Wednesday, 27 October 2010

In which I make my red carpet debut

“I've got two tickets to a screening at the London Film Festival,” Country Girl said on the phone as I balanced it on my shoulder, hands plunged into a bowl of soapy washing up with barely a thought for the manicure. “The BFI will put us up in a hotel and give us dinner too. Fancy it?”

“Ooh, yes please,” I said, scrabbling round for the inevitable missed teaspoon in the bottom of the bowl.

“Great," she said, “I'll email details over.”

In the middle of a hectic week, I didn't think too much about it until I was racing around the house the evening beforehand trying frantically to find my glasses so I could actually see the film.

Is there a dress code for this thing? I texted, hoping that I wouldn't have to think about getting changed into posh frocks in the very small office loos.

Hope not! She texted back. Jacket and jeans for me.

A little more frantic hunting, and I found the glasses under a pile of the weekend's newspapers on top of a rather forlorn and pathetic half-completed crossword, and threw them into a ratty gym bag with some semi- presentable pyjamas and a clean top.

Scurrying out of the office the following evening, I hopped into the car that the BFI had sent and that CG had waiting (I say that like it was effortless. There was much phone contact and frantic scrabbling round the back streets of Bloomsbury until I found her and the car. Smooth and dignified it wasn't).

“Hi Blonde, I’ve er… got a bit of a surprise for you. It's... well, I've just been told by John the Lovely Driver that tonight’s a red carpet thing.”

“Hmm?” I said, not really concentrating as I clambered into the car, trying not to shut the door on the new tweed coat. "Hang on, there we… What, sorry?! It's a WHAT thing?!”

“Red carpet, apparently. It’s, er, the European premiere.”

“But we don't have to walk up the carpet, surely?!” I squeaked, my heart sinking as I considered my hair, whooshing down through my stomach as I thought about the jeans I had on, and falling to my feet as I contemplated the decidedly unglamorous, suspiciously comfortable ancient knee boots I was sporting.

“John, are you SURE there's no other entrance?” CG pleaded.

“‘Fraid not, my love,” said John the Driver, sounding suspiciously un-sorry about the whole affair.

“Right, well there’s only one thing for it, then,” I said, deciding that the situation wasn’t going to right itself. I reached to the floor and dug around in the also deeply unglamorous, large, leather bag I haul around on a daily basis, big enough to contain lunch, a large novel, a notebook, my purse, an umbrella, specs, make-up, several spare pairs of earrings, some loose change, the world’s supply of Kirby grips, a box of business cards, an elderly copy of Shortlist, hand cream, Ischian bus tickets and the Large Hadron Collider. I looked at the bag for a moment, and was struck by the total lack of desire to drag it, and a ratty Reebok gym bag, up a red carpet on which Helena Bonham Carter would be looking glorious in Vivienne Westwood. “John, can I leave these in the car?”

“‘Course you can, love.”

“Great, thank you.” I turned back to the matter in hand. “There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by the application of more eyeliner.” I upped the kohl on the eyes, slipped my glasses into my coat pocket and scrunched up my hair in a desperate bid to make it do something other than ‘meh’ as we pulled into Leicester Square, men pulling aside the barriers as the car came to a halt.

“I cannot believe we’re going to do this,” CG said to me, as we opened the doors to a salvo of camera flashes that quickly came to a halt as the photographers realised we absolutely weren’t who they wanted.

“Me neither,” I replied, holding my knees together as I swung my legs out of the car (Granny would have been proud).

I still can’t quite believe it – that it happened at all; that I didn’t fall over; and that I might just have been the first person on the planet to wear Gap on the red carpet.

*The King’s Speech is out in the UK in January. It’s an utterly glorious piece of film-making, and deserves to have all Oscars, ever, thrown at it. You heard it here.

Monday, 25 October 2010

In which I ponder the wisdom of dating and Facebook

I have recently taken what I consider to be a very large leap in my dalliance with The Northerner: I’ve accepted his friendship request on Facebook (ah, 21st century dating: it’s all romance, innit?). It’s a move unprecedented for me with previous romantic dalliances and one that, I believe, is fraught with dangers.

Facebook is one of those portals where people feel inclined to overshare the minutiae of their everyday lives (follow me on Twitter here, folks) – and let’s face it: most of us (if you’re doing it right) don’t have lives that live up to the exacting standards we’d wish to be seen by prospective partners.

The immediate and obvious panic is that they can see not only the pictures you’ve chosen to share, but also the ones your friends have insisted on tagging, whether it’s the carefully chosen profile pic where you’re looking sober and semi-presentable, or the ill-advised, unflattering close-up from the Hogmanay party where you appear to have drunk rather more than is attractive.

That, of course, works both ways. In a rare, snatched moment of peace whilst one sits at the desk munching on a sandwich, a wander through the photographs of a man with whom one is dallying can be an alarming thing. Pictures of Christmases and festivals, dinner parties and birthdays, proof of his prowess in the kitchen and a large social circle are all very well until you stumble across the picture of said chap in a dress with no apparent explanation, and suddenly you’ve snorted Diet Coke all over the keyboard and are considering one’s dating position whilst trying to avoid probing questions from one’s colleagues.

Another possible case of peril is that they’re able to snoop through the communications you have with other friends. If you’re like me (which, frankly, I wouldn’t wish on anyone), it probably wouldn’t take Chap in Question too long to work out that the ‘good friend’ who’s already cropped up in passing conversation has actually, at some point, been rather more than that, because there’s something not quite right about the tone of the messages he leaves on your wall, and those photos with him probably evoke just a whispered sense of we’ve seen each other naked. Of course, the less said about his brother, the better.

And as if that weren’t all bad enough, there’s the fact that having easy immediate access to so much information is frankly sucking what romance there is out of dating. Part of the joy of the early stages of seeing someone is discovering things about them, learning what makes them tick and the things you’ve got in common. But knowing before you’ve asked what they read at which university; that they like the XX and recently lost the house hamster to old age somehow detracts from the excitement of the dating process.

Of course, the jury’s still out on whether all of that is better or worse than his being able to see that, however many embarrassing photos or otherwise there are of you and your friends, there are at least three times as many of your cat.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

In which I consider whether it's acceptable to change things about the man one's dating

“Well, those are things that could be changed…” JournoGal said, in typically pragmatic fashion as I lay in bed one evening on the phone to her, Colin snoring black fluff over the pillowcase and my latest literary obsession (if Jilly Cooper counts as such) lying open on the bed.

We were discussing a couple of the intriguing clothing choices made by The Northerner that I’d discovered since he and I had taken a leap in our dalliance and committed to being friends on Facebook. We’d also previously touched in conversation on the chain TN wears that appears to be a permanent fixture.

It’s an interesting concept: if there’s something you don’t like about the person you’re seeing, then change it. And it’s a view that, in my experience, seems to be far more prevalent in women than men (the notable exception being The Father, who refused to marry The Mother until she’d given up smoking). I wonder whether it’s a phenomenon that finds its roots in girls playing with dolls from a young age, and that we simply transfer our desire to dress things up to our boyfriends and husbands as we get older.

Whatever it is, I don’t know that I’m in favour of it.

Whilst I might find particular behaviours and habits in someone irksome, I’m not sure that I’d want to eradicate them in my attempts to find someone I want to be in a relationship with. I’d far rather be with a flawed individual with real personality than some Stepford Man who never left his damp towels on the bathroom floor, but also had nothing I could get excited about.

I’m all for grown-up discussions about compromise in relationships, but if a man tried to part me from my eyeliner, my Sunday morning sessions with large mugs of Earl Grey and the Archers omnibus, or my ever-increasing collection of lovely but impractical coats (ie, they’re beautiful but I can’t wear them in the rain), I know I’d be really cross.

“But what you need to consider,” Best Mate said when I brought the topic up over dinner, putting her legally trained brain to good use, “is whether or not it’s profound or a material thing that gets on your nerves. Because if it is just a shirt or two, and they really get on your nerves… Well, these things get lost in the wash. Happens all the time.” She shrugged and took a sip of wine.

She might be right. Things do get lost, especially in my house. And it’s not as if I’m asking him to embrace voting Conservative. And after all, a change is as good as a rest. Even when it’s enforced. Right?

Monday, 18 October 2010

In which I'm dating a decent chap but am distracted by pointless niggles

It was over a bottle of red and a much-needed gossiping session with JournoGal that I found myself extolling the virtues of a man I’ve been on a couple of dates with - without sounding utterly rapt by the situation.

“You’re not blown away, are you?” She said as I refilled our glasses.

“It’s not that,” I said, wondering how much booze is really wise on a weekday before dismissing my doubt under a haze of man the hell up. “It’s just that… well, there are a couple of things that, if I were designing one from spec, I wouldn’t choose to have in a man.”

“Oh. Such as…?”

I reeled off a short list, each item less consequential in the grand scheme than the previous.

By the time I’d finished, and watched JournoGal’s expression as I ‘fessed up, I felt like the world’s judgiest, most superficial woman, and a frightful snob somewhere on a par with Hyacinth Bucket.

“So you see, they’re absolutely not important,” I urged to JournoGal, getting more fervent as the Merlot took hold. “And I’m trying, I mean, really trying, not to let them get to me, because frankly, if I’m going to write someone off for such petty crimes, then I deserve to be single for the rest of my life.”

Which isn’t too far from the truth.

The niggles I’m talking about are so small as to be entirely unimportant when one considers that the chap in question is kind and good-looking; makes me laugh until my face hurts; exceptionally generous; intelligent, and able to have nuanced political discussions; a mean cook with an apparently unsurpassable roast pork belly (meh) and utterly divine chocolate fondant (now we’re talking); and makes me feel like the only woman in the room.

And yet, I can’t help but be distracted by the fact that he’s only an inch or so taller than I am when I’m in heels (skyscrapers, admittedly, but still… an inch).

Distracted that I find his voice just a touch nasally.

That he’s turned up to a date in a polo shirt (there is no excuse for wearing polo shirts unless one’s actually aboard a polo pony).

That I think he wears a necklace (jewellery looks good on no man. Wedding and signet rings are the only acceptable forms of male jewellery).

And that’s it. Those are my niggles. Those, and the fact that he reckons my recent dismal failures at baking macaroons are down to the fact that I must be doing something terribly wrong and he’s convinced he can better my efforts. I’ll go wild if he does.

And so, in the name of Dating Nice Boys, I’m trying to be the bigger person, to overlook the niggles, not to cut off my nose simply because he's not as tall as the last few have been (and let’s face it: we know how they’ve gone). And possibly pick up some tips on baking in the process.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

In which dating is a minefield and I need a map

Dating these days is, in so many ways, a veritable minefield.

There’s the picking of the chap, and finding one who’d not rather be dating his ex; there’s the picking of the venue, and making sure it’s not somewhere that you’ve been on too many other dates lest the staff start looking at you like the hussy you are; there’s the picking of the outfit, the wine, the suitable anecdotes that won’t make you look batshit crazy.

And, if a girl manages to pick her way through all that, she’s often left not much the wiser about her situation.

Gone seem to be the days when one could rely on meeting someone, knowing them a while and then getting married, destined to get under each other’s feet for decades to come, à la Parentals Blonde.

Now instead there are dates and drinks and dinner – sometimes several of each, and not always with the same man – before anything more fruitful can happen. And even then, it can be impossible to know quite where you stand.

In my dating experience, dalliances these days seem to be rather fluid: lacking in boundaries, it can be hard to tell quite whether what you’ve got is a flirtation or the beginning of one life’s great love stories (though, let’s be honest, it’s generally not the latter).

Say you’ve gone on six or seven dates with someone over a month or so. You can enjoy each other’s company, have all and various kinds of fun before suddenly finding that dates start to peter out before stopping entirely, leaving you none the wiser as to what it was you were doing for the last six weeks.

In that time, you’ve managed to drift not only into the start of something, but also its middle before wafting right through and out the other side before you’ve really had time to process what it was you were getting yourself into in the first place.

And somehow, before you know it, you’re single again and back to square one. But were you ever unsingle in the first place? A few dates and a casual approach to the diary – all well and good for someone like me who likes to see a boy she likes, but not necessarily too often – hardly constitutes a relationship. Although I think it probably means you shouldn’t be out and about screwing other boys (not that I am, you understand. Chance’d be a fine thing).

Of course, it works the other way too. If you’ve been out with someone a few times, wandered your way round a variety of museums making intelligent comments about the sense of movement in the drapery on the pediment figures of the Elgin Marbles, and less intelligent comments after several bottles of wine at small bars in Kensington, what’s the deal? You’re seeing each other, sure. But what’s to say either of you isn’t seeing other people? At what point does spending time with each other, drinking and flirting, the occasional lingering kiss mean that you should stop screwing the other boys (see above)? At what point do you decide that this is Slightly More than Dalliance territory?

And how the hell do you come to any of those conclusions without actually asking Chap in Question, which would quite obviously make you that crazy woman who wants to know “Where This is Going” and no one wants to be that crazy woman.

As I say: minefield. I suppose the answer is to try and pick one’s way through – ever so carefully – and just hope the whole thing doesn’t explode under your feet. Pass the body armour.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

In which I contemplate seconds

In a diary that’s looking busier than I think is strictly necessary (seriously: when’s a gal supposed to find time to curl up on the sofa with tea and cupcakes and the new Grey’s?), one imminent slot is filled by a second date with a guy with whom I recently had a couple of bottles of wine.

Much like the oft-deemed “difficult” second album, second dates are, I find, tricky things.

The first date - if you’re not crashingly bored by the whole process - has a certain frisson of excitement about it, largely generated by the glorious potential of the unknown. All discoveries are yet to be made; there’s a plethora of interesting questions to ask and answer; and your store of witty (you hope) anecdotes is replete. And, if the interesting questions and witty anecdotes yield nothing, you’ve got the old stand-bys of families, jobs and holidays to fall back on. Awkward pauses and conversational clangers can be put down to nerves and brushed past.

Not so, the second time around.

You know enough about Chap (or indeed Gal) in Question that you’ve come to the decision that you want to see them again. Immediately there’s a soupçon of pressure: this isn’t just another first date to be written off (done so, if we’re honest, by text) as an Unsuitable - there’s at least some curiosity about future potential, and now the onus is on to be at least as charming and fabulous as you were last time.

By this point, and if the first date was at least a bottle of wine (and yes, that is how I measure time), you’ll have used up the standard conversations, and are going to have to come up with new and interesting things to talk about.

You’ll also be expected to have listened enough last time round that you remember the answers - something of a weak point of mine, especially once I’ve got to the almost-inevitable third glass of red; asking basic questions that have already been answered (with lengthy and detailed anecdotes) won’t endear you to anyone.

You’re not even sure that the success of the last date wasn’t just a symptom of the two bottles of Rioja and whether you’ll actually like Chap in Question when you’re sober - or whether he’ll like you.

And if, Heaven forefend, you’ve had to postpone your scheduled evening get-together due to suddenly-arisen work commitments with the result that it’s now due to happen in daylight, you won’t even have the opportunity for a couple of stiff drinks in quick succession to take the edge off (people apparently frown on hard liquor during the day. I say they’re not using their imaginations).

It’s a wonder that I’ve agreed to this thing at all. Maybe I should just cancel and watch that Grey’s episode instead.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

In which I'm making a list

This weekend, despite there being some serious shopping time yet before the season starts, I began a Christmas list.

I’m not especially proud of myself for it, and as yet, it’s not even all that long. But it’s started. And, when the time comes, I shall be issuing it far and wide.

Christmas can be a fairly stressful time in Family Blonde (and that’s before The Father’s had a row with the owner of the farm shop about there being no Stinking Bishop for the cheeseboard). And so, given the experience of Christmases past, this year I’m taking no chances.

The Mother is generally pretty good at selecting gifts - she subscribes to the “buy them stuff they can’t justify buying for themselves” theory of present-buying, and for me, large bottles of perfume; expensive coffee table books (or coffee tables, come to think of it); and Le Creuset all tend to feature rather heavily.

The Father is almost the opposite, and does love to give a practical present (boys: just… no). I didn’t think things could get worse than the Dyson Incident of 2005 (“What have you got Mummy for Christmas?” “A Dyson.” “Hah! No, really.” “Really. I’ve got her a Dyson. Why? Is that bad?”) until, in 2008, he pulled out the Vegetable Steamer Episode. He could just have gift-wrapped the divorce papers - they’d have been easier to wrap. But, to prevent marital discord, one supervised, 23rd-December trip into town later, and The Mother’s sparkly Christmas was sponsored by de Beers that year.

Sadly, many of the rest of the family seem to be cut from The Father’s cloth. Whilst I am always (read: usually) grateful for any presents the extended family wish to bestow, I do sometimes wish they’d not put quite so much thought into things and instead gone with the always-popular cheque (as I say: usually).

I will never forget the year that I was handed a present from under the tree by The Father, bearing a label from a well-meaning but actually deeply irksome aunt.

“Ooh, that’s a funny shape,” said The Grandmother who, at this point, was live, kicking and ploughing her way through her Nth sherry.

I gave the package a squish, and then peeled back the paper with some trepidation.

The fear was merited. For there, under layers of admittedly rather lovely paper, was a true Christmas travesty.

Whilst I would never deny that I’m a girl who loves her shoes, the versions that grace my feet are as far as my interest goes. I don’t have pictures of shoes adorning the walls; there are no twee shoe-shaped soaps in the bathrooms. I don’t have little models of shoes on the mantelpiece and I feel quite strongly that, in my house, that’s the way it’s going to stay. I don’t need anything extra to remind me of my weakness when it’s impossible to walk through Blonde Towers without falling over a pair.

So when I unwrapped the slightly peculiarly-shaped gift to find a shoe-shaped lamp - yes, a lamp, shaped like a shoe, complete with horrid bits of fringing around the top - I was, to be brutally honest, less than impressed.

The Grandfather summed it up in his inimitable way: “Bloody hell - that’s a monstrosity. She shouldn’t have bothered wasting the money.”

And so, this year, I’m making a list. It’ll contain some practical things for The Father to buy, and some beautiful things for The Mother to buy. And in case she really, really feels the need, there might even be some shoe-shaped things for the aunt - but they'll be actual shoes. And from Net a Porter. I'm not taking any chances.

Friday, 1 October 2010

In which I consider the importance of a well-constructed dirty text message

Forget ears, neck, the inside of an elbow - it shouldn't come as a surprise when I tell you that a gal’s biggest erogenous zone is her brain (incidentally, if it does, you need to rethink your moves, pronto). Stroke it in the right way and she'll be purring like a kitten. Fail to engage, and at the very best she'll be fantasising about Clive Owen as she makes the necessary noises; at worst, she’ll be doing a mental stock check of the kitchen cupboards and making a note to add mustard powder and Earl Grey teabags to the Ocado list (true story, kids).

Which is why I squeaked in appreciation when I received this little gem from Nutty Cow. Frankly anything that lends a nod to my grammar fascist tendencies, whilst reassuring me I'm not alone in having such tendencies pleases me greatly:

It sums up in a few simple frames a situation I've previously found myself in - as, apparently, judging by the popularity of the above cartoon when whizzed round on email, have the majority of the girls. Being relatively liberal, open-minded kinda gals, we're generally quite agreeable to exchanging a few saucy text messages every now and again with the right chap. But they're not for the inexperienced.

A dirty message whilst one’s on the train home; lying in bed; or even just on the way into a meeting can be enough to perk up a day no end. Get it right and by the time a girl gets home, she'll be so worked up that you might even be able to convince her to do that thing you’ve not yet been brave enough to ask her to do. You could even distract her from the Kurt Geiger sale. Serious stuff.

But get it wrong, and there's little redemption. We don't want old clichés that you've taken from something you saw in some bad porn; and if anything you compose could be confused with something that wouldn't look out of place on Ashley Cole's phone then dear gods, don't. We won’t bother to play again.

But there’s something worse, far worse, than hackneyed material and dodgy photos of greying pants (no, really). What’ll really put us off and have us zoning out and sending half-hearted replies (if any), choosing instead to reach for the hot chocolate and last book in the Twilight series (told you it was bad) is poor spelling and bad grammar.

We’re not totally unreasonable beings, and if your wordsmithery has got us really hot under our collars, we’re unlikely to notice an out of place preposition, or a sneakily split infinitive. But some of us are paid to notice this kinda stuff (and others are just like this), but the second you tell us you want to strike us all over with a feather or that you can’t wait to be their, we’re going to come - not in the way you want us to, but instead over all surly schoolmarm rather than sexy schoolgirl.

Of course, if your mistake is merely an over-excited slip of the fingers and you’ve done enough earlier on to keep our minds occupied and as far from that shopping list as possible, you might be lucky: we might just let the lack of concentration go - so long as you make it up to us once you’ve got through the door… Otherwise, you and your porn are on your own.


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