Adventures in “adulthood”: The problem with Pret

For all its crushing ubiquity, high-street chain Pret A Manger is convenient, with varied, changing and seasonal choices, cutesy marketing, simple packaging, an apparent do-gooding ethos (it has a Pret Foundation and donates food to the homeless), friendly staff, fast-moving lines and actually tasty – although pretty unhealthy, I think, actually – food.

It’s also right next door to my centrally-located office.

Which is, frankly, the only way I can even come close to explaining how much of the following it makes up:

Lunch

 

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Beauty industry: 1, Me: 0

Clinique

I have no idea what's in it...but whatever it is, it works...

Something terrible happened to me last week. Truly, it was seismic on a scale that would have shocked Richter himself.

I (whisper it) realised that when it comes to beauty products, and more specifically, my face wash, sometimes you really do get what you pay for.

It crept up on me gradually.

Normally, I flick through the vast majority of the ‘beauty’ pages of any given magazine in a mood that can range from bored to actively irritated depending on the sycophancy of the writing, and the obvious extent of the advertising spend by the products featured, most of which are no different, save in packaging, and utterly ridiculous ‘names’, than last year’s crop of ‘must-have beauty buys’.

Sometimes, articles can be genuinely informative, relevant and helpful. But usually, they look like heavily edited, glossy advertisements filled with ringing endorsements from giddy, fickle beauty editors who cannot possibly believe even nine tenths of the rubbish they write, and even if they do, cannot possibly, on their almost-certainly rubbish magazine wages, afford to fill their makeup bags with the stuff shown (and if they do, they must be going without food, water or rent to make up for it, which would just serve to increase my levels of disdain to epic levels).

Do women up and down the country really paint their eyelids in seven different layers of powder and polish of a night to get the latest look, while using three of their seventeen different hairbrushes depending on the vintage movie star they’re channelling? Or barricade themselves indoors in mitten-clad foetal positions because their nail varnish is shiny rather than matte this season? Gosh, if that’s the loop then I am as far outside it as Pluto is from the Sun.

Anyway, editors get most of the supposedly ‘new’ products sent to them to review, for free – a form of bribery, essentially, which, while very jammy for the editors if they like that sort of thing, bears about as much resemblance to the average woman’s life (even those who read magazines beauty pages) as a lightly vibrating eyelash mascara wand does to my daily makeup routine ten minutes before I have to rush out the door to catch my train.

And I should know ‒ one of the most surreal things I had to do in the months that I was an intern on a woman’s magazine was sub-edit a story promising readers that they needed one of these things in their lives. A vibrating eyelash wand. It had been some very high-up editors’ job to test various brands of these, and write up their scintillating, presumably very-long-lashed, experiences of this altruistic task for the ‘must-read’ feature their readers had been waiting for (which is was my happy task to sub-edit – as you can surely imagine, it’s something of a blessing that I am a total InDesign geek and actually enjoy messing about with text boxes). Some of these wands didn’t even have mascara on them – they contained merely ‘serum’, which the vibrating action helped spread evenly across the lashes and, we were assured, increase length and lustre by momentous proportions, all for the bargain price of £24 upwards (and that’s supposedly quite cheap). Frankly, if I was going to spend the best part of £30 on a vibrating wand then between you and me it wouldn’t be for my eyelashes. Christ.

Anyway, in my recent economy drive and long held belief that the inflated price of designer goods is entirely derived from the entirely meaningless name on the bottle, I thought little of binning my empty Christmas present tube of Clinique Type-3 face wash and replacing it with a carefully thought-out, not-the-cheapest-in-the-shop-nor-the-most-expensive-but-still-seemed-perfectly-adequate version, more to the tune of £4, complete with apparently active exfoliating micro-beads and the all-important salicylic acid. (Maybe I do read these beauty pages more times than I like to remember.)

It’s much easier to swallow this bumf when you’re not handing over the price of an average meal out to cover it, so in and out of Boots I went, smug in the thought that I’d saved myself at least a tenner and suffered little in way of deprivation. Welcome to the thrifty, new, non-designer-label, non-shallow, non-marketing-victim (and of course, totally spot-free) me.

Something odd

But then something odd happened. Notwithstanding the usual hormonal havoc that plays across my face at thrillingly regular intervals, but which is usually contained to about three days every few weeks, I started noticing the dreaded pimples clustering in most unwelcome places around my jawline and forehead. Some even graduated to full-blown spots not seen around these parts since secondary school and all its attendant horrors. Blackheads popped up in ever-renewed quantities around my nose. Uncomfortable pores bubbled around my jawline, threatening to redden with rage if I dared (and of course I did) to touch them.

Hormones, I told myself. Stress. Chocolate. Lack of time to go to the doctor and get that prescription strength cream that I need on my skin every now and again. Just my skin getting used to the new wash. Nothing to worry about.

But then I remembered that it had been a while since I’d lost that repeat prescription, and hadn’t suffered this situation before. Nope, these gorgeous blemishes were new arrivals, coinciding almost exactly with my cheap face wash purchase. The situation had got, quite literally, to a head. And one that only Clinique could handle.

Fourteen pounds (Fourteen! I swear it was thirteen last time I saw it) and just 200ml worth of gooey, green-tinged liquid packaged with far more material than necessary, seductively gilded in stark silver writing and reassuringly expensive, sparse design later, I admitted defeat. The proverbial had hit the beauty fan. Maybe, I admitted, with growing horror, you do get what you pay for. Maybe this money-driven, shallow, relentlessly superficial, bollocks beauty industry built on shiny advertising, airbrushing and women’s chronically low self-esteem levels actually has – whisper it ‒ a point.

No, I refuse. It’s one brand of face wash, and it’s one particularly stubborn stretch of skin. If I am in future gripped in any way with a maddening and irrepressible urge to replace my £10, six-months old, caking-but-perfectly-fine Bourjois mascara with a brand-spanking Chanel one of more than double the price (and tell everyone that I simply can’t live without it) I’ll let you know. And if I suddenly find that I’m in need of a vibrating serum wand, I’ll also let you know – because I fear, should that be the case, less-than-lustful eyelashes will be the absolute least of my worries.