Category Archives: Comedy

On Spanx, in which I make mistakes so you don’t have to

Spanx

Spanx - a pact with the devil in pant form.

This one’s for the ladies only.

Here, I bravely present the results of my investigations into the shapewear known as Spanx, so that you may be forewarned and forearmed.

Obviously I have no idea about slimming underwear, thank to my natural sylph-like looks and not having inherited my father’s stumpy legs and fat arse at all. Oh no, not me.

  1. Yes. They are basically cycling shorts. Very tight, slightly uncomfortable, peculiarly constructed cycling shorts.
  2. Yes, they do make a difference. Not a massive one, but enough. Nothing’s ever going to turn me into Stana Katic, but they hold it all in long enough for a girl to dream.
  3. Ignore the name. Also ignore the tagline “Power Panties”.  Eyes on the prize, ladies, eyes on the prize.
  4. Do not try to put them on when you’ve just got out of a shower. That way lies pain, mildly abrading skin removal, and public (and possibly pubic) humiliation in the gym changing rooms. You’ll also spend the next two hours surreptitiously plucking at your crotch trying to straighten the godawful mess out.
  5. Ditto for moisturising.
  6. They will make you uncomfortably warm. Don’t over-dress.
  7. Avoid deep vein thrombosis. Stand up regularly and stretch.  Don’t drink too much water though – every trip to the toilet is like starting again from step 4.
  8. Do not combine Spanx with control top tights. Like multiplying two negative numbers together (remember that from GCSE maths?) they cancel each other out and start inexorably rolling downwards together, making it look like you have more spare tyre issues than the Michelin man.
  9. Get black ones. The nude ones are horrid. Also, you can buy them on Amazon. Just don’t get them delivered to your work address, in order to avoid “Oooh I’ve got a parcel!” “What is it?” “Errrrr… enormous pants!” conversation with your workmates.
  10. Never EVER tell someone you are wearing Spanx. Especially not a man.  And especially not after you’ve drunk a bottle of wine, in the course of having a lovely evening. Trust me on this one. The conversation is uncomfortable and curiously probing at best, and elevates you to the status of “Women in the same bracket as my mother” at worst.

Music on Mondays: Helen Arney – You and Me and Walt Disney

In a spectacular act of nepotism, today’s tune comes from my sister Helen Arney. It’s a romantic (?) ditty about the perfect anniversary present for the man you love.

You can download it – and a load of her other brilliant songs – for the princely sum of zero pounds from her Bandcamp site. Go on, you won’t regret it 🙂

My cultural contribution to the US of A

I present this with no explanation and no apology.

Take one overexcited post-gig British musician, one member of the Clockwork Dolls, a Sharpie marker pen, several over-enthusiastic American Steampunks and one too many G&T’s… I guess you had to be there at the time.

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On a slightly more cultural note, I also taught three people how to play the spoons.

My new scientific theory: Dark height

The Shadow Orchestra

Perspective's a bitch, ain't it? That's me, second from the left. Yes. The short, grumpy one.

The Shadow Orchestra recently had a bunch of promo shots done, and we made the mistake of taking most of them standing up. I also made the mistake of standing next to Nick, who is approximately 18 feet tall, in most of them.

I never realise how short I am until I see myself in photographs. Being somewhat close to the ground in the area of height for most of my life, I should have figured it out by now, but it always takes me by surprise. Friends and colleagues are also taken aback when they realise quite how small I actually am (5 feet three quarters of an inch. That three-quarters of an inch is really important).

Sure I’m no supermodel, but there’s something about me that gives the impression of extra height.  And, inspired by my trip to see Uncaged Monkeys at the Hammersmith Apollo last week (featuring my awesome sister Helen Arney doing her nerd-uke thing) and listening to Professor Brian “The Ladies Love” Cox expounding on the wonders of the cosmos, I’ve come up with the answer.

Dark Height.

Suddenly it all makes sense. In our universe, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that scientists can’t account for.  The universe actually appears to be bigger than it is when they measure it, but they can’t actually see the extra stuff that’s there.

This is Dark Matter which, admittedly, is a better name than “stuff”. I wonder what other names got nixed before they decided on  that one – “Universe fluff”, “Tardis Juice”, “Macavity” …

Most physicists and cosmologists believe that dark matter exists – we just don’t have the tools to see or measure it yet.  But it’s there.

To extrapolate (or is it interpolate, given that I’m smaller than the universe? I nver know) – because I appear to be bigger than I actually am, I must have a significant quantity of Dark Height.

Therefore I’m actually a 5’10” leggy Amazonian, instead of a rather dumpy nerd.  You just can’t detect it yet.

PS: If you want to know more about dark matter and other mysteries of the universe, I’d recommend Michael Brooks’ brilliant 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense – it’s pretty much the only book with physics in it that I’ve ever actually enjoyed.  Or finished.

On the politics of cake tins

Cake tin

The amateur baker's most precious possession - wars have been fought over less...

Ask any amateur baker what their biggest concern is, and I’m willing to put money that their answer won’t be about traumas with leaden sponge cakes or temperamental macarons.

It’s cake tins.  Not the ones you actually bake stuff in (that’s a whole other discussion…) but the ones you lovingly put the fruits of your culinary labours in for transportation to the lucky recipients.

Good cake tins are surprisingly hard to come by. Every Christmas I’ve seen fights break out over who in the office gets to keep the tin once the traditional Roses chocs are eaten.  I lost a treasured tin at a recent gig – that’s occupational hazard of baking cakes for the audience, I guess.

And when I sent a tin of cookies along with my boyfriend to his workplace, the tin never came back. Despite my repeated requests for its safe return, like a closed community hiding a criminal, nobody apparently remembers ever seeing it in the first place.

The biggest dilemma for me is what to do if you’re baking cakes as a gift and can’t hang around to rescue the tin. Do you leave the tin with the recipients in the vague hope that they might remember to give it back next time you see them? Or do you just write it off, mourn the loss, and sharpen your nails for the battle for the next Quality Street tin that appears on the office filing cabinet?

My twitchy paranoid vigilance has only increased since I bought a Cupcake Courier for taking cakes to gigs. I’m now terrified that some low-life bakery/music fan will swipe it while I’m on stage, and I’ll have to go back to dragging around piles of battered tins filled with squished cakes.

So here’s a question for all the bakers out there – how do you transport your goodies? Are you obsessive about your tins? And how far would you go to nab a new one?

It’s going to be an awkward Christmas, Darling – Helen Arney and Paul Richards

Imagine if Alan Bennett and Victoria Wood had made a Christmas album together… Lo and behold:
AwkwardXmas

My sister Helen is the actual properly talented one in the family, and she and Paul have put together a brilliant Christmas album full of charm, wit, and true Christmas spirit – namely arguments about the telly, breakups, humiliation at the office party, and malevolent snowmen.

And as if that wasn’t enough incentive for you to go and buy one right now, they’re also donating £1 from every sale before Christmas Eve to the charities Shelter and Cancer Research UK.

Buy yours now, and then buy some more as presents! You can download from iTunes, or buy a limited edition CD that comes with all kinds of extra festive tat like tree decorations, a party hat and some chocolate.

Here’s the blurb:

It’s Going to be an Awkward Christmas, Darling by Helen Arney & Paul Richards, with Martin Randle and special guests Terry SaundersTom McDonnell & Kat Arney*

One family’s uncomfortably suburban December 25th, perfectly captured in 11 original songs. Stories of holiday disasters, endless games of Monopoly, traditional family arguments and an irrational fear of snowmen all conspire to make your Winterval sound wonderful.

Out now on iTunesPlay.com and limited edition CD: http://helenarney.com/awkward-christmas 

Watch a specially made video by Terry Saunders, with more added throughout December: http://youtube.com/awkwardchristmas

Listen to tracks online at: http://reverbnation.com/awkwardchristmas

Live album party 20th Dec in London, with Robin Ince and more: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/94728

*Yes, of course I’m playing on it. But remember, harps are for life, not just for Christmas…

Is that the best you could come up with?

I saw this on the box for a shoe rack that my housemate ordered from the internet, and it made me laugh. I think they need to work on their advertising a bit more…

Shoe rack

"Similar to as seen on TV"

On fantasy vs reality

Perfect life

I'm just jealous, really...

My life was so simple before I discovered the wonderful world of lifestyle, food and fashion blogs. I was happy with my scruffy clothes and shabby house.

But now these bloggers dangle an impossible fantasy in front of my face, and I am completely beguiled. So here’s a brief imagining of the collision between fantasy and reality that now taints my life…

Fantasy: Awakened by sunlight streaming through billowing white curtains, illuminating my tastefully-decorated boudoir, resplendent with chic 40s-style dressing table and elegant wall decals (Cox & Cox, £73). My sexy, talented boyfriend has already got up to make me breakfast in bed, served in this chic crockery set (only £89 from Habitat – and that’s just the butter dish!)

Reality: Lurched into wakefulness by the mad woman next door screaming obscenities into the Hackney dawn. Boyfriend rolls over and farts. Bedroom (colourscheme – rental beige, with smudges of dead moth) festooned with saggy boy pants, laddered tights, cheap jewellery, abandoned craft projects and piles of junk.

Fantasy: I carefully select my outfit for the day – perfectly co-ordinating my designer silk underwear with a floaty dress and killer heels, c0mpleting the look with a few tasteful designer accessories (this Tatty Devine headpiece is so now, don’t you think? And only £62.75!)

Reality: What’s clean? Anything clean? OK – what’s least dirty? I can’t cycle in that skirt, it’ll have to be trousers.  Did you actually wash my jeans or not? Why are there never any matching socks, godammit?! I scrape the worst of the mud/toothpaste/oh God what’s that? off my £10 ASDA tunic and cycling leggings, teaming them with stinky trainers and kirby grips. Don’t even ask about the underwear. If it’s all black, it’s matching, right?

Fantasy: I head to my friendly local bakery, where I sip a latte and nibble on an extravagantly-iced cupcake while surfing the web, looking for items to showcase on my lifestyle blog, Household Whores.  Look at these shoes! (£97) And this bangle! (£207) And all these lovely shiny things! (£££££s) How did I live before the existence of designer egg-cups, door mats and teatowels?  I bust out my credit card and make a few judicious purchases of key statement pieces that will carry me happily into next season and beyond.

Moving on to munch on a tasty brownie, I browse a couple of interior design blogs, noting the latest trends – white, wood, chocolate brown…  This vase (£813) will look perfect in my tastefully-decorated, minimalist living room. Tres chic, non? I can almost picture it on the driftwood coffee table, nestling next to the chi-chi objets d’art and black and white photography books.

Feeling inspired, I head back home to laze on the chaise longue  (and just how lovely are these scatter cushions – just £43 each from Graham & Green) and drink tea (£9.20 for 100g, but worth every penny!) while I do a bit of light blogging.

Reality: Have we got any coffee left? I asked you to buy some. Ah, never mind. I’ll have some of that dodgy Greek herbal tea that my friend brought back from Kos last year. Was that a mouse? Must buy some more traps.  Who’s that bloke asleep on the sofa? No, I thought he was _your_ friend…

Shuffling aside a pile of pizza boxes, I slump on the badly-stuffed sofa, flicking through a copy of Heat magazine. There’s that funny smell again. It might be the bins, or it might be something to do with the mad lady next door.

The air is thick with the odour of stale cigarette smoke and male feet.  On the wall hangs the Brighton Photography Calendar from 2008. The month showing is March. It’s now September.

Feeling completely uninspired, I loaf around on Twitter for a bit, then go and eat a bowl of cereal standing up in the kitchen, ignoring the week’s worth of festering washing-up in the sink. I buy some overpriced shoes and ill-fitting clothes from ASOS on my weary credit card. Who needs to eat, anyway? There’s that bloody mouse again…

Fantasy: Cocktail time! I head to my well-stocked drinks cabinet and select the ingredients for a perfect Cosmopolitan. Sexy, talented boyfriend and I relax on our balcony and watch the sun set over a perfect urban landscape, nibbling on chorizo and olives from the fabulous local deli. I shoot a few photos of the sunset skyline, which get snapped up by the local magazine.

Reality: Is there anything drinkable you can actually make with brandy and lemon squash? Let’s give it a go… Hmm. Actually, let’s just drink the brandy neat. Or there’s that peculiar purple stuff that Emily brought back from France. You go first… and hand over those Pringles…

Fantasy: We head off to a new supperclub in Dalston, promising pigeon breast on a bed of organic samphire, followed by free-range beef tournedos with locally grown veg, and oloroso sherry and mascarpone trifle for dessert.  So retro! So chic!

The clientele are all super-stylish food bloggers, and everyone compliments me on my delightful charm necklace (£53 from a seller on Etsy that nobody knows about yet). I am so busy taking pictures of my dinner that I forget to actually eat anything.

Reality: Pizza again? Four cheeses with extra anchovies for me please. You phone them. No, it’s your turn – I phoned them last time.  Go on then, let’s have another glass of that purple stuff…

With apologies to the Domestic Sluts, 1 Million Gold Stars, The Beat That my Heart Skipped and all the rest. You know I’m just jealous, really…

Errrm – actually I’ll have the beef

Romanian Cookery

Romanian Cookery. Not noted in the culinary hall of fame.

While on a recent international gigging exploit with Belleruche, Ricky bought me a Romanian Cookery book.

I have to be honest – none of the recipes are particularly appealing. There’s the ‘fish egg dip’ that’s basically made of wet bread and pike roe,  and ‘turkey meat jellies’ that look like luxury dog food, and have clearly been set in plastic drinking cups.

But the piece de resistance is the sausage and beans:

Sausage and beans

Ummm.... you know, I'm not actually hungry after all, thanks

Adventures in urination – The SheWee

SheWee

The SheWee, or Ladycock, as I've come to think of it

As may be obvious to regular readers, I go to a lot of music festivals.  And as everyone knows, the absolutely worst thing about festivals is festival toilets. These are usually stinking chemical cesspits in cramped cubicles, smeared with the bodily excretions of thousands of worse-the-wear punters.

The game du jour at any festival is toilet roulette – will this one be filled to the brim with poo and bogroll? Or will you luck out and get a freshly-emptied cabin with (ooh yes!) toilet roll and hand sanitiser included?

Regardless, everyone walks away from the experience with a slightly degraded look of horror on their face. It’s the same kind of face a dog owner makes when they have to scoop up a particularly nasty poop – the   unpleasant feeling of getting just a little bit close to the visceral reality of life. Never mind wanting to do a poo at Paul’s – it’s enough to make you never want to do a poo ever again.

I refuse to go to festivals unless I’m performing myself or tagging along as a Belleruche WAG, so I get to use the backstage toilets. These are slightly better than the ones for general use, but still not the most enjoyable experience –  though I must point out that the compost loos at the Sunrise festival were positively pleasant (or as pleasant as an outdoor municipal shitter can be) throughout the site.

My main issue with festival loos is more of an issue with my own body – I’m extremely short. This makes it difficult to hover over a dirty seat without peeing onto my boots or accidentally sitting in something horrific. So this summer I invested in a SheWee. This is essentially an anatomically-shaped plastic funnel (instantly dubbed “the Ladycock” by everyone who’s seen it) which should – in theory at least – enable me to pee standing up.

The packaging recommends to try it in the shower first. Now I don’t know about you, but I haven’t peed in my shower since I was about three, and I’m not about to start now.  So I tested it in the privacy of the toilet of my shared house. The results were not promising. Given that I live with three boys, the toilet and floor have already seen a fair amount of… errr… misdirection, but this was ridiculous. Over a few attempts, I managed to get wee on:

  • My hands
  • The toilet rim
  • The floor
  • My trousers
  • The wall (I’m still not quite sure how that happened)

Suddenly I have a grudging new-found respect for the challenges of weeing standing up (although it is loads of fun, isn’t it?). Anyway, I ran out of time and inclination to practice any more before the festival, so the SheWee remains untested ‘in the wild’. I’ve still got a few more festivals lined up this summer, so maybe she’ll get another outing.

Have you ever tried a SheWee or similar device? Did you pee on your trousers? And just how much fun is peeing standing up, eh, boys?