Marmite Crisis 2016 – Vegemite “This is Our Moment”

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Will Vegemite finally win over UK consumers? PHOTO: http://www.straitstimes.com

As if the ginger nut biscuit shortage earlier this year was not enough to shake the morale of the British public, last week threats were issuing from Tesco who was running dangerously low on essentials such as soap and toothpaste, as well as some of its biggest brands including Flora, PG Tips and most crucially, Marmite.

The supermarket spat came after Unilever announced that commodity prices would rise in the wake of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union earlier this year.

Government ministers admitted the move was an absolute disgrace and blamed Unilever for “using Brexit as an excuse” for price increases. It’s not the first market move which has been accused of pointing unnecessary blame at “Brexiteers”, however it certainly has been the first to strike fear amongst Britain’s Marmite lovers.

One social media user summed up attitudes around the globe in a succinct statement: “The British will tolerate a lot. But Marmite disappearing because of the Brexit pound? Get onto the streets, people.”

It wasn’t bad news for all, however. Vegemite, Marmite’s lesser-known Australian cousin, was hopeful that rising prices meant they would finally win the sales levels that for so long have been stripped from them by their more popular relative. As bad news rolled in for Marmite, on the 12th October they tweeted “@Bovril This is our moment.”

Nevertheless, Tesco and Unilever announced shortly after the initial rupture that the two had reached an agreement and that Marmite would remain on the shelves. It seems that Vegemite has not yet unlocked the secret to cracking the British market, and those who have been so quick to accuse Unilever of profiteering have been ridiculed. Market prices will rise and fall and as the pound wobbles, it is only natural that prices will adjust accordingly.

In such a time of economic uncertainty perhaps consumers will turn back to traditionally British, old-fashioned essentials. By the time Article 50 is triggered in March next year, we could be back to using carbolic soap, lard and Tetley, who knows?

What a time to be alive.

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Breaking the Silence of Buenos Aires’ Slums:How Community-based Media Has Given Voice to the Villas

Shanty towns have long been the irremovable blot on Latin America’s path to urban development. Sprung from decades of mass immigration and economic crises, these illegal neighbourhoods are hotbeds of drug crime, poor urbanisation and marginalisation which past governments have tried forcibly to eradicate, or simply ignore. In 1996, Argentina went so far as to build a motorway straight over two of its largest slums, known as villas, in the typically South American style of turning of a deaf ear on social problems. Everyday traffic sweeps over the mass of red and grey bricks, tangles of electrical cables and washing lines which make up Villa 31 and 31 bis, Buenos Aires’ two largest eyesores, but its residents refuse to be silenced by the roar of engines passing just metres above them.

Traffic roars by day and night on the Illia Motorwayover, passing just metres above residents who inhabit Villa 31 and 31bis | PHOTO: subdivx.com

Ruth Ledesma, mother of six and resident of Villa 31 for the past 20 years, continues her daily struggle for improvements to public services and basic housing rights. She works as a correspondent for Mundo Villa (Villa World), a community-based newspaper set up by her husband, Adams Ledesma, in 2008. Adams’ project created a medium through which public service shortages are brought to the attention of the authorities through a network of villa reporters. After his murder in 2010, Ruth has worked tirelessly to keep the cause alive and today Mundo Villa also comprises a television channel and radio station.

In 2013, Ways of the Villa, a charity mapping initiative, was inspired to draw up the first online maps for the communities which allow problems such as broken water pipes to be located and responded to more easily. Villas are emerging from beneath the radar and gaining a visibility which, as Mónica Ruejas, a representative from the Los Piletones villa, remarked “is helping us prove that we exist”.

Reporting for Mundo Villa | PHOTO: La Nación

Mundo Villa also chronicles the positives of villa life, something which Paula Stiven, who takes charge of its website, believes is critical to changing their image and bringing about inclusion in Buenos Aires’ culture. Villa correspondents now appear regularly on the Argentinian national news to report on local events and celebrities such as Manchester City footballer Sergio Agüero, born and raised in Los Aucaliptos villa, bring fame and respect to these poorer districts of the city.

This year the government finally chose to hear the villa’s cries. Mauricio Macri, Argentina’s new president and Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, mayor of Buenos Aires, promised redevelopment for Villa 31 and 31 bis in 2016, unveiling last month an ambitious 400 million dollar project for improvements to public health and education services as well as the diversion of motorway traffic to a new road around the edge of the area. Ruth’s home has been the location for discussions between authorities and villa representatives and where plans for Villa 31’s new cultural centre were unveiled by architects from Harvard University. Buenos Aires’ two largest illegal settlements are set to be transformed into “Barrio 31”, just another neighbourhood, and residents will receive the property rights they have demanded for so long.

Ledesma, however, remains sceptical. Urbanisation for the villas promised by Cristina Krichner’s government back in 2009 proved to be nothing more than a political stunt, which brought only a few new waste pipes to the communities. Although Macri seems committed to the project and work began earlier this month, Ruth voiced concern during discussions that “the government has to listen to what we, the people, have to say”. The villas have a powerful voice today which was silent in 2009. Let us hope that this ensures that promises are carried out with cooperation and success, as opposed to Krichner’s which transpired to be, much like the pipes she installed in Villa 31, unrelentingly full of sewage.

Pokémon NO

I wouldn’t say there are many things which entreat the English to leave the safety of their homes to gather in large sociable circles outside. We are typically a race of tea drinkers round the fire, brisk marchers through wet and muddy fields or knucklers down who just get on with it. There are very few things which will make us willing stay and engage in outside frivolities.

So I was a little perturbed about a month ago when I noticed crowds of people amassing on benches next to the war memorial in the village of Mistley. Rolling down the car window, I was able to make out some ten or fifteen individuals sitting outside, all engrossed in some phone activity. Every time I drove past after that there were more of them. The country seemed to be going slightly more insane by the day: the Brexit decision having been made in June, were we now descending into village greens demonstrations in July?

Libby Connor at the pokestop in Mistley: Locals have also contacted the game’s developers to request the ‘Pokestops’ - where players gather to catch Pokemon - are removed

Finally I chanced upon an explanation for the peculiar gatherings; in the local newspaper there appeared a short column on “Youngsters Hunting Pokémon” at the village war memorial. My heart sank. I would almost have preferred that juvenile deliquents reverted back to hoodies and petty knife crime. However, the chairman of Mistley Parish Council, Martin Rayner, actually praised the Pokémon Go gaming addiction and remarked that it was “great to have people come and visit the area”, although he did add that he hoped that they would “look around and enjoy their surroundings” as well as staying glued to their screens. I had been nothing but critical of the new Pokémon fad since it first appeared on the scene, so it was time to learn a bit more about it.

Launched in the UK a month ago, the new app picks up where the Pokémon card game craze of the 1990s left off. It allows players to hunt and capture Pokémon creatures (using ingeniously named “Poke balls”), train them and engage in fights with other catchers. The real buzz is that it allows you to do this in relation to your current surroundings and engage in a type of augmented reality. You can “see” Pokémon through your phone camera screen whether outside or at home, and real life monuments all over the world have become Pokémon gyms (including MI5 and the London Eye), where “trainers” meet up to enlarge their collection, duel with other keen individuals and swap gaming quirks in the quest to “catch ‘em all”.

And boy has it taken off. Pokémon GO had been downloaded no fewer than 12,000 times in the three and a half minutes that it took to google some download statistics, for example. An article published by Heavy.com last month cited that in the US over 15 million people downloaded the app in the first week after its release and by the 11th July it had 21 million daily users. Survey Monkey claimed that Pokémon Go had already passed tinder and twitter’s daily number of users and would soon surpass that of Google Maps. Essentially, therefore, humans on this planet are more interested in blundering through life searching for Pikachu than they are for future life companions or places of interest in their local area.

Pokémon GO has in fact attracted numerous admirers (Martin Rayner being one of them) for encouraging people to get up and out. From county to county parents have found themselves beseeched and dragged outside by their children for 3, 5 or 10km walks, in order to unlock Pokémon eggs. Higher up the age range teenagers and adults alike have found joy in an app that makes them move around for fun, instead of ones like Fitbit which oblige you to walk up and down the stairs 43 times a day and take up obscene pastoral dances just to fill the calorie burning quota or step count of the day.

Inevitably, there are also those bluff old traditionalists who try and pour cold water on the whole thing. The police have voiced concerns over a rise in traffic accidents caused by individuals so intent on catching Pidgy in the middle of the road that the global rules of physics and road safety momentarily deserted them. There have been warnings of thieves planting rare Pokémon in dark alleys to lure enthusiastic players into being cornered and mugged. Even Mr Rayner of the Mistley Parish council had one negative comment, publically wishing that the flocks of Pokémon trainers would “respect the area and not drop so much litter.”

Has independent research made me change my tune?

Game on, Britain. You have gone truly mad. How is it that we now live in a country which needs pixelated creatures to make us get out of the house and exercise? How have we been so duped by an app that articles issuing danger warnings and European issues seemed to have frittered out of our minds, replaced by those offering the latest gaming tips and cheats?  Pokémon GO may have made us swap the sofa for the village bench, but it has also made us blind to what is happening around us.

To Chew or Not to Chew?

You’ve got to admire the efforts of the papacy to keep things “young” in recent years. The Vatican now has an official Facebook page, and Pope Francis made his first appearance to the public on Twitter nearly four years ago, currently providing his 8.92 million followers with regular inspirational tweets of divine wisdom and biblical extracts (if you don’t already, follow him: @Pontifex). Just a few weeks ago, on the 19th March, a particularly awe-inspiring tweet heralded the addition of yet another string to His Holiness’ social media bow: “I am beginning a new journey, on Instagram, to walk with you along the path of mercy and the tenderness of God” it proclaimed. It seems that in addition to more liberal views on homosexuality and divorcees drinking red wine at church, Francis is also a pretty tech-savvy guy.

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Evo Morales presents a gift to Pope Francis, April 2016

So it may not have come as a surprise to many that ahead of his trip to Bolivia in July 2015 (for business not pleasure) reports emerged of the pontiff’s intentions to sample the controversial coca leaf. Subject to much debate, the hallowed herb has been lauded on the one hand by Bolivian president, Evo Morales, for its central role in the national culture and as a cure for the effects of “soroche” (altitude sickness), but chastised on the other for its involvement in the production of cocaine by the UN, who classed it as an illegal substance under its Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961. Speculation began to mount: was His Holiness about to further disseminate his liberal views into the field of South American narcotics? The Bolivian culture minister announced that they would “be awaiting the Holy Father with the sacred coca leaf”. The Vatican refused to comment.

So why all the fuss over a plant? Coca leaves have been used in their natural form as a mild stimulant and for medicinal purposes in Andean culture since the times of the Incas. Today they form a key part of indigenous religious festivals, and 30% of Bolivians chomp on or drink them in tea on a regular basis. As for its remedial role in combatting altitude sickness, I can testify that the acrid taste and bizarre sensation that accompanies masticating a pocket of damp, scratchy twigs in your cheek, suffices to distract anyone from any nausea felt due to adverse heights. 12,000 hectares of the stuff are grown to feed the Bolivian domestic market each year; coca is used in toothpaste, sweets, jam, wine and as of 2011 even a new energy drink, Coca Brynco. Contrary to the failed attempts of many indigenous communities across Latin America to maintain their traditional agricultural lifestyle in the face of modern global markets, rural coca growers in Bolivia continue to supply a trade which in 2014 generated 50% of the national GDP. Thus far it would appear that the face of God smiles down upon the cultivation of the crop.

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Coca leaf cultivation in Chicaloma, Bolivia

Yet there is a darker side to the coca leaf which has not been left unturned by the UN. Roughly 0.6% of the leaf’s content is the alkaloid cocaine, which can be extracted using chemicals to form the pure white substance so craved by addicts. Outside South America, most countries have banned the consumption of coca leaves in accordance with the 1961 UN Drug Convention, but Evo Morales, a former leaf grower himself, has continued to fight for their decriminalisation. He successfully negotiated Bolivia’s exclusion from the clause banning their use in 2012 following audacious campaigning, including a particularly sassy speech given at the 52nd meeting of the convention in March 2009. He produced from behind the lectern a few illegal specimens and popped them into his mouth, chewing nonchalantly. In response applause from the assembly he merely shrugged. For Evo, like many other Bolivians, coca is a simple fact of life. In almost all countries in South America, coca is a long established tradition, and leaf usage remains licit. Nevertheless, the international community maintain their hard line on the substance, enforcing strict limits on its production.

 

It seems there is only so far that Evo Morales’ coca diplomacy can go, however. His mantra of “Coca sí, cocaína no” (Yes to coca, no to cocaine) is a reasonable one, but the entanglement of the plant in the slander of the international cocaine industry has tarnished its reputation. Recent figures published are not flattering: an estimated 200 tonnes of Peruvian cocaine are transported via Bolivia every year, which is a key link in the air bridge created for the drug’s clandestine transport to Columbia. In November 2015 Bolivian officials despaired over how to destroy 3 million pounds of confiscated leaves (burning of such a venerable plant was not deemed appropriate), which was the maximum capacity they could keep in storage. The environmental scene also seems pretty bleak one: 38,000 tonnes of toxic waste from the cocaine manufacturing pollute Bolivia’s rivers every year and even Morales was forced to admit that illicit cultivation of the crop had begun to spread into Bolivia’s national parks by 2016. For all his endeavours to promote the use of natural coca in domestic products and its innocent inclusion in traditional culture, the ensnarement with cocaine seems unavoidable. A holy nod of approval could have provided the moral backing the leaf desperately needed.

But whatever the fate of the coca industry is to be, this time the Pope was to maintain the church’s traditional view on questionable substances. “I haven’t tried coca, I want to make that clear” he said on his flight home from Paraguay. It seems that for all his liberalism on other topics, biological stimulants is not one on which he seeks to comment. God won’t be giving his blessing to coca leaf growers just yet, nor advocating the use of coca toothpaste on Twitter. Divine usage of exotic herbs would certainly have caused a social media sensation.

 

Published in Exetera Magazine, The Illegal Edition, pages 34-35. May 2016 

Food for Thought

 

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Can I Drink it Now?

 

From time to time, there emerge in the public domain some of those truly ludicrous inventions that make one seriously question the levels of laziness and materialism that we have reached in today’s society. Take the “Avocado Saver”, for example; a unique plastic device invented to prevent avocado halves from going brown in the fridge (Pack of two available from Lakelands at £5.98). Or the battery-powered, self-revolving fork for eating Spaghetti. Or a health blog devoted to “Top Tips” on how to exercise and lose weight whilst watching TV (switching the damned thing off and getting out of the house strangely wasn’t included).

Just occasionally, one of these phenomenon jumps out and slaps you so violently with its complete and utter uselessness that it makes you want to sit and weep in a corner over the waste of space, time and energy that we devote nowadays to pointless endeavors. Last week there appeared an article in a much loved newspaper of mine, which produced from the very depths of my soul a moan of exasperation. The title was “Food Photography”, and it offered tips on how to get the most mouth-watering snaps of your comestible adventures, using only a simple camera phone.

Now I’m not trying to be arrogant here, I should probably follow the article’s advice. The gift of executing effortless gastronomic photography is one that I was sadly born without, and I don’t profess to know the slightest thing about modelling food on a plate or making sure its in the right type of light. To me its just food on a plate. And I do the only thing I have been taught to do with food on a plate, I eat it.

Spaghetti Eating Contest - Soho fair

What I seriously denounce is the fact that someone felt compelled to compile and publish such a list. Its a sad fact that we’ve progressed to such an extent of luxury that we are no longer grateful for the food in front of us, unless its received sufficient love on our Instagram feed. And don’t try and deny it. Why else would we take photos of the bloody stuff?  How could some budding writer have thought that wasting pages of a newspaper on amateur food photography was a worthy employment of time and energy, when we live in a world where 795 million of us don’t even have enough to eat?

I’m not saying that holding back on taking Foodie photos is going to solve world hunger, but I just ask that the next time we whip out a phone at the table, we take a moment to sit and be thankful that there is food in front of us, rather than agonising over how to capture a pouting lettuce leaf at its best angle.

Published in Exeposé, Issue 649, page 16. February 2016.

Lest We Forget the Life behind the Lens

I’m sitting here, locked in a small but very tedious mental battle with my iPad. As I flip through the hundreds of photos I have of my time abroad so far, I am filled with so many happy memories: travels to Castillo Pedroso, El Escorial, Valencia, Aranjuez, Segovia, embarrassing selfies, new friends, parties and food. I am utterly content to save the warm glow of these memories to myself, but the same internal struggle keeps running through my mind: to upload or not to upload? In my generation taking photos has become synonymous with uploading, whether it be to Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, but have we forgotten how to enjoy life without the cameras?

 

If we think back to the original purpose of “the photograph”, we have in mind the stern-faced, black and white portraits of important Victorian families adorned with large numbers of serious looking children, even stormier looking parents, and perhaps a nanny or two. Photos back then were the monopoly of the rich, who used them more as an indication of status than anything else, and the press, who used them to document important occasions. They certainly weren’t taken to share and enjoy (though I can quite see why, all the subjects looked positively miserable). As our interest in photos grew and images became more widely circulated, the age of the press reigned, and public figures and socialites had their lives covered by cameras. But it was them alone who had to worry about living life to be captured by at their most flattering angle, no one could know that this was about to become the reality of everyday people too.

 

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Blissful Solitude

 

Like the lives our best loved celebrities, the over-publicised private lives of the “selfie generation” barely have a moment free from the camera lens anymore. Photos have invaded every corner of our lives and social media has become our new photo album, a medium through which we document every trivial moment. It’s fantastic to be able to share photos with family and friends so easily, especially when you’re far from home, but need we really plaster the internet with inane selfies from nights out and pictures of what we ate for lunch yesterday? Wherever we are, whatever we are doing you can be sure that we will find a reason to share photos, whether it be #holidayboasties, #postcolitalselfies or #bestcoffeecatchupwithmybffl #edgy. And I truly believe that social media is now becoming the reason why we take photos, not just a way to share them. We want to show our network of online friends that we were at that party, or eat healthy food, or go to the gym, or are tagged in a photo with that person. We begin searching for happiness in the number of “likes” our photos get, rather than appreciating the moment just for itself. At a birthday lunch I went to recently, barely anyone chatted because half the time was spent taking photos of the food we were about to eat, and the other posing for photos of everyone enjoying themselves to upload later. When was the last time you were with friends, or saw a beautiful view, and decided not to take photos and put them on your profile? Those moments are becoming rarer than you think.

This obsession with documenting our lives online is by no means something that effects everyone, but it’s dangers are very real and very current. The shocking death of Peaches Geldof earlier this year gave rise to much speculation on her incessant documenting of her young family and husband on social media. When questioned about this in the last interview she gave before her death, she replied “I guess it’s the selfie generation. People have an innate desire for the approval of others.” How could a life appear so happy on an Instagram page, and yet actually be hiding great unhappiness? I do agree with her; our search for the appreciation of others is a natural human trait, and social media and the omnipresent camera have increased our exposure to it. In our image and photo-obsessed society, it’s not just the celebrities who worry about making their lives look good, everyone to a greater or lesser extent now does this. We have become our own paparazzi, all for a few likes online. And the constant stream of others’ seemingly happy and perfect photos has it’s effect on us too; studies show people to feel more depressed and envious after looking through their Facebook newsfeed as we start comparing our lives to the photos of others. As former Made In Chelsea star, Ashley James, said: “Social media is about enhancing your life and making the mundane look extraordinary…” Her photos from her blog show 2013 to have been an exciting and glamorous year for her, when in fact she was struggling to battle depression and anxiety. We can forget that real life is not always as picture perfect as our profile of colourful photos would make others believe.

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Peaches Geldof: A Picture Perfect Fantasy?

I not saying that I have a problem with taking photos. I get it, we all have to act like the Chinese tourist sometimes, to capture those rare or funny memories for later. They are a brilliant way to remember new travels, special events, good friends. I’m not saying either that there is anything wrong with uploading photos (I say this because I annoyingly I caved and finally uploaded a year abroad album onto Facebook a few weeks ago). All I feel is that photos shouldn’t suck all the fun out of life, nor should Facebook be the only reason you take them. Don’t let the photos invade the memories; you were at that festival to enjoy the music, not to pose 14 different times until you got the perfect new profile picture. Next time you whip out your camera think a moment why you are taking the photo, aren’t there some moments which are best enjoyed just for themselves?

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Lest we forget how to experience life through just our eyes, and not our camera screens.

 

Doesn’t Make the Cut

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I cannot help, upon entering that dreaded establishment of “the hairdressers”, but feel a sense of impending doom. All thoughts of rationality are left behind you as the door closes on the outside world and you survey a room filled with women of varying ages, each looking as uninspired to be there are you are. It is a rare type of place.

Every four to five months we have the pleasure of entering into it for a “haircut”. Or so this is what you are led to expect. In my experience the reality consists more of being sat in a deceptively uncomfortable chair, drinking complimentary drinks you don’t enjoy, and making small talk with a complete stranger while they run their fingers through your hair.

The relationship you have with your hairdresser is one of those uncomfortable and polite ones which in England we excel at forging with complete strangers. This is worse though, for you are compelled to make small talk with an individual for a prolonged period of time (which unfortunately means diverging from the topic of the weather) and wave goodbye to any ideas you had of personal space. Even now I still find the prospect a little daunting.

My last visit combined all my fears of the hairdresser: pointless small talk, an “interesting” result, and forcing myself to drink cappuccinos with extra chocolate sprinkles. After being deposited in a chair, I was introduced to Derek, my soon to be intimate friend for the next hour and a half. We eyed each other up wearily. I took in his pastel coloured jumper and effeminate perfume, he my wreck of a hairstyle.

15 minutes in and we were doing pretty well. I was describing to him the finer points of French grammar following his sudden affected interest that I studied languages. In turn I became extremely fascinated in his reasons for deciding to become a hairdresser. This was all going on whilst he washed my hair, and so communication was somewhat impaired. We gave up after I realised that it wasn’t the soap in my ear which made his French accent sound appalling.

After ten minutes we resumed conversation and he offered me coffee. This was the moment for me to publically admit that I don’t actually like coffee, and would rather have orange squash. I couldn’t bring myself to do it and instead accepted hastily. I was left staring into the mirror for the next five minutes wondering whether to run after him and say I’d changed my mind. Like the many times before, however, I gave up.

When he returned we began to discuss what sort of style I was going for and I ventured bravely into a monologue of terms such as “volume” and “lift” which I didn’t understand. Gestures seemed a necessary part of this particular discussion and he picked out strands of my hair and let them fall artistically into a less bedraggled mess to demonstrate what he would try and do. After asking the stranger sitting next to me her opinion as to whether layers were really “me” or not, we eventually settled on some sort of plan of action for my hair.

After an eternity of snipping off minimal amounts of hair, rigorous drying and a healthy dose of conditioner came the worst part of the whole experience. No matter what you think of the efforts of your new friend, you must look delighted, exclaim that you love it, and then pay for the damage caused. Derek stood back with a flourish and held a mirror up to the back of my head. He asked what I think. I took a sip of the now cold cappuccino as I mulled over my response.

“It’s wonderful,” I said, gushingly. “Thanks so much for the coffee.”

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Published in Exeposé, Issue 619, page 20. February 2014.

The Driving Test

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For many of you lucky people, I am sure, the memory of stressed parents, near fatal stalls in the middle of junctions and feelings of utter despair and a broken driving instructor at the end of a particularly distressing lesson, have all faded into some glorious, golden dream which you remember with fondness when you talk about how much you love driving, and how easy it was to pass 1st (or 2nd if you were really stupid) time.

Well for me, these memories are neither fond, nor in the past. At the tender age of 19 I have still failed to pass my driving test. In the days over a year ago when I was still confident and full of the reckless enthusiasm of a new learner driver, I unwittingly made a bet with my cousin that I would pass my test before him. I was sure to win this one; he knew nothing of my natural abilities behind the wheel, the careless ease with which I was able to carry out Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre every time it was called for. How could he know what he was up against?

We arrived at my first test in April. I was nervous and waved goodbye to my driving instructor in the waiting room as though he were my dearest friend. The fact that I nearly pulled out in front of a lorry and then narrowly missed running over two pedestrians on a zebra crossing yesterday in our last lesson was of no consequence now. I was going to pass.

The test didn’t start well when I am startled at my examiner asking me to read a car’s number plate. I asked him why, could he not see it himself? He said no, he needed to check that I could see it. You would have thought that this was something worth investigating before I even started lessons. Obviously not.

I further encountered problems when I walked out into the road to get into the car, only to realise that I hadn’t unlocked it. After frantically yanking the door handle several times, I scooted smoothly back round onto the pavement, giving the examiner an embarrassed smile before locating the unlock button and successfully entering the vehicle without hitch. From that point onwards I felt that we made rather good friends. We cruised through tricky junctions and roundabouts without trouble, I dazzled him with my flawless Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre procedure, he asked me about my holiday plans and I returned the question with equal enthusiasm. This happy situation was not to last, I fear. Our friendship vanished as quickly as it had begun when I inadvertently tried to run over a cyclist at the final roundabout.

Subdued, but not defeated, we made our way home. My brother was thrilled I hadn’t passed. So was my cousin. I tried again in June. This time I was too keen and took a roundabout too early in the first minute of my test. Failed again. The third time in December I was frustrated and changed the test centre to my home town, where I was certain that driving would come naturally to me. This time I got two majors. Roundabouts are a waste of space, I decided. Who sticks to their BLOODY LANE anyway?  Worse still my cousin rang up. He had passed his test first time in the same time it had taken me to fail three times. I’d had enough.

But for me the agony is not over. It really hurts to admit that driving is still a fundamental art which I have failed to master.  It’s something you have to really get the feel of, a key element which, my instructor has assured me many a time, I have failed to grasp. Much as I am utterly flummoxed by the car, I do admire the DVLA for not having allowing morons such as myself onto the road until they are sure they can tell one end of a car from another. And unlock the vehicle before trying to get into it. Wherever and whenever it is that I summon up the courage to take my driving test for the fourth time, however, please let them take pity on me. I may be blonde but I am able to safely negotiate roundabouts now. Plus I can read number plates from a distance of 20 metres away faultlessly.

Published in Exeposé, Issue 618, page 21. January 2014.