Last January, I spent three nights working at a well-known, up-market department store on Regents Street (Liberty, obviously) sticking new labels to all their products in preparation for the rise in VAT. I was therefore one of the first people in the country to feel the financial benefit of the tax hike. Anyway, I sent the following message to a friend while I was working there, and I just came across it again. It tickled me, and I hope it might tickle you too.

I was waiting till the madness took hold; after 7 hours of sticking labels to confectionery I think I’m there.

It’s a bit like being in a prison; but a nice prison, like the Shawshank Redemption but with less anal interference and more sweets and soft furnishings. If Willy Wonka and Laura Ashley got together and ran a prison, this would be it. And we are the wool hatted Oompa-Lumpa’s, but taller. The security guards watch us the whole time, lest we should attempt to smuggle out a box of Mint Thins in our socks; and they escort us to the toilets and the break room so that we don’t attempt to steal a jumper, or a lampshade.

After this long peeling and sticking, your brain starts to come unstuck. You start hearing things: there can’t really be a chocolate bar called Lavender Rapist can there? Maybe there can. You start thinking that seconds are actually stickers, and that if you stop sticking then time will stop ticking so you stop for a bit just to see, but time keeps going because stickers aren’t seconds, that was just in your wake-addled mind.

I hope it will end like the scene in Shawshank with all us men on the roof, watching the dawn break over London as we sit back and enjoy a box of Champagne Truffles kindly allowed us by the guards; but I know it will end with a bus journey home and, quite possibly, with me falling asleep and ending up in North Finchley, which is not a scene from any film I know, but is a scene I have played before, one too many times.

Until tomorrow, when I shall be reporting from the beauty department, this is Neil signing off.


Walking home tonight from Wood Green tube to my house, I found myself in a familiar situation, which I’m sure men will recognise. Out of nowhere I suddenly found myself about 30yds behind a woman and I made the mistake of crossing the road just as she did. Which instantly turned me into a potential mugger. Now I’m not trying to deny the anxiety a woman must feel in this situation, or trying to say that she isn’t right to be cautious, but I think the sympathy too often falls on the side of the woman and no one ever stops to think what must be going through the man’s head when he realises the position he’s in. As I see it, there are several options available to a man, but none of them can change the fact that the woman will still think you are a weirdo.

1) ‘The Cross Over.’ The obvious (and I believe the best) thing to do in such a situation is to cross over the road and walk on the other side. All well and good. Except in my situation, I had just crossed over the road with her, so crossing back over would have just looked weird and stalkery. So I stayed where I was.

2) ‘The Overtake.’ The next best thing is to try and overtake her. This is fraught with dangers. First, its not always easy to get past. Because she thinks you are about to get her, the woman is often walking at quite a pace which you have to exceed in order to overtake. If you are at a certain distance, the overtake can also take a little long to complete. If this happens, the sense of dread will build and combined with a fast, determined walk, it can appear that you are simply trying to catch her. Not good. A fast walk for an extended period of time can also leave you out of breath, and heavy breathing as you approach the poor girl is only going to enhance your weirdo image. I also worry that a fast overtake can sometimes give the impression that you are going to be waiting around the next corner for her, ready to jump out. Once you’ve overtaken, this is not really your problem, but I would avoid looking back at her. It sends out the wrong signal.

3) ‘The Hangback.’ The worst case scenario is that no matter how fast you walk, you cannot overtake. In this situation, your good gesture will start to feel like actual stalking and you should really try ‘The Hangback’ which is perhaps the simplest solution and involves simply slowing down to leave enough space between you that she feels safe. But to me that just seems like giving in, so I started to think of other possible solutions.

4) ‘The Phone Call.’ Make a phone call to a friend, or pretend to, in an attempt to try and sound as normal as possible. Talk about how you’ll be home soon, what shopping you need to do, what you did that day – anything to sound as non-stalker like as possible. The downside to this is that she may think you are speaking in code to a crony who is waiting around the next corner to jump her.

6) ‘Lighten the Mood.’ In a similar vein, it occurred to me that singing a happy song, or whistling something might make me seem less weird, and give the impression that my mind was elsewhere and not focused on which bush to push her into. But then I remembered Omar from The Wire, and how he whistles a pleasant tune before he murders someone. Scrap that one then.

7) ‘The Friendly Chat.’ I have never tried this, nor would I ever. But in a brief moment of madness tonight it seemed perfectly reasonable that I should simply talk to the girl, reach out to her and show her how normal I was. But really, the only thing you could say in such a situation would be something like ‘I’m not a weirdo’, which would obviously have the complete opposite effect and probably end up with me getting maced, or at least screamed at. Not a good option.

And that’s about all the options I think. So women, you can see that while it might be an anxious few minutes for you, we too are suffering under the weight of our own good intentions – trying desperately to allay your fears and struggling with the idea that we’ve been branded a criminal just because we’ve found ourselves walking behind you. So next time it happens to you, spare a thought for us; try to take comfort from the old adage, often applied to snakes, that ‘they are more scared of you, than you are of them’ and the whole thing won’t seem half so scary.