Friday, 27 August 2010

Keep calm and carry on packing

The Congratulations-You-Got-A-Job flowers are dead. My bank account is empty. I have a start date for the new job, but no finish date for the old one. I have almost sorted a place to move to after days spent tearing around Yorkshire, guided by an indecisive sat-nav. Southern Man is calmly coming to turns with relocating farther north than he had ever been before chatting me up in a pub three years ago. And unemployment.

Even though I have been dreaming of a move back north for months, now it is almost here there is a real danger of my brain reducing to mush. I am Susan Boyle on finals night of Britain’s Got Talent, about to flash a chubby leg at Piers Morgan before being carted off to the Priory.

Packing, cleaning, moving, mending, binning, rearranging, buying, borrowing, driving. Saying goodbyes. Then starting a new job.

I write a ‘to do’ list. I cross things off the list, but that makes the list look messy, like my thoughts, so I start a new list. I take the list to the shops. I think of something to add to the list. I look for the list. I have lost the list. I write a new list on a bigger piece of paper, with footnotes.

Apparently if there are more than seven things on the list, then the list becomes a source of stress itself. I have 22 things on the list. Some of them would have taken less time to do than to write (‘get big box out of cupboard’ written while sat by cupboard), but I put them on anyway.

I have three weeks until I am meant to say so long to London. Can I sit in a dark room rocking back and forth for three weeks? The idea is appealing.

I phone my mother in Cumbria, no stranger to feeling stress.
‘What you need to do,’ she says slowly, ‘is write a list.’

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Hanging on the telephone

Watched pots do boil. I have watched some. Watched phones, on the other hand, refuse to ring.

I am back at work after the job interview, with my mobile on vibrate mode in my pocket. I have been checking it more times than a teenager with a crush. They will phone me this week. The longer I wait the more I replay the interview, done after two sleeping tablets, three hours of sleep and four coffees and consisting of answers that ranged from good to gobbledigook.

I feel a vibration. I get my phone out and check it under the desk. No missed calls. No messages. It was probably the gentle hum of my Mac. Again. Someone else’s phone goes off. I check mine. I wait five minutes. I check it again. I hide the phone in my glasses case and keep lifting the lid and peeking inside. Still no calls. Still no messages. I have another seven hours of my shift left.

I hate my phone. I hate its silly touch screen that makes it impossible to carry out those automated calls that require you to ‘push button three’ because it keeps locking. I hate the way its hot screen is left with a make-up smear after I use it. I hate its rubbish camera, which I can’t understand. I hate the scratch on its screen that mysteriously appeared after a night out and I will be forced to stare at until my contract finishes in a year’s time. Mostly, I hate its ability to deliver any news.

I lift the lid and check it again. I become aware that someone is calling my name. It is one of the moody executives on the other desk. I am surprised he knows my name. He is holding his office phone up and waving at me. I point at my face and silently mouth ‘For me?’ He nods.

I take the call on his phone, which he is not too happy about. I don't care. It is the man who interviewed me. He appears to be telling me that I got the job, and do I want it. He says he knows I can’t talk properly, but he just needs to know a 'yes' or a 'no'. I say 'yes'. The executive is eyeing me suspiciously. I adopt a tone similar to the one I use with my doctor’s receptionist, or the customer service team at nPower. ‘How did this person get this number?’ I am thinking. He is telling me he will send something-and-something out in the post to me. I forget to ask start dates.

I go back to my desk and try to compose myself. I fail. I go to the toilet with my mobile and make several screechy phone calls.

I have a job in the north. I am getting out of London.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Don't get the London look

Tops, dresses, trousers and skirts are dangling from hangers off every door in my flat. They are ironed – something of a novelty as I normally try to walk out the creases in my clothes.

These almost-outfits are the culmination of my interview preparation. And I still don't know what I'll be wearing on the day.

I try on the most likely choice. I think I look professional. Tyra Banks would call me ‘fierce’. I hold my chin up high. Southern Man looks up from his bag of crisps.

‘You look as if you’re going out clubbing,’ he says.

‘No, this is the sort of thing features executives wear in my office,’ I say, tugging on the hem.

‘The interview is in Yorkshire, not London,’ he says.

‘They still dress like this in the north for work,’ I say, trying to sound as if I know what I'm talking about.

I put the dress back on its hanger on the door, put my jeans and Monster Munch T-shirt back on and hold my head in my hands.

Vogue and Cosmopolitan may be concerned with going from summer to autumn collections - for me the big issue is a seamless transition from London-look to Leeds-look. I don’t want people to stare, point and snigger. And I have previous for this.

I’ve always had problems picking suitable outfits for new places. When I moved from my village primary school (where I was one of three in my year) to a nearby town’s secondary, I was clueless. I was outed on the first 'out of uniform day' (and to think I had to pay 50p for the privilege). I thought my patchwork dungarees were cool, and my reversible Winnie the Pooh sweater was the height of pre-teen fashion. My favourite jumper had a hot air balloon knitted on the front with a pocket as the basket and an actual teddy bear inside it, attached with a bit of string. Other pupils were wearing lace vests and pretty chiffon tops that tied at the front. I had gone from a trend-setter at primary school to the biggest fool in the tuck shop.

I was similarly misguided for my move to London, many years ago, from my job in Hastings on the south coast. It had been a male-dominated office there and I fitted in. The only nod I made to being a woman was the occasional bangle. Being able to run for the bus and last orders was more important than looking the business. I felt decidedly underdressed for my first newsroom in the big city, hiding behind my monitor in my black cardigan while showbusiness reporters tottered around in 4in heels and Gucci dresses. In my current office there is one girl who has not worn the same outfit in the two years I’ve been there. Either she gets outfits free from PR people or is a prolific shoplifter.

Even my time spent in colourful Brighton, with its Cyberdogging youths and gays parading in PVC hotpants could not prepare me for London – especially the foolish fashions of Shoreditch. I think my teddy bear jumper would fit in well there, if teamed with a bowler hat and skinny jeans.

So all this is playing on my mind, and I am haunted by the words that employers judge you within the first few seconds of meeting you. Hence the fact I have spent so much time on the physical and not the mental preparation. As long as I look OK and can remember my name, half the battle is won.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Parrots in spring time

Parrots wake me up every morning. They make a PREEEEE-cah-cah-cah-cah sound that drowns out the sparrows and the blackbirds and even the screeching brat on his school holiday next door.

There are thousands of wild parrots in London – they have bright bodies, shiny red beaks and pointy tail feathers. Even though I see them every day I still haven't got over the novelty of having them around and am forever stopping in my tracks and gazing like an idiot up at trees. They are a peculiar addition to the city, sticking out like a green sore thumb. Like seeing monkeys shopping in the Metro Centre. Or tigers sunbathing on Brighton seafront. I imagine they taste far more exotic than the sad, mangy old Trafalgar Square pigeons so would be quite a catch for local cats.

There are different stories about how they ended up living here. My favourite is the one involving Jimi Hendrix releasing a dozen into the wild while on some mad acid trip in the 60s. I’ve also heard some escaped from the set of The African Queen when it was being filmed. But I’m fairly sure the actual reason is the most dull: some flapped to freedom from a bunch of aviaries and found that the temperature suited them – God bless global warming.

I am envious of how they have managed to take to London like a duck to water. But if all I had to do was sit in a tree and warm up eggs, I guess things would have been a lot easier.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Lucky break?

So the news is mostly good. I am on an interview shortlist. The date for that interview is Friday the 13th. But that is OK because I am not superstitious. Not very. Although I did once land a good job because I was wearing my ‘lucky top’ (my boss later drunkenly confessed that its v-neck helped swing his decision).

I’ll take walking under a ladder over walking through a puddle. I like black cats - although I’m still not sure if they’re good or bad luck. I smashed a mirror once and won a fondue set the following week in a ‘guess the weight of the cheese competition’ at Caterite supermarket.

I delete chain emails that order you to forward them to ten friends if you want any luck in your life, and only feel slightly uneasy in the process. I salute solitary magpies, disguising it so passers-by will think I’m combing my hair like the Fonz. And if I’m reading a book on the tube, I don’t like closing it on the 13th chapter or on a page number ending in ‘13’, so will skim through to a ‘safer’ page to leave my bookmark. Weird.

I suppose there is a fine line between being superstitious, doing things religiously and being obsessive compulsive. One minute you’re not standing on a crack to avoid breaking your mother’s back, the next you’re taking pictures of your cooker on your camera phone every morning to reassure yourself later that you have definitely turned it off.

I know someone who used to have to spin her knickers over her head three times if she accidentally put them on inside out. I’m lucky in that I can go for whole days without realising my knickers are on inside out. Or my top, for that matter.

As a child I had odd routines. I could not go to the toilet if I had not checked in the washbasket and behind the shower curtain first. This was a routine born of fear - I was convinced ET was hiding there. It became as routine as washing my hands afterwards. Spielberg has a lot to answer for. I should probably not share that in the interview.

These days I just obsess over my GHD hair straighteners and religiously check whether I have turned them off. I remember sweating through a deadline day in Canary Wharf convinced I had left them on in my locked bedroom in Elephant and Castle, 40 minutes away. I had to make my excuses and leave and travel home, expecting to find my flatmates dead and the house reduced to smouldering rubble. The distant sirens were all heading to my cul-de-sac, I thought. When I got back, the straighteners were ice cold and unplugged on the floor.

Stupid hair straighteners. Stupid Friday the 13th.