Monday, 30 June 2008

Miss Jones's Jones Of The Week…

…number 2 in an occasional series.

Harriet Jones, former PM, taking one for the universe on Saturday night*.

[I have, of course, modelled her crown on that of King Edred, who reigned circa 946-955, and was known as 'weak-in-the-feet'.]

Not to be confused with…

Harriet Jones, Young Miss Jones The Younger. PM circa 2040.

[*Should HJ PM return to seal the Doctor's downfall in some way on Saturday, the honour will not be revoked, due to the all-conquering wonder of Penelope Wilton.]

Sunday, 29 June 2008

The Jones family twee

It would seem that Miss Jones was always a woman of letters. And with that sentence I've just fulfilled a secret ambition to be the kind of individual who refers to themselves in the the third person.

I've been doing a good deal of spring cleaning lately – punctuality never my forte – and I've found pages upon pages of creative endeavours from my childhood, including all manner of notes, such as the above. It seems that my parents could barely go to the end of the road without me composing some kind of sonnet cycle celebrating their return.

However, despite the affectionate declarations, I think the subtext is quite clear. Mum, can I have some sweets?

And talking of sweets:

This pavement in Dulwich on Saturday could have meant only one thing: the catalyst for a nuclear tantrum. Or a gingerbread cottage just a quarter-pound's worth of pick and mix away. OK, that's two things.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Once more with feeling, Thom

Just before I turned off the radio this morning, I heard some vox pops which had been recorded after Radiohead's gig in Victoria Park last night. 

What would the crowd make of the worthy despairniks? It was a mixed response. Not enough hits, said one man. Brilliantly, another said he could have done with a bit more 'pizazz'.

Radiohead shouldn't be too arrogant to take on board this kind of constructive criticism. Times are tough. People can't afford the nights out they used to – and each show that's had hard-earned cash splashed on it has to deliver, from beginning to end. I'm talking value for money, spectacle and 110% entertainment. Here are some notes from an off-the-cuff brainstorm which happened earlier today. 

2+2=5  The lads play schoolboys in shorts and caps, behind old-fashioned desks, while a sexy lady teacher gives them a maths lesson. We are, of course, paying homage here to Busted's classic What I Go To School For video. It would be a nice touch if Radiohead could segue into a cover version at this point in the set. I'm sure 'Matty' Willis would be free to come along and jam with the guys.

Fake Plastic Trees We get Jim Henson's creature shop to create a crazy, larger-than-life puppet woodland to dance around the band as they play. Trees are totally hot right now, and it's a chance to put across a very powerful ecological message to the young crowd. Really confident Thom and the team will love this one.

Pyramid Song What else would the crowd be baying for at this point but the classic sand dance, or, if you will, some of the moves traditionally performed to Walk Like An Egyptian. You just know Thom's got a pair of pins to die for under those slouchy jeans, so let's have the band in teeny, tiny tunics, and behind them I'm thinking golden dancing sphinx and pogoing palm trees. This could start an internationally-flavoured, round-the-world medley as we move seamlessly into… 

Karma Police It's Radiohead go Bollywood! Let's flood the stage with colour – police uniforms in fuchsia, orange and gold for the band, flowers strewn everywhere. The crowd will be simply unable to control their feet as dancers pour down from the stage and move among them, infecting them with their sheer exuberance.

High And Dry Two words, boys. Radiohead fly.

Look, lads, I'm just throwing some ideas around, freestyling, blue-skying it. But bear it in mind, eh? Group hug!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

On not talking to strangers

It's all too easy to criticise another person's efforts to find a mate. Let none of us glass-house-dwellers feel too smug – all of us have been, are, or will be at some point involved in wild gestures of self-abasement in an attempt to stave off the dreaded loneliness.

But with that caveat firmly in place, you have to conclude that, sometimes, people aren't really helping their cause.

I was having lunch at the weekend and a friend was telling me that a few days earlier she had been walking down a local street when a van stopped suddenly in the middle of the road, impeding the progress of the cars behind it, who had to begin manoeuvring around the now stationary vehicle. The driver got out and sprinted over to my friend, alarming her slightly from the off, and asked her for directions to Sevenoaks. My friend is the very epitome of goodness, so she started to respond as best she could, but soon his more amorous intentions became apparent, and he asked her out. As I'm typing this, I feel that it's in danger of sounding almost romantic – you're walking along and a man just has to stop and talk to you. It's like the Impulse ads of the 80s which I considered, at my impressionable age, impossibly romantic. But let me first say that my friend is in her early-mid 30s, could easily blag mid-20s, and hot. Her suitor was in his mid-40s, could easily blag mid-50s and, well, not so much. In addition, him telling her 'Don't worry, it's not an assault' may not have carried the reassuring warmth he was hoping for. Further more, having grown up in the heyday of public safety information films, a strange man in a van propositioning you is maybe not so much the answer to your wistful, girlish prayers as just quite weird and creepy.

I know this because it also happened to me, a couple of years ago. Again, a street; again, a van. He wound down his window to talk to me – but not to ask for help, as I'd thought. Oh no. He wanted to enquire whether I would go out for a drink with him. I know he was not the same character as my friend's admirer as he was a much younger man, but he had also armed himself with a verbal disclaimer – 'I know this is a bit weird but…' – guaranteed not to make you feel safer in any way.

I must make one thing clear at this point. Coyness aside, the mere sight of me trundling along a pavement is unlikely to make anyone slam on their brakes, and believe they hear a celestial chorus starting up. Which led me to wonder just how long he'd been cruising the streets of south-east London looking for not so much The One as Anyone. My suspicions of premeditation crystallised when he produced a scrap of paper with his name and number on it, without taking even a second to scrabble around for a pen and something to write on. Was there a stash of them, pre-written, in the glove compartment, all set for the moment when a lone female should wander across the crosshairs? How many had he already given out? I would have been borderline impressed if he'd had a pad made up of them, ready to tear off and hand out, like the world's least rewarding raffle tickets, but that would have been more about my enthusiasm for stationery than his caramel-smooth moves.

It's not that I don't believe in love at first sight. I might do. I don't know. Do I? Maybe. I do know very happy couples who met on public transport and struck up conversation, no doubt ignited by physical attraction, but realised in a more genuine, spontaneous and, oh, I don't know, healthy way. These three-door kerb-cruisers, though, seem to be scuppering their own plans by the heady scent of desperation they've splashed on all over, an apparent lack of discernment, and their insensitivity to women's concerns for stuffy old-fashioned values like personal safety. But I'm curious. Do these tactics ever really work? Really? 'Well, I was on my way to Sainsbury's, but stuff the Nectar points. A drink it is. Should I just get into the back of your van now? I could bind and gag myself if it will save you the bother. Just let me know where you keep your gaffer tape.' And it is hugely unlikely I would ever go out with a man who sat next to me on the bus and opened our conversation with 'You have boyfriend? You come with me? I make it real good for you.' Also a true story.

Certain members of my family are probably reading this and thinking 'Well, lord knows you're not getting any younger. A nice offer like that, and him with his own van. You could do a lot worse.' But I'll take the shepherd's pie for one and the promise of not appearing posthumously in a Crimewatch reconstruction, if it's all the same with you.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

When Good Cakes Go Bad

Pictured: delicious tea and cakes at Kew Gardens, yesterday. Victoria sponge (left), coffee and walnut cake (right).

But wait – what are those blueberry-shaped imposters on top of the coffee and walnut? Your eyes do not deceive you. They are blueberries.  Blueberries? On coffee and walnut cake? What kind of transgressive fruit-wielding maverick is at work in the Kew Gardens cafe?

What is that lying torn up on the floor? It is the cake decorating rule book!

Friday, 20 June 2008

The cat's whiskers

Spotting slinking around an outdoor cafe in Kew:

Purr-cule Poirot. 

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Introducing The Special Jones Award For Enthusiasm

I may have said it before, but it was at least a month ago. As qualities go, enthusiasm is one of my very favourites. 

Today, I opened a book of stamps I'd bought days ago, to stick a couple on the most mundane of correspondance. But the very sight of them lit me up a little inside. Last week, in Marble Arch post office, the man who had sold them to me had responded to my request for a book of first class by taking the trouble to open up the booklet and press the insides against the glass dividing us. 'Look! They are special ones. See?' he beamed. And they were. Two giant images of fully flaked-up 99s, dwarfing the queen's-head rank and file.

I have scanned them in for posterity, using scanning technology and a scanner. Full marks for brain-buckling use of perspective in your work, stamp-design robots.

The point is, my friendly vendor (friendor?) was so genuinely pleased to be showing me this small ray of novelty, and not in a half-hearted 'Has anyone told you about the post office's travel insurance?' kind of way. And as a result, he is the first ever recipient of the Special Jones Award For Enthusiasm In Otherwise Humdrum Quarters (SJAFEIOHQ – an acronym to live in the brain, if ever there was one). Have a certificate, sunny Marble Arch P.O. Operative, and a little piece of my heart.

I am feeling more sentimental than usual today.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Trolley pash

Today I was in the branch of Starbucks that nestles (or should I say Nestlés) inside my local branch of Sainsbury's (big up, you tiny local businesses) doing some work and minding my own cappucino. I wasn't working for Sainsbury's or Starbucks, although I am precocious in my grasp of the self-checkout. 

Before too long, an elderly couple came and sat opposite me. There was nothing remarkable about them, clothed as they were from the conventional over-70s lookbook of tartan, quilting and the darker neutrals. There were no wedding rings on display, so I took the view that they were on a shop-date.

Given that they had plumped for the sofa directly opposite mine, rather than the many, many vacant chairs and tables all around us, I wondered whether Mr Silver-Haired Shop-Date had chosen that particular side-by-side seating arrangement as groundwork for the classic 'yawn, arm-stretch, lateral-embrace' courting sequence.  But of course it was nothing so vulgar. Perhaps they had simply chosen the sofa for its proximity to the window, and the conversational aid provided by the view (as small talk can be taxing on such occasions). The rain, he correctly surmised, was holding off. 

They each had a cup of tea, of course, and shared a cheese sandwich on white bread which, with admirable daring, they had brought in from Sainsbury's itself (rather than buying a modish Starbucks wrap) and conspiratorially opened up the packaging under cover of a plastic bag.

Charming, of course, but soon my eyes were drawn to a far more romantic spectacle – their tartan shopping trolleys smooching together beside the table. Here they are, in all their erotically charged glory. To the left of the frame, you can see the lined notebook I was furtively using as a shield for my cameraphone. 

Tea drained and sandwich eaten, they trundled out of the shop and away across the car park. What with it only being 4pm, it wasn't exactly into the sunset, but aptly, they walked under a grey, overcast sky with the faint promise of some sunshine.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Pinpricks Of Depression In An Otherwise Lovely Weekend

1) The Aisle Of Macabre Sculpture in TK Maxx, Lewisham. This is not a feature that is particular to Lewisham. It is in the mission statement of every branch of TK Maxx to achieve an Aisle Of Macabre Sculpture – grimacing cats, bodies entwined with a gloomy lack of eroticism and the like. But Lewisham trumped them all this weekend, with the Severed Otter's Head.

It is a curious piece of artistry. The otter seems to me a lovable breed. Who would revel in the concept of its decapitation heartily enough to pop this proudly on their mantelpiece? Perhaps only the world's least convincing hunter. 'Well, modesty aside, that one put up quite the fight, let me tell you. We wrestled on the river bank until I proved its master. Then I had its head glazed and jet marbles inserted in its eye sockets, the better to preserve my spoils. And now every visitor to my three-bedroom semi is transfixed by this trophy, begging me to tell just one more time the story of how I tamed the beast of the estuary. It is indeed truly the skill of the glazer to make it look precisely like a piece of roughly hewn china tat.'

Let us also pause a moment to reflect on how dirty the shelves of Lewisham TK Maxx are.

2) Dropped Soft Toy. Traditionally, this species is seen propped up on a fence or gatepost by a good samaritan who refuses to say die, hauled onto woolly tiptoes to catch the eye of its bereaved owner in case he should return to the scene to search for his fallen comrade. But this was an example for the eco-conscious 00s, captured lying prone in juxtaposition with a brown, garden waste recycling wheelie bin.

3) The man sitting next to me at Daniel Kitson's performance at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre who insisted on checking his cocking Blackberry every ten minutes. It was a glorious evening, with a heart-warming turn, a gentle breeze, tiny white feathers from the local birdlife blowing picturesquely across the scene like snow, twinkly lights, trees, and twinkly lights in trees. What could truly set the occasion off? Hmm. A cup of hot chocolate to warm the hands on? A cashmere blanket? An overhead comet? Wait, I know. A lit-up two-inch square of self-importance flashing regularly in my peripheral vision would be perfect. Thank goodness you're here, Mr Blackberry, with your chinos and carefully combed hairline of denial.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Being David Batty

Among many other sporting icons we celebrated, my dad and I used to bond over David Batty, the ex-Leeds United player. In the early 90s, I was a fresher at Leeds University during the local team's briefest-possible tenure of the league championship. When funds permitted, which was rarely – I was a girl from the barren Norfolk flatlands dropped into a city with an awful lot of shops – I would go to Elland Road and watch Leeds make heavy weather of drawing with lesser teams. I came home for the holidays to find my dad had fixed a penant saying 'Wilko's Champs: Pride Of Yorkshire' – rapidly becoming an ironic slogan – in my bedroom window. David Batty was a particularly fond kind of talisman for us. Who knows why, but we felt limitless affection for the dour, spade-a-spade midfield scrapper.

He was a stick of footballing rock with Yorkshire written right through him. Until he moved to Blackburn Rovers, as it turned out. He was tough. He was bloody-minded. He did not score many goals.

After his retirement, David Batty slipped off my radar, although I caught him a couple of times on Sky One's pro-celebrity The Match. But I never saw him donning his slacks and pale blue shirt (evidently the strictly enforced dress code for the BBC's Euro 2008 panel) as  a pundit-for-hire, and he never seemed the type for a career in motivational speaking. Perhaps, I pondered, he had opened an ironmongers in Guiseley with Mel Sterland, or taken over a bar on the Costa del Sol with John Lukic.

So yesterday, imagine my delight when I was reading The Guardian's report on the Rooney/McLoughlin nuptials, in an attempt to receive a dispassionate, purely factual report on this most sociologically important of  festivals, to see that one of the co-authors was none other than David Batty. Well, who else better qualified to reflect on the extra-curricular pressures of a young footballer at the epicentre of the modern game? When I clicked on the link to his Guardian profile, I was impressed to see that my David Batty had adopted a disguise, albeit of the primitive moustache-and-false-nose-attached-to-glasses model, in a bid to reinvent himself and shake off any stigma associated with the intelligence of footballers, thus ensuring his work is judged fairly when the Pulitzer Prize committee come a-knocking.

In addition, it has now come to my attention that David Batty regularly 'ages up', and glues on a moustache and eyebrows  – or maybe it is actually three moustaches, I'm no expert – from his disguise kit in order to disseminate to the general public his considerable expertise in the field of possibly valuable old stuff on the BBC's popular Antiques Roadshow programme.

That is not all.

He is also a TV director, producer (you will, no doubt, remember his work on Hitler In Colour), lawyer, freelance IT professional and part-time accordionist. I could go on.

He is, I am telling you, a modern day Leonardo. How long will it be before his image and accomplishments adorn the animated credits of The South Bank Show? Melvyn – and I know you're reading this – you surely know what you must do.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Don't you love farce? No? OK

There are some days when you're happy for your life to turn a bit Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. A little Chuckle Vision. Some days, you feel the farcical elements of life particulary keenly and are happy to laugh at your part in them. You're totally accepting of the plank of wood on someone's shoulder swinging round to hit you, or the custard pie landing in your face.

I got to work today, and as I stepped out of the lift, I saw there was a man just outside the office door, on a stepladder. He was trying to liberate a particularly stubborn ceiling tile. I always find this an unnerving spectacle. What could tumble out on the tile-wrangler's head? Live bats? A body? At the very least, a cobwebby dynasty of spiders. On this occasion, it was filthy grey water,  emanating from I know not where. At first a trickle, and then a gushing jet, straight into his eyes, running into his mouth, like a leaky radiator in an episode of Terry & June. 'Aarrgh!' he said, as I attempted to sneak around the ladder and get into the office. 'Get me a bucket! Quick! Anything!' he said. Unable to leave a tradesman in peril, I rushed into the nearby kitchen, scattering a cloud of fashionistas as I went, and grabbed an empty lunchbox which I tried to wedge onto the top of the stepladder to catch the water. I hope no one was planning to use it as a home for their organic muesli. But as I reached up, somehow my outstretched arms only served to provide a channel for the water to run down, towards my own head and chest.

Obviously it's not ideal to report for a new stint of work with your most grown-up, sophisticated and fash-wan set of employers spattered with rancid grey water, but I would have been in fairly good spirits about this. However, the episode was soured by the grim-faced reluctance of my co-conspirator to share the moment of absurdity. I was laughing. He was scowling and harumphing and muttering how he got all the worst jobs. Of course, he is half-right. That is his actual, real full-time job, whereas mine is to sit in a comfortable office and look at the internet and make tea, and punctuate this with short bursts of non-arduous tasking. But still, he's the sort of person who would probably put a deckchair up first time. It would be no fun to bake a wedding cake in a giant kitchen with him. He probably doesn't even have any inter-connecting doors in his house. 

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Lashings of lift-based awkwardness

I discovered as a child, through reading the young detective fiction of Enid Blyton (who was born on my road, above the DIY shop, blue plaque fans), what a lot can be learnt just by keeping your eyes and ears open. For the Secret Seven, the lesson that a man is more likely to steal and trespass if he has a beard. For me, a couple of days ago, how not to give someone a compliment.

I was in the lift at work with two money-harvesting automatons from the advertising floor.

Overtanned female bonus-bot: I've been wanting to say this to you for ages and I'm going to say it now because you're leaving tomorrow, and I know it's a bit weird because it kind of sounds like an insult but it's not, it's actually a compliment…
Aggressively heterosexual male bonus-bot: [Already slightly insulted] Right…
OFBB: It's just [speaking suddenly very fast] you've got really nice eyelashes and it makes you look like you're wearing eyeliner all the time.
AHMBB: Erm… Right. So you're basically saying I look like I've got make-up on.
OFBB: No. I'm not saying that. You've just got those sort of eyes, they're just, I don't know, sort of… [The doors open on my floor and I get out]

It is this kind of smooth-talking that has led to several magazine closures and a take-over.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Things I Have Seen On My Way To Work That Are Guaranteed To Ruin My Day No. 5489

Today, in Charing Cross Station, a late-middle-aged man, smart and well groomed, dressed in a canary yellow P&O Ferries T-shirt and matching baseball cap, handing out flyers for a P&O sale, surrounded by much younger and wildly enthusiastic young men doing the same job.  Posture: stooped and weary. Expression: looking for all the world like his spirit was trickling away across the concourse like a dropped cup of coffee.

This doesn't mean I'm watching it

I'm very glad that Michael/'Mikey' is in the Big Brother house, as I had been wondering what had happened to the lead singer of the Frank & Walters.

Best ever pronunciation of an Irish 'T' in the whole of pop music.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Meanwhile, on the other side of town…

Today, at work, while I was hunting for an afternoon snack in my bag (mixed nuts – brazils, almonds and cashews, for preference) – I discovered this:

It is incredibly difficult to photograph so allow me to clarify. It is a false nail.

It emphatically does not belong to me. I am not the kind of Jones who suits a false nail, as you can see from this state-of-the-art digital simulation.

So how did it get there?

I believe an extraordinary physical phenomenon has taken place. There has been a female typhoon. I went to see
Sex And The City last night in London's Leicester Square. I can honestly say I have never been in an atmosphere so oppressively humid with womankind. Any man present – and I honestly believe there were none – would have felt their Adam's Apples melting away and breasts swelling under their incredulously exploring hands just from the sheer intensity of female hormones in the room. 

As the film began, to riotous applause, the concentration of oestrogen in the room bubbled higher and higher, the electrons of anticipation become more agitated, and the molecules of excitement collided with ever-increasing frequency. The inevitable consequence? An extremely rare natural phenomenon which simply could not be contained. Several rows in the middle – the epicentre, if you will – combusted in a shower of body parts, accessories and cosmetics.

It was not an aftermath for the faint-hearted. Consider the ushers who had to clear the debris from the deserted cinema – for every half-eaten box of popcorn, a severed string of coloured plastic beads. For every drained cardboard cup of watered-down, cola-flavoured drink, a singed bunch of hair extensions.

I consider myself lucky to have escaped with just a stray fingernail in my bag. I could have been extracting my snacks from a stranger's flipflop, their two biggest toes still clenching the thong with the rigidity of utter hysteria.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Maxwell Maltz says… Relax

When I'm on the train in the morning, I always take a keen interest in the reading matter of my fellow commuters. This is because I'm insecure about all the books in the world I haven't read. Today I sat next to a man who was engrossed in this:

He was reading a chapter called 'How To Relax And Let Your Automatic Success Mechanism Work For You'. 

It was unclear from my vantage point whether we are all born with one of these or it comes free with the book. I am going to redouble my efforts at relaxation and see if wealth and spiritual contentment pursue me through the cosmos.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

I'm a believer

Regular readers won't be surprised to know that An Audience With Neil Diamond was, for me, the jewel in the crown of Saturday's wondrously déclassé televisual buffet. When I lived with Miss Hogg, we would occasionally enjoy a game of Celebrity Bingo if one of the An Audience With… shows was on. A point for spotting Patsy Palmer, Claire Sweeney, Eamonn Holmes… maybe two points for the slightly more exotic Pat Cash or Richard E Grant.

I'm proud to say that Neil Diamond attracted a number of guests drawn from the more culturally elite: John Sargeant, Alex James, Alison Steadman, Ben Miller, Judi Dench and, brilliantly, Germaine Greer. (At one point, I thought that La Steadman was sitting next to Steven Berkoff, but I think I might have been hallucinating with excitement.)

It was as though someone had arranged a coach trip from the Hay Festival or the National Theatre. 'Make sure you use the toilet before we set off, because we're not stopping at services. And that means you, Dame Judi.' 'Germaine, please stop holding up aggressively feminist slogans to lorry drivers in the next lane. Sit down properly in your seat.'

Had I been the director, I would have massaged the schedules to enable them to squeeze Forever In Blue Jeans on to the set list. And Solitary Man. If it was good enough for Johnny Cash, it's certainly good enough for Samantha Janus and Carol Decker out of T'pau.