Monday, 31 January 2011

In which I wish my friends would get jobs that require them to sit behind a desk

Last week, and not for the first time, I found myself wishing my friends weren’t quite the interesting, intrepid types that they are.

Normally, I adore the fact that my friends, by and large, fall decisively into the ‘stimulating’ category. Life is a far better place to be if you can guarantee that dinner parties will consist of loud and passionate discussion about heavens knows what; or that emails are inclined to begin “today, I have a dating disaster story that makes your mishaps look like a walk in the park”.

But there are times when you wish your friends weren’t quite so go get ‘em.

Like most other people I know, I’ve spent some time over the past couple of weeks keeping half an eye on the news coming out of an increasingly unstable North Africa.

Having dinner at, fittingly, Souk last week with PolitiGal, we considered that our holiday in Tunisia last autumn had been rather timely, and that it was unlikely we’d get to head back there again any time soon (incidentally, the North African fare found in Covent Garden was far better than anything we managed to find whilst in the country itself. Go figure).

Of course, it wasn’t long before the unrest there seemed to spread into Egypt, a bit further down the coast. And, as is apparently the case, where there’s a horribly dangerous situation in any part of the world, there you’ll find Foreign Correspondent.

The clue, obviously, is in his title. He’s paid to be flung out to the corners of the globe and report back on what he finds so that the first we hear of these things isn’t when we’re trying to board a camel train, taking care not to have our sunburnt bits nibbled, and seeing a protesting throng appear over the horizon. From stories he’s mentioned, FC’s already been in some pretty sticky situations during his career – and, when recounted over drinks in a smart London bar, or over a sandwich in the sun, the anecdotes might raise an eyebrow, but they raise more giggles.

But when he crops up, reporting from countries that are undergoing massive and violent political change, one starts to get a bit antsy. And then, when it appears that all the country’s comms networks are down and there’s no way of knowing whether he’s holed up in a swanky hotel charming the staff into sending up a rare steak, or whether he’s been trampled underfoot by the masses, the nerves definitely make themselves felt. [Communications are back and he does, thankfully, appear to be as safe and well as people tend to be in these situations.]

And then, of course, there’s Speckled Lad. Because if there’s someone’s mortal safety to be slightly on edge about, SL appears to feel left out if he’s not involved.

“So, I’ve got my dates for War Zone,” he said the last time I saw him.

“Oh, good,” I’d said, pouring another large glug of red into my glass.

“September,” he said. “Which isn’t ideal as we’ll be away for Christmas, but it’s pretty close now. Should be good.”

I’ve learnt not to bat too much of an eyelid at these situations now. Both Guards Man and Military Gal have done tours and made it back home – as far as I can tell – in one piece. I’m okay about the Lad going: he’ll be trained, and equipped, and bizarrely cheery about the whole situation. I know from experience that the mini M&S Christmas cakes are robust enough to make it to War Zone in one piece, but that the War Zone mice seem to be exceptionally fond of the Christmas pudding.

What does alarm me slightly is that the approach SL will take to the whole endeavour.

“Just… promise me something will you?” I said, not holding out much hope, even as the words left my lips.


“If you lot get yourselves into some sort of sticky situation, please don’t play the hero. Please be the guy who runs away.”

He smiled at me. “’Fraid I can’t promise that, lovely.”

“No, didn’t think you would.”

Another year tuned to the news it is, then.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

In which I make bad date choices

Some things are date activities; some are not. And, with my wealth of experience in the field, you’da thunk I’d know what falls into which camp by now. Apparently not.

But, in my defence, when The Filmmaker suggested we do dinner and a movie, I didn’t really see what could go wrong. [An aside: he’s a man who says ‘movie’. I’m a girl who says ‘film’. But, whereas I’m in PR, he’s in the industry, so I can’t say anything because he's probably right, but keeping the crazy English-stickler pedantry under wraps is harder than you’d think.]

I met TF outside his office one evening, and we wandered into Soho to grab said dinner before said movie. Diving into a great little Italian place introduced to me by The Metrosexual, we ordered drinks and perused the menu. Having made his decision in a split second, TF waited patiently as choice paralysis threatened to take hold. Eventually, I gave in and ordered what I’m always tempted to, but never dare.

And, some 12 minutes later, it became patently clear to me why I never order squid ink linguine, and especially never in public. And never, ever on a date. Because while it might be endlessly delicious in its squiddy, inky unctuousness, it’s a bloody nightmare to eat.

“Er, you’ve got a little…” TF smiled and pointed to his chin. I dabbed at it with my napkin “No, a little to the left… a bit more… Yeah, um, sort of…”

Which happened at least twice more before I leapt up and scurried to the loo where I found several splashes of squink (gotta love a Nigella-coined phrase) all over my face, lips and - attractively - teeth. Muttering furiously to myself, I made desperate attempts to scrub it all off and cover the worst bits with concealer.

Going back to the table, I eschewed the rest of the linguine and plucked out the remaining chunks of squid, swearing silently to myself that only neutral-coloured food is to be consumed on dates from here on in.

Things weren’t much better once we’d settled into our seats at the cinema. Admittedly, what followed was partly my fault because I agreed to go and see the damned thing. In a peculiar week during awards season in which there was nothing I was too fussed about seeing that I hadn’t already, and because TF did want to see it, we were smack bang in the middle of a screen showing 127 Hours.

I’d even had advanced warning via email.

Are you sure? It is quite gory.

SAW III gory?

No, not quite that bad.

Ok, well I’m sure I’ll be fine.

Hah! Being able to grin and bear one’s way through a short burst of improbable surgery on Grey’s Anatomy does not, apparently, mean you can stomach shot after shot of a man sawing through his tendons with a penknife. Heads up, kids.

Of course, had I thought the situation through, I’d have used the opportunity to play the ‘meek and feeble girl’ card: squealed at the opportune moment and then buried my head in his shoulder.

Not being that smooth, instead I squeaked audibly, pulled my scarf up over my nose, folded my arms over my chest and slumped down the seat, sticking out my tongue and shutting my eyes when the gore got too much.

“So, what did you think?!” TF said, sliding his hand into mine as we left the cinema once all the chopping and severing had stopped.

I think that squid ink and blood are not substances that have any place on a date. You heard it here first.

Friday, 21 January 2011

In which I consider if more of a thing is better than less and don't really reach a conclusion

It comes to my attention that it’s only as I put these words to the page that I can’t remember whether the saying goes “you can’t have too much of a good thing,” or whether “you can…” (that fact probably says rather a lot about me and my approach to the more fun things in life). Having now given it a few moments’ thought, I still can’t remember: as far as I’m concerned, I could happily polish off a large proportion of a bottle of Tanqueray No. 10 in one sitting, although the ensuing hangover would probably argue that it was a bad idea, so who knows.

It’s a(n albeit slightly fuzzy) concept I’ve had pushed to the forefront of my mind of late as I ponder dates, dating, and the frequency thereof.

Arranged before Christmas, I had a date recently with a chap whose office is just down the road from Small But Perfectly Formed Agency.

(You didn’t honestly think we were going to get many more posts into the year without a wee foray in the love life of the Blonde, did you? Because if you did, you should have known better.)

My first date with The Filmmaker was something of a success – there was a leisurely Friday night bottle of red in a new bar by the offices, followed by more wine and supper in a little French place in Soho (middle-class problem drinker statistic what?).

“So, how was the date?” the boss said when he’d got in on the following Monday morning.

Slightly taken aback, I spluttered into my cooling Earl Grey. “Er, um… good, thanks. We – hang on. How did you know I had a date?”

“Didn’t,” he said, throwing his jacket onto the back of his chair and wandering towards the kettle. “But it was a Friday night, so I took a punt. So, it was good was it? Are you seeing him again?”

As it happens, by that point, I had already seen him again. (No – there was none of that, before you cry 'hussy'. But yes, I’d seen him on the Saturday.) And there were plans to see him during the week too.

But, for some reason that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, I didn’t know whether I wanted to admit to such abundance in my dating life – especially when it only involved one man. Somehow, in the days of playing it cool, and being a bit blasé about the people you come across in life, it felt a bit… well, odd to acknowledge out loud the fact that there was more than one date scheduled in the space of a week.

“Jeez,” said Hot Flyer Boy when I admitted the fact in the pub over (very) quiet drinks a few days later, “that’s a bit keen, isn’t it? Watch it, Blonde. He’ll be down on one knee before you know it.”

“I very much doubt that, somehow,” I said, raising an eyebrow at him. “I’m sure he’ll see the error of his ways soon enough.”

Which is probably true: I imagine as diaries crank back into action as the penny-pinching month comes to a close, the number of windows available for dates will decrease. On top of which, I’m not the sort of girl who’ll take any opinion seriously if it’s come from a man drinking squash in a pub, whether he’s training for the marathon or not. I may not know whether you can have too much of a good thing or not – but you can definitely have too little.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

In which I have a one-sided conversation

Men are, I find, wont to baffle wherever they may go. And not always in ways one expects and is prepared for.

I was sitting in the foyer of one of the local cinemas early on Saturday evening, waiting for Best Mate to battle her way through the traffic as I clutched in my sweaty little paws our tickets for the utterly glorious The King’s Speech. (Yes, I saw it at the première back in October, but it’s so good I thought I should do my bit for British film and pay to see it. You’ve probably seen several gushing reviews if you’re familiar with, y’know, the internet, so I’ll stop at saying simply: it’s wholly divine. See it.)

Uncharacteristically early, I was ensconced in a squishy chair, cursing myself for such book snobbery that means I refuse to read Jilly Cooper in public thus leaving myself novel-less. I people-watched and eavesdropped and watched a couple have an argument about which film it was they were going to see and pondered the preponderance of teenagers with massively backcombed hair.

Having whiled away a little more time sending emails to various people, I settled back in my seat and wondered whether I should get in the frankly ludicrous queue to make sure BM and I didn’t miss out on popcorn (nb: salted. Always salted) before the film started.

Suddenly, the phone rang. Causing a genuine double-take, on its display appeared Minor Celeb’s name.

We never speak on the phone: whether it’s Christmas greetings, or arranging a catch-up over drinks, our preferred method of communication is always the text message (unless I’m getting stroppy with him for taking utterly ridiculous work projects that he desperately needs talking out of when his PR is clearly not doing their job: those (heated) conversations are generally one-sided, and I have them with his answerphone). So seeing his name on the phone’s display was more than a little disconcerting.

I let it ring for a while, trying to work out whether he’d actually meant to call me.


It was probably foolish to expect a normal, grown-up conversation.

“Hello? Anyone there?”

Suddenly, from the silence there came ballad-esque piano music.

I stood and listened, slightly baffled, as it continued for about 12 bars before the phone went dead.

Somewhat perplexed, I fired off a quick text message: Very nice. Just for my amusement, or is this a masterpiece you’re working on? Do I get to hear the rest?

The message has so far remained unanswered, leaving me with no more clue as to what was going through MC’s brain (odds are - not a lot).

“How odd,” Best Mate said some fifteen minutes later as we wandered into the screen, laden with popcorn and. “Knowing him though, probably not entirely sober. But, on the bright side, I imagine that’s one of the most sensible and constructive phone conversations you’ve ever had with him, isn’t it?”

She is, in fact, quite right. And if the best I can hope for is a one-sided conversation through the medium of piano music, I think we’ll stick to the text messages.

Monday, 17 January 2011

In which I consider what's in a name

“So, I had a cheeky snog on Saturday,” The Intern said first thing this morning, as we clutched cups of tea close in the hope they’d help us to feel less like drowned rats.

“Oooh,” I said, grateful for someone else’s love life to be the focus of attention for once (even though the only attention was mine, as we were the first and only two in the office). “Spill.”

“Well, we were in a bar, and they were on a rugby club night out…”

In my experience, there only tends to be one end to stories which begin that way, but The Intern seemed to have a remarkably well-behaved night.

“He’s tall,” she said, homing in on what is, clearly, a man’s most important attribute (to be fair to her, the girl’s about 5’10” – she’s rather more entitled to be picky about height than I am). “And he has nice arms. And I’ve heard from him a few times already.”

I could hear the slight hesitation in her voice as I turned up the radiator to give my shoes half a chance of drying before home time. “But…? What’s wrong with him? Two heads? Dodgy hair? Wedding ring?”

“His name…” She looked at me sheepishly, clearly expecting me to tell her I was appalled that she could be so shallow and that she should get over herself and just go on the damned date.

Except I didn’t. As one of slightly judgy demeanour, there are all kinds of superficial traits men can have that will cause me to see past their kindess, generosity or intelligence and just Put Me Right Off.

“Oh…? How bad is it?”

She told me. “Which… oh, I don’t know. I suppose it’s not terrible. I just can’t ever imagine myself saying it out loud. And especially not saying it… you know, in the throes of passion… And…” Not faced with the contempt she’d so clearly anticipated, she eased into her stride. “And it’s already shortened. The long version just makes him sound like a 90 year-old, and I don’t think there’s any other way of abbreviating it. Am I being ridiculous?”

“Sort of,” I said, “but if it bothers you, it bothers you. I’m the same with jewellery – you can try to look past it, but it will always irritate you.”

I would have thought that I was one of the few people bothered by such superficialities, but it does seem there are plenty of us out there. I have previously considered the topic of faux pas so bad as to merit the ending of a dalliance. For me they’ve included, in no particular order, vegetarianism (I know. I’m a terrible hypocrite. Deal with it); making terrible career decisions; and Tuesday afternoon coke habits. For others, poor spelling and grammar; negligence in paying council tax; and mediocre sex have all entered the mix.

And The Intern isn’t the only person to have a mental block about bad names. Back in the mists of time, I was sitting in the pub with Nutty Cow, discussing my then-newly embarked upon dalliance with Rugged Scotsman.

“Oh, you can’t date him,” she said, with apparently amazing foresight (yes, yes – he was the one who turned out to be gay). “His name makes him sound like a footballer. Seriously. End it.”

My advice to The Intern thus far has been to date the man. If the name gets too much, use a middle name instead. Or “darling,” which gets round the pesky issue of even having to remember it, thus allowing her to date as many men as the diary can hold. Problem solved. So long as he’s not wearing jewellery. Or gay.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

In which I'm not married with children

I was on the receiving end of a pleasant surprise recently, when Facebook proved its usefulness beyond people whinging about their colds, and Best Mate and I posting videos of daft cats on each other’s walls.

Back in the mists of time I spent my Gap Yah in an exceptionally deprived town in East Africa, teaching English, maths and science to a load of children who’d done nothing to warrant having my inexpertise thrust upon them.

The guy I went with and I were the only non-locals there, causing quite a stir for being a) white and b) just friends. Thankfully, towards the end of our stay, we were joined by a fellow mzungu who, being white and speaking fluent Swahili (rather than my not-quite-conversational-with-no-grasp-of-the-grammar style), managed to confuse the residents even further, which provided weeks of endless entertainment for all concerned.

When I left, we swapped email addresses and phone numbers and, for a while we managed to keep in touch. But then, as so often happens, life got in the way. But, a week or so ago, up cropped a message from the African Queen, asking how life is.

A few days’ worth of short exchanged messages have been enough to act as a reminder that it’s a few little decisions that can totally change the course of one’s life.

When I knew her, AQ was all get-up and go, frighteningly full of energy and ambition. Speaking five languages, she had great plans to travel the world as a translator. I was quite convinced she’d end up at the UN, heading up teams negotiating the finest details of massively controversial intra-national policy.

So when she told me that she’d met a guy just after getting back from Africa, fallen madly in love, got married and is now the stay-at-home mother of a one-year old, it took me by surprise. Judging by her reaction, the reply that I’m back from Edinburgh, living in the Home Counties and about to take on a slightly terrifying-sounding job at a rather bigger agency strikes her as equally alien.

As I suggested catching up over a drink (her domestic circumstances allowing, of course), it struck me that, even at the same age in life, people who once seemed to have more similarities than differences can suddenly take such divergent paths as to make each other’s lives seem utterly foreign.

Much as I might bemoan the fact that I have get out of bed at ungodly o’clock each morning and make the shag of a commute into Central London to do a job that sometimes causes more bags under the eyes and teeny tiny wrinkles than I think is strictly fair in someone of my age, I don’t know that – presented with the alternative – I’d have it any other way. Yes, at some point, I’d quite like to make the stereotypical (and, now, rather controversial) middle-class move of jacking it all in and spending my days doing Nice Things whilst the husband does the cash-earning. But for now, I’m quite happy to be spending my days rushing around like a mad thing, with the freedom to do as I please, without anyone else to think about.

Recently, the lovely Please Don’t Eat With Your Mouth Open left a comment on a post I’d written – I imagine she did so off the cuff, and rather flippantly, but her words have really resonated, and they stick with me now as I do things like contemplate my counterparts at home with their husbands and children: the grass isn’t greener – it’s just green.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

In which a friend should be otherwise engaged

I am constantly baffled by some of the things that other people choose to do. Spending Saturday afternoons being constantly disappointed by the performance of West Ham; screwing the office junior; and voting Green are all activities enjoyed by members of Social Circle Blonde that I’ll just never get my head around.

One thing in particular was hammered home recently when The Medic came down from The North to stay during the Christmas holidays.

A little context for newer readers: friends from the beginning of Uni, The Medic and Best Mate have always had a more-than-friends friendship, despite TM having had a girlfriend for much of the time we’ve known him. They’ve mostly been well-behaved, other than the night a few years ago - after a boozy dinner and several rounds of Pirates of the Caribbean II drinking Top Trumps - when things got a little heated and he spent the night in BM’s bed.

Shortly afterwards, the girlfriend issued a ban on TM spending any time with BM or me, and announced their engagement.

The ban has since been roundly flouted by TM - he’s wont to come down under the guise of visiting his godson, turning up to dinner parties clutching magnums of champagne and proceeding to get everyone riotously drunk.

This year, over the Christmas holidays, he came to stay with BM (I was irritatingly tucked up at home with the lurgy), drink much wine and then toddle to his parents.

“We were talking about how things were going,” BM said to me later as I leant against her kitchen counter early on New Year’s Eve, knocking back the caipirinhas and trying to stop the kitten from licking the trifle. “Things are good - there’s been no progress made on doing up the house, but work’s going well, and he’s decided to carry on with orthopaedics.”

I waited for the inevitable and most interesting bit.

“But it seems he and she didn’t spend Christmas together - she’s with her parents in Newcastle, and he’s down here. Oh, and I asked how the wedding plans are going. They’re not. His exact words were “there aren’t any plans to get married”.”


Now, leaving alone for a moment the fact that the dislike TM’s fiancée has for us is entirely mutual and also shared by his entire circle of friends (because the woman is BONKERS), and it’s probably for the best that they don’t actually go through with getting married (because she is BONKERS), who proposes to someone without any intention to follow through?

It seems to be more and more prevalent these days: seeing engagement as an end in itself, rather than the state one happens to find oneself in whilst planning a wedding. Surely if you’re prepared to propose to a gal, then you’ve actually contemplated that the result could be marriage? And if you’re not prepared to make that commitment to someone for what could be the rest of your life, why get engaged in the first place?

And proposing to someone merely to paper over a fight because that’s what she’s demanded and you like to take the easy option is surely the worst idea altogether?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

In which I don't resolve anything

A discussion this week at Small but Perfectly Formed Agency about New Year’s resolutions made me want to curl up under my desk and pretend I was still prostrate on the parents’ sofa with a glass of The Father’s best Cognac.

Liver Bird has decided 2011 is the year she’ll take tap classes and find a new flat.

The Intern (bless her, still full of youth and enthusiasm) is, in no particular order, joining the gym; reading a book a week; spending more time with her family; and learning to cook lentils. No, I don’t imagine she’ll stick to many of them either.

My resolutions, when I make them (which isn’t often) tend to be things I have a snowball’s chance in hell of sticking to (I fail at enough other stuff in life without giving myself additional things to feel guilty about). Last year, I blogged more. I also inadvertently managed to abstain from Speckled sex, thereby keeping 2009’s resolution which I didn’t manage in the year itself.

Having decided a while ago that Small Agency is now just a little on the too-Small side, 2011 was going to be the year that I found a new job. However, networking being what it is, I suddenly found myself accepting a new position in a different agency just in time for Christmas. So whilst I’ll be starting at the New Place in the spring (don’t get me started on the ridiculousness of millennia-length notice periods), I can’t really count the getting of the thing as a 2011 achievement.

There’s no way on God’s green one that I’ll drink any less, get more sleep or spend less money than I currently do, so those are all non-starters.

2010 seemed officially to be the Year of the Date; frankly, the thought of going on more dates this year than last is exhausting.

Doing Stuff to the house really should be on the list – I’ve been in my own home now for 16 months, and only last week did a mirror and shelves go up in my bathroom. Really, I should invest in several hundred more bookcases (Late Granny’s art nouveau number is utterly beautiful, but just not big enough); paint the sitting room, landing and bedrooms; and get a load of prints framed and put up in the kitchen (although I’m now unsure of my putting-stuff-up ability given the kitchen clock’s bid for freedom onto the stone floor a few days ago). Oh, and find space for my piano, which is sitting alone and unloved at the parents’ place. Whether any of those things happen remains to be seen, although The Father retires in the spring, and I imagine a To-Do list for him will go down well with The Mother, who’s currently finding ways to keep him from getting under her feet.

So, I’m a bit stuck, really. Suggestions are welcome. Though I’ll probably ignore them all and just meander along as normal. Gin, anyone?


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