Friday, 30 May 2008

The fugitive

I am a little bit ashamed/a little bit thrilled to report that technically I am now living my life on the wrong side of the law. It smells different over here.

This is how it happened. I bought a dress from the website of a popular high-street clothing retailer some weeks ago. My humdrum Ms Average size, or any close approximation of it, had sold out of all local branches, and as a direct consequence, my desire to have it increased exponentially until it was entirely disproportionate to how much I wanted the item in the first place. So I tickled my Visa at the online branch and a few days later went on holiday, looking forward to the parcel that would be there on my return. As a borderline fantasist, I imagined a brown paper package tied up – of course – with string, as though it had fallen out of one of the chapters of Little Woman. Nobody dreams of a dull grey eezee-seal polythene sack. Where, I ask you, is the romance in seeing that wedged through your letterbox?

Anyway. I returned from mes vacances a week later, relaxed, tanned, glowing. At least one of these is true. 

There was no parcel.

There was, instead, a card from the courier company explaining that they had tried to deliver my dress, but that I was not in. No flies on our courier in that respect. But in the space where he was contractually obliged to write where he had left the parcel, he had written the cryptic legend 'Inside edges.'

Please explain, I said politely to the customer services department, after a thorough exploration of my front drive yielded no parcel. The call centre drone looked my order up on her computer. He left it behind a tree, she said. There are no trees on my front drive, I said. This did not bode well. I tried to express my conviction that it had been stolen, since to leave any package outside a house on a main road in south London - or any London – was reckless, to say the least. She said she would check again with the courier company and call me back later that day. With numbing predictability, 4 days passed.

When I rang back, a slightly more sentient drone agreed that it was a stupid thing to write on the card and a stupid non-place to leave a package and a refund was the only way forward. Especially as, in my head, I was beginning to doubt my commitment to the dress in the first place, and none of us are made of money.

About a week and a half later, I came home to find a scuffed up, dull grey eezee-seal polythene sack on the shelf in the hall, with a note from my downstairs neighbour saying 'Hi Hanna.' Luckily, with what was to come, he more or less recovered from this inauspicious start. 'I found this while I was cutting the hedge.'

It was, of course, the dress. The courier must truly have stuffed the package into the foliage, right up to his elbow. He is truly the James Herriott of couriers. A courier taxidermist. Whatever. I wondered then if 'inside edges' had actually been 'inside hedges' all along, just mangled by the inferior literacy of the courier? Mrs Jones said she had suspected this all along. She had neglected to mention it previously. Alternatively, the courier may simply have been a cockney.

But what would have happened if my neighbour had shirked the responsibilities stipulated by his lease, and not taken about the hedge with the shears?  As Miss Rush suggested, my dress could have been there for years, to be found in the future, Blue Peter time-capsule-style. Presumably the digitally sired robots finding it in the year 2070 would wonder why on earth anyone would want a knee-length viscose leopardprint dress, although it must be said that some people are wondering that right now.

So there I was with a refund in the bank and a dress. Those of you who are involved in Neighbourhood Watch, or who enjoy a TV crime drama, will have deduced that I am now a thief. But should I refund the refund? Is it a fair cop? Must I begin calling my superiors guv? 

Or should I run, run for my life with the dress on, and the high, patent shoes that would look best with it in a bag over my shoulder, to be put on when I've finished running?

I don't know what you would do, readers, but in the matter of Miss Jones versus The Man, I am claiming this as a tiny victory.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

News from the confectionary coalface

Snack fans, I discovered this today:

It is a Green & Black's Organic Nut & Seed Cereal Bar dipped in 70% dark chocolate. 

It is the most excited I have ever been in Holland & Barrett by quite some distance. And I think we all know Holland & Barrett is, on any day, a pretty exciting place.

With an all-hits-no-filler concentration of nuts and sweet stuff, and the plainest of all edible plain chocolate,  it has the finesse of a Florentine, without the wretched candied peel insidiously lurking. Yet it has the bulk and backbone of a flapjack. 

The Jones jury gives it a very affectionate 8.5 out of 1o.

Monday, 26 May 2008

The wages of sin

I can't be the only person who believes that advertising agencies are somehow infiltrating my brain using lasars and black magic, finding out what my favourite songs are, and then consummately ruining them by changing the lyrics in a clumsy, ham-fisted fashion and thinking that will seduce me into buying their products. 


The latest example: Charlotte Church advertising Virgin Holidays (like she needs the money! but wait, that is a different post) with a rubbish, reworded version of I Want It Now! from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. It is in my Top 10 songs from musicals, and don't think that's not a real list that exists in my head. Here, with a few minutes' preamble, is the original.

The whole concept of pillaging the classics reminds me of revising for exams at school and listening to a local radio station which had a really good indie show on weeknights. But, following the model of commercial radio, it worked on a ratio of about two songs by Kingmaker/The Wonder Stuff /James/other to four minutes of extremely low-rent adverts for local businesses. Perhaps the worst was for a company called Posh Windows And Conservatories, which bastardised Every Day by Buddy Holly, a simple, beautiful, totally perfect song. Whichever 'creative' realised that the name of the company would more or less, just about scan in the same way as 'Love like yours will surely come my way' probably got a pay rise but verily, they are the wages of sin. Even now I feel a shudder of violation whenever I find myself humming 'Every day, prices getting lower', which I do with surprising and hateful frequency. They probably think this means They have won. Comrades, They never will.

A few of my favourite things

Happiness is…

…a bank holiday, The Sound Of Music and remembering you have a bag of peanut butter M&Ms in the cupboard.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Sweet charity

The Oxfam bookshop on Kentish Town Road is a special cave of treasure that I always like to stop off at when I'm working in the area. You can see the majority of my haul above. But I also bought these beauties. Look! The artwork! The titles!

The inside cover blurb for I Thank A Fool begins 'To most of those around her Liane, the heroine of Miss Lindop's new novel appears to be touched in the head.'  Honestly, how can this, and its charity-shop sibling Come Hither Nurse, disappoint? In the unlikely event that they do, they were only 49p each, which I don't begrudge giving over to Oxfam one little bit. This is just one of the reasons why I am constantly tripping over piles of stuff in my flat, like a hoarding old man in a documentary about the environmental health services.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Paying the penalty

The fact that this no!-my-eyes, small-bit-of-sick-in-your-mouth image exists is, I am afraid, my fault.

I was out last night, and only got back for the very end of extra time in the Champions League Final. As I twisted and twitched my way through my usual routine of not quite bearing to be in the same room as a penalty shootout, but not wanting to totally miss it either, I managed to see Ronaldo not-scoring. 'Ha!' I thought. 'I don't even care if Manchester United win now, because that punchable little stoat has missed.' This was obviously an enormous untruth, because in the end I cared very much, in a deeply negative way, that Manchester United won, being a big non-fan. And I was punished by karma slapping me hard across the face, both for my falsehood and my utter lack of charity. Not to mention my prodigious ability to bear a grudge.

I have learnt an extremely sobering lesson about not taking joy in another person's misfortunes, even if they are Cristiano Ronaldo's, and also being careful what you wish for. I am today a chastened correspondant.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

More reasons to eat at Morrisons

The last time I was working in the same building as my friend Betty, she took me to the fashionable Engineer pub in Primrose Hill for lunch. This time, as if to keep my feet on the ground, she took me to Morrisons' coffee shop.

It is quite a heady contrast. You don't see many celebrity wife-swappers in there. You don't even see
Jade Goody. What you see are several white-haired old men quite alone, gazing down at their cooked lunch, cup and saucer of tea and slice of cheesecake. There's something about that combination of solitary elderly gentleman and coffee shop that forms a big black cloud over my head. In all likelihood, each one is probably just enjoying some quality Me Time before picking up his wife (who he's loved a little more with every one of their 50 years together) from the hairdresser, and needs my pity like he needs a faulty hearing aid.

Still, despite this melancholy spectacle, I am always cheered by a visit to somewhere that is by and large untouched by progress. The Morrisons cafeteria speaks of a time before soya lattes and health and safety. There is no barista to steam your milky drinks. Instead you are let loose in front of the hot beverage machine to create your own deranged cocktail of tea, coffee and hot chocolate, and self-harm at will with scalding water.

The menu features nothing to jar the senses. All the meals have been carefully chosen from a soothing colour palette of yellow, orange and brown – jacket potato with baked beans; jacket potato with tuna; omelette and chips; egg and chips; sausage and chips. Make up your own, if you like.

As I was paying the princely sum of £1.51 for a coffee and a teacake as big as my head (I am strangely in love with a teacake lately), I heard one of the orderlies shouting to a colleague: 'The customers are asking for forks again.' As though this was an outlandish demand equal to requesting a jacket potato garnished with the moon on a stick. 'They want what? We ate with our fingers in my day and it was good enough for us.'

To me, it is endlessly comforting to know that there is at least one corner of London where it is forever 1983 – the year of Thriller and All Night Long. And who on earth could not feel better for remembering this (which I'm also officially posting as a belated birthday dedication to Miss W)…

A Lynda Day Makes The Doctor OK. Or something

I read today on the Media Guardian website that Steven Moffat has been confimed as the new lead writer and executive producer of Doctor Who, succeeding Russell T Davies in the role.

Le Moffat has written several episodes of
Doctor Who over the last few series. Other bloggers would be able to tell you with lightning recall which ones they were, and whether he's well qualified for his new job. If you ask me, the best qualification Steven Moffat has for anything is that he wrote Press Gang, the most excellent children's drama series in the history of the world.

The next question is will David Tennant go with RTD too? Or will he go with R2D2? Ha! No, but if he does, who could possibly replace Tennant and his family-friendly face? 

I will tell you. 

Steven Moffat should look no further than Julia Sawalha, reprising her role as Lynda Day, tough-talking, cardigan-favouring editor of the Junior Gazette, but now reincarnated as the first ever lady Doctor. She would be AWESOME. Lynda was academically brilliant, a take-charge kind of gal, but emotionally retarded – perfect for the rootless time-traveller swooping through the dimensions, never quite belonging. Imagine her indignantly facing down the Cyberman with only a bout of hiccups betraying her terror.

I have long been a disciple of Lynda's. As an impressionable youngster, she was my style icon. Where she, in her flippy skirts, heavy shoes and patterned shirts, led, I attempted to follow. Nearly 20 years later, I don't think I have strayed far from the path that much. And as I think about it, I still have pretty much her haircut.

Failing that, I would settle for Paul Bettany. Thanks.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Leader of the pac-a-mac

In preparation for my recent expedition to Scotland, I decided to do something I've never done before, something I've always been a little bit scared of. Yet somehow, in my mid 30s, it seemed to be the right time to take the step.

I bought a cagoule.

It is black – classic, understated. It fits in a mesh pouch that is slightly bigger than a box of Nairn's Oatcakes. It opens properly, all the way down, rather than with a tiny neck cavity which demands you have a diploma in escapology to put it on or take it off. It is, the man in the Lewisham branch of Millets was quick to ensure me, 'breathable', which is a boon if you enjoy breathing, as I very much do. The label is 'Regatta', which seems to me to denote a level of sophistication above and beyond the Peter Storms of the waterproof world. I feel strongly that I am wearing the Gucci of cagoules – tailored, timeless, elegant.

There is little more say, apart from that I already feel a level of fondness for it that has surprised me. It's a little early to use the L word – but who knows what depths of emotion may reveal themselves during the storms we are destined to share. And I like myself as a cagoule-wearer. I feel responsible. I have purpose. I have really useful pockets. I feel as though it's only a matter of time before I know every flavour of Cup-A-Soup. Unfortunately you cannot sidle up behind someone quietly to steal, say, a particularly enticing item from their picnic. Rustling is an issue. This is a tiny drawback, since I believe cagoule-wearers are mostly honest. But if anyone was brilliant enough to invent the stealth cagoule, well… I would bake that person a cake.

So these days, I am emphatically PC (pro-cagoule), and contemplating a one-woman mission to bring the waterproof to the fashion forefront. Celebrities! Join me! I've already done some of the styling for you. Presenting…

The Carrie Bradshaw:

The Betty Suarez:

The Victoria Beckham:

My own pac-a-mac diffusion range for Topshop can only be weeks away…

Thursday, 15 May 2008

The love of my life

Say what you like about Prince Charles. He bakes a good biscuit. The Duchy Originals range are some of my favourite ever flourbuttersugar-based helpings of heaven. Marks & Spencer make highly commendable high-street offerings. Harvey Nichols are all style over substance. I could go on.

But my point is: a new addition has ascended to the pantheon, and now nothing can ever be the same again.

Oh, celestial marriage of shortbread, dark chocolate and magical limeyness, I love you like no other. I could never care for the chocolate lime in confectionary form. They are hard work for scant reward. But somehow I was gifted the strength to see beyond this poor relation, and in the biscuit aisle of the Tobermory Bakery it was as though some kind of higher power was moving my cagouled left arm towards the shelf and lifting a box of Island Bakery Chocolate Limes through the air towards me. There can truly be no finer biscuit in heaven.

Thank goodness for the power of the Chocolate Limes to purge the senses, as I started the day in a state of some confusion. No, I mean even more than the usual bovine a.m. fog. When my alarm went off, I was in the thick of a dream where I was in an episode of Doctor Who. Not as an actress battling Moderate Alien Peril, but actually living it, as though I'd taken Le Tennant's hand and climbed into my television set (like in the Take On Me video, although that was a magazine), and was right there in the world of marching monsters and badly dressed assistants. Annoyingly, on waking I could remember hardly any details that would enable me to sell the outline to the BBC and buy nothing but biscuits made by The Island Bakery with the profits, but I remember that I could Trust No One, and also that if you spread butter over your hands, you could repel the enemy with them, like some kind of bad-ass articulated teacake. 

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Home sweet home

I am, as they used to say in the glory days of Smash Hits, back back back! Although perhaps not with enough news to warrant an over-excited exclamation mark. I have only been to Scotland, after all. Not the Congo. Not the Crusades. I am not, metaphorically or otherwise, riding through the streets on an open-topped bus holding the FA Cup. Or even the FA Trophy. But still, since we last spoke I have seen with my own eyes real-life puffins and otters gambolling in the wild, and I don't believe that I am not irrevocably changed by these experiences. How? I cannot tell yet, but you will be the first to know.

These are just a few small things I have learnt in my time away.
  • The Angel Of The North is, like all famous people, shorter in real life than she looks on telly. We spotted her from the train on the way to Glasgow, after following excellent directions from my friend Mr Taylor, a native of the north-east ('right-hand window of the carriage, stay alert from Durham'). Mrs Jones, the retired art historian (although I wonder if this is a calling from which you can never truly retire), was wildly excited. 
  • Old people really, really like ice cream. At many of the destinations I visit with my mum, the grey army is marauding – and they have well and truly taken the Inner Hebrides. It seemed that every which way I turned, there was a pensioner gleefully unpeeling a Cornetto or excitedly fumbling to unwedge the teeny plastic spade from the lid of some upmarket hand-churned lifestyle brand. These specimens were recorded on the Oban to Mull ferry:
I'm not sure how or why this love affair came about. But perhaps as your ageing body slowly dries out, shrinks and atrophies, unwrapping an ice cream and enjoying every last delicious drip that runs down your fingers is the kind of sensual experience you may be starting to miss.

There are, however, always exceptions. One night, at a restaurant in Tobermory, our dinner was soundtracked by a tiny, crooked old lady at the next table who had hair like Douglas Hurd and a very high, penetrating Northern voice which could have been field-recorded by Nick Park for
Creature Comforts. That day, I had been reading A Prayer For Owen Meany, whose eponymous hero sounds similarly high-pitched, and now I find I cannot differentiate the two in my mind, so I will have to capitalise her dialogue, as Owen's is in the book. While I was in the loo, my mum overheard the following: 'I CAN NEVER EAT AN ICE LOLLY DOWN TO THE STICK. I JUST CAN'T!' This made me and Mrs Jones (not the song, obviously) laugh till tears ran down our faces, but perhaps we'd just caught too much of the sun. I wonder why she could never finish the job. Perhaps she was particularly susceptible to splinters. We all have our physical frailties.
  • Chaffinches really like cheese. 

Who knew? I did not, but this was a particularly excellent local Cheddar. I could not blame him/her (I don't know the difference, but I imagine plumage is key) one little bit.
  • My mother is a slave to The Sunday Times. She wears the yoke of its oppressively infinite number of supplements. Our holiday stretched over two Sundays – representing the first and second times she had been in the country and not bought a copy of the paperboy-crippler. I asked her how she felt without it – anxious, fearful, as though she was missing a limb? 'Relieved,' she said. 'I know that it's not hanging over me for the whole week.' She was free of her chains. I cannot remember a time when The Sunday Times was not a part of the Parental Jones' weekend. Although there was a brief period many many years ago, it must have been the 70s, when some kind of strike ensued at Sunday Times Towers, and The Observer made a fleeting appearance at number 9 Arber Close, Bottisham. Even as a tot, I recognised that it looked all wrong fanned out across the Parental Jones' sitting room carpet and, later, lining the vegetable rack. It was like an unwanted newsprint foundling we discovered on the doorstep that never really fitted in. I knew that however kind we, as a family, tried to be to it, we could never truly accept it as one of our own.
  • Plum sorbet is one of life's myriad tiny disappointments.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Au revoir

I will be taking an enforced week off from the blog, but will return with stories of rites of passage and extraordinary garments that have recently found their way into the Jones portmanteau. Thank you to my small but loyal band of browsers for the browsing you have done until this point. I will see you, metaphorically speaking, very soon. Until then, as Daniel Day-Lewis says in Last Of The Mohicans: Be strong, survive, stay alive. I will find you.

Daniel Day-Lewis is like myself, very pallid. We are probably distantly related. Or perhaps we resided in the same sanitorium for consumptives in a previous life. Also, my hair quite often looks like this. But I don't even have to be runnng.