Smells like summer

Pepe le Pew

I recently had the pleasure of reading Patrick Suskind’s “Perfume” and was overwhelmed by the skill with which he captured the smells of eighteenth century France, particularly the overcrowded city of Paris. He described stenches so foul that our twenty first century pampered orifices would struggle to cope with even a smidgen of the rancid odours. At some point I wasn’t sure whether to feel revolted or ecstatic at the thought of perceiving some of the smells he described. Thankfully I didn’t get carried away and try to recreate anything pungent. There were many reasons for the odours around in those days and most of them were due to poor hygiene and incurable diseases – no one in their right mind would want to recreate that!

But as much as it is fine to spare a thought for those who lived in those days, I still find the assault of the stenches in our modern day cities too much to bear, especially in the summer months. Although we have been saved from the combined stench of food rotting in streets, decaying diseased bodies, overflowing sewers and unwashed bodies, we are faced with an inexcusable dilemma created by the lazy and the vain. In London today, the worst offending human odours can be narrowed down to three – eggy suntan lotions, bad breath and body odour.

Why, oh why would anyone want to smell of rotten eggs? I’m lucky enough not to need to tan and I have to admit I don’t get the whole thought process, but I’m willing to not judge people who feel the need to appear a completely different colour from what they are naturally meant to be. What I can’t understand is why in supposed developed countries, someone hasn’t found a way to outlaw the lotions that make anyone standing ten meters away from the offending body retch constantly until they find a way to escape the air space. Apparently the chemical that causes this smell is called dihydroxyacetone and companies try to mask the smell with essential oils, but they tend to start smelling a couple hours after application. DIHYDROXYACETONE! I don’t know about you but that just sounds freaking scary to me. Let your skin breathe people! Let it breathe! Continue reading


Short Story 2: The Morning After

(Another one from the writing group but this time not an exercise so doesn’t really have a theme.)

The Morning After

She lay silently on her side of the bed, watching his chest rise and fall as he took long deep breaths in, out, producing a familiar humming sound. He always slept flat on his back even if he started off on his side. At some point in his twenty six years of existence, his body had decided that it gained the most rest if he slept lying upright and as still as a corpse. It freaked most people out but she was used to it by now. In, out, deep breaths, hum.

“I can’t sleep if you’re watching me,” he spoke sharply without opening his eyes. Anyone else would have been startled by the sudden break in the silence but she didn’t seem troubled.

“We need to talk.”

He ignored her and carried on pretending to sleep, it was now obvious that was what he had been doing for a while.

“You have to tell her.”

That did the trick. He opened his eyes and turned to look at her with small piercing eyes still heavy with sleep but trying really hard to intimidate. She stared him down and he turned away.

“If you don’t tell her, I will.”

At this he rose from the bed in one swift movement and went into the connecting bathroom. She waited for the obligatory flush and lay there whilst he brushed his teeth with the spare toothbrush he had kept at her flat for years. She was sick of this. Sick of lying to herself about the situation. Sick of watching him lie to his wife of three years. Claire. Her friend. The mother of his twin sons. How could he live with himself, going home to them with stories spun so well that he probably even believed them a little? She could barely sleep when he spent the night at her tiny one bedroom flat, the guilt tore her apart like nothing else had ever done. Continue reading

Attack of the eco cyclists

courtesy FreeFoto.comIn the environmentally conscious world we live in, it is perhaps a little daring to suggest that cycling is anything but a divine act that we should all engage in or at least promote in the wider society. But this is not a blog about the merits of abandoning gas guzzling monsters in place of bicycles. This is about cyclists; and not just any type of cyclists, London cyclists.

I never learnt how to cycle properly in my childhood; to be honest I was never really interested in learning and I still have no plans to learn. In fact I was recently put to shame by my godson as he raced round me in circles while I wobbled along and fell off his mum’s bike (he wasn’t even three years old at the time). So I think attempting to cycle in a city where manic white van drivers run rampant is not a good idea.

Somewhere along the line, I learnt how to drive (don’t even ask how) and now sometimes I even consider myself to be a better driver than I am a pedestrian. Yes, I am one of those irritating people who will occasionally dash out into the street when I see my bus advancing on the other aside of the road but I’d wait and wait and wait at the dotted white line at the end of a road just to make sure I don’t get crushed by another car. So as an ok pedestrian and a decent motorist, my prejudice towards two wheelers might be a tad bit inflated but the evidence speaks for itself. Continue reading

Short Story 1: PM flies out for talks with Obama

(I’ve written a few short stories as part of the exercises in the writing group sessions I attend and I know they will die a sad death on my PC if i don’t share them so I’m hoping this is the first of many monthly or bi-monthly stories I will post for you guys. Word count is usually around 500 to 1000 words so never too long. This is the first one we tackled last year – the heading was picked off a daily paper which was lying on a table in the library staff room where we meet. It made for some interesting writing in the group. Hope you enjoy it. PS – This is based on fictional characters and the use of Obama’s name is purely incidental.)

“PM flies out for talks with Obama”


“Maybe I should start off with the joke about the American, the Englishman and the Irishman.” The PM stood in front of the full length mirror, adjusting his blue tie. He always thought he looked a little bit like a twit in a tie but the dress code for the job was not very flexible.

His wife looked up at him with some alarm. “The joke your uncle told last Christmas? Are you serious?”

The PM made a face at his wife. He had been serious about it but she was right. There was probably a hidden inappropriate meaning to the joke that Mr Obama would undoubtedly see through with his sharp wit.

“I can’t think of any other joke. Do you know any I can tell to lighten the mood? He’s a funny chap, he’ll probably have plenty to say.”

His wife got up then and went to place a reassuring hand on her husband’s cheek. You don’t need to be funny too love, I’m sure you’ll be fine. He can be funny for the both of you.”

“I doubt it. He wants to talk about BP and the Lockerbie situation. There’s nothing particularly cheery about that.”

“See, you’ll never get the chance to worry about amusing him. Besides you will be in his country so it might be best if you leave the entertainment to him.”

The PM smiled. She always knew how to put him at ease when he got paranoid about things like that.

“I really wish…”

A knock at their bedroom door interrupted him. It was probably his PA waiting to remind him of his tight schedule.

“I really wish you could come with me.” Continue reading

Stop and stare

A colleague sent this link to me last week which got me thinking about the way we perceive one another in our cities.

Don’t worry, it’s not a dodgy link, it’s a webpage from the actor Jeff Bridges’s website. It talks about an experiment in which one of the world’s finest violinist, Joshua Bell, went to busk (undercover) at a subway station in Washington, DC. As you would expect, the number of people that stopped to appreciate the world class music was slim to none and it raises the question – what are we missing out in our lives just because we’ve become accustomed to the things around us and have perfected our reactions towards them?

A few months ago I would have scoffed and empathised with the people who took no notice of the musician but after I found myself in a similar position in March this year, my reaction after reading the webpage was different. I volunteered to hand out free copies of the award winning book “Half of a Yellow Sun” as part of the new reading incentive World Book Night. That is of course nothing compared to what the violinist was trying to accomplish but the idea was – me outside a busy tube station handing out “free”…again, “free” books. Easy – or so I thought. I dragged along my sister for moral support and because there is safety in numbers and let’s be honest, London is too dodgy for me to be standing alone outside a station looking like a weirdo giving stuff out. Continue reading

Fangs, but no thanks

Don’t get me wrong, I love vampire tales as much as the next person and I am sadly one of the millions of people mildly obsessed with TV shows like Vampire Diaries and True Blood – plus I have read all the Twilight books (ok, I had no choice, they were sitting in my flat and had to be read or binned) and watched all the movies so far (Team Jacob if you were wondering), but that’s just the problem. Everything in the fantasy world these days seems to be about vampires. Everything. Oh and werewolves and shape shifters and don’t forget the witches. You can’t have a good vampire story without all three of them surfacing at some point. In fact I think I’m now grossly disappointed if I watch a vampire show or movie and it only has vampires in it. My brain keeps wondering why a witch hasn’t appeared out of nowhere to cast a spell on someone or why scantily clad werewolves aren’t strutting across the screen baring their teeth at the pale skinned ones before morphing into oversized dogs (in broad daylight nonetheless). Continue reading

Got Green Milk?

My first post…arghhhh!

Ok, seriously…on my way to work earlier this week I was startled by a bus advert with the lovely image of Ryan Reynolds all dolled up in his Green Lantern suit but with a milk moustache and the slogan “Hero Fuel” beside him. My first thought was “but he’s not even real.” Why would they suggest that his ‘hero’ fuel was milk? Sure, milk has great nutritional benefits but certainly none that would turn an ordinary citizen into a hero. It took a few seconds for my brain to understand that the advert had nothing to do with getting children to drink milk – suggesting that a food item would give anyone superhuman strength has been done and overdone (spinach anyone?). The advert is clearly a marketing ploy by the good people at DC Comics to keep the movie fresh in our minds seeing as the opening date is only a few weeks away. My next thoughts were “shame, shame, shame on them” but then I realised I might have been a bit too harsh on them. After all, the milk campaign adverts have been running for a long time in theUSand this is not the first time anyone has used a seemingly innocent item to sell a product or idea. But I still think Olympic athletes and David Beckham types are more reasonable icons to use for the ads, not superhuman characters. Continue reading