Monday, 31 May 2010

Blind drunk date

My week off has been spent sofabed and spare room hopping across the north, via a few bathroom floors along the way.

I picked up a copy of the Manchester Evening News while I was there to look through the jobs pages. Exactly the same jobs appear on the online version that I check from London, but there is something more earnest about leafing through a newspaper's job section, instead of entering key words and scrolling down a computer screen.

Job vacancy highlights include the experienced fryer wanted for a fish and chip shop, chatline staff (must have own landline), and person wanted to be ‘responsible for the maintenance of office tropical plants’ – which I presume means watering yucca plants on windowsills. The starting salary is £16k – the same Southern Man started on for his audio job in Soho (another one of those media roles where you must have a degree, the right face and know someone in the company, but if you won’t settle for the crappy pay there are 1000 other media graduates who will).

My older sister in Manchester was moving to a bigger house, giving her more space to fill with Mamas and Papas highchairs and musical plastic space pods for my nephew. I had agreed to help her move. But I had also agreed to meet an old school friend the night before who has not had much luck meeting men who were not socially stunted in some way.

In West Didsbury's Met bar, I herd my school friend over to a nice-looking chap from Northern Ireland who is 31, has a good job, good accent and a good sense of humour. The only problem is, after 2 bottles of Sauvignon Blanc and no tea she is finding it hard to stand, let alone focus on the good catch, and wants to talk instead to the 19-year-old with the pierced lip, no job and two children.

I give her a not-so-subtle shove back to the Irishman and initiate a phone number exchange. In the cold light of day they agree to go on a date. I wonder if I could relaunch myself as a matchmaker. Then I reason a job watering plants might have fewer repercussions.

After 4 hours of troubled sleep I head to my sister’s to help with the move. I end up falling asleep on a concrete slab in her back yard and wake when my dad has to go to A&E for a problem with his leg.

Friday, 28 May 2010

God TV

I take the train from King’s Cross to Newcastle to see my old flatmate John, who has been in the same boat as me but has managed to bail out to the north. And it only took him three years of twining and CV tinkering. He is proof that you can get out. But also proof that it can take a long time.

We toast his new life in his new house with mojitos and prawn cocktail Seabrook crisps while watching episodes of Cold Case (the soldier did it, but his boss covered it up. Soundtrack: Pearl Jam).

We discover the religious channel, God TV. They appear to be holding some kind of telethon, but instead of Lenny Henry they have a jittery preacher with a fake tan. They are trying to raise ‘urgent funds’. There is a large stack of orange papers on what appears to be a rockery. I am very confused.

I call the number at the bottom of the screen. A pleasant-sounding Indian lady picks up.
'Hello, God TV,’ she says.
‘What are the orange bits of paper for?’ I say.
‘They are prayers, maam. You can make a donation and we will print out a prayer for you.'
I get scared and hang up the phone. I wonder if they can trace the number.

We carry on watching God TV. We have another mojito. I call back God TV. The same lady picks up.
‘Hello, God TV.’
‘Where is the money going? Which charity?’ I ask.
‘We are raising $4million to keep God TV on air,’ she says.

I am flabbergasted. Across the bottom of the screen I can see that a man from Russia has just donated £1000. Someone from East Anglia has donated £15. I am getting annoyed. John takes the phone off me and packs me off to bed.

I forget to brush my teeth and wake at 6am with a bad taste in my mouth.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Wise move

Everyone is moving. Everyone except me. KC is moving. And of all the streets in all of London, it looks like he is moving on to mine.

KC and I started on the same day at work and have been complaining ever since. He is house hunting with his attractive teacher girlfriend, who has benefited from the sudden death of a rich relative (the only way you are likely to get on the property ladder in London. Unless you are those two Polish painters who decorated a banker’s new house in Canary Wharf and decided they liked it so much they changed the locks and kept it for themselves. Quite enterprising, really).

KC and his girlfriend pop in for a cup of tea. I root around the cupboard for cups that are not chipped or covered in coffee smudges and tea stains. They tell me they have been looking at a one-bedroom first-floor flat a few doors down. They show me pictures. I see that it comes with a garden which is approximately the same size as a Subbuteo pitch. It is selling for £249,000 – roughly the same price my parents’ 4-bed detached home with garden, garage, shed (Mother: ‘It is not a shed it is a summer house.’) and little pond with occasional frogs is going for, up on the borders of the Lake District.

But KC and his girlfriend are young and in love and excited about buying their first place. I tell them the garden has potential.

Thursday, 20 May 2010


It is my day off. I spend two hours and 40% of my laptop battery looking for jobs in the North West. It is hopeless. I turn on the TV. A woman who used to be on Coronation Street is talking about her battle with depression. I text Southern Man. ‘I think I am depressed,’ I say. He calls me back. ‘Go and get an ice cream,’ he says.

I go out wearing leggings with holes in the bottom, red flip-flops, a baggy black jumper and no make-up. It is the sort of look a depressed person would go for. I shuffle out of the house and down the road, staring at the pavement. I spot a crow eating a dead pigeon. One of my flip-flops falls off. I text him again. ‘I am still depressed,’ I say. ‘Cheer up,’ he replies, ‘Not long until our holiday.’ ‘But I’m already worried about going back to work after my holiday,’ I say.

Women who are depressed go shopping. I am sure Liz Jones did, after her husband slept with a stripper. Yes, depressed men gamble, depressed women shop. I pop into the Cancer Research shop and buy a book and an egg press from the 1980s that turns ‘ordinary hard boiled eggs into a unique square taste treat’. I get a slight buzz when I hand over my cash, but I am still miserable.

I remember that the woman from Coronation Street said she developed a cocaine addiction when she was depressed – but that seems a bit out of my league. Instead, I go to Tesco and buy some wine, along with some bananas, tinned custard and eggs. I get another call when I am in the cheese aisle. ‘Just pack in your job and we will move to Manchester and stay on your sister’s sofabed,’ he says.

I go to pay. The checkout girl looks me up and down. ‘Have you got any ID?’ she says. ‘But I am 30!’ I tell her, with big, sorrowful, un-made-up eyes. Clearly the depressed look takes years off me. Which is a reason to be a bit cheerful, I suppose.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Secret diary of a choirgirl

It is strange how little I know about the people on my desk after 16 months there (it’s a very heads down, get on with it, don’t look directly in the editor’s eyes affair). Still, you try and glean bits of information when you can

I only found out this week that our version of the Diet Coke man, on the tech support team, is a trained actor trying to break on to the BBC3 comedy scene. The fact he has 5 children by a few different women was less of a surprise - it's the inevitable outcome of looks + humour + coming to the rescue of damsels in distress whose computers have crashed.

I mention this to someone in my department. ‘Oh yes,’ she replies. ‘It took me eight years before I told anyone here that I was gay.’ I look around our corner of the newsroom. ‘I suppose he could be a secret cross dresser,’ I say, nodding my head in the direction of a 6ft bearded Cornish man who looks after the puzzle pages.

‘Hmmmm, and then there’s him…’ she says, looking at another colleague. ‘I know as much about him now as I did when he first started ten years ago. He has given nothing away about himself. He’s the sort of person that when the bones are found in his back garden, you’ll tell Sky News “Oh he was a quiet sort, kept himself to himself.”’

It does make you think. And I wonder what the Eton execs who sneer and shout at me would say if they knew my job 12 years ago was to dance around the clubs of Ibiza, dressed as a choirgirl. Then again, maybe they were doing the same thing.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Things I discovered this weekend:

1. Dinosaurs suffered from arthritis;

2. Dinosaur bones were first found 150 years ago in Lewes, Sussex - the same place I discovered Harveys beer;

3. I need a little sit down if I walk around a museum for longer than 40 minutes;

4. Breaking Bad is the best thing on TV;

5. The glamorous features executive in my office also has coeliacs. I don't really know her, but as we are in the same gluten-free gang, with faulty intestines, I feel as if I do. Is this how people with cancer felt when Kylie/Lance Armstrong announced their bad news?

6. As I can no longer eat coco pops or toast, my favourite breakfast is egg, chips and beans;

7. The ants are back.

Friday, 14 May 2010

In the doghouse

This week has not been my finest. It has a lot to do with it taking Southern Man 11 days to replace the fridge that he stabbed with a bread knife (a long time to go without easy-access to cheddar).

I am also angry with him for not being able to rescue me from my horrid job and whisk me up north with a rucksack full of cash. And for the fact he can fall asleep so easily. And that he doesn’t clean the flat enough, preferring instead to watch documentaries such as Hitler In Colour and The Wonderful World Of Maps.

To ‘punish’ him I have done two loads of washing this week, both times neglecting to include any of his pants (in a ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s not done’ sort of way). He ran out of pants two days ago, but has not mentioned anything.

I am not really angry with him – I am just having an angry week with a lot of work and a lack of sleep. But he is an easy target, well, the only target, when I come home at midnight, red-eyed, after another shift where I’ve had to smile sweetly at vile executives, battle with bugs in the computer system and rewrite clunky copy from people who’ve only got their work in the paper because of their double-barrelled names. And all I've had to eat are baked potatoes at my desk that are as dry as my eyes from staring at a screen for ten joyless hours.

Ho hum. Four more shifts until my escape to the north - Newcastle, Manchester and Birmingham in 7 days by train to see friends, sisters, nephew and possibly oblivion after too much wine. I'm sure someone will be glad of the peace, too.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Suicide and burgers

Mel is quitting the newsroom before the madness sets in, so we have arranged to meet for a farewell burger (our hours make farewell drinks impossible, unless we go to a casino, members-only bar or strip club).

I have only been on the tube for five minutes when a familiar announcement is made... a person is 'under a train' at Barons Court. The passengers on my carriage (myself included) are a miserable bunch, wearing winter coats and thick black tights although it is the middle of May. We heave a collective sigh and file off at Hammersmith and pile on a bus heading west.

These grim announcements are all-too common in London. But they usually happen at rush-hour therefore causing maximum chaos on the underground, as if the sad soul in question is giving a final two-fingered salute to the city. 12.04pm seems like a truly bleak time to take your life.

I secure a seat on the number 27 bus, in front of a gobby mother who has a three-year-old daughter in a buggy. She is chatting away to a posh banker-type she has just met. There’s nothing like a suicide to get people chattering.

‘I wish they’d stay at home to do this kind of stuff,' she says. 'It’s so inconsiderate. I’m going to be late for lunch in Camden now.'
‘I know, or they should jump off the NatWest building,’ the banker guffaws.

‘Heartless cretins,’ I think, as I study my diary and calculate how many hours I have to work before my holiday - and what this is as a percentage of total time.

The mother then proceeds to gossip on the phone about the fact her husband is working at David Beckhams’s new London house.

‘....and a swimming pool and cinema, too! Yes, I know..... Oh, but he’s not allowed to say much because the press will all turn up, it's all top secret...’

I smile and text the information to a showbiz reporter I know.

On the tube home, nearly 12 hours later, I peep out at the station at Barons Court. There are no flowers. It is business as usual.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Tissue issues

Visit the new Vue cinema at posh Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd's Bush (it's like the Metro Centre, but with chandeliers). Cinema tickets are £9.70 each. A coffee is £2.90. But worst of all, a small popcorn is £4.60. I am so disgusted I give the assistant the fun-size carton back and say I am not paying. It is a good job I have jelly sweets, Milky Bars and a pasty in my handbag to rustle up later.

Despite the shiny hand driers and space age sanitary bins, there is no toilet paper in the ladies. While sitting on the Vue toilet, hoping I do not miss the start of the film, I am reminded of my strange relationship with toilet roll in public toilets. It is something that has gone on for almost 20 years.

It was the first time I was allowed to go to the Metro Centre in Gateshead without my family, but in the company of ‘Jen-Pal’ my best friend throughout primary school. We were going to get the bus from Carlisle to the north-east and spend our pocket money on Athena posters, Impulse body sprays and rides at Metro Land. We would not have to be dragged around Marks and Spencer with our parents in the boring Green Zone. It was very exciting.

But before we got on the bus, Jen’s mum dragged us to one side. ‘Now remember to be careful in the toilets there,' she said, handing us a packet of tissues. 'Drug users wipe their needles on the toilet roll.’ And with that, we were off.

I knew it couldn’t be true. Why would heroin addicts travel to the Metro Centre to shoot up? It’s only really accessible by bus and car. It’s not as if they would pop into Toys R Us, score, and then trundle off to the ladies. But Jen’s mum’s words have haunted me ever since. And I will always take the first two sheets of toilet paper off the roll in any public toilet before I use it.

It probably amounts to several hundred rolls in my lifetime. Am I being punished in Vue toilets?

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Skype's the limit

Finally work out how to use Skype so I can see my friends in the north. I don’t really understand it, but Skype is a free way to make video calls to people who have laptops with webcams. It has taken me a week to install it and the same again to work out what buttons to press to make a call.

Technology, on the whole, makes me feel old and angry. I was born in the Seventies. Just. The most high-tech thing in my life was a pop-up book. My idea of downloading a new release would be pressing record on my radio-cassette player during Sunday’s Top 40 countdown.

I know change is inevitable - as is growing older. But it’s all happening a bit too fast. Imagine Fred Flinstone quantum-leaping into the Jetsons’ front room. That is how I feel when I am confronted with an iPod or a smart phone. Even my toaster is a source of confusion – it has six buttons, two of which I am scared to press.

I am out of my depth when it comes to a lot of gadgets that are meant to make your life easier. But if you are under 60, people just assume you will get your head around them. Men seem to have the edge when it comes to understanding techy innovations, possibly because they've been getting light-up pens that tell the time and temperature for birthday presents for years.

Oh well. I live in hope that someone will invent a brain chip that downloads every single instruction booklet for every single gadget into my memory.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Long night in politics

My neck is sore after falling asleep on the sofa watching the BBC election coverage. Even the correspondent walking through the virtual Downing Street matrix could not keep me up past 1am. And it’s a good job I didn’t wait for Ealing’s result – it came in at 8am.

Switch on the TV; the reporters are all talking jibberish after being up all night. Dramas have been reported in some Ealing polling stations, with queues ‘snaking round the block’, although I’ve seen bigger queues in H&M.

I see my old stomping ground of Brighton has our first Green MP so I text Jem, who lives there. 'But I wanted a yellow!' she replies. My older sister in Manchester texts she would have preferred ‘JLS to win for a well-hung parliament’.

Tory Angie Bray is now in charge here, who, from what I have gleaned from her glossy leaflet, is a woman who plays a ‘mean Cole Porter on the organ and piano’ and has thin, lifeless hair and a lazy eye. Her biggest success story to date has been to get the noisy tannoy announcements at North Acton tube station turned down a bit. Oh well.

I brace myself for a long day at the office reading features on politicians and handbags.

Thursday, 6 May 2010


Leaving the flat I pick up a pastel blue envelope that is lying on the mat. It has been hand-delived and handwritten. My name is in shaky block capitals – it looks like an angry child’s doing. I pocket it to read on the bus to work.

I open the envelope. It is from Jon Ball, the Lib Dem candidate for Ealing. It is a last desperate plea (Your vote counts!). On closer inspection I see that the envelope was indeed handwritten, but the letter inside has been cunningly scanned from the original. I am still impressed, and slightly ashamed over how influenced I am by some nice blue writing paper and joined-up writing. It beats glossy leaflets with smirking faces and pie charts, anyway.

Another choice for MP is Labour man Bassam Mahfouz, who has not sold himself to me. On his website he bigs up the fact he starred in a short film in 2005 playing a gangster called Carlos who runs amok with a water pistol ( Is this the sort of person I want looking out for me? Fighting for my recycling rights? Ealing is no California.

It makes me think back to covering elections in Sussex with my friend, who now works for a paper in Newcastle. We had been fully prepared for a long night at the polling station, with a rucksack full of bloody Mary ingredients and cheese crisps. By 1am we were staggering along a beach with a UKIP candidate called Moose; my friend clutching onto the election results, which were written on a napkin.

With all this election pondering, I fail to realise I am on the wrong bus. It terminates at Victoria, where I do three laps of the station looking for bus stop 'Q'.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Feeling hot hot hot

There has been another fatal stabbing in London. While I was at work, somebody attacked my fridge-freezer with a bread knife to try and slice off bits of ice, and punctured the gas tubes in the process.

So the aged fridge is dead, the hole in the ozone layer is a few millimetres larger and the landlord is livid. On point of principle, the replacement fridge we get will not be brand new (the bed and sofa that came with the flat are older than me – the mattress is an antique). So I sign up to Freecycle, in the hope that someone wants to offload a small fridge for nothing.

After ten minutes I suddenly have 33 emails. I've never been so popular. Anna-Marie73 wants to give me a mantelpiece. A.Willis from Hanwell is giving away a toaster in ‘generally good working order’. Damien, in South Ealing, would like me to have 80-100 bags of garden stones. There are hair rollers, a deep fat fryer and a child’s booster seat up for grabs. Somebody is appealing for some old Indian shoes (chappals and jootis) for a play called ‘An Arrangement Of Old Shoes’. But there are no fridges.

Still, there is a more pressing problem at hand: like the 500g of strong cheddar that needs eating before it goes off. It's a good job I have my coffee black, or I would be seriously annoyed.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The narked chef

Who thought open-plan kitchens were a good idea? They’re about as practical and friendly on the eye as an open-plan bathroom.

Top of my list of things for a house when I finally make it back up north will be a separate kitchen and living room. Oh for a door! So I can shut off the smells of the bin and burnt toast and the sight of crusty pots and plates. And the sounds.

If anyone can make a meal out of making a meal it is Southern Man. My anti-social shifts mean cooking for one another is a rare event. So, as I’m in the office over Bank Holiday, he has agreed to cook tuna steak with salsa while I relax on the sofa, a metre away, with a glass of wine, emailing recruitment agencies.

Straight away he huffs because he has forgotten to buy peppers. Then he grumbles his way through the chopping (‘This recipe is useless. What shape should I cut the onions?’), and then he swears and strops through the cooking process, glancing up often so he can be sure I am noticing what effort is going into my meal (‘How the hell do you “blacken garlic”? What am I meant to do with this chilli? Why doesn’t it say? Come and look at this! Can you read the recipe again? Where’s the blender? Why didn’t you tell me we didn’t have one? Do we have anything to squeeze limes with? I know it’s burning... The recipe doesn’t tell me anything... Jamie Oliver is a ****... Can you look at this? There’s no space in this kitchen... I’ve burnt my hand! I’m never cooking ever again... It’s a disaster... A waste of money. Oh let’s just eat it and get it over with.’).

My eyes and throat are stinging from the smoke in living room. I open the window so we can breathe. We are sitting in the cold eating, looking at a mound of dirty pans and lime halves on the floor.

‘That recipe was useless,’ he says, shoveling food into his mouth. ‘Did you get anything sent to the agencies?’
I look at him. He looks down at his plate.
‘I’m sorry I wasn’t the perfect chef.’

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Mummy returns

Walking past a row of fancy furniture shops I feel someone looking at me. I stop in my tracks and turn round. It is a hedgehog. We lock eyes. He is sat under a posh dining room chair, he is stuffed and he is for sale. ‘What an undignified end!’ I think, ‘And what sort of person would pay £245 for a hedgehog for their shelves?’

It reminds me of a long-haired artist I used to know in Sussex. He used to hack at and stuff animals, but instead of glueing them to bits of boring tree stump, he would dress them in hats or make them walk on stilts with blindfolds on. He’d go out on a Sunday, hunting for roadkill, and return to his basement with a bag of rotten seagulls, fish heads and fox chunks. I once stumbled across a hollowed-out donkey’s head, filled with sand, drying in his back garden. Neighbourhood cats were sniffing it then running away. He went on to pop the mummified donkey in a high chair and sell it for £1,000. I think he was vegetarian.

I feel sorry for the hedgehog in the posh shop window. He looks out of place. He looks sad. I wonder if the police would throw the book at you for shoplifting a hedgehog, if your heart was in the right place? I would quite like to release him into a wooded area. I imagine he’d be happier in a park, rather than gazing out onto the frantic city streets. He’d probably even take the humiliation of being dressed in a top hat and ruby slippers than have to suffer that much longer.