Tuesday, 26 April 2011

In which dating and perfection are probably mutually exclusive

“I just don’t know…” Best Mate was saying late one recent Sunday morning as I held the phone in one hand and dug dandelions out of the lawn with the other.

We were discussing just why she’s so reticent about going on a date with a guy who is quite plainly exceptionally keen on her.

“Is it because you work with him?”

“Sort of… I mean – it would be a pretty epic scandal if anyone found out. But it’s not just that…”

Best Mate thence proceeded to tell me that she's holding back for other reasons too: even though the two of them don’t work together directly, the fact she’d be dating one of the firm’s librarians would be more than enough to wag tongues. And with Social Circle Blonde being the lovely but judgy lot that they are, his being shy and gentle wouldn’t stand him in good stead up against our friends.

Dismissing partners for superficial reasons is a topic that seems to have come up with surprising frequency of late.

Over red wine (and cocktails. And more red wine), Eligible yet Eternal Bachelor brought to my attention that girls aren’t the only people to write off relationships on rather dubious grounds.

For him there was the woman who wasn’t quite on the ball with current affairs, to the point of being blissfully unaware of one of the most widely reported stories of last summer. Sadly for her, she also used bog-standard oil as a dressing for her salads (practically a hanging offence, let alone a dumpable one), which was the icing on his cake. There were others.

Of course, I would argue that a little pickiness is no bad thing. I’d always rather be with someone who’s right, than with someone for the sake of it. I’m perfectly happy with my own company and would consider it settling for second best to be with someone I had doubts about.

But perhaps there’s such a thing as being too picky. Maybe I’ve now got to the point where I’m not being particular: I’m being unrealistic.

I should probably pause for a moment and consider whether it’s reasonable to demand my dates be over 6’; jewellery-free; with the looks of RPJ and the voice of Zeb Soanes. Because I’d be the first to clamour that my boys were being ridiculous if they dumped women on the basis of their not being Megan Fox with an MA in conflict resolution and a quasi-religious commitment to Steak and Blowjob day.

Maybe BM, EEB and I aren’t being reasonably and understandably choosey, but rather cutting off our noses to spite our faces. It’s probably true that all the people we’ve dismissed are decent human beings; we just can’t see past our own snobberies. Perfection would be nice – but it’s just not practical.

Discussing the subject with PolitiGal, she suggested that maybe we shouldn’t expect to find all the stimulus we need to come wrapped up in one person.

With the multitude of individuals we have in our lives, we’ve got friends we can go to for intellectual debate; for a geeky chat about amazing food at a brand new restaurant; or for howling with uncontrollable laughter. There are yet others we can drag round modern art museums; and those we can drag round Burghley.

So maybe it’s reasonable not to expect potential partners to be everything we could ever imagine being appealing in a human being, and we should just enjoy them for who they are instead.

So long as they only use extra-virgin olive oil. Obviously.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

In which I get to work

A change in job brings with it a whole host of quirks.

First off, there’s the change in travel routine: not ideal for someone who, like me, tends to commute on autopilot. There have been several instances of my attempting to get off the tube at one station, only to sit back down again, realising I’m further from my destination than would be practical to walk.

I’ve also quickly come to realise that a change in workplace has meant I’ve moved from the West End to a rather less meeja, rather more swanky part of town. Everything here is far more grown up, far more moneyed, and much better presented, be it the shops (designer cupcake boutiques) or the cars (today in the immediate vicinity are parked several Porsches; one Aston Martin; two brand new Bentleys (one complete with child seat) and a Ferrari).

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had cause to work out how long it takes me to walk to the office from the station once I’ve factored in a hungover stop for coffee at the nearest Starbuck’s. This has led to the realisation that whereas if you’re hungover on Charlotte Street folks won’t bat an eyelid, here one is subject to vastly disapproving looks from the exceptionally yummy nannies dropping off their charges at the eyewateringly pricey school down the road, none of whom would dream of looking anything other than fresh and beautiful.

And there’s the new workplace itself.

Small but Perfectly Formed Agency was, as its chosen moniker would suggest, small. I have since managed to do the improbable, and move to an agency that, in the UK, is currently even smaller. Thankfully, the new London Office is based in a building that’s home to another company, so there are more people around than just my boss and me, which – given recent events – is probably for the best.

Of course, with rather more people around than I have previously been used to, there’s more to gauge, and more niceties to be observed.

I’ve so far worked out that the guy who sits directly behind me is angry – about everything, for no discernable reason. Whether it’s the crisps his girlfriend buys him in the pub, or the admin fee charged by his car insurance company for changing his address on their records, ire rages out of his every pore.

The cute office manager is exceptionally cute, and has put up with my daft new-girl requests with the patience of a particularly saintly saint, whilst the new Canadian chap looks like something you’d see on an Abercrombie poster (he’s also clearly something of a womaniser, who’s going to make my dating tales look woefully inadequate by comparison).

I’ve already spent so much time on phone to the IT department that I’ve worked out no one there speaks Mac. Neither does anyone else in the building, which is proving to be a problem (if there’s such a thing as a forward delete key that anyone could let me know of, I’d be much obliged).

And I’ve apparently already made a name for myself as someone who has a “downright filthy laugh”; enough boy trouble to exhaust everyone else in the basement (although I doubt I’ll be able to compete with Beefcake Canadian who declared on his first day that he’d woken up that morning “in Acton with a girl who smelled of damp”); and will never, ever turn down a cup of tea, currently averaging six cups a day.

Once I’ve got everyone else to start drinking Earl Grey; minding less when I inadvertently use their Crème Egg mugs; and sharing their stories of vile dates and viler hangovers, I imagine I’ll feel right at home.

Monday, 18 April 2011

In which men are playing it cool

As so often occurs in my life, one recent Thursday evening, I found myself in the pub.

With The Redhead working behind it, I sat at the bar nattering and merrily getting in the way of TR doing her job whilst I waited for another friend to join me for supper and a long-overdue catch-up.

As TR turned away (rudely - I mean, how dare she?!) to serve paying customers, I turned to my left to find a dark, handsome stranger had sat down with a large glass of red.

We’d swapped a few polite pleasantries, when The Redhead introduced us properly.

“Pub Regular, this is Blonde. Blonde, Pub Regular. More drinks?”

If such a thing is possible as to declare one’s two favourite words in the English language, I think those come pretty darned close.

More drinks it was, and we continued chatting until my friend arrived, and she and I moved to a table by the window to gossip about her forays into online dating and misbehaving sixth-formers (for clarity: the two are definitely discrete subjects. I don’t think the head at her school would be too thrilled if they were a mutual problem).

She and I worked our way through a nice balanced supper of houmous, olives, gossip and more houmous. A couple of hours later and I was back at the bar to settle up.

Pub Regular, having been joined by his flatmate, was still there, knocking back a bottle of Malbec. A quip about how they absolutely weren’t on a man-date (despite the fact they were planning on going shopping together the following day), and a few moments later I was walking back to The Teacher with a receipt for the mountain of houmous and PR’s number.

Being a fairly traditional kinda gal, I left it to him to make the first move.

And left it.

And then left it a while longer.

I’m not the type to play games - and, thankfully, the guys I’ve seen in the recent past haven’t been either. If I’ve liked someone, they’ve known it. Messages, phonecalls and dates have been sent, or received, or arranged and executed in the course of life. I’ve never sat and thought about how long I should wait between receiving a text and sending a reply; or worried about whether I should hold more back. Because, in my experience, dealings with men are baffling enough without adding layers of complexity to the dating game.

So when the required “playing it cool” 48 hours had passed; and then a frankly rude three days had passed and I’d heard neither hide nor hair from PR, I assumed I wouldn’t, and wrote him off.

And then…

I didn’t realise you’d actually swapped numbers! The Redhead messaged when I told her I’d finally had a text.

Indeed, I said. Although he’s very clearly from the “playing it so cool it’s glacial” school of thought.

It had taken PR a whole week for a message that simply said: Hi. Thought of you. How are you? x

I’m all for making dating work however you can, but I don’t know that applying your own set of particularly frosty rules is a philosophy I want to adopt - or encourage.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

In which manners cost nothing

Whilst on the tube on the way home recently, a piece in the Evening Standard caught my eye.

An enterprising American, cashing in on the wedding like several hundred thousand other people, has set up etiquette courses for little girls.

The notion of the ‘Princess Prep’ may make people shudder – not least at the thought of the type of mother who’d send her undoubtedly precocious brat to such a thing. Personally, I would suggest that if you want your daughter to see the Crown Jewels, take her to the Tower; and most riding schools I know will happily give an hour’s lesson in exchange for a Saturday spent mucking out. But that’s me.

However, I have come to the alarming conclusion it’s probably not as ghastly as it seems. In my experience, a large chunk of the population – not just spoilt little darlings with social climbing parents – could do with being given a course in basic manners, particularly when it comes to eating.

I have plenty of childhood memories of my parents doing their best to instill in me a cursory set of manners. There were pleases and thank yous; no feet on the chairs; no elbows on the tables and definitely no talking with one’s mouth full.

My slightly barmy great-great aunt did her best on one occasion to undo their hard work by persuading me that it was, in fact, fine to lick my pudding bowl once I’d finished to make sure I didn’t miss any of the ice cream. I got a sharp telling off from Granny and a wicked grin from Great-Great Aunt. She was awesome.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the people I’ve come into contact with recently hadn’t been taking GGA at her word.

At risk of sounding like the world’s oldest, crabbiest, stuffiest woman, what in the name of all that is holy has happened to people’s table manners?!

Out for dinner recently, I was horrified at my companion’s total lack of anything resembling polite conduct at the table and have now decided table manners are one of my deal-breakers. There’s just no way I’m going to date a guy if I’m embarrassed by his conduct in public.

It wasn’t just the little things like an incorrectly-held knife (I say little: HKLP is a dumping offence in the books of some people), or a napkin nicety. With his face in close proximity to the plate, he inhaled his pasta with the enthusiasm of a starving orphan, unsure he’d see food ever again.

Unlike an ex of mine for whom manners madeth the man and were of paramount importance at the smart dinners held by his parents, I’m not too fussed by adherence to all the niceties of the British dining table. A little bafflement is understandable when faced with an array of silverware and an aging, old-school uncle who still insists on eating fruit with cutlery.

But I do like people to know what I would consider to be the basics: which hands a knife and fork are held in; which way up the fork goes; and that you don’t talk with your mouth full.

Maybe I should start a class – ‘how not to be an uncouth eejit’. That’d sell, right?

Sunday, 10 April 2011

In which I carry my life around

In my experience, girls accumulate bags. It’s not particularly explicable: it’s just something we do – like our accumulation of shoes (although less extreme in most cases).

Dismissing the fact that I have several* of the things already, I decided a week or so ago to buy myself another.

I should make a good impression in the new office, I tried to justify to myself, ignoring the fact that I’m the only female in my current team of two and the company we share the building with is 80% male. Impressions made by the bag are liable to be less than that made by the cleavage.

And thus is was that the big, tan, slightly-frayed-round-the-edges number that I had been carting all my crap around in has now been resigned in favour of the new red leather tote. Naturally, this necessitated a removal of all my day-to-day essentials, as the stuff I really can’t get through till 6pm without had to be moved from one to the other.

Holy cow, do I carry a lot of utter rubbish round with me.

Some of it’s utterly necessary, naturally.

Obviously, I can’t get to work if I don’t take my railcard; I can’t get into the office unless I take my keys; and I can’t get the offices of one of clients unless I take my entrance pass. I can’t pick up a large Earl Grey  on the way in without having my purse; or see where I’m going without the specs; and this is 2011 so I need my iPhone.

Spending a lot of time on trains as I do, the Kindle is a must, or I’d die of boredom. And I hate life not being soundtracked, so I need my iPod too.

The hair isn’t always under as much control as I’d like, so a comb and kirby grips for emergency midday surgery are non-negotiables. And there’s nothing worse than turning up at an evening event under-eyelinered so I’ve got some of that, too. And if you’re carrying eyeliner – oh, and under-eye concealer – you might as well have a whole make-up kit.

Given that the hair is, as aforementioned, rarely doing what it should, the last thing I need is for it to get wet and frizzy, so the umbrella is a prerequisite for leaving the house. And because this is Britain, you can’t count on the weather, so it always pays to carry a pair of sunglasses too.

If things aren’t written down in my life, there’s no chance they’ll happen, so I need my diary; and you never know when you’ll need a pen and paper, so there’s a notebook, too, and a pen. Oh, and a spare, because biros stop working with unpredictable frequency. And painkillers, because I don’t want life to stop working on a regular basis.

Being a thrifty kinda gal I quite often have a takeaway tub containing some variant on lunch, be it leftover butternut squash and crispy sage risotto, or a sandwich I’ve cobbled together with a bit of cheese and the stuff that’s on the turn in the salad drawer.

And then, obviously, in a bag that’s been in everyday use for an awfully long time, I’ve apparently been carrying around a load of crap that I don’t really need.

Receipts (numerous. Mostly from bars); a box of now-obsolete business cards; an aging cereal bar; a tampon; two bangles; a card from The Ledbury; a hairbrush; a pair of black leather gloves; an entrance ticket to MOMA; and 78 pence (sterling) 30 cents (Euro) and 4 cents (US dollar) in change.

Which is, by anyone’s definition, quite a lot of stuff. So much, in fact, that I might need another bag to carry it all around in.

*Dependent on your definition of ‘several’

Thursday, 7 April 2011

In which I learn a lot about the Party Wall Act (1996)

There are very few things in life that make me feel like a grown-up.

I might be well into my twenties; gainfully employed advising my clients on their media and communications strategies (and, some of the time, trying not to throttle them); and own my own home, but – as previously documented – I spend most of my time feeling like an utter fraud.

It’s still a mystery to me that I manage to leave the house at godawful o’clock without being forcibly removed from it; turn up to places looking vaguely presentable (top tip: scarves and pashminas really come into their own if you’re prone to spillages); and that I don’t spend my entire salary on white mice at the end of the month.

I have deadlines and bills and a dependent creature (although if I weren’t around I imagine he’d be able to take care of himself by simply eating all other neighbourhood creatures); a study containing files marked things like “tax forms” and “insurance documents”; and a penchant for Radio 4. None of it makes me feel anything other than a teenager masquerading as someone who’s soon to be found out.

But it appears there is one thing that will make you feel infallibly grown up.

Legal action.

(And before anyone gets the wrong end of the stick and fears I’ve gone too far with the unflattering-verging-on-libellous descriptions of bad dates, thankfully I’m not the one on the receiving end.)

Much as it would, I’m sure, make me feel better to get the whole thing off my chest by committing the current saga in gory detail to the pages of the interweb, I’m not sure that it’s a terribly good idea. Suffice it to say that the owners of the property next to Blonde Towers have decided to put up an extension – about which I am not thrilled.

There are all sorts of words and phrases being bandied around, most of which sound thoroughly terrifying and utterly adult (and not in a good way). Thankfully, a Best Mate in the legal profession is not a thing – nor a person – to be sniffed at, and her translations of badly written legislation have been invaluable (an aside: oh, how I would love to go through the entire back catalogue of Acts ever written, and convert them into understandable English).

But having one’s day punctuated by solicitors and surveyors and legislation and land registry do elicit the feeling that maybe, just maybe, one has wandered (somewhat depressingly) into a world where things aren’t simple; where there isn’t an endless supply of white mice; and where things are – for want of a better phrase – grown-up.

Of course, the notion of taking legal action is an utterly terrifying one – at any age, I imagine – and one liable to leave neighbourly relations rather less amicable than had previously been the case. So I did what any self-respecting twenty-something would do in the same situation: I called my dad and delegated the entire project to him.

Well, there’s no point in rushing into this adult malarkey, is there?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

In which I plan dinner parties

With a house of a size not well-suited to vast parties (and, if I’m honest, a colour scheme that could be described as “impracticality neutral”), the dinner party is the preferred form of entertaining at Blonde Towers.

Combine a small group of people; a lot of food; enough booze to disguise any mistakes I’ve made with aforementioned lot of food; low lighting; and plenty of conversation of the sort you wouldn’t want taped by an undercover News of the World reporter, and in my book you’ve the recipe for a damned good night.

Happening on a semi-regular basis, Blonde Towers’ dinners tend to be fairly boozy affairs. A recent number saw The Medic turn up at the front door clutching a magnum of Veuve, declaring that it seemed foolish to start with anything smaller. On that occasion, we polished off almost a bottle of wine per person; raspberry gin digestifs with pudding; port with cheese; and a round of whiskies with coffee. You get the picture (if anyone has a well-kept liver going spare, do get in touch).

Of course, because the dinners are relatively alcoholic events for which I drag everyone out - shock horror - past Zone 6 (here be monsters) no one tends to leave the same evening. Forget three-course affairs: dinners chez Blonde seem to have turned into three-meal numbers, with guests never leaving before breakfast, and rarely before lunch. I still can’t work out whether people don’t leave because they know they’ll be fed, or that I feed them because they don’t leave.

But for a dinner party to be successful, a little planning needs to go into the mix as well as all that booze.

Most important of all, far more so than the food, is the guest list. With the right people round the table, a few boxes from Domino’s would do the trick. Get the company wrong and not even soufflé Suissesse will save you.

My rule is never to have a table full of people who already know each other - just one new voice will spice things up with new topics of conversation and previously unheard anecdotes.

Singletons should be prepared to sing for their supper in the form of stories about recent dates - the more horrific the better.

Too many people from any one sector are banned: they’ll inevitably talk shop. I love my lawyers, but not when they’re all talking caseloads at each other over the crabcakes. Ditto medics, who’re terrible for fiendishly gruesome stories whilst people are eating.

And I’ve found it’s advisable to give a brief thought to politics too. Polite company might not find politics a suitable discussion for the dinner table, but my lot aren’t polite company - and they’re happy to argue. Mercilessly. Watching Boy Whose Job In The City I Don’t Understand, a consummate Champagne Socialist, take on the arch Tory that is PolitiGal on a finer point of policy is a wonder to behold but not entirely conducive to friendly conversation.

Make sure you keep separate the ones who’re likely to hint heavily, and with huge amusement, at your previous indiscretions (Hot Flyer Boy) in front of the person you were indiscreet with (Speckled Lad / Speckled Lad's brother).

Don’t think you can ever over-cater on the cheese front. There’d be a mutiny at my place if there weren’t enough Brie left over for SL to make a sandwich from with the remainder of the breakfast bacon to eat on his drive back to barracks.

Use a table cloth. You can always bleach it to be rid of the red wine, or chuck it out in the case of cigar burns. Such stains are rather harder to remove from the surface of the table.

Along with the ibuprofen, make sure you’re equipped with very large drinking vessels for the ensuing hangovers, or you’ll come downstairs to find HFB drinking squash out of your favourite vase.

Give yourself enough recovery time between one and the next. Your fridge shelves; glassware; and the chap who has to empty your recycling box will thank you.

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