SiDEBAR: issues aside

Hers may have to be a lot more hard wearing than yours but Jess Ennis won’t be seen on the track without a flick of Mascara and some base. See, even the confirmed best heptathlete in the world needs a little fist pump for her ego from time to time. Commuting or competing, here we look back and wonder whether the effort we make to scrub up isn’t all just bare faced lies.

Click on the ‘S’ above to access the beautifully complete content via Google Docs.


I do my make-up on the tube. Yes, I am one of those people who have boundless self esteem and are happy to brave their naked face to fellow commuters…of course in actual fact I am one of those people with an elastic concept of time, and an inability to forgo breakfast just to support a social facade for the benefit of commuters I don’t know. Toast in one hand, compact in the other, juggling a mascara wand – life slackers such as I can be found on any morning service, nationwide wide.

I have found myself watching other women don their cosmetic armoury for the day and wondered at the transformation. ‘You’ll never meet a husband doing that!’ but then again, he’s already seen you at your worst, that guy, sitting opposite you, reading the ad banner above your head, glancing down when your eye is in your pocket mirror, and judging you. He may well be judging you as very time frugal. Why waste time sitting still at home when you are currently multi tasking, on the move and on the up in the look stakes. The girl doing the same two carriages along might give you a reassuring we’re-in-this-together smile, but she’s not here. As I paint from the pallet on the back of my hand I’d be quite right to judge myself for going along with this pointless social peacocking but what can I do?, even my own moral compass is off on this one. Whenever I’ve had to commute with a boyfriend, I always managed to find the time to put my face on before heading out the door. Something in me would have hated for him to realise that other people too, have seen my pillow creased morning face.
I blame literature: from Ira Levin, author of The Stepford Wives to a broad sweep of authors of Victorian literature, we’ve been lead to believe that the fairer sex should look our best at all times, or for your partner at least. But even those trickster authors – the Brontes and the Austins of each era  – while creating stereotypes for us all to fit into, had it just as hard. Generally women writing as men in order to be recognised, their stories are as much a reflection of their challenges as ours are of our own. Unfortunately in real life the story is a little less perfect than literature would have us believe. Your partner sees you after 8 hours of exasperated make-up challenging face rubbing in the office or scrubbed clean with your hair wet and slicked back out of the shower. Living with friends it’s nice to be able to come home, wipe it all off at the end of the day and be off duty without judgement (I think). In the reverse, in the morning my housemates and I have perfected a merry dance which involves minimal morning interaction so I don’t even have peer pressure to drive me to get it together before leaving the house. A picture being worth a thousand words; thousands and thousands of words later, we’re all still painting ourselves away under masks of preconceived notions, in a very literal way.

“When your sense of self is off duty, you are vulnerable”

Much like the Oscar Wildes and Gatsbys of the world, boys are also victims of society’s expectations. Metrosexual is has long since ceased to be a derogatory term, but extends further than moisturising and a bit of brylcreme. Much like being caught without your face on, even for a boy a bad hair day can extend to a bad everything day. When your sense of self is off duty, you are vulnerable.
Every brushstroke on the tube allows me to shape that first impression of me a little, to colour it a little bit closer to how I view me, facilitating the external to reflect the internal ideal.  Pre make up I am scatty, I doing my make up in public for god sake! Each pat of concealer under an eye hides the fact that I am a night owl and, nearing the end of the week, the circles are bigger. Each encouraging waggle of a mascara wand indicates that I have not yet bought a new mascara, although I’ve been attempting to do so for a month. Just to be sure, I’ll embark on a series of less than covert pocket pats to check the familiar locations of my oyster card and phone which could not possibly have migrated. Once made up I’m still a patchwork of all those flaws, but I feel braver, more confident and therefore less vulnerable. We’re all looking to represent some version of Ideal You. Ideal You interviews well and is great with new people! Ideal You says witty things; says just enough; is everything you are not, yet. Like anyone, I’m probably more genuinely represented than I am all day when I’m getting into character. Ultimately the only people who actually see you at your best are those acquaintances who know the carefully selected public face you decide to present to them via to your heavily edited social media accounts.
We become the stories we tell of ourselves so gradually the world blends from fiction to fact. Opinions form, self awareness seeds, tall tales grow up which we come to believe and anything is true if you tell it enough times, right? The story we tell the world, with how we dress, where we are from, the interactions we choose to have, the face we choose to present are all potentially at odds with some other aspect of you when you’re not on duty. Our stories impact the way we behave because they are who we want to be so perhaps we are all a little one thing and seeking to be another. Perhaps we are all a little Earnest in the town, Jack in the country.

With the launch of my favourite HarperCollins book of 2012, Wife 22, we’re thinking about relationships here at SiDEBAR & but in order to find said Wife, you have to do the research.

Who knows this better than Claire Simmonds, our resident Bridget Jones.  Join her below.

Click on the ‘S’ above to access the beautifully complete content via Google Docs.


When I parted with my hard earned cash to join an internet dating site it was on a Friday evening, sat at home on my own, eating ice cream, drinking wine and pondering what a mystery it is I’m still single; very Bridget Jones. However, if I remember correctly, Bridget Jones never had to join Guardian Soulmates or have Shazza describe her on My Single Friend to get a date.  In reality our bosses aren’t Daniel Cleaver types who we want to have wild sex with, and family friends are more Mr Collins than Mr Darcy. It was this reality, amongst others, that made me finally succumb to the modern phenomenon of attempting to meet your future husband online. And why not? We bank, shop, read and chat online, so why not date?

So now to the decision of what .com to join….my older colleague once told me she had met her Mr Right on; I still can’t decide if I was gutted or relieved when I found out this ingeniously titled website had gone out of business. I found the first hurdle of internet dating to be wrapping up all that makes you intrinsically you, in a ‘Tell us a bit about yourself’ box and 2,000 characters. Working in sales, even I struggled to make myself sound datable in so few words. I can’t remember ever having told any guy that I love cooking and prefer bars to clubs, but those two somewhat mundane facts about me were all that came to my mind. I needed to get across that I was a ‘normal’ but not boring girl, wanting to meet a ‘normal’ but not boring guy. So after another half an hour of writing, head shaking and deleting sentences that didn’t even make me want to date me, I called in the cavalry: a good friend. In creating My Single, it is that clear Sarah Beeney understood the difficulty of selling oneself, and sure enough within 10 minutes my friend did a better job at describing me (albeit a beautifully embellished version of me) than I’d ever have been able to do.

“Bridget Jones never had to join Guardian Soulmates or have Shazza describe her on My Single Friend to get a date”

I received more than a respectable number of messages to begin with, and at least 50% from the seemingly ‘normal’, decent guys I was hoping for but none of these ‘normal’, decent guys made me think: ‘hhhmmm, maybe you’ll be worth a punt’. The messages were boring and I soon saw a pattern emerging; how are you, where do you work, where do you live…essentially, a 2D version of the first conversation you’d have with a guy in a bar but without the sexual attraction and care free attitude a bottle of wine provides. However, just when I had decided not to renew my membership, a message caught my eye from a good looking Cambridge-graduate-turned-successful-lawyer: on paper he was everything I wanted, and finally someone who seemed like had some character, so I agreed to a date.

The date was perfect, he was exactly what his profile promised and we got on great which our online banter had suggested we would – the problem? There was no spark, excitement or spontaneity; it all just felt a bit contrived. It seems like Dr Love underestimated the human factor when planning internet dating – can you really tell if you have a spark with someone without meeting them? And this is my issue with internet dating, that there isn’t anything quite like the natural feeling of being in the right place at the right time. Feeling butterflies in your stomach from that first connection; a random meeting, a look across the bar, the promise of everything that could be. How can you replicate knowing there is a connection between you without having said a word, but then this is my issue with regular dating thus far – how often does that actually happen?

Despite my first somewhat cold fish experience of internet dating, I actually do think it is the way forward. Yes, we would all love to meet ‘the one’ in a fantastically spontaneous scenario that is going to make a great story to tell the grandkids, but reality doesn’t give us much time or opportunity to do that. Internet dating is just a very efficient way of sifting through all those guys you could potentially have met in any bar, on any Saturday night – all be it a longer process  – but what’s wrong with going on a few dates a week to give the elusive ‘one’ the chance to find you?

I may have to suffer through a few more cold fish dates but every failed date may get me that step closer to the ‘spark date’. Closer to butterflies at the anticipation of every text. Closer to your friend’s quiet nod of approval. Closer to patio furniture and 2.4 children. Obviously there is something artificial about online dating, and a page of writing cannot convey who you or someone else truly is or are, but what else am I going to do while I try to replicate the butterflies? Stay home eating ice cream pondering why I’m still single? I’ll keep you posted.

Here we go, butchering the artfully laid out pages of SiDEBAR but on the eve of a weekend celebrating where you’re from, here is Claire Robertson’s musings on how where you’re from influences who you are.

Click on the ‘S’ above to access the full content through Google Docs.


Sydney, LA, New York, Lowland Scotland: Claire Robertson has been there done that, but how does missing the clean air of the country affect how far she has come?

It goes without saying that where you grow up significantly shapes the person you become. It is fair to say that a version of me, with my exact DNA, born in LA for example, would turn out differently to the one that grew up in a tiny village inSouthwest Scotland. Growing up I hated the idea that where you lived could be a defining factor of your personality. Convinced I had a raw deal living in the middle of nowhere, where there was nothing to do, it is probably no accident that I ended up living inLondon. I love living in a big city: I love the busy pace of life and having something different to do if I want to. I wouldn’t completely say that the transition between now and then fully defines me but as someone who bores quite easily it suits aspects of my personality. At the same time though, when I return I realise that I massively miss the peace and quiet and, at the risk of sounding like my Dad, the fresh air. You can’t help but be conditioned by what you have been accustomed to.

Growing up I never thought I defined myself by being Scottish. It seemed to me that national identity was something that didn’t have that much place anymore, and when sweeping generalisations were made about the Scots I shrugged them off, dismissing them as unfounded. It wasn’t until I first lived abroad, in Sydney for seven months, that I realised that not only was there some truth in what I thought were generalisations, I actually found it quite comforting that being Scottish was something that defined me. When you have nobody familiar around you, in a place you don’t know and far from home, you suddenly have less of an identity than when you were surrounded by people who have known you your whole life. Where you are from is one of the first pieces of information that you share with someone to help them draw a first impression. I still consider the idea of a national temperament and personality as a bit of a sweeping generalisation but, as with most things, you also come to realise that there is a degree of truth in them. I do think the Scottish have a particularly dry sense of humour and its possible that maybe we do have a slightly pessimistic outlook. I maintain our reputation as being stingy has no grounding though.

“it seems a bit harsh to label myself a dickhead”

As we become adults, location is something we have a choice in; in this respect it is more about making a decision about who you want to be and inLondon, like anywhere else, the area you choose as a home can in itself define you. Location, past and present, can become another way of making a statement about yourself; just as much as your clothes, hairstyle and taste in music does. Take the example of Shoreditch inLondon, home of the east end trendy. Many people live in this self-awarely cool area ofLondonto make a statement. And it works. I make snap decisions about people on where they live (Shoreditch = dickhead; Primrose Hill = posh; Hammersmith = Australian; Clapham = young ‘professional’), even though I know they have little bearing (I used to live in London Fields, it seems a bit harsh to label myself a dickhead). Again, it is something you use to draw an impression of someone before you have more to go on.

You might be defined by where you come from but by the time you’re our age so many other things define you also. As with anything, there will still be truth in the information you have irresponsibly used to peg a new friend; foreigner or local; friend or foe. You are who you are because of where you began but where you end up is entirely your choice – it could even change who you thought you wanted to become.

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SiDEBAR is an independent features webzine with a soft focus look at non news items…but if that’s a bit dry for you, try this; if Carrie Bradshaw had a webzine, this would be it.
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