Wednesday, 30 March 2011

In which one isn't always the loneliest number. But it is sometimes

Despite the fact I seem to spend most of my life on a date, I do actually rather enjoy being single. Which is lucky because as it happens, perpetual dates aside, I seem to be single rather more than not.

I’m quite an independent gal. So independent that, sometimes, I’ve been misconstrued as cold and distant, which isn’t ideal and definitely not what’s intended. It’s just the way I am, and it’s the way I’ve always been. Frankly, by this point, I doubt I’ll change.

Being single allows me the freedom to do what I like, when I like, without having to think about anyone else (anyone else would probably term that ‘selfishness’, but I’m in PR, so ‘enjoying freedom’ it is).

But that doesn’t mean that sometimes, being on your own isn’t quite a scary thing, and there are times when I think it would be quite nice if there were someone else around.

Weddings, obviously. When I’m struggling to get the Christmas decorations back into the loft, naturally. And, as it turns out, when I’m lying in a hospital bed, having just been informed of the possibility of a faintly terrifying diagnosis.

Because being pretty terrible with needles, blood and – unless they’re Seattle Grace and firmly on the telly – hospitals, at the best of times, the prospect of immediate emergency surgery is a frightening one; and even more so when you’re by yourself.

It’s not that in life in general, there isn’t anyone around. There are the familials (and quite a lot of them when the extended family is counted) and a whole host of excellent friends that I probably wouldn’t be able to shake off if I wanted to. And if push came to shove, there are even a few exes I’m on good enough terms with who, if things got truly dire, would probably be able to help me out of a life-threatening situation.

But those people aren’t necessarily the ones you’d call to hold your hand when your day’s taken an out-of-the-ordinary turn.

Whilst I’d have absolutely no problem calling Best Mate to come and play sidekick, her location in an out of town law firm rather precludes the possibility. If things were really dreadful, I could always call the parents – but again, they’re out in Home County, and much as it amazes me that The Father hasn’t yet been done for speeding, I doubt even he could make it into the centre of town in half an hour.

And even though I’m sure a lot of my darlingest friends would have absolutely no problem either being asked, or dropping whatever it was they were doing, to come and babysit the Blonde (love them. They are a good bunch), I’d feel awkward dragging them out of their days.

Because, despite how long you’ve known them, or how close you might be, somehow it’s not as socially acceptable to call a pal to come and distract you from your wimpiness as it would be a boyfriend.

As it was, there was no emergency surgery, and no need for anyone to hold my hand. Which is just as well. Because I’m still not entirely sure who it would have been.

Monday, 28 March 2011

In which the NHS is a wonderful thing

I’m not ashamed to admit that I love many, many things about Britain.

I love that I can get away with drinking five or six cups of tea during a working day, and no one will look at me as if I’m slightly mad; that our sense of understatement and calm is second to none; and that we’re only any good at the sitting down sports (I don’t love that so much when I’m watching England being trounced in a Six Nations game, but the concept is amusing).

I think the Palace of Westminster makes for one of the most beautiful skylines in the world; that despite our reserve and grumpiness, Brits are astoundingly tolerant people; and that our museums are some of the finest in the world (yes, that might be because we’ve nicked the best bits from everyone else, but the point remains the same).

Our food (yes, the food. Cast off any outdated notions of grime and stodge: these days, London’s restaurants are a wonder to behold) is good; our sense of humour is great.

And – whatever Americans might say about it being ‘socialised medicine’ – our healthcare system is amazing.

By no means is it perfect: there are horrible stories of incorrect diagnoses; of inefficient management; of scandalously bad care. But I don’t know that any of those would be much better if we had a paid-for system.

Once I’d tottered out of A&E last week and back home (via an afternoon in the office… I might have been in my last few days, but that didn’t stop there being Work To Be Done), I collapsed (gently – oh, the pain) onto the sofa and thought about how incredible the NHS actually is.

Between staggering in to A&E to being seen by the triage nurse, barely twenty minutes had elapsed, and my whole stay was under four hours.

And whilst Swedish Doctor’s bedside manner left just a touch to be desired (and I imagine that might be just a difference in culture), the rest of the staff were utterly amazing. There was the sweet radiologist who made me feel less stupid that I’d not done something about my cough any earlier. There was the passing doctor who took the time to explain exactly a few of the long words that I'd not previously heard in Grey's. There was the nurse who, whilst sticking ECG pads perilously close to my tits in a peculiarly deferential way, made me feel so at ease I could forget the fact I’d had the words ‘pulmonary embolism’ delivered to me mere moments before and for whom nothing - be it a glass of water, or an explanation that I could, in fact, use my phone - was too much trouble.

I had my blood pressure taken; I was given a chest X-ray, an ECG and an ABG; and I had all the procedures explained in plain English. I walked out of UCL under four hours later, having picked up a prescription from the pharmacist for antibiotics which, a week later, seem to have mended me.

All for a grand total of the £7.20 that I paid for my prescription.

It didn’t matter who I am; where I’m from; what I do for a living; or what I earn for the staff to give me wonderful care, for nothing, and send me on my way.

If that’s socialised medicine, show me the collective.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

In which I might have a pulmonary embolism

So, sitting in the A&E department of UCL hospital is not how I planned on spending today, I tweeted recently, as, well, as I sat in the A&E department of UCL.

Having had a fairly horrific cough for a while (“go and see the doctor,” had been The Father’s roundly-ignored advice), it was becoming increasingly painful until a laughter-induced coughing fit in the office landed me in so much agony I could barely walk. Thinking I’d cracked a rib, I gingerly folded myself into a cab and headed to A&E in the hope that I’d find a Dr Sloane-type on duty.

Of course, A&E in life is never as glam as it is on American telly. So I was thankful that, barely 20 minutes after taking a seat between a hot- and sickly-looking child and a guy stretched out languidly, possibly dead, on the seats, I was whisked in to see the triage nurse.

“So, symptoms?” she said briskly, as I told her, struggling for breath. “Right. And you’ve not been to see a doctor about your cough in that time? You really should have done, you know. You’re taking painkillers? Okay. And have you taken any long flights recently?”

“Um, yes…” I said, trying desperately not to cry. “I’ve been to New York and back in the past week.”

She looked me squarely in the face. The melt of her froideur was instant and unsettling. “Okay then lovely, pick up your things. Do you want to come with me, and we’ll get you into an X-ray. Shall I get your bag for you?”

Beware medical staff bearing a sympathetic demeanour.

Some 45 minutes later, I’d watched people being wheeled in and out on trolleys; staff throwing inexplicably long and terrifying-sounding words around as they peered into computer screens; and several terrified-looking medical students wandering round like lost sheep.

Once I’d donned an extra-flattering hospital gown (designers: fancy a nice bit of press-worthy CSR? Take a moment and ponder the hospital gown. It’s all I’m saying); sent up a small prayer that I was wearing decent pants; and trudged down the hall for a chest X-ray (“just squash your boobs up against it”. So dignified), finally I was back in a bed with a sombre Swedish doctor digging around in both wrists like a Chilean miner as she attempted an ABG.

One very sweet Portuguese nurse; an ECG; and a near-miss with a misread chart and a head CT later, and I was staring at the ceiling, wondering whether now would be a good time to call someone. In marched Swedish Doctor.

“Your symptoms could be caused by one of two things.” She looked at me sternly. “It is either an infection, or a pulmonary embolism.”

Say what now?

“Oh,” I said, slightly taken aback having learnt from several years of Grey’s that embolisms are not what you’re after, pulmonary or otherwise. “Well, let’s hope it’s the first one then, I suppose!”

My flippancy went unappreciated. She stared at me coldly.

“We will wait for your results, and I shall come back soon.”

Gotta love a good bedside manner.

Thankfully, when the results did come they showed nothing more than a nasty infection and so, some three and a half hours after I’d staggered in to the place, I staggered out again, wrists bandaged like an over-enthusiastic emo teenager; clutching antibiotics, the size of which would make the rocks at Stonehenge look like a small irritant you’d pluck out of your shoe.

Don’t panic: no embolism, I texted The Father as I hailed a cab back to the office.

Just as well, he texted back. Next time, go to the GP sooner, would you?

Next time, I probably will.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

In which I am thought to be the boss' girlfriend

It’s a favourite game of mine: people-watching. Stick me in a cafĂ©, on a station platform, in a gallery, and I’ll while away hours, just watching people go past. Being blessed with an overactive imagination means that by the time I’ve finished my latte, or got off the tube, the person opposite has been given an entire back-story, friends, relationships and sometimes the potential to win a Pulitzer. And, if I get to watch two people out and about together and get to play a round of guess-the-date, so much the better.

It’s a game I’m clearly not alone in my fondness for.

Longer ago than I care to believe is true, Speckled Lad and I were on one of our regular Friday night non-date dates. We’d polished off a bottle of Claret in our favourite bar, and then headed to the place we’d come to know as ‘our Italian’ - a tiny little Bloomsbury trattoria we could always rely to keep a table set aside for us, whether we’d booked or not, at 8pm on a Friday night.

In deeply unEnglish fashion, we’d ended up chatting with an older couple on a table next to us.

“You two are such a lovely couple,” she had said as they’d got up to leave. “Have a lovely life together.”

Given that we were not only not a couple, but staunchly defensive about that fact whenever we were accused of being such, it made for a slight awkwardness over the (gratis) limoncello that night (that we went back to his and, as usual, screwed each other’s brains out? Neither here nor there). Of course, given our particular situation, she’d jumped to an entirely plausible conclusion and was to be forgiven.

Things were slightly different when a similar thing happened more recently…

In a city filled to the suburbs with gastronomic delights, I - as a pesky veggie - somehow managed to find myself in one of New York’s French steak restaurants recently, discussing the finer (and not so fine) points of the British class system with my new Antipodean boss. Obviously.

In that delightfully friendly way that Americans have (or maybe I just have One of Those Faces. I dunno), we got chatting to the two chaps sat at an adjacent table.

Having first been mistaken for Australian, New Boss and I then got into a lengthy discussion with them about what he and I were doing in the city.

“Drinking, mainly,” I said, determined that - just once - I’d meet someone able to distinguish sincerity from my chronic flippancy.

“So, how long have you two been together?”

“Huh?!” New Boss and I looked at each other.

“Oh, GOD, no!” I now fear I may have been a little more emphatic at this point than was entirely flattering. “No, no, no - he’s my boss!”

“Oh. OH! And you two are…?!” He gave us a jovial “I get whatcha doin’” kind of a look.

“NO! No, really - we just work together. Or, actually, we don’t even do that yet. I don’t start for another few weeks. Nope - strictly professional.”

“But drunken?” Irritatingly Overfamiliar Stranger said.

“Yeah, pretty much,” replied New Boss.

“Well, then you had better have this.” IOS’ dining companion said, passing us a ¾ full bottle of Cabernet. “We’re not going to drink the rest of it. And you know…” He tailed off. I choose to believe there wasn’t an imperceptible wink.

“It’d be rude not to,” New Boss said, re-filling my glass once they’d paid up and left, before entirely ignoring the conversational elephant now sitting with us at the table. “So, there’s this bar I thought we try later…”

Take the girl out of London, but give her a bottle of red and she’ll still know just where she is. What she’s doing, though, is another matter entirely.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

In which I spend some time in New York

They say international travel broadens the mind, and opens one’s eyes to new horizons. I used my recent jaunt to NYC to learn a few things…

- Should you and your new boss end up having that last cheeky G&T in the BA lounge, you’re more than likely to find yourselves running through T5 as the nice announcer lady threatens that the flight is about to take off without you, and if you wish to join it, would you please damn well get your arses on it now* (*I may be paraphrasing her slightly).

- Female PRs in New York are faintly terrifying. No bigger than a size -2, where they keep their internal organs, and how they have the strength to cart around their enormous Harry Winstons, remains a mystery.

- There is a love affair with all things hi-tech. There are electronic key fobs to operate the doors, and PIN codes to get into the loos. For someone forgetful, and prone to losing stuff, this is a less-than-ideal scenario.

- British humour doesn’t translate. Quips about the British being so low-tech as still to be using door handles will be met with utterly blank stares.

- All men in New York - but ALL of them - have ridiculous-sized dogs.


- Barmen in New York don’t use measures. As a Brit it pains me to say this, but New Yorkers can mix a killer G&T.

- An RP accent goes down rather well in Manhattan (it also makes rounds of those G&Ts much cheaper. Or, free). However, sometimes it will be mistaken for an Australian accent (no free drinks then), whereas a Kiwi accent will always be mistaken for British. Eh?

- After a few of the aforementioned G&Ts, the view from the penthouse bar in which you’re enjoying the afterparty has the propensity to give one a touch of vertigo.

- Once the inappropriate flirting; dancing on tables; and ensuing splitting of DJ trousers has reached its peak, it’s useful to have nice strangers on hand to be able to manhandle colleague into cabs and back home (thanks, mysterious Julian from Chicago).

- Pizza is acceptable as a snack in 10am conference calls.

- A short wander round MOMA is a wonderful thing. The majority of a day spent in MOMA will elicit a plot to ensnare a Getty so you’ll eventually have the resources to buy half the collection.


- Even in the most easily-navigatable city in the world, it’s possible to be so hungover that you walk 10 blocks in entirely the wrong directions.

- You’ll have to resort to Twitter if you want to know the rugby score.

- Sorry to say it, but the coffee is generally pretty dreadful. Monmouth, it ain’t.

- Constant drinking and no more than four hours’ sleep a night will mean you arrive back in the UK tired and ill. And utterly in love with a place that you really didn’t want to leave.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

In which we display a stiff upper lip

We’ve all got our stereotypes: Londers are rude and grumpy; Glaswegians are drunken and stabby; Home Counties types are a bit posh with a secret penchant for doing very naughty things with the neighbours in the bedroom. Not entirely true perhaps, but probably with some basis in fact.

Since her arrival in the UK, Australian New Girl has been utterly baffled by, amongst other things, our penchant in the office for casual French; the country’s constant chilliness; and the amount of tea that Brits drink (frankly, excluding the first, I say she just didn't do her homework). And recently, she also had cause for puzzlement when she realised that Blitz spirit is alive and well in Blighty and frankly, panicking isn't something we do.

The girls and I were sitting in the office one recent lunchtime when the boss rang from outside, on his way to grab a sandwich.

“Hi, Small But Perfectly Formed Agency, Intern speaking… Oh hi… Oh. Really? Oh right… Okay then. Yup, see you later.”

The Intern put the phone down.

“They’ve found some sort of suspicious package nearby, apparently, and closed off our road.”

She peered more closely at something on her screen, and then carried on typing. “He said that if we feel safe in the basement we should stay put, but he understands if we want to get as far away as possible.”

There was a pause before the message sunk in.

“WHAT?!” Screeched Australian New Girl. “You’re fucking KIDDING me?!”

“No, but I’m sure it’s fine,” said The Intern, supremely unbothered.

“But people actually, like, BOMB London,” said ANG. “We should get the shit out of here now.” She got up from her chair, flapping wildly.

The Intern looked up, clearly bemused by the sense of panic and wondering what to do with the increasingly hysterical creature in our midst.

“Look,” I said, looking up from my to-do list – shrunken in my last remaining days from Utterly Heinous and Scary Enough to Provoke Tears to merely Unmanageable, “if you’d feel more comfortable being outside, then you should head out. I’m sure everything’s perfectly fine – if the police thought we were in any sort of danger, we’d have been evacuated by now. But do go if you don't feel comfortable.” I opened a blank document to start writing up an April Fools’ story for a client.

“Let’s get out and get some lunch,” The Intern suggested, her capacity for dealing with flappiness clearly far greater than mine. "We can go and find out what's happening and wait for them to deal with it.”

I don’t blame ANG for being caught a bit off-guard - after all, she's in a new country, in a city that's more likely to have these things happen than most Australian towns. But it did draw rather a marked line under the cultural differences.

As did ringing the newly-retired Father an hour or so later. Whilst I was wandering to Pret, I found him mid-filing.

“Living life to the full there, Pa,” I said as I could hear boxes of paper being heaved around. “Just wanted to let you know there was a bomb scare just outside the office, but they’ve had the robot out and it's defused. Thought I should let you know in case you or Ma saw anything on the news.”

“Well, thank you for that,” he said, clearly with only one ear on the conversation. “I’ll be sure to tell your mother. Probably only after she's seen the news, though. Let her panic a bit first.”

Typical.

“Bye, Pa.”

“Bye, Blonde.”

In the end, the incident didn’t even make the news, instead just causing a wee flurry on Twitter before everyone got on with their afternoons. And, in our case, trop de tea-drinking.

Friday, 4 March 2011

In which men are hot. Really, really hot

Whilst writing my latest piece for the lovely chaps over at Blokely, I was minded to consider the appeal of a man in a suit. Because, let’s face it: in ‘em, boys look hotter. Exhibit A: Don Draper in polo shirt:



vs. exhibit B: Don Draper in suit:
 
Yummier
Source: http://www.tvfanatic.com/
Hmm. Bad example, because he’s the picture of hotness any which way you look at him. But still. You catch my drift.

It’s an inalienable truth that formally dressed, any man looks delicious. Not only that, but there is a direct correlation between formality of a man’s dress and the level of his hotness.

Sadly, it’s not a rule that also applies to women. We might, on the whole, scrub up pretty well in our posh frocks, but anyone who’s been to any sort of formal anything will know that a ball dress doesn’t always flatter a girl, and some women simply look better in their everydays.

Not so with boys.

You might not be able to polish a turd, but stick that turd in a suit, and it’s suddenly far more presentable. Possibly even attractive.

Moving up the scale, the dinner jacket has even more power. A man might look perfectly average whilst walking down a street, but put him in a DJ and suddenly he’s a hottie you’d quite like on your arm. Stick an already hot chap in one, and frankly I wouldn’t want to be held responsible for any ensuing female behaviour.
From those lofty heights, there’s little more a guy can do to up his hotness quotient, apart from actually being Rupert Penry-Jones. But there are still one or two tricks you can pull out of the bag.

Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. If there's going to be gratuitous hotness, there may as well be plenty of it
Source: Radio Times

One such trick is to have in the back of the wardrobe a set of British Army mess dress. I have never been struck speechless quite the way I was when walking into the hall at Renowned Military Academy for Speckled Lad’s graduation ball. The place was filled with boys in a variety of regimental mess dress looking utterly, utterly GAWJUS – and women whose jaws were resting on the floor. Whether the chaps themselves were actually hot or not, I don’t know, but their attire had every uterus in the room skipping a beat. Do it. For the next fancy dress party you go to, hire one. For maximum effect, make sure it’s H-Cav. Guaranteed: you’ll get lucky. Very, very lucky.

Of course, getting hold of Harry’s cast-offs may not be quite as easy as you (and we) would like. But there is a fall back.

“Oh, God. I love them,” The Intern enthused as we wandered out of the office one night last week. “There’s just something about them… I wish more men in London would realise it. They’d have women queuing up.”

Ah, the humble kilt. Quite whence its potent mystical properties, I don’t know, but it’s got ‘em in spades. There’s something about a boy in a kilt – Scottish or not – that’s just irresistible (and, for the record, I choose to believe it’s not because we’re such lust-fuelled creatures that we find the thought of a man commando under his skirt appealing).

Whatever it is, I suggest you chaps out there all go and dig around for your Scottish roots, then get your legs out. It just might help you get your leg over.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

In which it's black tie, but not as we know it

May I remind you, the email ran, that the dress code is formal black tie.

It was about 7.30am and I was checking my emails on my way into work. The PA from the NY office of New Agency had sent a note confirming travel plans for my imminent trip out there to meet the US team.

Formal black tie. I'd only skimmed over the mail, but I went back, assuming that I was merely suffering the effects of a morning not yet caffeinated. But no, that's definitely what it said.

Eh? I vented on Twitter. What other kind of black tie could there possibly be?!

Damned Americans, I huffed to myself once I'd got into town, as I walked to the office via a nearby cafe, clutching a croissant and large Earl Grey tea, The Intern having been too busy with schmoozing journos at the Dean Street townhouse and mooning over the new boy she's seeing to pick up more teabags.

For formal occasions in Britain, you know where you stand. Dress codes might not be stuck to as rigidly as once they were, but you still know if you’re off to Ascot, you wear a hat; and that it’s fine to turn up in jeans should an invitation say ‘come as you are’. But the apparently tautological formal black tie isn’t something I’ve encountered before.

Maybe it means white tie? Gin Operated said, logically enough. You could take gloves just in case.

Huh, I thought. That makes sense. Excellent. Another outing for the bargain vintage ballgown it is (it has performed its task admirably at one x grad ball at Edinburgh; 1x hunt, and 1x Christmas ball at Sandhurst. Any excuse to wear it in front of people who’ve not seen it before is jumped on with great relish).

That was a best laid plan, right there. Just a fraction later…

Oh no – it’s very specific, came the invaluable advice from the lovely Liberty London Girl. It means long, but sexy, chiffony long. NOT ballgown. And New York women like to look HAWT – think British grooming x1000%. Go and get a mani-pedi ($20) and a blow dry ($30). Get make up done on counter at SAKS.

Oh hell’s bells.

“Hmm,” said JournoGal over dinner at the excellent and highly-recommended Polpetto. “That’s not very Brit-friendly, is it? I mean, British glamour is more about dusting off the priceless jewels, and then teaming them with shoes that the dog’s chewed a bit.”

That is EXACTLY my approach. I’m not the most well-groomed of people at the best of times. I have my very own brand of what I like to term ‘through a hedge backwards’ chic: I’m generally quite presentable, but the hair never does as it’s told, and it’s more than likely that the large scarf is hiding some sort of spillage.

Expletive, I said in an email to Best Mate, trying to get my point across in a way that would slip through her legal firm’s IT guidelines. I don’t think I want to go.

Her response? Hah.

Useful.

At least in preparation for my trip, I am now armed: along with the mountain of Cadbury’s chocolate I’ve packed (the US team WILL like me if I have to bribe them with decentish chocolate to do so), I have LLG’s email on exactly where to get myself groomed to US standards. But I might just sneak in a copy of Debrett’s too, just to show them quite what black tie means in the old country – and that blow dries have nothing to do with it.
 

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