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I have a confession to make – I have become prone to alcohol abuse. Hang on, not the stuff you drink. I mean the slightly alien stuff you slather over your hands.

I am addicted to hand gel. It kills 99.99% of bacteria. Well, that’s just so appealing isn’t it – why wouldn’t you use it?

I have never been more germ aware. I go about my daily activities always with the background goal of maximum germ avoidance. You might say that sounds like hard work – it is! But it is part of who I am. It is perhaps a little sad to have a part of yourself defined by your relationship with germs. It’s not like I live in a part of the world where each passing day carries a risk of death by infection. I recognise that I am fortunate to live in a pretty sanitised environment. But in my defence I haven’t always been this way – it is something that has gradually seeped into my consciousness to the point where, not only do I have a little tub of hand gel on my person at all times, I also find I am using the stuff at least 20 times a day, probably more.

It all started in my early twenties – I was forever catching colds, and I blamed this entirely on the bus. People are disgusting. Everyday I would watch them sneeze all over the place, use their hands as though they were tissues (why don’t people carry tissues?! WHY?!), and then clamp these hands all over the railings, stairs and handles. And then I, unless I wanted to hurtle to my death, would have no choice but to touch those handles myself. So I took control with hand gel. The problem is that the more you use it, the more you become aware of potential germs.

They’re everywhere, germs. Door handles, kettles, chip and pin machines, money – the list is, of course, endless. Once you are on the alert it is really quite shocking how much people touch things, often just for the sake of it. Us hand gel-ers, we only touch a surface if we really have to.

I am loathe to use the word OCD because I don’t want to make light of a serious mental health problem. People seem to throw this word around as though it is fashionable, a desirable condition almost. But with that said I do sometimes worry, is my behaviour ‘a bit OCD’? No. I don’t think so. I’m not distressed when I’m doing it, more embarrassed. But the act has certainly become a compulsion.

I can’t imagine life without hand gel now – and this becomes a problem in that you start to find yourself wanting those that share your life with you to use it, too. Otherwise, what’s the point? You can’t effectively manage the germs coming into your home if your other half waltzes in from the newsagents with a fistful of germs swabbing at the light switch, the fridge door, your face. You can almost see the fluorescent green blobs – like the kind used in adverts for bleach – lighting up their hands like a Belisha beacon. HAZARD!

None of this is exactly good news for your relationship, let alone your mental health. It’s probably safer to just embrace the germs and put up with a cold for a week – I’m sure your other half would rather that than suffer with your issues for eternity.

Although in my case this isn’t entirely true, because I have now passed on my little addiction to him – like a germ itself. He too takes hand gel to work. He too is constantly navigating the gauntlet of the outside world. You’ll see us, clumsily opening doors with our elbows, pressing pedestrian crossing buttons with coat sleeves pulled right down over our hands teenagers in new school blazers. You’ll find us at cash points using a loyalty card to jab at the keypad instead of our fingers.

All this exertion and contortion results in weird bruises and injuries to places like the side of our thumbs, toes and shoulders. And seems as both of us have had colds this last week I don’t think it’s worth all the effort…

It makes me wonder – is it just us? Or, as a society, are we all becoming more germ aware? The very fact that hand gel is sold as a run-of-the-mill hand care product in Boots etc must be proof that it is cemented into the mainstream social psyche now. People must be buying the stuff, there must be a real demand. But when you think back to the Bird Flu masks of recent years and now the Ebola hysteria exploding over the globe it all gets frighteningly dystopian.

I worry that I have placed myself on a slippery slope – am I just a few years away from wearing a mask myself?

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My last blog post was all about lifestyle aspirations and, since writing it, I find something not-all-that aspirational has been on my mind – the takeaway hot beverage. I remember my first. Well, I don’t actually – but I can imagine what it would have been. A tea, milk no sugar. In a polystyrene cup.

Hot drinks just taste better in a polystyrene cup, don’t they? Or is that just me. I am always a little thrilled when I get my drink delivered in one. It rarely happens now though. The last time – a time I do definitely remember, it was that significant – was at London’s Victoria bus station one chilly Saturday morning. My sister and I were on our way to Chelsea – only via the somewhat scenic and not very glamorous route of The Bus. We couldn’t find where the number seven actually stopped. (Has anyone ever been to the Victoria bus station? Nightmare. But marginally better than the coach station.) We were a bit stressed. Then we happened upon a newsagents-cum-cafe, where everything was made better by massive cups of polystyrene tea for 65p. Memorably good value. We went back there especially three years later. It was £1.00. A smaller cup. That’s inflation for you.
You might, rightly, be thinking: what the hell has this got to do with anything, especially lifestyle aspirations? Well – can you remember when carrying a portable hot drink in public became a kind of social statement? When coffee drinking became a ‘thing’ – a lifestyle choice?
I can recall when the first coffee shops came to Birmingham in this way. I’d been watching Friends for a while so I didn’t question it, knew what to expect, and actually wanted to go there. Of course, there was no way in hell my parents would have taken me to a coffee shop – why would we spend money buying a hot drink we could so easily make at home? Cradling it for bloody hours, painfully making conversation with each other. Sounds hellish.
But then I got a bit older and earned some money. I was in sixth form. I was being attacked by Friends on the one front and magazine supplements on the other, so I knew what I wanted to spend said money on. Coffee Republic.
I had some free sessions in my timetable. So I would travel into town on the 46 (always the bus), get one of their hot spiced apple drinks (I hadn’t quite graduated to actual coffee yet), and walk over to the ‘city’ to people-watch the suits on their lunch breaks. And I’d sit on a bench or bit of wall for HOURS, with my (soon) empty cup. It was a real treat. Yet it was also more than that. For me that silly, portable hot beverage symbolised adulthood. It was where I wanted to be. I didn’t put it in the bin when I was finished – I wanted to be seen with it. It’s bonkers but they talk, those cups. Look at me! they say. I belong here, I’m so city chic! I earn enough money to be frivolously throwing at overpriced drinks that I don’t need!
I still do it now. I’ve got a cappuccino on the go as I type (no polystyrene in sight). Only now, I feel too aware of what I am holding represents to me, and to others. That Costa branding, Nero or Pret or whatever. Which one you pick is almost as much of a social calling card as the drink itself. Which is probably why I now crave the unidentifiable no-nonsense of the humble polystyrene. It’s a statement of a different kind, almost a protest saying I AM NOT RIDICULOUS. OR RICH. I GOT THIS DRINK FROM A VAN. I PAID LESS THAN A POUND. Hmmm.
tea thermos edited

Social politics aside, if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to make you love something it’s nostalgia. Polystyrene pulls at my heart strings because it reminds me of growing up, of the first time I wanted to be like the grown-ups. Well, pretend to be one.

That first time you actually want to try a cup of tea. The first time you want to try one on the go, from the ice cream van, instead of getting a Coke. The association is as comforting as a steaming hot cup of tea after a long day.

It’s a shame polystyrene has gone out of fashion, but it was of course inevitable. And if the internet is anything to go by – polystyrene could kill both the environment and humans – then maybe it’s for the best.

But there’ll always be a place in this girl’s heart for weird creaky white stuff.

I talk to myself. As far as habits go it’s not exactly the worst. But it’s started to get embarrassing because I find I’m now doing it outside, in public – rather than in inside, alone. Technically, it’s not myself I am talking to now – it’s the world.

And it’s not like I don’t realise I’m doing it – oh no, I know exactly what’s happening. I just don’t care that people can hear me. They probably just assume I’m on a handsfree phone. Or that I’m a bit unhinged (which I am, if I happen to be on the bus or train at the time…)

In reality I doubt anyone ever notices. Which is just as well, as my thoughts aren’t exactly censored. Really quite private, sometimes – the kind of things that should actually stay indoors.

So what’s going on? Is it just age? This is what happens as you get older isn’t it – you go a bit mad, ha ha ha ONLY JOKING. But you do start to care less about what other people think.

It’s a bit strange – or maybe it isn’t, really – but it has always been essential that I talk things through with myself. Keeping my thoughts inside my head hasn’t ever been enough – for some reason I have to actually vocalise them. Like a muscle I need to stretch at least twice a day.

When I was growing up I would really struggle if I didn’t get this time with myself. I would run things through preliminarily in my head, thoughts running around my brain all day – at my school desk, when talking with friends, on the walk home – and then I would re-cap out loud in my bedroom later that day. Just to get everything straight. This routine continued right into adulthood.

I suppose when I found myself no longer living with my family (where I had that access to ‘my own’ space – my bedroom), but began sharing my life with another person, this routine had to be modified.

Of course I still have space (arguably more space than ever) that I can call ‘my own’ – but not in the same way that having a private space like that of a teenage girl’s bedroom offers. That place where you can close the door on the world. So, without realising, I had changed along with my living circumstances.

I toned my musings down – they were weird and potentially embarrassing. Instead, they stayed in my head, were perhaps allowed an occasional whisper. But this policy of restraint obviously hasn’t worked because now, five years on, here I am battling daily with thoughts that have pushed themselves to the surface and are bursting out unannounced on the train, at the traffic lights, in ladies toilets, walking down the street… I’m even signing out loud in public now, too. What the hell?

I’m not quite sure what all this says about me. But I suppose this blog is just another (socially acceptable) way of me externalising all those thoughts. And that must be healthy.

I know what you’re thinking though – that girl thinks too much. You’re right.

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