Evolution of the amateur choir/orchestra tour as relayed via social media

2000: Photographs taken by geekiest members of ensemble, developed and stuck in album, thereby never being seen by anyone outside most reviled section of group (idea of ‘social’ media fairly ludicrous at this point)

2005: Photographs taken on digital cameras by geekiest members of ensembles, who by this point are the ones most likely to be at Oxbridge and therefore using a strange new platform called Facebook. Photos uploaded and ignored by vast majority of ensemble.

2006: Drunken tour conversations are now punctuated with ‘I’ll friend you on Facebook when we get back’. It in now genuinely easier for new people to learn their fellow musician’s names. Lines between geeky and less geeky becoming blurred.

2010: Photos of everything taken by everyone on the tour and uploaded to Facebook after the event in a zillion different albums showing the same events but from slightly different angles.

2012: Same as 2010, but people realise they can and should untag themselves.

2014: Everyone now has 3G, even in FOREIGN. Post-tour uploads now redundant as people upload the images to social media and tag as they take them. This becomes a real problem for people without 3G who lose the power to censor images of themselves until they get back to their computer.

2015: No-one bothers uploading photos to social media: they’ve already been shared via the tour What’s App group in real time. No-one outside the ensemble notices or cares.

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On being mistaken for a pregnant lady on the tube

Baby on board badge - Just fat - C Em MathewsThe first guy to offer me his seat was quite young. That raised alarm bells. Usually it’s older gentleman who leap to their feet when they see a woman standing (presumably for fear her uterus may be heading southwards in a drippy fashion).

I smiled a no and went back to the Evening Standard. But a couple of minutes later, a young woman sitting just next to me at belly-button level leapt to her feet and gestured maniacally towards her vacant seat.

Even then, I was slow to catch on.

‘No… thanks… are you getting off?’ I stuttered – and then, as the horrible realisation sank in: ‘Do you think I’m pregnant?’

‘Yes, no worries! Sit down!’ she shouted over the tinny thumping of her iPod. I stared at her crazily (it may have been with only one eye) and watched as realisation began to dawn on her.

Seldom have I seen someone become so embarrassed, so fast. The colour in her cheeks rose faster than the sun over African plains at the beginning of The Lion King. She ripped her headphones out and started mouthing wordlessly. Time for me to say something.

‘I’m not pregnant, I’m just… a bit… fat?’ I faltered, realising as I said it that it was absolutely not the right thing to say. Actual tears leapt into her eyes. She started gabbling: ‘No! No way! Not pregnant? Not fat! Oh God! You’re not fat! I’m so sorry!’

I pressed the woman back into her seat, apologising profusely for embarrassing her, thanking her for her kindness, and congratulating her on her public spiritedness, before breaking eye contact as soon as was logistically possible and returning to the paper.

But the words swam in front of my eyes. In a frenzy of mortification, I cast around the carriage, searching desperately for a trough of Monster Munch into which to sink my face.

Big mistake. The gaze of every single person in the carriage was fixated on my abdomen. As soon as they clocked me looking, they instantly looked away to their own papers, feet, or the buttocks of strangers at eye level.

I clutched the base of the Standard to my stomach and pretended to read (again, probably with just one eye).

How could this be happening? I couldn’t possibly be that fat. In fact, I’d lost a lot of weight over the last couple of years and am now a size 14 (the slimmest I’ve been since I was 14). But that’s obviously not good enough if I look pregnant. And not just a bit pregnant – enough to make two sober and presumably rational adults assume that I am pregnant enough to need to sit down on public transport. That’s, what, like, seven months?

Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my GOD.

Maybe I am pregnant. Maybe I am one of those women who gives birth on the toilet having never realised they were up the duff in the first place. Maybe I’m actually nearly full-term, and only modesty and poor self-esteem has kept me from this realisation until now. Yes. Yes!

Maybe not.

I try to catch a glimpse of my reflection in the window behind my benefactress’s head and instantly regret it.

Huuur (I say, internally). Huuuuuuuurrrrr. There is a definite bulge, which is emphasised by my slouch against the pole. I immediately stand to attention – still the bulge remains.

This is a dress I bought to go on holiday in 2012, when I was a size 16-18. It is from Joules. It is orange, it has an empire line and it is a size too big. The empire line used to hug my ribcage: now it hangs loosely, creating a pouch of material around the mid-region.

Oh Christ. It’s just the sodding dress. It’s the DRESS. For fuck’s sake, I’ve worked hard and lost all that weight only for my clothing to attack me when I least expect it.

The world is suddenly a brighter place. The woman who offered me her seat has either gotten off or died – I don’t know which. I resolve to burn the dress as soon as I get home, change trains at Edgeware Road and start thinking about other situations me and my dress could put ourselves in. Smoking outside a pub whilst necking vodka has a certain appeal.

By the time I disembark at Gloucester Road I am resting my hand contemplatively on my belly.

Kyle. That’s a good name for my vodka baby.

Image (C) Em Mathews

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Are YOU a chicken washer?

FSA do not wash chicken

It all started when the Food Standards Agency issued a press release warning people against washing raw chicken, to mark Food Safety Week 2014. What can I say? Those guys really know how to celebrate.

Chicken washing, they said, is a practice that can actually increase your chances of contracting campylobacter food poisoning due to the danger of contaminating work surfaces, clothing and other foods with splashed water.

On Monday, quite a few of the papers – including the Telegraph, MailMirror and Metro – picked the story up. Ha! I said. I am not the FSA’s target audience! Who are these so-called chicken washers? What person in their right mind would even consider washing a chicken? I scoffed (quite literally, as the evening’s menu turned out) and thought no more of it.

Then Tuesday and this article by Tim Dowling in the Guardian on alternative food hygiene practices happened. I posted it on Facebook with the textual equivalent of a droll chuckle, and waited for the reassurances to flow in. And they came – believe me, they came. But so did the chicken washers.

“Well, it’s how my Granny and Mum prepare chicken and fish, so I do the same. It’s never done us any harm. No plans to change. Definitely not as a result of a news article!”

“Haha! I always thoroughly wash chickens too!”

“I know that some halal and west indian cooks favour washing any and all meat, but often in lemon juice rather than water.”

“My mother always does, learnt it at her knee!”

“Give it a couple of months until this same advice is reversed. Still washing my chicken…”

“I once washed a bird when I was a vegetarian teenage nanny. Grim, but funny making it wee itself by running water through the neck.”

Again, my reaction – and that of many of my Facebook friends – was one of complete amazement. But chickens are ALREADY clean! we raved. It’s not like the bird, once plucked, is allowed out to roll around in the dirt one last time! Chickens aren’t carrots – they’re not sprayed with pesticides prior to sale! What are you LIKE, you crazy chicken washers?!

Then on Wednesday, the Evening Standard announced that over half of Londoners – 51% – confessed to having washed their chicken in the last few months.

Seldom has my worldview been so comprehensively challenged.

It has never once occurred to me to wash chicken. Not once. Yet now it seems that just over half of everyone I know has been doing it ALL THE TIME.

People I thought I knew – friends! – have all this time been standing at their kitchen sinks washing chickens. A sizeable proportion of all the dinner parties I have ever been to have been given by chicken-washers. Who knows – there might even be chicken-washers in my own family. It could be IN THE BLOOD.

When the story first broke, it was easy to write off the chicken washers as weirdos. When I realised there were a handful of them, I began to think that perhaps I should stop thinking of them as weirdos and instead start treating them like an unfortunately persecuted minority group. Now, I’m starting to wonder: am *I* in the persecuted minority group?

The Food Standards Agency has caused me to doubt not only long-standing friendships, but the essence of who I am and what I believe. This is JUST how Truman must have felt at the end of the film.

Do you wash YOUR chicken? Tell me. I need to know the truth.

A version of this post featured on the Huffington Post UK on 19 June 2014.

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