Friday, 31 October 2014

Around the Cauldron – Dark little tales for Hallowe’en

Today is All Hallows’ Eve, a day when (according to Christian tradition which usurped the older Pagan festival of Salmain) ghoulies and ghosties and all manners of evil supernatural beings come out for a night of revelry before the holy All Saints’ Day. 

All I know is that it's a great excuse for me to put my dark narrative hat on to tell you a story or two that might send a small shiver down your spine.
Here's one to get us started...

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Guilt trip

“Don’t encourage them,” he snapped at his teenage son who was rummaged in his pocket for some change for the beggar outside the Underground station. “You’re not helping, just feeding his habit. Probably catch something just handing over my hard-earned cash too.”

He eyed the stinking bundle of rags with suspicion as he meticulously tapped a cigarette out its packet, then looked away and lit it, forming a tent with his hands to shelter the lighter’s flame from the guttering gusts of autumn wind. He closed one eye against the sting of the smoke as the red glow caught and nibbled at the filter paper.

Behind him, rheumy eyes bore into him from behind the cardboard sign “HOMELESS AND HUNGRY. PLEASE HELP”.

Phil grabbed his boy’s elbow and propelled him away, intent on putting as much distance as possible between his only child and the street scum littering the pavement. He changed the subject, driving home the importance of making a good impression, making sure his son understood that he was expected to make a good impression and not let the side down.

The fly that settled on the back of his neck warranted no more of his attention that the filthy beggar they left behind. It was just slapped away and forgotten, but not before biting the tender, open-pored flesh just above his collar.

*******************

Later that afternoon, father and son made their way across the Square. The boy’s head hung low, despondent, as Phil jabbed at him with angry words berating him for failing to win a place at the prestigious school he had set his sights on. John bit back his words, knowing they would find no welcome, and stared at the ground before him.

They never saw the beggar, slumped like a deflated sentry at the station entrance, watching the subterranean slowly swallow them as they rolled down the escalator to the platforms. They never saw his minute nod across the concourse to a grossly fat, red-cheeked woman in too-big carpet slippers secured with string, pushing a trolley filled with plastic supermarket bags. Nor did they notice when she whistled down the steps to a young, wasted man lolling against a column.

A low rumble and a gust of stale air heralded the arrival of the train. Phil pushed his way into the carriage, sneering in disgust as he brushed against the dead-eyed, unwashed youth that stepped aboard with his boy. His hand shot out and grabbed John’s wrist as he saw him reaching for his pocket to hand over a few coins for a sandwich or hot coffee. “I told you before. Isn’t it about time you started to listening to me?” he barked. John shrugged an apology to the parchment-skinned junkie and glared at his father’s angry back, wondering where that black mark on the nape of his neck had come from.    

*******************

Three in morning. Phil’s eyes snapped open in panic, frantically looking into the black before him, trying to make sense of the nightmare images of endless brick-lined tunnels that had shattered his sleep. He waited for his vision to adjust to the darkness, but it remained impenetrable, oppressive. A solid weight sat on his chest and he reached a hand out to dislodge Jet, his wife’s black cat (or witch’s familiar as he liked to call it). His hand met no warm dark fur with a beating heart beneath – just a pool of icy cold darkness that seemed to swallow his hand.

*******************

As he stretched his jowls to shave the next morning, Phil’s eyes were drawn to a mark on his neck, reaching dark fingers around from the back. After a momentary flash of dread, he put all thoughts of malignant melanoma out of his mind, splashed on some aftershave and fastened his collar and tie just a little bit tighter than normal before heading out the door for his morning commute.

On the train, he enjoyed more breathing space than usual, his fellow passengers giving him a wide berth. Not that is bothered him – better for him not be rammed up against the scroungers, losers and filthy foreigners scattered through the wagon heaving with commuters. It didn’t occur to him that the black mark reaching around to his larynx or his waxy ochre-tinged skin might have something to do with it.

The train lurched to a halt between stations. Suppressed groans of annoyance floated above the passengers as they waited for it to start moving again. It didn’t. Instead the lights blinked out plunging the carriage into darkness. The faint glow of a dozen mobile phone screens bounced off the windows and penetrated the gloom beyond. Grimyy bricks walls looked back at the commuters. Phil shuddered, shrugging off vague memories of his nightmare and trying to harness his racing pulse. His hand strayed to the back of his neck, nervously playing with the place from where the stain was slowly but surely spreading. Unknown to him, a new spot was rapidly forming on his left cheekbone.

The lights flickered back on and the train creaked back into motion. Passengers exchanged looks of annoyance and tutted at the ceiling. Phil drew a juddering breathe and exhaled with a shaky wheeze, clutching at the upright pole for support. At the next stop, the train spilled out its load of city wage-slaves, Phil among them. He shifted his briefcase to his other hand and held tight onto the handrail of the escalator heading upwards to ground level, emerging in the morning light with a gasp to be greeted by a wide toothless grin from the beggar in his usual spot at the entrance. He looked Phil in the eye, winked theatrically and raised his dirt-engrained fingers to his temple in a mocking salute.

The working day passed like any other. Sat in his cubicle, Phil worked methodically through the pile of outgoing cases, correcting the mistakes of the inept and ingrates he had to work with, never leaving his desk to make small-talk at the water cooler or coo over some idiot’s latest batch of sickening baby photos. His coat felt unusually heavy as he shrugged it on after dropping the last file into his Out box and turning off the lights. His eyes burned and a cold sweat played on his brow. Probably coming down with a fever from one of those low-lifes on the train, he thought. 

Stepping out into the evening drizzle, he took care not to slip on the slick pavement, and made his way gingerly to the station. The rain plastered his hair to his head, sending rivulets down his temples. He felt oh, so tired. His vision swam and he grabbed the banister on the steps down the station.

Gasping for breath, he would have cheered if he had the strength. Coming his way, looking the very picture of wholesome youth, was John, arm in arm with some copy/paste girl from his crowd. He reached out a hand to appeal to his son for help, but the boy looked straight through him, not recognising his own father beneath the rapid decay his day had wrought. “Don’t feel sorry for them,” he told the girl on his arm. “My dad’s right. It’s all a scam – he probably would have picked my pocket if I’d let him get close enough.”

Defeated, Phil made his painful way down the steps to the platform. It was packed full of damp, steaming commuters. Seeking somewhere to rest, he inched to the end of the platform and leant against the cracked tiles, waiting for the train. It wasn’t due for another another 12 minutes. He let out a ragged sigh and closed his weary eyes.

A wave of unwashed body odour flowed past and a soft shushing noise roused him. He opened his eyes to see the obese bag lady standing next to him in her ill-fitting carpet slippers looking straight at him, smiling, and beckoning for him to follow her. Once she was sure she had his attention, she turned and manoeuvred her bulk past the little gate separating the platform from the tunnel beyond. Phil watched in bemusement as she was swallowed by the darkness, then followed.

It was like stepping into his dream. Brick walls, slimy with something unmentionable, and an undefinable stench of something damp, cold, rancid but very much alive washed over him. But he felt no dread.  He let the soft, sweet darkness engulf him as he realised that this was where his life had been leading him all along.

Years of blaming others, condemning outsiders, laying the faults of the world at the feet of outcasts had paved his way in life. 
Now, at last, he had changed lanes. This was his journey’s end.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

If you’re still in the mood for some Hallowe’en reading, maybe you’d like to check out ‘Incubus’ at http://shemeanswellbut.blogspot.gr/2014/01/incubus.html or ‘Rapture’http://shemeanswellbut.blogspot.gr/2014/04/rapture.html

I’m hoping to add more little dark tales before midnight – both from my own pen and from anyone who wants to add their voice around the cauldron. If you want to join in the fun, add a click to your story in the comments, or send me the tale with a couple of lines describing yourself, and I’ll add it as a guest post.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Slattern’s Guide to… housework

This is where we really get down and dirty to the nitty gritty.

Housework. One of life’s great necessary evils, and one which – despite the fact that we think we’re now enlightened and advanced – is still mostly laid firmly at the feet of a person of the female persuasion.

That is not good news for us slatterns.

No-one likes housework. Some claim to, but they really mean is that they like the end result, not the process. And if they still insist they enjoy scrubbing the toilet bowl, picking out soapy clumps of hair clogging out of the plughole, or wiping unmentionable stains off the furniture, they’re either lying, in urgent need of professional help – or welcome to come and indulge their fetish at my house.

Household chores are where things really get serious, and seriously unpleasant, for those of us born under the sign of the slattern. While there is pleasure to be gained from some of the subjects we’ve talked about so far in this Guide – like clothes and food – housework holds no potential for fun, role play or hedonistic indulgence. It just has to be done, the faster the better, if you don’t want to be buried under a mountain of your own detritus or savaged by those weird dust bunnies that magically reproduce under the bed.

Like most of you reading this (it IS, after all, a Slattern’s Guide) I’m no natural-born housewife, hausfrau, femme au foyer, νοικοκυρά, ama de casa, whatever you like to call it – not in anyone’s language. I can talk the hind leg off a donkey, I can be a great friend, I’m good at my job, I can make you laugh, sometimes make you cry and when all else fails I can whip up a storm in the kitchen. Just don’t expect Martha Stewart perfection when it comes to cleaning up afterwards.

Ironic then, that the man I feel in love with all those years ago, and with whom I have made a life (and a boy child along the way) is Greek. A real Greek Greek. In Greece. With a classic stay-at-home Greek mama.
Ah, and did I mention he’s also the first-born and the only son?

When we moved in together, I attempted to distract any sidewards glances of disapproval of our the unwed cohabitation by being the perfect hostess – ALL THE BLOODY TIME.

We moved into our flat in November and during the first month we received 56 visits from friends, family and assorted well-wishers bringing us sweets and good wishes for our new home. They usually arrived unannounced, sometimes less half an hour after I’d arrived home from work.
So, I had to make sure the place was perfect – ALL THE BLOODY TIME.

The alternative was a mad last-minute dash round the place with the hoover, with a duster stuck between my buttocks, as I bustled round grabbing stray items and stuffing them in cupboards, then rearranging furniture to keep the doors closed against the heaving mass hiding within before combing my wayward hair and slapping some lippy and a grin on my face to greet our guests. 

By Christmas, I was an exhausted, quivering mass of knackerdom hiding under the pile of untamed gift wrappings shoved out of sight behind the extravagantly decorated tree.
  
That January, I made the only New Year’s Resolution I have ever kept – to stop trying to meet the impossibly high standards of the Greek mother and housewife, and just do my best.

Immediately, the pressure was off. I let myself slob out on the sofa reading, despite the pile of ironing lurking in the corner. I hid all tablecloths and started using raffia mats instead. I banished all doilies and crocheted covers for…   well, pretty much everything (armchair headrests, coffee tables, sideboards, even TVs and fridges) even though it ran the risk of offending well-meaning family members who generously donated them in the hope of making me a fit woman for one of their men. Dust-magnets…  sorry, assorted ornaments and  trinkets….  were gathered up, wrapped lovingly in newspaper, then  shoved into a box hidden in the spare room.
In short, I simplified things.

Of course, I knew I had to keep the house decent, but I was buggered if I was going to it solo. Poor Nikos probably didn’t know what hit him, but fair’s fair, right?

Fast forward a couple of decades and – perhaps surprisingly – we’re still together. The house is mostly clean, though not usually entirely tidy. We try to pass it of as having 'character', with a dash of creative flair (a great euphemism for lack of domestic order). We devote one day a week to beating back the chaos when we wave a duster at the furniture, chuck bleach at strategic surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom, and terrify the cat by dragging the vacuum cleaner (a.k.a. The Screaming Box of Demons) from its lair to roar through the rooms in an orgy of dust sucking.

But the place is always lightly littered with books, scraps of papers, ashtrays, cameras, flash drives, guitars cushioned in chairs designed for human rumps, random notebooks and biros (never together) and feral teacups. I think there’s a mythical beast of some kind living at the back of our Tuppercare cupboard, which pushes the entire contents onto the floor whenever some foolish mortal dares open the doors. There are no fresh-cut blooms on my sideboard, not a stitch of crocheted handiwork or gleaming silver-plated candlesticks. There just an old baglama (a traditional Greek stringed instrument – think of a mini-bouzouki hewn from a single piece of mulberry wood), some headphones, a forgotten shopping list, an anonymous but hardy plant in a blue pot that’s survived our neglect, and a large hourglass filled with purple sand.  

We don’t live in squalor. We can find things when we need them (most of the time). Visitors don’t risk any interesting illnesses previously unknown to medical science, and our son has survived to almost-manhood in one piece (we’ll talk about the Slattern’s Guide to Childrearing another time). Even my mother-in-law has stopped checking the windowsills and table tops for grime.

There’s really only way that a slattern can survive the obstacle course of domesticity without losing her sanity. And that is…   relax.

And always keep one room, with a lockable door, available as a dumping ground for debris when unexpected guests come a-calling. Just make sure you’ve had a glass or two of your favourite tipple before you turn the key and enter.

Cheers!

    

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Bilingual bad language [WARNING: CONTAINS SWEARING – Avert your eyes/ears, Mother!]

There are many advantages to living the life bilingual, but possibly the most delicious one has to do with behaving badly.

Having been brought up in a nice, respectable family in the nice, respectable wilds of deepest Surrey, I’m not much of a potty mouth. 

I’m no angel, of course. The occasional “Shit!”, “Fuck!” or "Bugger!" blurts out, but I usually follow-up by looking round to make sure the Mother Ship isn't listening. As we were growing up, Mum had a zero tolerance policy on swearing, except for "Bugger" which for some reason no-one really understands, she uses frequently and with great gusto and simply doesn't consider it bad language at all, despite repeatedly having the dictionary definition  shoved under her nose. I’m still smarting from the memory of having my mouth washed out with a bar of Lifebuoy soap after sticking two fingers up at her in a fit of pre-teen pique. But to her credit, I grew up surrounded by books and so entered adulthood armed with a vocabulary that lets me express EXACTLY what I feel without resorting to ‘naughty’ words.

But the truth is, there are times when you want to – no, you NEED to – just let rip and turn the air blue.

Enter the joys of speaking Greek.

It’s a great language for letting rip (if you don’t believe me, just pay a visit to the nearest Greek tax office). 

It's a terrific language for obscenity. The Hellenic dictionary of foul language is filled with words that are meaty and fibrous, they fill your mouth (oo-er Missus!) and the satisfy that need within you to tell that *****   ******   ******   who just cut in front of you just what you of think of him – and if you’re in the UK, there’s a good chance he won’t have the foggiest what you just said.

It’s an earthy, colourful tongue filled with heartfelt oaths and insults to help you spill your guts and vent your spleen when you really need to. You can shout out an explosive expletive of Γαμώ τη πουτάνα μου!” (Translation, to be said in your most measured BBC received pronunciation: Fuck my prostitute), Τι στο σκατα?” (What the shit?), Αι σιχτίρ!” (Go to hell - I believe dating back the days when Greece was occupied by the Ottomans) and other delicious γαμοσταυρίδια (assorted obscenities) without making anyone bat an eyelid. 

Back in Blighty, though swearing is pretty mainstream these days, many everyday Greek oaths would be frowned on for their extreme lack of Politically Correctness. Here, they're par for the course - and it’s probably a lot healthier than the British habit of swallowing our bile and letting it fester inside.

It also comes virtually guilt-free for an English import like me. I know it's swearing, but having come to the language as an adult and not an impressionable child, it doesn't really feel like I'm being bad.  

Since slotting my oh-so-British self into Greek society more than two decades ago, I've gained the ability to swear graphically without inflicting an iota’s worth of damage to my ‘good girl’ halo from the land of my birth.

And by assimilating my bilingual vocabulary of bad language I have created something of hybrid, which keeps my Greek Other Half entertained. He still chuckles at the memory of me flying round the house in the early days of our marriage, desperately trying to create a pretense of tidiness for my mother-in-law’s surprise visit, and roaring a frustrated “Oh, bloody, fucking γαμώτο!” as a wardrobe door that refused to stay closed against the pile of scrunched-up clothes stuffed into it.

Greek is great for releasing such frustrations. I’m so glad to have its panoply of obscenities at my disposal. I believe I’m a healthier woman for it (or maybe I just need to be, to deal with some of the practicalities of daily life here?).

But there’s one word that my Greek will never replace. It’s one only a true Brit (or possibly an Aussie) can say convincingly. It’s simple, direct, and conveys utter contempt – especially when delivered in a total dead-pan response.

It is, of course, “Bollocks”.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Slattern’s Guide to… the kitchen

Let’s get one thing straight. Slattern is not a synonym for lazy cow. You can pack up all those preconceptions and mental images of kitchens piled to the ceiling in half empty take-away boxes and unfinished Pot Noodles. That is not the way of the slattern – well, not every day.

At heart, the true slattern is a hedonist – actually, she’s a HEDONIST is bold capitals. She loves the good things in life, so she savours the smells, tastes, textures and even the sounds of good food. She also loves to experiment. She just does it HER way.

Of course, there’s plenty of room in the gastronomic life of a slattern for those precious moments shoveling instant noodles into your mouth as you catch up on that vintage movie no-one else ever wanted to see, chewing cold leftover pizza in front of the open fridge for breakfast, scoffing peanut butter by the spoonful whilst you wait for your beloved to finish shaving, or eating baked beans straight from the tin when no-one is looking. It’s all part of life’s rich culinary tapestry.

But there are times when we have to put on a show and play the hostess. 

Instead of being a terrifying ordeal, this is a chance to get down, dirty and diggidly creative in front of the saucepan. It’s an adventure, often an experiment, and there may be collateral damage along the way. But above all, it will be fun and – with luck - tasty.

Just be sure to warn those you share your life with that the kitchen will probably look more like it’s been visited by the poltergeist spectre of Jackson Pollock than the smoothing spirit of a domestic goddess. 

When I cook up a storm, the scene owes more to Diaghilev than Nigella, so the faint-hearted are told to keep their distance. Stray pets enter the kitchen at their peril (and soon beat a hasty retreat at the first sound of banging saucepans). 

For the slattern, food is both about the journey and the destination – but her dining partners would do well to just wait patiently at the table.

Well-trained guests who resist the urge to visit the heaving collection of bubbling cauldrons and piles of vegetable waste in your kitchen may even be fooled into thinking you are a genuine Domestic Goddess (capital D, capital G).

It’s a handy trick when trying to impress, so here are a few tips:
  • Forget food styling – Life’s too short for a molecule’s worth of pilaf accompanied by a sole lentil and a quartered fig artfully arranged in the upper left-hand of a pure black plate to represent the ultimate futility and artifice of life.
    Tell your guests that you embrace the rustic school of cooking – that way you can get away with dumping messy dollops of your delicious offerings on mismatched plates and calling it art.
  • Embrace short cuts – Are you seriously going to tell me you can tell when your hostess has spent the past 24 hours creating her own puff pastry from scratch (make the dough, fold in butter, roll out and fold three times, chill for an hour, then repeat the whole process ad nauseum)?
    I certainly can’t, especially when it has a shedload of creamy fruity sweetness or a tower of tasty roast veg and cheese added. Ready-made puff pastry is quick and easy – bish, bash, bosh and there you go, ready to have fun with the topping.
    The same goes for tinned beans, chickpeas et al versus the more politically correct dried versions that have to be soaked overnight and boiled for at least an hour before you can even start. Save yourself the grief and boredom and reach for the tinned section every time – no-one will ever know, or care. Jars of ready minced garlic and ginger are also big on saving time, not to mention your nails and knuckles.
  • The freezer is your friend – From frozen veg or fresh herbs to chuck into your creations for a last minute splash of colour, through to sauces, soups, doughs and entire family meals (“Here’s one I made earlier”), the freezer is a life saver.
    Just ask my mum. Though she’s the absolute antithesis of a slattern who could teach both Mary Berry and Martha Stewart a thing or two, she has three – yes, count them, three – freezers packed with enough goodies to see us all through the zombie apocalypse. You’ll never go hungry at Pauline’s, that’s for sure.
  • Go by the book, then throw it away – Create your own unique signature dishes by adapting the original recipe according to your tastes or (more likely) what's hiding in the cupboard. That way, you can graciously give impressed guests the recipe from your piles of Jamie/Nigella/Mary/Heston/whoever cookbooks - but they will NEVER be able to replicate your masterpiece.
  • Save your presentation skills for yourself - Cooking the slattern’s way is a glorious but messy business, so you’re going to get a little disheveled. Or a lot. Cooking naked isn't an option (potentially embarrassing and downright dangerous). So you can either you can carefully cultivate a Boho persona which embraces stray locks of hair, random stains, sweaty cheeks and smudged eyeliner, or chuck an old oversized shirt over your hostess clothes and keep a box of wet wipes , whatever clips/hairbands/bandanas/fascinators you might need and a basic make-up kit hidden in the back of the fridge for a last-minute make-over.
  • Just enjoy the damn food! It doesn’t matter if you tuck into your risotto and Mediterranean veg with a big smear of balsamic cream across your forehead. It's just one more thing that will make it a meal to remember.
Bon appetite, slattern sisters!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Slattern’s Guide to… the snuffles

The first signs are unmistakably, no matter how hard you try to ignore them.

That over-exposed sensitivity scratching at your larynx, the itch in your nasal passages, a dryness of the throat and that oh-so-attractive albino rabbit pink rim around your eyes.
You fight it off for a couple of days, mainlining Vitamin C and echinacea, grabbing a few early nights
 and playing the carry-on game before giving in to it.

But, eventually, you surrender. And that’s when the fun starts.

For a cold - whether it’s an annoying sniffle or full-blown ‘flu with a fever tap-dancing on your brow - presents the perfect opportunity to drop the artifice of respectability and propriety and reveal your true slattern nature to the world, guilt-free.

Of course, you’re going to be feeling like a human version of last week’s left-over chicken soup (well past its best and probably a little funky), but that doesn’t mean you can’t allow yourself to enjoy of the unexpected benefits that come with being under the weather.

Let’s face it, when else can you get away with sprawling on the sofa in your PJs, sipping endless cuppas brewed by sympathetic family members, watching crap TV, moaning dramatically to draw attention to your plight as you sit there in a cloud of self-pity surrounded by rapidly stiffening balls of crumpled-up tissues used to stem the flow coming from the mucus-factory that's taken up residence in your upper respiratory tract? 

One look at your rheumy eyes, chapped nostrils and cracked lips will melt the heart of even the harshest mother-in-laws and move them to boil up nourishing soups to speed your recovery (just be prepared for the inevitable long, detailed narrative of great colds she or her precious offspring have endured over the years served up with the soup).  

A pitiful look from beneath the bundle of housecoats and duvets you’ve wrapped yourself in might solicit a nice Hot Toddy from your significant other if you manage to sneeze, sniff and sigh in their direction enough.

So, don’t try to conceal your sneezing fits, dramatic sniffs and the special relationship you’ve developed with a soggy hanky. Let rip. How else is the world going to know what you’re going through, and move them forgive you for your full frontal unashamed display of slatternry? 

Cultivate a husky voice, bravely croaking “Oh, I’ll live” in response to kindly enquiries about your health. Some fellas out there find it a turn-on, though the chances of you feeling up to responding with any kind of sensual enthusiasm are probably on a par with the likelihood of Queen Elizabeth popping out to the nearest open-all-hours branch of Tesco to pick up a bottle of cheap plonk, a few alcopops and a bumper bag of cheesy Wotsits for a good Saturday night in.

Just one word of warning: do not, whatever you do, allow your nearest and dearest to catch your cold. The minute they do – especially if the menfolk start displaying symptoms – your time of wallowing in your paddling pool of slatternly self-pity and sympathy are history.


Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Slattern’s Guide to… The Wardrobe


Angie baby: über-slattern?
Newsflash: Angela Merkel is our sister.

Yes, you heard me.
Angela Merkel - German Chancellor,
über hausfrau and scourge of struggling EU economies - is a slattern.

It’s not a conclusion I arrived at easily, believe me. I certainly don’t feel much natural affiliation with the lady, her politics, her material conservatism or her fiscal housekeeping fetish. But a quick flick through her cuttings file will soon reveal why she belongs to the international sisterhood of slatterns.

No matter what’s she’s up to – having a go at Greece, irritating Italians, or trying to put Putin in his place – one thing never changes. Her clothes: smart trousers, neither tight or baggy, topped with a boxy jacket in a variety of fabrics, colours and finishes.She found what works for her and she's sticking to it.

It’s her go-to signature style, giving her a serious, presentable image suitable for the world stage, but ultimately comfortable and requiring minimum thought when opening the wardrobe door at the beginning of each new day.

The way of the slattern is born in our intolerance for the trivial and fundamental refusal to waste time and effort on fripperies (unless they're purely hedonistic and possibly hilarious). That’s why Merkel’s the ultimate ‘slattern-posing-as-highflying-professional’ solution is just the thing for us, circumventing our natural instincts to slouch around in shapeless t-shirts and baggy thousand-times-washed jeans and offering a rising world leader a sartorial entry to the corridors of power.

So, in this special edition of The Slattern’s Guide, we asked our unexpected soul sistah Angie to give us some of her style counsel tips:
  • Take a tip from the boys to get ahead by getting a suit. Even that snapped bustenhalten strap held in place with an aged nappy pin beneath your shirt will look smart when hidden under a jacket.
  • A jacket also gives you the freedom to wear a variety of shirts, blouses and tops, without worrying about the coffee stains and smears of strudel on the sleeve, the rip in the back or even about ironing anything but the front panel visible between your lapels.
  • Avoid linen like the plague – unless you want to look the state of the Greek economy in jacket form. Favour instead crease-resistant sturdy fabrics with the staying power of the Berlin Wall (erm, no, scratch that), I mean a Panzer tank or a top-of-the-line Mercedes.
  • Steppen out, slattern style – Eliminate the risk of falling over and making a fool of yourself by steering clear of vertiginous heels and going for a safe, smart and (above all) comfortable sensible shoes, a la Queen Elizabeth II. Believe me, lieblings, the last thing you need when you mean business is worrying about the risk of twisted ankles and crushed pinky toes.
  • Keep hair and make-up basic, simple and constant. Never give anyone reason to comment on your style and you’ll be able to carry on your no-thought, no-frills wardrobe choices ad infinitum. Tucking your hair behind your ears and adding a slick of lipstick also has the advantage of taking 1 minute every morning, tops.
  • Accessorise! Detract attention from the fact that you’re wearing the same trouser suit for the evening gala that you had on when ripping the opposition off a strip in the Reistag two days before, by replacing your standard string of pearls with a fancy or whimsical necklace. 
  • Don’t sweat the kilos – isn’t there enough to worry about without pinching an inch and stressing out about your BMI? In best EU style, what you can't streamline, cover up!
  • At the end of the day, when you’ve closed the doors behind you and kicked off your sensible shoes into the corner, let yourself go. Pull on those smelly sweat pants crumpled beneath your dispatch box, shrug on your favourite dressing gown and slump down with a bier and a wurst sandwich in front of the telly. No-one will ever know, I promise.
So there you have it, ladies. You too can be yourself and yet fool the world that you are totally im Kontrolle with a minimum of fuss.

Next step: World domination!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Embrace your inner slattern (you know you want to!)

Have you ever arrived at the office with a smear of toothpaste on your collar or a ladder offering a stairway to…   somewhere creeping up the back of your leg?
Is your guilty pleasure (when no-one’s looking) scoffing a cheese & onion crisp sandwich with slabs of butter, preferably eaten in front of the telly in sweat pants older than your best friend?
Do you regularly perform the rummage and sniff test (in the laundry basket) when planning your day’s outfit?
Have you ever eaten cold baked beans straight from the tin or leftover cold pizza for breakfast?
Do you throw away more mascara and eyeliner-stained pillowcases than you do cotton wool balls?
Have you ever ripped the wrapper off that forbidden ready-made pasty and stuffed it into your mouth in an ecstasy of gluttony and crumbs before you reach the car with the rest of your supermarket haul?
Do you believe a regular skin-care regime is something that only Disney Princesses have time for?
Have you been known to wipe that spilled olive oil left from your latest culinary experiment onto your head thinking it will be good for the hair?
Did you ever find yourself yanking your skirt back down to knee level after your frantic waddle to the bus stop bunches it up around your oh-so-visible panty line?

If you are, have been, or are ever likely to be guilty of any or all of the above, then - my dear - you are a slattern. 

Welcome to the Club.

It’s an all-embracing sisterhood, unlike those bands of perfect poppets flung in our faces via TV ads and mail order mediocrity. You won’t be thrown out for having chipped nail polish or poorly plucked eyebrows. A smudged line of what started life as a cute kitten flick across your lash line will be laughed off (and possibly wiped off with a lick of spit and the edge of a coat sleeve). And as for those elsewhere unacceptable visible roots, well we all need to know where we’ve come from, don’t we girls?

If there’s more books, lipsticks minus lids, mismatched socks and empty tampon boxes decorating your bedroom than carefully-coordinated duvet cover and curtain combos, join us. You won’t regret it.

The only unforgivable crime is losing the ability to laugh – particularly at yourself.

But first, let’s get down to basics. What exactly is a slattern?

The term probably dates back to beyond the 1600s, coming from good old down-to-earth northern roots: possibly from the Scandinavian slatter (to slop), the Old Norse sletta (to slap) or slattari (idler), the German schlottern (to hang loosely, slouch) or the Dutch slodderen (to hang loosely).

You get the picture, right?

It is usually used to describe a woman who is “negligent of her dress, or who suffers her clothes and household furniture to be in disorder; one who is not neat and nice; a slut, a sloven”
Or perhaps someone who simply has better things to do than obsess about the skin-deep.

I’m not saying that we’re not above making an effort to be respectable and presentable, we’re just not going to beat ourselves up when we fall short of the mark. We know that the ability to enjoy a good belly laugh is a greater life skill than never having your lippy bleed into those crinkly lines around your mouth. We also know that even Nigella, Angelina and Uma all have days when all they want to do is just flob out on the settee in their hubby’s oversized socks, overstretched leggings and a t-shirt that stands up on its own in the corner when you take it off.   

It’s time to come out of the closet, sisters (yes, even that one in the back room where you frantically stuff all the unironed laundry when mother-in-law pays an impromptu visit). Stand proud, brush those pet hairs off your chest, tug that stray lock of hair behind your ear and look the world square in the eye to declare “Yes, I’m a slattern. You got a problem with that?”

Not only are slatterns experts at forgiving themselves for not being perfect, they are smart cookies with a (messy) shedload of tricks to help fool the world that they’ve got everything under control.

But more of that later, as we introduce The Slattern’s Guide to…   well, to paraphrase someone somewhere, Life, the Universe and Everything.

For now, pull up a cushion, flop down on it with the elegance of a sack of spuds and join us. We may not look good, but sure as hell know how to be real.