Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Taking Responsibility

Yesterday I left the house wearing what turned out to be inappropriate footwear, covered in the alluring smell of Deep Heat, and with a slightly out of date microwave meal in my bag. In this manner I set myself up for A Good Day, if by ‘good’ you mean ‘irritating’.

The casual reader might think my own incompetence set me up for a fall, but I would counter that with another point – everyone is stupid except me.
Well, maybe not everyone, but a significant portion of the people I have to deal with on a daily basis.

Of course when I say ‘deal with’, what I mean is ‘attempt to contact in vain via a third party’. The flat I currently share with three other struggling artists is ostensibly let to us by an agency, but when things go wrong they don’t send a maintenance person, they refer it to the landlord. Who does nothing.

On Monday I called about the boiler (broken for just under a month) and the downstairs intercom (broken for over a year) for the nth time. “That’s not very good is it,” said the woman on the phone sympathetically, “I’ll send an email to the landlord straight away.”

Because as we know, people are brilliant at reading and responding to emails. I’m certainly not surprised or unreasonably grateful when I come across someone who not only replies to messages but actually reads and digests the content therein. And our landlord must be the crème de la crème of those email reading people, the evidence speaks for itself! (/sarcasm, as we say here on the internet.)

Part of the reason I rang again was because I was due to despatch my sister to the local post office to pick up a third batch of Christmas shopping the postie couldn’t deliver (owing to the broken buzzer). You might argue that I shouldn’t be buying presents online when there’s only a 40/60 chance they’ll actually get delivered first time, but it’s not like I can just pop into Etsy for a look round.

There were four items to collect, but just for a giggle the Royal Mail decided they were only going to send one from the depot. The post office then claimed that I should have filled in the online redelivery form four times, one for each package.
If that were true (which it isn’t; I picked up three things after one form filling exercise only last Saturday) they should have given me four cards and four reference numbers to type in. Which I wouldn’t have done, incidentally, because the four bus trip across to the outskirts of Edinburgh to the depot - although massively inconvenient - works out cheaper.

Anyway, my inclination at this point was to shout at someone, but a) I was at work and b) finding direct contact details on the Royal Mail website is some sort of creative thinking challenge, so I filled out their generic online form. Because we all know people read emails properly and consider all the information therein…

I won’t lie, I found this un resolution unsatisfactory. So unsatisfactory that I found myself becoming the impotent emailer I previously derided, sending stiff notes first to the letting agency to follow up on Monday’s call, then the Palmolive corporation about a complaint I made several months ago.

By the time I’d made my three separate cases of mild annoyance I was so incensed that my damp feet in their inappropriate shoes dried off and the Deep Heat on my back began to work afresh, wafting round the office and putting colleagues in mind of old sports injuries.

And so it was that the annoyingness of other people helped me move on from my own cack handedness. Personal responsibility, who needs it.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Christmas Post

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas if popular high street book retailers who shall remain nameless didn’t try to sabotage their employees’ celebrations of it, am I right? Course I am.

Captain Tact has worked for The Shop That Must Not Be Named for just over three years. He is not allowed to apply for time off during December, because this is a busy period and all hands are required on deck for festive scrubbing; even though they take on an army of Christmas temps every year to manage the soapy chaos. People may not read anymore, but apparently this doesn’t stop ‘em buying shedloads* of books.

On Boxing Day.

The captain has been rota-ed on for the 26th every year he’s been there, actually, but through skill and determination has generally managed to affect a switcheroo. This time, his luck has run out. Who is rushing out to retail parks on the outskirts of cities to buy books on Boxing Day, you might ask. Did they not get a load of things to read under the tree only yesterday? I do not have an answer to this; ask me on December 26. Except don’t, because I’ll be curled up with a blanket and a book and Harry Potter 12: Myrtle’s Revenge or whatever other films they bung on.

BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT BOXING DAY IS FOR.

Yes, I realise technically the New Year sales begin on Boxing Day. But I’ve been, and do you know what? They suck.

What are these amazing deals that people camp outside to nab? A pair of gold lamé jeans a size too small but it’s worth it ‘cause there’s £20 off! A new tent, even though you detest camping because you never know and this one has £35 off! Flesh coloured spike heels that will tear your feet to shrebbons, but will go with everything**!!

You know where else you can pay less for shit you don’t need or want? The internet. In the comfort of your own home, from behind a third tin of chocolate. People that are throwing themselves out into the cold instead of remaining with their loved ones and a bottle of gin are freakin’ idiots.

Now, some of those people will claim they have to get out of the house on the 26th because their relations are doing their head in. Apparently a child with a chocolate Santa stuck up its nose and an elderly aunt who smells a bit cabbagey are much more annoying than hordes of strangers deploying tactical use of the elbow as they grab for the last polyester flapper dress on the sale rail before you.

The festive cliché that families are horrible does not apply to us. Captain Tact’s dad is so adamant we don’t spend Christmas alone in our so-cold-it-makes-me-want-to-hurt-people flat that he has volunteered to do early Christmas lunch, then drive us back across the frozen wastes between Ayrshire and Edinburgh on the afternoon of the 25th so he can make this stupid shift. Meanwhile my sister, distraught at the notion of me spending Boxing Day alone with my thoughts, plans to drive down from Perthshire to whisk me into the bosom of my relations. Our carbon footprint is going to be monstrous, and all because some Scrooge in an office somewhere can’t bear the thought of missing out on two whole days of selling overpriced books to idiots.

Still, as I remember, famous book lover Jo March once threw herself onto the hearth and intoned ‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents’; then the next day she visited the January sales at Fort Kinnaird and indulged in retail therapy till her ears bled.

The Book Shop That Must Not Be Named is clearly doing something right.


*some.
**nothing.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Letter To The Landlord

Mysterious Landlord
Secret Lair
Somewhere

7th December 2011

Dear Mysterious Landlord,



As you may already know, I have lived in your property along with three friends since July 2009.

You know the place - the floors slope alarmingly because it’s an aging tenement gradually subsiding into the Water of Leith, the fridge leaks, the intercom is broken, the boiler is temperamental at best, and it’s colder than a penguin’s pants. Yet in spite of all that, it’s a nice flat. And at least we got rid of the mice.



Eventually.


Having said that, all the little problems are starting to irk. We have managed to adapt (visitors phone from the street when they want to come in, and we’ve attached all free standing shelves to the walls with brackets so they don’t fall), but the fact you never deal with anything means that every time a new issue appears, our goodwill stretches a little closer to breaking point.


You might think it enigmatic to force us to tell you things through a letting agency and to be referred to in hushed tones as ‘the landlord’, but the illusion is wearing thin.


Whenever we call to ask what’s being done about the thing we reported last week/month/year they feign surprise, because they referred it to you right away and you told them you’d sort it. What are you employing them for, exactly? Somebody to lie to? You do know you can talk crap to people for free, right? You don’t have to pay for the privilege. Or perhaps there’s some pleasure to be gained from watching them charge us outrageous administration fees for doing sweet FA?


The other alternative, I suppose, is that the agency haven’t passed anything on.


It is possible, then, that you don’t know the seal on the fridge door has been broken since we moved in, and that every morning we go into the kitchen to find a puddle of cold water next to it. We stopped reporting it, eventually.


You also won’t know about the buzzer, broken for over a year. Initially it was a case of replacing the button, as visitors to the building had to stick their finger in a hole full of wires to gain access. In recent months, though, it has stopped working at all. When I asked the agency (in April) if this was something we could sort ourselves as we’d been waiting an awful long time, I was told we were not allowed to do anything because it is a communal concern. That means it requires the owner – you – to liaise with the tenants of the three other flats in the building in order to sort it out.


This problem has cost us a fair whack in redelivery charges and bus fares to the royal mail depot, because although there is someone in the flat to take deliveries nearly every time, couriers and posties are unable to alert us to their presence. Fortunately two other buzzers have now met with the same fate, so we are optimistic someone else in the building (maybe the guy across the hall who professes to have seen you in the flesh) will prevail upon you to sort it out.


Of course you’ll be unaware the windows are so old you can actually feel air coming round the edges of the glass (many panes, by the way, are paper thin – check out the top left one in the right hand window of the living room. Feels like it’s going to come away in your hand, dunnit?). We’ve been fed some bollocks about the council saying you can’t replace them, but as we are all from middle class backgrounds and know how to look shit up on Google, we know this is not strictly true – you’d just have to adhere to a few rules and regulations. I’ll be honest; we have speculated in the past that you just don’t want to spend cash on re-pointing. And after all, you aren’t to know that there’s ice on the inside of the glass of a winter morning, or that we have to wear dressing gowns over several layers of clothes between November and March to keep warm even when the heating is on.


You probably don’t know our boiler has been broken for over a fortnight. Three calls to the agency resulted in a man coming after ten days or so; agreeing with my flatmate’s diagnosis that it needs a part, and vanishing off never to be seen again.


I suppose you are equally unaware what the problem is – an electrical fault, that means while we can put the heating and hot water on manually (although we can’t set it in advance for morning warmth), it can also get jammed on. To be honest, we might not mind so much at this time of year if any of the heat generated stayed in the building, but it was on for three hours the other night and the bedrooms remained at 12 – 13 degrees Celsius (about 52 Fahrenheit). In my mind, that temperature is not quite cosy enough to warrant the extra money this will add to our next energy bill.


Sir, mere words cannot express how much I am dreading another four months of feeling like I’ll never be warm again, of swearing under my breath at innocent posties, and standing in weird fridge water in the morning. The cons of renting this property now far outweigh the pros and if I had my way I would be out of here, but sadly my financial status last January was uncertain enough that I allowed your agency to force me into signing for another year. Rest assured that in June of 2012 I will be headed for Barbados, or failing that a new build with level floors, containing both sealed fridge and working intercom. Such stuff as dreams are made on, as the Bard once said.


In conclusion, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this letter and I hope that now you are aware of the things that have been done – or not done – in your name, you will see fit to sort it the fuck out.


Kind Regards,
The Unhappy Tenant

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

How To Cope With Rejection

A lot of people on the internet tell me that as a writer/journo I should be prepared for rejection. It is possible they do not appreciate the massive drawerful of rejections I already have, from all sorts of exciting places. DC Thomson, The Guardian, The BBC, Historic Scotland, The National Gallery, three independent publishers and a couple of theatre groups, a company called Seafish…

Larger still is the number of newspapers, magazines and other organisations advertising social media/copywriting/coms jobs that have ignored me entirely. The List, The Herald, The Scotsman, Edinburgh University, The Scottish Government, The Lyceum, The National Library of Scotland, several Edinburgh PR companies, the SYP, SCVO and RIAS are just some of the folks who haven’t even seen fit to send a ‘no thanks pal’ over the past couple of years.

All of which is actually fine by me. I’m currently quite happy temping and writing in my spare time. When I was unemployed, and later when I was in a job that regularly made me cry, I spent a lot of time and energy applying for Anything At All. These days, I only apply for jobs that would be Really Genuinely Amazing, on the grounds I currently have it pretty good (till my current contract runs out in March, at any rate).

One such RGA job was Temporary Magazine Journalist at The Beano, for which I was interviewed a couple of weeks back. Interestingly, so did my other half, the enigmatic Captain Tact.

Generally speaking, the Captain and I do not apply for the same jobs. This is not actually through design; it’s just worked out that way. However, given we met through writing jokes for a spoof paper at university and both have aspirations of making a living from words (perhaps even funny ones) there was always danger of overlap – it was just a question of when it would occur.

The day we received our identical ‘come for an interview’ letters was strange indeed, mixing natural excitement with trepidation about what would happen if one of us got the job. Having three rejection letters from DC under my belt already I was a bit more pessimistic than the Captain. I was also a bit worried about the potential for emotional fallout - I spent a year after school trying to get them to take me on and failed; how would I feel if I finally got to interview stage only to be beaten by him?

He meanwhile was concerned about the logistics of the situation. How much would we see each other if he was commuting from Edinburgh to Dundee, and how much would it cost? Would there be any scope for flexible working; even working from home, or would it be 9-5 office hours? If it’s the latter should we consider moving, or is that silly given the role is maternity cover and won’t last more than a year?

An insight into gender difference, there. Still, there was no point worrying about it before we’d actually been in.

The face to face part of the interview seemed to go OK for us both, but we were less optimistic about the 40 minute grammar assault (so many pages! Neither of us finished) followed by the 45 minute ‘write four 150 word pitches - two strips and two features - yes, The Beano has features now’ test. Never let it be said their interview process is not rigorous.

As it turned out, yesterday we received identical rejection letters; avoiding the feared emotional and practical turmoil and enabling us to chalk the whole thing up to interesting if slightly traumatic experience. However, they did say we interviewed well and should not be put off applying for other roles in the organisation…

Next stop, The Dandy. Followed by The People’s Friend.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Equal Marriage

There is a lot of shouting around the Scottish National Party.

When they won a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament this year and announced their intention to have a referendum about independence in a couple of years’ time (after proposed changes to the Scotland Bill have gone through Westminster and we’ve seen how they work out), they got shouted at by everyone. Other parties, journalists, people on the internet, you name it.

“HOW CAN INDEPENDENCE POSSIBLY WORK?!” People screamed, “IT’S ECONOMIC SUICIDE! WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF TEH CHILDRENZ?!”

All of which seemed to overlook the fact that ultimately they can only use a referendum to find out what people think. The Scottish Government do not have the authority to pass legislation on this, all they can do is head to London and say “this many people want to have a bash at going it alone.” It has to be agreed by both Westminster and the queen before it can actually happen, and good luck getting it past David ‘Autons are Cool’ Cameron.

AND, even before you get to that point there is no guarantee the people of Scotland would vote yes to independence. The SNP got voted in for a variety of reasons that didn’t necessarily have a whole lot to do with the ‘N’ part of their name. The Scottish electorate were disillusioned with Labour and the Lib Dems and retain a deep seated hatred of the Tories dating back to the 1980s; and over the past four years the SNP have done a pretty OK job of government. We’ve got a lot more libraries left open than they do down south, for instance. And better access to universities. And free prescriptions.

Even so, that doesn’t mean people will vote yes to independence, because all this has been achieved through careful management of the money allotted by the UK government. To my mind, a real test of whether independence is viable would be devolved taxation. If they managed that effectively you could probably colour me swayed.

However, that isn’t what they’re working on at the moment – the latest thing people are shouting at them about is their consultation on gay marriage.

Once again folk are shouting and screaming at Big Eck and pals about the ramifications of something which they’re so far only committed to asking people about. Apparently though, asking the people of Scotland anything at all is irresponsible and wrong.

There was a collection of opinions from some of the detractors in the Scotsman yesterday, which was an illuminating (/jaw dropping) read. According to the article Bashir Maan, a former Glasgow councillor said, “it could be the beginning of the destruction of society as we know it.”

“If there’s no family, what about society? These politicians should look forward and have some foresight – what will become of the family without the union of a man and woman?”

Because apparently if two men or two women are allowed to get married, heterosexuality will cease to exist and people will stop wanting to have children. As a straight person I can testify that the possibility of marriage is the only thing that keeps me coming back to the opposite sex… my attachment to Captain Tact has nothing to do with physical attraction, personality, hormones, or shared experience and everything to do with the fact we might one day sign a piece of paper indicating our matrimonial alliance.

AS IF, as the kids used to say in the olden days. Not that long ago getting married would have indicated I was legally his property; I like to think we've moved on. Marriage is about publicly declaring your love and commitment to one another, if you merely want to procreate you can do that without giving yourself the hassle of having to organise the biggest and most expensive party ever seen.

Still, the religious right have spoken and so has Mister Sunshine himself, Gordon Wilson. Leader of the SNP for about a hundred years before Alex Salmond, independence was very much his thing and other matters of policy were really by the by. Notably the SNP were not in power, then.

Wilson reckons that merely asking whether folk think gay marriage is OK will incense enough people in Scotland to turn out and vote an overwhelming ‘no’ in the referendum. A bit like they did when he was in charge and behaving like a veritable homophobic caricature...

If you want to actually be consulted about this, fill in the form on the Scottish Government website here before December 9th.

Come along everyone, let’s join in with the cool kids and shout at the SNP.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Employment Tips

Because I am a lazy person, I am still signed up to receive assorted useless job opportunity updates registered in 2008.

It would make sense if they ever sent me stuff I could do, but they tend to disregard my knowledge and experience. “Why not manage a shoe shop in Livingston for minimum wage?” they suggest, “or apply to be Communications Manager at an enormous finance company in Leeds?”

“Because I am not qualified to do either,” I respond. “Also I have been in steady employment since January 2009 and should have unsubscribed from these alerts ages ago. Delete, delete, delete.”

I receive these emails because I once ticked some boxes confessing to retail experience and an interest in communications. This does not make me manager material, as I’m sure a summary googling of the job description would testify. Still, it’s nice to be asked.

Having said that, Totaljobs have evidently got wise to the “get lost, I couldn’t go for that even if I wanted to” response, because this week they sent me an email urging me to complete a managerial qualification at the University of Liverpool.

They were always prone to sending me messages suggesting I consider improving myself, preferably through distance learning (they aren’t to know about my aborted attempt to do that CTJT course last year). But the courses they suggest are always totally inappropriate for my existing skillset (writing, journalism, drawing) and career aspirations (writer, journalist… drawer).

I’ve taken umbrage at the latest in the series for a couple of reasons. One is that I haven’t taken umbrage for a while and this seemed as good a time as any. Another was the content of the subject line: “Alison, stay ahead with a quality online degree.”

Quite apart from the fact they’ve apparently got Lee Nelson in to do their marketing, this sentence seems to imply my existing degree is somehow not of sufficient quality because I didn’t get it online. What kind of backwards technophobe gets a degree by reading musty old books for four years?! I’ll probably never get a job, and serve me right.

The other way to read it is that they know some people think an online degree isn’t as good as one obtained by attending actual classes and secretly they agree, so are trying to fool me into thinking this particular course is the exception to prove the rule. Don’t get one of those crappy online degrees you sometimes hear about, have this proper good one.

The other thing that grates here is that having a degree, online or print, is unlikely to put you significantly ahead in a world with bugger all job opportunities. A management qualification might help if I had even a passing interest in managing other people, but I suspect my lack of experience would show me up. Furthermore, given my main aim in life is to subsist as a freelance creative type, it feels like a strange way to channel my energy and time.

Then there’s the fact I already have a quality degree (2:1 MA Hons from St Andrews, thanks) deliberately chosen to help me get ahead. I’ve lost count of the number of journalists who advise wannabe hacks going to university to study a subject and work on the student press rather than going for a journo-specific course, which is exactly what I did.

In social terms this was fantastic, but in career terms all it’s done is get me rejected for some things on grounds of over qualification (although to be fair I get rejected from journalism jobs because there are only about three in Scotland at any given time, with hundreds of applicants).

The moral of this story is that I should unsubscribe, but if I do that the blog will be bereft of updates like this…

I’ll probably soldier on.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Top Austerity Tips

Yesterday everybody’s favourite child-faced millionaire, UK Chancellor George Osborne, announced that his super fun deficit reduction measures are going so well they are going to continue indefinitely – or at least for the next six years.

To recap, the British economy is screwed for several reasons, including:

  • Gordon Brown single handedly bringing about global recession (which is sort of impressive, if you think about it)

  • Last year’s Snowmageddon

  • The knock on effect of the royal wedding

  • The Eurozone Crisis


But it’s all good, because after six years of austerity we will be laughing. That or we’ll all have emigrated.

I’m sure I can’t be the only one who has been taking personal austerity measures for ages. To be honest, I was sort of hoping that by 32 (the age I’ll be at the end of this project) I might not have to anymore. Obviously I wasn’t expecting to have a secure pension or anything frivolous like that, but I thought maybe I’d be in a position where I’d be able to take the odd holiday / run a car / have a child.

Still, I’m pretty lucky to have as much as I do in the current climate and I wouldn’t want to take it for granted. There follows a description of the austerity measures I have been following since 2008, which should hopefully prove invaluable to any other unmarried, childless graduates earning the dizzying wages of 12-15k a year. Follow these simple rules and you too will manage to scrape by.

1. Rent a flat with a minimum of three other people. It’s basically like a considerably less interesting version of The Young Ones. You might think you want to downsize and live a little bit less like a student now you’ve graduated, but be realistic - you can’t afford it.

2. Walk or get the bus everywhere, even if it’s massively inconvenient and has you commuting 3 or 4 hours a day. The price of maintenance, petrol and parking are not worth it.

3. If you must have a holiday, make it once a year and confine it to a long weekend in the UK. Well, we did get a megabus to Belgium for a long weekend about two years back, but the recession wasn’t as deep then.

4. Nights out / trips to the cinema / gigs should happen maybe once every two months. It is far more cost effective to sit in the flat with a cup of tea and a crappy movie.

5. Dispense with aesthetic frivolities like haircuts, makeup, your tattoo obsession, etc. You have had the chance to experiment with your style, now you must eat.

6. Put off registering with a dentist at least until you discover a hole in your tooth the size of a thumb.

7. Do not under any circumstances attempt to heat your home. Wear a dressing gown over your clothes instead.

8. Replacement of old clothes and shoes is manageable within reason – although it’s best to keep everything because layering up will be necessary in winter. I have bought at least two pairs of jeans this year alone (2 for £25 in Dorothy Perkins, yeah), and up to four dresses in online sales. Confessions of a Shopaholic eat your heart out.

9. Food can be pricey, particularly if four years of student-hood has left you pining for a sensible diet. Worry not, sirrah - there is no real need to buy fresh fruit, veg or meat. Just have frozen or tinned.

If you stick to these rules you may even be able to save a little bit of money – although it might be best to stick it under the mattress, given the dubious morals of the banks. Obviously you’ll never have as much as Mr Osborne’s £4million fortune, no matter how austere you are. But it’s a start.

Monday, 7 November 2011

19.57 From Euston

On Saturday, this was doing the rounds on Twitter:



When I watched it, I thought ‘aw, that’s nice,’ posted it to Facebook and promptly forgot all about it.

This being the internet, a few people have reacted in a more considered way.

Natalie Dzerins (Forty Shades of Grey) finds it utterly cringeworthy, which is fair enough – but more than that, she thinks it is demeaning to women; a thought that never even crossed my mind until I read her post. The woman generally speaks a lot of sense so this prompted me to re-visit my initial reaction.

When I shared the vidjo on the book of face, I did so with the tagline “anybody remember the group ‘Disney Gave Me Unrealistic Expectations of Love?’ This guy clearly does, and said, ‘no more!’”

To explain, said group united those who had reached adulthood only to discover a distinct lack of perfectly coiffed prospective partners with freakishly straight teeth and talking animal pals. Where were the dragon slayers, the perky princesses, the lovers who unexpectedly burst into song at the drop of a hat?

Members bemoaned the fact love at first sight is not as common as Disney led them to believe, and that most people are pretty much the same – everyone gets a bit crabbit when they’ve not had enough sleep, wicked stepmothers are not especially prevalent, and most men don’t even own a cloak (excepting the more dedicated Noel Fielding fan, perhaps).

However, the occasional friend will find their own Prince Charming or Cinderella, you’ll be invited to a lovely wedding with a ceilidh and a bucket of stovies, and a collective sigh will go up for lo, there is romance in the world after all. Who doesn’t want a happy ever after in a castle full of talking crockery?

Well, I wouldn’t, to be fair. It’s one thing to enjoy a bit of schmaltz in a movie, quite another to deliberately inflict it on a loved one in a public space.

But I don’t speak for everyone, and I like to think there’s a possibility that the boyfriend in 19.57 from Euston made this ridiculously over the top gesture because they are madly in love, and he knew she’d appreciate it.

Dzerins concedes that it seems to have worked out for this pair, but: “all I can think when I watch it is "but what if she wanted to say no?"”

My instinctive my reply to that would be, she would have said no.

This sort of proposal puts a lot of pressure on the woman to comply, Dzerins argues, because it’s so public. Gangs of total strangers feel they have the right to stick their oar in and tell her to agree, and if she doesn’t he will become some kind of martyr for the romantic cause.

I take her point, but to be honest I’d have thought the emotional fallout between the couple is ultimately the same whether she rejects him in public or private. Yes, if you’re unlucky there is a possibility it goes viral for a week or two and people write some nasty comments about you on Youtube. But surely that’s the least of your worries when you’ve just discovered your partner knows sod all about you – for them to have misjudged your reaction so completely belies some serious communication problems.

My other query would be why is it only the woman is demeaned by this show of affection? The man has spent a load of time and money sorting it out solely to impress her – isn’t that flattering? Couldn’t it even be said he is demeaning himself by reducing his personality to 2-Dimensional cartoon prince purely to satisfy the romantic streak of the otherwise level-headed, educated woman he fell in love with?

The notion that this type of proposal is impersonal, or designed to make strangers think you’re cool, feels overly cynical to me. Yes, it’s cheesy, and no, of course you don’t need to make a massive song and dance over a proposal to make a marriage work - but who says that’s why he did it?

I like to think he was motivated by a sense that his fiancé’s feelings of joy and being special would outweigh the embarrassment either of them felt.

It wouldn’t work for me but that’s OK, because it’s not about me - or my feminist principles, or any other stranger from the internet.

It’s about two hopeless romantics on the 19.57 from Euston.

Long may they be sick-makingly sweet.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Living Dangerously

I have been neglecting this page terribly, and look set to continue a bit longer due to NaNoWriMo. I know, I am a terrible person; but undoubtedly I will be punished for these transgressions in the next life by being a vowel key on a massive old fashioned typewriter of pain. Or something.

However, in the back of my mind I have a plan, and I will now impart this plan to you to see what you think. My thought is, to write a weekly column on this here page. For you see, I recently did an interview for The Clear Minded Creative during which I was reminded of my long held ambition to have my own column in the style of Charlie Brooker, Caitlin Moran, Lucy Mangan, or myriad other broadsheet writers, and I noticed I have not been chasing this dream with appropriate chutzpah.

It wasn't because I'd forgotten so much as because I allowed other things to get in the way, but no more!

After all I need to practice; it's a competitive sort of market and I'm not getting any younger, me knees aren't what they were. So, I am aiming to start a weekly column on here starting Monday. It will likely be about something I see on Twitter, around 500 words a time (maybe a bit longer) and hopefully it'll be hilarious. So if you could greet it with rapturous applause that'd be fab.

OK cool, now have a photo of the sort of book I aspire to write some day:

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Twitter

Today I want to talk to you about Twitter; or more specifically, hashtags (#).

On Twitter, hashtags help people who are all tweeting about the same thing to find other tweets about the same thing.

So, if you're watching something on TV and also tweeting about it (which is the main function of the site if you’re a comedian or arts journalist) you can put a hashtag at the end of your message, which then automatically becomes a link. Click on said link, and it takes you to a list of all the other tweets on the subject.

When loads of people are using the same hashtag to talk about something it becomes a trending topic, which means Twitter features it on the right hand side of the page. This can wind up being a funny mix of things, because people use the hashtag in a variety of ways.

- One way is to break or gather news stories. Today STV Edinburgh started the #whyedinburghrocks tag so they could put together a list of reasons using Storify.

- It can also be used to ask questions – the BBC are quite good at this, and often tell listeners or viewers a hashtag to use at the start of a programme so you can discuss it online. Similarly, this weekend I am doing an online Q&A with The Edinburgh Reporter about 12 books, where people can submit a question via Twitter using the tag #askaligeorge.

- You can also use hashtags to connect with other people of similar interests. When I tweet about the 12 books project I quite often use the #amwriting tag so other writers know it's a post that might be interesting for them. Similarly anyone attending the West Port Book Festival in Edinburgh over the next four days can use the hashtag #wpbf11 to find out what events are going on and what other punters will be at them.

- Another popular use is to play games (a recent favourite of mine was #hiphopgroceries - Will.I.Ham, for instance. Twitter is full of people who are overly fond of punning.)

- And some people use it to share advice. For example, at lunchtime today, one of the top trends was #arealboyfriend – aimed at facilitating discussion as to the best way a boyfriend can behave towards his partner. Some of these made me laugh a lot, although I fear that was not necessarily the intent.

I made a list of my highlights, anyway.

#arealboyfriend chase after you when you walk away
- That could be a boyfriend, or it could be a total stranger with mugging in mind. Just saying, boyfriends aren't the only people that give chase.

#arealboyfriend doesn't annoy you and make you cry.
- Duh, yes he does. If he never annoys you then you either don’t care/notice what he does, or you’re a robot, or you’re deluding yourself. A good boyfriend likely doesn’t do these things on purpose, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t do them at all.

#ARealBoyfriend sees the pain in your eyes, while everyone else believes the smile on your face.
- This was from a man whose profile said he respecks females. I think he may be trying too hard. That or I have no soul.

#arealboyfriend kisses you on the forehead.
- So does your mum.

#arealboyfriend will give up his hoes !
- And other gardening equipment, the bastard.

#ARealBoyfriend will finger u ont bus
- LOL. How inappropriate.

#arealboyfriend plays an important role in the ecosystem as a pollinator, with larva considered problematic to vegetation in agriculture.
- Science wins again.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Autumn

After the overwhelming response to my last post (which was roundly ignored by everyone in the world) I have made the executive decision to continue ‘beauty blogging’ at least until the end of September on the grounds it might be useful for book 9 of the 12 Books project.

Today, dressing for autumn.

Here in Edinburgh, the average woman on the street (or on the streets involved in my work commute, at any rate) completed the autumn change-up on September 1st.

I am vaguely aware from the style supplement of the newspaper that fashion goes in seasons, which are loosely based around the weather. Some of you may remember the good old days when there were four quite disparate seasons, which were called spring, summer, autumn and winter. These days, of course, we only really have two and a bit seasons: autumn, winter, and a fortnight of sprimmer which is spread out on odd days here and there between April and August.

During sprimmer, a lot of women do their level best to pretend it’s nice enough outside to justify cotton dresses, sandals, and even a day or two of bare legs – although for the intervening days it’s necessary to supplement these items with cardigans, leggings, and mackintoshes. This is because sprimmer is unpredictable – a day will start off with blackened skies and thunder in the air, and by lunchtime it will have morphed into the most beautiful sunny day since records began.

Autumn is different. This is a season where you know what’s what: it might look nice outside but it definitely won’t be warm; if it looks like rain it’ll probably snow; and either way you’ll want waterproof shoes and an industrial strength brolly. Preferably adamantium.

As a result, the women I see on my daily walk to work are now clad in knee high boots, wool coats, scarves, jumpers and so on. They look fabulous.

Having said that, I haven’t conformed to the autumn change-up myself. Well I have a bit, but not really so as you’d notice. My main concession was to buy a pair of jeans that fit, because gale force winds are likely to be commonplace between now and next April so I won’t get away with wearing skirts every day.

What I tend to do in lieu of buying lots of new things when autumn hits is go to my bottom drawer and come back with another layer to add to the clothes I wear all year round. So for instance if I’m wearing one of my four dresses, I’ll have a long sleeved T-Shirt under there instead of a camisole. Either that or I’ll wear a cardigan over the top. Not both, though – that’s wintertime layering, baby.

The reasoning behind this is pretty exclusively financial, although there are elements of sizing tied in. Since I reached the dress size 16-18 mark (about...oh, 6 or 7 years ago) I have avoided buying new stuff where possible on the grounds I’m going to lose a bit of weight any day now, so there’s no point. My inner accountant claims this is canny, and the part of me that wants to indulge in retail therapy compensates by buying books I don’t have time to read; and occasionally updating the tech in my life under the guise of it being useful for freelance journalism purposes.

It’s probably just as well I’m conditioned not to update my wardrobe correctly, though, because have you seen what’s in for autumn? Neither had I until I looked it up just now, and I can tell you its high necked, 20s style dresses of the sort that only look reasonable on ladies the shape of Kiera Knightley; ponchos to give the impression you have no shape at all; and snakeskin.

Snakeskin? Really? What is this, 1972? Seemingly that rebirth of tastelessness originates somewhere in the vicinity of Jimmy Choo and Kate ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ Moss. Years of replacing food with Class A drugs will do strange things to a person’s perception of what looks good. I think I’ll take my chances with my 8 year old polo neck from the British Heart Foundation charity shop...

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Anyone Still Here?

Hello, patient readers. Several apologies for neglecting this blog for an entire month, I am most embarrassed about it - especially after going down to one post a week, which ought to be pretty manageable.

The excuse, as you might expect, is the 12 Books in 12 Months blog, which I have been comparatively successful in updating every day should you be interested... there's stuff about the Fringe and Edinburgh Book Festivals, an interview with Mr Gum author Andy Stanton, and this weekend I'm embarking on THE GREAT KINDLE CHALLENGE where I read a book or two on the kindle to see if it can turn my head away from traditional print.

Other than that I have been bumbling away as usual, not quite managing to fit in all the things I want to do but getting around to some of them in a haphazard kind of way. Last week I actually made myself a timetable, which I mostly ignored, but getting so close to that level of organisation was pretty exciting. Today I hope to tidy up a bit and perhaps timetable next week in a more efficient manner. Said timetable will include scheduling a post on here, although I'm not sure what about yet - I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

Although having said that, maybe you can help. If you would like to read some more beauty blogging in September, let me know in the comments - but if you found that dull and crappy (the hair one wasn't very inspired, I know) also let me know that too. I will take your thoughts into consideration, then do whatever the hell I want.

In the meantime if you want to hear from me on a properly regular basis (yo), click on 12 Books in 12 Months. September's genre might be entertaining because it is humour, which is a wide ranging and frightening choice. I haven't started the book yet, but I'm thinking in terms of a novelisation of Confessions of a Jobless Graduate... Some of you may remember that once upon a time I was going to blog about that for The Skinny, but it never quite happened. I believe it's high time The Unusual Handyman was immortalised in fiction.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Ten Years of My Hair

I have had hair for the majority of my life, as is the case with many human beings. It's been very short, and very long, and several different colours, although never shaved off or leopard printed or dread-locked. I've mainly left it to its own devices over the past 18 months, but recently I've been thinking of dying it again. But what colour?

2001 - my 16th birthday - shoulder length; orange and black (NB it was never meant to be orange, the bright red faded out over summer)
2002 - at 17 it was long and auburn with black underneath
2003 - when I turned 18 I decided to grow out the colour, mainly because the condition was quite bad after four years of constant lightening and reddening. When I finished school a month before my birthday it was very long, and various shades of red and brown.
2004 - at 19 I got all the dyed bits cut off and had a mousey brown chin length bob. The hairdresser was quite distressed at having to cut off such a lot in one go. I was unperturbed.
2005 - in May I dyed a stripe at the front and the tips pink for the Rock Soc ball. When this faded out to a dirty blonde, I went over it so when I turned 20 it was mainly purple.
2006 - I put a pink stripe in over the purple, then when that faded out went full purple again for my 21st birthday. If you type the word 'purple' enough times it starts to lose meaning...
2007 - 22 seemed a good age to go for a sensible chestnut brown, generally worn long and straight, but occasionally in pleats.
2008 - at 23 I got it cut a bit shorter with some layers. I tended to let it dry naturally most of the time so that it waved quite nicely. I also accidentally went an even darker brown that looked almost black in some light...
2009 - having been purple for several months I let it fade out again to this reddy colour. This photo is from the end of the summer, but in November I had a fringe cut in and re-did the purple again.
2010 - January was the last time it was dyed, guess what colour? Oh right, there's a picture. I've pretty much left it alone since then.
2011 - aged 26 it's now mainly two shades of brown - my natural mousey colour down to my ears, and a more reddy shade where it remembers the dye times.

I'm considering going back to a sort of auburn/red-brown shade again, although the problem there is of course the fade-to-orange issue. Not that I'd be lightening it beforehand or choosing a scarlet red like when I was fifteen...

So, any thoughts on this, blogosphere? I realise that worrying about the colour of my hair is frivolous in today's political and economic climate, but frankly that is what the internet is for.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Festival Chic

Last week, Captain Tact and I went to Latitude Festival in Suffolk. You can read a summary of what we saw there on the 12 books in 12 months blog, but over this way I will of course be discussing our attempts at festival chic.

Now, there's no real point in trying to look good at a festival - particularly not a wet one, which this was. Your hair will go disgusting, and however many wet wipes you use there'll still be at least one patch of mud you miss.

The best thing to do is to ensure you are warm and dry, and that your alcohol intake is sufficient to keep your mood sunny enough to counteract the weather.

To this end, might I present the Peter Storm kag in a bag - a model boasting comically short sleeves and a hood that falls down over your eyes and obscures any pesky bands from view. Fabulous.


Here we are in our waterproofs about to enjoy Suede (yeah I know, remember Suede?!) as the tempest re-groups behind us. Aren't we gorgeous. No? Have a cider and think about that some more.

The great thing about waterproofs (other than their inherent sexiness) is of course the noise the material makes whenever you have the audacity to move. That's brilliant, isn't it. And because it was so wet, some people had fashioned binbag ponchos to wear over the top of their existing macs. They sounded positively musical. In a crap way.

Looking back at this picture, it seems clear we were experiencing a certain level of bin bag envy. Next time, maybe.





Then there was the footwear situation. I had to buy wellies, on account of not being one of nature's welly owners. This is because my calves are too fat - you'll notice I had to fold them down, and even then I ended up with a big welt in the back of my leg. Not ideal, yet a problem experienced by all women I know. Somebody should do something.


Still, at least we weren't this guy. Why is it that some people, as soon as they get near a festival, feel impelled to wear their pyjamas outside and purchase a variety of silly hats? Several people were sporting Viking helmets, mohawk wigs, and various other headgear you'd never wear outside a festival context. Or in one, arguably... but that might just be me.

It's probably related to holiday high spirits, but these items are sold at vastly inflated prices (ooh, a hand felted pixie hat for only £15! The pixies usually pay £20 a pop, I must have it!) only to be left blowing around the empty campsite on Monday morning. Which is ironic cause Latitude is big on recycling and reducing your carbon footprint and so on - the bulk of this shite is not biodegradable. I guess birds could make nests out of some of it, but that's my optimism shining through.

It was nice to have a break, but thank goodness we are back to normality where I can carry on being my naturally stylish (and more crucially, clean) self.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Hosiery II: Dark Territory

Apologies, dear reader, for I know I have already blogged about tights in relation to the bootylicious lady (or man, we’re not prejudiced here - I deny all pear shaped people the right to combine patterned tights with hot pants, irrespective of gender)... but I feel I must speak out on the subject of tan tights in the style of a bad observational comedian.

So you know tan tights, yeah? You tend to have a couple of pairs in reserve for things like weddings and job interviews, and occasionally making oddly shaped dummies for school art projects, but they aren’t the hosiery of choice. This, of course, is because they are ridiculously fragile.

As a general rule they come in packs of two, and I tend to ladder the first pair through the simple act of opening the box and looking at them. The second pair may get as far as a second wearing before I put my finger right through, which could happen when I’m in the process of being late for an event; but is 98% more likely when I’m already there and about to be seen by several people, or possibly photographed.

T’other day I donned tan tights for the very simple reason that they were the first to come to hand and I was horrendously late for work. I was pretty suspicious when they went on without catching on anything (fingernails, my ring and the odd rogue leg hair were all present, correct, and sharp as ever), but I chose not to question it any further lest they take the huff and disintegrate.

They lasted til I went to spend a penny at break time, at which point three fingers went through and created an enormous rip near the top of my leg. This was a masterstroke on the part of the tights, because it meant that the hole would start out invisible to the passing viewer but would gradually ladder all the way down my leg throughout the course of the day. Every time I moved a few more threads would go, and only I would be aware of the inexorable decimation of nylon.

By lunchtime the arrangement of ladders had spread down in all directions to just below my knee, and by the time I got home I looked like a snake trying to wriggle out of an old skin. Well, my left leg did. A bit. Sorry, I’m out of good similes.

Naturally this whole experience raised several deeply important questions.

Q. Why not take the holey tights off and stop moaning?
A. Cause I hate the feeling of my thighs rubbing together, and am not prescient enough to carry a spare pair of tights everywhere I go.

Q. What are tan tights made out of?
A. Cobwebs, I assume, or possibly moonbeams. Something flimsy and insubstantial, at any rate.

Q. How much truth do you think there is in the conspiracy theory about the Mossad offing John F. Kennedy?
A. None, but it’s a fantastic story of paranoia and madness.

And on that bombshell, I bid you good day. And good luck.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Makeup

I don't really wear a lot of makeup, partly due to laziness and partly due to not really knowing where to start on the wondrous canvas that is my face. The only thing I bother with (and even then sporadically due to my inability to cope with early morning starts) is eye makeup, and by 'makeup' I mainly mean eyeliner and mascara. Of which I generally only have one at a time.*

Currently I have a Rimmel eyeliner pencil which professes to be jet black, and a Rimmel mascara known as 'MAX VOLUME FLASH!!!!!!!!!!!' in ultra black. Is the difference between these two types of black important? I don't know. It's not particularly noticeable.

Anyhoo, one thing my brain can justify having more than one of is eyeshadow. After all, you need to have different colours to set off your different clothes. I am aware this only works if you have more than about five outfits, but I'm working on that - next time I get paid for an article, BAM, I'll be up to six before you can say 'but have you paid the gas bill?'.

What I'm saying is, I have a bunch of eyeshadows in weird and wonderful colours, most of which have been bought for one off occasions and barely worn. I've got two 'going out' colours (shades of grey) that I use on a semi-regular basis, and then there are some random glittery and colourful ones; none more beautiful than the two I bought for an 80s themed party when I was still at university. I love the colours, and if it were in any way appropriate to wear them on a daily basis I surely would.

They are from the Collection 2000 'Dazzle Me!' range, which was a strange and beautiful thing. My only regret now is that I didn't say sod it and buy the whole set when I still could. The pink one is called 'Illusion', and the green is 'Tinkerbell', which seems fitting inasmuch as any names arbitrarily given to colours or makeup, paint, or nail polish ever are.

Because these bad boys are loose 'eye dust' rather than packed down eyeshadow, they're fairly annoying to apply, as you tend to get sprinkles of the stuff all about the rest of your face and on your clothes. This is OK if, like me, you don't bother with foundation, blusher, or even a coat of eyeliner on the underside of the eye. But I imagine it's fairly irritating if you do go through all that rigmarole and then get fluorescent pink bits clinging to it.


Still, worth the hassle when you get it on, am I right? Look how vibrant they are! Although I wouldn't advise going out with each eye done in different shades, this was for the purpose of showing you what it looks like. Although if you're in a rush to get somewhere and you don't want anyone to talk to you...


I actually have a pair of converse somewhere near this colour, but sadly I've not been invited to any events where matching footwear to eye makeup is required in recent years. Or ever, now I come to think of it. I've worn this shade a couple of times, once to the aforementioned 80s party and a couple of times blended with more neutral shades so it wasn't quite so offensively pink.

Meanwhile I've worn the green (blended with a more neutral colour again) about twice; to my Graduation Ball because it matched my dress, and to a wedding at which I wore the same dress. I don't think I've ever worn it out in all its naked glory. Although this picture has just about convinced me it's OK if I open my eyes wide enough, so maybe I'll stick some on in the loos at work tomorrow and gauge the reactions.

Probably not though.

*This is not common practice, judging by the volume of stuff owned by more proficient makeup connoisseurs of my acquaintance.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Skincare Regimes

There is no excuse not to know about skincare in this day and age. Even men (yes, men! The species who traditionally don't even have skin!) know about it, thanks to the tireless efforts of Patrick Dempsey to make as much cash as he can before he gets too craggy looking; and Nivea's spurious quest to link their skincare range to the England football team.

If TV is to be believed we all cleanse, tone, exfoliate and moisturise as if our lives depend on it, or at least between two and eight times a day. Except nobody I know actually sticks to any such regime for longer than about a month, at which point they forget all about it till they get an enormous spot or a particularly annoying dry bit on their forehead and start the process over again.

The same skin nonchalance applies to sunblock. As soon as you get a nice weekend like the one we have just enjoyed in Edinburgh, all the information we've ever heard about skin cancer or winding up with a face like a pickled walnut exits the brain stage left as we fly outdoors to soak up as much Vitamin D as possible before it's gone for another year.

And I have to confess that although I am an educated sort, I'm no better than I ought to be in terms of protecting myself against the RAYS OF DEATH. I forced Captain Tact to accompany me out into the open today, to read for an hour or two in the comfort of the Botanic Gardens. He was worried he might burn, so I witheringly instructed him to apply sun cream as bought by sensible flatmate before our departure. For myself, I decided I was of altogether more Mediterranean complexion and that it was kind of overcast anyway, so went without.

Naturally I caught the sun, although only really on my right side for reasons unknown. And I fear my predilection for wearing pink doesn't help matters.

Still, at least my career isn't build on having baby smooth skin a la the aforementioned Monsieur Dempsey. And maybe it'll learn me for next year. Or not...

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Dressing For Your Body Shape

Dear Girl I saw at Canonmills the other week,

I am writing to ask whether I have missed a meeting about patterned tights/leggings vis a vis the legs of ladies who are blessed with a pear-shaped body.

Of course I am aware of the predilection many people have for donning coloured or patterned tights underneath denim shorts/hot pants, but I had always worked on the basis that this is a look that can only be pulled off by the slimmer lady and therefore ignored it.

However, having seen you out and about and drawing attention to your rather larger than average thighs by stretching leopard print across them under shorts that were bursting at the seams, I can only conclude that the rules must have changed when I wasn't looking.


Either that or dressing for your body shape is out, and wearing the first thing to catch your eye in the hosiery department is in.

I love pink leopard print as much as the next girl (probably more, actually - I am genuinely quite drawn to the stuff, like toddlers are drawn to things with sharp edges), but when you're curvier you need to accept there is a time and a place and a complimentary wardrobe that the hot pant is not part of. You can still wear the tights, but for the love of Betsy pair them with a black dress or skirt that falls closer to the knee than the bummock. One statement piece at a time, woman.

Kind Regards,

Ali.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Surprise Ninja Full Body Massage

Once Upon A Time I had a Very Stressful Job, and the less said about that the better. In fact, during the later months the only way I coped was by developing a policy of not talking about it to anyone other than my colleagues, and keeping it totally separate from the rest of my life. When Captain Tact asked how my day was, there was no way I was going to make him listen to it all again, so I just said ‘fine’, ‘rubbish’, or ‘usual’.

My teenage monosyllables were not enough to fool him into thinking it had all got better, however. He’s quite canny when the need arises. So he decided to help by buying me a relaxing beauty treatment for my birthday. Don't laugh, I have inner beauty.

He wanted to surprise me, so he dispatched a flatmate to deliver me unto a mysterious facility at Ocean Terminal whereupon I would be offered a choice of treatments. Something involving getting my nails done, or a facial, or whatever. You probably know more about spas than me.

Unfortunately, this is not what transpired.

Flatmate got me to Ocean Terminal OK – we’re not idiots, we can catch a 36 bus. She then delivered me into the hands of a bevy of beauty experts and said she would see me in an hour or two.

The exact nature of what Captain Tact had paid for was unclear to us both, although it later transpired he had told the spa it was a birthday surprise and he wanted to take advantage of this offer they were doing where you can have one of three treatments, according to your whim. He wasn’t sure which of these I’d choose, but vaguely thought maybe I might go for a massage, maybe.

Beauty therapists apparently don’t do nuance. I was bundled through the back with a dressing gown, and told to get my clothes off and await further instruction.

Standing in the changing cubicle I did my best not to panic. Was I supposed to get totally naked, or could I conserve a smidgen of dignity by keeping my knickers on? I considered texting someone to ask, but who would know the answer to this question and be sitting on their phone just waiting to reply to a message from me? Nobody, that's who, and anyway there wasn’t time, the beautiful people were expecting my imminent arrival in a room filled with sofas and fish tanks.

You might think it strange, but I have never seen the attraction of lying in a darkened room and being rubbed by a stranger. It strikes me as a violation of privacy; something that’s probably fun between two consenting adults who know what’s planned but not one to be farmed out to bored looking girls who probably compare notes on which of their clients feels the most like a manatee. That’s what I’d do, anyway.

Given a couple of months notice and some giggling female company, I could probably build up a tolerance to the idea of being massaged. But with five minutes warning and the pressure of having to pretend you’re up for it because it’s a thoughtful birthday gift, the experience is actually pretty stressful. It certainly isn’t long enough to get over a lifetime of disinterest / outright mistrust of the practice.

The woman was probably nice enough, but it’s hard to say that for sure when you’re lying face down on a table in the dark, taut with the tension of knowing you’re about to be touched but with no idea which part of you, or for how long. I don’t know whether it’s common to carry out a massage in complete silence, but that's what happened in mine. Silent but deadly, like the ninja. I flinched almost every time she touched me.

It genuinely never occurred to me to just say no. It would have been churlish, I thought, after the Captain went to such trouble to come up with a thoughtful birthday surprise. At this stage I had no idea he hadn’t just booked a straightforward massage, and I spent most of the time trying to concoct a convincing sounding lie of gratitude.

The best I came up with was that it was ‘an experience’, although by the end of the ordeal I was nearly in tears and fairly sure that anything I said to him later on would bring on an attack of the weepies. The masseuse later admitted (when Captain Tact phoned up to complain) that I hadn’t seemed entirely comfortable. But what was she supposed to do? She presumably had no idea that I hadn’t signed up, and was probably a bit confused as to why I was there if I was so averse to the idea.

Nearly a year on the anxiety dreams have subsided, and I think we all learned from the experience. The spa learned that when a customer says they want a choice of three treatments as per the advert, they may not mean 'rub my girlfriend'. Captain Tact learned that sometimes you should not concentrate so heavily on the aspect of surprise. And I learned that I was right to fear masseuses, and if anything I should have been actively arming myself against them for years rather than dispassionately saying 'it'll never happen to me'.

You have been warned.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Sensible Shoes

There are only a few periods in life when you can get away without owning a sensible pair of sensible shoes, and all of them are related to employment - or lack thereof.

If you are a student, for example, you can get away with dossing about in the same pair of converse with the sole flapping off for 3-4 years (assuming you aren't working in a restaurant / bar / hotel / shop to pay your way, in which case your manager will probably call you on it after about year two).

Similarly (although not in the literal sense of the word), if you're 8 months pregnant you can probably forgo the smart patent kitten heels for a time. And I'm sure there are other exceptions that could be listed here for the sake of padding out the word count, but the upshot is that sooner or later you're going to have to bite the bullet and get yourself some comfortable, non-trainer type footwear to model about the workplace.

If you're me (which you probably aren't but I wouldn't want to rule it out completely - there are several copies of the Fortean Times in my bathroom so I know to expect the unexpected), you may have a bit of a bee in your bonnet about forcing exercise into your daily routine on the grounds you're too busy/lazy to do it as an extra thing on top of all your writing.

That being the case, the aforementioned work shoes will also need to be sturdy enough to walk to and from the office/library/ice cream van in. Ballerina pumps look cute to begin with, sure, but walk the streets of Edinburgh in them for a minimum 3 miles a day and they get shredded.

One must therefore consider what shop is synonymous with the description 'sensible, reasonably smart and well priced work shoes'?

I got my current pair from Clarks for £35 - a bit more than I wanted to spend, if I'm honest, but that's because I'm a bit cheap on account of never knowing where my next contract is coming from. They're basically fine, except for one rather discomfiting design flaw in the form of the elastic trim.

Living in Edinburgh, you come into contact with a high percentage of cobbled streets. If you catch a cobble at a funny angle, it's pretty easy to twist your ankle.

The fun thing about the cross bar on these shoes is that if your foot hits a cobble at a funny angle the elastic stretches, so your shoe doesn't necessarily go in the same direction as your foot, exponentially increasing the possibility of ankle sprainage. Undoubtedly this is good comedy value for people walking behind you, but it's damnably awkward and uncomfortable for you as the wearer.


Then there's the side trim, elastic again, which make these shoes nearly impossible to wear with bare feet. It catches and rubs at the skin, creating blisters or at the very least sexy red marks that make it look as if you've had an allergic reaction to your own ankles.

They're basically fine with tights, but sometimes (alright, three that I've counted so far this year) you don't want to get your deniers on because it's too warm. Sadly if you're on a restricted budget of one pair of work shoes at a time, you either have to sweat it out or invest in a layer of plaster to go across most of the foot area. The plus side to this is that you can invent a series of outlandish stories about how you gained your injuries.

I also discovered in one of the monsoons we had the other week that these shoes are not entirely averse to letting water in. You might even say they were pro. Quite frankly it's a wonder I'm not laid up in bed with two broken ankles and a case of pneumonia, all as a result of buying a pair of not-amazing-but-not-terrible-enough-to-justify-the-expense-of-new shoes.

It is, as they say on the twitter, one of those #firstworldproblems that would never have come up if we had simply embraced Communism when we were told. But such is life.

Friday, 10 June 2011

A Plug

This is totally off theme but I'm not going to write about eyeshadow or pretty dresses today anyway, so I thought I would direct you instead to a free EP download by the inimitable DanDanDan.

The band are named for this clip in Alan Partridge, their music is eclectic to say the least, and the bass player is ttly dreamy. He can also eat an entire box of spring rolls without being sick, which is some kind of achievement as yet without category.

Click on the squiggly picture to go to their bandcamp and download 'Happy Happy Joy Joy' for free / a donation of your choosing.


Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Fringe

Everybody has a fringe at some point in their lifetime. I think there's some sort of law about it. But the way is fraught with peril, for that little curtain of hair only needs to be cut a teeny bit too short for you to look like a special child. This might be facilitated by your mum, or a hairdresser, or an accident with a lighter / school bully / piece of chewing gum. And when you trim it yourself (we've all been there) you will almost certainly do it squint on at least one occasion, which means that as you try to even it out it regresses ever closer to Dave Hill length.

Of course there are people who can pull off a very short fringe - very stylish indie chicks, mainly, and Beyonce - but I am not one of them.

When my fringe is cut too short - as happened the last time I got it done - I look slightly deranged. The combination of partially revealed forehead and too-straight hair is reminiscent of the pudding bowl cut, as in done by your mum using an actual bowl rather than you consciously deciding to create something chunky and retro.

These days I don't hold an allegiance to any particular hairdresser, and as such I've visited a number of salons in the city in a quest to find someone who'll do my do in a way that makes me want to commit.

I think it's fairly safe to say I haven't found it yet. This most recent time, I asked for it to be at eyebrow level and came out like David Sowerbutts in Psychoville. I also got charged extra for a deep conditioning treatment which the work experience girl left on for about two minutes.

OK, it wasn't that bad. If I straighten it, it even reaches the top of my eyebrows. And it's growing out a bit now.

But I'm still not going back. It's only my mad photography skills that prevent it having the appearance of an unconvincing wig.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Eye of the Beholder

A lot of people will tell you that in order to run a really successful blog, with lots of comments and followers and traffic, you need to find a niche area and basically stick to talking about that and little else. That way you will build up an audience, who can go away for a while and trust you to still be talking about the same sorts of things when they come back.

This is not that sort of blog.

However, I do like doing different themes where possible, because it gives me a bit of structure. Frinstance, the theme for the last couple of weeks was News in Briefs, aka spoof news stories of the type I used to write at university to try and get Captain Tact to like me.

But that was just to take us up to the end of May, for I would like to dedicate the month of June to the modern-day phenomenon that is beauty blogging. Although not in a particularly sensible way, I hasten to add.

Beauty blogging is popular, like cheerleaders and hard drugs. In the last couple of months, two totally disparate people of my acquaintance (an illustrator and a trainee lawyer/freelance writer) have started up beauty blogs in addition to their main pages (called Give Yer Face a Wash and On Beauty, should you wish to have a look). At the start of this year, The Edinburgh Reporter did a series of interviews with local bloggers, and far and away the most popular one was Cupcake Couture, which is a beauty and baking blog. And of course there's Go Fug Yourself, which is celebrity fashion gone wrong.

The basic premise of these sites is that people share their thoughts and tips on clothes, makeup, hair, and other girly paraphernalia. If you find a girl whose style is like yours, you follow her avidly and leave lots of comments saying 'OMG your hair looks amazing there' and so on.

I do not propose to copy the method wholesale, because frankly this area is perfectly well covered by ladies who are far better equipped than I. What I am going to write about, however, is the disasters and misfortunes of my style career.

Want to hear about the time I got a surprise ninja full body massage against my will? Stay tuned. Fancy hearing some artistic uses for colours of nail varnish you're unlikely to ever use again? I've got a suggestion or two. And then there's the history of my hair, a grim and terrible warning to anyone with follicles.

I'll be aiming to update two or three times a week, so check back in a couple of days if you're compiling a list of what not to do, or if you fancy feeling a bit better about yourself. I'm totally pro-schadenfreude...

Friday, 27 May 2011

FYI

No spoof news today, for I have important information to impart, alliteratively. It is particularly important if you are a budding film maker who wants your work to be seen by lots of lovely people at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival in June, but you will need to get your skates on.

CLICK NOW FOR FURTHER INFORMATION.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Scienticians Create New Shoe, Women Rejoice

Scientists based in Leith have invented a new type of shoe which they believe may be able to cure back pain, headaches and mild nausea through frequent wearing.

Nicknamed the 'schlub', the shoes are shaped like ballet pumps with a low platform sole made out of memory foam, of the type you get in more expensive mattresses. The pump part of the footwear comes in a variety of this season's colours and is made from a special mixture of deep heat, silicone, and moonbeams.

"Shoes are crap, aren't they?" said Professor Felicity Findlemong, who is running the operation from a small office on Constitution Street. "They always hide under the sofa so you can't find them, or rub your tootsies to create unsightly blisters, or cause terrible arguments with your sister over whether you were allowed to borrow them or not, often resulting in long, bitter family feuds spanning decades."

When prompted, she continued, "this is why we created the 'schlub.' The memory foam sole means that each shoe will be unique to the owner - it will keep a memory of the person's foot and anybody else wearing the thing will say 'oh, good gracious me, that is not my shoe!' And also the shoes will be so relaxing to wear, because of the medicinal effects, that people will not be feeling angry or stressed as long as they are wearing them."

The shoes are tipped to be on sale to the general public as early as 2014, but Professor Findlemong says there are a few teething problems to sort out first.

"Sometimes the shoes will rise up against us in mutiny and we have to shoot them all," she admitted, "that has happened a couple of times. But we will wear them down. If something is worth doing, it's worth doing well."

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Lothian Superinjunction Shock

The latest development in the wave of superinjunction revelations was accidentally exposed by an elderly lady who volunteers in Barnardo’s on Tuesdays and Fridays, we can exclusively reveal.

Maggie McCochrane was overheard telling a friend that her nephew, left back for the Porty U-21s team, had taken out a superinjunction to stop anyone finding out about his affair with that Lauren who works in Gregg’s.

The player, known affectionately by friends and passers-by as Scabby Knees Leslie, has been engaged to school sweetheart and onetime Britain’s Got Talent auditioner Morna McLaughlin for two years, and the couple have recently welcomed a small kitten, Precious Angel Leslie-McLaughlin to the family.

However, it has emerged that Leslie (19 and 3/4) was carrying on with this lassie fae Gregg’s for almost 8 months between 2009-2010 whilst Morna was queuing for her BGT audition. Even though that isn’t her real hair.

“While poor Morna was practicing her ‘Heart Will Go On’, there he was with another woman all amongst the sausage rolls,” Ms McCochrane told our reporter over the phone when she was asleep. “That’s ma nephew and I love him, but what he done wasnae right.”

When asked why he felt the need to take out a superinjunction over this, Mr Leslie indicated it was to save the feelings of the cat.

“It was a different time then,” he said, “a dark time in my life. I had a bit of a sair knee, Morna was busy and sometimes she didnae text me back right away... I was lonely, and I did a stupid thing. I took out the injunction cause I didn’t want Precious Angel to suffer. Me and Morna have worked through it all, and Lauren’s away to a Gregg’s in Scarborough to start a new life. It’s all in the past now.”

Unfortunately for Scabby Knees Leslie, the front page of tomorrow’s tabloid newspapers may tell a different story.

Probably not, though.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Apocalypse Now

Apocalyptic weather conditions left many people stranded at random destinations across the country last night, prompting many to ask the question:

Why does nature hate public transport?

Snowmageddon may seem like a distant memory for some, but only because they’ve put in the concerted effort to remove the months of pain, frustration and mild frostbite from their minds. And now that summer ought to be upon us, it is the turn of the wind to behave like some sort of chilly weather bastard.

Reports appeared yesterday that cars were crushed beneath trees, beloved family pets decapitated by falling roof tiles, and little old ladies whisked off into the air, never to be seen again. All this, with the promise of Icelandic ash to follow. And it makes you wonder, does it not, what the blithering chutney is going on.

The ironically named Reverend Iain Scientist (BSc) suggested these words by way of explanation:

“The gods are angry. You must all repent now for your materialistic ways; for your illegally downloaded music, and pizza for breakfast on the weekends, and comparatively well run public transportation network. If you don’t return to a simpler way of life, the Western Isles will be blown so far out to see that even satellites won’t be able to find them again.”

Reverend Scientist went on to say that thereafter would follow “a plague of owls as big as a man’s torso,” and reports have been filtering through on Twitter that a group of these have been sighted in Inverness today.

“At the moment they appear to be feeding predominantly on foxes and large dogs,” said ornithologist and TV personality Bill Oddie, who phoned us just now for a chat, “but should they start to crave human flesh we’re done for. Could you fight off a carnivorous owl the size of a man? Of course not.”

If you’ll excuse us, we’re off to repent by cutting up our Ridacards.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Bold Move From EIFF 2011

Questions are being asked this week about the decision of the Edinburgh International Film Festival not to screen any films this year.


According to recent press releases, this year’s event will steer clear of glitzy premiers and star studded parties in favour of a more organic approach.


The opening gala is to consist of gathering film enthusiasts at random around a laptop in Starbucks to watch the top YouTube videos of the week. They will then get to express their feelings by hitting the ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ buttons provided, neatly dispensing with any need for long winded, fatuous dissections of what has just been witnessed.


And instead of getting special deals for buying multiple tickets for film screenings, this year punters will get to be part of the film making process as extras in EIFF: The Movie.


“Films are ultimately pretty dull, aren’t they?” new festival director A.N. Orstralian told the media at EIFF’s launch.


“What’s really interesting for the public is the immediacy of the film making process. So rather than getting bogged down by the end product, this year we thought, ‘why not get people involved in the excitement of filming themselves?’”


“Ordinarily you have to wait for the DVD to come out with that disc of special extras before you can witness the magic of the crew marking up a set in different colours of leccy tape, or to find out that a particular sound effect was made using just a cheese grater and a baby rabbit. But with this year’s festival you get to live through the entire process, as an extra in the film of the film festival.”


If the director is to be believed, there are up to three other positives to this radical approach. One by-product is that in removing the need for the involvement of cinemas, the festival can branch out to countless other venues across the city – including Edinburgh University’s Teviot Building which, prior to this, was famous only for its disconcertingly sticky floor.


Teviot will host several art installations as part of the festival, including one entitled ‘a shelf of DVDs under a spotlight in an otherwise white and empty room.’


“It symbolizes the fact that in order to enjoy a film, yeah? You don’t actually have to watch a film?” artist Jason De Grunier has stated on his blog.


Sage words indeed.


But what of the public reaction to the changes?


“I think it’s a great idea,” gushed PR guru Crinoline McKendry, who cites her favourite film as Pokemon 5: Latios and Latias. “So innovative and now, y’know? I heard that on one of the days they’re going to use a twitter hashtag to write the script for a crime thriller which they’ll actually film as and when the lines come up on the feed. And they’re not using professional actors, because that wouldn’t feel authentic – they’re bussing in an amateur dramatics group from Auchtermuchty. Brilliant.”


Other film fans were less convinced.


“It’s going to be awful,” said Jimothy Ombudsman-Smythe, who uses the money he earns as a labourer on a building site to pay for his Cineworld movie card. “Nae films in a film festival? It doesn’t make any sense.”


“Your FACE doesn’t make any sense,” the festival director replied, when we put this complaint to him.


Then he ran away, giggling like a schoolchild.


It seems that the jury is out, and at the end of the day when all is said and done, only time will tell whether the gamble will pay off at the end of the road when the chickens come home to roost.