It's all in the mind

Annalisa Barbieri wishes that more people would use their imagination

Some years ago, for reasons we need not go into here, I worked on a building site for three months. Because I wore work clothes, and not a snow-washed denim miniskirt, the nine builders all presumed I was a lesbian.

During the job, our boss had a birthday and threw a big party to which we were all invited. Naturally, I dressed up. I wore a pink chiffon, swingy shift dress (lined, needless to say) with shoestring straps, which came to mid-thigh. I cannot believe I used to wear such things, but this was 14 years ago and I was able to get away with it then. "My God, you have legs," said one builder, staring at me with his mouth open. "I had no idea you looked like that," said another. How little imagination you have, I thought.

I've never been the sort of person to dress up every day. This is in part because I have the sort of figure that suits spectacularly OTT dressing up, and nothing else. A 1950s figure. I don't do casual or nonchalant dressing well. I wish I did. This means that, for about four days of the year, I can look very glamorous indeed, and the rest of the time I fade into the background. I am, as I write this, wearing shapeless cords, a thick jumper, woolly socks and shoes that look like Cornish pasties. The advantage to dressing like this 361 days of the year is that when I do dress up, there's a marked difference, and people look at me as if they've never really seen me before (which, of course, they haven't).

I'd be lying if I said I didn't get off on this slightly. But what amazes me is people's inability to see past how you present yourself. I can see, for example, that Keith Flint from The Prodigy is an incredibly good-looking man. If he took the ring out of his nose and kept his tongue in his head, trust me, he'd leave the likes of Brad Pitt on the Ugly Shelf; Flint has incredible bone structure. Yet, whenever I talk about how good-looking he is (and yes, I know, there's more to life than that), everyone says: "Him? Yuk." The singer Pink is another one. She's a dead ringer for Kim Novak, but while Pink rarely appears on any "sexiest women" lists, Novak is regarded as one of the sexiest women ever. The only difference is that one dresses more often than not in combat trousers and the other was no stranger to a tailored skirt and tight jumper.

OK, so Pink also has a tendency to push her lower jaw forward in a slightly aggressive manner, whereas Kim Novak was far more demure in her comportment. But really, is it so hard to see beyond that?

I suppose what I'm trying to do here is reassure myself. I'm incredibly lazy and I like comfort, and am secretly appalled that I dress so badly most of the time. But honestly, I scrub up well.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.
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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.