Friday, January 28, 2011

Never Taste-less Before

Before you read this blog, watch this.

If you hadn't seen it before, what did you think it was? With its pretentious plinky-plonky-piano-ey soundtrack and the slow-motion, high-definition floating tendrils? Damian Hirst's latest exhibit? Footage of an octopus ejaculating? Cthulu's hot young girlfriend?

Yes, it's an advert for chocolate giant Cadbury's Flake bar. Now I've studied adverts before in my time as a wastrel - ahem, Graphics student, and I know it's meant to be symbolic. The slow-rippling yellow-gold fabric of the woman's dress symbolises elegance and luxury and coincides with the notion of the chocolate ripples in the bar; the purple ink explosion denotes the Cadbury's logo and that exact shade of purple is a registered trademark of Cadbury blah blah blah. But take a look at this and tell me you don't think it's better:

Yes it's risque. Yes, some of the adverts got banned on the grounds of indecency (the chocolate touched the tongue of the lady in question before the lips, which looks like...hur. Well. Hur. You know.) but doesn't it signify what Flake is about: a simple oral pleasure? You don't have to like doing the act in question, because odds are if you don't, you probably do like eating chocolate. And the ads are beautifully shot - deserts, lush fields, exotic surroundings, the woman relaxing for some me-time and a bar of choccy...there's something for everyone. And those models remember the pride that came with being a 'Flake Girl'; you see them quite often on those banal "I Luv Adverts Their The Bestest Things EVAR" programmes ITV insist on broadcasting. Could you really call Octolady a 'Flake Girl'? And don't even get me started on Joss bloody Stone.

It isn't fair. Snickers got Mr T, Mars got John Barnes and now every time I eat a Flake I have to remember I'm not chowing down on chocolate calamari. And don't you dare "female empowerment" me; Aero Bubbles got the hunky man fresh from a hot shower* and he knew exactly what he was: man candy selling candy. That was the entire point of the advert! It's chocolate-covered tongue firmly in cheek, and in a world of "Skin Regenerating Hypothyrate-poly-multi-carbonitratines", it's refreshing to have adverts that throw their arms up and says "OK, you got us; but hey, our products work."

Bring back the old Flake ads. Hell, I'd happily do one in its stead - not that the nation wants to watch me scarfing down Flakes while exposing my alarming flabby whiteness.

[SOURCES: All Aero Bubbles ad courtesy of KmClan80. Flake advert (1980) courtesy of ally008 and Flake advert (2010) courtesy of PercyGreen17. I do not own any of the companies or products and I am not affiliated with them in any way.]

*Yes ladies, that is Smith from Sex and the City aka. Jason Lewis. Rrowr.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Substitute for Love

DISCLAIMER: Before you read on, this article contains reference to a topic that applies only to adults. I really have tried to be discreet as possible in handling the topic, but reader discretion is advised.

I've been doing my research, and the average price of a vibrator is about £30.

Yes, I'm aware that's one hell of an opening sentence, and I apologise to those of you who are reading this while eating. But I have been doing a little thinking about substitution, and how far people will go to simulate or replace the feelings and emotions gained from a romantic relationship.

Vibrators. They're everywhere now, and with the advent of female empowerment it's no longer considered sordid and shameful to own one. Adverts for them pop up everywhere: from on the Tube to the back of girls magazines. On the High Street, Ann Summers is the closest you'll get to a brand; in some branches men are not even allowed in without the company of a woman. With the sheer pink floors, patterned walls and staff-led demonstrations, pretty much everything is aimed at the modern woman. And as for the products themselves...yes, surprise-surprise, I have been into an Ann Summers thank you very much, and I have unashamedly had a look at the vibrators. And while I was surprised on my first visit that nobody gave me a filthy look or accused me of being a 'wanton hussy', I was even more surprised at the variation.

You get ones you can use in the bath, ones filled with ball-bearings (don't ask me how or why), ones that connect to your iPod. There are ones that throb, thrust, gyrate and wiggle. Ones made of latex, glass, or that strange material that's exactly like those kids' toys that you lob at windows and they crawl down in a horrible gelatinous fashion (think I'll stay away from them, thanks.) And if for example you happen to live with other people, you can get some that don't even LOOK like vibrators. Good Lord, and I find it hard enough to choose a colour of nail polish...

Moving away from the specifics of this topic (washing our hands first) and onto others, I also found a small following dedicated to "cybering". It's another risque topic; is it real sex if you make a slimmer, pink-haired pixellated version of yourself and then frolic on a virtual sofa? Is it cheating on your partner if you do this within a relationship? Have you actually had sex on an emotional basis? If cheating is in the mind as well as physical, then more people are cheats than first thought. If 'pretending' to sleep with a physical manifestation of someone makes you feel the same as the act of physical sex would, why should it be treated any differently? I'm not going into my views this time - my thoughts on the topic of cheating are firmly set, thanks - but I guess its as stimulating (pardon the pun) as letting a battery-powered entity do all the work.

Besides vibrators or online role play, there's alcohol (for the relaxing qualities), chocolate (for the endorphines), mindless spending (for the thrill)...but then I personally have used all of these things to counteract other feelings, like a bad day at work or a bereavement. At the end of the day, you can't really hug a bottle of Jack Daniel's without looking desperate. A bar of Galaxy won't tell you when you look nice. And a bank statement won't put its arm around you. A vibrator may make your eyes roll back into your head, but there's no point asking the thing "Was it good for you?"

Sorry folks, but while there may be a substitute for sex, there's no substitute for love.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Treat For The Eyes [REVIEW]

MPAA RATING: PG (Mild Language and scenes of sci-fi action violence)

STARRING Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner

So there I was in my local cinema, watching trailers when I came across something I had forgotten about a long time ago - written off, I thought, in the wake of other things: other films, daily pursuits, the mundane. Once the trailer rolled I practically fell headfirst into my popcorn. It was the trailer for Tron: Legacy.
 "Long time," says Sam Flynn [Garrett Hedlund] upon reconciling with his long-lost programmer father. "You have no idea," growls Kevin Flynn [Jeff Bridges, in one of two incarnations], echoing the thousands of Tron fans who have been waiting for the follow-up for eighteen years.
I went with four others and two of us were long-time Tron fans, who had both seen the film in our youth not so long ago, so we were familiar with the Tron staples: the light cycles, the Grid etc, and were just anxious to see what 3D and the 21st Century had done for them.
Not only does the film begin in 2D (in the 'real world') and turn suddenly to 3D, a la The Wizard of Oz's transformation into vivid colour from bland black-and-white, but it is also one of the two notable films in recent years to use a CG de-aging process - the first being The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). Bridges had his face modelled and pin-pointed with CGI mapping to create each individual expression. The result is startling, although in certain scenes you do catch a glimpse that reminds you that it is essentially Bridges face upon another person's 'canvas'.
In a nutshell, young Sam Flynn has had to do most of his growing up without his entrepreneur father, who famously disappeared after discovering a new world within a computer program. The film is almost 'inside itself' - clearly visible on young Sam's wall is a poster for the actual 1982 film, as well as figurines all designed by his father based on what he saw while he was there. After hearing nothing for years, Sam is drawn back to his father's office within a shut-down arcade to discover the truth behind his vanishing act.
As you can probably tell, the father and son are reconciled eventually, but that is the least of their worries. And here is where you find yourself watching Bridges play ultimate hero and erstwhile villain.
Plot-wise, it's nothing taxing - don't expect baffling conundrums or stories that keep you guessing, rather you'll find yourself saying "Oh, yeah I knew that was coming. And I knew that was going to do that." The acting is very suitable - as odd as that sounds, but old heroes sit comfortably alongside new arrivals (Sam and Quorra [Olivia Wilde]). The 3D, as you'd expect it to be on certain levels of play such as the Grid and the famous Light Cycle arena, is a treat for the eyes and thankfully not too hard to follow, though our viewing was marred by a slight picture overlap which was annoyingly visible on a mostly bright-on-dark film. What made up for it was the dazzling score provided by French techo-maestros Daft Punk - minimal at times, echoing back to the 8-bit soundtracks of the retro arcade, swelling from synthesised sound to orchestrated grandeur. Download the soundtrack if nothing else - a lot of soundtrack I find to be filler with one or two standout themes running throughout, but the relatively short tracks are two-minute treats. (Fact fans: keep your eye out for the masked musicians making a brief cameo in the film - I squealed with delight when I saw them.)
Although made by Disney (a fact which genuinely surprised one of my fellow viewers during the credits), I would recommend you take an older child to see this film - it's a little too post-apocalyptic techno to appeal to smaller kids who may get bored with the relatively sedate pace between the short, sharp thrilling bursts of action.
Once the credits had rolled and I stepped back into 'the real world', I was left thinking "So where do we go from here?" Without spoiling it, the film leaves a curious taste in the mouth that makes you want to try a bit more - and thankfully Disney have commissioned not only a sequel but an animated mini-series due next year. Had this not been the case, would Tron: Legacy have been enough? I think probably not, given the amount of little niggling loose ends that just screamed "SEQUEL!" left untied. This may not attract the casual viewer, but I'll be darned if this doesn't strengthen the franchises already thriving cult following. Tron, I and many other fans await your return with open arms.

NEETY'S VERDICT: ****/*****
Worth the wait, but perhaps this film is a step up to grander things to come. Stunning visuals, a followable and plausible (if sometimes predictable) plot and a palette of old and new characters that endear rather than annoy. And underneath it all, a film that doesn't rely on the 3D element to distract you from a paper-thin story, for a change.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Universal Truths: Stupid Things We Say

Men get a hard rap sometimes. The male journalists whose work I follow (see Jeff Maysh, Jeremy Clarkson and Charlie Brooker) have largely pointed out that all men tend to get herded together, boxed up and shipped out to the rest of the world, advertised as a mass product. The end result is like vaguely labelling a box "SHOES" when it contains flip-flops, stilettos, snow shoes, rollerblades etc: you get no sense of the contents from the outside packaging.

I don't pretend to know men inside-out - nearly all of my best friends are male, and I'm sure I know some of them better than I know myself - but I do have a good idea of how most of them work, much like men know a lot more about the nature of woman than most girls would happily admit. So while it's easy for women to complain about men, we are not without fault: to paraphrase the Good Book, let he (or she) who is without sin post the first Blog.

I don't mean to patronise men with my posts: I am merely here to offer another viewpoint to all of my readers. A lot of it is based on common sense with a feminine insight, so I admit it may be old news to some people. I heartily encourage debate - if you've taken the time to read, please comment - even if it's to rip my argument to shreds. My advice is free to take or leave, and it is simply advice, not the definitive guidebook.

What I'm now going to do is give you chaps a break and start on us girls. For all our good points and abilities - multitasking being the main one; I've yet to see my bloke or brother juggle dinner, a phone call, washing and paperwork without breaking down; putting a joint of beef in the washing machine and slicing their mobile into a neat Julienne of iPhone (which I have come alarmingly close to doing sometimes -  there's multitasking, then there's just plain asking for it). But as I was saying, we're not perfect by any means, and quite often we say some stupid bloody things to you. Here's a countdown, a la Top Of The Pops.

"I'm fine."

Notice the emphasis on the word 'fine'. Any chap worth his salt is able to guess that no, we are in fact less than fine. I empathise with you guys on this one, because it must be so damn annoying (doesn't mean I don't do it myself, I'm no saint): why don't we just tell you? It's generally for two reasons:
a) We want you to guess why we're angry. Either because it's something you did and we think you should inherently know what it was, or because we think that if you can't tell why we're angry that you don't really care about us (it's something to do with the listening, which I'll get on to later).
b) We are angry, and we kind of want to have a good rant about it. By letting you know we're angry by barking "I'm fine" or "Nothing" at you when you ask how we are, we're giving you a get-out clause. If you want to ask us how we are, it's possible we may start up into Rant Mode. If you're happy for us to do so then feel free to ask what's up, but if you're not in the mood for it then you know not to ask. WARNING: I accept no responsibility for the consequences of your actions. If you think your girlfriend's irritation will fizzle out without your help, then go ahead.

"Are you listening?"

This is another one -  and yes, I think it counts as a stupid question, because if I have to ask a man this then I already know the answer. This question is basically the equivalent of loudly going "OY!" and clapping your hands an inch from someone's face. Have you ever had a teacher say this to you? Or a parent? Of course, this is not gender-exclusive - men and women can and doubtless have said it, but I have often heard it come from my mouth rather than my partner's. There are several 'textbook' responses to this:
- "Yes of course." If you say this, be prepared for a test. Depending on how finicky/irritable the asker is, you may have to recite all or part of the last conversation. If you have been listening and can prove it, you'll get a "warning look": pursed lips, raised brows, rolling eyes. DON'T respond to this: don't break the gaze, just let it go.
- "No. Sorry." And always say sorry, it's just polite. Even if the asker was talking about potholing and you've never been more bored in your entire life, you must have really dropped the ball because you obviously didn't look even politely interested. At worst, the person will glare at you, walk away and not talk to you for a fixed period (this could range from three minutes to never again). At best, if they're a good friend/girlfriend/in a good mood, they may get slightly peeved at you but ultimately will let you off.
- "Hmm?" This is the Death Answer. Not only were you not listening, you haven't apologised, and you probably weren't listening right up to the point where the asker said "Are you listening?" Shame on you. There's nothing you can do now but grovel.

"Does my bum look big in this?"

You may remember my previous Universal Truths column about shopping and that this conundrum (which I named Conundrum XY) is usually present while trying on clothes. Now, I am talking about this specific question, wherein you girlfriend/wife/sister/friend is trying on clothes, whether at home before a night out or out shopping.
At the risk of me repeating myself, nobody really wants a straight yes or no answer. If you spent your life forever bleating "yes" or "no" to every answer you'd gain a reputation as boring and insincere. In this situation you need to give her an honest answer. Look at the outfit. Is there something else you like about it, or something else that doesn't quite flatter her? Tell her why it does or doesn't look right - don't just say "I don't like the colour". Is it too bright for her? Too dull? Does it make her look paler, make her cheeks look flushed, make her look bigger when really she's not? I'm not asking you to be Gok Wan here, just asking you to be observant.

So now that you've had yourself some Universal Truths, why don't you let me know where you stand? I don't want to hear about "that time the missus asked me to do this fing for sum reason", just let me know if you've ever been on the receiving end of one of these Truths. Go on, go nuts.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Get Funky With the Monkey [REVIEW]


"Oh shit, I died again."
"Yeah, that's annoying...but look at the gorgeous scenery!"
Ever since Donkey Kong Country Returns entered our humble household, this has been the outline of most conversations during gameplay, which has now spanned a fairly impressive 9 hours - and that's only just halfway through.
For those of you who haven't yet got funky with the monkey, DKCR is the long-awaited follow up to 1994's Donkey Kong Country for the SNES. Now that's a hell of a time to wait for a follow up, unless you count 2008's offering Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which included stages which were an obvious homage to the original game right down to the signature music.
But maybe you haven't played those games. And DKCR is a game that claps you on the shoulder and says, "Hey, friend. That's OK. Just come along for the ride."
You can play the game as a one- or two-player adventure: go it alone with DK himself, team up with nephew Diddy or sling the little guy on your back and borrow his nifty jetpack boosts for those hard-to-reach areas. And when I say hard-to-reach areas you can bet your monogrammed tie that there are a lot of those. This game is a nightmare for collect-o-philes like myself: I find myself shadowing my partner, yelling "Go back! You missed a coin! GO BACK DAMN YOU!!" There are barrels to bash, plants to pop and bags to burst and levels are chock-full of collectible items - maybe a little too many, as it's quite hard to grab them all, especially within some of the fast-paced forwards scrolling levels when you are running for your life away from giant bats/spiders/militant miner moles (yes, really) to worry about shiny trinkets.
Also, should you choose to play with Diddy in either modes, you may find that your life quantity (expressed by bright red balloons) is sapped pretty quick: if you both die, you lose two lives. Even if Diddy died in battle mere seconds before you did, you still lose two lives once you die. A little unfair? Maybe, but as my paramour just said, "I'm not going to pick on an otherwise brilliant game."
And just look at the scenery. Chimps alive, it's worth buying for that merit alone, it truly is. Think of all the games that visually have made you go "Ooh, this is just a little bit special" - Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Pikmin, Super Mario Galaxy - while DKCR may not be a 3D epic like the former, it is simply gorgeous. Notable levels include a sunset which is a canvas of blood-red, orange and black; a relentless tidal wave that you can see right from its initial form until it crashes right in your face, levels which take you from the foreground to the background and beyond. Everything looks like it took the design team forever and made them bloody proud in doing so, and they really aught to be.
For casual gamers and DK fans alike, this is a must-have, and I mean it. The controls are smooth and simple, varying from piloting the Wiimote to direct a character to your standard button-mash and the play itself is addictive, with always another puzzle or time-trial to offer. Cutscenes are short, sweet and silent - which is a welcome change for me after being used to the cinematic strato-RPGs I tend to favour, and it's nice to see this old faithful franchise newly renovated.
Climb up Donkey Kong, and take your place amongst the Champions.

NEETY'S VERDICT: *****/*****
Like a hug from Kong himself, this game and the act of reviewing it made me warm and fuzzy.Whether you buy it now or wait for the mid-year price crash, I highly recommend this charming, clever and highly addictive game.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Well-Placed Childhood, Part II

The following article contains spoilers for the following films: Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Lion King, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Toy Story 3, Tron, and many others. If you haven't seen any of those films, don't read this article until you have seen them or unless you don't care, because I don't want you hunting me down for my head on a pike.

You may remember the last Blog when I got all dewey-eyed and pre-menstrual over a bunch of old kid's animations. Well, I'm at it again, and this time I've bothered to sift through the sands of time and recall what went through my tiny brain while I was watching said films. I've come up with a few moralistic 'Life Lessons' the films tried to teach me - see if you identify with them, and maybe you can think of your own. (Come on guys, humour the crazy lady.)

Notable Examples: Beast, The Enchantress [Beauty and the Beast], Quasimodo [The Hunchback of Notre Dame] Shrek [Shrek series]
Some things are just peculiar to look at. It is human nature to stare at something or someone that isn't right: whether we're being outright rude or just trying to suss it out. All of these guys are actually pretty decent underneath, it's just that people prefer to wave torches and pitchforks at them and accuse them of wanting to eat their children.
Is It Right? Well, yes - this is probably the most obvious moral message. Beast is redeemed because someone can love him despite his unattractive outer appearance - why should he be deprived of a chance to prove himself, just because he doesn't look like the attractive (yet incredibly conceited) Gaston? Beast ends up in his predicament because he judges the Enchantress based on her first appearance, just like anyone who judges people unfairly becomes a 'beast' in the eyes of those around them.* (Ooh, get me and my metaphors.)

Notable Examples: Hercules [Hercules], Nemo [Finding Nemo], Dumbo the Elephant [Dumbo], Violet Parr [The Incredibles]
You don't have to have a special fin or be the son of Gods, but being even a little different to your peers can single you out for a hard time. People who seek to pick on others have a knack of homing in on anything unusual: be it your height or the colour of your hair. And why should they? As my parents always told me, "It's because they're jealous." Although that seemed like a fob-off as a child, I now see their point. After all who really wants to be the same as everyone else? If you have beautiful red hair or tower over most of your friends, that makes you a little bit special in your own way, and as you grow it will attract admirers more so than bullies. 
Is It Right? Well it is - on a small scale. My cute little morality tale sadly won't apply to those suffering real injustice: like people who are ostracised and persecuted for their beliefs. But then being treated in an injust manner doesn't mean you are wrong, just that you are perceived to be wrong.

Notable Examples: Marlin [Finding Nemo], Scar [The Lion King], Kerchak [Tarzan], Pinocchio [Pinocchio]
Older people: they've been there, done that and got the T-shirt to prove it. When they offer you advice, it's usually a pretty good idea to take it, because chances are they've already been through something similar to what you're going through now. Sometimes it might be patronising, or what you don't want to hear, but they are often right. Often you have to earn their trust and approval, like Tarzan does with surly patriarch Kerchak.
Is It Right? Well, sometimes. Over-protective father Marlin is partially the cause of his son's rebellion, while Simba is talked into doing the wrong thing by an irresponsible elder. Older doesn't necessarily mean wiser. Adults can make mistakes too, they're human - and sadly our elders can also mislead us.

Notable Examples: The Toys [Toy Story 3], Fievel [An American Tale]
Time passes, things change. No matter how you kick and scream, you can't stop it. When I was 13, I thought I'd be friends with the same people forever, that we'd attend each others' weddings, be there to watch our kids grow up and grow old together. Since then I've fallen out with people or simply fallen out of touch with them. I miss them from time to time, but then there are a select few I've kept in touch with. Since then, I've made new friends and we've still had great times together. 
Is It Right? You know the saying "You never forget your first love"? No matter how bittersweet it was (or maybe just bitter), it's true. And the same goes for your very best friends - they have a tendency of sticking with you. Real love is the kind that truly doesn't judge, like that friend you've had the worst rows with, or who has escorted you safely home that time you got wrecked and went to the toilet in the middle of the road. That's love, that is.

Notable Examples: Simba [The Lion King], Pinocchio [Pinocchio]
This one could also be called "Face the Truth" because the premise is essentially the same: Pinocchio finds it hard to tell the truth, and Simba runs away from the truth. Basically, they both run from difficult situations and it doesn't really do them any favours, apart from buy the plot and character development sections of the film a great deal of time.   
Is It Right? Yes. It may be daunting to face a crisis head-on, but running away from it only caused the problem to grow - or in some cases, new problems to be created. Eventually, in Simba's case, the original problem gets so bad that he has no choice but to intervene.

Notable Examples: Sarah [Labyrinth], Ariel [The Little Mermaid], Coraline [Coraline], Dorothy [The Wizard of Oz]
Whether it is a lifelong dream or a spiteful fleeting wish, heart's desires come in all shapes and sizes. Two of  these films seem to convey that wishing is fine as long as you don't lose sight on what is real (Coraline and The Wizard of Oz), with both characters getting lost in their fantasy worlds and only resurfacing after a moral struggle, while the other two suggest that wishing can be quite dangerous and cause you to lose the things you love.
Is it Right? Yes in both instances. In other films such as Cinderella, we see nothing but good consequences as a result of Cinders' wishing, suggesting that wishing is not always bad provided you have an adequate grip on reality.

Notable Examples: Tron and the MCP [Tron], Snow White and The Queen [Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs], The Fratellis and The Goonies [The Goonies]
No matter how great the odds, the good guys always win, right? In the end, the evil one is either vanquished or repentant, the barren wasteland returns to a radiant dwelling, the hordes of slaves are liberated. Everyone loves a happy ending.
Is It Right? Not always, and not always without consequence. Lives are lost along the way [Mufasa from The Lion King, Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars IV: A New Hope], and allies turn out to be traitors ['Mac' MacHale from Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear from Toy Story 3]. Often in the case of sequels or trilogies, the film's climax does not always mean the conclusion of the battle [the Star Wars saga is surely the most famous of these], or equilibrium is reached as the result of war or a great sacrifice. Of all the moral lessons on the big screen, this is the one with the least straightforward, 'black-and-white' interpretations. And in real life, this is always the case. Just because you are good and virtuous and loving you whole life, it doesn't stop you losing all your money or getting ill (sadly). And that is why we have these films: to fulfil our need for justice in an injust world. Vicarious victory through the 'good' characters in films help the Average Unlucky Joe forget their own trials and tribulations. Overall, I believe it is this feeling that has stuck with me into adult life, allowing me to enjoy the most common principle of films throughout my lifetime: the never-ending struggle between right and wrong.

Why not use the Comments section to air your views or think of your own examples?

Friday, January 07, 2011

Well-Placed Childhood

Ah, Disney. Many childhoods wouldn't be the same without them. Without revealing just how old (or young) I am, according to general consensus I am old enough to recall the majority of the 'best' Disney films. I remember getting a Woody and a Buzz Lightyear for birthday presents; I got a Pocahontas dress-up set for Christmas one year, and I had a VHS of Beauty and the Beast that I played so much the video actually turned permanently black and white.

I guess the main reason the films have such an impact on audiences (casting as broad a net across the decades of Disney feature films as I can) is that there is something for everyone. Musical numbers? Check. Cute and cuddly animals? Check. A smattering of hidden adult humour? Check. It's something kids will enjoy, and the majority of adults won't really mind sitting through.

What prompted me to sit down and write this article was the fact that I received a lovely gift for Christmas. It was the Platinum Collector's Edition of Beauty and the Beast: my all-time favourite Disney film. Before you judge me, consider this: the DVD comes with extra featurettes and storyboards, and a little booklet filled with - get this - recipes inspired by the film: beef ragout, cheese souffle (stop right there thanks). Now I'm older I can appreciate the extra features, and main feature aside, all of the extras in this DVD set are aimed at adult fans. Kids wouldn't really want to watch a 25-minute documentary about the artists.

What I'm saying is that we can learn a lot from Disney - as I watched my favourite film I recalled all my initial reactions throughout my years of watching it. From my empathy with Belle, ostracised for loving books to my  disgust at the chauvinistic Gaston, I experience the same thing nowadays when I read a book or a news report or switch on the TV. When I cowered in my mum's lap at seeing the Beast for the first time, she pointed at the screen. "Look," she said: "He may look big and scary, but I bet he gets scared too. Just because someone looks different, it doesn't mean they don't have the same feelings as you do."

Now isn't that something? How many people need to be reminded of that nowadays?

Now that I've given you something to think about, why don't you take the opportunity to use my comments box for something constructive: tell me about your favourite film as a child, and how it inspired you (it doesn't have to be Disney, I'm not biased). You can use this to fill the time between this Blog and the next one, where I'll be looking in detail at some of the lessons we learnt from children's films. Sit back, reminisce, and enjoy the warmth of your memories (either that, or you've wet yourself again, you disgusting creature.)

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Universal Truths: The Girl's Night In

It happens eventually. Maybe I've had a crap day at work and I want to unwind. Maybe my best friend from out of town is visiting, and we're both too broke to go shopping. Maybe I got a new DVD recently and I want to watch it while wearing a paste made of strawberries, sugar and guar gum on my face, covering my fingernails with coloured acetone.

It all sounds a bit mental doesn't it? Basically, that's what happens on a Girl's Night In.


You know about the Girl's Night Out: a female in your household spends the time between dinner and a taxi arriving clogging up the bathroom, darting between it and her bedroom in various states of undress before leaving for the night and not returning until the wee hours. Girl's Night In is exactly as it sounds - the opposite of this.


Whether your girl likes Sex and the City marathons or table football leagues during her 'me-time', there are certain key features of the GNI that you may recognise.
  • The Venue. This may be obvious but it is all-important. Many men have suffered the fate heralded by the cry of "Can you watch sport upstairs? We wanna watch Grey's Anatomy". The venue may range from the room in the house with the DVD player to somewhere the woman thinks she will not be bothered, i.e. in the bath. She wants to relax and unwind so assume it will not be the dirtiest room in the house - she wants a clean and quiet space for her to fill up with 'her things' for the evening.
  • A stimulus. The latest Patrick Dempsey film, a box set of her favourite TV series, her favourite album, a puzzle or board game. This could be either stuck on in the background or the main focus of the evening. If the GNI involves two or more women, often it is background stimulus for the girls to have a good chat over. Whatever you do, don't take this to mean that it is OK for you to turn it off.
  • Good company. If your girl hasn't got her friends over, she might treat the stimulus as 'company'. She may have a bottle of wine, a tub of ice cream, a box of chocolates or another favourite food or tipple. She might have a pile of magazines by her to keep her occupied. While these are a girl's 'company' on a lone GNI, they are not substitute for real friends and will become surplus items when she gets the girls together.
  • Luxury items. Items purchased in lieu of a GNI specifically for that purpose: may be a new book or album, it may be a video game or DVD she rented from pay-per-view or Blockbuster.
  • Pamper items. Another item purchased in lieu of the GNI, these will vary in accordance to the woman's taste. Popular items include scented or decorative candles, face masks, bubble bath, nail polish or make-up, foot spas etc.
  • Maintenance items. Similar to pamper items but should not be confused for them (I'll explain this a bit later). Includes epilators, waxing kits, manicure sets, hair dye, curling irons or straighteners.

So your female companion is having a GNI. I can't stress this enough, there's no need to freak out. Stop trying to climb out of the window. Here are a few 'urban legends' about the GNI I have explained and debunked that will make the time easier for you both.
  • A GNI is occurring because your woman wants to feel pampered. If she's been stressed and you've been trying to help out, don't assume this is her way of saying "Your effort isn't good enough". She knows what will relax her just as well as you do, this is just something she wants to do for herself.
  • Don't assume that she's having 'her time of the month'. Yes, she could be; on the other hand she could have just had a crap day and want a break. Never ask "That time of the month, is it?" In fact, never ask us this at all. It will never end well for you.
  • If your lady asks you if you wouldn't mind surrendering a room for the evening, let her have it. It's not for ever, is it? If you're watching the TV, is it really anything you can't Sky+? Be generous; it's not going to happen every week. If you absolutely can't bear the thought of missing your programme, offer to run her a bubble bath - put her favourite lotion in, light some candles and leave a book or mag out for her to read. By the time she's done, your programme may well be, too.
  • Don't assume you are 'barred' from the event. If she's having a solo GNI, she might want your company, but wait until she specifies (or ask her yourself if you're not sure). What she won't want if you are there: you eating all the chocolate, you laughing when she puts her face mask on etc. This is her night, she's let you join in on her terms. On the other hand, she might hate the idea of you seeing her in sweatpants with a gallon of Ben and Jerry's in her lap and pumpkin flesh smeared on her face, in which case, you're out.
  • Don't panic when she comes home via the Library with a copy of Legally Blonde 6. She probably doesn't want to watch it with you; unless she loves hearing Waldorf-and-Statler style smarmy commentary over the top of it.
  • The reason you are sometimes banned from the room: maintenance. If an item in your lady's arsenal looks more 'useful' than 'decorative', it's a "maintenance object". Examples include epilators, razors, nail files, curling irons, nail clippers. If there's one thing that a lot of women don't like, it's showing their other half their beauty regime. We know you love our silky smooth legs; but you don't need to see us with our foot up on the stereo grunting as we tear off wax strips.
  • 'Girly Chat' may occur. I've heard my other half answer the phone in this manner: "Yep. OK. OK. Sure. OK. Yep. Bye." and upon hanging up he gives me a detailed account of what he plans to do later that day with his best friend, a topic that was allegedly covered in seven words. I've had hour-long conversations about what I and my best friend have got planned next month. This is because men will say hello, establish a meeting time/place and hang up having achieved what they set out to do. Women will say hello, discuss their last meeting, swap opinions on what was on TV last night, exchange gossip, enquire about family or mutual friends, tell each other what they're doing for the rest of the day, and then still have a good five hours' worth of conversation in them. We're just wired differently: primarily men are problem-solvers while women are emotional analysts. We will talk about anything from how to make meringues with the proper consistency to what YOU did to us in bed last night. This is another reason we may not want you in the room. If this freaks you out, talk to your girlfriend beforehand and establish how little or much you are happy to share with an audience, or if there are problems between you two that need addressing. Don't worry - mostly girly chat will be pointless to you and it is acceptable for you to ignore it.
  • Have you seen the episode of sitcom Friends where Chandler has a bath? Women and men like baths like this, though men may take Chandler's stance of 'hidden shame'. Cosmetic giants Lush and The Body Shop are so popular because they make a necessary cleanliness routine into a treat for your senses for both man and woman alike. There is something to suit all (including the people who hate bath bombs: the option to suit you is "don't buy them").

Yes, you heard me right. It's intrinsically good for your lady, which means in turn it is good for you: she will feel relaxed, happier and indulged, she might have had a chance to catch up with old friends or new TV. And it might not have even cost you a penny - I certainly wouldn't expect my brother to know what I'd want, he'd probably come back with all the wrong ingredients, not for lack of trying but because he doesn't know what I want at that precise moment. I might have munched some dark chocolate last week, but if he comes back with 70% cocoa when I crave a Milkybar, my reactions will range from mild disappointment to spontaneous tears. And it'll only have been my fault for insisting on sending someone else out for the goods instead of doing it myself. If you find yourself in a spare room, use the time to get your own business together. Clip your toenails without fear of being yelled at, take the XBOX in and catch up on a few levels of COD4, reorganise your fantasy football team/saved game files/Stag Do photos. Make it your night too. 


If you sense your lady is a little low, making her feel like it's OK for her to have a GNI is probably one of the nicest things you can do for her. Admittedly so is buying her roses or giving her a hug, but it's just another option, and it's one she can do herself. Don't make her feel like a visitor in her own home - sagging your shoulders whenever she says "I fancy having the girls round" or "I could do with a good pamper" is a bad attitude, and you'll make her angry or sad which I assume you don't want to do. You don't have to lay yourself down in front of her, but implying that you wouldn't mind watching the TV in the spare room or surrendering the bathroom for a few hours is a priceless gift that gives and gives.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Universal Truths: Shop 'Til He Drops

In my time on the world's favourite social networking site, I have noticed a few groups popping up that claim to be delivering a few truths about the way women 'work' and tips detailing how to make situations "work for you", the common or garden Man. Now I've been blogging since I was about 13 and although those early posts probably contained little more than plagiarism and whingeing, I like to think that I got there first, albeit in a very roundabout way (I mean, analysing the constant battle of the sexes is not a very unique concept is it?)

But I'm not here to self-analyse. So without much more ado, I present a few home truths about women of all age, shape and size, with a Helpful Survival Guide on how to avoid those easy traps. I accept no responsibility for any damage to the brains or egos of my readers.


Yes, yes: we know that taking you shopping is a giant waste of time for both of us, but you're sat on that chair outside the changing rooms for a reason. Many arguments occur while couples are shopping; doing it on your own can be stressful enough as it is. So instead of getting yourself into a situation in which you end up kipping on the sofa, pause. What brings you here? Here's a few shopping scenarios for you, and how to navigate them with dignity and testicles intact:

Basically it's all about attention to detail. Think about your girlfriend. Now think about the colour of her hair, her eyes, her favourite jacket. Her bedroom wall colour. Does she like pink or hate it? Are fluffy things her idea of hell? Does she tend to flowers, or is she an animal lover? You aught to know some things about her if you are a really good boyfriend - odds are, if you're a crap boyfriend who pays her no attention and sees her as a unlimited meal or sex ticket, you don't even know this Blog exists. I am assuming you know a little bit about your girl: what she likes, what she likes to do with you (steady on love), and what winds her up. If you're not entirely sure there's a few tips on how to bluff your way through, but I accept no responsibility for the consequences if you get it wrong.


What happened between you and your love recently? Take this morning for instance: did you wake up and give the love of your life a sweet kiss, or did you accidentally punch her in the eye? Whatever you did, your lady is annoyed and knows this is a sure-fire way to punish you while also making herself feel better. If she's shopping angry, you should know you've done something wrong. Don't look at me Buddy Boy - I can't tell you what, it's up to you to know your actions. Whether or not you know what you did, you need to do two things: shut up and put up, and don't let her bait you. Whether or not your lovely lady is angry with you, follow the rules below carefully: hopefully you can change a feisty female to a calm chick (or at least avoid winding her up).


So you're out clothes shopping together and she's in the changing rooms. As I said above, she may or may not be angry at this point: it really is up to you to figure out if she is or not. You can probably tell if she's mad, but in case you're totally clueless look for common signs - shorter sentences, eye-rolling, heavy breathing or sighing, gritted teeth. If you know for a fact you aren't in the Doghouse, it's likely that she has brought you along for your opinion. In which case, be proud that she values your thoughts and wants to impress you.

If she asks: "Does my X look Y in this?" where X is a body part (e.g. bum) and Y is a derogatory adjective (e.g. big), STOP. Do not fall into the trap she has set for you by answering "No" or God help you "Yes". She doesn't want brutal honesty or potential dishonesty: she really wants a perspective. Side-step the question by saying something neutral like "How do you feel about it?" or "Are you comfortable in it?". Ask her what it's for - it could be something to slouch around home in or it could be a gown for a friend's wedding. Get an idea of what she wants from the outfit. Flattering (night out)? Functional (gym wear)? Pretty but plain (work casuals)? You'll throw her off, because she's not expecting you to care what she thinks. Score one for you.

If she persists with Conundrum XY , she really is trying to trip you up. Without patronising her, let her know subtly that you know what she's up to. Approach her on good terms: start by doing something you know she likes to reassure her (kiss or hug etc). Tell her something you like about the outfit (even if it's only the colour), and then tell her something else about her that you think is beautiful that's personal to the both of you. If she's angry, you know what it was you did to wind her up, now is the time to give her a hug or kiss, compliment her and apologise. DO NOT make the mistake of thinking that she'll forgive you and finish shopping there and then. You did the crime, you still gotta do the time.

NOTE: If you don't like an outfit and she is not angry, your honesty may be appreciated. If you don't like an outfit and she is angry, try a "Criticism Sandwich"- this is where you surround a bad point with good points to make it easier to swallow, like wrapping a tablet in cookie dough*. Listen to this:

"It's baggy on the hips."

"It's a good colour, but it's baggy on the hips."

"It's a good colour, but it's a bit baggy on the hips, probably because it's a bit big for you."

Doesn't take Einstein to figure out which statement will sound nicer and more helpful. It won't be that hard to find two or more things that are good and not-so-good about an outfit.
  • Look at how it fits her. Is it too loose or too tight? Avoid saying it's tight; she may think you're pointing out her weight, however if she asks you if it is too tight, be honest.
  • Look at the colour. Does she wear that colour a lot? Does it suit her colouring? You'll notice if it clashes badly, so it is best to use a point like that as the 'filling' for your 'sandwich'.
  • Look at the style. Is it too long? Too big? Too much pattern? Try and imagine what she'd look like in the scenario she wants the outfit for - for example, if it is a top that shows a little too much cleavage, it won't be suitable for work. Try "The cleavage is great, but is it the best thing for work? It would look good on a date night."


The woman you're with is home-making and wants your opinion on what she is buying for your living quarters. Assume you are living together (or planning to). She views this shopping trip as beneficial to your relationship and your home. She thinks that by inviting you along she shows that she values your input and opinion: you think you'd rather be in the in-store cafe eating a jam doughnut.


In this situation you might find another example of Conundrum XY: "Would X look good in Y?" where X is an object (e.g. a plate) and Y is a place (e.g. our kitchen). This is for when she takes you "item shopping" instead of "clothes shopping" and requires a different kind of thinking.

IMPORTANT: DON'T say "I don't know" more than once. Use these following tips first, and save "I don't know" for when you really don't know, not as shorthand for "I can't be bothered to think". You may think it's being hypersensitive, and you go ahead and think that mate, and may it keep you warm in the wake of the Cold Shoulder. The truth is, your girlfriend wants to make a home. See it for what it is: a sweet gesture. To her it means "I love you and I want you to be comfortable and happy in our home", not "I want to waste my precious time off dragging you around homeware stores".

If she uses the XY Conundrum, stop and think. What is she holding? If it's something specific for the home, think about what you already have and what you might need. If you have 30 dinner plates and she's holding up another, gently remind her that you have plates already. And I don't mean barking "We got summa them" at her.

First say "What were you thinking of using that plate for?" Some women like to display plates (weird, I know.) Some women prefer you to have your chocolate-covered-bacon-and-beans-on-toast on a plain plate, leaving the smart patterned stuff for when her parents come over for tea. If she's holding up a nice coloured plate/cup/bowl, try and relate it to something like that e.g. "Is that for when we have guests?" If she wants to have something to take pride in like nice guest towels or smart china, don't try and stop her and don't act like you couldn't care less.


Try and think of the room she's talking about. What colour are the walls or furniture? If she's holding up green towels for your red bathroom, something should tell you that's not right. On the other hand, if you make the effort to locate a red towel and bring it to her saying "How about this one?" she will be impressed. It's important to make the effort to find it and fetch it for her, as it conveys your interest as opposed to you pointing vaguely in a that-way direction. You can also use the "Find and Fetch" method if you genuinely can't remember the colour scheme by just bringing things she may like, but be wary of bringing her the wrong colour or style. You take your life in your hands with this approach, and maybe it'll teach you to pay closer attention.


So she's wheeled you into La Senza and is now holding scraps of fabric up to her bosom. She's got a glint in her eye: either she's enjoying seeing you squirm, or she genuinely wants to buy some nice lingerie for you to see her in.

If it's the first glint, watch out. This may not come as a surprise, but she's not going to wear that peephole bra to work, is she? (You hope.) Ask her casually if it is for everyday use or special occasions. Leave her to make the decisions, but if she says it's for work she won't appreciate you holding up the pink lycra with tassles.


If she asks if you know her size and you do, respond with a cheeky compliment: "You're a perfect 32A" or "You're a lovely 38FF". Try not to use size-related adjectives unless you personally think your girl will appreciate them: if she's a 38FF she might be fed up with people going on about her "massive" boobs, whereas if she's a 32A she might think you're taking the mick.

If you don't know her size, DON'T TRY TO GUESS. If you're not sure, try not to panic. Certain animals can smell fear: women are a prime example. Simply point out that different shops have different sizes, and offer to wait while she tries a few on. If there's a fitting service, point it out to her. Be patient and courteous: "Don't worry, I'll wait with the bags while you try."


Most importantly, whether you know her size or not, AVOID "The Fatal Grab". This is where you grab the first bra or pair of pants you see and thrust them at her. I can see your good intention underneath, but if you grab a Size 8 and she's actually a 14 she may well see red. If you have no idea, and its often best to assume you don't, pick out something like the colour or pattern and point at that. You don't need to take anything off the rack unless she specifically says "Can you pass me that one in a Size 12?"

NOTE: If she ever asks you "What size do you think I am?" and you don't have an answer, use the clothes shopping answer to Conundrum XY: assume she is probably trying to catch you out, admit your wrongdoings and show her that you love her by actually doing something like hugging her, kissing her, offering to pay a little towards something she likes. There are many choices, and you'll know what your girl will respond to.

If it's the second lingerie shopping scenario and she's treating you to a little something, this is going to be much easier than you think. Assuming that because she's taking you lingerie shopping, you are intimate on a fairly regular basis, so already you know a little bit of what she likes.
Unless she has asked you this question first, ask her what she would like. This is your chance to be a little bit flirty and a little bit suggestive. Go around every bit of the shop with her. Hold her hand or put your arm through hers, or if you can't, take her bags so she can touch and feel the underwear (girls are particularly sensual, if it feels cheap and clingy and horrible she's not likely to feel sexy in it). Instead of "I'd like you in that", try "Would you like something like that?" If you say the first one, yes she might buy it for you but she might not like it and she won't really enjoy the experience she has with you in it. These are often the outfits that are worn once for one night and then die a death at the back of the knicker drawer.

You want her to want it as well as you do. Drape a little lace over her palm, or a little satin and see how she reacts. Instead of going cross-eyed staring at her boobs trying to imagine what they'd look like in it, get her to feel it: pick it up, touch it, step back and let her look at the size in case she's embarrassed. If she's hesitating, ask her what she's thinking. She may even want you to wait patiently outside while she buys, in case she wants to surprise you. Either way in this scenario you're going to end up with a lingerie-wearing girlfriend, so you might think "Why should I bother?" but a little effort in the preliminary buying stage equals more chance of you both enjoying the experience so much that you want to do it again. And again. And - you get it.


So the pair of you are out shopping. Assuming you've not upset her, and that she's not shopping for herself or the house, you are safe to assume she is shopping for either you or someone else.

If it's you, then there's a damn good reason she's brought you along. You might need new shoes, or a tasteful jumper. Come Christmas or Birthday, my other half always seems to ask "But how did you know I liked this?" I could claim clairvoyancy but the truth is it's because I watch him when he thinks I'm not looking. I see what he thumbs idly while I'm shopping for myself. If you suspect she's canvassing you, feel free to throw her a few clues.

Quite often, the problem isn't "What would he wear?" but "What would he never be seen dead in?" If she is near something you dislike, e.g. polo shirts, make a point of saying that you don't like them. Likewise, if you like black socks but hate white ones, say something like "I'd rather have black socks than white ones." Try to relate it to a little story to make sure she remembers: "I'd rather have black socks than white ones, because white ones look chavvy." Or "I'd rather have black socks than white ones, because I need them for work." If she ever picks up white socks, something will trigger in her brain to remind her of your dislike for them.


If she is shopping for a friend or family member, the pressure is off you slightly. Most women pride themselves on being able to 'profile' their and their partner's friends and family. For example, a woman's mental Christmas list may look like this:

MY DAD: Likes Top Gear but has all the DVDs. Likes Garden Gnomes but is allergic to Plaster of Paris.
MY SISTER: Just got a new kitchen so will want new cutlery. Likes red things - maybe something to go with that ornamental oil decanter she got from Crete on her Honeymoon?
PARTNER'S BROTHER: Loaned Partner his Kings of Leon CD which got trodden on. Replace.
PARTNER'S MUM: Likes soap, but everyone gets her soap. Says "I don't need anything" but she might WANT something. Noticed bottle of perfume in bathroom running low, she told me it was Nina Ricci. How about a gift set?

Here's the good news: your girlfriend should not expect you to think in this odd manner, and if you do, we should not expect your ideas to correlate directly with ours. If you know for a fact that your mum hated that perfume, please tell us. It is important to discuss gift ideas together when shopping, so don't clam up.

If you genuinely don't know, particularly when it comes to a female relative like your sister, auntie, gran or mum, this is what we are here for. Use us to our full purpose. Have you heard your mum and girlfriend making small talk? It's where we learn the name of that designer she likes, her birthstone, her favourite nail polish or make-up brand: things you might not necessarily ask your mum, and for good reason. We shouldn't be patronising you; if you did happen to ask your mum about that tea set she adores then please share, but if your girlfriend gets on well with your female family members then assume that they may well have some ideas that they want to share with you. Admitting you don't know is OK in this case. If neither of you know what to do, suggest a time when you could casually ask either the relative themselves or a close cohort, like a partner or sibling.

Well, there you have it - may your new-found wisdom serve you well. If not, then sod off to Facebook and don't come crying to me when you're locked outside your own flat at 4AM.

Tune in next time for another exciting installment - next time focusing on a woman's need for what men deem 'unnecessary preening'.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

In Charge of Christmas

I'm writing this on the first day of 2011; it's nearly 2PM, I haven't yet achieved breakfast let alone dressed myself yet, and I have a stinking riotous cold that is waging full-on war against my straining sinuses, therefore proving that a New Year is a 'refreshed continuation' rather than a brand new start. Basically, you can't turn your back on what happened last year, because last year is the reason you are where you are this year.

Quasi-philosophical garble aside, I've been thinking about the Festive Season and the role of the family.

My last blog featured an article in which Charlotte Metcalf struggled with being the provider of Christmas for her brood. Ignoring the fact that she was also struggling with a monetary transition since her Christmases at Harrod's, the heart of the article was her despair at being unable to provide - whether or not that despair was needless I will leave up to you, the reader. Basically what I'm saying is that she is the provider of Christmas.

Have a think to yourself: Who is "in charge" of Christmas? Who knows where all the presents are? Who bought the wrapping paper, the gifts for the relatives that get overlooked, the cards? Who is cooking the dinner?

I'm aware this may not all be the same person. If it is a parent in a household of small children, then it may well be: in an average 2.4-children-nuclear-family scenario wherein the children are under 14 and both parents work full- or part-time, one can assume that more duties will go to one parent. Have a look at this - it's an advert for pharmacists and retail giant, Boots:

The tagline here is "When he's ill and you don't have time to be...[sic]" Now this advert winds up a lot of men that I know, and I can sort of understand why. But the reason this advert is made is down to the natural differences in man and woman. 'Rachel' and her blue-hatted friend have a lot to do: but why can't they take a leaf from their husbands' book, stay at home and dose up? Do Blue-Hat's kids really need to go swimming? Can Rachel not put her packing off for a bit and have a much-needed kip instead?

My recent visit to my family home proved this. My Dad had been left in charge of the home for a while, and the kitchen was clear - no food wrappers left lying about, no dirty plates, washing up all done and put away. I went over to the gas hobs, took the grating off and started to clean it. "You've got the woman's touch," said my Dad. "You take care of extra things your brother and I may not notice straight away." Sometimes, women get the feeling that if they don't do it nobody will - even if that statement isn't true. Quite often I'll go into the bathroom to wash my face and end up cleaning the sink, and my boyfriend will come in and say "Why are you doing that now?"

Guys buy the gifts and get the wrapping done and put the gifts under the Christmas tree. Girls buy the gifts and get the wrapping done and put the gifts under the tree, then they put out candles on the table. They make Christmas cake and blu-tack the cards to the window frame. Not that guys won't do this, but women will typically go and find extra activities. It unlocks a sense of achievement in us that you guys might find in completing a video game or a crossword puzzle. I'm not trying to generalise here, these are not cruel and jeering stereotypes, merely observations.

It might well be your mum who was in charge of Christmas when you were a child, and the mantle has now passed through some circumstance or another to your dad, your wife or girlfriend, or another family member like an auntie or an older sibling. Whoever it was this year, make sure you take care of them now Christmas is over. Make sure they know that their contribution is valued by you and the family, and let them know you are able to help if they want you to. And most importantly, enjoy the time you get to spend together.

Now I'm off to write the poems for the inside of Hallmark cards.