Friday, 20 January 2012

In which I write an open letter to estate agents

Dear estate agents,

I’m sure I don’t understand the ins, outs and particulars of your jobs. I’m sure I couldn’t begin to comprehend how taxing it is to have to deal with people looking for a house AND those looking to get rid of one. There must be much, much more to the thing than meets the eye, because that’s the only reason I can think that explains the shoddy level of service that you universally seem to provide.

So let me iron a few things out for you.

Whilst catchy (well, it’s not, but let’s not quibble the point), location, location, location is a phrase used for emphasis. It doesn’t mean you can hear one location from your client before showing them properties in two others. If I ask for flats in Brixton, I’m expecting the properties you suggest to be in Brixton. Not Kennington, not Peckham and certainly not Orpington. If I’d wanted to live in those places, I’d have asked for those places. I didn’t, and whilst I’m sure they’re lovely, I don’t.

I have a finite income. Whilst I’m not on the breadline, it’s not as large as I’d like, so when I give you a budget, that’s what I can afford to pay in rent. I know you’d like me to pay more, because you take your commission. I understand that, I do. But if I tell you my budget is x, and you only show me properties that are one and a half times x, I’m going to ignore your calls; think you’re an idiot; and use one of your competitors instead, leaving you with y% of 0, instead of y% of x. And then who loses out?

I have specifications. If I want a one-bedroomed flat, I want a one-bedroomed flat. That is not the same as a studio flat. And a one-bedroomed flat in Brixton is not a studio flat in East Dulwich. Just sayin’.

I have a job. It’s a full-time job. It’s how I’m able to pay the rent (that’s the rent of x, let’s be clear. Not one and a half times x. See above). You have to let me do my job, or I’ll be fired and then not be able to pay the rent, and then you’re out of your job too. Factors that comprise “letting me do my job” include arranging viewings after 6.30pm and making use of my answerphone facility when I don’t answer the phone instead of further relentless calls every four minutes.

I have a job. It means I have to do the things I’m paid to do, not chase you endlessly because you haven’t been in touch. If I see a property on your site, only to be told, when I call you that you’ve had it on the books for several days and it’s already been let, I’m going to get cross. And the crossness will be directed at you. And that makes for an unpleasant day for the both of us.

So to recap: please tell me (once is enough) about properties that meet my specifications, in the area I want to live in, for the price I want to pay, that I can see after work.

Not too hard, surely?

Much obliged.


Wednesday, 18 January 2012

In which I say goodbye to a stalwart friend

Whilst I am, obviously, beyond thrilled that The Writer and I are soon going to be moving in together, there’s a tinge of sadness underlying the project: I’m going to have to give up Colin.

Colin back in the day in his foster home, atop the scratching post. These days, the top of that would barely take a paw.
I’ve refrained from posting incessantly about him here for fear of seeming quite the mad cat lady (although I think that’s rather undermined by the frequency of the photos that get posted to Twitter), but the truth is that the cat has been an essential part of my home.

Family Blonde has always had cats – it’s just the number that’s varied. From the stray kitten we took in, having found him starving under the chest freezer in the garage to those we’ve bought, or rescued from Wood Green via those we’ve been given when family friends have developed allergies, there’s always been at least one, usually two, often three prowling round the house.

In the bottom of the laundry basket. I didn't have time to take one when he fell into the bottom of the loo
So when I moved back to Home County and in by myself, getting a cat was one of the first things I was going to do. Before I’d even moved in, I called the local branch of Cats Protection to find out whether they would have any kittens available at any point in the next few months.

“Oh, yes, actually,” said the extraordinarily nice lady on the phone. “We’ve got a cat with one of our volunteers at the moment – the cat’s just given birth, so the kittens will be ready to go to new homes in about 12 weeks. Shall I reserve one for you?”

If he can climb onto it, he'll lie on it. Yes, that is the cooker hood.

We had a short discussion in which I said yes, I was fine with a black cat, and no, I wasn’t going to reject it if its eyes were the wrong colour and didn’t go with my d├ęcor (seriously: what is wrong with some people?), and I found myself as a prospective kitten parent.

Colin has now been with me for two and a half years. The kitten that used to fit easily inside the palm of my hand is now a large (very large) cat who takes up more room on the bed than The Writer, and eats at least as much hummus.

I love the fact he makes a little chirruping noise when he sees me; that he waits for me outside the front door in the evenings; and that he pulls a deeply amusing expression when you brush the patch just underneath his shoulder with the dog brush. I love that he’ll snuggle into bed on a weekend morning and curl up against me, wrapping his front paws round my arm; that he loves nothing more than hiding behind shrubs in the garden, waiting to launch himself at my unsuspecting leg; and that he has just two, tiny white hairs growing out of the bottom of his chin, making him look every inch the pantomime Chinaman.

But, despite all that, and the fact that I now can’t imagine Blonde Towers without Colin’s panther-like shape (and, to be brutally honest, size) slinking over the back of the sofa, up the stairs, or across the laptop keyboard, I’m going to have to bid him goodbye. Not only is TW allergic and it would be deeply unfair to put him on Benadryl for the rest of his life, Colin is most definitely a country cat – he’d take one look at the big city and get himself hit by a car.

So rather than put either of the males I love through fates they’d rather not endure, Colin is off to the home of Parentals Blonde. He’ll have plenty of space to run around; Pa Blonde to swear blind that Colin won’t be spoilt and then put the leftover Sunday roast in the cat dish; and beds and sofas aplenty to leave covered in long black fur.

So, whilst I’ll miss him, I know he’s going somewhere he’ll be happy, and where I can visit – with hummus – for hugs.

The view from my pillow. I've tried getting him to sleep in his own bed. It doesn't work.

Monday, 16 January 2012

In which search terms are terrifying things

When I started this blog’s predecessor over (erk) six years ago in another corner of the internet, I didn’t for a second think that anyone else would ever want to read it. I wrote for myself to catalogue the things that were happening to me whilst I was at university, from the male-shaped disasters to the shoe-shaped ones.

But gradually, readers started to trickle in, and now it seems there are a few of you (to whom I would like to say a whopping great thank you) who come back repeatedly. But there are others who apparently stumble on these pages by accident having gone to Google over the past 12 months for a little advice. And, being the generous-spirited gal that I am, I’d like to provide them with such…

Black suit to Sandhurst ball
Gods above I hope you don’t mean you’re planning to wear a lounge suit. Strictly black tie or mess dress only.

Why am I not married with children by now?
I don’t know. But it’s okay that you’re not, you know. It doesn’t make you a lesser human being.

Christina Hendrick’s bum
You and all mankind, my love.

Well-mannered educated charming Englishmen
They’re sadly not as prevalent as you’d like. If you find one, hang on to ‘em. I snared mine through shared opinions on genocide-related literature and gin. True story.

Sex at61 overse xed older gentl emen
I’m not sure what to say to that, other than that you seem to need to have a quick word with your spacebar.

Rupert Penry Jones
You and all womankind, my love.

No one get married in a castle unless they own it
Ah, you’re after that email, are you? Full text here.

Pictures of middle age friends having group sex after dinner
I know people make assumptions that everyone in the Home Counties is at the swinging thing like the Queen is at gin, but a) I’m not middle-aged and b) I’d hardly post those sorts of pictures on the internet, would I?

How can I carry my things to and from the office?
Controversial as it is, I favour a bag.

Hot blooded heterosexual woman
Why, yes I am. Not sure searching for one on the internet with such specificity is going to work, though.

Fall flat on my face because of high heels
We’ve all been there. Practise, practise, practise. And a little prayer.

First date one-sided conversation
Don’t let him have a second.

Is holding a door for someone sexist?
No, no, no – dear gods. No.

How to play it cool with her
Don’t. If you like her, why bother playing it cool? Grow a pair and be a bit more upfront. Real men don’t play games.

There’s something about a man holding open a door
There’s also something about Mary. Probably not the same thing, though.

Friday, 13 January 2012

In which I'm not drinking

Christmas chez Blonde is always a boozy affair. Dinner comes with white, red and dessert wines followed by port and coffee laced with a large dose of brandy. There’s always a drink beforehand, whether it’s gin and tonic or champagne. There’s champagne at midday, and mulled wine permanently on the go, and more often than not, several rounds of cocktails. Not so bad, you think, but when those rounds of cocktails start with margaritas served (in tall glasses. Hic) well before lunch (because why wouldn’t you want tequila at 11am?), it can all add up.

So, with a week spent at the parents’ full of the aforementioned, a few days at Blonde Towers drinking champagne with The Writer, Christmas lunches with journalists, Christmas parties with colleagues, a boozy lunch with TW’s mum and a New Year’s party full of more prosecco than is entirely good for anyone, I came to the end of December feeling decidedly pickled.

And so, stepping into virgin territory, I decided I would attempt a dry January. Before anyone says it: I know, I know: there’s no real point as far as health benefits go, and I’d be much better off having a couple of dry days a week (which often happens anyway, for what it’s worth) – blah, blah, blah. That’s not why I’m doing it: I’m doing it because the thought of anything alcoholic, be it the inside of a boozy choc or a full-blown double Tanqueray 10, makes me feel decidedly queasy.

It almost goes without saying that the announcement was met by laughs aplenty. The Redhead practically keeled over with giggles, and TW looked at me with as much cynicism as I’ve ever seen a man muster underneath a single raised eyebrow. But despite the disparagement of the nearest and dearest, I’ve stuck to my guns and have, at time of writing, not let an alcoholic drop past my lips since the last glass of fizz in the new year’s smallest hours.

And, boy is it hard.

It’s not particularly that I miss the booze – I found myself quite fancying a decent G&T after work on Friday, but the notion soon passed, and it’s not really cropped up since. In fact, quite the opposite: it’s been a relief not to drink anything alcoholic, the thought of which still isn’t vastly appealing.

Instead, it’s the reactions of other people who’re making the thing a bit of a challenge. Whilst I wholeheartedly expected the – admittedly entirely fair – mocking from friends, I didn’t expect to be judged so severely by people whose place isn’t to mock or belittle my lifestyle choices.

Last week, I went to the final Christmas party of the 2011 season. Whilst before Christmas, I’d have been knocking back the booze with the best of them, this time, I wasn’t.

“Why aren’t you drinking?” “I’m disappointed in you.” “Blonde, you’re letting the side down.” “Oh go on, stop being so boring.”

If I were pregnant (which I’m absolutely not. That I know of…) or on a course of antibiotics, it would be acceptable not to want to get blind drunk. Just not wanting to drink is, apparently, not.

Why do we put so much pressure on people who choose not to drink? There isn’t the same feeling about those who don’t smoke or shoot up at the table. Admittedly I’ve been known to look askance at those who don’t drink tea (you can’t be a true Brit if you don’t, surely?), but I don’t berate them about it, telling them they’ve “let me down”.

So, for the rest of the month, I’m going to stick to my dry guns. But I might doctor who I hang out with.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

In which things move

It was a strange paradox: the moment the words left his mouth, I knew it was a moment I wouldn’t forget, and yet I wasn’t sure quite whether we were really having the conversation I thought we were having.

The Writer and I were at the tube station at the time, clutching four bottles of prosecco, one of tequila, and a lovingly created, still-warm white chocolate and ginger baked cheesecake, on our way to a New Year’s Eve dinner party.

“I’m just going to renew my Oyster,” TW said, “before the fares all go up tomorrow.” He started to fiddle with the machine.

“Gods above, tell me about it,” I said, complaining about the eye-wateringly, gut-wrenchingly, in all ways tortuous cost of season tickets into London from the Home County. “I have no idea how I’m going to pay for it next year.”

We wandered through the barriers and towards the escalator.

“Well, next year, you could always come and live with me if you wanted to.”

My heart skipped a beat, not entirely sure whether TW was being flippant, or whether, whilst atop a Northern Line escalator, he’d just suggested I move in with him. Wanting to believe it was the latter, I said that, “Yes, I think I’d like that.”

Later that night, cheesecake consumed, and as we sat amidst a host of people unknown whilst at the second party of the night, TW turned to me. “I meant what I said, you know: I want to live with you.”

“I want to live with you too,” I said, again unsure as to whether his repetition was heartfelt, or merely the result of rather too much prosecco and the romance of the night.

So when the subject didn’t surface as we lay in bed on the morning of New Year’s Day, I didn’t say anything. Maybe he was drunk, I thought. Caught up in the moment, and now he’s regretting it. I won’t say anything. Instead, I teased him about how drunk he’d been by the time we left the party.

Finally we dragged ourselves out of bed, and wandered to the kitchen for tea and croissants which we ate whilst browsing the online guide to Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan.

Staring studiously at the raspberry jam, TW started to mumble quietly. “You know what I said last night?”

Here it came. That it had been a mistake, that he loves me but doesn’t think we’ve been together long enough to make that kind of decision.

“I meant it, you know. I’m not going to put any pressure on you at all – it’s entirely up to you. I mean, you already have a house that you own, and a cat, and if you’re not ready, then I won’t love you any less. But if you wanted to move in together, then I’d be so happy.”

Of course, I said yes. Gulp.

Monday, 9 January 2012

In which I have an inappropriate crush

It was whilst reading a recent interview with Sir David Attenborough that I discovered the national treasure and everyone’s favourite surrogate Grandpa is actually a bit of a dirty old man who admits to thinking “ungrandfatherly” thoughts about 19 year-old girls, and enjoys being chatted up by 18 year-old girls on flights.

Well, hurrah for that.

Because whilst it’s all very well to think of Sir Dave as nothing more than a warm ‘n’ cuddly penguin botherer, my feelings towards him aren’t entirely familial. Because whilst I might be a little older these days than his ideal long-haul travel companion, I still have what might be defined as something of an inappropriate crush on the god of natural history telly.

And apparently, I’m not alone. Tweeting my thoughts about being chatted up by Sir D, I was cheered to find that he is by no means the most inappropriate crush out there, with other women admitting to a whole host of wrinklies. I’m absolutely not judging – frankly, how could I? – but it did give pause for thought that there are people out there who feel downright dirty things about Sir Patrick Moore. Ditto Lord Robert Winston (yes, Redhead: I’m looking at you). (Although, having looked at that little list again, maybe it’s just that we’re all suckers for a title?)

I don’t know what it is about Attenborough that makes him quite so appealing. Given he’s rather in his twilight years, I imagine it’s his immense intellect and talent, and the recently discovered eye-twinkle, rather than any perception of washboard abs (although if I had to pick one over another, intellect would win any day).

My other slightly odd crushes are much along the same lines: what I wouldn’t do for a cup of coffee with the luvverly Hugo Rifkind you could fit on the back of a stamp. And the less said about Bill Nighy the better.

Of course, not everyone is on board with the high esteem in which I hold Dave – or, more accurately, the reasons for it.

I must express some consternation, The Writer emailed, at the nature of your admiration for Sir Attenborough. It has brought our watching Frozen Planet (and subsequent, less television friendly activities) under new scrutiny.x

Oops. Busted.

Friday, 6 January 2012

In which I contemplate the little things

Below: an incomplete list of life’s small pleasures:

- Drinking a cup of tea when it’s at just the right temperature

- The first slice of a great piece of cheese

- Sliding into bed in the middle of winter and putting your feet up against the hot water bottle

- Waiting to hear from someone in particular, and seeing their name flash up on the screen of the phone

- Catching a train you thought you’d missed

- Finding a great pen that makes your handwriting look the way you like it to look

- The smell of a warm horse

- A compliment from the girl on the checkout in Marks & Spencer on your eyeshadow

- Having dinner with the family and making Pa Blonde laugh so hard at something daft that he almost chokes on his wine

- Half-waking on a Saturday morning to find the cat’s snuggled, purring, against your chest

- Hearing a long-unheard but much-loved song

- Looking up to find the person across the table watching you, smiling

- Getting a short way into a book to find yourself so drawn in that you don’t want to put it down

- Watching songbirds swarming round the bird-feeder in the garden

- Taking a pair of heels off at the end of a long day

- The smell of a vase full of lilies

- Coming home in the evening after the cleaner’s been

- A day during which your hair does precisely what you want it to

- Curling on the sofa watching a film you’ve seen and loved a hundred times

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

In which I am made up

It was on the train one morning before Christmas that I ran into The Cynic, on his way into a London office on secondment from his normal lawyering location.

How we got onto the subject now escapes me, this being some weeks ago and my having downed several hundred cubic metres of Pa Blonde’s margaritas in the meantime, but not very long into the journey, TC launched himself into a vociferous rant.

“I,” he said fervently, “am waging a one-man war against make-up.”

I looked at him, blinking out from underneath lashings of pigment, eyeliner and mascara, a smattering of foundation and a little lip gloss.

“I know I’m up against some pretty big corporations, and given that I can’t even get my wife to do it, I’m probably facing a losing battle. But it’s all this…” He completed an exceptionally accurate mime of a woman doing early-morning battle with the eyelash curlers.

I must have appeared utterly horrified because his next comment appeared an attempt to soothe somewhat.

“Look, it’s not that we don’t notice that you’re all beautifully made up – it’s that we think you’re beautiful without it.” Gosh, what a well-trained chap.

Warming to a theme, he went on to suggest that women everywhere should collectively boycott all make-up for a day: we might realise, he argued, that no one would recoil in horror at our unmade-up faces, and we’d all save ourselves a fortune in both time and money.

I’m sure, to men, TC’s argument is a crystalline example of inexorable logic. But as good an argument as he makes, I remain unconvinced.

I’m a big make-up fan. The bag I own is definitely nowhere near bulging as, say, Best Mate’s – I don’t own hundreds of different types of everything in a million different colours, myriad brushes to do very precise things, or products that only the lovely types in MAC would be able to identify, let alone apply. But I am a devotee. There are certain products that I fell in love with, back in the mists of time, and haven’t strayed from since. I prefer the way I look when I’m wearing it, and the ritual of putting it on in the morning is something I actually quite enjoy.

I would never go into work without the stuff on – as ridiculous as it might sound, I think that it belies a certain level of professionalism to wear make-up to work. You don’t need to go all Joan Collins on the situation, but a little mascara suggests that you have a) the levels of organisation required to wake up in time to put it on before you get into the office (public application of make up has already been dealt with) and b) you take the thing seriously enough not to turn up looking like a slob.

As I get older and more confident, I’m happier to wear less of it than I used to be. Back in the day, I didn’t like leaving the house in anything less than a full face of slap. The week at University that I contracted conjunctivitis from my grotty Californian flatmate (remember her, long-time readers? Jeez. What a trainwreck) saw me attend precisely no lectures being, as I was, unable to wear eye make-up.

It’s now not unheard of for me to head out at the weekends or on days off, bearing nothing more than a little mascara and some tinted moisturiser. And yes, the time and effort saved is great, and no small children seem to have keeled over, eyes bleeding at the sight of my pale face and indistinguishable features.

But it’ll take a bit more convincing for me to give up the slap entirely, convincing mimes of eyelash curlers by fellow commuters notwithstanding.

Monday, 2 January 2012

In which I don't resolve anything. Again.

I didn’t make any resolutions at the beginning of 2011. Having previously failed miserably to stick to any, and thinking that there was nothing particular that I wanted to do, I came to the conclusion last January that I’d just meander along as normal.

As it turned out, meandering along as normal presented me with one of the very best years of my life to date. The end of the year saw me in my twenties with a career I enjoy, a home I own, a boyfriend with whom I’m crashingly in love and a cat who, whilst driving me up the wall, brings me much joy and a facility for depositing leftover hummus. Wins all round, really.

So, this year, I’m not going to make any resolutions either. What’s the point when not doing so meant I didn’t finish the year feeling like a failure for not sticking to a vague notion decided upon at random 12 months beforehand, and when it seems to be the best way of doing things?

There are some things I might like to do at some point in the not too distant future, but I’m not going to resolve to do them in the next 12 months. If they happen, great. If not, there’ll be others.

- Save a bit more money. It’s the grown-up thing to do, after all.

- Finish more books than I abandon at page 100.

- Spend a bit less money. This will probably help with the saving bit.

- Drink less. Alcohol, that is. Not water. I don’t think I’d continue to function with any less water. If it’s not alcoholic or caffeinated, it rarely passes my lips as it is. So, maybe drink more water. Yes, that’s it: less booze, more water.

- Get to Edinburgh more. That place is like balm for my soul, and a visit once every 18 months is not enough.

- Go to the opticians. I honestly can’t tell you exactly when I last went, but I think it was some time around my second year at University. Which, fact fans, was about 2005. Oops.

- Take The Writer to New York. For such a great lover of American literature, culture and sports, the fact he’s not been is bonkers. He’ll love the place, although I might lose him to the 20th floor of 4 Times Square. Although the coffee might tempt him back again.

- Have more dinner parties.

- Moisturise more. Morning and night.

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