Friday, 21 December 2012


My plan:

Gone with the Wind; The Snowman Part II: the Revenge; Skellig (nice kid’s story, starring Tim Roth and John Simm, yes please); Singin’ in the Rain; Toy Story; Ice Age;  Stardust;

and then the crowing glory at 9.00 – 11.00 pm on Film 4 - Trading Places.

(There is an intriguing programme that I would love to watch called ‘My Small Breasts and I’ at the same time on a channel called Really, but sadly I don't have access to Really. Nor the Syfy channel, or I would be watching wall-to-wall Buffy all Christmas day.)

I love Christmas this year. 

Saturday, 15 December 2012


Why can' t things ever just be alright? Why does something always come along to arse things up?

My weekend job, which has been fine thus far, is the latest storm cloud on the horizon.One of the staff there,  so far we've got on like a house on fire, asked for my number. Sure, why not, we can meet up for a coffee in the week, he goes to UEL near me, ... but then he seems to be taking it all a bit seriously... asked what's the latest he can call me to sort out a time. I don't know why, when we are going to meet tomorrow at work.  When he calls I let it ring, so he texts "Hey u okay..."

I feel uncomfortable with this. He is married with a little girl. I don't fancy him and apart from getting on as colleagues, we don't really have anything in common. I phone my sister to ask what she reckons. "Ask to see pictures of his wife and little girl - say you're too busy in the week but would be delighted to come over after work to meet them all..."

In a way it's harder to knock someone back when they're not being direct. If someone asks if you want to sit on their willy, it's pretty easy to give a direct no and everyone knows where they stand. This 'friends' business makes it far more tricky. I like him and I don't want things to be awkward. We've got to see each other and work together every weekend.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Lying to the kids

All the lights and decorations are up in our street. I passed my friends' door, and wondered what they are telling little Mimi this year, now she's big enough to notice Christmas.

Is this when you have to make the decision whether you're going to start lying to your kid, along with everyone else? Or be a bah humbug Scrooge character, and tell them there's no such person as Santa, it's all a con, and risk your child upsetting all the others at nursery? (Because what your parents say is the Truth, and only when you come to mix with other children does their all-wise, all powerful godlike stature get challenged. You should've overheard the conversations I used to hear about this in class.)

Without wishing to sound especially precocious, I never remember believing in Father Christmas.* I remember sleepily seeing my mum slip into my bedroom with the presents. I didn't ever bring it up or challenge them on it, I understood without ever really questioning it that it was a story that grownups told you, a fun, nice one that everyone joined in with. It came as a surprise later that other people took it seriously. Just like the Jesus stories we were told at our C of E primary school.  I didn't realise that other people took them very very seriously.

Anyway, in some ways I'm glad I don't have to make those choices.

* And while we're on the subject of Papá Noel, check out Tim's post on the underrated Raymond Briggs.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

the other C word

Cancer has claimed my grandparents, my aunt, my two uncles, one of my friends. It's grappling with my other aunt. And now it's got its hooks into my dad. I'm scared.

I wish cancer would fuck right off.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

In which I find out I am wonky

For a year I've been limping uselessly on one painful knackered ankle. My shoes are all languishing in the wardrobe, shunned in favour of trainers, and my days get cut short when I have to limp home early to rest.

Finally I got to see a doctor in the foot clinic (the first appointment was hilarious, I walked into a waiting room full of eighty year olds in wheelchairs, all giving me evils like I was some kind of imposter. I felt like I'd invaded their social club.)
Today I saw the doctor in the biomechanics department, she was young and Spanish and nice. She made me lie down, yanked my feet around, made me stand on a slope... wrote furiously on a pad... looked up and said
"You know you have one leg longer than the other?"

No, I didn't know. I'd never measured. Apparently I've been doing some weird slouchy walk to compensate and it has tightened the muscle in my calf which makes my achilles tendon want to cry. 

She looks delighted. I'm pretty delighted. Something so simple. Something explainable and fixable. Not for the first time I want to say 'HURRAH FOR THE NHS!' And throw my arms around her, but I resist. 

I text my sister about it and about the exciting new inserts in my shoes. 'Do you have to wear one of those big boots?' She's just jealous.

Monday, 26 November 2012


It takes an extraordinarily long time to realise some things, half a lifetime, in some cases. Here is the momentous thing I realised on the bus today:

I don't like parties.

(It is curious: I like my friends. I like drinking. I like smoking. I like meeting new people. I like music and sometimes dancing. I like talking to people. I like dressing up. Somehow, put these things in combination and I'm in hell.)

I feel relieved at the thought that I'm never going to go to another party for as long as I live.

A vignette from another lifetime, when I still didn't like parties but hadn't discovered it yet.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Hunger Games vs Twilight

Not long after I started at the library, I had a challenge which I failed utterly miserably.

A tall, shy, pretty teenage girl came up to me and said
"Can you recommend a book?"
She waved her hand at the shelf of teen fiction. At this time we were operating a temporary library with only a quarter of the stock whilst the library was being remodelled. But I still didn't recognise any of the books or authors, except for Neil Gaiman's Coraline, which looked a bit young for her.

What was I reading as a teenager? I don't recall any such thing as a teen section when I was her age, there were kids' books and adult books and not much in between. I never used to  have problems choosing myself a book, either, that's one of the pleasures of libraries, or of fiction. Just diving right in.  It was distressing to think that she'd got to that age, 14, without knowing how to choose a book for herself. But at least she'd asked.  I didn't know what to recommend her. I failed her. This will haunt me...

But now I do! I read all the Hunger Games books and they are properly amazing. It is rare to come across something like this in fiction - page-turning, thrilling, popular, with massive crossover appeal, but also beautifully written, substantial and having some real weight and thought and meaning...  If we'd have read about Katniss, this inspiring,three dimensional heroine when we were kids, and less of Little Women, who knows where we'd be now?

Suzanne Collins was famously inspired by channel-hopping between reality shows and news reports about war, as well as the Theseus and the Minotaur story, and imagined a post-apocalyptic world in which teens are drawn from a lottery to compete in war games to the death. This chimes with how most teenagers see the world, in satisfyingly gloomy, apocalyptic terms (I know every story I wrote in English between the age of 14 and 16 was heavily inspired by 1984 and usually featured someone being tortured to death for their political beliefs.)

But the detail in the writing, the subtlety, the grasp of politics, both personal and in the wider sense... I was blown away by it.   The author's father was a soldier. My father was career Air Force and was also a Vietnam veteran. He was in Vietnam the year I was six. But beyond that, he was a doctor of political science, he was a military specialist, he was very well educated. And he talked about war with us from very early on. It was very important to him that we understood things, I think because of both what he did and what he had experienced.If you went to a battlefield with him you didn't just stand there. You would hear what led up to this war and to this particular battle, what transpired there, and what the fallout was. It wasn't like, there's a field. It would be, here's a story.

And the books keep getting better, as the first one focuses on Katniss' own story, the next one moves on to look at the wider society and the last one to all-out war and it grows more powerful and significant until you realise she's done something quite astounding with a series of children's books.  On the surface it seems like a page-turning thriller, and along the way she's got you to think about heavy-weight issues like class and economics, media spin, media manipulation and propaganda, loyalty, family, self-determination, strategy, politics and war ...

I am not going to diss Twilight (though clearly it is not in the same league.) I gave the book a go after getting reluctantly hooked on the movies but won't be reading the sequels, because Bella the narrator is, quite frankly, very tedious. Especially after reading about Katniss. You realise that it's one of those bad-books-that-make-a-better-film, like the Bridges of Madison County, and it's only the charm of the actors that breathes life into these 2D people.

Stephenie Meyer is clever in her own way though, it is the super potent teenage fantasy in another way from the Hunger Games - the idea of being the outsider, yet also of being the most popular girl in the school, of having a cast-iron reason for hollow-cheeked teenage angst (you can never be with your true beloved because he's a vampire who wants to suck your blood) and - come on - of having TWO extremely hot boys fighting over you. Oh and your vampire boyfriend being immensely wealthy and ten times cooler than everyone else in school and having a lovely fast car and living in this amazing house (actually I can't blame her for the house, have you seen the house?)

Bella is passive in this book and forced to suppress her own desires towards her vampire in case he gets all over-excited and BITES HER TO DEATH. This has excited the ire of feminists. But anybody getting up in arms about the twisted messages encoded in this book clearly hasn't read any Virginia Andrews, whose incest-rape-murder-body-horror shlock-fests were considered light reading for teens in the 80s and were enough to make you swear eternal chastity for life.

So, yes, Katniss beats Bella, no contest. But I do like the Twilight films, I can't help it. They are so emo, and everyone is so absurdly good-looking. I do wonder about the mummy vampire of the vampire family though. The daddy is a doctor at the local hospital. But what can she do all day as an immortal, seeing as nobody eats and she doesn't need to cook? And does anybody else find the idea of eternity with one person rather worrying, rather than romantic?

UPDATE: Interesting - Ruth Jamieson's Modern Day Marketing Fairytale in the Guardian - on Hollywood waking up to the teenage girl demographic

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


My Canadian cousin visited in the summer.  My Canadian cousin is the daughter of my aunt, my dad's sister who emigrated to Canada in her twenties, got married, got pregnant, was diagnosed with breast cancer and died soon after her baby daughter was born.

My cousin visited London for the first time ever and had a little East End tour with my dad and his other sister. He hauled out all the old family photos for her, including ones of his parents, which  I had never seen before. I hadn't ever seen pictures of my grandparents, they died before I was born, so I made him get them out to show me.

Here is one I discovered, Teh Photo of Awesomeness, it is of his grandparents, my great-grandparents, looking like Mother Russia. Like something out of Chekhov. If you could hear them speaking, they would be saying something like "I dress in black to match my life, Alexei Petrovich."

I especially like the lady on the right, my great-grandmother.  

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


I'm on my way home on the W15 when the 'I Don't Like You' lady gets on the bus. The seat next to me is empty & I sigh inside. The 'I Don't Like You' lady is in her sixties, somewhat bent over, wearing an incongruous fluffy pink hat and fluffy pink scarf and gloves. She sits down next to me and is silent for a moment, I think maybe she's not too bad. But then...

"I don't like you! I don't like people! Nobody talk to me! I don't want to talk to you!' explodes out of her.

People look around, astonished. Some people don't, they've heard it before. She nudges me with her elbow a couple of times, to make her point, and tries to whack the poor boy sitting across the aisle from her a few times.

After a while she quietens down, but then when new passengers get on the bus, she has to make her point again. One quite tall, heavily built man gets a special treatment "I HATE THAT MAN! I HATE HIM!'
A dad holding the hand of his cute little 2 year old, all big eyes and hair in bunches, the vision of sweetness and innocence, gets on the bus. "I don't like you, and I especially don't like you." she says, pointing at the two year old.

People start to snigger. Eventually it comes to her stop and she gets off, not before reminding the bus driver that she doesn't like him.

Everybody on the bus starts smiling and laughing and talking about her. 'I missed my stop - I couldn't get off in case she hit me' says a girl sitting near her.

The atmosphere on the bus is suddenly more friendly than usual, people are talking and laughing with each other. I begin to wonder whether the 'I don't like you' lady isn't just a random nut, but actually some kind of clever Situationist comedian or social experimenter in disguise.

Friday, 9 November 2012


This is the first time since I was a kid that I'm looking forward to Christmas. Because I will have two whole days off in a row, hurrah! Bring it on!

It's just the present buying that is a thorn in my side.Specifically, buying presents for my dad, thinking of two things (as his birthday is near Christmas.) Women are easy to buy for. Men are hard. I've asked my stepmother for help every year and every year she says vaguely 'oh get him some socks.'

Men, what do you want?

Monday, 5 November 2012

Look what I found...

So I have been doing a class in letterpress at the beautiful St Brides' Foundation. It was set up as a social centre and library for printers in the heart of Fleet Street back in 1895, when Fleet St was the centre of the printing trade, and is still going strong today.

The library is the best in the world on typography, graphic design, printing and book arts, and only fairly recently they've set up a studio housing old printing presses that would otherwise be gathering dust or (horrors) be on the scrapheap.
Do you believe in karma? I found a lovely 1950s typesetting manual in the Oxfam bookshop and offered it to my tutor as a library donation. The director came down and shook my hand, and was all pleased with it and I felt a warm glow.

And then later on in the class as I was looking through the scrap paper drawer for paper to print on, I came across this...

 I would have loved it anyway, but it is by Stanley Donwood, who sometimes uses the studio.

Stanley Donwood.

STANLEY DONWOOD. The artist who works with Radiohead.  I love his prints but they always sell out in a nanosecond, and I couldn't afford him anyway. (This is an unsigned proof, but unmistakeable.)

"This was in the scrap drawer, Helen! It can't be in the scrap drawer!"
"Well well, Stanley Donwood. I think you should take it home..."

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Help. Me.

Look seriously, help me.

This is how far I've got. Lots of letters missing. Get your thinking caps on. Westminster, old & new, people, things & places. (Especially women connected with Westminster - I've been a bit rubbish at thinking of any.) I will send you a print if I adopt your suggestion. Or some chocolate or alcohol, if you prefer. Help!


B  Blitz      (as in, during the war, not the club in the 80s.)                          

C  Chinatown                                  

D Drury lane/Denmark st?


F Fleet street

G  - Gin houses/guards

H   Horseguards parade

I Intrepid fox ?





N   Newton

O One hundred club?

P  Piccadilly

Q  Quacks


S   Soho




W Wren?

     X  Charing X road   


 Z   Zebra crossing (Abbey Road cover)


Also watch this clever video:

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Bad feminist

Big campaign at the moment to get rid of Page Three.

I know it's very admirable and everything, but when you see stories about little girls getting acid thrown in their faces by the Taliban for having the temerity to go to school and get an education, it's hard to get so worked up about tits in the newspaper.  We've got to choose our battles, haven't we?

Saturday, 1 September 2012

From the vaults

Recycling old posts from the archives, if the Spitalfields Life blog can do it, so can I...

On the disappearance of Barbara. This happened five years ago. My, how time flies...

(Follow up post here)

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Better erotica

Everyone is talking about that book, I haven't read it because life is too short (and have read enough appalled bloggers quoting it to feel like I have read it anyway.)

When I worked in the bookshop anyone purchasing something from the 'adult' shelf would be sure to buy two other books about something innocuous, that they could sandwich their saucy book between when paying at the counter. I think the success of Fifty Shades of Grey is down to a perfect storm of technology (Kindle) removing the embarrassment factor, and good marketing.

People are despairing of its success, but I think the ones reading it are people who do not usually read books, so they are not judging it in a literary way.

I wish there was better erotica though. I don't mean the genre ones - I think there's something a bit silly in the idea of a book whose sole object is to make you feel frisky.  It's the same reason I can't take porn seriously - there's no STORY, and no characters. No plot.  I can only think of a couple of writers who write sex scenes well - one is Anais Nin, and the other is an American author I read when working at the publishers, Louise Redd, who wrote an excellent book called Playing the Bones.

Do you have any recommendations of good authors to go on the Adult shelf?

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Next project

about Pavement-mongers and smoke-doctors, over here 

In fact,you can help with this. I need significant people, places, events that you associate with Westminster. From any time in history.

I'm trying not to go for the obvious (eg Big Ben & the Houses of Parliament) or it will be too corny.

And preferably I'm after associations that people will have heard of - not personal memories (like, the time you had a whitey on the Poll Tax march down the Mall, because you'd been to a house party in Peckham the night before & had drunk and smoked and had no sleep and then got up and marched, marched, marched with a riotous crowd in a heatwave with no water.)

Help me out here. Westminster.


Wednesday, 8 August 2012


Six years of running around after kids, up & down stairs, to the hall, to the class, to the playground, to the computer room, up, down, up, down...  followed by a couple of months of sitting all day at a desk job... oy. It doesn't take long. I feel like the Michelin man.

So I was very inspired by this Horizon programme by Michael Mosley, who is a great presenter. He does science-y health programmes.  Some people do the CRON diet, which is meant to stop you getting ill as you get older. The doctor he spoke to said if he fasted 2 days a week, for a year, he'd cut his risk of getting cancer and heart disease down to virtually nothing.  They rather cruelly filmed him out at a Korean restaurant with the crew, where they were all eating meat roasted on barbecues at the table, while his only food of the day was a cup of miso soup.

The idea is the amount of  protein consumed in the Western diet is telling our bodies to 'go' all the time. If you restrict your intake the body goes into repair mode and it has health benefits.  (You might want to watch the programme for a better explanation. )   But fasting is pretty extreme.

A less harsh experiment was being undertaken at another American university, where they found the health benefits were just as good when people ate nothing but fruit and veg one day and just ate normally the next.

I can do that! I thought.  How hard could it be?

How long did I last? Probably four hours. I went to shop at the (pretty basic) local corner shop and suddenly all the food was shouting at me from the shelves.  Cheese. Crackers. Biscuits. Cereal. Cadburys. Sweet Thai Chili Crisps. FINDUS CRISPY PANCAKES! Food of the gods.

I am weak.

Saturday, 21 July 2012


Happy Birthday to me. No words of wisdom this year, just that I feel comfortable at this age. I think this is the age I was always meant to be. Anyway, have a random picture post instead.

Saturday, 14 July 2012


The dust has settled on a recent Twitter scandal. The person involved seems to have disappeared off Twitter, but I suspect he'll be back. I felt very sad when I saw what had happened (in my current job, just like in my old job, I am not online all day and always miss things and come to them later than everyone else.)

So a funny, clever, popular person was outed by a former girlfriend who posted about how he wasn't what he seemed - that as well as charming, clever and funny, he was also violent and alcoholic, and used people for emotional and financial support.

I felt very sorry for him still, though clearly he did some bad things and was responsible for his own actions. He suffers from depression and the effect of a fucked-up childhood, though this doesn't excuse his behaviour, it can give some clue as to where his problems stem from.

What was sad about all this was the way people were so very judgemental, straight away - much more judgemental and less forgiving than the girl who wrote the original blog, who had more reason than most to judge him. Her motivation didn't seem to be vengeful at all - she didn't want anyone else to go through what she went through, she wanted him to get help as he was in denial.

But people were so outraged. As though the funny, charming lost soul could not be the same person as the angry, manipulative alcoholic. As though he was representing himself as something he wasn't - but don't we all do that on social media? It doesn't tell the whole complex story of a human being.

Sometimes we prefer heroes and villains to the complicated reality.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012


It's been so long, I feel like I'm studying anthropology.

Offices.   People ride up and down in lifts.

They talk about what they're having for lunch.

They talk about where they're going for lunch.

They answer phones and send faxes (yes, still.)

They tap tap on their keyboards all day long.

They swipe in and out. 

They talk about 50 Shades of Grey and football and their journey to work.

They talk about what snacks they will get from Tesco, and try and get each other to make cups of tea and coffee.

They get excited about biscuits. They bring cakes in on their birthdays, and when they leave. 

They hide the fact that they're texting under their desks, unconvincingly.

They dress in suits and ties, or in slinky dresses and heels, or sometimes in t-shirts and Converse with mussed up hair.  They check each other out.

They laugh at client names like Mr Cock.

It's nice being back with the grownups.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

School's out

The last teaching job I had was covering one day a week in a nursery in deepest Newham. It was a school in the middle of a housing state in an area of the Docklands untouched by regeneration of any kind. Unlike my old school, the children were from every country in the world. There were some white East End kids too, with accents that made the cast of Eastenders sound like the Duchess of Devonshire.

I liked the nursery, which was relatively undemanding, as the kids are allowed to, you know, play and be kids (though let’s see how long that lasts with the Prince of Darkness currently in charge of education – soon no doubt 3 and 4 year olds will be forced to conjugate Latin verbs, and write in copperplate using a quill pen, and their teacher’s salary will be docked for each kid that fails the weekly Ofsted inspection.)

I seemed to spend most of the time sweeping up sand and glitter, rice krispies and cornflakes (the messy play area – take messy substance, explore it, examine it, pour it on your friend’s head, THROW IT ON THE FLOOR) and arbitrating whose go it was on the scooters (there are never enough scooters.)

And trying to follow children around and take notes on them – this is one of the absurd effects of state controlled education, instead of being able to interact with them, you have to prove you are doing your job all the time – otherwise there is not enough EVIDENCE that children are reaching their TARGETS. It’s not enough for you to say, I know this child, I know what they can do.

Anyway, I liked the children there a lot. They are so spontaneous and direct at that age, it is really refreshing. My favourite was Reece, who had spacey wide blue eyes, he had serious speech and language issues (mum ‘didn’t have time’ to take him to the therapist – v v aggravating, when you know how stretched speech and language services are and that it takes a 100 years to get a referral) in that you couldn’t understand what he said most of the time.

He was a dear affectionate little soul and used to lean on me casually in a way that was so nice and trusting, and sometimes throw his arms around me and kiss me – in that way that little kids do who don’t really understand what you do when you kiss,he used to kind of just smoosh his face against mine.

It broke my heart when he tried to talk to me and I couldn’t understand him. Sometimes he was clearly asking a question but I didn’t know what it was, I ended up saying ‘Show me’ but sometimes he couldn’t. For now he is used to this frustration but as he gets older how much worse it will be for him. You can’t believe a parent would let their child live with this frustration and misery – a basic human need, the need to communicate – when they could do something about it.

 But anyway, mostly I take fond memories away of the kids there, they were lovely and funny. It is quite an education, being with such young ones. The way everything they want and need is so upfront and so close to the surface. And if I thought how special it was seeing things afresh through the eyes of Year 1 kids, it was even better seeing the world from the perspective of the 3 and 4 year olds.

 It was a nice job to finish up on in my teaching career.

But I still hope I don’t have to go back to school ever again.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

the O word

How are you feeling about the O word? Psyched? Excited? Patriotic because the world's eyes are on us?

No, me neither.  In fact me neither to the power of 100.  I am malcoordinated, short-sighted,  non-competitive & not interested in sport.  (That's a bit understated. A character in 'Any Human Heart', trying to convince a priest of his atheism, says "No plumbline can fathom the depths of my faithlessness." Similarly, no plumbline can fathom the depths of my indifference to the O word.)

I hate crowds, especially during my commute, especially  dopey tourists who leave their brains in the home country and clutter up the public transport during rush hour.

It was especially clever of me then to get a job commuting from Leytonstone through Stratford (GAMES CENTRAL) to North Greenwich (GAMES VENUE) through the summer season.

Still, I love it. It's Not Teaching.

Friday, 29 June 2012

2 dresses

 I removed a post about being down because, well, it was a bit of a downer, though it was also about feeling better. Anyway, that was the gist of it, I was down and feel better, thanks to the miracles of modern science. (And help from lovely friends and family). One of the things about feeling down is not wanting to do anything, not eat, not sleep, not work, not go out, and most bizarrely for me, not shop.

I know I'm better because my appetite is back with a bang. Food, food, lovely food. Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Biscuits at work. Going out for a beautiful Chinese with Sarah. Beigels with smoked salmon and cream cheese, Bellinis with peach juice at my parents’ house. Welcome back, appetite. 

And because of shopping madness this afternoon. I'm wondering if these pills have actually done more than their job description and made me a bit giddy and manic. I've just had a classic 'doh!' moment and came out guilty but giggling after this experience.  

Having found a bit more money in my account than I thought there was, having lived off instant noodles and toast for the last month or so, I went to look for some work clothes (more on that later, maybe). Going to get something businesslike and professional looking.

 But a new Spanish shop, Custo Barcelona, has opened in the shopping centre. I used to go into the branch when I lived in Barcelona and stroke the clothes but be too poor to buy them. 

They are sometimes very bright and over the top, and sometimes exquisite. The shop in Westfield is underoccupied and three charming Spaniards look wistfully at customers passing by on their way to John Lewis. I thought I'd go in and stroke the clothes for old times' sake.  Then, they look so pleased to have someone to serve, why not, I think I'll try on some dresses. They are on sale, and I get an armful. The tall male assistant runs around getting me the right sizes.

The dresses are all crazy hectic colours, with clashing prints in luxurious fabrics.  They are all utterly magnificent, and I feel great in them. They're not really what you'd wear for work. Fuck it, I'm going to get two of them. Yes. Two. 

But when I go to pay and he tells me the price, the blood rushes to my head in shock.   I realise that the Spaniards have written the pound sign after the numbers, as you do when you are writing prices in euros. So what I thought was a £68 dress was in fact an £89 dress. But we've had such a nice chat I don't feel like I can call a halt to things now.

So after not shopping for months I have just spent  £200 on two dresses. That I didn't mean to.  By accident. 

Must confess, it was a rush.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Monday, 11 June 2012

Supervision staff

Seen in the Metro, made me choke on my lunch today. This is the dark & sinister creep of privatisation we're seeing.
Let's see what happens when we swap 'teacher' for 'doctor' in this scenario.

Supervision staff required from September 2012. Candidates are required to have presence and authority in order to be able to cover for absent doctors. A flexible approach to work is required as other duties will be assigned if cover duties are light. Ability to diagnose and medical qualifications are not required as full training will be given. 

Would you feel happy if this was the service when you went to see your GP? Probably not.

Still, it's not that important really, not as life or death as medicine. It's not as serious as all that, is it.
After all, it's only education. 

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Social media

It's a long one. 

I went to a day of workshops on libraries, all interesting and fun. The last workshop, from social media guru Phil Bradley, was very insightful.

It was good to be made to think about these issues from this perspective, I don't think about things like this in a professional light - for me, the internet has always been a big playground, the place I go to unwind after work, to be silly and creative, to chat - it's the polar opposite of work. (I know that's not true for everyone, depending on their job.)

I had to take a deep breath at some of the things he said, because when I first came across the online world, it was through blogs, and few people were using their real names or pictures of themselves. Sometimes a blogger would reveal a photo and it was like they were doing a strip-tease. And there was general horror among bloggers when Facebook arrived - what, you used your REAL NAME? People could see it was you - and your boss could connect to you too?

I've had a presence online more or less since 2005 but what I liked about it was the anonymity. I haven't been so comfortable coming out from behind a mask, which is why I'm rarely on Facebook . Now that this talk made me think about establishing a more professional presence online, I wonder if I need to set up separate blogs, Twitters, etc, for work?

Anyway, here are some of the points made by Phil Bradley. You social media types are all au fait with this already, but for me it was all revelatory.

1.) Content is no longer King  - it's all about the context of where you find information - no longer on websites, but across different social media. (there was a running joke about the Big 6 - can you name the Big 6?)

2.) Websites are becoming less useful. More attention is being paid to individual people, rather than to websites as in the past. He gave the example of the American being sued by his old company - when he stopped tweeting about their products and moved elsewhere, his thousands of followers obviously went with him. But they were following him, not his company. 

Being on social media gives people power and authority - Phil made the point that we are all self-employed now, whether we work for a company or not. The job for life has gone. (This struck home in  my present circumstances.)It is true, more and more frequently people have found my blogs by doing information searches in blogs, rather than through Google - I wondered why, and this explains it.
- related point -  Two other speakers also mentioned Linked In  as being quite useful 1) because it tells you information about people's careers paths, which helps you in careers research, and 2) because they have a good deal with Google, if you are on Linked In, something positive and professional about you will come up first in Google searches on your name. So don't pooh-pooh Linked In.
3)  For information professionals, social media is information, equally as valid as information found in books, newspapers, etc. Organisations can't afford not to have a social media accounts, it's their business to know and be able to filter information. 

3.) Information people who say their organisations don't need a Facebook or Twitter account are scared at the future and concerned for their jobs. But Facebook is a professional site. Facebook will be setting up its own search engine eventually. It would like to encompass the whole internet - it doesn't want you to leave Facebook. (Yes, this is especially annoying when people post Guardian news links on FB and it won't let you go to the Guardian site but tries to make you install a Guardian app instead.)

4.) Because there is an overload of information, you need your own social network to be able to highlight the important stuff to you. If 5 of your Twitter friends are talking about something simultaneously, you know you need to see it.

5.) Google is not a search engine, it's an advertising agency with a search function. It is scared because after years of dominance, it now has competition who can do things better, and its day is nearing an end.  Information professionals need to know about better ways to search than on Google (some mentioned - Blekko, Zite aggregates social media stories, Scoop - a place to put interesting news stories. Pinterest. There were more. All of these can be shared, you can follow other users, etc. My head is spinning with the amount of stuff out there.)

6.) All of this means the future will be less searching, more finding.

And in summary:

Social results are more important.
You can affect rankings.
Go to where the conversations are.
Websites are less valuable as time goes on.
People ask people that they know.
It's all just information.

I'm sad that my playground is turning corporate. But I think it's inevitable.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Friday, 4 May 2012

A rare theatre review

I think we've established that I can't do criticism of any kind, but especially not theatre criticism. But I thought I'd give it a shot, just to mix it up a bit.

We went to see the Conquest of the South Pole at the Arcola. There was some irony in this because it's a play about being unemployed (it's a revival of a play that launched the careers of Alan Cummings & Ewan Bremner in the Edinburgh Fringe in the 80s, an East German playwright's play translated.)

I've given up the theatre temporarily due to reasons of no money but a friend persuaded me to go and I recklessly said yes before realising the tickets were £18.  This is quite steep for fringe theatre, even though they've finally got their central heating up and running (before it was like watching a play in a freezer.)

Now the Arcola are in Dalston and bend over backwards to try & make theatre accessible to people - pay what you can Tuesdays, concessions for the unemployed - the trouble is I'm not signing on though I don't have a job, so I'm poor but don't have the ID you need for concessions. Bah. It was turning the knife to sit there and watch a play about how shit it is being unemployed and humiliated when I couldn't really afford the ticket price. 

These 4 men are desperate, it opens with a blackly comic scene of one of them trying to hang himself. Another has the all the energy and charisma to persuade them to launch an imaginary expedition to the South Pole in their attic, recreating the Norwegians' journey,even robbing a camping shop for supplies and learning how to cook seal meat.

He is messianic and gives them a sense of purpose and mission, though one of them says they should really recreate Shackleton's expedition, because it ended in failure, and they know all about failure. The affection between them and the way they care for each other was nice. I wish I had fellow jobless mates to hang out with & lift each others' morale.
The wife of one of them has a job in a chip shop, she tries to bring her husband  down to earth. I felt glad at the end that they rope her into the fantasy expedition, because her job as a woman otherwise just seemed to be nagging - maybe it was just the way the actor played it.

It was incredibly wordy and the language was a good mixture of poetic imaginative flights of fantasy and down to earth, scorching despair. It was beautifully acted by these four young men, they were throwing energy at you, but it was all a bit too... too shouty for me.   You wanted to tell them to calm down a bit because the lines were getting lost. Coupled with an uneven tone possibly due to the translation from German, it had less impact than it might, considering how close to the bone it should have been for me.

Best bit - the confident leader one having a meltdown in the job centre, using the metaphor of losing his way in the ice for giving in to despair and hopelessness.

What else? There was a whole family (all wearing hats) sitting in one row in the audience, they had kids of about 7 or 8 with them. At one point an actor unleashed the C word and the grandad got up and led the 7 year old out. Too late, the C bomb had already detonated. What were they thinking, and what was the theatre thinking, it just wasn't a play for children at all?

Also I am a terrible wuss. At one point the main character cuts himself accidentally with an axe, and though I KNEW it was fake blood and, you know, acting, I felt all faint, like I needed a lie down.

All in all, 3 polar ice picks out of 5. Points lost for shoutiness, and making me come over all faint.

Thursday, 3 May 2012


We had a little preliminary trip to the library. The library rocks. They don't just have art exhibitions here, they have all sorts - gigs, plays, you name it. A few years ago they had parkour, including a parkour workshop for kids. Some crazy parkour nutter jumped down the central stairwell, you can still see the hole his foot made on the 4th floor stair where he lost his footing.

Down in the cellar. It used to be Isaac Newton's house. A cleaner recently heard someone down here (it's pitch black and spooky.) They thought it was the ghost of Isaac Newton until they heard a snore - it turned out to be a tramp who had found his way in and was sleeping curled up in a corner.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

the last thing I wrote for money

I don't know what possessed me to seek on Amazon the book that was the Waterloo of my publishing career.

It was my first proper job out of college. I remember being told at interview I had the job and walking out of there in a daze - after 9 months of temping and volunteering and signing on (hmm...) I was in shock that I'd managed to find employment. I also remember thinking that I didn't like the MD or  trust her further than I could throw her, a hunch that proved correct, but I wasn't in a position to be fussy.

1 year 11 months later she told me I needn't bother coming in on Monday, (2 years is the minimum time of employment you can take them to court for unfair dismissal). One of the things that made me almost glad to go was dealing with this ridiculous fucking series. I think I wrote this blurb, I recall the desperation of trying to make it sound like a jolly crime caper when it is as utterly preposterous as it sounds.

And trying to come up with some kind of image for the cover. Why we couldn't use the American cover - oh, I remember, it was because they thought the American title sounded a bit 'Carry On...' this didn't go down well with the author, who was pompous and humorless, as you'd expect from a man who wrote tedious crime novels about a bishop.

It is set on an aircraft carrier. Does this bring a snappy graphic cover image to your mind?  No, me neither. (I see the Americans wisely went with a wreath floating in the water instead.) Racking my brains, I proposed an American navy cap.  She told me to ring up someone in the American Embassy and insist on getting written permission to use this image. (Remember, this is all in the days before the internet, email, wikipedia, Google images...)

I managed to get hold of an exceptionally patient woman called Patti who said kindly that the American navy cap was in the public domain and it wasn't in their authority to give permission anyway. I relayed all this to my boss but she insisted I ring Patti back and get written permission. 

The final straw was when I hadn't brought it up at an editorial meeting, (I was always too terrified of her to speak at editorial meetings, plus I hadn't realised I was meant to) so it hadn't been on the sales team's schedule and they hadn't told the bookshops about it so no one had put in advance orders yet.

I wondered what the big deal was - there surely wouldn't be lines of impatient customers at the bookshop doors waiting for publication date of this dodgy hardback rubbish crime novel that had already been published long before in America.  If it got put back in the schedule it wasn't the end of the world - and they really, really weren't missing anything, I wanted to say... but by then my days were numbered.

Anyway, here it is. The last thing I wrote for money. I'm really not proud.

(I might have a look for the other books I wrote blurbs for if I can remember, though. It's interesting to see if your words have been recycled all these years later.)

Thursday, 26 April 2012

My schizophrenic wardrobe

I came across the blog of this great girl through a photo on Flickr. I think she is gorgeous and adorable - the amount of energy and invention that she has, and the way that seeing someone dressed like this cheers you up fantastically when you catch sight of them... it made me wish I was young again, or maybe that I had just been a bit bolder when I was her age.

It also sent me to look in my (schizophrenic) wardrobe.

Here are some of the clothes which I love.  They hang on the left and rarely see the light of day. 

Below are the clothes that I wear every day.(there are more, too many more, like this.)

It's like I'm two different people. But one of them never comes out of the closet.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


If you were to google welcome (with the correct spelling), the place you borrow books from, & blog, you will see what I was up to when on work placement last week.

It only strikes me now, how heart-breaking the photo album we found was.

That's the thing about archives. Their contents are never dusty and irrelevant, because you always view them in the light of the present moment. What they contain always relates to what is happening now.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Tsk. copycats

Some of us were doing this already back in 2009.

late contender

to the London indie bookshop list - I have found that Oxfam Books has opened up in Wanstead, which is marvellous. The one in Marylebone high street is good, but to have this one on the doorstop... I had to be very, very restrained.

Secondhand bookshops are cheating a little bit, as the stock hasn't really been chosen by the bookseller and I feel a bit bad that the authors never get any money. But you can't help but love them.

I had to buy this. I might even keep it, as a quick look on Amazon shows that it won't make my fortune.

Lewis Caroll, The Hunting of the Snark, illustrated by Mervin 'Gormenghast' Peake.