“When am I not competitive? When I don’t think I can win”

I am ten, eleven years old in my final year of primary school. Michelle (year five) and I have been bestowed the honour of being a “whole player”. The other girls on the playground only count as “half a boy”. I know I will never be passed the ball and so, determined to get a touch, am constantly prepared to run full-stream at a “whole player” and take it from him.

On Tuesdays, myself and a dozen or so girls pay two quid to a man who runs a venture called Club Brazil Girls Football. I pay for football because Thursday football club, free and run by the local vicar, clashes with netball practice. I was admitted into the netball A team, alongside a girl called Natalie, a year before our peers. I know I won’t make the football B team (Michelle is more than good enough but never gets to play for them either). Even though I love football, and own a full England ’97 kit I am fast growing too big for, plus Umbro boots from Woolworths, I stick to the sport I know I’ll get picked for.

My first pair of blades are given to me for my 15th, and I adapt them to make them fit for street skating. Visiting an indoor park without them, I borrow my friend’s caveronous size 9 soft boots and try dropping in multiple times, landing in quick succession on my right elbow. The result is a haematoma (“swellbo”) that I call my “third boob”. The doctor mentions that this could have been more serious had it been elsewhere – people die from haematomas. Fear stops me from trying things out, but I keep skating with my friend Maz and a group of boys from the town. It’s something to do and I know I’ll never be good at it – I’m “just a girl” – so I don’t try.

Going into my final year of GCSE I enter a relationship with someone I meet at the skate park. He slaps me on my arms when I say sorry, tells me he should swap me for Maz, who is dating another friend, and tells me he will never love me. We go to an extreme sports festival, and I go out skating on my own and make friends with some Welsh skaters. I escape for the evening, become my own person again, and return to accusations that I’m a whore on my return. I go from being happy and confident, to someone who cries and who can’t stop saying sorry. When I’m dumped for another girl after a few months, I buy a DVD of Clueless with my Sports Direct earnings and celebrate. Skating eventually stops too. Isolated in the countryside, I spend two weeks in bed after my exams playing Final Fantasy X on my Playstation 2.

When I enter Sixth Form – where boys are admitted to our otherwise girls’ grammar school in Maidstone – I finally get to play football again. Age 17, I am called “GIRL” by the boys in the year above. I haven’t played football for years, but when I’m not working on Music Tech coursework, choir, or other clubs I’ve committed to my entire time in secondary education, I’m out there, beetroot red, curly hair flying, knowing the ball won’t come to me unless I take it for myself. Over a year I fall in love with the boy who plays in goal, who shares Broken Social Scene and Bright Eyes with me. (He is different to our friend, my year 12 boyfriend, who would shout “ELEPHANT” across a dinner table at me if my top was deemed too low, and decided Counter-Strike wasn’t for me.) We play music together. It’s magic. I am the only girl studying A2 Music Tech. On recordings, I sing in a way I think the other boys will want, rather than how I truly sound. When I leave for university my boyfriend will end up with the girl whose stairs I once threw up on at a party. I call it karma.

I discover my love of radio at University. Aged 19, I am given the choice between managing a community radio station and then our student version. I pick the latter, after I doubt my ability to make decisions for the much older male faces around the community station table.

Less than two years later, I record my first national radio show in my Selly Oak bedroom and send it off to be played on the other side of my 21st birthday. I will move far from home to work there and be told frequently that I am only there for the way I look, and that I am annoying and arrogant because I cite case studies from past work experience at the BBC and Channel 4 in the ideas I suggest. My show will be taken away from me, only for them to give it back to me thanks to one of the producers questioning why I need replacing. I will be pitched against the other female producer, and I will be removed from conversations concerning the show I produce.

My contract is terminated, but the presenter doesn’t last much longer than the four weeks of shows (20 episodes) I have pre-produced. I return to London and slowly rebuild my life. In a BBC management training course I am asked why I’m looking at an exercise pinned the wall when I know what I’m talking about. I about turn and present to the room. In that moment I realise I’ve been burying that voice for a long time.

But not everyone is a fan of a woman with confidence. When I speak up and tell a room of colleagues “I know it’s not the decision of anyone here but only one woman in a line-up on 14 comedians isn’t enough” when we’re evaluating a project, I am taken to one side and told I am too aggressive and that I shouldn’t question something that would have already been considered. In a different job I am advised by a man that I “speak too much” in meetings, even though they are meetings about the elements of a project I am leading. At one point I will have a boss who tells me he is not comfortable calling his direct reports “women” and will therefore call us “girls” instead.

In the Twitch office when I arrive in 2016, there are five high-spec gaming PCs. My friend Iain suggests trying out Overwatch, which he is ridiculously good at; I decide to take the plunge and spend thirty quid on the game. My initial games are catastrophic; I have to learn the ability keys and get used to directional controls with my left hand (AWSD, rather than the arrow keys). At one point, I get so desperate I resort to picking up a controller and plugging it in. Iain announces – with good reason – that he will abandon me if I use it.

So I practice; I play in lunch breaks, and after work. I team up with our office manager Nell and HR manager Roisin – themselves seasoned players – and a competitive team, later called “Overlunch” forms. I move from DPS (Tracer) to support (Ana and Mercy). I build a PC so I can start playing and streaming Overwatch at home. I get Twitch Partnered and become part of the community. I am outed as a gamer to friends and my boyfriend. Sometimes I experience aggression over voice chat or someone tells me to mute my voice, but I don’t care; I’m good at this now and I know people I can play with.

When I first appear on a stage, Twitch chat turns into a stream of “GRILLS” and deleted messages. I can make worse jokes about myself than they ever could. I am stage hosting a UK Hearthstone tournament when I am noticed by PC Gamer. When my job is cut by Twitch, I write to tournament organisers and end up in Stockholm, Katowice, Austin and Los Angeles in quick succession. I script edit and collaborate with the team on my pieces to camera for the PC Gaming Show at E3 2018. One joke leads to a bump in my Instagram following. But there are still faceless voices who will object to my presence at the events I move between for the rest of the year.

In Katowice for the CS:GO Major, I see daily forum posts pulled through to the front page of HLTV that discuss my looks and what they would do to me. They compare me to my female peers and call for me to be replaced. As I attend more Counter-Strike events, the dissatisfaction wanes, but the sexual comments continue. My boyfriend Googles me to show a friend’s father what I do for a living and finds a forum post describing me as a “MILF”. We laugh about it.

I have tried playing CSGO but have been previously kicked off a public match and the experienced has stuck with me, so I have resorted to playing solo and Wingman modes.

Someone sends me a link to Pop Flash – suddenly I can get round my inability to set up a lobby and I am able to play with my community. The first 5v5 stream is fun, but in the second it appears we’re playing with at least one stream sniper, who decides to repeatedly attempt to zap me with a Zeus. I sometimes look at my keyboard because I have not played enough hours of CS for all the actions and key binds to be instinctive yet. Most of chat is supportive, but today comments declaring that “I don’t play many video games” and jokes at my glances downward strike a nerve. Usually I respond to comments with a joke, or ignore them. Today I more or less tell them to fuck off. I am impatient and I am angry; the night before I witnessed the negative reactions to a women’s tournament being organised by DreamHack and my head is ablaze.

I stay frustrated for the evening. My friend messages to see if I am ok, having heard what happened on my stream. I watch catch-up TV, but the rage stays with me and I regress into my past.

I am angry I didn’t try this sooner – that I was a solo player almost my entire life, even when supposedly in a team. That I wasn’t invited to the LAN parties. That I wasn’t encouraged to try. I am upset that I am only starting this now, but feel like I will be forever judged by it. I am outraged by seeing women dehumanised on the internet with constant debates about “females” being scientifically proven to be lesser at video games, even though there have been no specific studies detailing the differences between men and women playing the same game.

Daily, I see “males” tell women they are terrible, but then refuse to play with them, kicking them off servers or abusing them over voice comms until they can prove themselves – or calling the women that do, cheaters. I see women set up their own spaces so they can find people they can trust to play with, only for men to question why this is necessary. I see segregation as the longterm result of when the dominant part of the community has abandoned the other. I want women to be taken seriously.

But I can’t go back to solo queuing because I need people to play with who won’t kick me and I want to stream, so I resolve to keep streaming. I’ve only just started, and I’ve discovered I’m extremely good at head-shotting my own team with a Scout, and at least hitting something is promising. I remember that I stumbled upon the esports world in 2015, and now I get to be part of it. That I only started FPS a few years ago, and I ended up reporting on coach strategy at the 2018 Overwatch World Cup – a dream come true as a devoted player. I get paid to play and talk about video games. The voices that post graphic opinions of my body, or that tell women they aren’t entitled to play for a $100,000 prize pool – what do they get paid for? It’s not that, and they certainly don’t get paid to do what I do.

Together, we can level the playing field – all of us. We need to remember that the women who are playing CSGO and other shooters haven’t necessarily been playing it as long as men. That, particularly in the past, girls weren’t always invited to play with boys. That women need to be scrimming against male rosters in order to have opportunities in the same tournaments, and when scrims occur, both sides take it seriously and don’t pick up the Zeus. We need to bear in mind that for women to learn CS in the first place, they need to not be kicked from servers upon hitting the push-to-talk button. We need to let women know that if they want to play, they are welcome, and that they can succeed.

As star female players break through, we should see them considered by more orgs with the money to support their growth. When female-only tournaments happen, we need to remember that sponsors actually want to support the growth of talent and its their money, and then can spend their budgets where they decide – it’s not taking money away from established male players. In fact, it’s putting money into an area of the scene that’s been under-resourced and needs to grow.

We are often told that women don’t have a competitive streak, that we don’t want to put ourselves out there and go for titles. “It’s not in our nature”. But when am I not competitive? When I don’t think I can win; women like me are told their entire lives that they cannot win. We are led to believe that any competitive quality is undesirable and our confidence is chipped away from being told we are not good enough.

To the ladies reading this – you are good enough, despite all of those personal experiences throughout your life that told you otherwise. You deserve to be confident and do what is best for you without judgement. So if you think that an all-female scrim server is for you, ignore the dissent and join one. If you want to work in esports but worry you’ll be rejected for being a woman, join the Women of Esports Discord group, and trust me when I tell you that there is more than enough room for you here. And if you’re looking for people to start playing CS with, come play with me. I promise that if I shoot you in the head, it’ll be totally accidental.

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The war of Wonder Woman vs Captain Marvel

The following post contains spoilers for the Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel films – you have been warned…

Last week was all about getting stuff done; because I travel a lot for events, surrendering my passport to get visas could mean missing out on work. It was suggested to me by someone recently (most likely Paul “ReDeYe” Challoner) that I should apply for a second passport.

With just over a week in the UK before heading off to São Paulo for BLAST Pro Series, I made like a woman on a mission, and got my legal eagle mate to certify some mug shots, filled in a form and booked a pricey premium appointment. (By the way, it turns out not all Post Offices have photobooths anymore… or the forms required for apassport – and those forms don’t actually have a space for second passport, but you still need one as it can’t be done online… I digress; I found a form at the fourth Post Office branch I visited thanks to Stephen on the PO Twitter account.)

Passport interview complete, I needed to get more clothes for the stretch of events I have coming up (and I can’t tell you what they are but travelling and video games are involved), and for once in my life, I had four hours to kill.

“BINGO!” I did not exclaim out loud outside Victoria station – “I shall trundle to the cinema”. Given the crossover between the comic book industry and video games (I’m currently OBSESSED with Insomniac Games’ Spider-man and have finally caught all 12 of those blasted pigeons), I felt like it was the responsible thing to go and see Captain Marvel.

12pm is a glorious time to go to a screening; myself, a heavily pregnant lady and five guys settled into the Curzon Victoria to watch Captain Marvel. I’d heard mixed things about the origin story, but also knew this would be essential viewing before Avengers: Endgame comes and shows us that the most obvious theories about how Thanos’ defeat were bang on the money. Being the Curzon, I bought a coffee in a cup with a genuine saucer and made sure that the food I snuck in was 100% pure M&S.

And the film? Well I loved it – it wasn’t perfect; but I also recognised that the climax of the film wasn’t Carol Danvers’ (Brie Larson) protecting the world from being blasted by alien missiles, but discovering that Jude Law’s Skree captain Yon-Rogg’s has been limiting her power, rather than being the person who bestowed it upon her. His idea of emotion as a weakness, trying to manipulate her into his preferred form of combat leads to his comeuppance. The moral of Danvers’ story personifies what can happen when you rebel against the mould the patriarchy has set for you; you become limitless.

“I don’t need your approval” (Carol Danvers)

And yes, I’m the target audience, so this film genuinely spoke to me – I loved Larson’s strong, witty performance. She doesn’t overplay the humour, but infuses it into Danvers’ personality and actions. Seeing her imperfectly beat the bad guys as she comes to terms with her new abilities shows her humanity – even if the pace of her saving humanity is a little too swift for it to be fully satisfying.

One Twitter follower told me that Danvers is too powerful – that in the comics, “even Thor was stronger”. And while I do see critiques of Danvers’ crazy powers as valid – surely she’s basically unbeatable now – I don’t see the point in comparison. And talking of comparisons…

The nature of having so few lead female roles in superhero movies of course leads to comparisons – as a lack of female representation leads to comparisons in the media generally. And so apparently, just like Marvel vs DC, you have to take sides in the war of Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel.

As previously discussed, Carol Danvers is a human hero, despite bleeding blue and you know, being able to fly, breathe in space and shoot flame-like energy waves from her fists. Prior to her transformation, we saw her talents were being wasted due to the US Air Forces not allowing women in combat in the early nineties (when the movie is set). She has been pitted against men her entire life, and struggled with those expectations. Finally freed from needing to meet Yon-Rogg’s expectations, she essentially becomes the most powerful being in the universe.

Wonder Woman’s Amazonian warrior Diana, on the other hand, has grown up in a world free of this mould. As such, she is already powerful – and because she has never been told her voice is less valued, she makes an instinctive leader on the battlefield; something that had me mentally cheering in the cinema for. She’s big on death-defying drops, deflecting bullets and lassoing her enemies; markedly different abilities from Captain Marvel. And of course, her world is turned upside down when men invade it – but their presence does not lead her to question her own strength.

Diana and Danvers both want justice; Diana seeks vengeance for her people, while Danvers seeks a home for the people she has ignorantly hunted as part of the Skree forces. And in both women, emotion provides a foundation for their instincts. Their capacity for love and compassion is at the core of their powers. They represent hope for humanity and lead me to question why we don’t see more female heroes celebrated in the real world, when seeing one onscreen feels so right.

Despite the aforementioned similarities, both heroes strike me as being different – their origin stories strikingly so, and yet it feels like we must pick a side; perhaps the one thing harder than being the first woman to breakthrough is to be the second; to follow in the footsteps and bear the expectations established by one’s predecessor. I’m seeing few direct comparisons to other movies in the MCU or DC universes, and that’s disappointing. This is a superhero movie; “female superhero movie” is not a genre. I’ve also seen criticism of Captain Marvel as lacking characterisation, when what I saw in the movie was a character who had energy, compassion, strength and believable motives. I totally understood her friendship with Maria, and Maria’s daughter “Captain Trouble”.

Wonder Woman meant a lot to me because I was willing the film to succeed – to break the disappointing DC streak of movies and to show female superheroes can make bank at the box office – and it did. I cried multiple times in that film as I realised how good it was, and how flippin’ fabulous Diana (Gal Gadot) is .

Captain Marvel, with Danvers’ relatable story, meant even more on a personal level; why fight on someone else’s strengths, when I have my own? To quote Danvers herself; “I don’t need your approval”.

When my niece is old enough, I’ll beg my sister for babysitting duties and I’ll show her both – and tell her how these two superheroes led the way for more women to follow – because these two characters from different universes compliment each other and I can’t wait to see more outings from them in future.

Who are The Wanted?

If I ever have a daughter I would probably have ‘The Talk’ with her. It wouldn’t be the typical ‘Talk’ of sexual education, or of boys in her peer group. It would be about crap boybands such as The Wanted, something along the lines of; “you are not following them! Here, have this Radiohead album instead. That Jonny Greenwood was a right looker in the nineties. I’ll buy you a poster if you like?”

And here’s why:

  • The Wanted pick fights with One Direction. I’m not a ‘Directioner’ (I’m 24), but I’ve seen the Tweets directed at 1D (who are an acceptable boyband, even though they cannot dance). They’re the tweets of a band needing to create headlines by forging rivalries.
  • Lack of decent tunes. I don’t like their singles, so imagine what an album filler track would sound like…
  • They released this music video:

Why is there a random shot of a girl in her underwear with her friend? The camera barely sees her face (in a shot later in the film it gazes tantalizingly instead on her midriff). Despite the ‘LADS! LADS! LADS!’ image the guys are trying oh-so-hard to portray, they are still a boyband and boybands are marketed at young girls. So why objectify one? WHO IS THIS FOR?

Oh, and finally.

  • My daughter would have better taste.

I may have briefly mentioned that 1D cannot dance, but hey, they have a sense of humour.

So yes, future takers of One Direction’s (or the future equivalent’s) crown, this is the blueprint for sucess. Humour, squeaky clean faces and a good songwriting team – step away from the pint glass (or ‘Jar’ one of The Wanted call it in the ‘We Own the Night’ horror posted earlier).

The ‘what I want for Christmas’ post

“When are you doing your Christmas wish list this year?”

This is what my sister asked me last month. She claims to have found this post from two years ago rather hilarious (but also useful, seeing as she got me one of the items mentioned – thanks Charlotte)!

It occurred to me yesterday, as I admired the resulted of my admittedly pathetic wrapping piled up in the hallway of the ‘Get Flat’ (ahem, that’s my flat to the uninitiated) . I then got a Facebook message from my mother asking what I want, which made me realise that firstly, my Mother has moved on from the humble text message (phone calls were so over a few years ago) and has now decided that social media is the way to go for quick questions – Xmas requests and home visits being the most common – it’s also easier for her and her partner to both question me at the same time. Secondly, it reminded me that perhaps this Xmas wishlist lark is frivolous but useful for those lovely, wonderful people who are going to indulge me this year (my 24th birthday is December 27th… eek).

So now I’m doing a rushed browse around the web, wondering what on earth I could want. I’m going very minimal with my flat in case anyone is ever foolish/grown up enough to move in with me (yes I know that’s years away) and I’m scared of building up clutter. However, one’s sofa can never be cluttered, only squishy and comfy or glacial cool. So, I’ve got the er… ‘hunger’ for some of these amazing biscuit cushions from Nikki McWilliams.

Cushion by Nikki McWilliams

Cushion by Nikki McWilliams

My living room is very ‘masculine’ with loads of greys and black tones with a colour pop provided by an orange sofabed from Made.com so the custard creams might work nicely in the living room, with the party rings or love heart jammy dodgers going down better in the ‘girly’ bedroom.

Jammy dodger cushion

Cushion by Nikki McWilliams

It’s not quite as cute or glamorous as the cushions, but I’m also seeking these shelves to pop in the hallway from Ikea. I’ve got a grey one in the living room, but the white version is perfect for books and more and they’re a snip at £14. I also need some grey machine dye to dye some curtains I’ve been given and a long curtain pole for my living room…. so er, maybe a voucher then!?

Finally house-wise, I’m seeking double bedding donations, contributions to aid my DVD and CD collections (I’ve only got Alt-J and Jessie Ware’s albums from the Mercurys shortlist and there’s a few more nominated I’d love to own, plus – ahem again – the Little Mix and Nicola Roberts albums). There’s also the desperate desire to own a floor lamp for the living room – either the Arche floor lamp or Studio tripod model from Made.com.

I’m still mad on baking – cupcakes are my latest fad (two years later than the rest of the world). I love that they’re so easy to transport to work/friends/places so I don’t end up keeping them all to myself. All baking paraphernalia welcome as far as I’m concerned!

Frankie holds cupcakes

Vanilla cupcakes by Frankie (photo and help from Adam)

You can never go wrong with the gift of a Mac makeover (or one of their awesome eye shadows). You book a slot and then you get to try loads of products and the cost of the makeover covers products of the same value (you can buy more if you like, of course!) Plus, there’s the ever-reliable Topshop voucher to keep you in jumpers for the rest of Winter…

Stories Beat Stuff 3 UK

Tourism New Zealand are continuing their Stories Beat Stuff campaign with a brand new competition for a lucky so-and-so to win the trip of a lifetime to New Zealand with three jammy mates.

I first wrote about entering the competition earlier this year, but sadly my entry didn’t make an impact – I guess my time isn’t worth a $20k trip! Well this time the stakes are higher with a trip worth $30k. Understandably, I’m stepping things up a gear!

As with last time, there are two different packages; Culture Kaboom and City Splendour.

Culture Kaboom is catchily titled due to its focus New Zealand’s volcanic heritage. It’ll be an unforgettable experience packed with trips to hot mud pools and homage to Maori culture.

The package I’m competing for, City Splendour, is all about exploring New Zealand’s largest cities, Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland; modern settlements juxtaposed next to beautiful landscapes and the native wildlife. Here’s a teaser campaign video:

If you want to have a go at entering the latest competition, it’s really simple. All you’ve got to do is submit a video or a photo of what you would trade for a trip to New Zealand – making sure it’s a real object and then share your entry round via Facebook/ Google+/ Twitter to get as many votes as possible. Obviously, it’d be lovely if you could vote for me too!

Here’s my video entry:

I decided to trade the something from one of one of my most unforgettable experiences for a new one; my costume from the Olympics Opening Ceremony 2012 for a trip to the other side of the world. I rehearsed for four months, giving up 200 hours for free, so hopefully I can trade in this for the experience of a lifetime! I’m desperate to get out of the country for the first time in over six years and really start to discover the world – with its laid back nature, reputation for extreme activities such as bungee jumping and its beautiful, unexplored environment, I can’t think of a better place to start…

To get involved, visit the Stories Beat Stuff Facebook Page. You don’t even have to trade to have a chance of make it to the other side of the world as a second prize of two flights to NZ will be awarded at random to one of the people who voted for the entries. It really couldn’t be easier.

This is a sponsored post, but don’t worry – if I don’t like it, I won’t write about it!

GoldenBoys Launch Party

After my last blog post I was invited to the GoldenBoys launch party.

(Get in!)

I don’t go to many ‘London-y’ events. The last one was a CBS party celebrating NCIS at the Dorchester Hotel. There were cupcakes, champagne, wine and an actress from the show to chat to – a nice event, but a slightly stiff atmosphere.

Luckily the GoldenBoys event was a far more laid back affair. Held in Neo Bar, Barbican, the party was oh so generous with the complimentary cocktails (all renamed with a financial theme). I helped myself to ‘Millionare’s Martinis’ and checked out the site on the laptops set out across the bar. One of the key games on the site is all about gambling on the state of the market – whether it’ll be up or down once trading has ended at the end of the working day. Another is the ‘Millionaires’, another game based on world markets – but, in theory, more predictable than the lottery numbers.

I also got to meet site founder Martin Linham and caught up with PR Adam (who works for event organisers TopLine Communications alongside my sister, Charlotte). When he’s not in the office, he can often be found drumming for Glaswegian alternative rock act There Will Be Fireworks.

Photo of me, Adam and Martin by Sheri Selby

On another note, the event marked the second ‘official’ outing for my Urban Outfitter’s playsuit – a lovely garment in theory (and some might say ‘on-trend’ due the all-over pattern and wide legged pyjama trouser) – but bloody hazardous when out and about. It’s got a zip followed by back of buttons that means that I simply can’t redress myself post toilet-break. Thankfully my friend Sarina was on hand to help with the process!

Keep the invites coming, please!

Make Like A Millionaire

If you won £1,000,000, how would you splash the cash?

That’s the question currently being posed by market traders’ betting site, GoldenBoys. They’re celebrating their launch with a massive competition that gives you the chance to live the life like a member of the financial elite, with a trip to London, 5 star accomodation, Michelin star dining, £1,000 spending money and West End tickets. Obviously, it’s a trip that only a lot of money can buy and, as time is of the essence, the prize also includes a chauffuer driven car (no Oyster card required).

Once the trip is over, the lucky winner will take home a chest packed full of gadgets and goodies to keep them living in luxury (despite a return to the day job).

The competition closes on the 1st May and can be entered here. Before then a lavish party on the 24th April is being thrown to celebrate the launch of GoldenBoys and the announcement of the winner. I’m desperate to blag an invite (hint, hint), although I don’t think I’d make enough of a convincing investment banker to make it past the bouncers…

What would you splash the cash on?

A Fee I Didn’t Sign Up For

I was rather shocked when I heard of the government plans to charge a fine on student loads paid before a 30 year period has ended.

Surely this would have had to be part of my contract with the Student Loans Company to be effective?

Even if it did not effect me, but future generations (with higher student debts) then it’s still sickening. To date I believe I have paid off £880 of my debt. It now stands at over £19,500. This will take me the best part of two decades to pay off – unless I occasionally choose to volunteer an extra payment or two.

I was always sensible at uni. I worked when I could, spent my spare time doing work experience and guaranteed myself a job before I graduated. I got myself out of my overdraft and left myself with just the loan to pay off. A noticeable proportion of what I earn now is deducted toward this (plus tax, but that effects all of us so I deal with it!). Why should I have to pay a fine as well as the interest?

What shocks me is that this hasn’t properly warranted headlines until the news that it’s probably not going to take effect (phew) and it’s due to the Conservatives deciding that this plan (attributed to the Lib Dems) is unnecessary.

Seems a bit like pro-Tory spin to me…

What do you make of the news?

A Lush Life

‘Agh it’s the worst month of the year, and this is the worst week of it!’

The words nearly flew out of my mouth as I stood at a bus stop in Finsbury Park on Saturday night. I’d had an uncharacteristic spat with a fellow passenger on a bus, forgotten my phone, broken a heel and got off of a bus, only to find out I was on the right route to my friend’s house after all.

This was packed into an hour. A hour! Yet, that hour was just an example of eight days of pathetic activities and miserable occurrences.

The previous Saturday I was getting ready for my ‘London-based birthday’ and decided to use a Lush shower scrub as a treat. I’ve used them before and have never had any problems, but when I got out of the shower I noticed I had big red scratches wherever I had used the product. Nightmare! After applications of sudocreme and a few days it had all but faded – no harm done, but depressing nonetheless.

A few days later a signal failure on the Richmond Overground line meant needing to find an alternative route to work, via zones my travel card didn’t cover. It also meant that I was an hour later into work than usual. Luckily my manager was fine with it, but I still decided to get in touch with Overground customer service to see if they could help me. I was also resolved to sent an email to Lush and make sure that my experience with the scrub didn’t happen to anyone else.

Although this week hasn’t got off to a flying start (I’m writing this with a mug of lemsip by my side) things looked up when I got pleasant replies from both the Overground and Lush.

The Overground sent a letter of apology and a voucher for £1.50, which covered my expenditure to get to work earlier that week – small, but very much appreciated. (No giggles at the back! I’m not tight, it’s a matter of principle and the fact I spent hundreds of pounds on a Zone 2-3 travel card!)

Lush, however, lived up to the friendly, personable customer service I’ve always found in the countless number of stores I’ve visited.

Butterball bath bomb, Pop in the Bath bubble bar, Olive Branch shower gel, Honey I Washed the Kids soap

After we’d exchanged a couple of emails, Jamie from Lush Customer Care offered to send me a few products to make up for my experience with the sugar scrub. Of course, I happily accepted and yesterday picked up a box of lovely Lush goodies from the post office (see above!) Honey I Washed the Kids soap is my favourite Lush product – the first I bought and the present I bought for all of my friends when I was 14 for Christmas. It smells and feels divine.

The goodies join my Christmas haul!

My bathroom is already stocked with Lush stuff that I received for Christmas (see some of it in the picture above), and I hope to continue receiving and buying it. All of the packaging is recyclable, the provenance is respectable and the results, (bar that one aforementioned experience), brilliant. I also love the fact that I can pop into a Lush store and have a enthusiastic conversation about the products on sale or have one of the staff recommend me cosmetics that suit my tastes and needs.

So tomorrow, when I’m scrubbing away in the shower (if the hot water decides to work), I shall try a bit of positive thinking and face the day with a smile on my face!

In your opinion, who provides you with the best customer service?

BIC Soleil

BIC Soleil have launched a new campaign called 'Just Live', surrounding four new razors with Shaver grip technology all aimed at different styles of shaving.

I've often had people stare aghast at my hands when I grip pens (apparently 'normal people' use their index fingers whereas I use my trusty 'claw' grip), so happily BIC have created a range to suit more 'unique cases' like me as well as the more eloquent of shavers. I'm quite pleased to hear that the emphasis is on grip too, being that I was forever put off more flimsy disposables after slicing into the top of my thumbs during a routine leg shave one morning. Needless to say, it hurt.

Bella razor

BIC have teamed up with body language expert Dr Jane McCartney to tell you how the way you shave reflects your personality. Apparently my long-studied techique of resting the handle in the palm of my hand 'allows me to shave quickly and efficiently and reflects my direct, driven and pragmatic approach', with the razor most suiting me being the generously sized Bella (see above). To find out more about each product, including which shaver could suit you and the way you defuzz, head to the Just Live Facebook Page.

Of course, a promotion wouldn't be a promotion these days without the giveaways, and BIC are getting chatty with their customers over on their Twitter and Facebook accounts, giving away goodies for ten weeks (including Benefit vouchers) and a cash prize to top off their season of giveaways.  The Competition can be entered here using the simple entry form.

To enforce the idea that BIC Soleil can help you to 'just live' by getting you feeling glam in a few strokes of a razor (my Saturday morning routine is pretty much centred around my shower), BIC has recruited bloggers such as Lauren Loves and Blah Blah Becky to dispense their tips for getting ready for a stress-free Christmas. They've also teamed up with Dorothy Perkins, fashion stylist Hannah Hughes, hairdresser Andrew Barton and make up artist Alana Phillips to give you top style and beauty tips to accompany your silky holiday pins.

Oh yes, and before I forget, they've also asked me too! So keep your eyes peeled to the Facebook page where my tips on feeling confident in the kitchen on Christmas Day – and the traditions and recipes I employ to keep myself feeling festive.

This is a sponsored post, but don't worry – if I don't like it, I won't write about it.

Viral video by ebuzzing