Monday, 30 April 2012

In which PRs aren't completely stupid


When did “PR person” become shorthand for “vacuous, superficial, braying idiot”?

I know it’s a trivial thing to be cross about, but there seems to have been a lot of it around of late, and the increasingly insidious sniping at PRs is, frankly, getting on my tits.

I’ve (sadly) come to expect it from papers like the Guardian, which seem to have an editorial policy of Not Being Nice to PRs (both in their writing as well as their dealings on the phone), or frankly hypocritical bloggers, but these days apparently even the usually reliable bastions of sense are at it. 

I’m well aware that PR has an image of being an easy career, something that middle-class girls do for a few years before settling down and getting married and spending the rest of their lives complaining to their tennis buddies about the difficulty of finding a decent nanny.

Maybe in some cases, that’s true. But, my MA in Politics and IR; ambition; need to be doing something interesting and stimulating with my life; and desire not to rely financially on anyone else to pay my own mortgage would lead me to disagree.

And when we’re not being portrayed as vacuous, we’re all evil merchants of spin, cosying up to unsavoury types and trying to put a positive slant on human rights abuses, or sneaking dodgy deals through with the consent of Cabinet ministers.

Which, shock, horror, isn’t true either. Some of us have turned down jobs based purely on lists of potential clients that would have made it rather tricky to sleep soundly at night.

PR’s not one of life’s worthy careers, by any means. Of that, I am well aware. We don’t spend our days searching for the Higgs Boson; curing cancer; or highlighting grievous abuses of human rights. But neither is it entirely composed of standing round at glamorous parties quaffing champagne, ignoring all things Real Life in favour of trying to bag one of the boys from Made in Chelsea.

Talk to any PR worth their salt, and they’ll tell you about long, stressful days dealing with demanding clients and difficult, ego-driven journalists. I would argue that anyone who, on a day-to-day basis, deals with some of the world’s biggest listed companies or advises globally-recognised MNCs on their corporate media strategy, isn’t a total idiot.

To manage multiple account teams working across a variety of clients and projects, or deal with budgets of hundreds of thousands of pounds; to be able to flit from media relations for a small tech start-up to advising on corporate comms strategy around an IPO for a financial client, you have to have your wits about you.

I’m a PR – one of those supposedly vacuous, fatuous types; the sort no one wants to spend time with in bars and restaurants because I have nothing interesting to say. Which I find really bloody offensive.

Because, far from caring about which TOWIE contestant has done what, or whether print or pastel is the only thing to be seen in this Spring, I’m more likely to want a conversation about why Mary Beard is such a brilliant, brilliant woman; or whether Zoe Williams’ latest article in the Guardian was fundamentally flawed (it was).

I honestly don’t remember the last time I opened a copy of heat or even Grazia. But the publication that I read every day without fail? The FT.

And rather than spending every evening in a bar full of mindless prattle, I’d rather go home to a glass of decent red and the West Wing; or head to PolitiGal’s office to help her out with her latest campaign; or attend a charity fundraising event with JournoGal, knocking back the gins and tonic, and trying desperately not to scratch my nose in case it’s taken for a several-thousand pound bid for a share in a racehorse.

So, no, actually: my peers and I aren’t all airheaded idiots with nothing to say. We’re not in it for the champagne, or as a time-filler before marriage – just as all journalists aren’t police-bribing, phone-hacking toerags, with such lazy writing that they adopt inaccurate shorthand because of a chronic lack of thought and creativity. But hey – why let the facts get in the way of a good story?

Thursday, 26 April 2012

In which I'm a bit 'meh' about the Olympics


It was in a client meeting last week that someone mentioned how much they were looking forward to the Olympics this summer.

For about forty-five seconds, the enthusiasm was infectious, and I was along for the ride. Huh, I thought, maybe he’s on to something. Maybe we should all be excited about the opportunity we’ll have to prove to the world just how brilliant London is; how well we do massive spectacles like this; and what great things it’ll do for our image abroad and British tourism in the years to come, and wonderful things for areas of London that were long overdue some serious investment.

And then sense got the better of me.

Because, in true gloomy Brit style, always more Eeyore than Tigger, I’m not really looking forward to it in the slightest.

I understand why the Olympics one of those things politicians get excited about, and I can see that from a PR perspective, a well-executed Games will do good things for the reputation of “brand Britain” abroad (although let’s not over-egg the pudding, eh? It’s not the one Grand Gesture that will persuade people from far and wide to open their arms and wallets to our little island, thus rescuing us from our desperate economic and political malaise). But, from the perspective of a person already living here and trying to go about their daily business, I just can’t get on board.

I know it’s de rigeur to get a bit grumbly about the Games, and that maybe we should just lighten up. You never know, The Mother’s voice rings in my ears, you might even enjoy it if you give yourself half a chance. And I’m happy to be proved wrong. But I just don’t think I will be.

I’m not looking forward to an additional 6 million people in the city.  If you’ve ever tried to walk up Oxford Street on a Saturday (although why would you?), or get a table at Senzala for brunch, you’ll know it’s quite busy enough as it is already, thank you: we’re going to be hard-pressed to find room for all the extras.

I don’t fancy the extra 20 million anticipated spectator journeys. I use the Northern Line to get to work. There’s already less free space per carriage than inside the average gnat’s pants. More people are categorically Not What’s Needed. I don’t fancy the fact that, on the miraculous occasion that I do squeeze myself onto a sweaty, overstuffed tube in time for work, I’ll almost certainly be told that the station is about to be evacuated due to someone’s errant Pret wrapper left under a bench.

I don’t fancy the millions of extra people standing on the left of escalators; clogging up Oyster card barriers by standing too close before swiping; or not knowing which way to look before they cross a road. Nor do I relish the collective stupidity of people in large groups, which will inevitably manifest itself in impossible-to-walk-round multi-person blockages in the middle of pavements. 

I don’t fancy teenage tourists riding Boris bikes along the pavement. I don’t fancy the inevitable media Gameswash, with other news nowhere to be found. I don’t fancy vast queues and irritated people getting tetchy with inevitable stop-and-searches happening on every second street corner. Or the fact that everything – such notoriously good value as it is anyway – will be put up by at least 50% by greedy businesses attempting to squeeze every last drop out of the tourist dollar.

Or the fact that, by simply writing all these thoughts down, I may be in contravention of some particularly draconian laws on branding and whisked away by goons from the Ministry of Truth.

Still, if there is a silver lining (and I’m not convinced there is, but let’s clutch at a straw), at least we know that there are six weeks this summer that will royally piss off the French.

Monday, 23 April 2012

In which a thank you letter is a lovely thing


For some it never went away; and for some, made as a child to sit down at the kitchen table with paper and pen on Boxing Day afternoon when all you wanted to do was read a new book or play with a new game, it was never allowed to go away.

Whether my friends fall into either of the above categories, or whether they are just now rediscovering their joys, the sending and receiving of thank you cards seems currently to be abounding.

And I don’t mean a thank-you text, or a hastily rattled off email, or – as is increasingly the case now – a thank-you tweet. I mean, an old-school; handwritten; honest-to-goodness; comes-in-an-envelope; needs-a-stamp-and-everything thank-you letter.

In these days when even Debrett’s says that a thank-you email is acceptable (frankly, I think these might be the end of days. Either that, or there’s someone at Debrett’s who needs a good, sharp slap), and when most post is either junk or bills, there’s something wonderful about a nice, thick envelope propped up in the communal hall’s letter rack, with familiar yet not immediately identifiable handwriting across the front.

The Writer and I have been the recipients of several lovely thank-you cards of late, and each one has been met with surprise and delight. Because none of the cards was expected; each clearly took time out of the sender’s day to write; and none of the things for which the cards were sent were things for which we went out of our way.

Whether we’ve put people up on an overnight jaunt to London; had PolitiGal and her (relatively newish) chap, The Spectator, over for a boozy couples’ dinner; or hosted a Sunday lunch in which the teeny, tiny trifles seemed to leave people far drunker than the numerous preprandial gins and tonic, or the bottles and bottles of during-dinner wine, none of these things are done other than for the sheer enjoyment of the thing itself and with no expectation of anything in return.

Which somehow makes it all the lovelier that our guests felt inspired (or at least went to the effort to look like they were inspired) to put a few words of thanks down on paper and send it our way.

Because, frankly, even in the most achingly hip of Grandly Designed domiciles (which Chez Nous is not), or the homiest of homes (which I’d like to think we’re getting some way towards being), there’s always, but always, space to be found for a well-thought out thank-you letter.


Wednesday, 18 April 2012

In which I undergo a rather unusual massage

It was as I was lying on the table having the bottom of my feet pummelled by the tiny iron fists of my tiny Chinese masseuse that I thought something might be up with the back, neck and shoulder massage I’d booked.

There is something wonderfully decadent about handing over cash to have someone spend an hour rubbing you down especially if, as I do, you leave it so long between each session that the massages have no lasting effect whatsoever.

Still, I’m not someone who can be accused of depriving myself due to an attack of common sense; thus it was that I found myself on a day off work sitting outside Wild Caper, supping cappuccino and reading the paper, and deciding that I would extend my patronisation of local businesses and book a massage at the little place next door.

I can say, without a doubt, that it was one of the more memorable massages I’ve undergone. It didn’t have the vehement reprimandy quality of the lady at Champneys; nor did it have the blissful surroundings of the Ischian hills. Instead, there was a whole raft of things that, several days later, I still can’t quite shake from my mind.

Because, as a starter for ten, I don’t ever remember a massage starting before with what can only be described as an almost-vicious prod to the base of the skull. Definitely not for faint hearts who like to be eased into their hour of unfettered rest and relaxation, but an interesting beginning nonetheless.

And it rather continued in that somewhat odd but not ineffective vein for the rest of my time on the table.

The fact that I did manage to relax completely is testament to the power of the aforementioned iron fists, because despite the plinky, relaxing music, I could quite clearly hear the dulcet tones of shouty, crashy prep for the dinner service coming from Casa Morita next door. And actually, all things considered, the plinky, relaxing music wasn’t all that relaxing, given it was mostly pan-pipe renditions of 80’s power ballads. You’ve not heard I Want to Know What Love Is until you’ve heard it on pan-pipes.

Given the situation, I was pretty sure there was nothing else that’d make me blink a metaphorical eyelid (given that they were shut at the time). But no. Because as soon as I’d tuned out the preparation of quesadillas and pan-piped Phil Collins (Another Day in Paradise, for those who’re interested), I was being squeezed and manipulated in all sorts of places I hadn’t anticipated.

Once the surprise had worn off that I was, in fact, not there for the back massage that I’d booked, but a full-body number, I minded less that I was having my calves rubbed, and instead thanked whatever made me decide to shave my legs that morning. And, once she’d started on the bits of me that weren’t my back, by golly did she commit to the project. Once the feet had been given their going over, I had the somewhat dubious pleasure of having my bottom roundly thwacked with the side of her hands before the rest of me - each and every bit - was subject to just about the same fate.

Still, if you’re going to do a thing, you may as well do it properly, and I shall now ask for my money back from any massage I experience in which various bits of my face are’t given the required attention. Because there really is nothing like a perfectly relaxed eyebrow.

Monday, 16 April 2012

In which men shouldn't wear jewellery

Being the girlfriend of a journalist who writes mostly for men means my eyes are often opened to facets of life about which I had previously been blissfully unaware, be they thrilling videogames; exceptionally hot supermodels; or newly released books, beers or brogues.

And men’s fashion is, I’ll happily admit, one area about which I have learnt a hell of a lot over the past 11 months.

The Writer is, without a doubt, better dressed than I am. All the bloody time. Even when I think he’s gone and put on something outrageous, it turns out his instincts are right: much as I might put up a fuss, give me 10 minutes and I tend to come round to his way of thinking. A brand new tie is a case in point: when he whipped it out of a suitcase groaning with transatlantic splurges, if I’m honest, I pulled a bit of a face. But, having seen him wear it, I’m going to have to grudgingly admit that, despite the fact I’d have gone nowhere near it under my own steam, it’s actually quite cool.

But there’s apparently an emerging trend in the world of male fashion that, despite TW’s claims of style, I refuse to get on board with: jewellery on men (the other thing I refuse to countenance is the terrible portmanteau that TW and his colleagues have come up with to describe it. You can go and look for yourselves).

As readers with longer memories will be aware, the concept of man-bling isn’t something I’ve ever been fond of, and my tastes in this area are showing little signs of change – because there is just something fundamentally unattractive about jewellery on a man.

Watches I have absolutely no problem with. Ditto a wedding ring (these also happen to be a useful and instant marker of cheaty idiots when one’s flirting with chaps in bars), and sometimes a nice signet ring (but only if you actually have a family crest. None of these nasty Argos-y type things, please). And that’s it. (Just so we’re clear: cufflinks, tie pins, tie clips and pocket squares fall into the category of “accessories” and are all fine. Nay, to be encouraged.)

I am, however, wholeheartedly against all and any of the following: necklaces, be they chains or little leather things with shells attached picked up whilst on a surfing holiday or Gap Yah; rings that aren’t wedding rings; wedding rings that aren’t plain metal (you’re a man, not a magpie: leave the diamonds to us); earrings; bracelets; penazzles (no, I have no idea whether they’re a real thing or not, but just in case they are, I think they’re worth including in a list of “to be left WELL ALONE”); friendship bands; festival wristbands (what are you? A grubby 18 year-old?); toe-rings; or anything else that you wouldn’t be surprised to see adorning Peter Andre.

Whilst arguing the point with TW, I thought I stood on pretty unshakeable ground citing as many manly men as I could call to mind (I can not for the life of me imagine James Bond standing before the mirror and bedecking himself in a sparkly earring), before having my theory backed up by a unanimous opinion from a bevy of my female Twitter followers who echoed my thoughts straight back at me.

It’s good to know that my instincts aren’t entirely off-whack just yet. But who knows? Another quirky tie, and I might just find myself tipped over the edge. 

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

In which I discuss art with the neighbours

In a move that rather surprised me, given all the “London is so anonymous and no one knows each other even to say hi to” press that this city gets, it was rather nice to be invited to a “welcome to the building” dinner recently by the neighbours who live in the flat upstairs.

Of course, invitations to dinner from neighbours and other well-meaning folk whom one doesn’t know are fraught with potential dangers. Because, to put it Sartre-paraphrasingly, hell is other people’s bad dinner parties. Attempting polite small talk about the length of your commute to the office whilst tackling an over-chewy chicken breast and pretending that you didn’t hear the neighbours downstairs have a blazing row on Thursday night followed by blazing make-up sex on (or, even more embarrassingly: their hearing yours).

But it’s bad form to decline and so the invitation was accepted as gracefully as an invitation can be accepted, given that the first thing done on receiving it was a check that proposed date and time didn’t clash with the first episode of the new series of Mad Men.

Naturally, The Writer and I had the inevitable concerns: would the hosts be nice? Would the other guests be nice? Would they be able to cook? Would they be racist/ sexist/ otherwise politically objectionable (ie, Lib Dem)? Could we actually be bothered to go and make polite small talk with a load of people we don’t know given we’d both put in full days at work where a large part of both our jobs is making polite small talk with a load of people we don’t know?

But, manners being the better part of valour (that’s how that phrase goes, right?) and having been asked to bring along some pre-dinner nibbles, we laid out a board of M&S’ finest easily assembled stuzzichini, and headed on upstairs.

Of course, as is nearly always the case in these situations, our worst fears were unfounded: everyone was very nice; the hosts turned out a perfectly respectable butternut squash risotto; and the discussion was very pleasant.

There were, as should probably have been expected, a couple of awkward moments: one chap present was extolling the virtues of his many years of intensive psychotherapy and recent conversion to Freudianism; and it turns out that, in non-media circles, if someone admits to being a journalist, the first thing everyone else will do is raise their eyebrows and ask if said person has ever hacked a phone.

There were discussions about the upcoming Mayoral elections; whether or not we could organise a successful street party for the Diamond Jubilee; and a fairly strident discussion about what constitutes art, why Twombly may or may not be acceptable on a sitting room wall, and whether his work is or isn’t categorically better than Turner. Which is a discussion I’m usually more than happy to have – as TW found out the other evening when we had something verging on a row about whether or not videos games can be considered ‘high art’. I still say nay - but not at 9.30pm on a Thursday night with four other people I hardly know, and definitely without quite enough wine in the system to make it halfway bearable and not deeply self-conscious.

Still. At least Mad Men’s back.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

In which I discover things about living in flats with boys

I have, over the years, experienced a variety of living situations: with the parents; with strangers during my first year at university; with Best Mate and boys; with The Californian who turned out to be rather more certifiable than one likes in a cohabitee; with girl pals; and now, living with The Writer.

The few short weeks of our sharing a front door have been a learning curve, and one in which I have ascertained the following:

- When you live with a boy, a lot of FIFA12 happens. More than I had originally anticipated. There’s also some Skyrim and something else that involves skateboards. [It's actually snowboards, Ive been reliably informed from the other end of the sofa.]

- When one has Sky on the Xbox and its complicated controller handset thingummies, it’s remarkable how quickly one can learn to miss a remote control.

- Living with boys comes with certain wardrobe advantages: you might not be able to borrow an exciting LBD for a party, but there’s nothing like an oversized, flannel lumberjack shirt that smells faintly of Terre d’Hermes to make a girl feel at home when she gets in from work.

- Boys eat. Don’t get me wrong: I like, nay, love food. There’s little that makes me happier than an incredible olive and rosemary loaf from The Bread Room, dipped in some good, grassy olive oil and eaten with warmed goats’ cheese. But I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten as much as I do living with TW. There’s always something tasty around; the proportion of my weekday suppers that consist of toast is down to zero; and I’ve never eaten pudding on as regular a basis as I do now. I am going to rapidly resemble a blimp.

- You get through loo roll less quickly than you do living with girls.

- You get through kitchen roll far more quickly.

- Aware as you might be that pockets need relieving of receipts, coins and earphones before trousers go in the wash, collar stiffeners come as a surprise every time I put a load of washing on.

- There is apparently no such thing as too much jam.

- I’ve discovered there are myriad things that can be plugged into a TV. What they all do, I couldn’t tell you.

- They’re brilliantly unfazed by a large box of Tampax in the bathroom, but boys are disproportionally revolted by long hair clogging up a shower drain.

- What shoes are to women, ties and pocket squares are to men. Thankfully they take up less space.

- The Kitchen Drawer of Useful Things, previously home to matches, hair elastics and ibuprofen, is now where we keep the shoe-horn. No, I’ve no real idea either.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

In which I give a short guide to throwing a housewarming party

- Do invite as many people as you know, expecting half of them to be busy. Have almost all accept the invitation, giving you several sleepless nights over the forthcoming weeks about how you’re going to fit them all into your perfectly-formed, but definitely small flat.

- Have the landlady come to visit with the second carpenter to give a quotation for replacing the decorative shelves, meaning you and your boyfriend have to painstakingly remove every item that you’ve balanced oh-so-carefully from said shelves, and stack them in piles all over the sitting room floor. Delightful.

- The night before the party, discover that TFL in their infinite wisdom have planned all-weekend engineering works on the only tube line that serves your station. Have half your guests drop out due to the hassle.

- Have a premenstrually-incited and entirely unfairly prickly conversation with the boyfriend about the fact that he should have planned which canapés he was going to make earlier than noon on the day of the party. Have him return from Borough Market two hours later laden with incredible goodies and a barrelful of inspiration. Feel guilty.

- Head to the supermarket to buy booze. Develop thumpy headache. Snap some more at boyfriend. Feel guiltier.

- Return home with booze and a migraine. Retire to a darkened room in tears, not wanting to entertain the possibility of missing one’s own housewarming, but unable to breathe or move one’s head on the pillow without causing oneself intense pain.

- Hear the first guest arrive (quietly) and hear him gently and without fuss prep canapés and mix drinks and do everything your boyfriend hasn’t had time to do because he headed out to Boots, without your knowledge, to buy you the most hardcore painkillers available without a prescription.

- Make enough of a recovery in record time to allow you to shower, dress, make yourself up and do your hair (whilst aforementioned brilliant guest quietly gets on with things) still whilst your head throbs, but without throwing up, and be ready in the kitchen, drink (of water) in hand before anyone else arrives.

- Have wonderful enough friends that they’ll schlep from the outer reaches of North West London, all the way – and Victoria Line-lessly – to Brixton despite having another party to head to on the same evening in Old Street. Or whooping cough.

- Dole out enough gin and tonic that even the staunch Lefties are merrily chatting away to even those with Tory tendencies, and the canapés fly off the plates.

- Dole out enough gin and tonic that by 1am, people have considerable hits of the munchies having devoured the canapés far earlier in the evening, and one’s boyfriend heads to the kitchen to whip up emergency bruschetta and plates of Mediterranean nibbles.

- At about 2.30am after the last guest has gone home, head to bed less throbby than you’ve been all day, full of Isle of Mull cheddar and olives, sending up a short prayer of thanks to Dionysus that none of the red got spilt on the carpet, and that oh-so-glamorous plastic cups mean there’ll be minimal washing up tomorrow morning.

- The less said about the vast amount of single malt consumed, the better.
 

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