Holler out your Sunday praises, followers! My mission is turning a corner. I think I’m converting to the teachings of the gods of Not Looking. In a heathen sense, of course.

The final scores for the week are a few hours off being on the doors but, seeing as I’m home alone now, I think it’s safe to announce that FAIL numbers are down. Consistently down. Not quite zero yet – this is still me, remember – but they’re not hovering far off it. None too bad when you consider the lofty heights my fail-rates have been known to reach.

Now I appear to be through the worst fail-wise, I’ve seen the good side, the up side, the Monty Python bright side, to my venture. While I’m going about my business and looking at far fewer men, I’m beginning to notice far more men looking at me.

Whereas, under normal operation, I figured I attracted looks from men because I was the one who stared at them first, now I know that anyone I spy out of the corner of my eye who is looking at me is, well, looking at me. Looking at me. Looking at me! Trust me, this is quite the turn-up. And here’s why.

Despite regular witterings about my hotness, which imply a general comfort with my appearance (if not borderline narcissism), it may come as some surprise to know that this comfort is by no means steadfast. For all the times I say I’m hot there are as many, if not twice as many, times I believe I’m not.

This is typical girl shit, obviously, although I believe men are just as likely to wrestle (in a manly heteroerotic way) with these thoughts themselves. They just don’t mention them as much as women. In this respect, and hopefully very few others given my gender, I’m like a man: I don’t really talk about my physical dislikes all that often.

I’m pretty sure my friends would agree I don’t discuss them much. Except this one. They know about this one. This one I mention quite regularly, especially when attempting to buy trousers. Funnily enough, it’s also shared with men:

(I’m not really that into basketball though. Or after a girl that looked good so I would call her. A boy, yes, that’d be nice. I’ll definitely take the rabbit in the hat, however. Magic!)

I probably come across as quite comfortable with my appearance: I wear tight tops, low necklines, short skirts and bum-hugger jeans. Sometimes I’ll catch my reflection in the mirror and think, “Hell, yeah, I’d do ya!”.

But then a split second later, I’ll slip into minute-inspection mode and pick metaphorical holes in any number of perceived flaws. I’ll tell you even the clothes I wear are chosen because having child height with hourglass curves requires the definition of separate anatomical parts in order to avoid having the silhouette of a teapot. My ability to think myself attractive is high; my ability to believe myself attractive is not.

It’s probably true of a lot of people, and now to them I would recommend following my not-looking lead. Not because they might be on the hunt and, patronising beyond patronising, “it’ll happen when they’re not looking”, but because of the by-product. If I’m anything to go by, you’ll experience an increased noticing of genuine looks from actual men – it’s the next best thing to a confidence boost in a can.

When I first noticed this phenomenon, I was mildly disturbed by it. All those stary, stary men, what did they want with me? Why are they looking at me and, when I return their look (legitimately and within the rules), looking sheepishly away? Have a I got something stuck to my face? Have I – horror of horrors! – developed a tache of some sort? What on earth are they playing at?

And then I realised. They’re eyeing me up. They’re checking me out. They’re trying to engage me in their own little Rule 1 FAIL (not that anyone else actually lives under these ridiculous rules). Well get a load of me. I am Miss Fancy McFanciablepants and I am out and proud. All those years I’ve spent meerkat neck extending, pupils darting, eyes locking meant I was too busy looking to notice being looked at. All this time, I should have been leaving the man-mountain to come to Mohammed. (Remind me to draw a cartoon of that.)

I don’t know if this is the first indication that not looking might, in fact, work. Firstly, it’s too early and there’s not enough volume of evidence. Secondly, just as many men could have been looking at me before, I just didn’t notice it myself. And thirdly, a look isn’t worth much in the finding-Mr-Mazing stakes – I need digits and dates, people. But until such time as that happens, I’ll take this opportunity for another me-orientated terrible musical interlude:

(I am totally the nun.)

Still, this new phase is a step in the right direction, plus I’m already enjoying the fruits of my not-labour: one young chap I noticed eyeballing me at the park today got a seductive lip-lick-hip-swing combo for his ocular efforts. Bless him. He didn’t get a look, though. Not my type. He should’ve been a little bit taller.


So here it is. I know you’ve all been avidly waiting for this bad boy, what with my last Excel effort being of such incredibly high quality. The kind of quality that would make an audit partner weep, as used to happen when I myself was an equally top-quality auditor…

A fortnight of FAILs

Look at the peaks on that

You might have been thinking: “It’s a little blurry, Alex.” I can assure you it’s not blurry, you just need new glasses. You don’t wear glasses? Well, there’s your problem then, isn’t it.

And, yes, well, some of you may have thought there’s a little “air” between the caption and the graph itself. This is not a quality issue either, no no no. This is what one calls “giving it space”. I’m sure my graphic designer friends could attest to the importance of this characteristic in any layout. Yes, that’s right, my design skills are as impeccable as my audit skills. I am truly multi-facetedly talential. I’m also words with good.

ALL RIGHT! I know, it’s terrible. I’ll only do them monthly from now and save you the eye-ache. Just think of this as endearing, would you, and let’s move on.

Oh and I just spotted an erroneous 15th day. Fuck it. Here’s how the graph should have looked in full, glorious MSPaint technicolour.

Excel muppetry

They gave me letters after my name for this sort of shit

How not to look

I may only have been at this not-looking game for a couple of weeks but already I consider myself somewhat of an expert. In the past, I felt I was proficient, even skilled, in the art of visual (and let’s not deny, physical) seduction, but I think my new-found talents surpass even that. In such a short time, remarkable.

But, as with my proficient – nay skilled – visual – nay physical – seduction techniques, I can’t possibly keep them to myself. So herein lies the definitive, expert, tried-and-tested, empirically-backed guide to How Not To Look.

Level 1 not-looking – Stare into the sky or at the ground
Caution should be exercised in known areas of high population density, eg. London, or areas of high poop density, eg. anywhere within a one-mile radius of chavs who own any form (legal or illegal) of pitbull/bull terrier/Staffy, eg. London. The odds are not in my favour here. Those employing entry-level tactics should also be aware of the double-whammy sky-staring-bird-poop problem. It’s a blessing I no longer work near Trafalgar Square, let me tell you.

Level 2 not-looking – Blur the eyes
I have to say, the world is a far more beautiful place when you take the edges off everything and everyone. It’s much like having several pints inside you but without the overwhelming need to wee fourteen times an hour and then eat cheesy chips. However, the practice has given rise to the unique question: “Is that a man or a lamppost?” The bruise on my right bozonka knows the answer.

Level 3 not-looking – Ignore everyone
This one works a treat if you find your eyes easily caught. Very effective. Everyone either thinks you’re aloof, rude, Mr Magoo myopic or hates you, but you’ve got to consider that a price worth paying for zero FAILs, right? I can’t tell you the number of friends and acquaintances I’ve walked straight past in the last couple of weeks. I’m not being figurative, I can’t. But the way I see it, true friends would understand. They’d be reading my bloody blog for a start.

Level 4 not-looking – Not heads but shoulders, knees and toes
I’ve found my gaze is most often drawn into looking when I spot a potential hunk of hot in my peripheral vision. It’s almost a reflex reaction to zap my eyeballs up to their face. I’ve developed the technique of locking onto another part of their anatomy instead. Unfortunately, under this experiment, crotches, asses and chests are ruled out. Too obviously associated with the look of attraction. Knees, though, they’re safe. As are feet. Arms, too. Anywhere that isn’t naturally associated with eyeing up. Not shoulders, really. Too close to the face. And too hot. I just included that in the title because the song wouldn’t have worked without it.

Level 5 not-looking – Fix your gaze on ugly and/or old feckers
There are some right fuggers and grandpas about town who thought they were in there with a hot little piece of ass this week. (That’s me, by the way.) And why not? They’re helping me avoid fails left, right and centre. I’m helping them stave off a severe attack of the lonelies/the nursing home. It’s a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship. Some might call it parasitic. I might call them wrong. And married to a fugger whose head’s too easily turned.

Level 6 not-looking – Lezz it up
A recent revelation and a most welcome one. Instead of looking at manhot, why don’t I look at girlhot? I don’t know why I didn’t see it before, quite frankly. It’s so obvious. There’s some real lady talent out there, and not just in the mirror. In general, women make more effort with their appearances, wear tighter clothes and, let’s face it, are better looking. Why shouldn’t I take full advantage? Plus there’s the almost universal rule that guys are never as hot as their girlfriends, so why waste my looking time on the second-class citizen of a relationship?

When all else not-looking fails – Stay in
A zero FAILs tally on Saturday attests to the validity of this method. I didn’t leave my flat, I read several chapters of my book, I made some scones, I wrote a long and heartfelt post for this most amazing of blogs, I listened to as many CDs as I could find in their cases (four), I got a little bit drunk on a nice Chablis, I didn’t look at a single man. Or an attached one. It works! The only problem in using this technique is that, well, I really don’t think anyone else can be as good company as I am. You may well get bored with yourself. And if you’re a guy and you’re trying this, we know where that’ll end… At least blindness will mean you won’t have a problem not looking any more.

So there you have it. I can’t see where anyone could go wrong with clear, informative, helpful and wise tips such as these. Or rather, I couldn’t see where anyone could go wrong if it wasn’t for the gargantuan catalogue of FAILs I’ve racked up in the past few weeks. God, if I only fancied old gimmers, I wouldn’t have a problem at all.

Let’s get metaphysical

So far, I’ve written about the funny side of this experiment of mine. The last few days have made me think more and more about the – let’s not call it serious – the less funny side. I’ve poked fun at my inability to stop myself getting a good daily eyeful of man-talent, I’ve mocked my admission of congential perving, I’ve taken the piss out of the slutty tactics I employ in attracting bar service. But there’s more to me than comedy, lechery and boobs – I’ve got feelings, too, you know.

My friend Berit made a smart point when I told her about this little project and the rules I’d set myself. We were discussing what looking really means and she said it’s not so much the act of looking directly at people, or looking out for people to look at, which is the subject of my experiment; it’s more the expectation the looker holds in their mind when they do the looking. Or the making eye contact. Or the flirting, the chatting up, the meerkatting, the accepting invites with ulterior motives or the internet dating.

One for the compost

Welllll helloooooo laydeeeez!

But I’m not sure what my levels of expectation are. I know I’m not desperate for a boyfriend. If I were, I would have one tomorrow, and he would be fat, ugly and stupid, with the creative impulses of a cardboard box and the personality of a wizened parsnip. There’s no shortage of them and they’d certainly want to get into this hot dish.

I also know I’m not desperate to meet Mr Mazing. If I were, I’d be turning every fat, ugly, boring, thick, wrinkled parsnip into the man-apple of my mind’s eye. While I’m certainly open to giving chaps a chance and seeing where things go, in the past year I’ve called it a day on more close-but-not-quites than those I’ve thought way-hey!! about. There’s no denying, though, that I am on the look-out for a Mr Mazing. (I don’t say my Mr Mazing because I don’t believe in The One – why is a diatribe for another time maybe.)

Really, the only definite aim I can have for myself in this project is to stop looking for Mr Mazing altogether. Some of the rules I’ve set may seem reasonable in this pursuit, some may seem trivial. I mean, throughout any given day, we each make eye contact with any number of different people, most of them not big, hot hunks of manmeat – to stop doing that might seem silly. But my thinking was that regular, small adjustments would effect an overall greater change. Little acorns, mighty oaks, that sort of thing. Only it turns out the smaller changes are actually the hardest to make.

First off, there’s the whole thing of trying not to do something in fact making you far more likely to do it, or at least think about doing it. For example, if I tell you not to think about Ann Widdecombe naked except for sequinned nipple tassles and a heart-shaped merkin, all you’ll think about is Ann Widdecome naked except for sequinned nipple tassles and a heart-shaped merkin. (Yep, I nearly vommed too.)

Amnaesia's never been so appealing

Penny for your thoughts

It’s become partly the same for me. Not frequent visions of Widders in her birthday suit, but thinking about not looking at men is increasing the number of times I actually Iook. I’m having to reprimand myself for looking, or stop myself from looking, or dart my eyes away to avoid looking, so many times that I can’t genuinely believe I ever used to look this much before.

Secondly, there’s the possible influence of knowing I can’t look that’s leading me down the path of temptation towards the forbidden fruit of looking. Thirdly, there’s the fact that by reprimand or prevention, I’m drawing attention to the very act of looking in a way I never used to. Back in the good old days, the before-not-looking days, I would mindlessly gaze around rooms and tubes and streets hoping my eyes would light upon some tummy-wibble-inducing male specimen. Now I’m doing it mindfully while trying, mindfully, not to do it. And failing. A lot.

I said at the start about this being like a smackhead coming off crack or a fattie coming off biscuits. I meant it as a joke. With hindsight I see it’s a very hard reality. And this is only week two. I gave myself a year for this experiment because I wanted to be fair to the theory, give it a real airing and see if it holds up, avoid as many accusations of bias or sabotage as possible. But sitting here now, I’d be really surprised if I can keep going for a whole month, let alone 12. Not looking is a surprisingly exhausting activity.

Not looking also has unexpected knock-on effects on my general feelings. In trying to avoid looking at faces, I’ve looked at the ground a lot more. There’s a theory that, when someone looks down, they go inside their own mind either to understand a concept or listen to their internal voice. One positive side-effect of looking down has been greater avoidance of dog shit, but a more negative one has been far greater exercising of my little internal monologue. I am very bored of the sound of my own over-thinking voice right now.

Hubba hubba

Gratuitous placement of wibble-inducing manmeat

There’s also the issue of overcoming the fear of not looking. As I said, I’m not parsnip-desperate but I do want to find someone. Sooner would be better, of course, but I’d like to think the wait for Mr Mazing will seem worth it in the end. I only wish I knew when that end is due to come.

My response to the lack of clear timetabling is to keep myself occupied with the search. Taking away that distraction has left me twitching in its vacuum. What if I don’t notice the lingering look of a fellow tube-traveller? What if I miss out because I don’t drag myself to that party? What if Mr eMazing passes me by because I’m not touting myself on the interbob? To sit here doing nothing about a situation I’d like to change is not my usual style. It feels a little like fiddling while Rome burns – Rome burning being the coupling-up of all the non-parsnips: the sausages, the charcuterie, the manmeat that I believe is still out there.

People counter this fear of mine by trotting out the old “if it’s meant to be…” defence. Unfortunately, this doesn’t wash with me – as well as not believing in The One, I don’t believe in fate. That’s my barbecue-lighting humanist side. It leaves me thinking that if I’m not looking, it’s not going to happen. This is as much a test of a theory as it is a test of will.

So yes, while all these things float around my head, I’m also conscious of the fact I need to keep these chronicles entertaining. You and me, we can’t be just about having fun, but we can’t be just about getting serious either. So, I’ve decided, each time I look or break any other of my rules, I’m going to hit myself around the chops with a wizened parsnip. Not only will it remind me of what I’m not missing, it’ll also inject some comedy back into proceedings. And right now, I need to remember both the time I’ve wasted on bad root vegetables and the importance of living on the lighter side of lovelife sometimes.

I’m a good girl, really

At school I had a rebellious streak. Not rebellious as in smoking behind the bike sheds or etching “Fuk skool” into the plaster in the loos. I was sort of intellectually rebellious. For instance, during a discussion in an RS lesson, I said I didn’t believe in God. My teacher’s eyes bulged and she hissed that I would burn in hell. “That’s fine by me,” I said. “I like a good barbecue.” Sharp intakes of breath and puce faces all round. Copybook blotted FOR LIFE.

Jordan 'Teen Horn' Catalano

And lead us not into mid-90s temptation

But never once did I act up in class, give my homework in late, muck about in assembly (unless you count not joining in the hymns and prayers, or ogling the picture of Jared Leto I’d sellotaped to the cover of my hymn book); nor did I fail to wear regulation uniform, despite those regulations dictating even the colour of our hairbands and the length of our skirts. When it comes to rules, I guess you could call me a bit of a good girl. When it comes to free speech, free thinking or men, I am definitely not. Rarrrrrrrrrrrrrr! Ahem.

What that all means is, I don’t take the subject of bending rules – especially rules I’ve set for myself – lightly. But, as with most rules, there’s a big difference between the way they work inside your head and the way they work in the real world. That much is obvious from my flagrant and repeated breaches of my rules on meerkatting and eye contact.

Everyone looks at other people all the time – out of curiosity, out of interest, out of boredom, out of habit. So many of us say we’re people-watchers. Of course we are, it’s only natural. As social animals, we’re wired up to look at faces, read emotions, judge reactions, give reassurance, seek empathy, find mates. As my friend Reece put it: “Stopping yourself looking at people is like stopping a lion being fierce.” And I’m one fierce lioness. Rarrrrrrrr! Sorry.

So let’s do a little rule-based Q&A covering a few of the situations I’ve faced in my first week of Not Looking. Or rather, attempted Not Looking.

Q1. Does looking at men in the street always constitute a Rule 1 fail?
I’m constantly distracted by what’s going on around me. Take the other day, walking to work I looked at some big, red thing rolling along the pavement towards me. BLAM! Eye contact with the postie and his trundling trolley of letters. FAIL? Now, I know I wasn’t after Postman Pat. I have have no desire for a relationship with a man who wakes me up at 4am and then stuffs other people’s slots. It was an innocent visual attraction to a looming inanimate object.

Rule 1 fails are henceforth deemed to occur only when I deliberately look at a man to establish his hotness, or double-take at a man I suspect to be hot.

Q2. Does every scan of a room qualify as meerkatting?
I love to wile away my Tube time noseying at the books people read, how they dress, where they go. I enjoy wondering what they’re actually thinking, what their lives are really like. Is that straight-laced woman in her below-the-knee pleating heading home to her love dungeon and gimp-suited husband? Does that skinny-jeaned, check-shirted Shoreditch kid long for the comfort of his Kappa tracksuited teens? How does that trowel-makeupped woman with four-inch spade-nails manage to visit the ladies’ without FGMing herself?

It’s a natural part of living like a sardine in a tin called London. I don’t want to miss out on the colourful people of my ugly/beautiful city. Therefore, meerkatting is redefined as the deliberate scan of a room with the intention of seeking out stunnahs.

Q3. Is making eye contact with barmen, waiters, male shop assistants, etc a fail?
I’m just the sort of person you want to know if you’re thirsty in a busy pub. I’m small, so I can wriggle towards the bar under everyone’s elbows. I’ve got a good rack, so I can distract attention from guys doing that annoying pseudo-highroller cash-waving thing. But, in these days of rule-limited austerity, is that sort of behaviour disallowed? Not entirely.

The popular vote has decreed I can make eye contact with men employed in the customer service industry, but I’m not allowed to flirt with them. Employing some come-hither to get served fast = yes. Whacking my wabs on the bar to usurp the cashmoney = FAIL.

Q4. Is looking at men who can’t see I’m looking at them still looking?

Papal frisbee

You invite someone to a barbecue and all they bring is a goddamn frisbee

Kelly told me off for having a gawp out of the office window at the extreme frisbee-ers in the yard over the road. They were playing a game! It looked fun! Their excitable flappy-dancy defence moves were a hell of a lot more entertaining than getting on with work! Surely that can’t be looking looking? I mean, some of them were girls and, having seen them before, I know none of the guys is a fittie. Not allowed, she said.

As a result, I’ve been forced to ban all forms of looking where I can be seen, individually, looking back. This includes gawping at men out of windows but does not include watching matches, gigs, plays, films or internet porn. That won’t trouble me much – I don’t like football.

Q5. What can I do if a man approaches me?
A question likely to remain in the theoretical domain, given I’ve only ever had one bloke randomly come up to me and ask for my number (men! you’re SHIT at that), but a question worth asking for its bearing on related matters. After intense discussion with three separate groups of friends, the following refinements have been made:

i) I can respond to an approach but I cannot make one. I am still on the market here, remember. I’m testing a theory, not joining a convent, even if it has barbecues.

ii) I can reply to chatting up but I am not to continue the conversation if he can’t make it past spilling his pint and saying “Let me help you out of those wet clothes”, or whatever godawful nonsense might be thrown at me. To be honest, I wouldn’t know since it’s never happened. (Perhaps he’ll say: “What’s your postcode?” That’s about the closest thing I’ve experienced. Mine wasn’t Fulham or Chelsea so he wasn’t interested. He judged me for my address, I judged him for his complete lack of personality.)

iii) I can return flirting but only so far as it is extended to me. I’m not allowed to keep the exchange going if he runs out of steam. Or personality.

iv) I can accept the offer of a date but I can’t set the first one up; I have to wait for him. It’s been decided that, after the first date, I’m free to set up more – if I start meddling with dating behaviour, I’m not going to be myself and, obviously, I am amazing.

So there we have it. Round 1 of the refinements. I say Round 1 because I have no doubt there’ll be more. I can’t really go into them all now, in one go, a) because I’m losing interest in the sound of my own tippety tappety typing fingers, and b) because you’ve probably got RSI from scrolling down and down and down and down and down and down and down. Just remember, though, these things are important, and loquacity is as endearing as a good postcode.

For all those both of you that asked, here’s a geeky Excel-generated graph plotting my first week’s FAILs. Don’t tell me I’m not good to you.

FAILs graph

Is that a green graph or a ski slope at the Vancouver Olympics?

I’ve not used that function since I waved a two-fingered goodbye to the audit nearly 18 months ago. I just hope you understand how dirty I feel now. And not a good kind of dirty, like the kind of dirty I feel eyeing up fit men. Now that I miss. I’ll never miss inventing 314 different ticks in 3 colours of biro or nodding “Yes, that’s fine” at the client’s 14th version of the same fucking balance sheet.

But anyway, time I got on with that post about bending refining my rules. Enjoy, stats fans!

Not a sausage

After a short absence – the reason for which is about to become abundantly clear – here is the Situation Report.

Day 3: FAILs 8. A good improvement.
Day 4: FAILs 7. Not bad, considering I was down the pub.
Day 5: FAILs 5. Good, considering I was down the pub.
Day 6: FAILs 3. Very good, considering I was down the pub.
Day 7: FAILs 8. I was down the pub. Hungover. I gave up trying. Sorry about that.

All FAILs were breaches of Rules 1 or 4. Just for a change.

I’m getting much, much better at behaving myself. Well, if you ignore Day 7’s performance and the fact that I’ve been George Besting my liver for most of the week. (And seemingly obliterating the brain cells responsible for my writing abilities, so apologies now.) There’s a downward trend in the fails market and wins are on the up, as they’d say on Wall Street in between pocketing government bail-outs and receiving their redundancy notices.

Take Friday night’s pub visit. (That’s Day 5 if you can’t be arsed to do the math; right now I couldn’t.) I’ve lived in London more than four years and in all that time I’ve never borne witness to such a high-grade sausage fest. A wall-to-wall boycarpet so unusual in its richness and beauty it attracted comment from all of my female friends. And yet only two of Day 5’s five fails actually happened at Pub Saucisson. A remarkable feat for a carnivore like me, given the amount of butcher’s-hookable meat hovering at the edges of my field of vision.

Meat feast

Ooh la la!

Even as I left the pub, I spied with my little peripheral eye the shape of a tall, lean hunk of charcuterie just outside the door – and I didn’t so much as dance my eyeballs towards his face. I even completely blanked my male workmate who was waiting on the pavement next to him. WIN! That’s right, ignoring my friends now makes me a great success.

Other notable wins include: skipping a party I didn’t want to go to even though it was hosted by my two male neighbours, thus implying a high likelihood of sausages on sticks (Rule 6); and returning the conversation of two very good-looking men – one known to me, one stranger on a train – without a single flirt-giggle, lash-flutter or surreptitious cleavage-squeeze (Rule 2). That, my friends, is progress.

But, as I mentioned in my last post, the black and white world of my not-looking rules has been increasingly encroached upon by the grey areas associated with real-life application. Some pretty important questions concerning the rigidity and/or stretchiness of certain rules have popped up and they demand answers. I’m just going to have to wait until I’m not hungover before I can give them to you. I promise it’ll be bumper (ish). That ok? Thanks.