Thursday, 26 August 2010

In which I contemplate the deal-breakers

Ahead of India Knight’s appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour this morning, she took to Twitter to ask the twittersphere what would constitute a deal breaker in a relationship.

Ha, easy, I said, as I fired off an email to JournoGal. An attachment to the ex; an over-attachment to the mother; political apathy; political daftness; poor spelling; bad grammar; pronouncing it ‘expresso’; horrid fingernails. For starters.

But actually, having given the topic some thought (nothing like shutting the stable door after the horse has sent the email), I’ve come to the conclusion that my assumptions aren’t particularly accurate.

Despite having come into contact with the majority of those charming attributes at some point in my dating history, they’ve never actually constituted ‘deal breakers’. They’re unpleasant, definitely, and one too many “expressos” is likely to result in a withering look and a link to that Mitchell and Webb sketch (and, very possibly, a copy of Nancy Mitford’s Noblesse Oblige. Where an expresso lurks, there’s likely to be a serviette). But not a termination of a flirtation (unlike Best Mate, who once refused to go on a date with a chap she met in a club on the basis of the poor spelling in his text messages).

In fact, previous dalliances have survived most of the above, including over-attachments to the mother (though how, I don’t know. Phonecalls from a man’s mother when you and he are in bed at 7.30am on a Saturday are not welcome things).

What they’ve not survived have beenthings I wouldn’t necessarily have anticipated.

The first is being a picky eater. There was a while, some time ago, where I had a few tentative lunches with Him Upstairs – a chap who worked in one of the other offices in the building. He was sweet enough, but there was something I just couldn't put my finger on.

"Eventually," I said to JournoGal over dinner, "I worked it out. He was a really picky eater."

She looked at me. "Blonde, you're a vegetarian."

"I know. I have no explanation for it, and I sure as hell can't justify it. But it just added to his general demeanour of exceptional wetness - he wouldn't eat meat; he refused to go anywhere near bread... I want man to order a steak, and order it bloody. And anyway, if he doesn't have a proper appetite when it comes to food... Well, it doesn't bode well, does it?"

Of course, a good appetite isn't what you're after when that appetite is for large amounts of coke. I never thought I'd find myself in the position where substance dependence made it onto a list of things that'll end a relationship for me, but then life's a funny old thing.

And when someone's fondness for the stuff results in the irritability, unpredictability and paranoia that ultimately manifests itself in a row to end all blazing rows; a girl genuinely frightened of the person standing in front of her, then it's probably time to call it a day.

Something else I never thought would make the list, but did in a very real way is the making of terrible, terrible career choices.

As a general rule, I'm not a fan of the ultimatum - it amounts to little more than blackmail, and if you're having to employ such tactics in any relationship then you're better off out of it.

But when Minor Celeb was offered some work that made every fibre of my being shout 'No! Don't do it! It's a terrible, terrible idea!" I told him exactly how I felt.

I laid out the facts as I saw them, and explained that I'd be deeply uncomfortable with the situation. So uncomfortable, in fact, that I wouldn't be able to be a part of it. If he wished to do it, he should go ahead, but he couldn't expect me to stick around.

In the end, he chose me, rather than the project.

Selfish perhaps, but even now I would argue it was absolutely the right thing to do - as much if not more for him than for me - and if I were in the same situation, I'd do it again.

None of which means I'll ever be happy about a poorly spelled text message.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

In which I reflect on my surroundings

This week marks a year since I bought and moved into Blonde Towers, and it’s a milestone that’s come round with frightening speed. Even now, I’m not past feeling like a fraud every time I put my key into the lock: I’m still not entirely sure I should be trusted to live alone, let alone owning the place I’m living alone in.

In what I’m advised by The Father is true homeowner fashion, there are several (hundred) things on the house to-do list that I rather assumed would be done and dusted by this point in the process. I’m yet to paint (anywhere. Oops); commission some art for the very blank sitting room wall and – despite complaints from several hundred house guests – fit mirrors to any room that’s not my bedroom.

But in my year of owning and occupying, I have learnt a few small but crucial lessons.

- Read the paperwork from your mortgage provider carefully. It might well list the address of your new home, for which they’re lending you a little cash, incorrectly. Ideal? Not so much.

- Curtains and associated paraphernalia are objectionably expensive.

- It’s worth having the housewarming before you paint, wallpaper or acquire new, neutral carpets.

- Cleaners are worth their weight in gold.

- Don’t let your father see you wield a screwdriver. The look of hurt that’ll cross his face when he realises you don’t need him to put up a picture or assemble furniture is utterly heartbreaking.

- You either have spiders or dust. If you have a cleaner, you’ll have no dust. An inquisitive and greedy kitten is an ideal acquisition to deal with the pesky arachnids.

- If your teenage years were anything like mine, you’ll have spent much time hearing the words: “Not while you’re living under my roof! When you have your own house, you can do as you please.” It’s lies. It doesn’t matter how old you are, nor the size of your mortgage: opinions (unsolicited) will be given on everything from the wisdom of adopting aforementioned kitten (foolish) to the acquisition of a garden shed (necessary) via your chosen energy supplier (I can’t remember. I wasn’t listening).

- If you managed to nab your late grandmother’s fabulous art nouveau bookcase with the silver panelling on the sides in the great 2008 Claiming of Stuff and have housed it, unbeknownst to your favourite cousin, in your spare room, do let him know before he comes to stay.

- Get to know your neighbours, but only to the right degree. Enough that they’ll take in parcels whilst you’re at work. Not so much that they’ll feel you’re good enough friends that they can ask difficult questions about exactly what the noise was that sounded suspiciously like a headboard banging against the wall.

It remains to be seen whether, by this time next year, I’ll have learnt anything further. Or whether the sitting room is still the same colour.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

In which job applications make me crazy

I’m going to go out on a slightly controversial limb: I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the reason that graduate unemployment is high has less to do with the number of jobs available than it does the calibre of the graduates.

Our Lovely Intern recently announced her resignation, saying she's been inspired by her sister to take off travelling. Columbia's gain is our loss, because she's absolutely cracking. Great at the job from the word go, she's delivered more coverage for one of our clients than is strictly decent. So, to take her place and help us keep swimming through the workload, we've recently opened applications for an internship at Small but Perfectly Formed Agency.

The quality of the applicants is, to put it mildly, disappointing.

Internships in PR: a guide to glaring mistakes that’ll ensure you don’t get the gig.

- My name and details are on the job spec - it's fairly safe to assume I'm the one who'll be deciding your fate. Address the application to me - not to who [sic] it may concern; not to someone whose name would bear a passing resemblance to mine if mine were hideously misspelled; and not to Dear Sir. That's just insulting.

- If I've asked for a covering letter, write one. If there's just one line in your email saying “CV attached”, you either don’t have an eye for detail or you don’t bother following instructions. That CV? It won’t even get opened.

- Check your covering letter. Then do it again. Then get someone else to. If there are errors, I've discounted you before I’ve even opened your CV. Yes, you'll be here to learn, but also here to help. And if I have to check every email you're going to send before it leaves the building, everyone's time is being wasted.

- If you’re after a job in the communications industry, be able to spell “communications”.

- I'm expecting flawless spelling, punctuation and grammar. The first sign that you confuse there and their, and your chances of success are nil.

- I’m all for applying for a job if you feel you’d be great at it, even if you don’t quite have all the qualifications listed as ‘required’. But you're going to have to really convince me that you’re up to the challenge. If I’ve asked that you have a 2.1 and you've got a 2.2, tell me why I should take that chance: show me the excellent writing and flair I've asked for. Don’t just apply because the position’s been advertised. It’ll be another job that you don’t get, wasting my time and making you feel rubbish.

- On which note, if you've got a degree, be a love and list your result. If you don't, I'm going to assume you drank your way through the three years and were lucky to scrape that Third. Needless to say, you won’t be hearing from me.

Yes, I'm a stickler; I have a horribly rigorous selection process and maybe my standards are a little on the high side. But that’s because that’s sure as hell what’ll be expected when New Intern is actually doing the job. There's no room for anything less at our place, so an application needs reflect the applicant’s normal standards, not a one-off example of exceptional effort.

Because there's no way you can hope to practise PR if you have difficulties spelling it.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

In which I ponder the irresistible man

In pondering recently what makes a truly great first date, I was also led to contemplate what’s appealing in a boy in general (that’s what it took to think about it, because I obviously don’t spend train journeys; tube journeys; time waiting in the queue at the post office and any other idle moment I get contemplating hot boys. Oh no no).

And, not wanting to give you just my opinions on the matter, I did a little crowdsourcing amongst the girls, to make sure what I think is scrummy isn’t skewed and idiosyncratic, but representative of at least a whole three women… So, should you be determined to make your dalliance fall irretrievably in lust, here are a few things it won’t hurt to have:

- The ability to laugh at yourself. Yeah, we like successful men, powerful men, ambitious and driven men. But we don’t like successful, powerful, ambitious and driven men who believe their own hype. We’d far rather spend the night giggling and joking around in a dingy pub, or sharing takeaway on the sofa if the alternative is Philip Green.

- Lovely hands (I did think it might just be me, and that I’d developed some kind of crazy hand fetish, but it’s not. JournoGal and Best Mate have both backed me up on this one). There’s something wonderful about a man’s hands - and all the more so if they’re well-kept. You don’t need to visit a manicurist (in fact, please don’t visit a manicurist) - just don’t bite your nails. And if you can sneak the occasional dollop of your housemate’s expensive hand cream, so much the better.

- A sense of tactility. At the right time and place, obviously: there’s a difference between being tactile and just being gropey, and we don’t want to be felt up under the table at Sunday lunch with Ma and Pa (well, actually, sometimes we do. But do it subtly). A quick squeeze of the shoulders whilst you’re behind us on the escalator; an arm thrown round the shoulders when you’re walking along next to us; a hand on the waist and a quick peck to the forehead when you pass through the kitchen: all good. All very, very good.

- A great aftershave. I know, I’ve said it before, but this can’t be overstated - and anyway, it’s not just me: this was a unanimous choice. I quote: Best Mate: “Decent aftershave is irresistible. A really good one can stop a girl in the street.” You heard it here first.

- A lovely gravelly voice. A hot accent has never hurt anyone either (I’m a big fan of (in no particular order) gentle Irish; lilting Scotch; a hint of South African or a nice, crisp RP), but that’s a bonus. If you’re a bit squeaky in the vocal department, take up smoking and whisky drinking. Ignore what the NHS says - it’s hot. Exhibit A: Don Draper.

- Stubble. Yes, we bitch and moan about the rash it gives us (mainly because it makes you harder to hide from our mothers and gossipy bosses), but we don’t mean it. It makes you look hot. And anyway, that’s what Liz Arden’s 8 hour cream was made for.

- The ability to give good hug. We love our girlfriends. We love the hours we spend with them, nattering about the flaws in the Kimberley process, or the finer points of morality in Blair giving his book profits to the RBL (ok, ok - or True Blood and shoes. Whatever). But they can’t give big, all-consuming, wrap-you-up-like-you-might-stop-breathing, everything’s-going-to-be-okay bear hugs. Hug us right, and we might just never let you go.

Friday, 13 August 2010

In which I pin down the perfect first date

I’ve had a few dates in my time (no shit, Sherlock). And, as not all of them have led to anything more fruitful, it should come as no surprise that I’ve had rather more than a lioness’ share of first dates.

From that wealth of experience in the field, I think I have now boiled down the elements that, when combined, will elicit that most elusive of beings: a great first date. And so boys, here I give you what you need to make her head spin, and have her begging for more (not like that, obviously. That would be a whole other post, and anyway, this isn’t that type of blog)...

- Make a little effort. You don’t need to be suited and booted (although I know few women who can resist a chap in a nice, crisp shirt), but do at least be clean. Pick a half-decent t-shirt and wear good shoes. We notice the shoes.

- Stick a little scent on as you leave the office. Good aftershave is a knee-buckling turn-on.

- Take control - pick the location; order the wine. She’s almost certainly thinking about whether her hair’s done that frizzy thing or whether she should have worn the other jeans. Give her one less thing to think about. She’ll thank you for it - and it'll make you look more manly into the bargain.

- It doesn’t matter if the evening's thrown a few curveballs; if the location isn’t perfect; if there are a few awkward conversations. Own up; laugh about it. A touch of justified self-deprecation in an otherwise confident chap? Adorable.

- The location doesn’t have to be grand - in fact, it’s preferable if it’s not. A cosy bar where you can sit close enough to hear each other talk and she can watch your fingers move as you talk (just trust me - men’s hands? We love ‘em) is far better.

- Put the effort in and listen to her. Concentrate. Ask intelligent questions. Yes, it takes effort. But it’s more likely to result in your eventually getting her into bed. But not tonight. You’re not even going to suggest THAT, because you’re not only interested in getting into her knickers. Obviously.

- Let her know a few personal details about you. A couple of facts about the family will go a long way to making her feel like you’re really letting her in. But keep it simple. She doesn’t need to know the harrowing story about the time at school that you got locked out on the roof whilst naked. Yet.

- Flirt, but do it nicely. No leering; no overtly suggestive chat. Lingering eye contact and gentle smiles will do nicely.

- Don’t clock-watch. And, if circumstances allow and you’re enjoying the evening, propose moving on somewhere else. Suggesting you don’t want the evening to end is a huge compliment (we're vain creatures. Massage our egos).

- If there’s an opportunity towards the end of the evening to kiss her, kiss her. And do it well (nothing so quick to break a deal as a sloppy snog). But don’t leave it to the very end of the night - it’s too cliché. That kiss will tell you everything you need to know about what she’s thinking.

- At the end of the night, walk her back to whatever mode of transport she’s using to get home. When you both walk away, be looking over your shoulder - just in case she does. Butterflies and brownie points a-gogo.

- Don’t play it cool. Give it 20 mins after you’ve left her, then text asking her to let you know she’s got home safely. We like to know we’ve left a good enough impression that you’re still thinking about us (again with the ego). And a few old-school manners will always hit the spot.

- Still don’t play it cool. If it’s gone well (trust me: you’ll be able to tell), text her the following day. Suggest another date. Ooh look, it’s that ego again: stroke it just right, and you’ll have us eating out of your hands (and yes, possibly just like that...).

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

In which I have one of my more unusual mid-date conversations

After the unanticipated first-time question on a recent first date - “have you ever cheated on anyone?” - came the equally unanticipated follow-up: “so did you tell him?”.

I’ve had some interesting first date conversations in my time (although the one about the perfect Malachite bathroom tile wasn’t one of them. And the one about the hypoallergenic kittens was far beyond the realms of merely interesting). But this was definitely a first.

One might argue that it’s actually a clever discussion to instigate on a first date: your date’s behaviour when answering the question will probably tell you as much as the answer itself. And so, I stirred my mojito (they were meant to be Martinis. Ah, deaf barmen) and hoped that my answer- to some, quite controversial - wouldn’t scare off my date.

“No. I didn’t see any point.”

And I didn’t.

My relationship with The Voice, such as it was, was deeply casual; a classic case of expiration dating in the last couple of months of my degree. The slip-up with Speckled Lad happened after a night in our favourite Edinburgh bar: gins led to whisky led to… well. Quite. It was only once I’d packed him off to the library for Finals revision the following lunchtime and left the shower that a text on my phone from The Voice reminded me that I had, in fact, turned into a big, cheating hussy.

Taking it as a great big reiteration that whatever TV and I were doing had no future, I broke up with him in extremely civilised manner a couple of days later. But I had no intention of telling him what had really happened to end things, other than pointing to the fact that we were about to be living 400 miles apart. And given the casual nature of our relationship, I decided that in this particular break-up situation, honesty wasn’t the best policy.

Contrary to received wisdom, I don’t necessarily think that honesty is de facto the right course of action where an infidelity is concerned. Because, examined more closely, when it comes down to it the reasons for disclosing an infidelity aren’t generally in the spirit of keeping no secrets from one’s partner.

They’re about disclosure for disclosure’s sake; about assuaging the guilt that you feel you can’t shoulder by yourself. If it’s a one-off incident, inconsequential, not leading to anything more then you’re only going to hurt them by telling them - and however you look at it, that can’t ever be the kindest thing to do.

But if the reason for telling your partner is that you genuinely believe they deserve to know; that it’s a symptom of an underlying problem in the relationship that needs sorting, rather than a one-off misdemeanour; that you believe they deserve to know the facts in order to make their own mind up about whether the relationship has a future, then fair enough.

In my case, it would definitely have been the former, for which there was no need.

Quite whether I articulated all that effectively mid-mojito, I have no idea. But I imagine he regretted asking.

Monday, 9 August 2010

In which I play hostess to a badly behaved guest

It’s not ground-breaking news that when it comes to romantic dalliances, like so much else in life, we’re creatures of habit.

Old Friend is essentially a serial monogamist, moving straight from one longish relationship to the next in a matter of weeks, with - to paraphrase another friend - periods of ‘serial sluttishness’ in between.

Me, I’m more disastrous. I tend to dally long enough to discover I quite like someone before spectacularly screwing things up (don’t ask me how: I don’t know either).

And Speckled Lad? Well, Speckled’s behaviour continues to be unfailingly bad. His foibles when it comes to flirtations past and previous have been well-documented. And, I’m not entirely thrilled but unsurprised to say, he’s showing no signs of changing his spots.

It was several weeks ago now that I was in the pub with Hot Flyer Boy, waiting for Speckled to unstick himself from the motorway traffic that was delaying him from starting his Home Counties weekend. An hour or so, and some post-work, on-train applied eyeliner later (I know, cardinal sin, I know), and I was sitting outside the local Italian with Speckled Lad and a bottle of red.

Not having seen each other since he commissioned (and he got grumpy with me for flirting with boys), there was much to talk about. So, we poured ourselves a glass each and caught up on each other’s lives. I told him about exciting new clients and he told me a load of stuff I didn’t understand about firing things from tanks. We discussed his plans to buy a house and a speedy new car once he heads out to European Base; as this was pre-that text message, I told him about Tall, Dark and Handsome.

Speckled then mentioned, briefly and somewhat sheepishly, the girl he had been seeing for months since commissioning (the fact he’d not previously mentioned hide nor hair of a hint of her is par for the Speckled course).

A little more red and supper later, we found ourselves back on my sofa, indulging in a couple of late night Laphroigs.

Suddenly, I felt a hand on my cheek and warm whisky breath on my lips.

“Speckled, no…” I pushed him away and raised an eyebrow.

“What?” He leant towards me.

“No, I’m seeing someone.”

“So? So am I… But only till I leave.”

I've chosen not to think too closely about the fact that Speckled still seems to think that an acceptable way of ending a relationship is to leave the country.

And a recent dinner party was not much different. As with apparently all Blonde dinner parties, there was not only dinner, but more drinks before brunch the following day and an afternoon in front of films with tea and homemade cookies.

“So, what time did everyone leave eventually?” Best Mate asked on the phone on the Monday evening, having been one of the earlier departures around 2pm.

“Ooh, about 24 hours after they arrived,” I said, staring into the fridge working out how on earth I was going to eat all the leftover cheese before it went off.
“Hah. I bet that pissed Speckled off. Given his flirting on Saturday night, and the fact that he spent most of the morning looking like he was willing everyone to leave so you two could just have sex already” (Best Mate: telling it like it is since 1998).

“Hmm. Well, he might well have been willing that. Sadly for him, I was just less willing full stop. Seriously. When is he going to learn?!”

The answer to that? I doubt he ever will.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

In which I consider what it takes to play by the rules

One of the advantages of a week off work in which one’s planned to do exceptionally little is that there’s plenty of time to have one’s hair cut mid-week, mid-afternoon.

Thus it was that I found myself sat in the hairdressers’ chair, tea to one hand and a whole rack of dodgy gossip magazines to the other. And, having read more than I cared to know about a whole variety of non-slebs (none of which I can remember, incidentally), I came across an article in this month’s Company magazine.

The basic premise of the piece was that, with the advent of digital technology, it’s becoming ever easier to cheat on our partners - and, as Ashley Cole and Vernon Kay would presumably find it hard to dispute, easier to get caught. But, the piece went on to consider, given that the boundaries between what’s acceptable behaviour and what’s not seem to have lapsed, what does constitute cheating?

There were varying opinions from several different women, ranging from pretty much “anything goes” to essentially the opposite.

One opinion given was that any behaviour you wouldn’t want your partner to know about constitutes unfaithfulness. As a general rule of thumb, I think it makes sense - whether it’s a few overly flirtatious emails or a full on dirty weekend away in a country hotel, if you know your partner wouldn’t be best pleased were they to discover the behaviour, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

(By the by, subscribing to this particular theory, apparently, according to the article, makes me a prude. It’s the first time that word’s ever been applied to me, but there’s clearly a first time for everything. I wonder how long it’s been that expecting a little fidelity made one a prude? I can see how one might acquire the label if objecting to a few dirty text messages from one’s other half, but surely wishing one’s other half not to send lascivious emails to other people is probably excusable?)

The question of cheating was one posed to me recently - another first, given that it was on a first date. I forget how we got there now but it came after several drinks, and in the last bar of the evening.

“So, have you ever cheated on anyone?”

I was slightly surprised by the question, but given we'd already covered excessive weekly alcohol consumption, families and exes, I figured that it was probably fair enough, and cast my mind over misdemeanours various.

“Yes, once.” He looked at me. “I’m not proud of it, but I ended up in bed with one guy at university, genuinely totally forgetting that I was seeing someone else. Not my finest hour. You?”

He shook his head. “No, never.”

Great, I thought. Now I look like a harlot - and a particularly dippy one at that.

But then again, maybe it’s not as bad as I fear: maybe he just has a different definition. Which, of course, is probably not ideal either...
 

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