Thursday, 24 May 2012

In which I'm sworn at

Yesterday, I was told to “fuck off” and then hung up on by a journalist at the Daily Telegraph.

Charming, no?

Now, it’s worth stating upfront that I hate the ongoing sniping between PRs and journalists – that one side can’t do their jobs properly and that the other is always unpleasant and grabby – because it doesn’t do either side any favours, and aside from anything else, it’s boring to hear about. We’d all be better off if we admit we need each other, and learn to get along.

But this isn’t that.

I’m not getting my knickers in a twist because someone isn’t interested in a story I’ve pitched and has been a bit short with me. I understand that journalists are stressed out and busy; anecdotally outnumbered three to one by PRs – some of whom are just bad at their jobs, pitching badly researched and irrelevant stories at already-harassed journos. Hell, I live with a journalist: I frequently come home to tales of terrible PR practices and frankly ridiculous levels of idiocy.

As I said: this isn’t that.

I’m aggrieved because yesterday, in the course of doing my job, I was subjected to verbal abuse – because that’s what it was. And whilst I’m all for freedom of expression – shock horror, I’ve even been known to find funny jokes at my own expense – I’m rather of the opinion that no-one should be on the receiving end of abuse, verbal or physical, whether in their own home, out on the street, or in a place of work.

One of the responses I received about the incident yesterday suggested it’s part of the job when you’re a PR, and that we “have to be thick-skinned”. I completely refuse to accept that. The thick skin, fair enough: sometimes journalists are extremely short on the phone – even when they then go on to run the story you’ve pitched. That, I agree, is just part of the job. But I completely reject the idea that it’s ever okay to be on the end of expletive outbursts – especially when you’ve said little more than where you’re calling from.

Before I give the impression that all Telegraph staffers are like this: they’re absolutely not. Most of the people I’ve had the fortune to deal with at the paper are second in their charming nature only to journalists at the FT. But not this one.

And whilst I’m made of fairly strong stuff and my response was little more than a rolled eye and an aggrieved tweet, I’m sure there are some people out there who would be really quite affected by such behaviour – and if they’re afraid to pick up the phone next time, their job performance will suffer because of it.

Conduct like this isn’t just everyday brusqueness: it’s unprofessional and abusive, and no-one – PR or otherwise – should have to put up with it.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

In which I recommend books and other things

A few people have been kind enough recently to tell me that they’ve read books, seen films and, er, bought aftershave following recommendations that I’ve made on this blog. And so, because I’m superlatively busy at work, and also – to be brutally honest – lacking in otherwise bloggable material, here’s another list of Things That I Like That You Might Like Too.

What: Heavenly Gingerlily Body Cream, Molton Brown
Why: Delicious and decadent. So decadent, in fact, that I can never justify buying it for myself when I know that I can buy a big bottle of something utilitarian and Vaseliney, which will ostensibly do the same job for a fifth of the price. So it just makes it all the more delicious that I got home one night a few weeks ago to find that The Writer had bought a bottle and left it on the kitchen side. Boyfriend points agogo.

What: The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
Why: One of the shortlisted books for this year’s Orange Prize, Miller’s rendition of the love story between Achilles and Patroclus is gloriously drawn and deceptively engrossing. One for sneaking straight to the top of the To Read list.

Why: Without a doubt, one of the most glorious films I’ve seen this year. Such deeply-saturated colours you feel enveloped by the cinematography; achingly beautiful, with performances to match. Bypass the utterly dreadful Dark Shadows and see this instead.

What: Alstroemerias
Why: Because they’re beautiful, colourful and such brilliant value that you can buy hundreds of vast bunches without impoverishing yourself, and have them all round the house.

What: Honest Burgers, Brixton
Why: Because you’d be absolutely mad not to. Not being a meat-eater myself, I mostly go for their triple-cooked rosemary chips, which are a masterpiece in carbohydrate form. The Writer maintains that the burgers are “meat as it’s meant to be cooked”. Try whatever special is there. Go early. Be prepared to queue: it’s worth it.

What: Buck
Why: If you’re a horsey person, you’ll MARVEL at the man’s skill and apparently innate horsemanship. If you’re not, you’ll still be blown away at his compassion – for everyone and everything – in spite of a past that would suggest otherwise.

What: The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, Fay Weldon
Why: I’m only about 60 pages in, and this book is already “we can’t possibly be at Waterloo, I’m not ready to put this down and get off the tube yet” brilliant.

What: Seven, Brixton
Why: Because few places would, when you tell them it’s the Mother-not-In-Law’s birthday, scurry off to make her a birthday shot. Seven does. The cocktails are to die for (have an Old Fashioned, or a good, spicy Bloody Mary) and the pinxos are even better.

What: a decanter
Why: Even the plonkiest of everyday plonk undergoes some sort of magical, alchemical change when sloshed out of the bottle and into the decanter. Mine was a present from she of exceptional taste, Best Mate, for my last birthday, and is a rather stylish Jasper Conran number, but I’m assured by people in the know that any old jug works just as well.

What: Polpetto, Soho
Why: I had the world’s best first date here a year ago, and celebrated my first anniversary there with TW on Saturday night. If at all possible, it was even better this time round. I’d be hard pushed to tell you which was better: the rich, creamy burrata with spikes of chilli and gently crunching samphire (so good we ordered two); the smoked trout with shaved celeriac and pea shoots; or the pan-fried squid with Spring peas. What I can tell you is that you’re missing out if you go and don’t have the chocolate tart with hokey pokey. Bugger me if that’s not the most perfect pudding I’ve ever eaten. The Ledbury and Pollen Street can keep their Michelin stars: I’d rather eat here than anywhere else in London.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

In which I go on a first date

It’s exactly a year ago; a Friday night.

I leave the office in the early evening sun and make my way from Belgravia to the West End for a drink with someone The Redhead has suggested I should meet: “You both love balsamic vinegar – you’ll have the most middle-class friendship ever.”

I loiter at the bottom of a street near his office, thinking how long the week’s been, and just how much I could do with a drink.

Forewarned he’s a tall chap, I look at the man walking down the street towards me - I assume this is Red’s friend. He’s wearing jeans and a white shirt. We decide we’re both vastly in need of a gin and tonic, and walk into Soho.

We head towards a bar on Old Compton Street. Just before we get to it, I catch a spindly heel on one of the cobbles in the road, and go flying – face first – into the pavement. He picks me up and, graciously, barely mentions it as he shepherds me into the bar and presses a strong G&T into my hand.

We make our way downstairs to find a seat, and start chatting. About everything. Work and writers and family and amazing books that we love and current affairs and food, and we have another drink.

Red texts: Has he mentioned genocide yet?

Ha! I reply. He has. I show him. He groans, good-naturedly. “I’m never going to live that down, am I? Tell her it was at least relevant this time.”

We keep chatting. And then have another drink. We get hungry and decide to look for food.

We do a lap of Soho. Because there’s nowhere else that takes our fancy, we put our names down for a table at Polpetto, and kill time until the table’s ready by heading back to the bar for yet another G&T. This time, we’re sat on bar stools facing each other, my knees between his, and I think that Red might have underestimated this one.

Wobbling slightly, we make our way up the stairs and across to the restaurant. We sit at a table by the window, watching Friday night unfold in Soho below us. We order swordfish carpaccio, and a bottle of Merlot, and some other things I can’t remember any more. We eat; and I think, “he’s brilliant.” He spills red wine over his white shirt. 

The hum lowers, and suddenly we’re the last people in the restaurant. We pay, and head out into the street. I look at my phone. It’s well past midnight. “I’ve missed my last train.” I arrange to stay with a friend. We walk down Charing Cross Road towards the night buses

In Trafalgar Square, we detour up the steps by the Fourth Plinth to look out over the lights. I feel him standing behind me. I turn around, and he kisses me.

I don’t stay with the friend.

The next morning, I stand in front of his bathroom mirror. I touch up the eyeliner and try to tame my hair. Must text Red, I think. My fears seem unfounded as he suggests we spend the day together. I’m wearing yesterday’s clothes as we leave the flat and head to the tube.

At the bus stop, he’s standing with his arms around me. “That’s nice,” says an old lady sitting under the shelter. “You two are really in love, aren’t you?” Embarrassed, we laugh it off.

We get off the tube at London Bridge, and head towards Borough Market. First there’s coffee from Monmouth, drunk whilst sitting on the pavement in the sunshine. “You’re… really pretty, you know that?” I blush.

We wander round. The talking doesn’t stop. We eat cheesecake, and then paella, and then head to the river. Slowly, hand in hand, we start to make our way along its length, pausing occasionally when he sits on the wall and I stand between his legs and he kisses me.

We reach the steps at the foot of the South Bank Centre. He puts me a couple of steps higher up. “There, that’s better.” He kisses me again.

A man calls out.

Do we mind, but could we do that again? He’s a photographer, you see, documenting the festival taking place. He’d love to get a shot of us kissing, up by the big sign that says “KISSING”. You see – that one up there.

Later, the photographer sends us the picture. I tell him that it’s not many people who are lucky enough to have their first date captured on film.

We keep walking. We reach the grass underneath the London Eye. He sits on the grass; I take off my jacket and lie down, my head in his lap. We stay there, still talking.

The breeze picks up, and I sit up. I put my jacket back on, and we continue our mini marathon. My feet are killing me. I don’t care.

The sun is setting as we cross Westminster Bridge. A jazz saxophonist is busking for tourists. I laugh. “I feel like I’m in a Richard Curtis film.” “Richard gets his inspiration from me, you know. This - ” he gestures at the sunset over the river “ – took a ridiculous amount of planning. And the busker cost me a fortune.”

Hand-in-hand, we walk through the gardens on the Embankment, joking about the montage scenes that would go into our very own rom-com.

“I should probably go home at some point,” I say. “Hmm, or we could go and get something to eat?” he replies.

We stop for a drink in a nearby pub. “How about,” he says as we curl into each other on the sofa, “we nip to Sainsbury’s then head back to mine and I’ll cook you dinner?”

Red texts: So…  

Back at his, he bakes whole trout with lemon and we curl up to rest weary feet.

On Sunday morning, I pull on one of his white shirts. He smiles as it comes nearly to my knees, the sleeves dangling past my fingertips. He tucks it into my jeans, rolls back the sleeves.

We go out, buy the Sunday papers – an Observer for him, The Sunday Times for me – and sit in two leather armchairs in the coffee shop, with lattes and pastries. We read the papers cover to cover, sneaking glances at each other whenever we think the other’s not looking. It doesn’t work: we spend most of the time catching each other’s eye, unable to suppress the grins.

Later, we stand at the tube station, wrapped up in each other, getting in the way of people trying to make their ways through their days.

On the train home, I send Red a message: I owe you a drink.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

In which I am annoyed by a variety of things, none of which is particularly significant

Things that have annoyed me in the recent past:

Elephantine people using their gargantuan bulk to push through a crowded platform and heave the already-present commuters out of the way so they can get on the tube before anyone else. Not only is it dangerous, it’s painful on the toes.

Having to wait a frankly ridiculous 7 minutes for a tube at Kennington. I know, I know: in the grand scheme of things, it’s not long. But that’s not how the tube is meant to work; some of us like to be at our desks at 8.30am to get shit done before the rest of the world wakes up; and if we can’t get the tube to run on an average Thursday morning, I hold out little hope for July.

People who wait an age for the lift, only to have it stop at the first floor. It’s cretinous, lazy behaviour.

That despite being able to procure all kinds of weird and wonderful (and also weird and not wonderful things) in this vast metropolis, it appears to be completely impossible to get hold of my preferred brand of granola.

People who insist on having both the heating on, and the windows open. Pick one.

The bloody great ladder in my tights.

The chip in my nail varnish (there’s no danger of my ever being described as ‘perfectly groomed’).

When you share a wardrobe with someone, it’s no longer a satisfactory location in which to hide presents you’ve bought for them.

That, despite the huge mounds of utter detritus on my desk (three empty tea mugs; copy of the Financial Times from 3rd May; a rogue packet of salt from Eat that’s migrated over from my colleague’s desk), there isn’t a spare Kirby grip anywhere to be found (see ‘not perfectly groomed’ above).

The complete, total and utter lack of anything that could sensibly be described as “news” in the Metro.

The fact our fridge still doesn’t bloody work, meaning even skimmed milk goes off in something between 24 hours and the time you need it, meaning I didn’t get a proper cup of tea this morning and had to start my day with green tea instead. [Note to self: really should make some use of the espresso machine currently languishing sadly on the kitchen side under a fine layer of dust.]

People for whom the reflexive pronoun is a constant source of confusion. Yourself don’t actually mean ‘yourself’ now, do yourself? Thought not.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

In which Giles Coren overreacts

Criticism, even the useful and constructive kind, is generally not overly pleasant to receive. If you’ve poured your heart and soul into something – or even just an afternoon’s vaguest imitation of concentration as you covertly watch Leveson at the same time – it feels pretty rotten to have someone else come along and pick it apart.

But being on the receiving end of criticism is part of life, and learning how to deal with it is one of those things that marks us out as proper grown-ups rather than petulant children.

In some lines of life and work, other people having opinions – critical and otherwise – are more prevalent than others. One of those lines is writing, in almost all its forms. If you’re not happy for people to pass comment on what you write, don’t put it out into the public domain.

On Saturday, as I sat in the Bread Room with coffee, I ploughed my way eagerly through my copy of The Times. It was bloody marvellous. Janice Turner’s piece on not being defined by the man in one’s life was the best thing I’ve read in a long time, to the extent that I rootled around Twitter to find her, and let her know; and there was also a great piece on the rise in anti-male sexism that gave pause for thought.

One piece, however, that didn’t do anything for me was a column by Giles Coren. Centred, as it was, on his daughter, I thought it came across as self-indulgent and unimaginative. That’s my opinion – I’m entitled to it. I said as much to a friend on Twitter where, as we discussed the merits of the paper, I referred to the article as “simpering”. She clearly felt more strongly, referring to it as “gibbering child-idolising classism,” and later in the day, said as much to the man himself.

His response could not have been viler.

Before anyone points it out to me, I am not discussing the rights and wrongs of her original tweet, or whether namechecking Coren in such a way was provocative or uncalled for. It’s a distraction that doesn’t deal with the issue I’m talking about here, which is that the acceptable response to criticism is never a nasty, slanderous and personal attack.

As someone who scribbles away in this little corner of the internet, I can understand that it’s uncomfortable to have one’s carefully-penned words ridiculed by the people who read them – especially on topics that are close to the heart.

But that’s life. It’s full of things we don’t like, and leafy, green vegetables we’d rather not eat. As I’ve already said, dealing with these in an adult and sensible manner is what separates us from the two-year olds hurling their possessions out of the metaphorical pram, and themselves onto the floor in a kicking, screaming tantrum. Criticism happens. If it’s fair, take the point on board. If it’s not warranted, ignore it. If it happens on Twitter and it really gets to you, block the offender, for Pete’s sake. But don’t go batshit crazy on them.

Clearly, Alice’s tweet touched a raw nerve in Coren. Maybe underneath the posturing exterior, he knows that writes too much about his daughter, and to have it pointed out in black and white that he now bores his readers was just too much to take. Or maybe he’s just a bit spoilt and used to getting his own way.

Coren’s rebuke in this case wasn’t measured; nor was it proportionate; nor, in its vehemency, justified. It was a hateful and misogynistic overreaction to an opinion shared, I feel I’m right in saying, by more than one Times reader, and if Giles so hates the thought of people holding his writing in such poor esteem and daring, by God, to say so, then maybe his chosen career isn’t for him?

Friday, 11 May 2012

In which some people are in a different league

In a couple of weeks, I’ll have completed a feat I thought impossible; a thing that was outwith my power to achieve; something that Only Other People Do. Because, for the first time in *mumble* God, about ten years *mumble*, I will have played the part of a functioning adult participating in a functioning relationship, and been – exceptionally happily – with The Writer for one whole, utterly brilliant year.

Given that lasting, loving and drama-free relationships haven’t been part of my milieu for far longer than is probably normal for an adult at this stage in their life, this man and my relationship with him is, to me, A Big Deal. The day itself will, I anticipate, involve presents and plans (and, if I’m too-much-informationally honest, lots of bloody brilliant sex).

So when an email came through from TW the other day entitled “Anniversary Weekend,” I was gently excited.

Until I read its content.

Have you already booked what we have to do on the Sunday morning?

Had I booked it, he asked, because, as became clear, that morning TW had been asked to go on a press trip to Munich for the Champions’ League final, which – I understand from people in the know – is (if you’re into that sort of thing) quite a big deal.

I have, I said, my heart sinking slowly into my stomach at the same time as the desire welled in me not to be the girlfriend that gets stroppy about cool work trips. But I’m sure it can be rearranged if necessary. Do you not want to go?

A bit of back and forth later, including my summoning of cucumber-like cool and his feigning (I assume) indifference about how important footballing things like this are to men, the matter was settled.

We will have many more anniversaries – but this is our first one, and I want to spend it with you. As such have turned it down and we’ll send someone else. Sunday plans (secret surprise, presents, etc) still on. x

“You didn’t need to do that, you know,” I said as we wandered through Soho later that evening.

“I know I didn’t need to. I wanted to,” he replied. “Frankly, I would have been hurt if you weren’t disappointed that I might miss our first anniversary.”

“There are some incredible cynics, though,” I said as we made a quick detour into Liberty on our way to dinner. “Someone said that you did it because you knew the reaction I’d have when actually it’s not much of a sacrifice to miss a game that’s going to be terrible anyway.”

TW looked at me amid the John Smedley jumpers. “Tsk, I couldn’t possibly…”

And then he said something that previously hadn’t occurred.

“And, well, it’s not like it’s not an annual thing.”

I looked at him, eyebrows raised.

“You know this – we had to go to that Champions League final party thing on our second date.”

I cast my mind back to vague memories of lots of wine, and nearly being run over with Ronnie Wood.

“I was never going to miss our first anniversary – but our fifth or sixth? Well that’s a different story...”

I’m beside myself that we’ve got to our first, and that we get to spend it together. If there’s a few trophies in our future, so be it.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

In which other people are inspiring

“Your horse is a mirror to your soul, and sometimes you may not like what you see. Sometimes, you will.”

Sometimes, curled up in the evocative dark of a warm cinema, things on screen affect you more than they otherwise might. Whether it’s the shared experience of watching with a room full of strangers, or the mere fact that there aren’t phones and computers and conversations and whistling kettles and your turn at Draw Something vying for your attention with the television screen, I don’t know.

On Sunday, PleaseDon’tEatJo and I curled up in the warmth of the brilliant Prince Charles Cinema, hangover (her) and doughnuts (both) in hand to watch Buck.

In complete contrast to the godawful debacle that is Dark Shadows, which The Writer and I had the misfortune to sit through at last night’s press screening (mini review: don’t bother), Buck is utterly, toe-curlingly glorious.

It has plenty of the things that make a great film: shots of sweeping vistas in the American mid-West, stormclouds gathering in swirls over the trees; a stirring soundtrack of country instrumental, pulling at the heart; a positive arsenal of accolades from film festivals across the globe, including one from Sundance.

But it wasn’t any of that which left me tingling as we bobbed down the steps of the cinema and into the Sunday afternoon mass of tourists in Leicester Square.

It was the pure, quiet brilliance of the film’s lead, Buck Brannaman. A cowboy, trick roper and horse trainer from the mid-West, Brannaman and his incredible gift for communicating with horses were the inspiration for the novel and film The Horse Whisperer.

Yes, it’s a very horsey film, and probably speaks most powerful to very horsey people. But even those people who’ve never been near a horse let alone on board one would, I have absolutely no doubt, fall completely in love with the man. Because whilst it’s amazing to watch the sheer genius of Buck’s horsemanship and his apparently innate equestrian talent, it’s his approach to life that leaves an imprint.

Rather than relying on cruelty, or subjugation, or shouting and stamping his feet and demanding that others do what he wants, Buck’s dealings – both with the horses in the film, as well as the people – are based on a profound sense of respect for something other than oneself.

The film is a wonderful reminder that a barrelload of adversity isn’t an excuse to go through life feeling like you’re owed something; that you can’t take your suffered hardships out on other people; and that your words are better heard when they’re spoken softly.


Thursday, 3 May 2012

In which it's share, and share alike

When you move in with someone, be that your best mate; a group of old school friends; or the man who proposed that you live together whilst at the top of an escalator, you accept that along with a roof, you’ve agreed to share almost all facets of your life.

When I lived with Best Mate – ahh, those were the days – we shared more than we didn’t: as well as the usual clothes; make-up and long, protracted dissections of the previous night’s ill-advised shenanigans, there was mutual exasperation at both incarnations of the third flatmate; a love of caipirinhas at the Opal Lounge in Edinburgh; and many pots of coleslaw eaten whilst sitting on the kitchen floor.

During my first year in London when I was living with the girls, much wardrobe-based pilfering went on. It wasn’t unusual to go to the cupboard or drawers or jewellery box to find that the item you’d planned on for that evening had gone walkies (with the hair tongs still suspiciously warm), but it worked: for every item of one’s own that was out and about on loan, there was a piece in a flatmate’s room, not being worn, that would do just as well if not better.

These days, living with The Writer sees me less sharing the wardrobe than I am squatting in a tiny section of the end of it. For someone who preaches the intense difficulty of buying decent clothes to fit tall men, there is an abundance of good shirts, cashmere jumpers, and expensively tailored jackets in the listing little thing.

There is, of course, rather less to borrow from one’s 6-foot-lots boyfriend’s clothing collection when you’re a 5-foot-not-enough woman than when you’re living with two female friends. Still, I’ve not let that stop me and now when TW gets home, he’s wont to find me in one of his flannel lumberjack shirts (preferably already worn: seriously boys – if you’ve not yet discovered Terre d’Hermes, might I suggest you do so as a matter of urgency. Swoon) which is less ‘oversized’ on me than ‘entirely swamping’.

And I’ve not stopped there.

“What’s happened to this?” TW said the other day, pulling a white t-shirt off the shelf. He held it up by the shoulders to reveal an oddly misshapen garment.

“Ah. That might have been the one I borrowed the other day.”

“What did you DO to it?! It looks like you’ve turned it into a dress!”

“I might have slept in it…”

“Slept curled up in a little ball, with it pulled down over your knees by any chance?”


Whoops. Still, that’s one replacement white T-shirt GAP should be expecting to sell this week AND I have something extra to sleep in. Good news all round.

And the what’s-yours-is-mine works both ways.

Whilst I’m rather of the wrong size for TW to be borrowing my clothes – ain’t that a relief – that doesn’t mean that all my possessions are off-limits.

I walked into the bedroom the other day to find TW kneeling in front of my mirror (the fact that it’s at a convenient height for me to do my make-up means that it practically reflects TW’s belly button when he’s standing).

With a face full of concentration, he was waving the hairdryer, on full power, over his hair.  

There was a moment’s pause as my eyes met his in the reflection of the mirror. The hairdryer fell silent.

“What?!” he said as I stood behind him, smirking ever so gently. “My hair… it stays more… I mean, it… look, it just looks better when I dry it like this, ok?”

And with that, the hairdryer went back on, and TW left the flat that morning with his hair looking particularly lush and voluminous.

For fear that we’re atop a slippery slope, I’ve locked up the volumising mousse, just to be on the safe side.

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