Sunday, 30 January 2011

(Maybe, sort of) Exciting announcement

Hello. Long time, no see. Sorry about that. Big week. Anyway, this blog now has a sister blog that really, really likes single gloves lost on the street. Go and have a look, if you like. She's just here. I'm a dual-blogger, don't you know.

Normal service – by which I mean the normal, sporadic service – will be resumed here this week. Promise.

Friday, 21 January 2011

'He left me much too soon...'

Following on from yesterday's post (two posts! in 48 hours! this is like the glory days of 2008), it's possible that somewhere, stuck to a twig, fairly near ground level, there is a poster appealing for the safe return of one particular ladybird.

For its family, I have some difficult news:

This is a glass of water in my kitchen last night.

Initially, I had poured myself a glass of water to have with my tea. I know that this is the kind of detail about my intriguing yet mysterious domestic life that you clamour to hear. Ten minutes later, when I sat down to eat/drink, there was a ladybird floating in my glass, limbs flailing weakly.

I fished it out of the water with a teaspoon and a level of tenderness I don't usually reserve for insects. And I left it on the kitchen table to dry off and collect itself. But several hours later, when I was back in the kitchen tidying up, I went to empty a different glass that was half full of water and inside it was the ladybird. Not flailing. Not living. Dead, in fact.

I wasn't really sure how to deal with the fact that a ladybird had been so determined to end its life in my flat that it had made two attempts at drowning. And one of them had worked.

I was telling my work colleagues this story earlier and, just before Ms S slipped into a deep coma prompted by my lengthy insect-based anecdote, she told me that these ladybirds of many spots (as my dead one was) should not be nurtured as they are KILLING our indigenous lesser-spotted ladybirds. I can only assume that this one in particular was so overcome with remorse for the terrible things he had done, he had to take drastic action. Perhaps the sight of his own monstrous reflection in my chrome kettle, as he made his way across my kitchen worktop, was simply too much to bear. His moral burden was too heavy for his fragile set of wings.

Despite the fact that he was a murderous warmonger (do you notice that despite being a 'lady'bird, I have started calling it 'he'. Why is this?), I gave him a good burial beneath the mini-rose plant my friend Ms B gave me for my birthday.

I'm hoping it might start growing polka-dot flowers now.

And as a mark of respect, I played this for him. RIP you conflicted six-legged tragedy.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Ciao Bella

I walked past this poster during my lunch hour the other day. Lost pet posters always hit a minor chord on the frayed Jones heartstrings. Not because I am a pet person. I am not. I don't want to pick up my own shit using an inside-out plastic bag, let alone anyone else's.

But something about the hopeful words and faded photos finds a way through my anti-animal flinch reflex and makes me hope for a reunion of that vulnerable, dependent creature and their pet.

Bella's journey, as described in the poster above, is particularly intriguing. How exactly did she find her way from Hackney, where she disappeared, to London Bridge station? The number 48 bus is the obvious answer, but given her nervous disposition, that seems unlikely. The bus is never the first choice for the timid traveller – it's so tricky knowing where to get off. You have to be aware of exactly when to ring the bell. If the bus is busy you can't see where you're going through the windscreen and god forbid you might actually have to ask someone. Factor in the burden of not having the ability to ask someone, and this is looking unlikely.

Of course, she could have been taken to London Bridge by someone, an abductor for instance. If so, they were pretty dumb not to try to disguise her in some way. A false moustache and glasses. At least a baseball cap pulled down over her eyes with two holes cut out for her ears.

Let's assume she made it to London Bridge station of her own accord. But what was her plan? Potentially she was getting on the south London line that stops at Battersea Park, where she was planning to visit the Dog's Home to stage a breakout of some old friends from the racing circuit. Or maybe she was bound for the seaside. Brighton, perhaps, or Hastings. Given her anxious nature, I'm wondering if she was contemplating a total lifestyle change, far from the noise and hysteria of the capital. The sea. The fresh air. A clear view of the horizon. The wind in her fur.

Send them a postcard, Bella, won't you? Just a sandy pawprint to say goodbye.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Skip-related self-loathing

I've just had my back windows replaced. Not a metaphor.

These tiles had been on my old window ledge for two-and-a-half years, ever since I brought them back from a trip to Norfolk.

I found them in a skip in Burnham Market.

Why did you keep them, Miss Jones?

Wait a minute and I will tell you.

They're not even that nice.

Yes, ALRIGHT. I kept them because I wanted to be the kind of person who finds things in skips and turns them into quirky objets d'art for the home. There are people like that, and I want to be one of them. I think we can conclude, from this evidence, that I am not. HAPPY NOW?

I've learnt now that you can't fake it. Some people have the Sophisticated Skip-Rooter gene, and I am unfortunate enough to know a few of them.

'Oh, that's nice,' I say about some new feature, on visiting their home.

'Oh that?' they say casually. 'I just pulled it out of a skip and cleaned it up and now it is a quirky talking point that demonstrates my mercurial and unique approach to home decorating, and simultaneously what a laid-back, creative kind of a character I am.' I am paraphrasing. They are magpies who think sparkly is kind of common. And I am just jealous.

'From a French fleamarket' and 'on the street, left out with the rubbish' are other places these people find their trash/treasure. Places that I never do. 'Gave it a lick of paint' and 'changed the handles' are things People Like This do to refine their finds.

I am not Like That. I don't find those things in skips. Or on my street. I find KFC boxes and crumpled Red Bull cans and broken pallets and old toilets. I don't find those things in fleamarkets. I find push-button telephones and ugly china. I attempted to scavenge those tiles as an action of desperation. What was I trying to prove? And what exactly did I think I was going to do with three tiles covered in a pattern that was not as nice as I was trying to pretend?


That was my only option. The fact that I could think of no other use for them demonstrates how ill cut out I am for these acts of artistic rehoming. I couldn't even be bothered to scrape off the bumpy crust of dried tile adhesive on the other side which would mean my cup of tea would be resting on something of an incline.

I went off the tiles when I realised they'd probably lined the walls of the gents' toilets in a pub, which was now having a refit.

I am not that person. I am accepting it. I am putting the tiles in the bin. I am moving on.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Then and now, in three parts

One: Just before Christmas, I went to a garden centre with my mum, near where she lives. We went under the pretence of buying a few last-minute Christmas presents. We really went so we could have a cream tea in their cafe. But then we actually did end up buying some last-minute Christmas presents. Oh, we felt like two of life's winners that day, let me tell you.

At the cash register, I found myself transfixed by this display of sweets, which represented the forbidden fruit of my childhood.

I say fruit. What I mean is boiled sugar with a small amount of 'fruit' flavouring.

As a young family, we took many long car drives to grandparents' homes and far-flung holiday locations (Yorkshire! Northumberland!). To me, these tins of sweets were the most precious jewels in the rack of prohibitively expensive trinkets placed near the till at each branch of Little Chef that we stopped at. To my parents, these tins of sweets were substantially more expensive than a bag of Opal Fruits. What was wrong with Opal Fruits, after all? Nothing. Except maybe the name. Oh yeah, and they didn't come IN A TIN that you could keep afterwards and put special things in, like insects and bits of birds' eggs that you might have found in a wood. And they didn't come with DUSTY WHITE POWDER ALL OVER THEM. So exotic. So rarely allowed. So much whining and unsuccessful emotional blackmail on my part in their pursuit…

But when I saw them more recently, I realised I could afford to buy all the fancy sweets in tins that I damn well like. Well, maybe not that, but certainly enough to make myself gratifyingly sick. Or for my neighbours to break into my flat and find me totally wired on sugar and listening to a hissy cassette of Captain Beaky & His Band (our soundtrack to long northbound car journeys) on repeat at an ear-haemorrhaging volume
, with dusty powder all over my face, hair and clothing, trying to force next-door's cat into a small empty tin.

And then I didn't want them any more.

Two: People often talk about reverting to the behaviour of their youth when they return to stay at their parents'. I'm not sure if this is true, but maybe that's because my mum has moved from my former childhood home, so I no longer have the opportunity to hole up in my teenage pit poring over the sleevenotes to what-I-would-like-to-say-was-The-Smiths-but-was-in-all-honesty-more-likely-to-be-Wet-Wet-Wet, while yellowing posters from Look-In bear down on me from the walls. But even if I still had my adolescent Batcave, I'd like to think my powers of conversation are slightly better developed, as well as my interest in being in a room with more people than just myself. But then I would say that.

Still, I sometimes wonder if this relapse into sighing-and-solitary-confinement comes about through other people's projection. At the Christmas dinner table, while we were trying to divide ourselves into two equal quiz teams, we thought we'd shared the children out perfectly with a young niece on each team . Until Young Miss Jones The Younger, my junior niece, said, 'But what about Auntie Hannah? She's a child.'

I am 37 next week.

Young Miss Jones The Younger has many excellent qualities, but she has apparently yet to grasp the empowering nature of adult singledom.

Three: Ms R and I just missed a train home from Beckenham Junction last Sunday because we took time to check the departures board, instead of throwing ourselves blindly onto the waiting train in the station. It is amazing how often one is undone by caution. So we took shelter in the waiting room to pass the half-hour until the next train. After a little while, a man came in, early 60s, outdoorsy, wipe-clean rucksack and woolly hat. He sat down, took out a box of Continental chocolates, removed the lid and held them towards us.

'Would you like a chocolate?' he said.

Erm, no thanks, we mumbled.

'They're Belgian,' he said, with a heartbreaking hint of desperation. 'I can't eat them all. It seems a shame to waste them.'

When I a child, I would have been incredibly firm about my rejection in this scenario. Strangers! No! Strangers with chocolates! No, no! Tell your mum. Tell your dad. Tell a teacher.

But now, older and sadder, I very nearly said yes. Not through greed. Although a bit. But through sympathy. Oh god. Save me, please save me, from an old age of offering strangers chocolates. Save me from thinking it's OK, and save me from knowing it's not OK but being unable to stop myself.

Still. The fact is, I'm a little bit selfish and I don't like sharing. This, I'm going to make very sure, is never going to change.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Romance! Free stuff! The return of thrilling reader interaction, a bit!

Here is a free book, lying on the table of free books at work.

The table of free books is also home to free DVDs and free CDs, and there is one in every magazine office. Unloved and unreviewed, each item was once optimistically sent in by a PR, hoping for an ounce of exposure. When they arrive, these items are torn from their jiffy bags (which, brace yourselves when I tell you, are rarely recycled) and only a precious few are spared the fate of a careless toss onto the free table for passing employees to pick up and take home.

I haunt the free table like a ghost looking for treasure. The ghost of a magpie, I suppose. A magpie with superior wing/beak strength that enables it to carry items as heavy as a book. Also, a magpie that prefers reading to glittery things.

I have lost count of the number of free books that I have dragged home, thinking they look interesting or improving, blindly ignoring the likelihood that they will fall into the 98.7% I never get round to reading. Sometimes I take them along to the book auction we have at our book group, where their quality is routinely derided – I am always slightly stung by this.

I have now decided to use them as building blocks in the construction of a paper-based kingdom in my local park, which features only replicas of famous landmarks, Vegas-style. The Taj Mahal next to the Eiffel Tower, next to the Pyramids and the Chrysler building. I will call it Worldworld.

Obviously if someone comes at it with a naked flame, it'll be Pudding Lane all over again.


The book above caught my eye for two reasons. Firstly, the quotation from 'Romantic Times'. How did I not know that such an organisation existed? This is terrific news. Their quote on the cover promises the book will make 'our hearts melt'. This must be the very definition of an occupational hazard if you work at Romantic Times. (I like to imagine the Romantic Times started when a small group of people who worked at Radio Times finally had enough of the television output not being totally romantic all the time – the final straw came when broadcasters refused to introduce an erotic narrative to the weather forecast – and formed a breakaway group who were set on rectifying this unhappy state of affairs.) Other occupational hazards include starry eyes, weak knees, habitual nausea ('lovesickness') and frequent swooning. Employees have notched up a precocious early retirement rate.

The other distracting thing about this book was its confident boast that it is 'a Huxtable family novel'. Blame the era I grew up in, but when I think of a Huxtable family novel, I imagine the tales of
an incorrigible GP in multi-coloured knitwear living in New York in the 80s with his lovably chaotic family. I'm surprised the publishers would be happy for this confusion to go unchecked. The cover has a period feel, which makes one wonder if this is Victorian Cosby Show, a similar conceit to the wartime episodes of EastEnders or The First Of The Summer Wine. In these books, Theo Huxtable has an industrial accident in the mill but he's not seriously hurt and he meets some really inspiring kids while he's recuperating in hospital. Vanessa Huxtable is furious that she can't have a new bonnet for the dance, but Doctor Cliff (or 'Papa' as he's known here) reminds her that if anyone is judging her for her bonnet, they're not worth knowing in the first place and she should refuse to dance with them. Also, judging from the cover, if this is a spin-off from The Cosby Show, the retouching staff of Indian Elle might have got their hands on the artwork.

There are many items that appear on the free tables in the various places I work that I consider writing about. You won't be surprised to hear that I rarely get round to it. Just one example is this:

It's Maths Doesn't Suck by Danica McKellar, aka Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years, aka Will Bailey's stepsister on The West Wing.

Just to recap, Danica McKellar is a) Winnie Cooper, b) has a maths degree
and c) has been on The West Wing. This makes her ridiculously cool.

This is the British edition as the title has been translated from the original US version,
Math Doesn't Suck. It is like an edition of Jackie magazine, but it helps you learn mathematics. How Much Do You And Your Best Friend Have In Common? Who's The Cute New Foreign Exchange Student? Are You Drinking Enough Water? All these questions and more can be answered with maths. Or even math. I think it's OK to use either.

Also, there are maths horoscopes. Mine, Capricorn, includes the line 'You don't need a study group for motivation - you're one of the few signs that does very well for itself.' Mmm. Maybe stick to the maths, Winnie. Leave the astrology alone.

Anyway, my point is that I have this copy of
Maths Doesn't Suck in my house. It needs a new home before it becomes the key stone of the faux KL Tower I am readying to build. Would you like it? If you would, send me an email with your address and you may get a lovely surprise* **.

*Surprise comprises 1 copy of
Maths Doesn't Suck by Winnie from The Wonder Years sent to you second class in a recycled jiffy bag.
**You may not.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Et tu, tights?

I like Christmas as much as the next person which, I suspect, is not quite as much as we're all meant to.

But despite my residual, unshiftable affection for the season, I'm not sorry to be free of the ordeal that is the month of December.

I like to think of it as some kind of physical, emotional and psychological decathlon - a multi-disciplined event that will push competitors to the farthest reaches of human endurance, contested annually between the dates of December 1st and 25th. The prize, if you are not one of the fallen, is the continued possession of your health, mental faculties and a token amount of money in your bank account, and the licence to eat like a 30-stoner for the next few days over what I like to refer to as 'Christmas proper'.

Those 10 terrible, testing disciplines:

1) Going to work five days of the week, just like the rest of the year. The toll of this on the human mind and body is not to be under-estimated.
2) The endless wild socialising.
3) The constant pressure to be seen to be achieving discipline 2) and not cancel anything because you are feeling 'a bit under the weather' or 'you want to strike for home now before the weather gets any worse'.
4) The endless game of cat-and-mouse you must play with various seasonal illnesses that are at large. You will be coughed, sneezed and exhaled on by brazenly ill colleagues, commuters and shop assistants until your immune system is a quaking, cowering shadow of its former self.
5) Survival on a diet of your choice of alcoholic beverages (however, this must include mulled wine and port), crisps, mince pies and Celebrations.
6) The annual 'surprise discipline', which this year is an out-of-season favourite – the assault course that comprises many inches of snow, which public transport will reliably fail to overcome.

I don't know what disciplines 7 to 10 are but let me tell you this: they are also bloody hard work.

If you are attempting to negotiate this Herculean set of circumstances, your nerves will be stretched to breaking point. The tiniest triviality can tip the balance, and cause everything to come crashing down – like the game on Crackerjack where they had to stand on a plinth and hold more and more brilliant prizes but also some cabbages too – transforming you into a wailing, thrashing, pedestrian-pushing, public-transporting-shouting sociopath.

What will be the straw that breaks the manger's back? What will be the excessive clumsy metaphor that causes your readers to go, 'Christ, she has really overcooked this'?

For me, in December, it was this harmless-looking pair of woolly grey tights.

I say harmless, but they do look like they were made to be worn by a 10-year-old child being evacuated from London in the Blitz, which is admittedly not exactly a risk-free scenario.

Some background on the monstrous tights:

They came from a fashion sale at work. The fashion sale, if you are unfamiliar with the interior workings of women's magazine publishing, is the less common sibling of the beauty sale, an in-office dignity-free display of savagery where women who purport to be cool taste-makers will commit random acts of violence against each other for the right to be the first to rummage through a cardboard box full of leaking shampoo samples and buy them for a fraction of their real price. A fashion sale is the textile equivalent: the leftovers from fashion shoots that haven't been returned to the labels who sent them in. Which is to say: shoes that are too big (standard sample size: 7), clothes that are too small, but often – in some shallow reworking of
Goldilocks – tights that are just right. (Models have long legs, so they mostly wear larger sizes. As do I.)

Tights that are just right, then. At least, that's what I thought when I pulled them free of an almighty spaghetti-junction of their siblings at the sale, and fell in love with their academic-grey, homespun-by-industrial-machinery cosiness. It's important to stress that they didn't look in any way small. No smaller than my other woolly tights. I checked this using scientific instrumentation in the days that followed my hosiery-related breakdown.

This was very much on my mind when I put them on at 8am on one of those today-is-going-to-be-incredibly-hard-work December snow days. Not a Snow Day. Oh no. Just a snow day, when you have to embrace your regular journey to work as though the sun was shining and the streets were clear. Let me tell you that there are few things better than putting on a new pair of socks, but putting on a new pair of tights is one of them. They gave me inner strength to face the journey ahead.

They gave me inner strength for about 50 metres. At this point, on my walk to the station, it occurred to me that the waistband of my beloved new tights was beginning to lose contact with my waist. Fifty more yards and it was clearly thinking of making an introduction to the tops of my thighs. At this point, I attempted my first hitch-up. It was not entirely successful.

I carried on along the quiet side streets to the station, where I could perform the occasion upward knitwear lunge with no witnesses. These attempted quick-fixes were unsatisfactory – what with the layers of winter coat and dress it was hard to gain a purchase. This meant that as I approached the station, my walking speed was accelerating as I tried to outpace my tights on their descent down my legs, hoping I would make it onto the platform and into the carriage before they became visible beneath the hem of my dress. I had also tried to affect a kind of legs-squeezed-together walk, in the hope that I would impede the tights' downward progress further. To a stranger, this, naturally, made me look as though I should have been to the toilet before I left the house, but didn't, and was beginning to regret it.

This was not the soothing start to the day I had in mind when I got dressed. Now I was flustered. I was disappointed. Yes, December was dragging me down. Still, I had made it onto the train. I was on my way to work, the train was not late, no social plans had been cancelled and I was illness-free (and bizarrely, I still am, although I keenly await the stomach bug which seems to occur around my birthday in mid-January. This may simply be a nauseous physical reaction to the fact that I am a year older and still do not like olives, an unable to swim and have yet to achieve numerous other, more crucial, life stages). I was safely sitting down in a chewing-gum-free seat. No one, thus far, had seen my gusset as it landed on my shoes. No further harm could be done to my mental state for the time being.

Fourteen minutes later, the train arrived at London Bridge. I waited till everyone else had left the carriage before standing up and performing a thorough act of hosiery redistribution, starting at the ankles, gathering upwards, gathering, gathering all the time, under the skirt and upwards, collecting the excess material in a bunch in my hand, then stretching it back up, high over the waist, leaving me in perfect comfort, perfectly covered. A maneouvre that was of particular fascination to one of the London Bridge platform staff who was watching me through the carriage window.

I left the train good as new. But by the time I had reached the ticket barrier, this fresh start was in vain. A new climbdown was upon me. A quick hitch in the anonymous crowds of the station, and I carried on my way. But down and down the tights went. I was now, officially, quite annoyed. And it became clear that the bad thing that was happening was now happening more quickly than ever. Outside, the streets of zone 1 were busy. It was less easy to adjust my undergarments unnoticed, but I had no choice. I had tried to assimilate the now-constant hitching process into some kind of hip-hop walk. A disaster, obviously, but I had little choice. I was also attempting to walk as quickly as possible in search of cover, and was impeded by dawdlers, standing-still smokers and tourists, and the treacherous winter conditions under foot. I was furious. Desperation made me increasing less subtle. I was now publicly digging and lunging at my thigh and waist area like a woman in the throes of a major hygiene issue. Or at the least, a irritable itchy skin condition. YES, IRRITABLE. TELL ME ABOUT IT.

The hitching gave way to simply holding up my tights as I walked. I'm not sure what I looked like by this point. Possibly a deranged woman desperately trying to hold her tights up, on the edge of a
Falling Down-style psychotic episode.

By the time I reached the branch of Marks & Spencer on Southwark Street, a journey of approximately seven minutes only, I felt capable of acts of violence on an epic scale. It was here that I bought a new pair of tights – boring black nylon, not lovely woolly grey, but I gripped them in in my hand like an oxygen mask in an emergency as I staggered the final few yards to safety of the office toilets where I could get changed.

This is why the decathlon is only 10 events, and not 11 - the eleventh discipline, which was outlawed by the IAAF for being too demanding, involved speed-walking to the workplace down a busy street while attempting to subtly keep up what have been officially ratified as the worst pair of tights in the world. I would like to see Thompson and Hingsen going to toe to toe on that one.