Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Dissent on the 9.25

This morning I saw this on the wall of the train carriage – not so much graffiti as agit-decoupage.

It is a triumph of grown-up cut-and-paste. Whoever was responsible for customising a harmless Wicked theatre poster had taken quite a lot of trouble to print out the word Wankers in special 'Wicked' font; find the right pictures of Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, with heads tilted the appropriate way; tint Brown's face green; make everything just the right size to match the original. I was so impressed I have had to break out the semi-colons, which is unusual indeed.

I genuinely have no idea if this spoof is an old gag, if everyone else has already seen it on some kind of viral email. Have they? But even if this is the case, the perpetrators had still taken the time to craft it, and wile away their journey from East Croydon to London Bridge or similar cutting bits of paper out and brazenly making use of a Pritt Stick.

In my bovine morning state, it took me a while to notice it wasn't actually the real poster. The clue that gave it away was that – ha! - Alistair Darling is coming unstuck.

They saw me coming

Weak-willed profligacy in the face of emotionally manipulative nostalgia-packaging, thy name is Jones.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The morning after four years before

For the last couple of weeks I have been working at a newish place. It is an uncomfortable business for several reasons. First, literally, as I am forced to sit on a terrible chair which ejects me every evening as a new version of myself who walks like Oddbod from Carry On Screaming. Secondly, it is a wretched location, with nothing to do during one's lunch hour except drown one's ennui in hot beverages at a table for one in the nearby Waitrose coffee shop. And c) because the department of four in which I'm working contains two people I have previously interviewed for jobs, in my former working life when I Was Someone. Two people to whom I did not give jobs. This is the source of the discomfort.

They are both lovely, talented people, with whom I would have been happy to share desk space, mid-afternoon/is-it-too-early-to-start-back-on-the biscuits and emergency desk-drawer deodorant (spray, not roll-on - eurgh. I would not share a roll-on with my sister. I don't have a sister and this is a good reason why not). The not-giving-them-jobs thing was not actually my fault. One of them  dropped out after her first interview to take another job. The other one I liked a lot, but she was a powerless victim of the caprices of my then boss.

I think that's how it went. Perhaps I am rewriting our shared history to make myself seem more benign and encouraging, quite probably inspirational, rather than incommunicative, dismissive and overly flippant. 

Still, on my first day at this workplace, there was no reason for me to feel trepidatious. Naturally I still did. It is a bit like being introduced to someone you once had an extremely drunken and categorically one-off fumble with, or have previously met on a blind date that your mutual acquaintances were not aware of. Slightly awkward. A bit embarrassing. Both wondering if the other even remembers. Not wanting to mention it. Tying yourself up in knots of denial and self-absolution until you can no longer comprehend that not mentioning it is, in actual fact, really rude and a bit weird.

One of the people involved, I had seen since our interview. That ice had been broken. Phew. The other one, I was seeing (again) for the first time. After we were (re)introduced, she said enigmatically, 'Oh yes, we've met,' and carried on with her work.  

That was it.

That was it? What does she mean we've met? How can she be so calm about it? Did it mean nothing to her? Maybe she's told all the others… Maybe they all know… Maybe they're all laughing about how I'd got us both some water from the water cooler, and when I went to take a sip of mine, I missed my mouth a little bit and it went down my top. Oh hahahaha. It's all a joke to you, isn't it? I'M NOT LAUGHING.

It then occurred to me that behind their smokescreen of routine pleasantries, the two of them were pooling their power and resources, and planning some kind of payback. I sat at my desk, waiting to be passed a list of demeaning tasks and unreachable goals, and expecting to be cut out of communal biscuit rituals. 

It never happened. No one bogwashed me, stole my dinner money, leant over my desk and shouted in my face 'WHO'S THE DADDY NOW?' or similar. 

Still, I did notice that when either of them handed back pieces of my work that I'd given them to approve, they had pressed very, very hard with their red pen.

Friday, 22 May 2009

He moves in mysterious ways

Every day this week, I've been briskly walking from London Bridge to Wapping, from train station to office, and back again. On my way, I've been trying to appear in as many strangers' holiday photos as possible, somewhere in the frame between their loved ones – who may on vacation have become their barely tolerated ones, you never know until you actually go away with someone – and Tower Bridge. Not striding brazenly in front of the human subject, obviously. I'm not a bitch. Just somewhere else in shot. What will happen, of course, is that someone in Tokyo, or Berlin, or Adelaide, will be looking through their friends' holiday photos in a few months' time, thinking, 'Other people's holiday photos are even duller than other people's amazing-night-out stories. How soon can I go home and drink my own tea and eat my own biscuits which are so much better than these?' when they will see me scowling my blurry way through the frame, fall in love with my peaky, myopic countenance, carefully put their superior biscuits in an airtight tin, take their passport out of a drawer and set off to find me. I seem to spend my life passing through embryonic romantic comedies and not getting past the set-up. An embryonic romantic comedy in itself. Dear McConaughey and Hudson, you can have that one.

Anyway. Yesterday morning, as I walked past the London Assembly building, I passed a small, silent, non-storm of protestors. They held up banners saying things like, 'Don't drive us round the bend, Boris', in an effort, I surmised, to persuade the mayor not to scrap bendy buses. 

And there, at the eye of the gentle breeze, stood a diminutive figure, impassive under an army-style cloth cap and enormo-shades.


It might not have been Bono. But it looked EXACTLY like him. Small (I can say this, a friend of mine worked on a photoshoot with him and saw his Cuban heels at close range), with sunglasses, and sending out an air that said, 'Drink in my very presence, because I am bloody well Bono.'

Bono loves a protest. He's hot for a petition. Most likely, he simply cannot accept all the invitations he gets to hoist banners in the name of suffering children, lame trees, down-and-out animals, ailing buildings and people who, for the love of God, want to hold on to those bendy buses. Luckily, he has an army of lookalikes – he probably even calls them Bono's Army –  who are keen to supplement the income they get from being a member of Achtung Maybe or With Or Without Them, or whatever, with a bit of stand-in campaign work. After all, times are hard, and those sunglasses don't come cheap.

In fact, I think this troupe of doppelganger activists represent yet another humanitarian gesture on Bono's part. In this case, he's specifically supporting FauxBonos (that would be so much better if I could spell it FoBonos) who can't sing a note and have been kicked out of Even Better Than The Real Thing for being much, much worse. Bono is honestly a hell of a guy.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Animal collective

I'm not being a very prolific blogger at the moment but you should know that I'm thinking of you all the time.

They have opened a toyshop near where I live. It is a nice toyshop, a small toyshop. An old-fashioned size of toyshop. Not the size of Old Trafford, with a ball pool and trolley park. There are no out-of-work actors bellowing a toothy welcome  as you cross the threshold, while clumsily piloting a tiny model aircraft in uncomfortably close rings around your head. 

In this small, local toyshop, you can find a shangri-la for borderline OCD sufferers like myself. Along one wall is row upon perfectly aligned row of plastic animals, in every species you can think of – unless you are, like, David Attenborough, in which case you can probably think of a few more – standing obediently to attention in their plastic pens. This is just the half of it…

While their silent, static march is a paragon of regimented order, some of the animals strike curious poses, as Prince would say, if only he could see them. The lion, for example, has one paw aloft.

On one hand, this could represent a sort of camp wave, a la Lenny The Lion. More likely, it is a paw raised in readiness to club you around the head - as nonchalantly as if it was swatting away a fly on a warm day, yet with enough power to floor you and remove half your face. I hope this is the case, as it teaches an important lesson often neglected by parents and toy manufacturers, which is that animals are DANGEROUS and can KILL YOU. Children should not be disarmed by plush and posable limbs. They should be warned of the risks of literally being disarmed. Real animals do not always respond fondly to being enthusiastically hugged or dressed in doll's clothes. They rarely whistle or sing. They do not like to sleep on a human bed with lots of other animals, or be propped up on a blanket in the company of some dolls and pretend-fed weak orange squash from a plastic tea service. Also, adding an over-familiar  '-y' suffix to their name will not help.

This swan is also part of the same Red In Tooth & Claw range. His wings are raised ominously. And everyone knows what a swan can do when provoked.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

On the shelf

I'm a hoarder, as I've almost certainly told you before. It is a problem, knowing exactly what to do with your 35-year-old shards of tangible memory, especially when they are so tiny they could get lost in your pocket, let alone on a cluttered shelf that is already bowed to breaking. 

If you're below the age of 6, or over the age of 80, you can put those little things in a box and call them your treasures. You can take them out and look at them when no one else is around and feel better about everything. Between those ages however, if you carry on like that, people are liable to think you're the kind of person who keeps their money under the mattress and wears fingerless gloves indoors. 

Happily, I now have a solution, fashionably endorsed, probably, by the interiors pages of Sunday supplements. I am the proud owner of a printer's type case - historically home to the letters of a typeface, and now home to my little bits of stuff. Quite apart from the storage salvation it represents, it is also a fantastically absorbing time-waster – time when you really should be cleaning the kitchen, or concentrating on the episodes of The Wire that are amassing in ominous numbers on your Sky+, or having a wash. Hours drift carelessly by as you swap your precious things from compartment to compartment, working out where they look happiest, and figuring out which nostalgic peg will fit in which hole, like an Early Learning Centre puzzle for the readers of LivingEtc.  

I have only just begun, clearly, but I now have a home for:

* a square mirrored badge with Snoopy on it that says 'Start each day with a smile' which I won at a fair about 25 years ago, a fair that could have been in Cambridge, King's Lynn, even Newmarket, but definitely a fair with rides I was too timid to go on.
* my membership badge of the Puffin Club.
* a small tin with Mr Tickle on it. When I was about 8, my mum and dad worried that I was gripping my pen with an over-anxious fervour and developing a writing bump on my middle finger. They fashioned a protective thimble-type arrangement from gauze and tape and I-don't-know-what for me to wear, which naturally I never did, what with being self-conscious and 8. But I kept it in my schoolbag, in this tin. 
* 'Happy Birthday' candles from last year's birthday cake, baked by Miss M, now edited to spell 'Happy Day', and with a chomp taken out of the 'D' by Young Miss G, then aged 1, who quite understandably thought it was a confectionary item.
* A blue hippo from the Thyssen museum in Madrid.
*A badge that says VIP - Visitor In Pennsylvania. I don't know why I own this, but I'm sure that Jones Major also had one, and that it relates to relations in the US.
* Tiny biscuit cutters my mum and I used to cut out shortbread with when I was no older than seven.
* Grown-up cutters, including an intricate octopus which can never be used for fear of a baking-related nervous breakdown – so flimsy would the resultant biscuity arms be that they could never make it from worktop to tray, or tray to cooling rack without multiple amputation and DISASTER and EVERYTHING'S RUINED.
* A badge that says 'I heart J17', from the party after J17 née Just Seventeen magazine folded. I really do heart J17.
* Beautiful but heavy purple earrings like tiny vines of glassy grapes, that cannot be worn since I value my ear lobes finishing in the conventional 'ear' area of my head, and not engaging in any way with my shoulders.

Now that I have a rightful home for them, it makes me wonder which particular hideaway I secreted my Dennis The Menace and Gnasher badges in, and when exactly I will open a drawer and discover my milk teeth in a shroud of desiccated tissue paper.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Actual news on my doorstep…

…or at least around the corner. The school where five pupils have been diagnosed with swine flu is just 200 yards or so from my house. I walk past it every day on my way to the train station. Since Sunday we have witnessed quite the kerfuffle – big white vans, news crews and real-life paparazzi.

Unfortunately, I cannot discuss these events further because the frenzied media response over the last couple of weeks has led to the international supply of pig puns running critically low. Following directives from the World 'Heh' Organisation, I am taking the responsible course of action and not depleting numbers any lower, but instead stockpiling any hog-related play-on-words I can manufacture, in case of a more severe second strain later in the year.

Soft scoop and the sisterhood

I saw a lot of nuns on holiday. A lot. Assisi resounds with their comfortably shod footsteps (in a calm, restful kind of way, of course). Grey habits, black habits, white habits. Habits, habits, habits.

Everyone knows that when you're on holiday, you're vulnerable to the kind of impulses you would stoutly deflect were you at home. In Italy, I had a little flirtation with nunhood. For several reasons, we could not have gone any further. But still, I was temporarily seduced by the beatific smile of harmony and well-being worn by every nun who crossed my path, and their apparently invincible air of spiritual contentment. Nuns live in a kind of working community, I supposed, a workplace of sorts, but I found it impossible to imagine any of them having to conduct an awkward conversation with their nun line managers, becoming so incensed with a piece of delinquent electronic office equipment that they genuinely believed they could kill, having their whole working day ruined by a disappointing lunchtime sandwich, or, indeed, ever feeling in any way fraught, irritable and angsty. Similarly, when the bell rings for morning prayers, I couldn't imagine any of the beaming nuns I saw thinking, 'Urgh, not today. I'll call in sick with a stomach upset, but I'll leave a message on the Mother Superior's work phone before she gets to the office, and a message on the her mobile while she's on the tube so I won't have to have an actual conversation using my Fake Illness Voice.' Maybe when you walk through the door of the convent, God lifts those trials off your shoulders, just at the same time as some heavenly wardrobe mistress drops a habit on over them.

Perhaps, then, I had found the Thing I Am Looking For In My Life. So as I was contemplating my suitability for a life in holy orders, I made a list of relevent strengths and weaknesses.

*Boundless enthusiasm for undemanding footwear.
*Prodigious appetite for ice cream – it seems that finding sensual pleasure in a gelateria, as I witnessed many times on holiday [see left], is not a cause for renunciation. It's possible that, in Assisi, being a nun gets you free ice cream for life.
*I quite like a night in.
*I know most of the words to The Sound Of Music.

*Really struggling to find a regular and significant role for God in my life.

While the strengths have the numbers, the weaknesses have the might. I am currently unable to make a commitment to Coronation Street – and I really, really like that – let alone make a brave and dignified commitment to a life of usefulness and doing good.

But the ice cream, the ice cream… I hear it calling still.