Becky says things about … an American road trip PART 3: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

After an overnight stop in Athens, Georgia, we ploughed up through the green and red fields of rural Georgia under a crystal clear sky, briefly cutting through a thin slice of North Carolina, where we passed more churches than was surely practical. I immediately had a burning question for these churches:

WHERE DO YOUR CONGREGATIONS COME FROM?

Seriously. This is how the drive went:

Church. Church. Fields. McDonalds. House. Church. Gun outlet. McDonalds. Fields. Church. House. Church. Gun outlet. Fields. Church. Rifle range. Church. McDonalds. Church. House. Fields. Gun outlet. Church. Church. Fields. McDonalds. Church.

I can only imagine that their congregations are solely made up of gun-wielding McDonalds’ employees.

After an hour winding through the deep green veins of the Smokey Mountains, we emerged into the flat valley of Gatlinburg. I had imagined a quaint Swiss-style resort tucked humbly in the mountains, hanging baskets blooming from wooden chalets, the smell of mulled cider wafting on the fresh breeze  – the odd cow roaming pensively – instead, we got the Blackpool of Tennessee. Under the disapproving gaze of the hazy blue Smokies lay a bustling strip of arcades, amusements, hot dog and doughnut stalls, tacky bars, shops selling all the tat you could possibly wish for – and it was when I saw the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and the movie memorabilia store that I wiped a tear from my eye. It was ruddy brilliant.

Upon walking through the door of the Airbnb office, the moustacheod cowboy behind the desk drawled ‘Ah, there y’are, Becky and Sarah,’ and when I asked how he knew it was us, he replied ‘Cos there ain’t no other soul comin’ my way today.’

Three minutes later we were back out the door with the key to our condo. This relaxed process was a far cry from the Spanish Inquisition we’d had checking in to the Daytona and Athens hotels, where we had been asked for ID, credit card, date of birth, known allergies, top ten favourite album covers, mother’s maiden, and favourite sexual position.

Our Airbnb was on the fifth floor of a condo complex (block of flats to us Brits), with a view from the balcony that was reasonably acceptable.

A couple of hours later we were sailing high above the mangle of shrubs and trees as a ski lift hoisted us up the mountain, our bare feet dangling in the hot air, our knuckles whitening and our colons twitching at the beautiful yet almost-certain-death below us.

At the top of the mountain, bathed in the red evening sun, was an Alpine Disneyland: a toytown of chalet-style shops, a bar, and a complex of rope bridges clutching the tree trunks of the mountainside. All accompanied by some yodelling. When one finds oneself in a mountaintop toytown, the only thing to do is to have a pint of incredibly strong local ale and go for a stroll on the perilously high treetop walk. This we did with the alacrity of a couple of slightly tipsy mountain goats.

The next morning, we felt we should do A Walk as that’s what people do when they’re in the mountains, so we drove into the darkening, tangled heart of the Smokies to do A Walk to Grotto Falls.

At the entrance to The Walk was a sign telling us that at any one time there would be 37,000 bears watching us, and if we should come face to face with one we should firstly try this:

And if Mr Bear took umbrage to that, and if we were still alive, we should secondly try this:

That was the long and short of it, anyway.

Fortunately we didn’t get to practice our bear-survival skills, and made it to the extremely pretty waterfall with merely a few splodges of bear poo on the soles of our trainers.


Are you a die-hard supporter of the 45th president of the United States? Do you live in the Gatlinburg area? Do you enjoy a statement t-shirt? Then it’s your lucky day!

Bizarrely, neither Sarah nor I fancied any of these jolly t-shirts, but we DID fancy the movie memorabilia store, where we spent probably the happiest 20 minutes of my life.

After a hard day of not seeing any bears and avoiding being gunned down by Tennesseans as we took photos of us giving Trump t-shirts the finger, we spent the evening on our balcony playing cards (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cards – thank you, movie memorabilia store) and drinking wine, which was a delightful way to spend an evening until a bug flew into my nose and I threw my wine in Sarah’s face in shock.

Question: what do you do if you’re staying six miles from a Dolly Parton-themed theme park called Dollywood?

Answer: go to Dollywood.

It.

Was.

Brilliant.

For three solid hours we were flung about on some of the best roller coasters I’ve ever been on, and I became intimately acquainted with Sarah’s vocal chords.

In the gift shop – a veritable shrine to Dolly Parton, her plastic face beaming from every item – I had the following illuminating conversation with the pink-capped girl at the checkout:

Then came Funnel Cake-gate.

A Funnel Cake is America’s way of making a doughnut even more lethal to your arteries. Instead of a single lump of batter plopped into the fryer, the batter is piped into the hot fat so it creates an intricate nest, thereby increasing the surface area of available fat-soaked dough by approximately 23,000 times. It is then doused in icing sugar.

We demolished this arterial onslaught in around eight minutes (theme parks are hungry work) and experienced a brief moment of sugar-induced elation, during which we planned every detail of our campaign to be the first female presidential duo of the United States, and then, as though draining through the bottom of a bucket, our blood sugar levels succumbed to the greatest sugar and adrenaline crash in the history of the universe.

It was all I could do to drive us back through the mountains and crawl into a late afternoon coma. The lesson? Roller coasters + funnel cake = absolutely nothing. Forget it. You’re finished.

Conclusion: Gatlinburg is F.U.NAnd if you’re a Trump-supporting, church-going, gun-toting, bear-fighting, Funnel Cake-loving adrenaline junkie, then you should definitely go.

UP NEXT: Rain, country music, and another booze-filled afternoon in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Becky says things about … an American road trip – Part 1: Daytona Beach

Cherished Listener, behold a tale of two English women’s road trip in south-east USA.

My friend Sarah and I galavanted through Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Louisiana in a whirl of suffocating humidity, BBQ ribs, gallons of beer, Trump T-Shirts, life-changing hangovers, bears, and a dramatic home invasion escapade – and I would like to say things about it.

So without further ado, turn off Netflix, get yourself a cool beverage, tell the cat to shut up, and we shall begin.

DAYTONA BEACH 

The car journey from Orlando airport to Daytona Beach started badly and went downhill from there.

I first tried to leave the Hertz car park through an exit clearly marked STAFF EXIT ONLY and was ushered back out the right exit by a polite Mexican; then within minutes of being on the freeway (freeway or highway? Is there a difference? Does it matter? What does anything even mean?) we had missed three exits and I was trying to quell the rising urge to go back to the airport, fly straight back to London and tell everyone we’d made a terrible mistake.

After eventually deciding we were going the right way, and navigating the 319 inexplicable toll booths that all charged 75 cents for the privilege of driving past an unmanned shed, it was all going well, until there appeared in the road ahead of us the jagged, ripped flesh of a car tyre that looked like it had been spat out by a T-Rex. There’s not much one can do at 70mph on a four-lane freewayhighway packed with rush-hour traffic, so I elected to simply run over it. This felt similar to driving over a tree branch embedded with six-inch nails.

Clearly I had just irrevocably damaged the rental car we had been in for less than half an hour, and our pierced tyres were going to flatten and flop about and eventually spasm off and whip into the air causing a devastating multi-vehicle pile-up, the tragedy of which would pale in comparison to the $3million we would have to pay Hertz, so I got off the freewayhighway and checked our tyres in a McDonald’s car park.

Anti-climactically, they were fine.

I then spent the next 20 minutes trying to get back on the freewayhighway. You Americans may wonder at my driving abilities, but let me tell you, when one is sitting in the wrong side of a car, on the wrong side of a road, everything becomes wrong; in this case, driving two miles in the wrong direction, performing approximately 13 illegal and wrong manoeuvres, driving the wrong way down a road, and inadvertently and wrongly turning on my windscreen wipers during a frantic three-point turn.

It was then that I vowed we would never again exit a freewayhighway unless the SatNav told us to, and even then it’d have to have a damned good reason.

Miraculously and only partly wrongly, we made it to our oceanfront Holiday Inn, and the next morning’s sunrise from our balcony made up for our distressing car journey, and for a night battling an air conditioning unit that sounded like King Kong with a chest infection.

We waded through the cloying 95-degree-4895%-humidity in search of breakfast, and it was on this short journey that all our fervent hopes that America is playing a massive practical joke on the rest of the world were shattered – for slapped on an electricity generator was a bumper sticker that defiantly yelled TRUMP PENCE 2020.

To keep our spirits alive we breakfasted in the Daytona Diner – a nostalgic haven of movie and TV memorabilia, adorned with plentiful images of Betty Boop being provocative with a Harley Davidson – and the waitress patiently explained to us the 297 different ways we could have our eggs.

After breakfast there wasn’t an awful lot to do up our end of Daytona Beach, unless we fancied getting a tattoo or visiting the mini golf where we could ‘feed and hold live gators’, so we spent the day by the hotel’s oceanfront pool.

It was at the pool that I made the following three important anthropological observations about our American cousins:

1. Americans do not swim. At least, not those Americans in Daytona Beach. Not a single one of the 20 or so Americans in the pool swam more than two meters. Instead, they plopped themselves in, arranged themselves in a convivial circle, and had a semi-submerged chat. An hour later, they emerged wrinkled and refreshed, and flopped onto their sunbeds with the laboured sigh of someone who has just swum the Channel.

2. Beards are there to be worshipped. The 60-something whale-bellied dude who had the bushiest, silkiest, lushest beard we’d ever seen (for this reason we inventively named him Father Christmas) lounged against the side of the pool sensually stroking his facial mane, while a hareem of adoring women bobbed round him, clearly seduced by the silken foliage. Sarah and I were mesmerised, particularly when he told a story in a deep, chocolatey southern drawl about his previous hotel in South Carolina where a kid shit in the pool.

3. The pool is a perfect place to show off one’s dedication to the gym. An oiled terracotta beefcake, adorned with hoops in both ears and a signet ring the size of a golf ball, spent two hours manfully astride his sunbed staring down at his pecks, which he flexed in turn to the beat of ‘America’s Greatest Stadium Ballads’ that he was kindly playing on his portable radio for all the pool to hear.

After a few hours of my skin slowly dissolving in the sun, I went for a stroll on the beach.

And it is stunning.

It is endless, silky (much like Father Christmas’ beard). Clouds floated in the wet sand. Clusters of tiny birds scuttled back from the lapping waves. Children busied around castles and moats. Elderly couples lounged under marquees, holding hands and peering contentedly into the blue. A topless man frantically pawed at the sand, whipping up torrents with his hands, muttering under his breath ‘It was here somewhere. Motherfucker was here somewhere.’

I called it a day and went back to the hotel.

That evening, after a cab journey to Daytona Beach’s main drag, I decided we should go to a biker bar. When in Rome, and all that.

A quick glance at Google Maps told us that the promisingly-named Main Street was the place to go for biker bars.

It was 6pm on a sunny Saturday evening in Daytona Beach.

Walking down Main Street at 6pm on a sunny Saturday evening in Daytona Beach was simply a sunnier re-enactment of the opening scenes of 28 Days Later where the dude wakes up to discover that he’s the last human left on earth.

There was no one. I mean no one. Despite the many inviting bars with names like Dirty Harry’s, Filthy Mike’s, Downright Unpleasant Steve’s, and the echoes of heavy metal wafting onto the baked pavement, there was not a soul to be seen.

After making it to the end of Main Street without seeing so much as the lovingly-coiffered fronds of a beard, we came to the conclusion that a) Main Street is actually an abandoned film set that no one’s got round to demolishing yet; b) Main Street doesn’t come alive until much, much later when the hoards of bikers emerge from their cocoons of corrugated steel and drink beer and compare clutch brackets until dawn; or c) Main Street had been hit by a devastating and extremely localised plague, which had wiped out its entire population, and the chipped, peeling facades actually concealed piles of decomposing corpses.

Whatever the reason, we had abjectly failed to have an authentic Saturday-night biker experience, so joined the gaggle of tourists at the end of the pier at Joe’s Crab Shack.

And there I innocently ordered the fish and chips, and innocently discovered that the batter of the fish was basically KFC skin.

I don’t mean my fish was coddled in actual chicken skin – although I wouldn’t put it past you cheeky Americans – I mean that the Colonel’s secret herb and spice mix had somehow found its way into my fish batter.

And after 13 seconds of resisting this heinous abomination of an English classic, I gave in.

We had a post-dinner stroll along the dingy Boardwalk, passing the amusement arcades, fried chicken and doughnut outlets, and the decaying bones of a wooden roller-coaster.

We weren’t 100% sure about this dusty, tattered edge of land that was Daytona central, although it didn’t fail to provide a somewhat clichéd introduction to the South, particularly in the form of the baby-holding guy who was wearing a T-Shirt that proudly growled ‘Spare me the debate – I’ll stick to my guns’, lovingly embroidered with images of rifles.

After finding ourselves on the outskirts of a U2 tribute concert, we decided we would permit jet lag to get the better of us, and wearily taxied back to the hotel and the throaty splutters of our air conditioning unit.

Conclusion: Daytona Beach is stunning. Daytona is like a humid, unkempt Brighton. And we never did find out if Main Street rose from the dead once the blazing red sun went down.

UP NEXT: Moonshine, the hangover from hell, and the best Monday afternoon ever in beautiful Savannah, Georgia. 

 

Becky says things about … Netflix

It is well known that the continuation of human existence relies heavily upon feelings of amorousness that arise from a man and a woman being stuck indoors together. I believe the formula goes something like:

rainy night + shepherd’s pie + nothing on TV = a new life 9 months later

 

But Biology has not taken into account the greatest threat to the continuation of human life since the time Tesco ran out of Lambrini: NETFLIX.

Picture this: a Wednesday night. It’s cold and windy outside. A couple is snuggled on the sofa in front of a roaring fire. A bottle of red, mostly drunk, adorns a nearby table. The air is brimming with lusty potential, with the tingling prospect of physical pleasures, until…

In that moment, the potential for a new life to enter the world 9 months hence from that night, vanishes.

And this happens again and again, across the globe, the relentless interruption of humanity’s continuation, for months, years, decades, until, eventually…

…we die out.

The rigid hold Netflix has over us! Its addictive, alluring grip closes ever tighter, forcing us to stare indefinitely at its proferrings, to wade eternally through its vast forests of visual fruits, until things like food, sex and bodily functions play second, third and fourth fiddle to finishing a season of Black Mirror.

And what of those few new lives that manage to squeeze into being, those that were spawned whilst their impatient parents were waiting for their episode to load? What will Netflix’s effect be on them?

And what of productivity? How can someone* sit at their desk and write their novel when suddenly faced with a pop-up that offers a list of the Best 1,742 Series to Watch on Netflix Right Now?

* I definitely don’t mean me.

Face it: Netflix is a drug, a temptation that lures us into distraction and endless hours of square-eyed-ness. Imagine what would have happened if the Serpent had offered Eve a laptop instead of an apple?

Of course, I am well aware that there still exist people in this world that have yet to become depedant on this drug, or who have even found the fortitude to resist it. Netflix does not hamper their sex life or productivity; does not force them to urinate in a bucket in front of their TV to avoid pausing an episode of House of Cards.

And the terrible, devilish paradox?

They don’t know what they’re missing.

Isn’t Netflix WONDERFUL?? Hey, it’s a Monday evening, and I’ve got an urge to watch something about a murdered nun, and I want it to link inexorably to the dark underbelly of the Catholic Church… oh HI, The Keepers! Or I have a couple of hours to spare, and I really wish I hadn’t given away my DVD of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves…. well HEY THERE, Netflix, thanks for saving the day! But what if I’m disillusioned with society and want to spend the next two weeks in solitary confinement and only leave the house to stock up on wine, crisps and bananas… Hello, Mad Men! Take me away to your glossy corridors and do not let me, even for a moment, think of the many things I need to do in my actual life.

The variety, Listener. The choice. Like a gargantuan banquet on which you gorge until you are sick, and just when you think you’ve feasted enough on rich, delicious victuals, they bring out… the cheese board.

Do not underestimate the educational potential of Netflix. It has taught me many things: how to make crystal meth, how not to behave in prison, how to commit a murder and get away with it. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s taught me that in a different life, I would have very much liked to be a heavy rescue operator towing trucks out of snow on a remote Canadian highway (thank you, Highway Thru Hell. You are officially my guiltiest of guilty pleasures).

So what is the answer to preserving the human race? How do we resist the charms of this vile seductress? How do we defy the evil SSSSHHHHHH I’M REWATCHING MAKING A MURDERER HOW DARE YOU INTERRUPT ME GET OUT OF HERE YOUR HEINOUS SWINES

 

Becky says things about … New Year’s Resolutions

Isn’t January wonderful!! Isn’t it glorious to feel so refreshed and motivated for the year ahead? So full of zeal and gusto??

And what’s the best thing about January? Why, New Year’s Resolutions, of course! You are not truly a person unless you march into a new year equipped with an arsenal of things that you are definitely going to achieve this year. And if some of those things are the same things you’ve marched into every other year with? Then, hell, you’ll be all the more equipped to achieve them!

Can you smell that? That, my friend, is the smell of your determination. It is a heady aroma of grease, sweat and pureed spinach; it is a wonderful smell! It is the smell of success! This is the year you WIN AT LIFE.

Are you excited? You should be. What’s not exciting about the prospect of making your own vegetable smoothie every single morning?? You can feel the goodness seeping into your body, washing away all the gin and cheese-induced negativity and evil kebab thoughts. You will take pleasure in perusing the gleaming vegetable aisles, and you will smile broadly at the checkout, because you know what? You cannot put a price on SUCCESS.

You will laugh in the face of the slimy mess that will slide over your kitchen worksurfaces every morning as you fumble bleary-eyed with the blender to create your cocktail of vitality and victory. And when you throw away three bags’ worth of rotting vegetables at the end of every week, you will not despair, my brave warrior: you will overcome this by BUYING SOME MORE.

But you will not stop there. You will become a GOD this year. If you haven’t already signed up to a gym membership, do it NOW. Perfection does not come to those who do not open January gym memberships! Think of the tingling anticipation of entering that brightly-lit, slightly moist cavern of likeminded winners, united in their pursuit of glory.

The thrill of the push up! The quiet arousal of the star jump! The dignified ebullience of the lunge! Run, run, my friend, on that treadmill, sticky with the fruits of previous winner’s mighty endeavours; squat your way to eternal happiness; hoist the dumbells of negativity into the cosmos of triumph! YOU ARE A GOD.

But the attainment of physical supremacy is only the beginning. This year will bring so much more! FEED YOUR MIND. Can you imagine the thrill of finishing your novel? Of completing that symphony? Of putting the delicate finishing strokes to that oil painting of an aubergine in peril? Of course you can imagine it. BECAUSE YOU ARE A WIZARD OF YOUR OWN DESTINY.

Kale is not the enemy. Spelt is a delicacy to be discovered and relished. That soft nightly slab of brie will be tossed asunder to make way for the yeast-zapping prowess of a pot of live biocultures. Those silken cubes of dark chocolate will shrink into the shadow of a carefully measured cup of unsalted almonds. Walking three miles out of your way to work in order to achieve your 10,000 steps a day? A triviality. Calling your mother every evening to talk about her psoriasis and the new conservatory? A simple pleasure. Replacing your nightly bottle of wine with a flask of camomile tea? You laugh in the face of such an easy task. Why have you never managed to do these things in previous years? Because you did not truly assemble the bracken of self-belief in the hearth of motivation and light it with the touch paper of success. But this year? This year will be different. YOU will be different.

I know, I know. I make it sound so easy. I am alarming you with the force of my belief in you. You are nervous – perhaps a little unsure – about your ability to withstand the pressure of cultivating and maintaining perfection in all aspects of your life, every single day. But, my soldier of prospect, you have the greatest tool within you to achieve all of this: the NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION.

So go – go, my darlings. Adorn your fridge with the post-its of determination, which will form a collage of your own victory. You are you. This is 2018.

And if you don’t do any of this in 2018, you can always try again next year.

 

AND IF YOU LIKED THAT…

… then you may be interested to know that my friend Stickman has made it onto a range of greetings cards! You can buy them on my Etsy site here. All proceeds go to putting Stickman through astronaut school.*

*May be a lie.

Becky says things about … a 13 year-old’s diary

Great and powerful Listener, I have been inspired by the wonderful Tess at If Destroyed Still True, who does the unthinkable and publishes her teenage diaries online for the world to snigger at. She has inspired me to delve into the first diary I ever kept, at the tender age of 13, back in 1998.

Listener, it is a hotbed of invaluable life lessons and insights.

Come, if you will, and allow me to share them with you.

The sky’s the limit 

Monday 19th January 1998

I’m 13. Wow. What a thought! I’ve decided I want to be a detective or a police woman if I don’t get to be an actress. Or I’d like to do stuff with the Titanic, like be a ‘Explorer of the Titanic’ because I find that ever so interesting.

Friday 23rd January 1998

Watched Parkinson. It had Dawn French, Carol Vorderman and Geri Halliwell on it. I’m going to be famous and get asked to do something like that. I know I’ll be REALLY famous when I get asked to be on Parkinson.

Computer games are extremely important

Thursday 15th January 1998

I still can’t get off level 4 of Theme Hospital, and really don’t know what I’m doing wrong. No matter how neatly I make the rooms or clean up the sick or stop the rats from spreading I just can’t get to level 5. Oh well. Keep trying.

Wednesday 23rd September 1998

I have found a way of cheating on levels on Theme Hospital!!!!! BEST DAY EVER.

Thursday 24th September 1998

Went to Megan’s to help with her homework. I ended up showing her the Theme Hospital cheat but it doesn’t work on her computer. I’m quite pleased about that actually.

Teenagers occasionally lack empathy

Saturday 7th March 1998

I’m really not enjoying flute lessons. Linda keeps giving me a load of crappy exercises to do which are either really boring or really difficult.

Saturday 25th April 1998

Didn’t have a flute lesson because Linda’s mum died. YES GOT OUT OF A FLUTE LESSON.

 

The world doesn’t revolve around you

Monday 2nd March 1998

Told Andrea about getting a hamster. She didn’t want to talk about it. She doesn’t like talking about ANYTHING apart from herself.

Boys are an emotional roller coaster 

Tuesday 28th July 1998

Went to Tom’s with Kyle and Aaron and we were going to watch a horror film but ended up watching Fawlty Towers, which is so much better. Me and Tom were snogging but then he started eating cheesy Doritos so I pretended I’d had enough of snogging because YUCK.

Saturday 3rd October 1998

I think Tom’s losing interest in me. He hardly ever phones me now. Oh well. That didn’t last very long.

Sunday 14th February 1999

Went to Pizza Hut with Tom. Then we went back to his house and he made me laugh for approximately two and a half hours.

JUST REMEMBERED it was Valentine’s Day today!!! We didn’t even get each other a card!! I wonder if that’s why he wanted to take me to Pizza Hut, as a Valentine’s treat? Bit rude if so, as I paid for half.

Pride comes before a fall

Monday 8th June 1998

I got the highest possible mark in History!!! For my slave diary!! Mrs Waite said it was worthy of publication!!! I AM A GENIUS AT HISTORY.

Tuesday 9th June 1998

I got 28% in Maths. I will never understand Maths.

 

Witty comebacks are a skill to be acquired

Monday 20th July 1998

We did the fashion parade in Drama (‘Plastic Fantastic’). I wore my plasticky skirt, high shoes and sparkly top. Bit cheaty, I suppose, but I didn’t have time to actually make anything. Well, when I did my little catwalk thing, I got back and there’s Erica and Caitlin. Erica’s going ‘She looks like a prostitute – a right tart!’ Then she goes ‘You’re cheating, it’s not very plastic, is it?’ So I go ‘Well your face is.’ I’m not sure it was a good insult but it’s the best I could do at short notice.

The first proper party is everything

Friday 24th July 1998

There was a party at Julia’s! Mum and dad let me go because I begged. Me and Tom were snogging loads, and we all sang songs in the attic room and mucked around with a Hoover. At 4am it started getting light and I did one of those ghosts boards with Ellie and Candice (can’t remember what they’re called – weejie board??). Anyway I don’t know why we did it or what the point of it was, but we were awake until FIVE THIRTY and then I fell asleep on a windowsill and woke up at nine!!! It was SO COOL!!!!

Fashion is mega important, but occasionally tricky

Sunday 26th April 1998

Went to Kingston with Mum and she bought me some new Nike trainers and some Adidas shorts, and some combat trousers and an army top. They’re all really cool and I look like All Saints in them.

Friday 17th July 1998

Wore my really cool pinstripe trousers and new Reebok jumper to Mufti Day. Really cool. My make-up was a disaster though. I did it from my big new make-up box from Argos, and I did my eyeshadow in orange and with thick eyeliner like all the girls wear, but mine just looked awful.

Teenagers can be harsh

Thursday 17th September 1998

The most terrible thing happened today. Between me and Alyssa. Because I STUPIDLY told Cara and Robyn about the list of the people Alyssa hates. I told them not to tell anyone. I go into the form room at lunch. Alyssa comes in. EVERYONE goes ‘Why do you hate me, Alyssa? Who else is on your list?’ They were all yelling at her and I’m sitting there thinking ‘Oh my God. What have I done??’ I made her cry. I felt SO bad. I have never been so horrible to anyone in my entire life.

 

Trying to be a grown-up is fraught with difficulties

Saturday 26th September 1998

Went to see ‘Lethal Weapon 4’ at the cinema with Ellie. It was a 15 certificate!! But we didn’t get asked for ID or anything! As we were going up the stairs into the cinema, we heard our names being shouted, and Megan and Alice were in the queue and they yelled up ‘Did you get in??’ IDIOTS. We legged it into the cinema and hid in the seats.

Sometimes, life is unfair

Friday 13th October 1998

I got moved in German because I was chewing on my jumper. Not sure it was fair to move me. It was MY jumper, after all.

It’s the small things

Monday 25th January 1999

Me and Susie had fun with a note under the table in French. Cara flicked a spring at Mr Hickman and I threw a rubber in her mouth. It was so cool.

A social life doesn’t always work out

Friday 16th October 1998

Me and Ellie went to what we THOUGHT was a planned sleepover at Julia’s but when we got there her parents were in and Julia wasn’t there and we ended up watching two episodes of Friends with her parents and then we left and wandered round New Malden and went back to Ellie’s and Dad picked me up.

One is aware of one’s abilities

Thursday 1st October 1998

I hate Art, I hate Maths, I hate French. We had to draw SHAPES in Art today. I AM 13 YEARS OLD. I know how to draw a rectangle for pity’s sake.

Technology had a long way to go 

Friday 29th January 1999

Me, Ellie and Ruth tried to do a three-way phonecall. It didn’t work. I thought we’d pressed all the right numbers but I ended up hanging up on them both and when I tried to call them back they were both engaged.

Presents were brilliant

Friday 25th December 1998

Christmas Day. Got some BRILLIANT presents: a manicure kit, a sheep hot water bottle, fibre optic lamp (cool!), Robbie Williams album, Austin Powers video, Body Shop smellies, chocolate, a Delia Smith cookery book about eggs, pink folder, fluffy pencil case, a blow-up picture frame, make up bag, bubble bath, nice earrings x 2 pairs. I think I’ve done rather well.

So what have we learnt from this experience, loyal Listener?

1) Being a teenager was cool.

2) Lethal Weapon 4 is a hugely underrated film.

3) Not everyone wants to talk about hamsters.

4) Inevitably, you will get old and ask for a slow cooker for Christmas.

 

Becky says things about … small pleasures

Most glorious Listener, the other day I returned from purchasing kitchen roll to discover… that I already had kitchen roll.

Quite apart from being peeved that I had over-stocked, I was perhaps unjustifiably delighted. I had gained kitchen roll! I wouldn’t have to buy any more kitchen roll for at least four days! I could be frivolous, perhaps even whimsical, with my surplus supply of kitchen roll! I was almost tempted to knock over a glass of water just so I could mop it up with my abundance of kitchen roll without the creeping fear of running out!

You will agree, loyal Listener, that this would constitute, in the grand scheme of life, a small, perhaps even minuscule pleasure.

But it is these small pleasures that can brighten the otherwise turgid monotony of our days.

Consider this: a vicious cockwombling driver roars dangerously in front of you, filling your car with noxious fumes and preventing you from hearing a crucial moment on Radio 4. A few moments later, you come to a serene stop next to the disgraceful bumface at a red light.

That, my friend, is a small yet palpable pleasure.

As is taking a priced item to a checkout – an item that you were perfectly prepared to purchase at the stated price – to then discover that the item is three pounds cheaper than the stated price.

But what of the divine pleasure of catching someone in the exact moment that they do something stupid? What joys can be gained from seeing a hapless stranger (or even better, a friend) spill drink down themselves, or trip up a kerb, or accidentally fall on a knife? The other day I was fortunate enough to glance at a dude in a cafe at the exact moment he stabbed himself in the mouth with his fork.

And yes, the post-workout feeling of intense smugness and rejuvenation and vitality is undoubtedly something to celebrate, but it pales in comparison to having your well-meant exercise attempt thwarted by something entirely out of your control.

And what of this? You are at a restaurant. You are in great company. You have ordered your food. Your companion is scintilating, witty and beautiful, and is offering you the best that social small talk can proffer. But all you can think is whereismyfoodwhereismyfoodwhereismyfoodwhereismyfood.

It is a tense time. It doesn’t matter how stimulating the company, waiting for your food to arrive is a time of anxiety and mounting hunger.

So you go to the toilet. You don’t need to, but in four minutes you can distract yourself from the screaming absence of food.

And, if the Gods are smiling down on you, if Life Itself has dealt you the perfect hand, you return to your table…

…and your food is there.

Let us not forget the power of a good floss. You have scrubbed your teeth vigilantly and with gusto, you have mouthwashed and spat into the sink with the force of a thousand bullets, and yet one touch of a silken thread of floss through your back molars reveals a piece of mouth gubbins so substantial, that your self-disgust is trumped only by self-admiration at your dextrous ability to rid your mouth of such a monstrous piece of culinary refuse.

Celebrate the small pleasures, dear Listener. Each small pleasure is a tiny triumph in the marathon of Life (particularly seeing someone fall over, which is worth at least five small pleasure points).

 

 

 

 

 

Becky says things about … acne

Listeners, we need to talk about acne.

If you suffer from it, I understand; now sit down and listen to Auntie Beck tell you a lovely story about her acne. If you don’t suffer from it, you are a lucky swine, but you need to listen all the same, because I bet you know at least one person with zits the size of Jupiter who could do with some empathy.

Sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

I had textbook teenage spots: the equilateral triangle of whiteheads on the forehead; the oily pimpular dusting on the chin; the bulbous protrusions on the temples.

It didn’t bother me that much; I was gloriously confident, and wore a lot of animal print. Then I went to a house party and some dude casually said ‘Ah, I see you’ve grown a spot since I last saw you.’

To be fair to the snivelingly rude arsehole, it was a gargantuan spot, but from then on I took acne more seriously. Happily, me taking acne more seriously coincided nicely with acne taking me more seriously, and it ventured onto my back in cheerful globular mounds, and to my chest in snug, tight little pustules. Mum took me to the doctor and I was prescribed some green gel that had three noticable characteristics: 1) it stung like hell when applied; 2) it left crispy flakes on my bedsheets; and 3) it did bugger all to clear up my acne.

So I bumbled on into my late teens, single-handedly keeping the concealer-stick industry afloat, and then at university my acne got bored and wandered off. Not completely – I was still never without a peskily determined blemish – but it took a holiday.

Then when I was about 26, my acne folded away its Hawaiian shirt, turned off the TV, put on its industrial boots and went back out to work.

Spots appeared where they had never appeared before, namely on my jawline, up my cheekbones, under my chin, on my neck. And they were angry. Painful. And so there.

No amount of foundation or concealer is going to completely conceal an acne-splattered face. You can still see Everest when it’s covered in snow, can’t you? Well, you can still see savage boils of hell on your chin when they’re slathered in expensive ‘blemish concealing’ foundation. You can see a spot particularly well just as it’s starting to crust, and your foundation forms a little moat of oily goo around the flaky peak.

Two things happen when you try to cover up spots: 1) You are constantly convinced that everyone is staring at the vicious pustule on your chin (which they may well be doing); and 2) due to your acne-prone skin being insatiably oily, by 2pm your blemish concealing foundation has slid right off your face.

The good news for acne sufferers is that there are many thousands of products you can spend your hard-earned money on that will definitely categorically 100% certainly get rid of your acne and give you perfect baby skin. The bad news for acne sufferers is that you have to purchase every single one of them to eventually find the one that actually works. The worst news for acne sufferers is that 99% of them are bollocks.

Becky’s Guide to Acne Treatments

1. Buy every single item in your local pharmacy’s acne aisle. Constantly dab at your pustules with witch hazel sticks, smother your skin in chemical-smelling gels. Result. Your spots laugh at your pathetic attempts to get rid of them, and you are £40 worse off.

2. Venture to department store skincare counters. Swoon over promises of radiant, blemish-free skin. Buy five products from the ‘acne-prone’ range. Follow a complex 17-stage cleansing, exfoliating, toning and moisturising regime twice a day. Result. Your skin looks like it’s been doused in paint stripper, your spots shake their pus-filled heads in amusement, your productivity levels plummet because you are spending four hours a day removing various products from your face in small delicate circular movements, and you are £160 worse off.

3. Go for the highly-advertised cures (only available online), which are backed up by science and research. You receive a clinical gift box of scientific unguents containing all the seriously-named chemicals that are clinically proven to obliterate your acne, like hydrational hydrabollockychlorzine acid or badgerzhoric A12. The clinical gift box comes with an informative booklet telling you that, in addition to the science that you have just sold all your jewlerry to purchase, you should eat lots of fruit and veg and drink 497 pints of water a day to cure your acne. Result. After three days of using the highly-advertised scientific cure, your acne looks slightly better. You tearfully rejoice at the miracle of science for ending your carbuncled misery. On the fourth day, you have 13 extra spots, your skin looks like it’s been sandpapered by a bad-tempered wilderbeast, and you are £90 worse off.

4. Resort to home remedies. Study ’17 home remedies that WILL cure your spots!’ on the Interweb, and scrub at your skin with cider vinegar, lemon juice, lavender oil and turmeric whilst quietly weeping. Result. A turmeric face pack leaves you looking dangerously jaundiced for at least a week, your bathroom is in a right state, and your spots are finding it all hilarious.

Listener, I tried them all. When I found myself following instructions for a sweetcorn and angel tear face pack I decided enough was enough and went to my GP.

And I was unfathomably lucky: despite my acne not being comparable to some of the cases that some poor souls suffer, my GP understood that it was affecting my life, and prescribed me isotretinoin (also known as roaccutane or accutane). I had never heard of it. I had thought the only last option available to me was lasering my skin off in an exclusive Harley Street clinic and living the rest of my days inside a rubber giraffe mask.

Now, isotretinoin is no walk in the park. I had to have blood tests to make sure I was physically well enough to start it, and it comes with a whole heap of fun side effects, like incredibly dry skin, sore lips, joint pain, dizziness. Within a month of being on the drug my lips felt like they would blow off in a sudden gust of wind, and my skin was feeling decidedly dry and shrivelled.

For the first time in my life I was buying moisturiser for very dry skin and slapping it on my face so that I resembled a seal caught in an oil slick. But, gradually, old spots faded, and new ones didn’t materialise. I couldn’t believe it. I can’t believe it. I took my last pill nearly four months ago, and right now the only really visible blemish on my face is a red mark on my forehead which is the result of a poorly-aimed eyebrow scratch.

There is no sugar-coating acne. It is rubbish. You can spend all day listening to fluffy platitudes that ‘you are beautiful no matter what’, but you can pretty much guarantee that the producer of those platitudes has never had to deal with a crusty, seeping Eighth Wonder of the World in the middle of their forehead. If you have acne, it is a daily battle.

And it’s easy for me to say ‘Go ahead, try isotretinoin’  as one of the lucky ones who has had a success story; but, like a smug ex-smoker, there’s always a chance that my acne abstinence will break and those devilish little swines will creep back onto my face again. But if you haven’t tried it, give it a go. It might just be that one thing that works for you. It’s surely better than spending a third of your life exfoliating your skin with the sap of an ancient Babylonian mountain plant (only available online).

And whatever you do, don’t try the turmeric face pack. Trust me.