the Superheroes element isn’t anything like so well-handled. There are a million different ways to be a Superhero, but basically only one to be a Zombie. So it’s a surprise, and not a good one, that there’s not much in the Superhero part that’s genuinely new. The Heroes are all somewhere between the X-Men and the Watchmen (like the X-Men, they just woke up one day and realised they could do cool stuff; but like the Watchmen, they sweat, pee, get dirty and occasionally get to have angst-ridden sex). There’s a guy who has to wear sunglasses in case he fries you with his Cyclops-eque gaze; there’s a creepy Energy guy (Doc Manhattan) who is also telepathic and confined to a wheelchair (Xavier). There’s a sinister Vampire type guy who reminds me of a male Rogue, and Mr Hero Number One Guy, The Dragon, is a rough-hewn sweaty chap who is indestructible (Wolverine), inexplicably sexy (ditto) and has the power of flight (Supermaaaan…).

And the women…oh, for God’s sake. Right; deep breath, and here we go. The women fall into the traditional Superhero trap of being exquisitely perfect in every dimension. Of the two major female characters, one of them is gorgeous, super-intelligent, wrote a best-selling novel, romped through college in about six weeks flat, prefers men but also likes women, and once modelled for Victoria’s Secret (srsly) – but really only wants to get nailed by a hairy guy with sweaty armpits. The other one is gorgeous, super-intelligent, designed and built a Military-grade exo-skeleton that totally wiped the floor with all the other Military-grade exo-skeletons dat wuz built by Da Menz, delivers the set-piece smackdown at the end of the book when Da SuperMenz haz all been handed their asses by Mr End-of-level Baddie, inexplicably has self-esteem issues…and would be much happier if she, also, was getting nailed by a hairy guy with sweaty armpits. Although not the first hairy guy with sweaty armpits. Obviously. I mean, let’s not set up any sort of character-conflict between two women here.

There are also a number of other women, who are dead and only appear in flashback. In the past, they were gorgeous, super-intelligent, fantastic home-makers, etc. who did really cool Kung Fu stuff and / or were domestic goddesses, and their entire function was to be so utterly and achingly perfect that their deaths break the hearts of their partners, who were plainly batting way above their average.

I don’t know why these otherwise talented writers have such a struggle when it comes to women. When it comes to writing men, some of the Superhero boys are pretty much note-perfect. Twenty years since I first read it, Miller’s Dark Knight still moves me to tears (although I do also cry when Spock dies at the end of Wrath of Khan, so I’ll admit my sob-fest threshold may be set a little too low). Why the addition of a second X chromosome sends their characterisation skills all to pieces is a mystery. However, I have a couple of theories. Theory One is that they are so desperate to reclaim the genre they love from its traditional dismissive sexism towards female characters that they go entirely too far in the other direction, frantically over-endowing every woman they write with all possible virtues. Theory Two is that Peter Clines is hairy, has sweaty armpits and really doesn’t know that many women. I’m prepared to be wrong about both of these. But I’m not prepared to withdraw my charge that Mr Clines – along with Mr Miller, Mr Moore and Mr Morrison – has absolutely no idea how to write women.

But let’s finish on a high note, which is the writing. Now, I do want to be a little bit careful here. The thing is – as we all know – most pulp fiction is completely mediocre. This means that, when Pulp is written by someone who doesn’t just use their pencil to pick their nose with, everyone gets totally over-excited about how good it really is. (I’m thinking here of the idiot at the New York Times who breathlessly described the characters in Watchmen as having “stunningly complex psychological profiles”. I do quite like Watchmen, but – The Comedian? Rorschach? Night Owl? Silk Spectre (either of ‘em)? Stunningly complex? You serious, boy?)

So – since I don’t want want to sound like I’ve lost the plot – I’m not suggesting that Ex-Heroes is up there with the likes of Never Let Me Go or The Handmaid’s Tale. But that’s totally okay, because it doesn’t need to be. What it needs to be – and what it is – is fun. The dialogue is sparky and snappy and a delight to read. The action is clearly visualised, properly-paced, entertaining and well-described. There’s the right quantity of schlock and arterial spurt – enough so that you remember you’re reading a Zombie / Superhero mash-up, not so much that you can’t read it one-handed while you’re eating your dinner.

And you will want to read it while eating your dinner. And in your bath. And on the phone. And under your desk at work. And at three in the morning, when you really ought to be asleep. And when you’ve finished, you’ll probably have this compelling urge to tell everyone about it. Because finally, you’ll have a Zombie / Superhero book you’re not ashamed to own up to liking. This book isn’t perfect, but it is enormously good fun. It charges joyfully along, well-paced and charming and relentless, in the manner of someone really funny and engaging telling you their very best anecdote at a party. It’s like the very best sort of fan fiction – an homage to a well-loved genre that also manages to break new ground, written as a pure labour of love.

I don’t know how many other people there in the world who, like me, really want to read Zombie / Superhero mash-ups, and are greedy enough to expect good writing into the bargain. (From the look of the Amazon reviews page, I’m guessing we’re more numerous than we might imagine.) But if you, like me, think this is a simply awesome idea, then you’ll definitely want to buy a copy.

You can buy Ex-Heroes from Amazon, here. It’s a somewhat eye-watering $13.95. But it’s worth it.

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In Which I Go On And On (And On And On And ON) About Exactly How Much I Hate Rom-Coms

I really didn’t realise how much I hated Rom-Coms until I was poking around in my filing system and rediscovered this huge, rambling piece of invective. I honestly don’t know what got into me here. It began as a fairly concise piece of observational humour about how RomCom heroines are basically all the same, and just…kept going. For three and a half thousand words.

Anyway, here it is. I have no idea if the quiz element actually works, but if you do happen to feel like keeping score, let me know how you get on.



Are you secretly the heroine of a Romantic Comedy and didn’t know it? Oh, come on, you’ve always wanted to know. No, really, you have. But the only way to know for sure is to Take The Test and find out…



Step One – Getting to know you

It’s all about you! Because you’re perky and clueless and funny and endearing and non-threateningly gorgeous and sweet, and all sorts of crazy stuff happens to you on a regular basis.


Let’s start with the basics. Are you:

–          Straight     +20 points

–          Gay           –100 points

–          Single        +50 points

–          Recently out of a relationship       +15 points

–          In an unsatisfactory or dysfunctional relationship            +10 points

–          In a satisfying and functional relationship                        – 50 points


Compared to your close female friends, are you:

–          The tallest?            + 5 points

–          The slimmest?       + 5 points

–          The prettiest?        + 5 points

–          None of the above -25 points


What colour is your hair?

–          Blonde or fair                    + 10 points

–          Dark brown or black      +5 points

–          Red                                      – 50 points


Let’s talk lifestyle. Do you have:

–          A pet                                            + 5 points

–          A gay male best friend        +10 points

–          A gay female best friend    -50 points

–          A male friend or relative with a disability…         +15 points

  • …who relies on you for help and support             +20 points

–          An apartment with big windows and an implausibly nice view   +10 points

–          An entertainingly crotchety neighbour                                         +10 points



Around half of us meet our soulmate in the workplace! Is your job any of the following?

–          Journalism or magazine work                               +25 points

–          Behind the scenes in TV or radio                         +15 points

–          Behind  the scenes in film                                      +10 points

–          Waitressing                                                                  +30 points

–          High-class prostitution                                          +40 points

–          Cooking, baking, etc                                                 +15 points

–          Domestic chore related (cleaning company, laundry service, pet walking, etc)

+30 points

–          Anything to do with finance                                -40 points

–          Anything with “manager” in the title               -30 points

–          Astronaut                                                                    –50 points

–          University professor                                              -100 points


Are you weirdly crap at it?                                              + 20 points


Which one of the following amusing workplace experiences have you had?

–          You brought something with you on a trip that was downright inappropriate, and only realised when you unpacked                                            +5 points

  • …and when you unpacked, it was in front of someone else         +10 points

–          You packed a briefcase, parcel or suitcase on behalf of someone else and made exactly the same mistake, and they only realised when they unpacked         +5 points

  • …and when they unpacked, it was in front of someone else        +10 points
  • …and that someone else was old                                                            +5 points
  • …and that someone else was female                                                     + 5 points
  • …and  that someone else was from a culture where the inappropriate item would be considered life-endingly offensive                                                     + 5 points
  • …and two of the above applied                                                            +10 points
  • …and all three of the above applied                                                   +15 points
  • …and you got fired because of it                                                          +20 points

–          You accidentally got hideously drunk at a work function because you thought the punch was non-alcoholic                                                                                                    +10 points

  • Your skirt somehow came off, exposing you to the world          +20 points

–          At a moment when it was critical to look groomed and clean, you accidentally smeared baked goods on…

  • Yourself                            +5 points
  • a colleague                        +10 points
  • your boss                           +15 points
  • And when you tried to clean it up you made it all much, much worse      +20 points
  • And you got fired                         +20 points

–          You were forced to wear a hideous outfit and the man of your dreams saw you in it even though he was supposed to be five thousand miles away at the time    +10 points

–          You set fire to the kitchen while cooking                         +5 points

  • … when important people were coming to dinner  +10 points
  • … in someone else’s apartment                                       +15 points

–          Your pet snuck into work with you and caused havoc    +25 points


Are the following technologies clearly engaged in a malign conspiracy to ruin your life?

–          Answerphones

–          Speakerphones

–          Microphones

–          Cell-phones

–          Car alarms

–          Burglar alarms

–          Fire alarms

–          CCTV security cameras

–          Sprinkler systems

Score +5 points for each one you tick



Meeting the man of your dreams


Can’t be a heroine without a hero, right? Let’s see if he’s the right one for you…


It’s a proven statistical fact that to meet your Prince, you have to kiss a certain number of Frogs. What went wrong between you and the last Frog in your life?

–          You caught him cheating     +10 points

  • …with someone you loved and trusted    +20 points

–          He caught you cheating  -50 points

–          You followed your heart and did something crazy that he disapproved of   +15 points

–          Your pet attacked him                                                      +10 points

  • …for reasons which turned out to be justified      +5 points

–          You wanted commitment and he didn’t                          +10 points

–          He wanted commitment and you didn’t                          -10 points

  • …unless you were getting married and you ran away from the altar, in which case you get                                                                                                      +25 points


So you think you’ve finally met Prince Charming! OMG, you guys are so cute together! How did you first meet?

–          One or both of you was in an accident…                                                  +10 points

  • ….which was caused by one or both of you doing something klutzy… +15 points
  • …and you were klutzy because you were distraught because you had just caught your lover cheating on you                                                                                + 20 points

–          You met at a socially awkward wedding…                                              +5 points

  • …and  was awkward because your ex-lover is marrying somebody else      +10 points
  • …because you were, once again, the bridesmaid rather than the bride   +10 points
  • …because you knew something terrible about the bride or the groom that meant they shouldn’t get married    +10 points
  • ….because one or both of you managed to do something conspicuously stupid and destructive at a crucial moment in the ceremony         +50 points

–          You had a meaningless one-night stand after the tragic break-up of a long-term relationship                                                                                  +15 points

–          Your kids hate each other and the teachers demanded  you get together to sort out the issues which are disrupting the entire class                                    +20 points

–          Your psychotic pets take the same remedial-behaviour class                   +20 points

–          One of you paid the other for sex                                                                         +30 points

–          One of you paid the other to donate gametes                                          +50 points

–          You mistook each other for someone else                                                +10 points

–          You both lied on an application form                                                       +15 points

–          You used to be married                                                                            +10 points

–          One of you had amnesia                                                                           +30 points

–          You were at college together                                                                    – 20 points

–          You were at school together  and stayed in touch                              -50 points

–          You were at school together and lost touch…                                             +5 points

  • …after a huge argument about wanting different things from life                                                                                                                 +10 points
  • …and you wanted to pursue a high-flying career and he wanted to explore life                                                                                           +50 points
  • …and he wanted to pursue a high-flying career and you wanted to explore life                                                                                           -100 points

–          You met doing something you were only trying out because you lost a bet  +30 points

–          You got chatting at a party, enjoyed each other’s company and decided to swap numbers                                                                                                 – 30 points

–          Some friends introduced you and you seemed to get on well                 -10 points

–          You have a shared interest and your relationship grew naturally out of that shared interest                                                                                                 -25 points

–          You got to know each other at work, then went to The Olive Garden one evening and had a really nice time                                                                       – 50 points



What kind of job does he have?

–          Something steady and reliable that your parents would approve of        -50 points

–          Something scary and high-powered that your parents would be in awe of    -100 points

–          Something kooky and alternative, and you can’t quite see how it makes money  +25 points

–          Something working with children or animals                                           +50 points

–          Something low-paid but unexpectedly worthy, that gives back to the community +80 points

–          He’s between jobs right now, but he has some amazing if slightly impractical plans  +100 points


Where did you go on your first date?

–          A nice restaurant where you can dress up and feel pretty            -50 points

–          The theatre or the opera                                                                           -100 points

–          To see a really good movie everyone’s talking about                   -25 points

–          To see a movie you’ve never heard of                                                  +10 points

  • from a genre you’ve never considered before                                +15 points
  • but he loves them and has seen every single one ever                 +20 points
  • in a foreign language                                                                                     +5 points
  • and has them all on DVD                                                                           +25 points
  • and it turns out that you love them too                                             +50 points

–          To do something for other people                                     +10 points

  • …and those people are homeless                           +10 points
  • …and those people are disabled                             +10 points
  • …and those people are children                             +10 points
  • …and  those people are two of the above           +25 points
  • …and those people are all three of the above   +50 points

–          Somewhere that requires you to get wet and / or muddy + 10 points

–          Somewhere free. It’s amazing how much free stuff there is in the world if you really look                                                                         +20 points

–          The hospital, because one or both of you somehow managed to get injured +30 points

–    But it was amazing anyway                                  +40 points


Be really honest. Who is better-looking?

–          Him           -50 points

–          You           +50 points


And again…who’s funnier?

–          Him           +50 points

–          You           -50 points


One more time: who’s more responsible?

–          Him:          -100 points

–          You:          +100 points


Is it going to work out?

So you’ve met a man who could be The One, and suddenly everyone’s got an opinion, and every opinion is different. Whose advice should you take?


Review this list of possible advice-givers. Whose opinion do you instinctively feel will be the correct one?

–          An older relative who you look up to                   – 100 points

–          An older relative who you feel responsible for… +25 points

  • …because they themselves are recently and / or traumatically divorced +10 points
  • …because they have an addiction problem +30 points
  • …because they have a mental illness +50 points


–          A sibling who:

  • In general, is more responsible than you   -75 points
  • In general, is less responsible than you     +10 points
  • Your parents wish you were more like     -50 points
  • Your parents wish was more like you       +20 points

–          The acknowledged black sheep of the family      +40 points

–          A small child                                                         +25 points

  • …who you have never actually engaged in conversation before  +30 points

–          A family friend who has watched you grow since you were a baby        -75 points

–          A best friend whose life is considered successful                                               -30 points

  • …and who is in a happy and functioning relationship      -50 points

–          A best friend who people point at and say, “Well, at least you’re doing better than she is”                                                                                                 +20 points

  • …whose romantic life is a non-stop train-wreck               +50 points

–          A best friend who is clearly and hopelessly in love with you                  +30 points

–          Someone you know you’ve met before, but you can’t quite place them +20 points

–          A doorman, bartender, taxi driver or other random functionary              +30 points

  • …who obviously has major interpersonal issues with absolutely everyone  +50 points

–          A stranger you met in a queue and randomly poured out your heart to +75 points

–          Your pet                                                                                        +100 points


Would you automatically give more credence to advice coming from someone who is:

–          Very old

–          Very young

–          Very drunk

–          Very mad?

Score +10 points for each box ticked


Meet the parents

You can tell a lot about someone from their relationship with their parents. Specifically, you can tell a lot about whether they are really living in a Rom-Com or not. Let’s see how you’re doing.


Your parents are:

–          Happily married                                           -50 points

–          Pretending to be happily married        +10 points

–          Clearly unhappily married                      +30 points

–          Divorced or divorcing                              +40 points


Who’s the sensible one?

–          Your mom       +10 points

–          Your dad         -10 points

–          Both                -100 points

–          Neither            + 50 points


When your parents first met your Prince Charming, they were:

–           Dismayed                                                     +10 points

–          Actively sickened or repulsed             +20 points

–          Bemused                                                         +15 points

–          Willing to reserve judgement              -10 points

–          Perfectly happy as long as he treats you right            –20 points

–          Thrilled and already planning your wedding              -30 points

–          Embarrassingly obsequious because he’s so rich / successful / well-connected  -50 points


What happened when your new man met your parents for the first time?

–          It was a little stilted, but after a while, we all warmed to each other  -30 points

–          They asked him about his job, and didn’t like the answer  +10 points

–          They had absolutely nothing to say to each other      +20 points

  • but he got on like a house on fire with my mentally disabled relative +25 points

–          He said something awful next to a baby monitor and my parents heard +25 points

–          It was all going okay until That Incident in the bathroom     +50 points

–          He managed to accidentally kill or maim the family pet        +30 points

–          He managed to accidentally set fire to something                  +40 points

–          He managed to accidentally remove my mother’s clothing    +50 points


In the mood for lurve

Sex is the glue that holds a relationship together. The question is; do you have the right kind of glue?


Which of the following scenarios has happened to you during sex?

–          While having sex at my place, the dog or cat somehow got itself involved  +10 points

–          While having sex at a friend’s wedding, we;

  •  smashed the cake                               +10 points
  • destroyed the decorations                   + 5 points
  • ruined the bride’s dress                       +20 points
  • caused an elderly relative to have a heart attack  +30 points

–          While having sex at a friend’s apartment, we

  • destroyed the bedstead                       +10 points
  • ruined the sofa upholstery                  +20 points
  • made a large hole in the plasterwork +30 points
  • smashed the fish-tank                                +40 points

–          While having sex at my place of work, we were observed by a group of overweight security guards via CCTV        +20 points

–          While having sex at my parents’ house, we were overheard over the baby monitor which we had inexplicably failed to notice    +30 points

–          While having sex in front of the parrot, we inadvertently trained it to repeat an inappropriate phrase during dinner                          +50 points

–          While having sex in a swanky hotel, we trashed the entire room       +10 points

–          While having sex in a car, we accidentally released the handbrake   +25 points

–          None of the above                                                      -50 points


Which of these phrases best describes his sexual adventurousness?

–          He’s happy for me to introduce new stuff, but at heart he’s pretty vanilla really +30 points

–          He has a regular subscription to Those Catalogues                 -25 points

–          I asked if I could go on top once and he sulked for a week    -50 points


Whose underwear is nicer?

–          Yours              +20 points

–          His                   -20 points


Bumps in the road

True love is never easy. How can you possibly know you’re right for each other if you don’t put each other through the wringer a few times?


You are passing a restaurant. On glancing in, you see your soul-mate laughing and joking with another woman. How do you respond?

–          Call your best friend and sob down the phone about how All Men Are Bastards  +20 points

–          Vow to never speak to him again, then get run over on the way home   +50 points

–          Storm into the restaurant and create a scene of traffic-stopping proportions +75 points

–          Call him later and ask about it. But it’s probably his sister or a colleague   -100 points


It’s a big night out, and he’s late. What do you do?

–          Call him in a panic, convinced he must be dead,  and leave a series of hysterical messages on his phone, then ditch him when he turns out to have been stuck in traffic  +20 points

–          Call everyone who knows him to see if he’s with some other girl, then ditch him when he turns out to have slept through his alarm   +25 points

–          Conclude that this is his way of leaving you, because you have cripplingly low self-esteem. Leave quietly, go home and never take his calls       +30 points

–          Call him and remind him where he’s supposed to be                         -10 points

–          Call him and ream him out, then tell him to get his ass over there     -20 points

–          Screw him, who cares? He’s a grown man and can take care of himself. You’re going to enjoy yourself without him                                       -50 points


You’ve just had your first row. What was it about?

–          You found out he lied about his favourite colour, and this led you to question the entire basis of your relationship                                                           +25 points

–          You met his best friend and his best friend was kind of an asshole, leading you to question whether you ever really knew him in the first place        +20 points

–          You disapprove of his voting choices                          -25 points

–          He tried to do something nice for your disabled friend or relative, and it backfired and now you’re blaming him for not understanding the disabled friend or relative’s needs the way you do                                     +30 points

–          His ex-girlfriend sent him a gift or letter which he didn’t instantly set fire to in front of you, and now you’re convinced he is cheating on you, or is about to cheat on you, or has thought about her existence, or something, and now it’s all ruined                      +40 points

–          It began with pasta and spiralled into an intense and alarmingly articulate discussion about what it all means and how you got there and whether you can do this any more +50 points

–          You had different opinions about something you saw on the news  -30 points


After a heart-rending argument, you have made the decision to separate. How do you cope?

–          You take up a new hobby which somehow reflects all you have learned while you were together                                     +20 points

–          You go on a series of dates with men who sound perfect on paper, but aren’t   +10 points

–          You decide it’s time to work on why you feel the constant need to validate yourself through relationships, and vow to spend the next year single so you can focus on building your self-esteem             -50 points

–          You agree to marry someone who you had previously discounted, but your parents like him and you have a lot of free evenings now and hey, ya gotta marry somebody, right?           +75 points

–          You spend a lot of time on your sofa wearing bathrobes and holding remote controls     +20 points

–          You make an obviously poor life-changing decision, which reverses a previously good decision made back when you were happy and In Love            +30 points

–          You have a good cry, buy some new shoes and move on      -30 points

–          You throw yourself into your career and manage to upset everyone by being really hard-nosed and aggressive                    +25 points


Happily Ever After

Now you’ve seen exactly how miserable and dysfunctional you are without each other, you can give in to your inevitable destiny and get back together. How does this happen?


–          A relative you never got on with tells you the tragic story of their life, and you realise that if you don’t get back together, your own life will follow the same dark path                +20 points

–          Someone else you never got on with tells you the tragic story of their life, and you realise that if you don’t get back together, your own life will follow the same dark path        +30 points

–          A total stranger tells you the tragic story of their life, and you realise that if you don’t get back together, your own life will follow the same dark path                                                +50 points

–          One of you phones the other and suggests you meet for a drink and a chat about whether it might work out after all        -100 points

–          You have a near-death experience and manage to save each other +25 points

–          While putting away an impressively expensive gift from your new man, you find an incredibly lame gift your ex once gave you. Somehow this makes you realise you prefer your ex after all                +40 points

–          One of you is about to marry someone else when…

  • …someone stands up in church and makes an objection         +30 points
  • …the other one bursts into the church and makes a dramatic declaration of love  +20 points
  • …the bride / groom is discovered to be having an affair with the best man   +10 points
  • …someone from their past comes back and reclaims them instead  +20 points
  • …the replacement realises they are Not The One For You and make a quiet but dignified exit that allows you to hold onto your sense of yourself as a good person     +20 points

–          You are making an important presentation whose outcome has major implications for your career, when you look around the room, have a moment of clarity, and rush off with your coat over your head to find your One True Love                                                +40 points

–          Something happens at a zoo. It doesn’t really matter what, because zoos are inherently both romantic and comical                             +100 points


1000 POINTS OR MORE: You are, like, so totally the heroine of a Romantic Comedy!


BETWEEN 500 AND 1000 POINTS: It’s possible you are the heroine of a Romantic Comedy, but it’s more likely that you’re just the Best Friend of someone who is the heroine. Still, at least you’ll get to enjoy the spectacle of your taller, thinner, prettier friend making a spectacular mess of her life for a while before she inexplicably finds happiness with someone she nearly ran over on her way to the grocery store.


BETWEEN ZERO AND 500 POINTS: Sorry, but you’re definitely a Person In A Supporting Role. Just pray you’re one of the nice ones. Otherwise you’ll probably end up on the receiving end of some brainless piece of physical comedy involving dogs, water and pie-filling.


ANY SCORE BELOW ZERO: You are probably living in an Indie film. You know, the kind that does well at the Sundance Festival and gets shown at the library on a Tuesday night, and you read the review in the Guardian and vaguely thought about going to see it some time, but then you forgot about it.

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The Skinny On How Movie Critics Con Us Into Seeing Stuff


THEY SAY…                                                                   THEY MEAN…

Beautiful                                                                              Mawkish

Epic                                                                                        Long

Classic                                                                                   Derivative

Lyrical                                                                                 Set between 1900 and 1950

Brave                                                                                    Has a gay couple in it

Tender                                                                                 Sickening

Heartfelt                                                                              Up itself

Searing                                                                                 Entirely humourless

Romantic                                                                             Unrealistic

Moving                                                                                 One of the leads dies

Heartbreaking                                                                   A child dies

Uplifting                                                                               Has an implausibly happy ending

Dazzling                                                                                Over-saturated with an insanely loud                                                                                                                         soundtrack

Bold                                                                                       Extremely violent

Tough                                                                                   Torture porn

Challenging                                                                         Misogynistic

Fast-paced                                                                          More money than sense

Turbo-charged                                                                 Significantly more money than sense

High-octane                                                                       Massively more money than sense

Laddish                                                                                Girls in their underwear

Artistic                                                                                 Girls without their underwear

Terrifying                                                                            Schlocky

Chilling                                                                                 Promises schlock but doesn’t deliver

Loveable                                                                             Hateful

Sweeping                                                                            Contains shots of mountains

Lush                                                                                      Contains shots of cornfields

Kooky                                                                                   Infuriating

Quirky                                                                                  Inexplicable

Heart-warming                                                                 Nauseating

Witty                                                                                     British

Intelligent                                                                          Foreign

High-concept                                                                    Contains a maximum of one idea

Romp                                                                                    Average men doing beautiful women

Bigger and better                                                             Dumber and more expensive

Stunning special effects                                                We could find absolutely nothing else positive to                                                                                                  say about this movie

From the director of…                                                   Not nearly as good as…

In the tradition of…                                                        Shameless rip-off of…

A re-imagining of…                                                         Copied from…

All-star cast                                                                       Cast is a collection of famous has-beens

This holiday season…                                                    …you’ll only come to see this because the walls                                                                                                    are closing in

Family fun                                                                          You’ll all hate it equally

Surprise hit                                                                        Seventeen studios are now kicking themselves

British                                                                                  Not as good as you think it’s going to be

Bafta-award-winning                                                     Passed over for the Oscar

“[This actor] is at his peak”                                         This actor is past his sell-by date

“[This actor] keeps getting better and better”    This actor’s continuing bankability is a total                                                                                                           mystery

“[This actor] is a revelation”                                     Holy shit, this actor can actually act. Who knew?

“[Actor A] is the new [Actor B]”                              Actor A was considerably cheaper than Actor B

“…as you’ve never seen him before!”                   This actor has been hopelessly miscast

“The [genre film] of the year!”                                Will sink without trace within six weeks of release

“Redefines the genre”                                                 For people who don’t really like this genre

“A must-see movie”                                                    A heavily-promoted movie

“An undiscovered classic”                                       A not-very-heavily-promoted movie

“Franchise”                                                                     Done to death

“The surprise hit of the year”                                   The film that, despite the best efforts of everyone                                                                                                 involved, accidentally turned out to be quite                                                                                                         good


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The key to successful advertising is consistency.

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Well, of course he is.

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I was only allowed to examine these while wearing white cotton gloves and under close supervision.


Because Clearly, Manufacturers Are Putting Loads Of Expensive Cabling In My Phone Box For Absolutely No Reason.

These are, apparently, the cables that came in the box with my last mobile phone, which is a BlackBerry Bold, and is very nice. I say “apparently” because I’ve never actually been allowed access to them. And the reason why I have never been allowed to get within touching distance is that if I was left alone with them for more than thirty seconds, I would immediately throw them away.

I don’t know what it is about me and mobile phone cables. Intellectually, I can see they must all have a purpose. They have little endy thingies that fit into the teeny weeny small little ports on my BlackBerry, and bigger endy thingies that fit into the slightly bigger ports on my laptop. Now that I come to look, there even appears to be a set of headphones in there (which could help me bail on my passionate but deeply dysfunctional relationship with my iPod). And yet, just looking at them makes me cross. I instinctively feel they are a waste of time. Every little part of me wants to throw them in the bin.

Until my deliciously strict husband staged a Mobile Phone Cable intervention last year, I had done the throwing-the-cables-in-the-bin ritual with every single phone I’ve owned. It always goes the same way. I open the box. I see my new phone, all pristine and pretty, lying in in its little cardboard tomb. I prise it out. I grab the charger, because even I can see that I’m going to need the charger. In doing so, I expose the nest of plastic-wrapped cabling in the space beneath. And I think, “Nope, definitely won’t be needing them” and throw every single one of them out. The only reason why I was able to take the picture above is that Tony pounced on the box, wrestled it from my hands and hid it somewhere that I’m still not allowed to know the location of.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, despite my BlackBerry being the third Smart Phone I’ve owned, it’s the only one I have ever managed to use to connect to the Internet. Or download photos from. Or use to post to Facebook.

I was once asked what I imagined those cables were for, and I was surprised to find that actually, I did have an opinion about this. In my head, they are somehow connected to the fact that different countries have slightly different electricity systems. Rather than ship different box contents to different markets, mobile phone manufacturers have clearly decided it’s much more efficient, logical and environmentally-friendly to ship every single possible connector solution to everyone. I’m not sure which countries I imagine use USB connectors to plug in the kettle, but if you ever happen to go there, let me know.

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