Saturday, 29 March 2008


Back to the world of the office. Back to strange fake bonhomie, unnecessary cakes and the strange stress related to tea-rounds (Do I have to offer to make him one? He's, like, two cubicles away from me, but he offered earlier, even if I didn't take it, ok I won't ask him, oh no he's giving me a funny look). Being a freelancer, as I am, is so much different though. There's that added element of really having no obligation. I'm just a body in a chair, so nothing can be expected of me. It's a good way to work. I advise all to give it a go.

It's always odd to observe the little foibles of every office. Like a fool, I made my first visit to the kitchen with a certain amount of self-confidence, having spent the last five years visiting various office kitchens. But I was upended when I arrived. No cups. No cups at all. There was a sign about cups - 'these disposable cups are for guests only'. I'm a guest, I want a disposable cup. But there were no cups of any persuasion.

So I looked for a cup, but all cupboards were locked - which was strange. Then I ventured further into the kitchen to look for a cup.

'What are you doing?' Asked one of two ladies in an aspect of appalled.
'Looking for a cup' I said like the unknowing fool I was.
'This area is for hospitality only. Hospitality' She said with anger, while her companion stared at me open-mouthed, as if I were standing there punching a dolphin. Apparently they were hospitality.

I looked around me. There was no area of demarcation. There was a kitchen, with kitcheny stuff and then more kitchen beyond. There seemed to be no obvious change in utility. But it appeared I'd strayed into an out of bounds region.

'Do you have a cup?' I asked the people in hospitality, who, in fairness, do deal with cups quite frequently, so I didn't feel it was a wildly inappropriate. Their joint expressions of disgust deepened.
'Go to the other kitchen' They ordered.
'Where's that?'
'On the other side of the building' I was told with a sigh.

I left chastised, victim of unseen, unwitting office vagaries. These things can't be taught. When you're first shown around and the bogs and the kettle are pointed out, no one says, 'And don't cross that invisible boundary in the tea-making area or the people from hospitality will be less than hospitable' That's the downside of freelancing - yes you have freedom, more money and no obligation. But you do fall foul of unpredictable cultures.

When I got back to my temporary desk, I noticed everyone had a personal cup in close contact to his or her person. As time passed I noticed they were fiercely protective of their personal cups, which were brought from home in a vague nod to environmentalism. Eventually I tracked down a disposable cup, provided for guests, which I reused frequently like a tramp. But then, that’s what we freelancers are. Tramps of the office – business hobos. Without the shivs.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

The library

Libraries are a strange thing. A throwback to a bygone age - like big moustaches, horse-drawn carriages and basic common decency. Nothing brings home the utter bleakness of unemployment like a mid-morning, mid-week visit to the local library, witnessing the undead reading magazines very slowly or harassed mothers trying to get little Timmy interested in some Enid Blyton while he'd rather unscrew some radiator parts.

I think it’s the smell which establishes this feeling. I don't really know what the particular library odour actually consists of, sort of ink mixed with tears. The only thing bleaker than a mid-morning, mid-week trip to the local library is a mid-morning, mid-week trip to a local church hall to collect a lamp which was purchased at a recent bric-a-brac sale and was now being kept under the protection of man called Ossie who was very camp and wearing a sit-com related jumper from the mid 1970s. This I also did.

To compound my misery, I visited the library, saw a local organised walk I was interested in taking part in, called the number on the flyer and found I was put through to another library. So I was standing outside one library and calling another. This was the conversation.

'I'm calling about the walk'
[Angrily] 'I'll have to go and get someone. You do realise I may be away from the phone for some time and you will just have to wait there'
[I hear her walking away and then shouting. A slow shuffle approaches the receiver and an old lady gets on the line]
'You're interested in the walk?'
[I tried to tell her that I knew about the walk as I was staring at the flyer and just wanted to book a place but she steadfastly ignored me'
'The walk. It starts at...wait I'll have to get my glasses'
'No, I just want to...'
[She shuffles away and returns momentarily]
''Ok I can see now. It starts at 11'
'I know'
'And it lasts about an hour'
'I know'
'You know?'
'Then why are you calling for information’?
'I'm trying to book a place'
'Oh you want to book a place'
'Well it starts at 11 and lasts about an hour'
'I'm aware of that'
'I'll have to get a pen'
[She was off again]
[I told her. She comically read back to me a series of letters that had nothing to do with the spelling of my name]
'No, it’s...'
[I spelled my name again. A lady with a pushchair gave me an evil glance. I think she was offended by me using a mobile phone outside a library. But I was outside a library and talking to another library. Surely that’s ok?]
'Ok, I've got your name'
[I had no idea where she had written my name or, in fact, who the hell she was]
'Do you need to know what time it starts’?
'Or how long it is'
'All right then, you're all signed up. It starts at 11'
'Where does it start?'
'Oh, at the library'

This has to be some kind of cruel joke.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008


Ah Wolverhampton!

No, not the most unsuccessful musical ever produced - but the phrase I utter every time I walk from the station into the town of my birth and marvel at the complete bizarreness of the place. It strikes me that everyone in Wolverhampton is either engaged in an argument, or is telling someone aggressively about an argument they were recently having. It really is a place of wonderment and I encourage all to take a gander.

Though I felt I'd found a suitable cardigan (see previous posts) - I felt I had to have a quick trawl around the charity shops - just in case. They were surprisingly void of upsetting cardies. Very odd, as it says on the sign you pass as you're driving in: "Wolverhampton - Home of the Upsetting Cardigan"

I saw some at the market which were exactly what I was looking for - but they were £12. £12! And the lady tried to sell me other things with a certain amount of aggression.

'We also have these jumpers' She said, holding up a completely unsuitable jumper - something a lower league Estate Agent would wear on a causal Sunday. I ran.

The market had one of those meat vans, where the man sells his butchery out the back and had a microphone and PA system to drum up business. Even though there was absolutely no one anywhere near him, bar one old lady buying chops, he still chose to speak into the microphone while conducting his business.

'Yeah, that’s a lovely cut that. Take a look at it' He bellowed across a large distance.
The woman's reply couldn't be heard.
'Do you need any sausages, because I've got some lovely ones over here' He screamed, his voice travelling at least a quarter of a mile even though his customer was ONE FOOT AWAY.

I wondered if it was some showbiz bug that had gripped him and now he couldn't function without shouting into a microphone. Personally, I would never dream of conducting a transaction with an individual using an amplification device. That is just an individual preference.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Mission vaguely accomplished

I found a cardie. Its not perfect but its nearly there. Might be able to doll it up - or rather doll it down as its currently far too nice looking. Needs to be dyed and possibly some felt-tip added.

But I did hear this sensational titbit in a local charity shop. An older lady was trying to tell something to a new employee who didn't possess English as their first language. It was a fabulous example of someone trying to explain something perfectly simple, getting flustered and using completely inappropriate words. I couldn't work out if she was trying to show her how to deal with an over-ring or how to steal from the till.

'Now if you put the money in'
'But you don't have the money'
'If the money doesn't exist or is elsewhere'
'You've put the numbers in. Here. On the till'
'But there is no money'
'Then put the numbers in'
'Or not put the numbers in but just pretend'
'Yes pretend. You know? You know pretend? Like made up'
'Made up?'
'Made up. Make believe. Like fairy tales'
'Fairy tales'
'Not like fairy tales. Though they are pretend. But you pretend to put the money in. Or the numbers. Open it up and pretend'
'When do you want your lunch?'

Monday, 10 March 2008

Searching for the Perfect Cardigan

An absolute rotter of a day – a complete shitbag from soup to nuts. A day where freezing, torrential rain vied with painful comical mishaps and impending poverty in a battle royale to unhinge me completely.

One thing which always makes me giggle is when I inadvertently scream out well-known comedy catchphrases in blatant frustration. So it was today, when trying to retrieve a box of Ready Brek from a high shelf that I jostled a box of Alpen which plummeted towards me, spewing its malty contents in every direction, which caused me to exclaim ‘what are the chances of that happening?’

The day failed to improve when I left the house. Once I was well away from any sort of shelter the heavens would open in extreme anger, and once shelter would be reached, it would go all sunny. At the exposed bus stop, I’d wait long enough that frustration would take hold, so I’d dash to the next stop, only for a bus to emerge from nowhere and hurtle passed me.

Then, when I was an annoying distance from the house, the recruiter I was planning to see today called to say. ‘You have got your passport haven’t you?’ No, why? Are we going away somewhere? ‘You will need your passport. It’s a requirement’ So I had to return home and repeat the process, rain, missed bus, walk, rain, missed bus.

Prior to this proposed recruiter interview, I planned to continue my pointless cardigan quest. What I am looking for is a horrible cardigan. I want to resurrect my comedy character, Les Hope, but to do this I need to find his cardigan. I can picture it in my mind, grey, polyester, slightly greasy, perhaps with a chevron pattern, vile. But I cannot find it. I have visited every charity shop in North London, but they are too tasteful. It’s all Armani and designer gear, no foul clothing a tramp would turn his nose up at.

I took a break from pointless cardigan hunting for lunch. There was an amazing scene in the grim Camden pub that I chose due to the monsoon which chose to shed its filthy, watery load on me at that moment. Two groups of old people, at separate tables, were trading insults at the top of their lungs. One in the party was called Donut. They really seemed to despise each other:

‘You didn’t buy him a drink did you. He’s always cadging off people’
‘Why don’t you mind your own fucking business’
‘You’re such a bullshitter, why don’t you fuck off?’
‘Whose talking to you? Why don’t you fuck off?’

There was talk of prising someone’s coffin open and stealing the contents. They then started to talk about Germany, and the possibility of taking one of them to Belgium and leaving them there. I say talk, it was more gummy screeching. It was quite entertaining.

So to the recruiters. They really are an odd breed. She made the mistake of asking me why I left my last post. After several minutes of bile spewing, she said:

‘One thing companies hate to hear from prospective employees is…well…bitterness is too strong a word’

She went on to tell me how much she loved her job.

‘I love it. I’m addicted. I can’t stop. My boyfriend does it to, we both do it together. We can’t get enough. Of course he was in the hospital at the weekend. He was just overworked and dehydrated. But then he’s only got one kidney anyway’

I’m not entirely sure she’s the perfect person to find me an appointment.

So I returned home in more endless pissing rain. There is no milk. I cannot face going outside again. All is misery.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Basic Toilet Etiquette

Surely the vary basic tenets of toilet etiquette have been driven into every grown man by now and yet I see basic failings and unconventional behaviour at every turn.

Urinals tend to come in threes or fives. I don't know why - I don't make the rules. Those are the basic urinal denominations. It’s probably an EU directive or health and safety of something, but anyway that tends to be the number of piss receptacles. Ok, so it’s very simple. If you enter the toilet and if no one is in there, use a urinal at one of the extremes, either far left or far right. So if someone else enters, they can use the opposite extreme urinal, providing the basic comforts of space and security we all relish. If there's someone already at the urinals, and they're playing by the rules, then as specified, stand at the urinal furthest from them. If there are two people at the urinals, at either end, then you use the cubicle. Only if both urinals are busy AND the cubicle is taken, do you squeeze between your fellow pissers and use the middle urinal.

The middle urinal is not really an active urinal. It is merely for emergencies and possibly decoration. To use that urinal voluntarily is in visible breach of basic etiquette and makes a bold and unsavoury comment about you and your personality. You’re obviously one of those types that rollerblades to work, or juggles at parties or has hair that doesn’t make sense. You are all hated.

Cubicles are easier to tackle. Choose your favourite. If your favourite is occupied, go to the other one. If both are busy, leave and find alternative arrangements. You don't stand there. Who stands in a toilet, waiting? It's unnatural. It's like gardening at night. Certainly it could be done, but for God's sake don't do it.

I raise this because at a recent visit to the office bogs, there was a man alone in the facilities, not only occupying the middle urinal but apparently waving his arms around in the process. I don't really know if he was exercising, or trying to adjust some errant part of his dress, or having a little game, but it was unnerving and a flagrant discrediting of the beliefs we all hold dear. In these turbulent times, there are some things we need to support and rely on. Standing like a dick at the middle urinal and gesticulating wildly is unhelpful at best. At worst, treason.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008


The thin atmospheric fabric of firmly controlled, almost robotic, servitude that exists at my local Pret-a-Manger has been rent asunder by the arrival of a new employee who refuses work by the usual constricting, contrived rules. In my defence, I rarely visit the place. The enforced chumminess and ethnic soups don't really float my boat. But I was weak and recently ended up there.

I was being seen to by a regular, generic employee, but I noticed a new face. He was greatly camp. There was no disguising it; he was a very camp man. A lady approached him and ordered a double latte or some such. He was expected to repeat this order to the barista who was standing 4 inches away from him and heard what the lady had said perfectly. But he refused. He mouthed the order silently in the general direction of his colleague, in a grotesque mime.

'I don't like to repeat things' He explained. 'I refuse to repeat things'

At that moment a lady behind us was attempting to clear away her meal, but was making quite a hash of it. She managed to scatter a coffee coup and soup container in two separate directions, casting them to the ground and across the table where she was sitting, crumbs flying liberally. She had a sly look around to check if anyone had seen her being so clumsy.

'We saw you!' My camp friend screamed across the shop in delight to the stunned amazement of his fellow pret dwellers. 'Everybody saw you'

It was marvellous to see the vacuum sealed atmosphere of this formulaic food dispensary destroyed, even for a second. I shall be following this gentleman's progress with interest.

Monday, 3 March 2008

The Cold

My freezer is in the hall. This fact causes great amusement to at least one of my friends and he mentions it often. My freezer is in the hall because my landlord is very old. Prior to moving into this flat, the horrible, wretched, useless letting agent asked us if I wanted him to do anything before we moved in. I couldn't really think of anything.

'Really? Because he has to if you want him to. It’s the law. You can make him change things. Fix things. Are you sure there's nothing you want to make him do?' She pressured.

Now I felt obliged. I had noticed that the fridge, like many of the things in the flat, appeared to be from the 1950s. And it didn't have a freezer. Just one of those strange ice shelves you get in older fridges that can fit an ultra-slim packet of fish fingers or a pitta, but little more. So I asked for a freezer.

'Just a little freezer. Nothing fancy'

So my landlord provided a freezer. In the hall. Not just sitting in the hall, but fully plumbed into the hall, with complicated wiring and sophisticated, involved plug systems. A freezer doesn't really fit in a hall. If you think of Terry and June or any other domestic sit-com, you never see a freezer in their hall, perhaps a hat-stand or umbrella rack, but never a freezer.

Like I say, I put this down to my landlord's age. The agent had warned me he was old, but the extent of his decrepitude took me by surprise. As well as installing freezers in odd places, he's also fairly deaf. So you ask him things and he gazes off into space or starts whistling some war-time hit. I quite like him.

But lately the hall freezer has begun to trouble me. For some reason known only to itself, it has started to go quiet. Very quiet. It was never a noisy beast, but would gurgle away happily as freezers do. I'd hear it at night sometimes, slowly chilling the emergency sprouts to a frigid pulp. Now it does nothing. It sits there in total blankness, never a trill or a hum passes its lips. I yank a drawer open, everything is still frozen, but it has now decided to do this silently. This worries me, so I open the door, hoping to raise the temperature enough to kick it into action. Or else flick it off and on at the plug, trying to goad it into life. But it isn’t interested, it’s taken to a wordless protest or some ultra-efficient new regime.

Meanwhile the fridge had taken to making far too much noise. That never stops, buzzing and creaking, bits of it dropping off. Perhaps it’s out of sympathy to his brother in a far off land. From the kitchen, it’s noticed his exiled compatriot has fallen silent and had decided to compensate. A suitable balance needs to be reached, but balance is something that seems to evade my life and my appliances.

Saturday, 1 March 2008


In Archway earlier, I heard an older, Irish lady answer her mobile phone by screeching the word 'why?' into the handset. No 'hello', no 'yes' just a fairly blunt 'why?' Which is precisely what I want to shout every time the phone rings. I shall be adopting this in future.