Thursday, 29 April 2010


Fulham are in the Europa League Finals and I am stunned. Stunned because I didn't know Fulham was in London, let alone three miles away (I didn't know what the Europa League was, either).

Geography was never my strong point, but I appreciate this is pretty bad. Still, it's what this place is like; you can live here for decades and still need an A-Z to get you home if you stray outside your postcode. Or a trail of breadcrumbs. Or £40 to pay a rip-off cabbie.

Come to think of it, I've barely set foot in north London in the years that I've been here, apart from bloody Mary stop-offs in Camden and that one time I got lost in Finsbury Park. Perhaps I am missing out on something wonderful, which will make me rethink my whole London approach? It is north, after all.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Job hunting

Job hunting can really eat away at your day. Take the faint whiff of jobs from the BBC in Manchester. I spent several traumatic hours doing an online assessment for ‘undisclosed’ positions at Media City in Salford Quays (BBC due to move there in 2011). If you completed this to the Beeb's recruitment agency’s liking, then they might look at your CV for upcoming jobs.

It started with timed English/current affairs questions, which got harder if you got them right. But you didn't know if you'd answered them correctly. I finished on an ‘odd one out’ question. Make of that what you will.

Then there was a multiple-choice section, where there were ‘no wrong answers’. Which is garbage. The BBC does not want someone who has clicked on the ‘does not cope well under pressure’ and ‘prefers to eat their sandwiches alone’ sections.

'Which statement applies most to you...' one bit read, 'I get bored easily or I prefer to complete one thing before starting another.'

‘What does the BBC want me to be?’ I think, before ticking off a few more contradictory statements.

The third part was a series of films with actors playing employees facing tough decisions. At the end of each one you were asked how you would react if you were the employee – would you ask your boss for advice, do research etc. In the BBC's desire not to be seen as discriminating against creed, colour or crippling illness, they had created the most politically correct montage I have ever seen.

The first clip showed a small person zipping about the office in a wheelchair. The second featured a camp Asian chap on a computer. Another had a woman whose waters were almost breaking as she was breaking the news.

But the thing is, if these were real scenarios, those employees would probably have come straight from Oxford, Cambridge or Eton, or had known (or had parents who'd known) the director-general. Or would be prepared to work for £6,000 a year. And that pregnant woman would have been knocked up by a Cbeebies producer in the broomcupboard.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The tooth hurts

Wake up with all my own teeth. Relieved, as minutes earlier I had spit five molars into my palm. Dreams like that make my insomnia seem like the easy option.

Tooth dreams are, apparently, about the fear of growing old and not having achieved anything. This latest one was probably prompted by my school friend visiting – she who has just landed a top job back in the north and has her own car, house and husband. I have an Oyster card, a rented shoebox and a young Southern man who is committed to Arsenal.

I remember having a conversation at primary school, probably echoed by girls in playgrounds the nation over, about how when I was 21 (which was, like, sooooo old) I would:

1. Live in a big house with a swimming pool - possibly on Ramsay Street;
2. Be married to Jason Donovan;
3. Be a vet, own a zoo - or both;
4. Have twins.

As it turned out, when I was 21 I was living in a bedsit with a cat, driving a train along Brighton seafront and pondering a career in journalism.

While taking an extra big swill of Listerine I decide to delete my age from my CV.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Marathon daze

An old school friend and her husband are visiting. They have spent months preparing for the London marathon and both look sickeningly healthy. While sipping iced water in the pub they tot up what they need to eat in one day to fuel them around the course. It is 600g of carbs, which translates as four big bowls of pasta, a packet of Haribo sweets, two crumpets with honey, buttered toast, bananas, a cereal bar and four tuna sandwiches.

'It's so much to eat! I don't know how I'll do it,' she says. I look at the list. I could easily eat that in an afternoon, if I was feeling bored or depressed.

I'm fairly sure I will never run a marathon. In the list of things I will not achieve with my life, it's probably up there with becoming an astronaut. Watching the marathon by Cleopatra's Needle (a viewing area chosen for its close proximity to Gordon's wine bar) only reinforces this. I see the levels of pain on faces, the limps, the tears. Three people stop to be sick in front of me. A man dressed as Dangermouse comes to an abrupt halt and doubles over, his big mouse paws gripping his stomach, before being escorted away by St John's Ambulance. Crumbs. These people weren't selling it to me.

My friend breezes past, overtaking a giant cardboard Cornetto and Richard Branson dressed as a butterfly. Her husband follows half an hour later. He is walking slowly and appears to be eating a chip. I shout to him. He looks over and shakes his head. 'What am I doing here?' his eyes seem to say. I feel his pain.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Confused white girl

Grind to a halt on the tube. Some smartly dressed Indian people start talking to me; they are running late for a wedding and want to know the quickest route to Victoria.

'Our oldest auntie is a total stressbucket,' one of them says. 'She's the only one organising the food and there are so many people coming.' 'I know,' says another. 'Normally it's a case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians.'

I think this is quite funny, but I am not sure if I am allowed to laugh. Would it be racist if I laughed, even though they made the joke? It's very confusing. I was brought up in 1980s Cumbria, where the only ethnic minorities ran the takeaways, serving deep-fried pineapple rings and warm bottles of dandelion and burdock. So it was a bit of a culture shock when I moved to Elephant and Castle in south London, where my pasty face was in a minority.

It was there that a would-be mugger followed me home. He happened to be a big, black hulk. He tried to steal my bag, but did not count on my vice-like grip and Hammer Horror scream (I didn't know I had these gifts until he grabbed me).

I became edgy walking back from Elephant station. I would eye the black boys in the market eating jerk chicken and nodding to No Woman No Cry with fear. About a month later I was striding home, loaded with shopping, when I heard a familiar stomping closing in on me. I started to sweat. He had returned to finish the job. I put my shopping on the pavement, praying he would just walk past me. He didn't. He stopped. I grabbed my keys to use as a weapon. I looked up.

Gazing down at me was the dark-skinned angelic face of someone who could have been in a boy band. A choir, even. He saw the terror in my eyes.

I decided there and then to stop being such an idiot. Yes, the man who tried to mug me was black. But that didn't mean all black men wanted to steal my bags. Hell, some wanted to help me carry them home.

So I'm definitely not a racist. But I am still sat on the tube, wondering how to show I'm not a racist. The Indian friends are still laughing at their joke. 'Oooh, I like your dress!' I say.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Southern harassment

Surprisingly, northerners are well represented in my office. A freelancer on my desk is probably the most extreme case. He is about 50, but still eats crisp sandwiches. He only has full-fat milk in his tea and he buys his cake in blocks. He talks fondly of the days when you could smoke at your desk. He knows a lot of things on a lot of subjects and is keen to share them with anyone who will listen, and many who would rather not. You would want him on your pub quiz team, but after a few pints you might tell him to stop prattling on. He wouldn't take it to heart.

There are many extreme cases of southerner lurking around the building. The sort of person who says ‘fan’ instead of ‘fun’ (I'm not sure how they pronounce 'thank you', 'please' or 'sorry'). They have normally just come back from a skiing trip and are in a hurry. They either don't realise how rude they are, or don't care. They drink 'grande skinny lattes' (I cannot bring myself to order them - in the past I have asked for a 'big latte with semi-skimmed milk, please'). They will use words that you nod at, but then have to look up in a dictionary afterwards.

Even if an extreme southerner was reciting the sweetest poetry, I would rather be stuck in a room listening to a man munching his way through a Walkers salt and vinegar sandwich. On white bread.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Long walk home

I stuff my feet into narrow shoes for the same reason I bin my glasses as soon as a I leave the office - foolish vanity. This, despite the fact I have the vision of a diabetic pensioner and feet as dainty as ham chunks.

Scaling the broken escalators at Earls Court is all it takes for my feet to bubble with blisters. On top of this, I have also come down with a bad case of horse-rider's bottom. It gets so bad that I cannot walk to the printers - the only break I get from my desk. And I thought my shifts couldn't get any more painful.

Finish at 11pm, then shuffle to the tube, passing the homeless man who is sleeping on pages of the newspaper I work for. Finally reach Ealing station and consider kicking my shoes off right there, but then I spot some fresh phlegm shining under a street lamp, surrounded by bits of broken beer bottle. I hobble on to the grassy Common, where I see that Bob Wilson's funfair has started to set up - there are helter skelters, ghost trains and wobbly rides with names like Kool Musik Xpress. Some carnies are sitting outside their caravans in the dark with a dog.

I take my shoes off and carry them, wincing in the moonlight, and stagger across the wet Common to the flat. I eye them suspiciously and think: 'If any of those carnies wanted to attack me, I would be toast.' They look at me, laugh and shout: 'Careful darlin!' They clearly think I am a drunk who has staggered out of Wetherspoon's. If only.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Giddy up

I was given a riding lesson for my birthday last year and finally feel brave enough to use it.

I didn’t give horse-riding much thought when I was little – it was something the posh kids did. I was happy flying carrier bags on bits of string with my sisters, reading the Beano and building ‘Bobcat 2’, a terrifying go-cart made from old bike parts. Our neighbours were boys of the same age, so they would let us raid their toy basket (Star Wars figures, Boglins, Fungus the Bogeyman) and we, in turn, would dress them in skirts, paint their nails pink and doodle Tinkerbell lipstick across their faces. I don’t think it did them any lasting harm.

But the older I’ve become, and the more Westerns I’ve watched, the more I’ve quite fancied giving horse-riding a go. So I head to the local riding school, voucher in hand. I was expecting to see a troop of Chelsea tractors and children called Annabella prancing about in designer jodhpurs, but the reality is more comforting. I am greeted by a rosy-cheeked receptionist who lends me some size 7 boots and a size 2 hat. A fat tabby cat jumps on my lap.

Greg, the riding teacher, reminds me of my driving instructor – he smokes roll-ups, has a slightly potty mouth and lots of anecdotes. I like him straight away. My horse is called Betty - a name I think is more suited to a dinner lady. I feed her a eucalyptus Halls Soother to get her on side.

‘Always mount from the left side,’ says Greg. ‘Back when horses were used in battle, soldiers wore swords on their left side, so they had to get on this way.’ (Posh kids will already know that). I get on and do some walking, trotting, standing, kicking, bouncing and stopping. A 10-year-old girl in the ring next to me is going a lot faster and doing jumps, but this does not bother me – children always beat me at sports.

I do not fall off and sign up for another lesson next month.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Off the menu

Most of my meals are eaten at a desk these days and involve a canteen baked potato, beans and a plastic fork. So I leap at the chance to get a pub Sunday roast.

I love food. I do. And when I finally get out of this city it will be one of the few things it serves up that I will miss.

Since moving here I've discovered that I love Thai food, like my steak rare and cod black. Lobster and caviar are nice – but overrated. Vietnamese food is great and cheap – and proof that if pancakes look like they’ve been rolled from flayed skin, you should still give them a try. Sushi – especially when hacked into pieces in front of you at Sushi-Hiro (off the Common, Heston Blumenthal rates it) is the business. I’ve eaten earl grey and lavender ice cream (flavours I dismissed as soft and southern, but which actually made my knees knock). I’ve even nibbled on Stinking Bishop cheese.

Most of this has only been possible because of the food reviews I did at my last job, otherwise I would still be thinking macaroni pies were as thrilling a taste fusion as it gets.

But since being diagnosed with coeliacs, the shine has gone from eating out. At the pub I have a quiet word with the waitress and she presents me with a new menu, with the gluten-tarnished dishes scratched out.

I cast my eye past the scribbles and ticks down to the roast. I knew the Yorkshire pudding was a no-hoper, but the 'gravy' also has a big blue biro line through it. I catch my breath.

I order a potato.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Pound for pound

I sleep in, so wake up worried I will waste my day off. Try to get Southern Man out of bed, but he puts on a meek lady's voice and says he has (another) cold. Manage to coax him through to the living room with the promise of a pint of tea. He slumps on the sofa to watch Man U v Man City while I wash clothes and dishes and cook cheese omelettes. I am restless. The sun is out. He is not moving. I storm out of the flat in a huff, not entirely sure that he has noticed.

While stomping around Ealing I make a discovery. Poundland. It is new and it has opened next to River Island. It is not the first pound shop here - Poundkingdom is across the road. But Poundkingdom is a dark and grubby shop with miserable staff and narrow aisles stocked with plastic tubs, cigarette lighters and kitchen roll.

Shiny new Poundland is full of women with Marks and Spencer carrier bags who have popped in for a quick look and are now giddy with the savings on TOP BRANDS! and are clutching armfuls of shortbread, bleach and shampoo. 'Are these batteries really not knock-off?' an astounded woman asks a shop assistant, waving branded batteries under his nose. He beams, and assures her that all the goods are indeed genuine. And JUST £1!

I explore the bright aisles; there are bird feeders, plants, swimming goggles and hardback books. There's even a pair of plastic boobs for sale, next to the scented pens. In the DVD section I find £1 classics such as Meeting A Bullet, Hood Angels and Dawson's Creek (series one and two). I pick up three tins of HP beans, a tube of squeezy Heinz mayonnaise and four padded envelopes. Queuing up I get an attack of the guilts and nip back to get a packet of honey and lemon Beechams (£1). Just in case he isn't putting it on.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Pay day

Pay day has arrived. I sit up in bed and punch the air with my fist. At long last, money in my account.

I've been wanting a grey trench coat ever since I saw the sister of a murderer wearing one in the French film I've Loved You For So Long. I make an early morning decision to bypass second-hand rails, closing-down sales and bargain bins and treat myself in a proper shop.

I get out of bed to make a coffee. While I'm putting on the kettle I do some calculations: rent, bills, £110 tube, laptop payment, girl essentials, gluten-free food, payment for Italy holiday for a wedding... Before I have lifted the coffee cup to my lips I am already £400 overdrawn. My pay day euphoria has lasted roughly five minutes. The grey trench coat has been ripped from my shoulders. Again.

My morning coffee tastes more bitter than usual.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Kitchen nightmare

The landlord pays a visit. He is pushing 80, with no family or friends and another ten properties like ours, worth a million each. If it wasn’t for the fact he was a mean-spirited chauvinist, we could be friends.

He examines our cooker, a clapped-out heap of junk that probably came with a free Soda Stream. I have cranked it up to 200 degrees but it is only blowing out cold air. Not great for chips. I tell him I need it working quickly because I was planning on sticking my head in it.
'Pardon me?' he says, adjusting his hearing aid.
'I'm just missing chips,' I say.

He promises to return and fix the element. Getting a new cooker out of him was always going to be a long-shot - this is a man who is happy to make do with his ten-year-old rusty Volvo. At least he didn't notice the broken coffee table.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Hair majesty

I do not accept that a haircut should cost £70, even if it is with a 'senior stylist' or 'artistic director'. That is why I sought out Mr Choppers when I first moved here, where haircuts are £6. There, I got an OK, no nonsense cut, and the hairdresser was thrilled to be chopping a girl's hair for the first time in months.

Things have improved since then. I have discovered Vidal Sasson academies on Knightsbridge and Bond St. Signature haircuts are £12 (£4 if you have a Metro voucher, or free if you are 'chosen' for the super academy... or collect three stamps). As long as you have three hours to spare in the week (a minor perk of late shifts) you can get the Rosemary's Baby look for next to nothing.

I normally hate going to the hairdresser's because of all that forced jibber jabber. But there's none of that at VS school, because the students can barely speak English. Hurrah! Today there were Japanese, Indian and Russian trainee stylists. It was as if Brad and Angelina's children had set up a salon. They were all painfully trendy, wearing low-slung holsters over their skinny hips, but with clips and combs in them instead of Smith & Wessons. They are guided through the complicated cutting process by an expert, who is usually called Dove or Pink and wears shiny trainers and a scarf with tassels.

What's more, because I am one of the few customers there under 60, I am a wanted scalp. It is a nice feeling.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Star spotting

To lift my mood before work I watch an episode of Pineapple Dance Studios. As a documentary, it serves no real purpose other than to make you laugh through your nose. I saw Louie Spence, the show's dancing queen, while shopping in Covent Garden a few weeks ago. I squealed. Southern Man pulled a face. 'Well at least he's not putting it on for TV,' he said. 'I've only seen him for 30 seconds and he's danced across the road and kissed a man.'

Moving to London, I thought the streets would be paved with celebrities. But, apart from my last job, sightings have been thin on the ground. I've seen Sven in a hotel bar, Radio 4's Evan Dragon Davies at High St Kensington station in a tight v-neck top and Sir Ian Mckellen in Waitrose, looking a bit trampy. Southern Man trumps all of the above, having seen Gary Glitter shopping for cheese sandwiches in Tesco.

No stars on the way to work, but I do secure a seat next to my only trusted ally in the office - Mel. She is a little firecracker. She is very clever, suits hats, has a three-legged dog and misses her family in Newcastle. As there is not much time for talk on our desk, we often meet in the ladies for a debrief - Mel, all red-faced and bubbling resentment, me, silently screaming and punching the cubicle walls. Today, though, she is oddly calm.

'I'm going to do it. I'm handing my notice in. I haven't got a job to go to, but I don't care,' she says.
'I'm happy for you,' I say, and hold her hand. 'But sad for me.' I give her a hug. My lip wobbles. My main feeling is pure jealously.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Ps and Qs

Leave the flat at 11.30am to get the papers. Get lost in my thoughts and 90 minutes later I am lost. I come across Brentford's Steam Museum ('See the magic of steam!'). I have an urge for a coffee and a sit down, but not at a steam museum. Further on, I hit a crossroads. I decide to walk down the south side of the Thames, going right, towards Kew Gardens. There will be cafes near Kew Gardens.

Half an hour down this meandering path, a sign tells me: 'Richmond Lock: 1.5 miles'. I am thirsty and a thin film of spit has formed across my front teeth. I need the toilet. On the other side of the river I can see quaint cafes and quirky pubs. I am on the side where they dump the bodies. There is nothing but dirty ponds, slime and thorny bushes. I trundle on. I reach Richmond Lock. The only thing there is a sign for Richmond Station: half a mile. I have a stitch. Isn't there meant to be a Starbucks every 50 steps in London? One with a toilet?

Richmond eventually appears and I dive into a cafe under a bridge. It is aimed at hairy vegans and Amnesty International members and sells glasses of soya milk for £1.80. But these sorts of places do acknowledge gluten-free diets, so I gratefully order a wheat-free veg pie. At least this diversion diverted my mind from my return to work tomorrow.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Pony tales

Catch up with a former colleague at Gordons wine bar by Embankment. He now writes for a drinks magazine and he tells me about his punishing work schedule, which includes malt whisky tasting on the Orient Express, tours of France's top vineyards and flights to Vegas to drink gin flavoured with buttercups. It is quite a step up for a man who used to keep a bottle of Grant's vodka in his top drawer. In return I tell him about my lack of social life, cash, job satisfaction, sleep, energy and hope. He orders more wine. I wake with rioja-stained lips and halloween hair.

Hide behind new £1 sunglasses and stumble to Ladbrokes to put bets on the Grand National. The place smells of stale beer and armpits and is filled with grave-looking grey-faced men. There are three paper plates by the counter filled with chocolate chip cookies and crinkle-cut crisps. I wonder if this spread has been laid on especially for the Grand National to give a party feel. I place £1 bets on Arbor Supreme (following 'expert' advice from the papers), Dream Alliance (owned by some nice toothless Welsh people who work at Asda) and Palypso De Creek (because it has a silly name). They/I lose.

On the way home, I buy a strawberry milkshake from Mcdonalds. I peel off a sticker on the cup which reveals I have won an apple pie. Is my luck changing?

Friday, 9 April 2010

Take us to your reader

After watching the film about Truman Capote I decide to venture out and treat myself to his book, In Cold Blood. I stick on the brightest clothes in my wardrobe, which clash horribly, and paint my nails 'coral'. It's the sort of look that would get me thrown out of my office - I resemble a lady-of-the-night-by-day from the 1980s. It's probably a reaction from my first job in London, over in the tower in Canary Wharf, where the greasy bankers' pink ties were as colourful as it got.

I visit Ealing's Oxfam bookshop for the first time and instantly fall in love. There is a whole section devoted to UFOs, featuring dog-eared classics such as Did Spacemen Colonise The East? and Are Aliens Living On Earth?. Ella Fitzgerald is piped out of the speakers while a customer asks the assistant if she has 'any books on death?' 'What kind of thing?' the assistant says. 'Oh, anything to with death please.' Crackers.

I track down the book and then a quiet corner in the Red Lion's beer garden, near Ealing Studios, to read it (the sun is out, if only all days were like this!). But I lose my focus on the way home and find myself in Primark buying neon knickers I don't need and £1 sunglasses I don't suit. I am served by a girl called 'Happiness'. She does not smile. I imagine the pressure to live up to her name must be enormous.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Welcome back

Back in the bad big city. The Cumbrian road signs warning of badgers and red squirrels have been replaced with witness appeals to burglaries and stabbings. There are so many other differences. Up north, if you're strolling down a quiet street, complete strangers will greet you with a cheery 'hello' or nod of the head. If you did the same down here, you'd end up on some sort of register for the next ten years.

On the plus-side, I have four more days away from work. A double weekend. The job hunt continues and I've just sent my CV off to a company in Manchester, although I'm not entirely sure what it was - (client facing destination management consultancy...?). Sadly, my dream job has already been taken - pudding taster for Sainsbury's (I met the man who was doing it a couple of years ago. Surely that job is wasted on a man anyway?).

Southern Man is away for a stag jolly, so I have the place to myself this weekend. Torn between watching bad films with a face pack on and joining friends in the pub near Borough Market. Half way through either, I'll wish I was doing the other.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Move any mountain

Last full day in the Lake District before heading back to London, so I suggest to Southern Man that we find somewhere great outdoors. We settle on Helvellyn, all 3100ft of it. It's a sunny day, but my parents insist we wear their bright red waterproof jackets (they have embraced primary colours since retiring). We grudgingly accept.

We park by Thirlmere reservoir (the source of Cockermouth floods, if you believe the conspiracy theories). In the days before mobiles and car crime, walkers would leave notes on the dashboards of their cars saying where they were heading to, just in case they took a tumble. Nowadays you just pray for a phone signal and hide everything in the boot.

It's been 8 years since I've attempted any fell walking and my thighs, knees and calves reminded me of this straight away. You don't get these sorts of gradients walking along Bond Street. But we power on for an hour, right until chunks of grit rain down on my face. Except it's not grit, it's sleet. And it doesn't stop. Still, we go on - higher and higher. The wind is fierce. I do 10 steps and catch my breath. Then another 10. And another. We meet three walkers coming the other way - they are in top-to-toe important-looking waterproofs and brandish walking poles and what appears to be a trainee mountain rescue dog. 'It's gettin' windy up there,' they say, looking at Southern Man's jeans and trainers and my sad face.

We persevere. Then we hit the snow. I am so scared that the wind will knock me off the side of the fell that I practically crawl along the ice-covered rocks. 'This is getting silly,' I say to SM, who is way up ahead. I have a vision of Mountain Rescue finding our bodies the next day. They will search through our rucksack and discover the half-eaten chorizo and rocket sandwich, the Cadbury's Button Easter egg and the rude-shaped piece of quartz I found on the way, and deduce we are fools. A small report will appear in the News and Star, talking of two daft city folk (they will forget my 18 years growing up in the county, I am convinced) who thought they could climb England's third highest peak without any brain power. This worries me more than the actual dying part.

'Just ten more minutes' effort and we'll be at the top,' he screams through the wind. 'Just follow my footprints in the snow for the safe route.' As he says this, he plunges waist-deep into a pile of snow and falls against a sharp rock.

We head back.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Taste of London

Feeling booze-weary. Wine-filled wedding reception followed by a day knocking back cider with old school chums. Past hour spent staring at documentary about Nazi hunters while eating sweaty mini eggs. Brain hurts and the remote control is missing.

Met up with Jem, KLF and her husband in Cockermouth. The Main Street, which was under 8ft of water in November, is still drying out, but lucky for us the Bitter End pub managed to escape unharmed.

It looked different from my last visit - more gastropub than traditional drinking hole. All the tables were reserved but the kindly barwoman let the five of us have a small circular table for an hour. It was cosy. We placed our order quickly (apart from difficult me who needed to enlighten the waiter about coeliacs and then speak to the chef about gluten-free dishes).

The food arrived. It was incredible. Historic. My pork and tiger prawns with sauteed potatoes and apple puree looked and smelled sensational. We crammed all five plates onto the tiny table, along with the veg side dishes, five pints and the salt and pepper. Keeping in the gastropub style, the plates were huge, with the food thoughtfully arranged in the centre.

I picked up my knife and fork and tucked in. Except I did not realise how close to the edge of the table my plate was. I could hardly see the table. And the plate toppled onto my lap, slopping food down my top and across the floor. Every last tender morsel.

I blame London for this. If it wasn't for its fancy la-dee-dah influence, I would have had a normal plate, not one the size of a steering wheel. And I wouldn't have ended up dusting off medallions of pork and eating a beautiful meal off the floor.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

First class

Awake at 6.30am to make our way to the Lakes for a wedding. Escaping London for five days! As we walk along platform 12 at Euston I feel a huge weight lifting from my shoulders. Southern man cannot - but that's probably because of the rucksack filled with dresses, hair straighteners and boots he's carrying.

We grab two seats in the quiet zone in coach A. You don't get as many idiots in the quiet zone. An hour in, halfway through an article on the 'black widow' suicide bomber, a Geordie ticket inspector asks for our tickets. I find them in my handbag and hand them to her. She looks at them.
'What are you doing down here?' she asks.
'Oh, we work in London but we're going to a friend's wedding in Carlisle. But we're hoping to move up north soon. We're trying to find jobs and ...'
'No, I mean down here in coach A. These are first class tickets.'

Then I remember - I booked the tickets online months ago and it was only £3 extra to go first class. I could afford to see how the other half travel. Ah.

We drag our bags back through six carriages and arrive just in time to get free tea, water, cheese crisps and shortbread fingers. Even though my coeliac means I can't eat them, I pocket them anyway, and ask for more. Free stuff is free stuff.

There is more leg room in first class - and posher lights. The window sealant looks thicker. I'm just thinking that, despite missing the first hour, I am getting my £3-worth, when a small boy is sick on the table next to us. He starts to flick the sick from his fingers, as if it is a funny game. Bits of sick fly on to sleeping southern man's head. The boy's mother grabs him by the arm and drags him to the toilet. An announcement is made for a 'biohazard cleaner' to be sent to first class, urgently. The sweet smell of sick fills my nostrils and I taste my free tea again. Maybe the standard carriage isn't so bad.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Good Friday feeling sick

I hereby rename this Good For Nothing Friday. I am being forced to go to work. The coffee table has just collapsed under the weight of a coffee cup. The kitchen sink is blocked and smelling. And my tickly cough has developed into a full-blown, burning of the tonsils affair, and I am hacking up a vile green substance. It's as if my body knows I have a week off in the pipe-line.

I never used to get ill before London (BL). The only time I visited hospital was when I broke my elbow in a freak falling-out-of-a-tree accident in Scotland. Now I am forever heading to the office with a handbag of pharmaceuticals and a dripping nose. I've had what was either food poisoning or the norovirus for the first time. There's also the ear problem, which has baffled the experts, where my left ear goes completely deaf. I recently found out I have coeliac disease - which means I cannot eat gluten as it strips away the lining of my intestines. Yum. This was diagnosed by an endoscopy - where a tube is shoved down your throat into your intestines to scrape away samples and take some photos. I presumed the tube would be little bigger than a strawberry shoe-lace. I was wrong. I had to be pinned down by a couple of nurses as a specialist rammed a cable, not dissimilar in length and width to a link of Cumberland sausages, down my gullet.

Don't get me wrong. I count my blessings that I'm not troubled by anything worse than this. But I do think London should carry some sort of health warning.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Footprints on the bath mat

I have a fairly strange living arrangement. Not as strange as in Elephant and Castle, when I shared four walls with an Italian life model, a Russian soldier and a bloke from Leeds who worked at Buckingham Palace (to economise, he would steal the toilet roll there for us). But it is quite odd.

I have lived with my (southern) boyfriend for a year now – but rarely see him. He works normal hours. I leave home after lunch and head back around midnight. But we do leave traces for the other one to deal with, proof we are still there. For instance, I sometimes leave food in the sink after washing up. And he leaves everything everywhere else. I had a word with him about how his clothes almost make it to the wardrobe and wash basket, instead ending up in a pile on the floor. His response was to start draping his jeans and jumpers on the wardrobe door – a tactic I employed with my mother as a child.

His latest thing is that he refuses to wash up for too long because he is tall and ‘the sink is low’, so he gets a bad back. So he can only manage a couple of mugs and a fork before he needs a sit down. ‘But I don’t leave food in the sink!’ he says.
But it's not all bad. Because this morning I found this trace - creme eggs in the wash basket. Hurrah!