Monday, 28 December 2009

One of life's great mysteries...

Overheard today in a shop...a husband desperately trying to find the matching shoe of a pair that his wife wanted in the sales. He couldn't find it anywhere on the shelves, or under the mountain of discarded bargains. "One of life's great mysteries," he proclaimed with a grin on his face. For some reason this made me chuckle. I think because usually shopping in the sales can be quite a stressful experience, especially for chaps who have been dragged there by their other halves, but this fellow definitely had a nice attitude about it all.

Sale bargain

A few weeks ago, shopping / blogging queen India Knight flagged up this amazing handbag from Marks and Spencer. I wanted it, but at £79 it was a tad expensive. So imagine my joy today when, whilst shopping in the Bristol sales with my mum, she managed to find the last remaining bag in the colour I wanted, a bargain at £39! Go mum!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

My year in words

A whirlwind year to cap off a whirlwind decade. Here are the most notable bits that happened to me:

Happiest moment

Finding out I’d got my job at the Guardian. When I got the call I was the most shocked I’d ever been in all my life. It’s been a rollercoaster few months at work, but I absolutely love my job and work with incredible people on so many interesting projects. I am very lucky indeed.

Saddest moment

Both of my grandmothers passed away this year. My Nan was a lovely lady with a ready smile and a twinkle in her eye, and had a knack for saying hilarious things without realising it. My quirky and sharp-witted Granny lived a fascinating life and always had fabulous stories and anecdotes to tell. I miss both of them hugely, and hope that I’ve inherited at least some of their qualities.

Most nervewracking moment

Living in London for the past couple of years seems to have eroded away most of my nervous tendencies, but the two hours or so before I performed my first gig back in the summer were terrifying. Thankfully my mates in the audience kept me going and it was loads of fun.

Most surreal moment

Wandering around backstage at Glastonbury surrounded by ridiculously cool-looking people and feeling completely dumbstruck about how little old me had found herself wearing a VIP wristband. Then finding out that Michael Jackson was dead whilst listening to East 17 (couldn’t see them, the crowd was too huge). Come to think of it, I'm not really sure why I didn’t write a blog post about my Glasto experience at the time. Oh well.

Celebrity encounters

I had an *actual conversation* with Eddie Izzard, shared a lift and a restaurant with Colin Firth, Jon Snow flashed his socks at me, and an actor off the telly critiqued my short story. In fact, all of these could quite easily slot into the ‘surreal’ category above.

Best purchase

My wardrobe. I am in love with my wardrobe. I have l’amour pour l’armoire. In fact, I only added in this 'best purchase' category so I could mention my beloved piece of furniture. If there was a photo of it online I would put it here, but it's such a rare piece of (melamine? mdf?) beauty that no online record of it exists. I may have to commission a photographer to take some shots, since my amateur snapping skills would never be able to do it justice.

Best party

The Guardian Creative Christmas party at SimmonS (awesome little venue on Caledonian Road). Great music (but no rock, as I endlessly pointed out to the poor DJs), lots of happy people and way too much wine. How I made it home I’ll never know.

2009 in one word…

TWITTER. Yes, call me a nerd, but I can honestly say that - without Twitter - 2009 wouldn’t have been half as eventful. I’ve met some great people as a result, and it’s also helped me out at work; both in terms of getting to know people across the organisation whose paths I would never normally cross, but also with my job and networking with external contacts and bloggers. Thanks Twitter – yes, sometimes you can be cruel like your big sister Facebook and tell me things I don’t necessarily want to know, but overall you’re all right.

The noughties

I started this decade as an independently-minded but quiet(ish) teenager venturing off to Cardiff University to study journalism. And I gave journalism a good old go, but quickly realised it wasn’t for me after writing a few pieces for the Southern Daily Echo, where I worked as a receptionist after graduating.

In hindsight, I blatantly should’ve moved to London after Cardiff, but I chose to follow my heart to Hampshire, which was definitely the right decision at the time, and the experiences I had there have made me a much stronger person. I met some great people there and I’m adamant that I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not lived on the south coast for a few years. But London eventually beckoned and I can honestly say that moving here is the best decision I’ve ever made. I have made some wonderful friends, done well for myself career-wise (*pats self on back Trevor & Simon style*), and I’m sure sooner or later my prince will pun.

Farewell 2009!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Let me tell you a story...

I love stories and I love writing; I always have done. I was one of those kids who would plead with their parents to be allowed to read 'just one more chapter' at bed time, and would sneakily employ the torch under the duvet trick if I was at such a crucial part of the narrative that sleep simply wasn't an option.

At school, writing always came more naturally to me than drawing, and one time I even won a competition for a piece of writing I did about milk(?). The prize for this competition was immense: I got to meet Rolf Harris with my teacher and another competition winner!! I was only about six, but I distinctly remember my mum sending me to school that morning with some fifty pence pieces taped inside my Garfield lunchbox so I could buy one of Rolf's books and get his autograph. Of-course, being six I had no idea how a transaction in a shop worked, and I remember getting home that afternoon and proudly showing my mum my Rolf Harris poetry book, complete with his trademark 'Rolferoo' autograph, then witnessing her horror when she discovered that the money in my lunchbox was still neatly taped inside. So there's a very strong chance that I stole this book:

This has gone off on a bit of a tangent, for which I can only apologise, but basically I think what I'm trying to say is that the fact that I chose Rolf's blue poetry book (A Catalogue of Comic Verse), instead of the red one about drawing which he was also promoting in the bookshop that day, somehow demonstrates that words for me have always been more important to me than images. Or maybe it's just because I'm crap at drawing...  

That being said, I'm not the quickest reader in the world (I like to absorb every word and feel genuinely guilty if I skim read), and I'm certainly not the best writer, but recently I decided to take the plunge and submit one of my short stories to the monthly Writing Salon I attend in Covent Garden.

The gist of this meet-up is that, each month, two of us submit a piece of writing to be read and critiqued by the rest of the group. If you've ever been to a book club, you'll know that more often than not some of you will love a book, while others will detest it. But you can quite happily debate both sides of the argument safe in the knowledge that the author isn't listening in to your scathing remarks. Well, the Writing Salon is a bit like this, except the authors are there to hear your views; both good and bad. So it was with an underlying sense of fear and trepidation that I went along to the December gathering last week to hear what they all thought about my story.

The overall verdict was pretty positive I'd say, although the group was split about whether the twist was 'twisty' enough. About half of the room had guessed what was going on quite quickly, while the remainder had read the story as I was hoping they would. Some of my turns of phrase were criticised, which I think is probably the most difficult kind of criticism to give and to hear, although none of the feedback was unjustified or harsh. It'll be boring for me to go into details at this point since you may not have read the story in question, but it was a really valuable experience, not least because the other piece of writing we discussed on the night was absolutely incredible and I felt honoured to be in a room with such talented and creative people.

As well as discussing the two pieces of writing, we also did something rather fun since it was the last session before Christmas. Fellow Writing Salon-er Alex Vail writes more about it here, but we had to come up with a six-word short story. There were lots of very clever and moving entries, but I obviously went for the 'comedy' angle. So, to round off this blog post, here is my rather festive six-word short story:

Rudolph woke up. Brown nose. Shit

Me drumming

Here are some awesome pictures from our most recent gig, taken by genius photographer Nick Dillon.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Merry Christ-moustache: Our final gig of 2009

If someone had told me at the start of 2009 that by the end of the year I would've played five gigs I would have had them sectioned under the Mental Health Act. But shiver my timbers, that individual now writhing around in a padded room in a strait jacket was right! Release them! (I'm in a strange mood tonight; that's what an exciting day at work does to me).

The final Witness To The Beard gig of the year took place last Friday in Stockwell, and what a cracking evening of entertainment it was. We played at The Cavendish Arms at An Event Of Some Kind (I've blogged before about the general format of this particular event), and it was such a quirky evening. We were the first band on after the accomplished compere / event organiser extraordinaire H Anthony Hildebrand did a little ditty on stage and we played a 15 minute set; the tightest we've sounded yet I reckon. I also bit the bullet and sang my alternative 'Saved By The Bell' lyrics.

After us was a brilliant comic called Eric Lampaert, whose wacky (but not over the top) physical comedy, combined with his improvisation skills, got us all chuckling very heartily indeed. He even did a bit of comedy about our band name! He was also a fan of the other band's name who played after him: Don't Tread On Spiders. Oh. My. God. They were absolutely amazing. Check them out for yourselves, but you really can't appreciate them until you hear / see them live. The drummer ROCKED. She has completely mastered the whole singing whilst drumming thing, and I've still got loads of their songs stuck in my head, despite only hearing them once (such as the song below, demonstrating awesomeness of said drummer). LOVE them. Need to buy their entire back catalogue (yes, unlike Witness To The Beard, they've actually recorded stuff).

During the interval there was a drawing competition. We were asked to draw two things kissing under the mistletoe. I can't draw for love nor money, but I can pun for prizes. So I drew two feet under the mistletoe, labelled the big toes "toes" and labelled the mistletoe "mistle". Yes, sounds very random, I know, but so is this event, and I won a prize for my skillz. After the interval (and mince pies) it was some more fabulous word-play observations from Monsier Hildebrand, then us again. Omar and I were convinced / bullied (joking!) by Kev to don Santa hats with beards attached for our final mini set. Humorous, indeed, but Kev wasn't laughing when the beard fell over his face whilst he was singing. Ha! Then his strap fell off mid-song: disaster! Thanks to the valiant help from Sonny from DTOS and the legendary sound man the situation was remedied without us having to stop the rock. And Kev totally redeemed himself by saying after the song: "Well, that was a strapping performance!"

We came off stage and waiting in the wings was the headline comedy act for the night, Tom Basden (*swoon*). It's just him and his guitar. And an endless supply of hilarious - yet extremely melodic - songs. My personal favourite was one about Neighbours (but Neighbours as it was ten years ago when Toadfish was still a chubby rebellious teenager rather than a slimline high-flying lawyer). He also sang about a ghost who keeps himself to himself, a girl with a glass eye, a guide dog who is being fooled by his non-blind owner and a Chinese fellow called Wan Ni. Have a listen to some of his songs here or in the video above.

All in all it was a fantastic night.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Christmas cringe

Err, who is this guy singing to me? Just got this on an e-mail from PR Newswire...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

My short story...

So here's my short story that I submitted to The Writing Salon. I shall write about the experience of having my writing critiqued last night in a subsequent post when I get the chance...


It was too cold in the room. And the symbols on the thermostat were just ambiguous enough to make it impossible to fathom which way to turn the knob to slow down the relentless flow of Arctic air from the dusty vents on the ceiling. No one in the room wanted to make a fool of themselves by turning the knob the wrong way, so instead we all sat there and gritted our teeth. I sat on my hands, hoping that everyone else thought I was doing so to keep them warm, not because they were shaking. I was nervous, and this time I was not going to back down.

It was hard to believe that outside it was a glorious August summer’s day, and each and every one of us wanted to be out there, rather than cut off from the world in here, taking in every tiny detail of each other's fluorescent light-bleached faces; faces which were currently so familiar, yet would soon be forgotten. But we didn’t have any choice. We had to work this out now.

As stale water was poured and chairs scraped by their occupants into their final positions around the coffee-stained melamine table, I remembered the last time. The circumstances had been similar, but different in so many ways. The last room had been bearable - for one thing there had been a window to gaze out of as a minor distraction from the harsh realities of the room. But, no matter how you looked at it, our actions that day had resulted in a life being ruined. It was almost as if we deserved to endure this horrible space as a punishment for our previous behaviour. I tried to shake the memory from my thoughts. Focus.

How did I get here? Well, I really had no choice in the matter. You can put it off for so long, but these things are unavoidable. It was the same for everyone around the table. No choice. Of course, some people took a thrill from it, and I could understand that up to a point. Having the power to destroy someone certainly does bring with it a certain rush, but surely the subsequent shame meant that no one could truly perceive this as 'enjoyable'? Then I remembered the first time just ten days beforehand, and how it had lulled me into a false sense of security. It had been so easy! Fun, even. But now that day felt like so long ago, because here we were again for the third and final round. Now was the time we had to get down to business; no more small talk to fill the uncomfortable silences, no more polite chit-chat and no more ice-breaking quips from those who were blatantly enjoying every second of this torturous procedure.

"So, who wants to do it?"

I can't remember who asked the question, but the only sound that greeted it was the sporadic clunking of the over-efficient air conditioning system. There was absolutely no way I was going to do it, not after what happened before. "I would rather not," I eventually volunteered, diplomatic as ever. An avalanche of "me neithers" quickly followed. The matter was finally settled with the toss of a penny. My penny, obviously. A lot of responsibility for such a small denomination. I missed the catch so it clattered down on to the table and I clumsily dragged it across the surface under my clammy palm until it slipped onto the upper side of my other palm at the edge. Heads. The Queen's head, no less. How very apt. Decision made. I put the penny back in my purse and snapped it shut. The sharp noise seemed to jolt everyone from their thoughts, as if someone had clapped their hands, signalling that it was time to begin.


"No matter what anyone says, there is absolutely no way I am changing my mind," said Sylvia, to my right. I knew exactly how she felt, as my mind had also been made up from the very beginning. The trouble was, we were definitely not on the same page with our unwavering views. In fact, if I was the preface she would have been the glossary. But her definitions would have been very muddled up indeed. This was not good. I really liked Sylvia. We had gone through a lot together since this ordeal had begun and I respected her. But after the last time she had obviously gotten it in her head that her mind was not to be swayed on this occasion, just like I had. I silently groaned, but on the outside maintained my fixed, tight-lipped polite smile. God I needed a drink, even just to stop my hands from shaking, but I now knew what had to be done to stop this nonsense from going any further. I took a deep breath, and - having gained unspoken permission from the unfortunate individual who'd earlier been struck down by that little penny now tucked away in my purse - began to speak.

I'd always be able to hold a conversation, but public speaking was definitely not my thing. Put me in a social situation with a few people and I'd be in my element, shamelessly drawing attention to my flaws and social gaffes for the sole purpose of making people smile and feel at ease. Too honest for my own good, people often said, but I actually enjoyed it. Put me speaking in front of people on a serious topic without being able to get people onside with a humorous remark, and then the confident facade would quickly give way to my inner bumbling soul who can't look anyone in the eye for fear of glimpsing their dawn of realisation that I have no in-depth knowledge of absolutely anything. Apart from an in-depth knowledge of that very fact. And now here I was; not a single self-mocking joke up my sleeve with which to win over the people who were now hanging on my every word.

The majority of my captive audience slowly nodded in agreement with my torrent of sentences, glancing at their watches and stealing looks at their fellow numbers to gauge their reactions. I could also see that the few others making up our imprisoned contingent desperately wanted me to slip up. It was this thought that gave me the surge of adrenaline my mind had been crying out for since I'd opened my mouth. The adrenaline came from the sudden understanding that I simply couldn't slip up, because what I was saying was the truth; it was fact. And I possessed an in-depth knowledge of the facts about which I spoke because they had been forced into my head over the last few days. I didn't have to 'stick to my story' or tell more lies to get myself out of the lies I'd told before. That's precisely where the subject of our discussion had gone wrong the last time. As the words continued to pour forth, I realised that it hadn't been our fault that his story had unravelled as he'd told it. We hadn't destroyed him; he'd brought on that destruction himself, and we'd done the right thing that time, no matter hard it had been. Now I felt the responsibility to do the right thing once more rested on my shoulders, and my shoulders alone. So I kept talking, until - slowly - one, by one, everyone agreed with me. Except Sylvia.

Deep down I knew that there was no chance of her changing her mind. We all knew that. It was time to communicate with the outside world.


Less than an hour later and it was all over and done with. As I gulped down the sunshine-drenched air outside the grand building, grateful to feel the warmth beat down on my body, I watched with a strange combination of sadness and relief as the other occupants of the room scattered across the city, never to cross paths again. I looked at my watch; it felt odd to be able to look at it so brazenly, when only minutes before looking at it would have been seen as a 'tactic'. It was actually earlier than I expected so I hopped up onto one of the walls which surrounded the building as it was the nearest thing that resembled a seat, feeling a little rebellious having left all of the rules and customs of the last fortnight behind. I switched on my phone. Text from Mum: 'How did it go ? x'. I touched the green handset icon and put the phone to my ear. I rubbed by eyes as the phone rang, unaccustomed to the bright natural daylight.

"Hi Mum, it's me. Yeah all over now. It took us a good few hours but we got there in the end. Yeah we definitely did, I'm sure of it. It was another drugs one..."


Tom stepped out of the building and into the sunlight. He couldn't believe after all this time it was finally over. He nonchalantly strode away from the building, unfastening his top button on the white shirt which had been purchased especially for this week. He was tempted to take it off completely and chuck it in the nearest bin, but he figured he might need it again some day. As he turned left onto the main road, he recognised a young woman sat on a wall. She was one of them, he realised. He smirked as he walked past her. She was so engrossed with her telephone call she didn't even notice him. Walking along the busy street Tom felt his own phone vibrate in his pocket. It was Pete. Good news obviously travelled fast. "Yep?" he spoke into the small silver handset. Pete was a man of few words, and his congratulations were brief and to the point. "Cheers mate, yeah, not guilty. Great, eh? Not a unanimous verdict though - the cops somehow managed to convince one of them, but the others sucked up my story. Yeah, we should meet soon, pick up where we left off. Laters."

Tom slid the phone shut and took one final glance over his shoulder at the fading image of the woman on the wall. She was only in her twenties, he reckoned. Could she have been the one who had figured him out? The thought wasn't in his head for long before his phone buzzed again. This time it was the phone in his other pocket. "Yeah?" he answered. "Sure, just need to sort out a few things first. Call me back in half an hour and I'll tell you where and when." It was good to be back.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

London, Paris and First Book

December is upon us, and how it's already whizzing by. I've got a particularly busy couple of weeks coming up so thought I'd drop in now while I have the chance and make a note of some of my recent London exploits...
  • The Guardian Public Services Awards at Old Billingsgate. Wow, what a venue. The place looked stunning and it was a great event with loads of worthy winners. I shared a table with a group of student volunteers from York and Hull, who went on to win the Citizenship and Volunteering Award (I knew in advance that they had won so had to keep my mouth zipped). 
  • Here I should be writing about an amazing bloggers' trip to Brussels I went on courtesy of Eurostar's Little break, Big difference campaign. I was unbelievably excited about it, but then I got an evil bug and couldn't go. I hear through the blogosphere that it was lots of fun, and Sian from Domestic Sluttery brought me back some posh chocolates, which was very sweet. Literally.
  • The December London Bloggers Meetup, sponsored by Symantec, was on Tuesday. Sian (see above) spoke at the event and provided us with some really useful blogging tips, and supplied us with yummy cakes.
  • The Guardian First Book Award ceremony was the following night. I felt privileged to meet the winner, Petina Gappah; a Zimbabwean writer who won the Award with her amazing short story collection, 'An Elegy for Easterley'. I'm in the middle of reading this now, and each story that I've read so far is incredibly moving, but laced with an underlying layer of humour and modest self-awareness. The judging panel described her writing style as 'deceptively simple' and I would definitely agree with this.

Speaking of short stories, my very own attempt at writing one will be 'critiqued' on Monday, and I'm cacking myself! As I've mentioned before, I attend a Writing Salon at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden, and this month it's my turn to have my writing scrutinised. Writing this blog is one thing, as it's for me more than anyone else and I'm not really bothered about what people think of my storytelling 'skills'. But with fiction it's different. Although my short story is based on me and a real experience, the way I tell the story is so crucial to the impact that I want it to have on the reader, that if I've written it badly it simply won't work. I may report back next week on the reaction it got. Or I may not, depending on how emotionally scarred I am from the experience...

Ooh, and today I received a rather exciting e-mail from the people at we are social. They're the ones who invited me to the aforementioned day trip to Brussels, and now they are offering me the chance to win un séjour à Paris (surely extra points for the French, eh?! Unless the French is wrong, in which case - ignore that). All I have to do is to write about what my dream weekend in Paris would be like if I had 1,000 to spend. Well, to be honest, my *dream* weekend in Paris would involve me being whisked away to the French capital by a decent chap who'd make me laugh a lot and forget my stresses as we wandered around random streets stumbling across little bars and getting nicely merry. But since that isn't likely to happen any time soon, I would have to say that I would absolutely love to take my Mum to the city and spoil her rotten. She's been an absolute legend this year and I would take her to a posh tea room, perhaps somewhere like here, then buy her something sparkly and try and squeeze in a show.