Category Archives: General bimbling

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


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.

Still scarred by Sports Day

Sports Day

I hated Sports Day. Where was Music Day?

A friend of mine is a teaching assistant, and when he casually mentioned that he’d been helping out at his annual school Sports Day I was thrown back into a whirlpool of horrendous memories that I thought I had successfully escaped.

I am not an especially athletic adult, although I am physically active and go to the gym several times a week – mostly to throw around enormous weights, because that harp ain’t ever going to learn to lift itself. And at university I was a regular fixture in the womens’ first rowing VIII and the rugby team, despite my chronic asthma and even more chronic thunder-thighs. But I was certainly never an athletic child – rather, I was a complete nerd who spent the few hours she wasn’t doing her homework practising three instruments and hiding from bullies.

I don’t know if it has changed now but when I were a lass, sports day was a compulsory exercise (pardon the pun) – it was obligatory to enter in at least one event, embarrassing yourself in front of the entire school at some event randomly chosen for you by the sadistic PE teacher under threat of endless detention, clad only in horrendous (and indecently small) navy gym knickers and an ill-fitting aertex shirt because your mother was too cheap to buy you a new one this year despite the rather obvious onset of puberty…or was that just me?

Obviously, the whole fiasco ended with the naturally sporty kids standing smugly on a podium being showered with prizes and glory, and the non-sporty ones being utterly humiliated, as usual.

But tell me this – where was the obligatory competition in other skills? Where was the obligatory Music Day, where even the cloth-eared and tone deaf were forced to play an instrument (not necessarily of their choosing) in front of all their peers, despite their obvious lack of talent? Where was the compulsory science fair or maths olympiad? What about Pottery Day, Competitive Cooking or Do-It-Or-Get-A-Detention Drama Day?

It always seemed profoundly unfair to me to put people through an obligatory assortment of track and field events, regardless of actual talent or interest in those activities. It was never an option to compete in swimming, table tennis, trampolining, bowling or weight-lifting, to name a few – at least on a compulsory, school-wide basis. And there certainly weren’t any obligatory non-sporting competitions (unless you count exams…) Still, at least Sports Day wasn’t as bad as the living hell that was the annual compulsory cross-country run at my primary school. One year I nearly set fire to my trainers to get out of it.

What do you think? Does the mere mention of the words Sports Day bring you out in a mysterious rash requiring a note from your Mum?  Or were you one of those annoyingly smug sporty types who won everything and then beat up the fat kids in the showers?

Moths *are* wankers

My wedding plans have hit a slight bump in that Ricky’s suit has been eaten by moths. Luckily it was only cheap, but still bloody annoying – if only because I’m going to have to make him go shopping for a new one (a task that he views with as much anticipation as intensive dentistry).

As I’ve previously mentioned, we are plagued by the furry little bastards and I live in fear of them getting into my knitting cupboard. They’ve already ruined the carpet in our bedroom and a pair of socks made with insanely expensive yarn (Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock! It costs £15 a skein – I cried when I found the holes).

So I was overjoyed to find a badge that summed up my feelings towards the shiny fuckers:

These are from Prick Your Finger, for the princely sum of £2 each. Buy yours now and join the crusade against the little bastards.

Previous anti-moth ranting:

And this is why they should organise gigs by height

Last night Ricky and I went to see Spank Rock at the Nest in Dalston. It was my first visit to the venue formerly known as Barden’s Boudoir since it was revamped (having played there with the Shadow Orchestra a couple of years ago), and I have to say I was pretty unimpressed with the new setup as a live music venue.

It’s not that the sound was bad – in fact, for a concrete bunker, it sounded really good and there are clearly some kick-ass subs lurking somewhere down there. It’s that I couldn’t see a bloody thing.

Spank Rock at the Nest

My view of Spank Rock at the Nest

The venue is a narrow rectangular box, with a large bar down one long side, and a small stage at the far end – previously, the venue was set up with a much longer stage along the width (where the bar is now). Obviously this has been done to make more money from a larger bar, but it has come at the expense of anyone except the first 30 people being able to see the band at all – or even less, if you’re a shortie like me.

Even when I managed to wriggle nearer the front, it’s so narrow and crowded that I still couldn’t see anything of the band, even just a couple of rows from the stage – though some of that is thanks to the  tall guys in front of me who refused to move.

This massive concrete pillar plonked right in front of the stage doesn’t help either:
The Nest

At the very least, you’d think that the owners might put a video screen up on the pillar, showing what’s going on onstage, like they used to have at the Luminaire – a similar sized venue with a challenging L-shaped design.

As it was, we left early and I was very disappointed. I can see that The Nest would be great for a night of DJs, and it’s got a fun atmosphere. But when I go to see a live band, I’d like to be able to see more than the back of a load of people’s heads.

Bees in danger! (from Satan)

We get a lot of junk mail through our front door, mainly because we are too lazy to put up a “No Junk Mail” sign and anyway they just ignore it and ram the letterbox full of pizza leaflets and poorly spelled (and curiously identical) advertisments for psychics.

Most of this goes straight in the recycling, but one caught my eye and has made it onto the Pinboard of Wonder (aka the fridge):


At first I thought it was from a local environmental group or somesuch. The text inside starts off as a paean to the humble bee:


“The consumption of honey is good for health. “Learn from the bee” is a counsel for the lazy. We will be surprised if we observe how the bees work. When the morning sun rises, they beging their work. The queen bee lays eggs and soon they hatch and a new generation is born.

It is a pleasure to observe a honeycomb. The bees suck honey from flowers and fill the cells in the honeycomb. the bees work together. but every bee has its own work. how beautifully they make a house for 5,000 bees without consulting an architect.

But does anyone know that there is a danger hidden in the honeycomb? A small germ enters the body of one bee. Gradually all the bes get infected by this.  Thus, because of one germ, the entire colony on bees dies.”

ZOMG! They’re talking about colony collapse disorder! (although, according to Wikipedia, the cause is unknown, rather than ‘germs’).  I read further. Oh no, my mistake – they’re talking about God. Sneaky! The leaflet goes on:

“The same way, sin entered mankind. Satan deceived man who was made in the image of God and made him sin…(continues in guilt-ridden ‘you’re going to hell’ vein for another page and a half)”

I’m very familiar with the “scientific” arguments that get bandied around about religious creationism vs evolution (or creationsim vs reality, as I like to think of it). But seriously, bees?

I’m vaguely annoyed that a serious environmental issue has been hijacked by the God squad. The only thing bees have in common with Jesus is the letters E and S. Unless you spell it Bejesus, in which case you can get the whole word out of it.

Things I learned at the World Steam Expo

I’m still trying to mentally process the whirlwind madness that was my trip to the World Steam Expo in Dearborn at the end of May. Pics and more blather are up now over on the Sunday Driver blog. But here are a few thoughts of my own.

  • Lacing up a corset too tightly *will* leave you bruised
  • (Wo)man cannot live on pretzels and tequila alone for a whole weekend, but she can give it a damn good try
  • The backs of my legs are like cocaine for mosquitoes
  • Through the cunning use of corsetry, women’s breasts can be persuaded to defy gravity and probably several other laws of nature too
  • Five people from the same band sharing a room is four people too many. Even (or possibly especially) for the married ones
  • Michigan is not overly blessed with vegetarian options. Plus, you’d be amazed what comes with added bacon
  • It’s possible to belly dance with a sword on your head, as demonstrated by the wonderful Harpnotic:


The most romantic thing I ever heard

Love heart cakesA little while ago I was stuck in the back of a taxi heading through London, after doing an interview for the BBC.

It was an unseasonably warm Friday afternoon and the rush hour traffic was already starting to coagulate in London’s arteries, so the driver and I got chatting to pass the time as we crawled along the Embankment in the simmering haze.

I never found out his name, but he was a typical middle-aged man who lived in Kent (if I recall correctly) – greying, bit overweight, estuary accent and a charming smile. In the course of things, he told me that it was his wife’s birthday the following weekend, and that he was going to treat her to something really special. Not a trip to the local Italian followed by a few drinks in the pub – something much, much better.

He’d hired a private jet to fly her to Paris. Apparently he had a connection with someone at Rolls Royce who’d managed to swing him a good deal on the plane. Not only that, he revealed an elaborate ruse to trick her into thinking they were flying by CrapAir from “London” Stansted.

I was in paroxysms of girlie delight (men, take note…). How cute is that? Taking your wife to Paris by private jet? But it didn’t stop there. He’d gone one step further.

I’d previously told him that I was busy recording two albums with my bands.

“I spent last weekend in a recording studio, you know,” he said.

“Oh really?”

“Yeah. I recorded a couple of Michael Buble tracks for the wife, to play on the plane.”

“That’s so sweet!”

“Do you wanna hear ’em? I’ve got the CD in here somewhere…”

He started rummaging in the glove box before I could even answer. Luckily, the traffic was stationary. Although I’m not a fan of Mickey Bubbles, as he’s known in our house, I could hardly say no.

I steeled myself to politely hear the lovelorn grunting of a middle-aged cabbie. I was completely wrong. The man could sing, and it was clearly a heartfelt performance (although I can’t say it converted me to the music of El Bubbles).

“Of course,” he said, once the backing track had faded out, “I could never tell any of my mates about this. They’d just take the piss.”

“So why are you telling me – a girl you’ve never met before?”

“’Cos you don’t know me, and you don’t know them.”

Of course, he didn’t know that I was going to tell the internet – sorry about that…

Anyway, that’s the most romantic thing I think I’ve ever heard about lately. How about you?

On wardrobe malfunctions, in which I unwittingly flash an unsuspecting Cheltenham Science Festival

Marilyn Monroe

Me at the Cheltenham Science Festival, apparently

There are two aspects of my life that I struggle with (that I am prepared to admit in public, anyway) – one is dressing myself, and the other is being ladylike. Not once but twice in the past fortnight have these collided with hilarious humiliating consequences.

Earlier this week, I was happily minding my own business in a meeting of our entire directorate at work – a couple of hundred people I’d reckon. About half an hour before the end, I notice that the back of my dress is sporting a gaping tear, which is probably the result of cycling to work that morning.

Luckily the dress had two layers, protecting my modesty to a certain extent, though begging the question why nobody thought to mention it to me over the entire day. Clearly, my colleagues are gits. Or hate me. Or both.

Cue a swift trip to Dorothy Perkins to buy a replacement before heading off to the protest-fest that was the Richard Dawkins/PZ Myers discussion/arm-wrestle at the IoE.

But worse happened at the Cheltenham Science Festival a few days earlier, where I was giving a talk as part of the session on cancer stem cells. I was attempting to look glamorous (you never know when those TV producers may be scouting for the female Brian Cox!) and wore one of my favourite dresses – a highly flattering below-the-knee rose print number* along with some green suede boots with purple killer heels.

The session went really well: I got a smattering of laughs for my nerdy jokes and we got some great questions. Afterwards I was taking off my headset mic (resisting the temptation to bust a few Madonna-style moves) when a woman beckoned me over to the edge of the raised stage.

“I really enjoyed your talk…” she said, “But your skirt’s too short to cross your legs like that on stage.”

*Sigh* It will be sad if people remember that session more for the fact that I inadevertently flashed my pants to the assembled crowd than for the content of my presentation.

*Pearl Lowe’s awesome rose print tea dress for Peacocks

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.




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.