Sunday, January 31, 2010

What Lies Beneath

So. I am sat on the train. My working hours don't suit the cat, so the poor thing's off to the country for a few weeks. I'll miss her, but she's sat happily in her cat box, counting down the minutes till she reaches fields.

Anyway the train is interesting. These things always are. There's the group of old pensioners who care VERY MUCH about exactly where they sit, but try and laugh it off with uneasy bonhomie. "No Brenda, you go over there. Just sit down. No, you sit down. Now I'll just check that ticket. I don't know if this is 53A or not. Let's just see what this seat reservation says. Oh, excuse me. No it's fine. We'll find two together. It will be allright. Is this your bag?" And so on.

On the aisle across from me is a girl. One of those people who doesn't wear make-up but perhaps she should. She's about the same age as me, but still dressed in student tie-dye and shawls. Her feet are up on the seat and she's surrounded by the results of a raid on M&S, Starbucks, Smiths and wherever the fuck sells "Vitamin water". Oddly, she looks even more like the kind of person who'd travel with a cat than me.

She has a run-in with the ticket inspector. You know, one of those tiny, boring "picked up the seat-reservation but not the ticket" things. She was flustered and weirdly college debating society, the ticket inspector was polite but firmly seen-it-all-before. These things aren't interesting and they resolve themselves after a couple of minutes.

Only... half an hour later she phones someone. Partner? Parent? "Oh, not so bad. No, going through Exeter. Famished. No, funny thing happened. Oh yes. We all thought it very amusing. The ticket inspector had a REAL GO at a... MAN over his ticket. He didn't quite have the right bit, and the ticket inspector was really aggressive about it, but this Man, he completely put him in his place over it. He was a solicitor and he knew his all rights and it was really funny. I mean it started off awkward but it ended up SO funny and he knew all about the small claims court and was really... I mean no, he didn't say like he was a solicitor but we all knew that he was and he really had one over on the Ticket Guy and it was so funny and I'll tell you more about it when I get in." And when she hangs up there's a real smile of triumph on her face. Odd.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


lots of fun at the moment, but a bit shattered and juggling things so too tired in the evenings to update.

Thinks. In brief. Burns Night at St Pancras Grand was lovely (but I think the meal cost them about 50p and we all went and had crisps at the pub afterwards).

Am working in an office temporarily on very exciting projects. Cat is coping with abandonement badly, and has started going out at night (to ruin my sleep) and greeting my return every night with a dirty protest in the kitchen. Poor thing.

And somehow, the timer on the central heating is broken. Which is a shame as I can't get it fixed without staying in for a repairman. So it's lots of blankets and the worrying knowledge that the timer only works between 4 and 5 am. Which, by coincidence, is when the door is open as I'm hunting round car parks looking for the cat. Which makes me feel like George Michael's boyfriend.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Haiti: Charity begins at "oh"

If you're sending money to Haiti you might learn something interesting about how charities work on the web.

The DEC is set up to be a centralised money pot making the giving really straightforward. There one number, you give money, and pray as much of it gets to the source as possible. It's designed to make knee-jerk charity as easy as possible: Something terrible has happened - I want to help - Oh, that was easy. It's also designed to stop charities competing with each other in an undignified disaster scramble.

Now let's see what happened when Eddie Mair gave out the phone number on the PM Blog.

After a few comments (thanks for the link/troops out/send the bankers' bonuses to Haiti) we get #6 - a plug for Oxfam with their campaign link. OK, it's from "pastymuncher" who may well not work for Oxfam, but look at how well-worded this comment is. Oxfam "support the immediate priorities - providing safe water and shelter material for the people who have lost their homes". From which you can infer that money sent elsewhere goes to non-essential frivolities.

Then comment #7 - Christian Aid.

Comment #10 is for the British Red Cross, with their link, an explanation of why they're great. And it appears to be from "BritishredcrossJ".

This is starting to look odd. Can charities really be trolling the blogs and social networks and punting people towards their own campaigns rather than the central pot?

I have some limited experience of this. I've worked for a couple of charities, and, while everyone there was very, very committed, I still remember the jealous fury at one charity when Oxfam got their link for a flood up first. No one at any point said "Well done Oxfam for starting to get donations in" or even "We've got to be more like them next time". No, it was just sullen bitterness.

Anyway, back to the thread. Just when it was all looking a bit desperate, along comes Lucien with comment #11:

I have no idea whether or not the posters promoting individual charities here have connections with those organisations, however ...
The point of a DEC appeal must be to centralise fund-raising and have all the relevent UK charities work together in vital disaster relief, not to operate competing PR and/or fund raising efforts. This thread is beginning to resemble a marketplace

There. Strangely the competing messages stop at this point. The next time I think "no one sane ever posts on message boards" I shall come back and read Lucien's comments. I'll never meet him, but I'll always adore him.

By the way - DEC are

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lady Antonia Turns To Crime

It's been a mad week. Radio Four's daily book has been Lady Antonia Fraser's description of "the joy of life with Harold Pinter" which features sample sentences like "after lunch with daddy (Lord Longford) I was surprised at the duck pond by Harold in leather biker's gear. We kissed openly and carelessly."

This madness reminded me that I've got one of Lady A's crime novels unread on the shelf. Her first book (Quiet As A Nun) was rather good. Her second (A Tartan Mystery) also featured "Jemima Shore, Investigator". In this book Jemima was looking for a bit of peace and quiet in Scotland and kept sleeping with the local laird because he was a powerfully built man. It wasn't anywhere near as good.

So I put off "A Splash Of Red" for a while. Well, I've only started it this week. And it's AWFUL. For a start everyone constantly calls Jemima "Jemima Shore, Investigator" as though that's her name. Yet again Jemima is trying to get away from it all, this time by hiding in a friend's London flat. Soon it becomes apparent that she's Just Too Famous to have a quiet life, and her friend is dead and she just can't help being attracted to all the powerful male suspects - now matter how ugly they are, she just can't help by carnally respond to the masculine power. *rolls eyes*

So, within the first half she's been beaten up by an Irish Artist and promptly makes him coffee and responds to his powerful sexuality. Then she finds another of her friend's lovers (a tubby old architect) and dubs him "The Lion Of Bloomsbury" before deciding that his balding locks look like Devil's Horns.

Finally there's Adam Adamson the annoying squatter who says things like "I slept, I read Dante, then some Plutarch", and who casually pinches her nipple. When Jemima inevitably has sex with him, he leads her through to the bedroom and takes off his clothes. Let's quote the whole passage shall we?

His slight body looked quite different naked. Not vulnerable, but powerful and triumphant.
"Godess," he said facing her, "it's your turn to worship me."

Jemima is supposed to be an independent, strong woman of the 70s, but she spends so much time being beaten up, patronised and generally carnally pleasing the various suspects that it's a wonder she manages to solve any crimes. When she's not admiring masculinity she's mourning her recently departed cat, which probably died of shame.

It reaches the stage where even her dirty phone caller ("Shall I come and give it to you? How would you want it, Jemima Shore?") appears in with a chance if he treats her with enough brutal masculine power.

There's also some hilariously weird descriptions of people. The world is seemingly controlled by powerful people. Jemima's friend is a policeman who is embarrassed by the constant fame brought to him by a single appearance on a late-night cultural review programme. Similarly, Jemima is worried by Isabelle, the all-powerful editor of a magazine called Taffeta and her fiersome powers of gossip "in Tasha's or Dizzy's or one of the other smart discos for the young".

I just don't know what to make of it. I am carrying on reading it because it is a murder mystery and it must be solved. But I am also annoyed by it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Posh Date

It's been a while since I've been on one of my hideous dates. I'm blaming the weather and the coal fire. Why bother going out and meeting people when you're just as likely to end up flat on your back crossing the ice to Costcutter?

But this week I met Julian. Now, online he seemed charming - piercing gaze, wolfish grin. But as soon as I met him I realised "piercing gaze" meant "slight squint" and "wolfish grin" translated into "tombstone teeth". (Mind you, maybe his slight squint was more a reluctance to look at me. I later realised that I'd suffered a mild allergic reaction to the gym's new moisturiser and my face was one big chemical burn. Gay fail).

Anyway, he was posh. Now, I've nothing against posh men. I've sprung to their defence ever since a bloke once said to me "I bet you'd pull more if you didn't sound so posh." I'll admit, there have been posh episodes in my life (going to public school with the offspring of accountants, accidentally losing most of my viriginity to a young Conservative under a portrait of Mrs Thatcher) but I genuinely think I'm as classless as the shipping forecast (which translates to being painfully middle class and guilty about it). So, anyway, I'll stick up for nicely spoken men. But there are limits.

The limit with Justin was his laugh. Which went "haw!haw!haw!". I boggled at him. "Bally bar's shut," he said, "Shall we find somewhere else for quaffing? haw!haw!haw! what?"

Yes. "what?". If this was Agatha Christie's Poirot (and I was starting to pray that it was), he would have been tumbling out of a linen cupboard with a jeweled dagger poking out of his back by the second ad break. But this was real. And I'm nicely brought-up. So I didn't leave there and then. I figured let's go for a drink. It could be fun.

We found a pub. He ordered a pint of Bombardier, but he pronounced it to rhyme with "tararaboomdeyay". I quietly ordered a diet coke. No way was I going to risk getting drunk near him. I didn't fancy waking up staring in confused horror at another portrait of Maggie.

He explained what he did for a living. Yes, he used to be an investment banker. Or something vague in the city. Well, until one day he rang up the office and announced "I'll be working from the Rhone for a few months", after which he seems to have opened up some kind of internet systems consultancy. I would, I have now decided, like to open up an internet systems consultancy. I can piss money and bray.

"Best things are the conferences, not just for airing one's views but the nookie." I have never spoken at an internet conference. This is a source of weirdly bitter jealousy. I have no idea what I would say, but clearly conferences contain people who will sleep with anything.

He fills me in on his home life. "Well, the house is a bit crowded. It's a bit of a menage, to be frank. You see, once my wife ran away with my mistress, they moved back in. Frightfully modern, I know. And I figured what the hell and moved my secebo in - oh, it's Italian for a male lover. So much more le mot juste than manstress, what?" I apologise if I've spelt "secebo" wrong, but this is the internet, after all.

I boggled. "Your ex wife lives with you?" He demurs. "Frightfully complicated. We're Catholic landed gentry and it was the devil getting an annulment, but luckily one of my degrees was in medieval jurisprudence, so Lady Jane and I now rub along rather amicably."

His vocabulary was extraordinary. It was like going on a date with Giles Brandreth and all of Dictionary Corner. Which is useful, as one of the most irritating things I'm developing in later life is the kind of word-choice you associate with precocious teenagers. I thought the only things to worry about with middle age were getting fatter and camper, but it appears my brain is determined to make me sound like a knob. The other day I was in a bar and a friend came back from the bar, saying "Needed to make it up to a fiver so they'd take my card so I ordered you a spare cup of coffee."

A few minutes later I trotted up to the bar to get my spare cup of coffee. To my horror I heard myself saying "I believe you're holding a cup of coffee in abeyance for me." I genuinely couldn't stop that. It's like my brain revved into fifth gear towards twat. I remember making a feeble, inept apology, although the barmaid did give me two of those little biscuits they give you with coffee in pubs. You know the ones I mean - they taste a bit of burnt sugar and ginger.

Anyway, the point is, I wonder how long it is before I'm going on dates and people are staring at me in similar internalised horror thinking "Bet his cat's called Fauntleroy"? Maybe it has started already, what?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Blame it on the weatherman

Tomasz Schafernaker really looks like this. Go on. Say something. Anything.

There really aren't words, are there? Just a strange buzzing noise in my head.

Friday, January 08, 2010

What day is it please?

I blame Christmas. It was all over the place this year. Being a freelance doesn't help. But I suddenly have NO IDEA WHAT DAY OF THE WEEK IT IS.

This morning I was having a lovely Sunday lie-in with the cat. Only it's Friday. I should know this. Despite the fact that I was out last night and said "It's lovely doing stuff on a Wednesday," only to be told "Well, it's Thursday."

I'm not normally this bad. I need to buy a calendar. That will help (although now Borders has gone under, where will I find my discount Kittens 2010?).

It could also be the weather, I guess. Facebook is full of people snowed in. Gritting stops at the congestion charge, so King's Cross has been converted into St Pancras On Ice, meaning that the British Library is no longer in walking distance. It took 20 minutes yesterday, shuffling like a geisha on a frozen duck pond.

In good news, I've sawn up the Christmas Tree and discovered it burns like Chinese New Year.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Hello the future, goodbye the past

Well done me. I've made it to two of Arthur C Clarke's years. Will I manage 2061?

Interesting year 2009 - really interesting year. Thanks to reader Orchis for spotting that I made it onto both Pick of the Week and Mock the Week. I have decided that I am no longer stalking Russell Howard - it is he who is stalking me.

Lots of lovely things I've worked on have come out in 2009, and there's more in the pipeline (including, hopefully, something that nearly, very nearly happened before Christmas).

Other than that, it's been an interesting year of being accidentally freelance, and I've managed not to go utterly mad, despite replacing having a manager with having a cat (it's pretty much the same, really, only the cat sits on my lap).

Most random joy of the last few weeks has been being paid to write about lovely old bits of telly by AOL. This has allowed me to discover the maddest nightclub ever while looking up Noele Gordon:

On a typical night, you might find Su Pollard whooping it up on the floor to the latest American imports, while Justin Fashanu silently prowled the cruising alley and a regal Noelle “Nolly” Gordon – the Crossroads matriarch herself - wafted around in a diaphanous evening gown, flanked by stage-door johnnies. In the upstairs bar, you could even avail yourself of the services of a resident chaplain, on hand to dispense spiritual advice to the morally bewildered (as well they might have been, given the pitch-black sex room round the back). From sin to absolution in the space of one evening, Part Two had it all.

Read more here

I would like to go to there.