Tuesday, 29 November 2011

In which I wonder whether men and women can just be friends

One evening last week, after being thoroughly spoilt* by The Writer, he and I curled up on the sofa and stuck on the grand dame of romcoms: When Harry Met Sally

The overarching theme of the film, succinctly put by Harry, is that men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way. Even as two people in relationships, men and women can’t be friends: This is an amendment to the earlier rule... The person you're involved with can't understand why you need to be friends with the person you're just friends with. Like it means something is missing from the relationship and why do you have to go outside to get it? And when you say "No, no, no, no, it's not true, nothing is missing from the relationship," the person you're involved with then accuses you of being secretly attracted to the person you're just friends with.

It was at this scene that I turned my head to find TW nodding sagely: “He’s right. Women always think that.”

I thought about this for a moment, all ready to denounce such a daft claim, but then found I couldn’t. Much as I don’t want to, by and large I agree.

Because women do seem to get peculiarly jealous when it comes to their boyfriend’s female friends. I think it’s because they’re seen as a threat – which is particularly daft, really, because if he and she wanted to be sleeping together, you wouldn’t be dating him now, would you?
TW has plenty of female friends, and I have no intention of getting in between him and them. In fact, some of his female friends I’ve met and have now got to know, and thoroughly approve of, thankyouverymuch. Girls who can hold their red wine, and have intelligent discussions about Gerhard Richter are people I very much want to spend time with.

But my stance has no doubt been coloured by my experiences on the other side of the coin: more times than I care to remember, I’ve been the female friend who’s been edged out by a prickly girlfriend. No amount of rationally stating my case; getting very cross; or having my own boyfriend has convinced these women that left alone with their man I wouldn’t take the opportunity to jump him.

It’s ridiculous, frustrating – and, if you’ve been friends with said chap for a good long while before the girlfriend came along, painful. Why should you be down a great friend because some girl has got her insecurities in a twist? Of course, it takes two to wreck a friendship, and in these cases, it’s particularly aggravating when your friend of however many years won’t fight for your friendship against his girlfriend’s neuroses. It’s a powerful maxim, anything for a quiet life.

I’m not saying women are the only people at fault here, by the way. I’m sure there are plenty of possessive male types out there who’d rather tar and feather their girlfriend than have her hang out with a bevvy of boys. I’m just lucky enough never to have come across one – and if I did, I imagine he’d get pretty short shrift. My friends – male and female – are important to me, and I won’t have people dictate whom I’m allowed to spend time with; just as, I might add, I wouldn’t dream of doing to anyone else.

Because, whilst I might love the film in all its 80s-haired glory, I fundamentally disagree with its premise: men and women can be just good friends. And I have a few of them to prove it.

*Dear TW’s Boss: if you’re reading this, I’d be much obliged if you’d see fit to give him every week off. Or, at least, every other week. Because I like it when TW is in my house, baking endless brownies, and preparing exquisite and delectable dinners that are waiting for me when I get in from work. And once a girl’s been shown a manner to which she’d like to become accustomed, it’s mean to take it away again. Thanks ever so.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

In which I am a little too free and easy with my kisses

Can you let the Americans know they don’t need to join the call later? my boss texted from his meeting one lunchtime this week.

Will do, I replied. And then, in my slightly absent-minded state, focussed as I was on a document in front of me, I went and added that ubiquitous graphical representation of a kiss: x

“I, er, I didn’t mean to be quite so affectionate in that text,” I apologised, when the boss got back to the office.

“No worries,” he said. “I just assumed you were being extra-nice.”


Texting is one of those things that’s so easy and quick to do that it’s become second nature (unless you’re Pa Blonde, in which case you’ve only just relinquished the habit of sending text messages in which each letter i s s e p a r a t e d b y a s i n g l e s p a c e).

But, by the same token, the ease of sending a text means that it’s equally easy to send one that’s entirely in error. The embarrassment of superfluous and inappropriate textual kisses, I’ve found, is really quite acute. It starts in the toes and creeps up through the body until there’s a distinct heat burning around one’s ears.

“Urgh,” the thought goes. “I can’t believe I did that… Oh GOD, what if he doesn’t think it was a mistake…?!” &c, driving oneself into a little pit of spiralling discomfiture.

Twitter was quick to empathise and assure me that a quick pictorial peck definitely wasn’t as bad as it could have been with stories of other people’s textual woe…

Yes, signing off a text to the new boss, who you've yet to start working for, with kisses. Been there. Mortified...

I sent a text to boss's boss meant for friend, starting "hello petal" and ending with "big kiss". Eeep.

Sent a potential landlord an all caps text meant for my boyfriend saying 'IN YOUR FACE - BATMAN DID KILL SOMEONE ONCE'.

I once texted a friend telling her the TOP SECRET info that another friend was pregnant.... Then sent it to the preggo friend* instead. *not friend anymore.

It could be worse... you could have sent your boss a text meant for your boyfriend by mistake [I could have done. Thankfully I didn’t. Because I’m sure the content of some of those probably constitutes a sacking offence. Gulp.]

Of course, these scenarios can be easily avoided if you take a wee moment to check, double check, and then check again that you’re definitely sending the right message to the right person. But there’s little you can do to guard against other people’s inaccuracies…

When the boss sends you a saucy text meant for his mistress, whose name is directly after yours in his address book…

Ouch. Still, worth having in the back pocket come review time, I imagine?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

In which I like Leonardo da Vinci more than the X Factor, but so do other people

Over the past few years, it’s become deeply fashionable to whinge and worry about ‘dumbed down’ Britain.

News stories abound about how the internet is making us stupid and that the general public’s general lack of general knowledge is hitting new and extraordinarily low levels. There are even helpful quizzes online to show us just how dumb we are.

My parents’ generation seems infinitely cleverer than my own. Doing the Times’ crossword with Best Mate’s mother is something of a walk in the part, and I know no one on the planet whose geographical knowledge surpasses that of Pa Blonde. I, on the other hand, quake with fear when it comes to the fight for the blue cheese in a hotly-contested game of Trivial Pursuit (let me assure you: there are no other ways to play board games chez Blonde), rarely able to tell you how to get from A to B, let alone the largest city in Asia by surface area.

And daily evidence does seem to suggest that Generation Y, particularly, inhabits a cocoon in which celebrity magazines proliferate and the nation is gripped by television programmes entirely devoid of merit – intellectual, artistic or otherwise. If you need further proof, do check Twitter during scheduled crowd-pullers, when ever so depressingly, people whose opinions you value and enjoy suddenly out themselves as avid fans of the X Factor – or worse, Made in Chelsea.

But sometimes, things come along that remind us we’re not going to Hell in a handcart.

Small things crop up, like the fact that The Writer is currently reading Plato - just for fun, and that a fellow commuter on the 07.29 is currently choosing to teach himself Japanese on the way to work.

There has been massive love shown for not reality television, or talent shows, but a natural history programme during the past few weeks, and both Social Circle Blonde and the wider media have concurred that Frozen Planet might just be the best thing on telly, ever, purely for the number of penguins per frame. And this follows hot on the heels of Wonders of the Universe, and Professor Brian Cox becoming the first celebrity rockstar physicist the country has ever know.

And, perhaps most hearteningly of all, there were whacking great queues last week for the sold-out show of paintings by Leonardo da Vinci at the National Gallery. Massive online scrambles and heaps people willing to stand in the London cold on a November morning for tickets to high art exhibitions fill me with a deep, deep joy.

Maybe it’s not all as bleak as we think. If only I were better at Geography.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

In which I am embarrassed in a church

There are some instances when you quite want the world around you to cease to exist before the shame and embarrassment of the situation engulfs you entirely.

This weekend, as I do quite often if I’m in the Home County of a Saturday morning, I got up at a respectable time and wandered into the centre of our little market town to grab the papers, something from the baker for lunch, and to have a cup of coffee with my mother in the local parish church (clarification: they open it for coffee and biscuits on a Saturday morning: we don’t just grab a Starbucks latte and go and sit in a pew. Mostly, I’ll be honest, because we’re the one remaining settlement in the country without a Starbucks, but you get the drift).

The mother being a stalwart of church activity, she is generally surrounded on these occasions by a variety of people, chatting away at her about upcoming fundraising activities, the flower arranging rota, or just general gossip.

I tend to slink in as inconspicuously as possible, have a quick cup of coffee (and, if I’m particularly lucky, a half-decent biscuit) and ten minutes with the mother before pleading ‘stuff to do’ and slinking back out again.

Not so on Saturday morning.

“Blonde!” one of my mother’s friends hollered as I sloped in through the double doors, doing my best to remain unseen and quite clearly failing miserably. “Hello! Come and sit down. How are you? Do you want a cup of coffee? Pat, a cup of coffee for Blonde, please.”

Middle-aged women scurried around bearing trays laden with dirty cups as they cleared tables; others replenished the plates of biscuits, the chocolate hobnobs leapt upon without pretence of politeness by the regulars who know that there’s nothing like a Saturday coffee morning in church to remind you of the maxim if you snooze, you lose.

I kissed the mother on the cheek and sat down, hoping I was going to be able to get out in time to get to the market before the chap on the baked goods stall sold out of the good cherry slices.

“So, Blonde, what are you doing on the first weekend of December?” the mother’s friend asked as I was mid-biscuit.

“I’m away, I’m afraid,” I said through a mouthful of custard cream, rather glad to have an excuse to avoid whatever the inevitable request for help with fundraising was that was coming my way. “It’s my birthday, and I’m going to Edinburgh for the weekend.”

“Oh, that’s a shame,” she said, explaining they were running a Christmas market, the proceeds of which would go into the fund for the new church hall (there’s always something. It used to be the roof; these days, it’s the hall).

“Sorry, maybe next time.”

“Yes, maybe. That sounds like fun, though. Lots of shopping, a little bit of celebrating?”

“I imagine so – although I’m going with the boyfriend, so I imagine there’ll be more eating and drinking than shopping, somehow.”

“Ah, I see!” she said, a glint in her eye. “So it’s not just a birthday weekend away, it’s a dirty weekend away!”

“Damn right it is!” I slurped my coffee, thankful my mother had scurried off somewhere to talk about altar cloths. “And I’m thoroughly looking forward to it…”

Before I could continue, someone behind me gently cleared their throat.

At that moment, unbeknownst to me, my father had wandered in through the doors, bearing the weekend newspapers and other crucial bits of Saturday morning shopping.

And it was just as he sat down in the chair next to me that my mother’s friend had finished her untimely sentence.

I looked from my left, where my mother’s friend was grinning away, taking unparalleled and obvious delight in my predicament, to my right, where my father was quietly munching his way through a Bourbon biscuit, quite clearly trying to pretend he hadn’t heard that his eldest daughter was planning a weekend of drunken birthday debauchery.

“Hi Pa… I, er, didn’t know you were coming in this morning.”

“Hmm,” he said, sitting very still as I leant over to kiss him on the cheek. “Clearly.”

Friday, 11 November 2011

In which I judge people by their books and the covers

I am, and always have been, an avid reader. Books, magazines, the back of cereal boxes: put text in front of me and I’ll read it. And one of the (admittedly few) benefits to a longish commute is the chance to read. When I’m not falling asleep on the train both ways, I can plough through a hefty novel in a week. Other commuters (who must get enough sleep at night) and their reading habits are also part of the fun, because there are few better ways to judge people than by what they’ll choose to read in public.

Sadly, this fun has been vastly diminished of late as Kindles have proliferated (other e-readers are available). It’s now impossible to judge a person by their book’s cover, the Kindle’s grey plastic giving no clue as to the quality (or otherwise) of the literature (or otherwise) within, leaving people to read tripe in public free from the judgment of their peers.

(Although I did see a chap on the Victoria line this week taking this logic to its extremes, holding a small copy of the Bible inside his Kindle cover. Can I check, just for the record: it’s okay still to read paper books, right? They’re surely now not so passĂ© that we’re disguising our hard copies inside an electronic disguise?!)

I’m terribly guilty of judging people by what they read, and fully expect the same treatment from others. I personally felt that the recent debate on WH Smith’s placement of “women’s fiction” rather missed the point: whilst deeply patronising, it’s quite useful to have the pink-covered monstrosities segregated from the proper reading – that way, I know exactly what to avoid. Because whilst I’m happy to have a stock of books I euphemistically declare ‘comfort reading’, and that I never take out in public, I sure as hell know that, even in bed on a dreich November night after a horrific day at work, I want nothing to do with any novel that has an illustration of a shopping bag on the front.

I’m more than happy to admit that I’ll choose which books I read, and when, based on the location in which I’m going to be reading them. Harry Potter is strictly for private consumption; recent commute-reads have been Somerset Maugham, and a selection of literary fiction in translation from the new indie bookshop near the office.

Of course, there is always someone willing to go one better.

“But everything you read is comfort fiction,” said TW the other day, as I attempted to mount a defence of the copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on my bedside table. I’d dispute that, saying that there’s absolutely nothing comfortable about Jean TeulĂ©’s Eat Him if You Like, but it’s hard to argue with someone whose idea of reading for fun generally comprises weighty biographical tomes and in-depth studies of US counter-terrorism and foreign policy, and who’s currently working his way through Plato (I maintain first year Philosophy at university was enough to put me off for life and choose to believe that my literary fiction is quite respectable enough, thanks all the same).

And he’s not the only one.

Some while ago, I scrambled onto a train heading out of London to find myself surrounded by people reading only thelondonpaper or London Lite, the evening freesheets, heavy on the slebs and light on the news, and both of which are now defunct.

Feeling particularly smug that I had something a little more taxing on my person, I proudly pulled out a copy of Tess of the d'Urbervilles and settled into my seat to read.

A few short moments later, I noticed the chap opposite look at me and then look at my book. There was a brief pause before he reached into his bag, rummaged a little, and withdrew a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. He looked at me, and set it down on the table between us, not opening it, but going back to his paper instead.

The lesson from which is probably judge not, lest ye be judged – something my Bible-reading friend could have told me, and a diktat which people’s bloody e-readers seem to be enforcing on their own anyway.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

In which I don't read the Daily Mail

It was on Saturday morning during a break from attacking the duvet cover with a lint roller and cursing Colin for being so damned fluffy that I saw a tweet from a PR for whom I had much sympathy.

Bought the Mail for the 1st time in years today (client coverage), it really is like entering an alternate universe.

The Mail isn’t my paper of choice either (and then some), but being a PR sometimes necessitates that we buy publications that fall outside our normal reading habits.

Of course, one might argue this is no bad thing. It’s remarkably easy to get sucked into a media diet of opinions concurrent with one’s own, and suddenly you can find yourself viewing the world through unconsciously self-imposed, but very narrow lens.

I read The Times on a daily basis, and the BBC site. I like Time and the Economist and the New Yorker and, on a Saturday when I have a bit more time, I’ll also pick up the Telegraph (although that’s mainly for the GK crossword when I’ve been beaten by the Times’).

From that little list, you can probably tell an awful lot about me, and if I always stuck within those media realms, I’d get a very particular view of the world. But, because of my job, I don’t: I read a whole host of other publications too, which is invaluable in broadening the mind, and testing one’s views on almost everything.

Of course, reading outside one’s comfort zone has its dangers and can, on occasion, inspire fearsome rage. I don’t read The Spectator because it makes me cross enough to spit; The Writer very nearly had a meltdown over croissants on Sunday morning over something that had been said in The Observer; and the Guardian has the same effect on me almost every time I pick up a copy – the sneering articles about how dreadful posh people are annoy me greatly, and the less said about the spelling, the better.

I don’t buy celeb magazines – something I was told off for in my previous job, because it meant that I wasn’t in touch with a huge swathe of public opinion (little wonder that I’ve decided I prefer corporate to consumer PR). Horribly snobby maybe, but I just don’t care: life is too short to look at pictures of the latest X-Factor contestant’s armpit hair, and frankly I’d far rather read something more intellectually engaging. Or poke myself in the eye with a pencil. Whichever comes to hand first.

But then, maybe I should. Maybe it would do me good to get down off my high horse and discover what’s so compelling about the reams of celebrity gossip – because given the immense popularity of celebrity magazines, there’s clearly something in it. And while I’m at it, maybe I should give the New Statesman another whirl and see if this time I can get through an entire issue without being cross enough to burst into flames.

And perhaps those of us who quite wish they’d lock up the Mail’s Liz Jones – and not just for crimes against feminism, quality journalism and sanity, but for theft as well – should indulge a little more in Melanie Phillips’ views on immigration.

If nothing else, proper immersion in arguments on the other side can test our views, and see whether our arguments stand up. It better informs us about differing views on the world, and gives us a much broader understanding of what’s going on. Or else it induces such levels of crossness that we spontaneously combust in a fit of rage thus negating the need ever to read anything ever again.

Monday, 7 November 2011

In which I am lied to

“No, you of course you don’t look fat in that”; “God, no – I love what you’ve done to your hair”; “the cheque’s in the post” (although the latter is rather less successful in these days of internet banking and, er, no cheques).

Little white lies are critical in maintaining the ebb and flow of everyday life: they are the lubricant in the hamster wheel of life. Without them, people would have to tell the truth all the time, and I am pretty damned certain the world would be a worse place for it.

Because whilst we’re all told as small children that honesty is the best policy, it becomes clear rather too quickly that it’s not always the case. A gentle “you look a little tired today” is vastly preferable to “holy mackerel, I had no idea human beings could even look so grey.”

It’s a phenomenon of which I was reminded during a recent end-of-day phonecall with The Writer…

Now, it goes without saying that, if you’re a girl who’s not recently graced the covers of Vogue, mere mention of supermodels is enough to make you reach for the chocolate, safe in the knowledge that even in a million years, 999,999 of which are spent either in the gym or under the knife, you are never, ever, ever going to look like that.

So learning that one’s boyfriend has spent a proportion of his day sitting opposite a leggy beauty with porcelain skin and an incredible rack and amazing lips and hair down to her (definitely not childbearing) hips doesn’t fill a girl with self-confidence.

That he was there in a professional capacity merely to talk about her latest PR tie-up doesn’t change the fact that she’s a leggy beauty with porcelain skin and an incredible rack and amazing lips and hair down to her (definitely not childbearing) hips.

But, love him, he did the decent thing: he lied.

Not about the fact that he interviewed her, nor how hot she was, because there’s no point in fibbing about that: you can say that Gisele looks like the back end of a bus all you like – it doesn’t make it true, and it doesn’t make anyone feel better about the large slice of office birthday cake they had earlier in the day. No, he was far cleverer about it.

“I spent lunchtime interviewing Hot Supermodel for this latest thing she’s doing,” TW said as he pottered around his kitchen and I lay in bed trying to stop the cat chewing my toes through the duvet.

(There was a split second pause whilst I mentally reached for the chocolate.)

“Oh, really? How was she? Is she really hot?” (I know, I know – I don’t help myself.)

“Yeah,” said TW, faint crashing noises in the background.

And then, without missing even a heartbeat: “She’s really dull, though.”

And suddenly, just four little words from a man who’s previously dumped women on the grounds of their not being intellectually up to scratch, made me feel that, maybe, being a leggy beauty isn’t the be-all and end-all.

Give the man a medal. And pass the chocolate.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

In which I suffer a split personality

I’m coming to the conclusion I have something of a split personality. It came to me as, in a rush, I shrugged on a pair of jeans one morning this week and scrambled out the front door.

Because, as so often happens on a Monday, the jeans I’d so hastily grabbed from the drying rack in the spare bedroom weren’t entirely dry, having been put through the wash at the last possible minute the night before. And, in my determination to get out of the door and to the station before the train left, it took the time between putting them on, hurtling down the stairs, grabbing a sandwich and a couple of satsumas from the fridge and chucking them in my bag, scrabbling round in the hall and then dashing back upstairs to find the right black shoeboots, putting said shoeboots on, throwing on a jacket and scarf, dashing to the station and getting on the train before I realised I was enveloped in a faint sense of damp.

Depressingly, if I’m honest, it wasn’t an event that’s completely out of character – at least, in my personal life.

At work, by contrast, I’m the model of organisation. My life is ruled by lists – weekly, daily, by client, by impending meeting, by priority, by the hour. There’s vast white space on the desk, and the stationery is tidied away in one of those little pen pots. Notes are meticulously kept, in several colours, in a very large notebook, and emails are carefully flagged in different colours, and filed by client and project. I have all necessary email addresses and phone numbers, and if I don’t, I know who I have to talk to in order to get them. I have the ability to tell you exactly what time is it in New York at the drop of a hat, as well as the dialling codes for France and Switzerland, and I am alarmingly punctual for meetings

At home? Not so much. It’s possibly not that much of a surprise. I clearly I use all my capacities for organisation whilst I’m at work, leaving no wiggle room to be able to manage my life admin satisfactorily the rest of the time.

Which is why I do things like wear damp jeans to work. Or have three answerphone messages sitting on the home phone for weeks at a time. Or have a study desk entirely covered entirely with old post, electrical cables from long-dead laptops and ratty old t-shirts with holes that haven’t yet made it to the bin, but no room to actually do things like, y’know, work.

Or fall over the cat whilst baking and end up with a floor covered in cranberry and vanilla blondies. Or neglect to take out the cash to pay the cleaner, necessitating late-night trips in jogging bottoms and flip flops to the newsagent to buy an entirely unnecessary Freddo, merely for the cashback. Or lose one’s glasses and not find them in time to go to the cinema, thus watching films in prescription sunglasses.

Or put the shopping away so absently-mindedly that one discovers some hours later that there’s a packet of vine tomatoes on the bathroom shelf, but a box of tampons next to the lettuce in the fridge. Or have various things in the fridge past their use-by date, leaving you to serve your boyfriend manky coffee with his croissants and Observer (I know, I know. I’m working on him. I’ve at least got him to read The Times on a Saturday). Or not have a spare top in the office for emergencies (read: unexpected stays at said boyfriend’s), resulting in your wearing the same outfit two days in a row, but on the second day accessorised with an expensive – man’s – scarf that aforementioned said boyfriend picked up at a press day.

Still, I should be grateful really. With such a capacity for my total lack of satisfactory life admin, I should thank the lucky stars things do get done at work – and that at home, there’s nothing too much worse than damp jeans to worry about.

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