Saturday, 24 March 2012

Washing machine vs phone

What I bought... Or didn't.

It sounds like the title of a surrealist film: the woman who went in to buy a washing machine and came out with a phone.

My intentions were clear: I needed to buy a washing machine. I haven't had a washing machine in over a year, which sounds crazy but it hasn't been a problem at all. I began taking my washing to the laundrette for a drop off wash, picking it up two days later, smelling of spring and fluffed and folded to perfection. I thought it would be temporary but I began to look forward to picking up my washing and sticking my head in the bag and sniffing deeply. This might sound odd but you just cant get the same results at home. Most one bedroom flats in London do not have room to have a tumble dryer so the clothes are washed but then left to drip dry over radiators or the backs of chairs. The water is so hard and chalky, that your clothes dry completely stiff as a board and your towels feel like rough sandpaper... Great for exfoliation, rubbish for comfort. So essentially, I have become totally spoilt.

The Indian ladies, who work in the laundrette, now know me by name. It's not quite the same as walking into your local pub, and someone shouting your name whilst pourring you a glass of merlot, but it made me feel part of the community. They no longer ask what I need, they are already writing the ticket as I walk in the door. "Hello Miss Juliet, two small washes, one light, one dark, non bio powder?" and then they giggle. I love it. But I worked out how much I had spent on my luxury washing the other day, and I was quite horrified. In one year I have spent £336! Oh my god!

£336 would get me a weeks holiday in Egypt, albeit it with gangster Russians who seems to have infiltrated the Egyptian red sea coastline.
£336 would buy me an iPad.
£336 would buy me over three days of a polish decorators time.
£336 would buy me, more importantly, a top of the range, award winning, washing machine!

So, last week I relented. I bravely told the Indian ladies it was my my last visit and that it had been an amazing year, and I went along to the soulless warehouse that is Comet. In fact, this place is one of those factory outlets that has everything under one roof. Computers sit side by side with washing machines and cookers: there is as Starbucks and a phone shop too. It's quite a vile place because all the salespeople wear polyester and they look bored to death... until, of course, you look in their direction and suddenly, on goes the fake smile and the smarm and they are at your side in a flash. But it's cheap and convenient, and when you are buying a washing machine, you don't really need more than that.

I had casually walked over to the washing machines, trying not to draw attention to myself when a sales girl appeared under my armpit and began her monologue on the pro's and cons of each washing machine. She then looked a bit pained and excused herself to go to the toilet. Maybe she felt as nauseated as me, by her own chit chat, but I decided to grab a coffee while she sorted herself out. I had taken two steps, when I was pounced on by an excitable phone salesman.

"Morning madam, can I try and guess your phone?"
"You can try," I say, "but I promise you, you'll never guess". He looked so happy. I had challenged him. But the poor boy was out of his depth and he didn't even know it.

I have had my phone for 12 years. It is an old Nokia that was originly made for the building trade, encased in rubber and with a built in spirit level, I kid you not! It was lovingly referred to as The Builders Phone... Clever branding heh? But I love this phone, and poor old Vodafone don't get it, they keep trying to force upgrades on me. They keep ringing me saying "Miss Sellars, you do realise they haven't made your model of phone in over 6 years, the only country still making them is in France, where it is aptly named, Le Bouncy." ha, ha, I love that.

So Mr Enthusiastic tried to guess. He named, possibly thirty models of phone til he gave up. I pulled out my phone, with a dramatic, ta da, and held it up. Seeing a grown man recoil from a harmless object is a little strange, but I suppose, for a phone man, my mobile was an atrocity. He was so horrified, the little bugger, actually shut up for at least 30 seconds while he tried to compute what he was seeing. But he recovered himself admirably and before I knew what was happening, he had me in a chair with complimentary coffee and was whispering sweet nothing's in my ear about a free iphone. "Free?" I say, feebly under his spell. "Free... Juliet, can I call you Juliet?" God, he was good, the little devil. Part salesman, part private investigator! When did I tell him my name?

By the time the poor washing machine girl had finished her ablutions, I had a pathetic grin on my face and an iPhone in my bag. All I was thinking about was wearing my freshly fluffed, spring smelling jumper whist figuring out how to work the damn phone!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Teacher's Pet

What I Am.

I'm not at all sure how this happened. I am 43 years old and I am officially the 'teacher's pet'! It has come late to me because my school reports certainly would not have indicated this was possible; throughout my schooling, they would mostly say:

Juliet is a bright girl but doesn't apply herself. She needs to concentrate more and distract her fellow classmates less! Being the class clown does not achieve qualifications.

I remember quite vividly, the times I was very naughty. I was once rapped on the back of a hand with a metal ruler, by my science teacher, because I was trying to get everyone to laugh by imitating her, behind her back. She caught me and hit me so hard that I yelled out and said she was a child abuser! I think I'd seen something on TV the night before but had no idea what it meant. She went bright red and sent me to see Miss Tanner, the headmistress, who at 90 years old, still loved to apply the cane. When I told her what I'd done, she bent me over her desk and with all her strength (not much), gave me 10 strokes on the bottom. It's quite ironic that my outburst led me to have the exact thing I was complaining about! I was never damaged, mentally or physically from these canings, I assure you, because Miss Tanner really couldn't muster the energy! It was also a flimsy cane competing with thick, grey, school knickers and a thick, tweed skirt. Couldn't feel a thing!

On another occasion, in the chemistry lab, one of the borders (always the worst and most provocative girls in school) had procured a condom. Most of us had never even seen one, let alone know what to do with it, but I was assured you could blow it up like a balloon. Next door, the other half of our year were in the physics lab, and I was dared to blow the condom up through the large keyhole, causing we hoped, hilarity from the other room! I know, it sounds impossible. You are also probably wondering how I could do this without my teacher seeing? Well, I dropped down onto my hands and knees and crawled across the floor while my classmates asked numerous questions about the periodic table, located on the other side of the room. Cunning eh? I had just managed to get the condom through the keyhole and was blowing as hard as I could (don't be smutty!) when our physics teacher decided to come through the door to borrow a pipette or something sciencey. She flung open the door, clocked me on the head and I flew backwards still holding the now deflated condom in my hand. I was immediately sent to the headmistress! That one was a little trickier to explain, plus the fast that I'm not sure Miss Tanner had ever seen one before.

There were several other incidents I'm quite proud of but I won't go into those now! Also, at this point my parents are probably horrified and wondering why they have never heard of these terrible crimes. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, in those days they punished us without asking or even telling our parents. On reflection, that's probably a good thing!!

I was also a terrible procrastinator. I often wouldn't do my week's homework until Sunday night, whilst listening to the Top 40 music charts. I think the reason I left it until the last minute was that I actually couldn't retain information for longer than a few days. During my O' Levels, I dictated all my books onto cassette tape and would play them back as I was falling asleep, the night before the exam, thinking all the information would go into my head subliminally! Again, I think I saw something to do with this on TV!! I always did fairly well, amazingly, but I definitely 'could have done better'!!

So, now to present day. I have been on this creative writing course for over 2 months now... we get given work to do in class and then get homework as well. The homework is usually a couple of different writing exercises and could take anything from a few hours to a full day!! Our teacher doesn't expect to see the homework until the next class although she encourages us to send it to her, before that, on email so that she can correct and critique it. I have usually done my homework, typed it up and sent it to her by Wednesday night (our class is on Mondays). My teacher always praises my efficiency and keenness and I sometimes smile smugly to myself. Never openly of course. Last week, however, things become slightly awkward. A month or so ago, my teacher had encouraged me to write a short story to enter into a competition. She has been kind enough to send suggestions and comments back and forth, out of class hours (way beyond her call of duty). I am now on the final draft, after weeks of agonising, and she is very happy. But, she has now decided to enter her own short story into the competition and has sent it to me to read and critique. Blimey! This was all fine, until she mentioned it in class. She mentioned my story, her story, me reading her story, the competition, the out of hours tutoring and worst of all... asked me to read my finished short story to the class next week. The other students looked at each other with a shared understanding... something we have all possessed since our school days... recognising the class swat! If that wasn't bad enough, one of the new students - a middle aged, outspoken, opinionated, Australian businessman - looked at me across the table, smirked and said really slowly and really loudly:

"Oh. My. God... Jules is the teacher's pet".

It was the ultimate put down. Humiliating. Embarrassing. All I wanted to do was reach across the table and slap his smug face and say: "Shut ya face, you pig! Just because I did my homework and you didn't. Bastard!" Pretty much what I would have said to any boy when I was 14 years old! Of course, I didn't do that. It would have been juvenile. Instead, I waited until my teacher was looking at her notes and I stuck my tongue out at him. Which proves that although I may no longer be the troublemaker in class... you can't take me out of the playground!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

It's happened

What I Have.

I officially have the ruddy cheeks of my predecessors.

The women on my mothers side of the family are predisposed to have the look of being permanently at sea; a sort of flushed cheek. It sounds quite pretty doesn't it, as if you have been coyly blushing or just had a little excitement or been gently exercising... but in reality it is rosacea; tiny little veins near the surface of your skin that make you look like you've been slapped! I thought I might have escaped it, reaching 43 and still having a one-toned face but a ghost from my genetic past has woken up and gone... ooops, we forgot about you, here, have some florid cheeks! Thanks a lot.

There are quite a few things that have changed on my body over the years but most of them have come on slowly and I have been prepared; the gravity thing, the softening of the jawline, the enlargement of the bottom, the squinting of the eyes as you try to read small print in low lighting. So, it's been a gradual process and I have combatted most of them.

Gravity = more expensive bras
Jawline = the lion yoga pose... (sticking your tongue out as far it goes and exhaling like a roaring lion; it makes you laugh too so that keeps you young!)
Large Bottom = find men that like it!
Eyesight = trendy glasses that make you feel as if you are doing the slutty secretary thing, all swooshy hair and pouting every time you put them on (I know that feeling won't last!)

Rosacea, however, has come upon me overnight, after only 7 hours of sleep. Honestly, I woke up this morning, looked at myself in the mirror and thought I must be drunk. My cheeks were that of a sozzled whiskey drinker. At least I haven't got a drunkards nose, there's a blessing... but perhaps that's next! Maybe I'll wake up and see my already large beak transformed into nose of a proboscis monkey!

So... what I'm looking for today ladies and gents, is how to cover up this - let's call it - the flush of my late youth? And before you say it... no, it doesn't looks fine without!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

World Book Day

“Outside of a dog, man's best friend is a book; inside of a dog, it's too dark to read” Groucho Marx

It is World Book Day... hurrah! I love the fact we have a day to celebrate books because Groucho is right, books are my best friend.

For me, a book's function is not just to be informative or tell a story, they are mood changers. A book can comfort me when I'm feeling sad; I simply reach for an old favourite and it's like being hugged by the beautifully familiar words. Books make me laugh, they make me think, they make me wonder, they fill my heart with love and romance and they keep me up at night with gory, spine tingling murders. They make me look up gloriously mysterious words like: Fugacious, Lagniappe, Petrichor or Susurrous. When I finish a particularly wonderful book, it's not unusual for me to clutch it to my chest, thanking it for making my life richer.

Books can make you draw with your mind, they allow you to cast your own actors, design your own dream house, explore the world. We become so upset when our actors are miscast by Hollywood directors, their landscapes pale to our imagination. In fact, books are so powerful that for only a few pounds, they can make our universe infinite.To be able to read is the cheapest gift in the world.

In Britain at the moment there is a government initiative to encourage literacy, to get everyone reading. They are encouraging parents to read to their children, even for a few minutes a day. Imagine for a second, you cannot read; it would be, I presume, like looking at ancient Greek or Hieroglyphics... a series of lines and shapes that look lovely but have no meaning. I think we sometimes take it for granted how much we look, glance and read in everyday life, from tube stops to newspapers, from Google to e-books.

There, I've said it. I'm sure a few of you were wondering when my nemesis would rear its ugly head. And it really is UGLY. I think if a Kindle encourages people to read then that's fabulous but for me, celebrating World Book Day is about the physical; the beautiful paper, the font, the cover, things that are designed and thought about for months before the book is on the shelf. Who hasn't picked up a book because of the design on the front? If everyone begins to read e-books, what will happen to the Publishing house art departments? The typographers, graphic designers, illustrators, photographers and let's not forget the writers. A writer sits for hours a day, weeks and months and years go by and then their masterpiece is simply downloaded for 99p.

Imagine a few years from now, people's bookshelves empty apart from a dull grey tablet staring back at them? It sounds horribly Orwellian doesn't it? People tell me it's small and lightweight but you still can't put it in your pocket, you have to carry it in a hand bag or a briefcase... just like a book! I've heard the argument that you can fit 3,500 books on a Kindle but seriously, how many books can you read at any one time? And yes, the price is much cheaper but I find paying a little more for something that will sit proudly and beautifully on my windowsill forever, worth it. If I don't want to keep it, then I give it to charity, therefore someone else can enjoy it. Who can you share you e-book with? Can you lend a novel on an e-book to a friend? Can you buy someone a gift of an e-book novel? Take the two following scenarios:

A. Normal book giving scenario.

A few years ago, a friend gave me a beautifully wrapped book for my birthday. The book was: This Book will Change your Life by A N Wilson (it's not a self help book by the way, although I got a few sympathetic looks on the tube). The book was brilliant and i loved it so much I bought 3 more copies and gave them to other friends as presents. By giving them to my friends, we shared a bit of joy. I lend my favourite books out all the time. My mother and I have our own book club, swapping and sharing books all the time. It's a lovely thing to do.

B. E-book giving scenario.

Yesterday, a friend told me about a really good book she had just finished reading on her Kindle. That's it. End of scenario.

And just a few other questions for those kindlers....

Can you read an e-book in a hot steaming bath?

Can you spill wine, sun tan lotion or spaghetti sauce on it?
Can you drop it from a top floor balcony or accidentally run over it in your car?
Can you cry whilst reading it and see your tear stained pages in years to come?
Can you write an important number on an e-book page?
Can you read a Kindle in low light without having to buy one of those ridiculous, bendy torch attachments?

I could go on but I'm boring myself now. I think you might have realised that I am in no hurry to buy one. For now I'm going to celebrate with wild abandon... this glorious World Book Day with a good old fashioned book, with a printed cover, pages made of paper, type made from ink and I will turn the pages with my hand. Amazing.