Monday, March 18, 2013

Adventures in Hair Removal

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am hairy. It's a fact. I can't get around it, it's just the way it is.

I blame it on my genetic heritage: part caucasian, part East Indian, part...??? If I was a dog, in  Trinidad I'd be known as a Pot Hound (because when you rattle the pot, the dog comes running), everywhere else I'd be known as a mongrel. Along with stubbornness (both sides) and a flair for creativity (father's side), I have inherited the hairy gene.

There are the upsides. I have a full head of hair. It's thick with a tendency to curl. I'm not sure who I can blame on the early grey part, I was 23 when I first noticed a smattering o hairs when I was pregnant with Boy. 

I wouldn't mind so much; if only it was limited to the top of my head.

If I didn't shave my legs and arms every day, darlings I resemble the Amazon rainforest: walking tree covered in foliage. Honestly.

One of the things they don't tell you when you're a wee baby girl, is that when you turn a certain age, hair starts sprouting over your top lip and on your chin. And they aren't tiny, subtle hairs either. I'm talking long, thick and wiry. If I didn't deal with the hair on the top of my lip every week, I could have a full-waxed handle-bar that would Edwardian men cry.

My hairline begins just above my eyebrow.

You'll note I used singular. You see, I have only one eyebrow that goes straight across my forehead. Frida Kahlo, you pre-pubescent girl. Call that facial hair?! Hah!

Frida Kahlo - self portrait with monkeys

There's a very persuasive feminist argument that says shaving is bad. It's a hair-less dogma dictated by society and the media to reduce women to adolescent girls. After all, hair is a sign of sexual maturity.

There's part of me going: Right On Sistah! But I view feminism as giving women choices and the right to make up their own minds about their bodies and how they live their lives. So, yes I'm very sympathetic to the pro-body hair argument, but honestly, it's not for me. I just don't like how it feels.

There are very few hair removal techniques I haven't tried: shaving, waxing, threading and hair removal creams. Epilators have never appealed, I've looked at no-no and the reviews don't match the marketing and I haven't won the lottery to afford laser.

Thanks to the my economic situation, I have had to come up with crafty ways to be hair-free. I tried hair removal cream [if you aren't drinking or eating anything and are in the privacy of your own home, have a look at these reviews for Veet for Men. They are live on Amazon and bloody hilarious] and the results have been less than helpful.

I don't mind having my forehead and eyebrows waxed. It's over and done within seconds and it's perfect. If the beautician is using good products and a soothing aftercare lotion, you don't end up with fuchsia strips instead of eye shadow.

There are threading booths around Norwich that don't charge a lot. You can rock up, they do you there and then and et voila! Two lovely sculpted eyebrows!

Or at least that's what should happen.

I don't like threading. It hurts, takes ages and can cut the delicate skin around my eyes. You've got to pull the skin taut, which for me is an exercise in frustration given I moisturise and I wear contact lenses. 

Yesterday, I rocked up at the threading booth and sat down to have two eyebrows. I am less than pleased with the results. She dispensed with two-thirds of my eyebrow and has left me with two thin angular lines. It looks like they were drawn on with a ruler and a set-square. Honestly, they make me look like I'm cross.

Oh wait. I am cross.

It's no good. I am just going to have to learn how to pluck the damned things myself. That way, the next time I end up with two thin lines, it'll be no one else's fault but my own. 


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Have You Seen My Blogging Mojo?

Seriously, I can't find that sucker anywhere. I was getting into The Blogging Flow and then was gone.

So whilst I go looking for it, here are a few things I've been doing:

- working for a living. Yes, I've been turning up at the office and they've been paying for the pleasure of my company. I've been doing extra time, which my bank manager seems pleased about, I'm just behind everything else. It's actually been fun, apart from the fact I lost February. Don't ask.

- reading. I have been reading more. I realised I had got so focused on writing, working and social media, that reading had gone out the window. I paid off a chunk of my credit card and then thanks to Amazon, it went back on again. I think I'm a slow learner when it comes to money. I'm just not getting the hang of paying off debt and keeping it off.

- annoying Boy. We've been hanging out, watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer from Season 1. It's all good.

- thinking about exercising and losing weight. Yes, I'm still thinking about it. I'm just as much as I was at the beginning of the year, except I'm grumpier about it all. Lawrence has foolishly agreed to take me cycling around the countryside. I say 'foolishly' because I'm not safe on a bike. If only the damned weather would improve; there is no way I'm going out in snow, ice or rain. Hence, we've only been out for 5 minutes so far since we agreed to cycle together about a month ago. 

- procrastinating writing. I had cause to go back a month of status updates on Facebook and was somewhat chagrined to read I was supposed to have edited my novella over 4 weeks ago. It hasn't happened and I haven't written anything new. No, I still don't know what happened to February.

- eating out. I love eating out. Unfortunately, catering experience and hanging out with Lawrence means I've turned into *that kind of food critic*: the critical bitch who sniffs at everything. However, given how little money I have to spend, when I do spend it, I want it to be delicious, served up in amenable surroundings and be value for money. Is it too much to ask? Apparently so.

- putting on make-up. I have two extremes for personal grooming. 1. I won't leave the house without a full-face of slap. Go outside without my Face on? Are you mad? I'd sooner leave the house naked....and 2. See, I made an effort, I brushed my teeth. A pop-psychologist might suggest it's a reflection of the state of my self-esteem. Actually, it's not. There are some days when I know I'm tired and run down and look like shit, so put on make up. There are others when I'm feeling gorgeous and sexy and can't be arsed to. And both opposites can hold true. Lawrence doesn't care. I've asked him. He told me. 

B.B creams are all the rage, so I thought I'd give some a bit of a go. The Garnier one is very shiny, the L'Oreal one very matt. Have they turned me into a 24 year old? No. I am still 42 with the beginnings of canyons across my forehead (when it's not hidden by my hairline) and a lot of laughter lines. We aren't going to talk about the loss of elasticity in my cheeks.

I'm aware that none of these products will make the slightest bit of difference. At the end of the day it's pretty much down to genetics as to how well you age. But the creams smell lovely and are nice to use. I suppose I just like playing with them.

Now that summary is out of the way, hopefully my mojo will come back.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Baby Coffee Geek goes to Bury St Edmunds...

...for the 3 heat in the UK Barista Championships. Lawrence is once again a coffee judge and local coffee shop owner and amazing barista Alex Sargeant (@StrangersCoffee if you're tweeters) was competing. Heat 3, a two-day event, was organised by Butterworth and Son, who also keep Alex in artisan roasted coffee from around the world.

I had a total diary malfunction and thought February had another week to go. This created havoc at work, and of course when it came time to organise me going down both days. As it happened, it all worked out. I was able to swap my days around and I went down on for the Tuesday to support Alex.

Lawrence said afterwards that he was concerned that I'd get bored. Hah! I'd brought my Shiny Thing with me and accessed the free Wi-Fi at The Apex, in Bury which was a top venue.   Once we got there (all hail the mighty sat nav), Lawrence abandoned me to get ready to be a coffee judge. Union Roasted were on the coffee bar, but it was so early they hadn't set up yet. I'd had one cup of coffee to get me going, but I needed more to remain coherent. Desperate, I went to the coffee stand run by the venue. Alex walked in after I'd managed to choke down half of it (desperation is a terrible thing, you end up doing things you regret), he just burst out laughing. I'd ordered a cappuccino and it was appalling. The milk was foamed to the point I could have shaved my legs with it, it was so for the coffee itself. Well, the less said about it the better. It was a disgrace to be served something that appalling at the venue of an event celebrating coffee and the professionalism and skill of baristas around the country.

I digress. I didn't have a role, per se as Alex's crew. I did demand a t-shirt that said Alex's Bitch, but he was mean and didn't get me one. Humpf. Basically, I got to hang out with people who are passionate and enthusiastic about coffee and drink as much fabulous coffee as I could handle (not much as it turns out). 

The coffees that the baristas use takes the concept of  Fairtrade, beats it to a pulp and leaves it to die in the sun. These coffee houses are so passionate about ethically sourcing their coffee that they when visit the farms, they negotiate a price for the coffee over and above the market price at the beginning of the season; and they will often support charities to educate the farmers, their workers and their children. This means the growers know exactly how much they'll get before they start harvesting, this enables them to budget, secure in the knowledge of their income at the end of the season. Market fluctuations will not crucify them as it normally does.

Anyway, enough waffle. I took some pictures to give you a flavour of the day.

Alex Sargeant, barista extraordinaire

Alex in the Practice Room, perfecting his technique

The accoutrements

David from San Remo, purveyors of amazing coffee machines and one of the sponsors of the event. David was mother hen to the baristas in the Practice Room

The Stage!

Another competitor doing his thang

The awesome Union Roasted drug dealer barista who kept my caffeine stream topped up

MY TAMPER! It had my initials on it, damn it, not Reg Barber

Alex setting up

Alex talking to Jeremy from Union Coffee, about his coffee and signature drink

Baristas have 15 minutes to produce 4 espressos, 4 cappuccinos and 4 signature drinks of their own invention based on the flavour notes they say are present in the espresso*. 

The espresso carries the heaviest weighting and is scored on the consistency and persistence of the crema (the fine foam on the top of the espresso which is caused by the oils and on it's own tastes really bitter), the beverage is then stirred three times front to back to mix in the crema. It's then tasted and then judged on the harmonious balance between sweetness, bitterness and acidity. Flavours that the barista identifies and the tactile balance of full bodied, roundness and smoothness. This is the star of the barista's arsenal and sets the tone of the suite of beverages they present to the judges.

Cappuccinos must look good! It takes its name from the Cappuchin monks whose bald pates surrounded by hair bore a similar appearance to a traditional cappuccino - a slightly raised, glossy circle of milk surrounded by the dark brown ring in the cup.

A "traditional" cappuccino 

This is really difficult to do well, so most baristas do "latte art". 

Latte art

Believe it or not, this is easier to do well, than the traditional. Note: no chocolate! Cappuccinos are judged on their visual appearance, consistency of foam and the flavour as a balance between the richness and sweetness of the milk and the espresso. If the milk is properly foamed it brings out the sweetness of the milk and there is no need to add sugar. (Alex is the Master of Milk).

A perfect example of an absolutely rubbish diabolical revolting poor attempt of a cappuccino

The signature beverage is the opportunity for the baristas to be creative with their espressos flavours e.g. if the espresso has flavour of cherries and almonds then the barista might add a cherry syrup and almond flavoured milk to produce a bakewell cappuccino; but the taste of the espresso must still dominate. 

Marks are given for how well the beverage is introduced, prepared and explained;  the creativity and synergy with the coffee and the taste balance according to the taste of the espresso. 

On top of the beverages, the baristas are judged on their customer service skills, their professionalism and presentation, attention to detail and even their appropriate apparel. And then the overall impression of the performance and the beverages. The idea is that they find the best coffee available, make it into the best espresso they can, produce a tasty and well textured cappuccino and then take it to a new level by adding complimentary ingredients to produce their signature drink.

Alex came 5th at the end of the two-day competition. I know he was slightly disappointed, but he was competing against three of the UK's top baristas, one of whom has been UK Champion twice. Currently, he's sitting 9th on the Leader Board, so after the results of Heat 4 in Chester, UK, we'll know if he's going through to the Semi-Finals at the London Coffee Festival 

However geeky you might think I am about coffee, trust me, I'm not. I am a baby geek when it comes down to it. The thing is, it's such a great feeling, being surrounded by knowledgeable, enthusiastic people, I loved attending the Midlands heat at Bury St Edmunds. As I said earlier, Lawrence was worried that I would get bored, but people are so friendly, welcoming and interesting, it's a fantastic experience.I am currently lobbying Lawrence hard to go to the London Coffee Festival, lots of coffee nerds and some of the best coffee a person could ever taste. 

* NB: It's espresso, never say expresso!

Friday, March 01, 2013

Why, it Must be That Time of Year...

...when I stand on my scales and frown.

Except that obviously frowning gives me wrinkles.

Technically, I'm not over-weight. 

I am now 9 stone. According to the BBC BMI calculator, I'm within the 'normal' range. Normal caveats apply (BMI is only particularly accurate if you're bed-ridden). The fact of the matter is: I don't feel healthy. I feel unfit.

And before you start ranting: no, I'm not a fashion-plate. I don't believe a woman must be emaciated. Images of anorexic models, don't make me wish for that body.

I would like to be leaner and fitter.

My ideal weight is: 8 stone.

In the past, I've been 8 stone and desperately unhappy. The best diets I've ever come across is remains the Bad Relationship diet or the End of Relationship diet. Both have meant I've been svelte within no time at all. The minute I'm content, I eat like a fecking horse. I've been in a stable happy lovely relationship for over 14 months now...and don't my jeans know it!

I did say to Lawrence that I blamed him, it's all his fault. He just looked smug. The bastard.

And of course, it's been a cold winter.

I've noticed my craving for stodgy, stick-to-your-ribs food increases as the temperature drops.

But the nights are drawing out, the days are lightening up. When I look at my backside in the mirror, I'd rather it weren't half way down to my knees. I am really not enjoying the bags of peas look either.

Let's be real about this: I'm 42 years old. I do this every year. The fact of the matter is if I was left to my own devices, I'd be lying in bed reading a book, munching through a bowl of popcorn (buttered and salted). 

Let's also be real about this: I'm 42 years old. My diet isn't bad, but it could do with far more fruit and veggies and far less processed shite. I don't move enough to burn off what I eat and the weight is just going to keep creeping up. I also have back, shoulder, neck and knee issues. Exercise relieves these discomforts. If I don't start moving now, in 30 years' time I'm not going to be moving much at all. I'm going to be looking back and thinking 'why the fuck didn't I move when I had the chance?'

Life without tobacco is content. I used to smoke. I don't now. Simple as that really. No drama there. So, if I can be smoke-free with no drama, no reason why I can't be fitter and leaner with no drama as well.

So, how do I do it? There's the question. According to Paul McKenna, it's about cutting down portion size, chewing slowly, move more and only eat what you want to. Incredibly sensible. Except I want to be 8 stone and I want to be 8 stone now! There's a new diet making the rounds - the 5:2 diet. You eat what you want for 5 days and fast for 2. By fast, you cut out 25% of your normal calorific intake. Unofficial feedback suggests it works. 

Lawrence says cutting down calories works, but you have to weigh everything and have to be constantly calculating what you put in your mouth. This is fine if I wanted to live off ready meals for the next two months to achieve this. 

Speaking of which, why is there suddenly a proliferation of these 'diet chefs' who promise they'll send you all your pre-cooked meals, straight to your door on your 'personalised' meal plan. Are people really that thick? Sainsbury's will do that for you at half the price. Actually, thinking about it, that approach would work. I could go through all their ready-meals, calculate everything so I stick to 800 calories a day. All I need is the money. It's a very expensive way of losing weight.

Before you start, my metabolism is so sluggish, if I eat the recommended 2,000 calories a day, I gain weight. This I know from experience. My naughtiness is crisps and chips. I don't binge on chocolate or biscuits or cake. My weakness is fat: butter, mayonnaise and double cream, preferably with lashings of grated cheese on top.

Ultimately, this has got to be about changing my lifestyle. Really, there's nothing much wrong with me that moving more and eating less fats wouldn't do. It's time I stopped talking about it and did it.