Holby Shitty

(First appeared on TheLondonWord.com March 6th)

Word to the wise: whilst Dettol Mould & Mildew Remover may be spectacularly effective at cleaning both mould and mildew, it’s not so great when it lands in your eye.

This is how I ended up at north Middlesex Accident and Emergency on a Sunday afternoon.

I’ll spare you the gory details of how it happened, and my subsequent reaction, but I will tell you that my housemate said I yelled so loudly, that he thought I was having a baby.

Here’s a little secret. I don’t ever watch television with the exception of Casualty. I’ve even been known to avoid going out on a Saturday night to get that bad boy up on BBC iPlayer with a dirty Dominos pizza and a glass of wine. There’s something perversely pleasant about it.

And yes, I am single, before you ask.

Anyway, I rush to the hospital reception with my eye burning like a mother, waiting for my Holby-esque experience to begin.

Instead of the charismatic desk clerk, I was met with a perspex window and a frumpy old lady.

‘Been here before?’ she asked.

‘No,’ I replied.

‘No?’

‘No’

‘So you haven’t been here before?’

‘No, I haven’t been here before.’

After we had ascertained I had indeed, never been there before, I filled in a form and waited. And waited. And waited.

My surroundings were pretty bleak. Around thirty people in varying states of illness, and the walls, in a very beige state of distress.

After seeing a triage nurse, and showing him the offending chemical, he tapped away at his screen and the words: ‘if product gets into eye, treat as an opthalmic emergency,’ flashed up. Oh God, oh God, oh God I’m going to be blind.

They whisked me through to the nerve centre of A&E. Here’s where I would meet Charlie Fairhead, or my devilishly filthy doctor or hopefully my kinky surgeon who enjoys a bit of how’s-yer-father between brain ops. I met the matron who can only be described as that broom-wielding woman from Tom and Jerry.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever had your eye irrigated, but it’s like someone reaching in to your very soul to grab your insides and jiggle them about a bit. I’m not particularly squeamish about eyes, having worn contacts for years, and then having them lasered, but this was something else.

The nurse’s fingers poked and prodded my very sensitive eye socket as the best part of a litre of saline poured its way down my face, whilst she shouted at me like a demented Jeremy Paxman to move my eyes around.

She left me dripping, trying to wring my hair out in the sink, with a wet shoulder and what can only be described as incontinence pads stuck down the back of my jumper while I waited for a doctor.

I took in my surroundings for the first time, albeit in a one-eyed piratey fashion – including the fetching dirty salmon walls, the kind of pink only reserved for dull classrooms built in the ’70s.

There were moans coming from behind curtains, tired-looking nurses shuffling their plimsoles across the linoleum, and a rather angry gentleman threatening to piss on the floor.

I waited for another two hours before a clearly-terribly-busy doctor took a quick look in my eye and said I could go home after getting some drops.

Cue another 30 minutes as I waited, to be told that they hadn’t actually got any left. Good job I didn’t need a kidney really.

I have a great deal of respect for our health system. Our hospital’s doctors and nurses do a great job in some grim conditions, and they’re clearly overworked, underpaid and even abused by patients.

But as I trudged my way out, I could only think of one thing.

The BBC lied to me. This was nothing like Holby City at all.

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Welcome to the Hotel Helifornia

(First appeared on http://www.thelondonword.com Nov 18th 2009)

Since I moved to London, I’ve suddenly become far more popular then I ever have been.

Unfortunately for me, the move hasn’t made me more charismatic, hilarious or improved my after-dinner speech skills. People like me more due to the fact my sofa is cheaper than a hotel on the South Bank.

It seems every other week I get a phone call, a text or a Facebook message (how web 2.0) exclaiming excitedly that someone I know is coming to visit London!!11LOLZ!!!!!!

I’ve since learnt there are two main ways of blagging a (sofa)bed for the night. The proactive friend just asks if they can kip here. The non-proactive friend will say something along the lines of: ‘Oh, I don’t really know where I’m staying yet’, often accompanied by a wink and a nudge. Thank you Captain Obvious. Just ask next time.

If I’m feeling particularly generous, and I don’t want to see a friend squirming, I’ll offer them a place when they say they’re coming down. I used to sofa-surf myself, so I know what it’s like, and some of my friends actually come down just to see me. Astonishing, I know.

I’m now a queen of cooked breakfasts. I don’t even ever cook myself breakfast. I’m so good at fry-ups, that I could get a job in a trucker’s stop on the M25, picture me wearing a gingham apron and having a cigarette dangling precariously from my chapped lips.

As for dinners, well, I really like cooking, and constantly cooking for one starts to wear quite thin, especially when you have to eat tacos for three nights in a row to use up all your ingredients. So I find it quite refreshing when I get to cook for two. But when it becomes three, or four – including one fussy child – and a man who happens to be gluten-lactose-fructose-sucrose-life intolerant, with an allergy to tomatoes, then I’m afraid that’s when I give the job to my good friends at the local Chinese takeaway.

Running a crèche appears to be a vital part of the job of hotelier too. Owing to space limitations, one weekend I gave up my bedroom, so my friends and their eight-year-old could have a bit of room, while I took the sofabed. I was woken at 8.30am by a hyperactive child asking if I would play Scrabble with him.

Now, being the literary word-smithery type I am, I’d use any excuse to break out the Scrabble board, especially for a whimsical member of our future generation. Except, it would seem, at 8.30 on a Sunday morning, whilst his parents slept soundly, in my very comfortable bed.

Being a hostess, concierge, child-minder, tour guide, chef and cleaner all-in-one gets pretty exhausting, and sometimes you forget about your role as a friend.

I’m no Basil Fawlty, but at the same time, my north London house isn’t the Ritz, so here at the Hotel Helifornia, you really can check out any time you like: and you can also leave.

Guilty Pleasures

(Appeared on thelondonword.com 4th November 2009)

Guilty pleasures. We all have them.

One of mine is holding warm photocopies or freshly laser printed paper against my face because it feels nice.

I’m going to tell you about a slightly more weird one.

Just before I moved to London, I noticed my Northern brethren usually fit into one of two camps. There was the “Oooooh, London, how exciting!” type, and the “Oh, London. It’s so dirty” kind.

Since I got here, I have to say I’m in both camps, however the latter camp provides me with a weird sense of overwhelming joy. That’s because my new hobby involves seeing just how much muck I can get off my face at the end of a day in the capital.

Before I moved here, my cleansing routine consisted of wiping away smudged eyeliner with my knuckles and going to sleep, but I have firmly embraced a full cleanse, tone and moisturise technique. I line up my cleanser, toner and moisturiser, and place my cotton pads next to it, with surgical precision, before I start the wonderful scrubbing operation.

I’m pretty sure my housemates are sick of me thrusting my worn cotton pads at them and going: “Look! Look at how much gank is in my face!”

I briefly thought about making some sort of Dulux colour chart for comparison purposes, with shades such as ‘ Bakerloo Brown’ and ‘Replacement Bus Service Black’, but maybe that’s taking it a little bit too far. I never feel that sense of dread when I descend the escalator to the Tube and hear the sound of a train just leaving. I look at it for an opportunity to get more soot into my pores. The tell-tale breeze before the next train pulls up has me facing into it like a dog leaning out of a car on a motorway, tongue out, ears back, eager for more of London’s muck to be propelled onto my cheeks.

As I wipe away the day’s dirt from my face, it’s with a sense of glee that I stare down at the soiled white cotton having conquered my dirty enemy. If this were a Hollywood movie, I’d hover over my defeated enemy and make a hilarious quip. Something like ‘Grime to die’ or ‘Muck you’, but it’s not.

It’s just a nice little maisonette in North London and I’m just an out-of-work journalist.

An out-of-work journalist with a spectacularly clean face.

Tweeting, twitting, twatting. It’s all the same to me.

I’ve turned into the kind of person I hate.

When I began my educational foray into the world of magazine journalism, the new social networking trend was all about Twitter. After the course director made a comment in passing about Twitter being ‘sad’, it became a ghastly meme throughout the journalism department. Lectures, discussions and blogs all rambled on about Twitter, my only input being that whoever thought that they were important enough to take the time to write about having a shitty cup of coffee in Starbucks to whoever would listen was clearly an egotistical twat.

The kind of idiot who feels it necessary to inform the cyberworld that they’ve just HAD A MASSIV DUMP LOL or ROFLd their way through a KFC mega bucket. It’s hardly Satre is it?

Being quite clued up on internet culture, I decided to check it out to see what the fuss was all about, and my fears were confirmed.

I quickly wrote it off as a tool for corporate ponces who have iPhones and Blackberries.

And then I bought an iPhone.

Not long after I bought an iPhone, I became ill. Being bed-bound, with an iPhone and a sense of whimsical cynicism isn’t usually the best recipe for productivity (though I write this from my vaguely diagnosed ‘could be something viral’ sickbed).

It didn’t take long before I started Tweeting. Hell, I even got replies which got my sick synapses flowing. Before long I was soon updating my new Twitter pals as to the nature of my day. I even began detailing my attempt to quit smoking.

Might make a habit of not smoking.1:43 PM Jul 14th from TwitterFon

Really wants a tab now. Fail.3:41 PM Jul 14th from TwitterFon

Yeah, it didn’t last long, but more importantly, my future with Twitter had been forged in less than 140 characters. I was there, I was hooked.

I even started posting photos of my sojourn into the world of origami. I follow strangers who I’ve never met just because they follow me. I read news that I’d never have bothered with before even though I check those websites daily. I’m still sickened by the sycophants who comment on ‘celebrity’ tweets as if they’re bestest buddies with the personality in question.

But worst of all, I am now one of those twats.

And do you know what? I’m about to Tweet the hell out of this blog. Just because I can.

Suck on that one, fuckos.

A-Z of Northern Etiquette

Decided to repost a feature I wrote last week…

So you’ve wandered into the desolate land we call the North. You may be scared, frightened or bewildered by the locals and their odd customs. We’ve devised a handy A-Z to tell you how you need to conduct yourself whilst braving Northern soil which will have you passing as a Northerner in no time. Woo the ladies. Charm the fellas. Impress the dog…

A – Ale. A popular Northern pastime involves sitting on a stool in your local public house drinking real ale. Babycham and white wine spritzers are not acceptable alternatives. Pipe-smoking is optional.

B – Baps. Of the breaded variety. In the North a bun is no longer a bun. It can be a bap, a breadcake, a barmcake, but never a bun.

C – Coal mines. Your father worked in a coal mine. Your father’s father also worked in a coal mine. Even if they didn’t, tell people that they did. You may also pretend you did a brief stint in the mines when you were 11, but you had to walk 14 miles uphill to get there, work a 26-hour day, then walk 14 miles uphill to get back home.

D – Doffing. Flat-cap doffing is a must when greeting a pretty young maiden. The correct doff will consist of grasping your tweed cap by its peak, raising it no more than 3 inches, and replacing it on the head. It may be accompanied by a nod, a lecherous wink, or “Afternoon, pet”.

E – Electricity. According to the South, we have none. Keep up the illusion by referring to your horse and cart regularly, and cooking Pot Noodles in an Aga. Marvelling at running water will also keep them on their toes.

F – Facial Hair. Growing some sort of fuzz on your face is imperative. Either the full beard, or some sort of bushy moustache are both great places to start. Applies to males and females.

G – Greggs. The staple diet of the North, especially for children. You should wear your cheese and onion pasty crumbs with pride, they are a badge of honour.

H – Hen nights. Any respectable hen night should involve a gaggle of desperate screaming women on the piss In Blackpool. For the classy look, L-Plates, tu-tus and Blue WKD are a must. An aged male stripper in a fireman’s outfit should also be employed.

I – Incomprehensible accents. To really assimilate, you have to speak in a manner that nobody else can understand. If you’re a beginner, try missing out some vowels, making various throaty noises, and adding various letters to the beginning of words.

J – Jeremy Kyle. Having domestic issues? If you suddenly discover your brother is your mother, the best way to argue it out is to go on national television and do it in front of an audience. Bonus points if Jezza tells you to “bang your heads together”.

K – Kelvin. The temperature scale by which a Northern winter is measured. Regardless, you have a point to prove by never wearing a coat outside and always referring to it as being “a little bit brass”. On the one day a year the temperatures climb over 21 degrees, you must complain about it being too hot.

L – Lake District. You should constantly remind outsiders that it’s so beautiful that the Southerners made it into a National Park so they could get their hands on it. In truth, you’ve never actually been because you’re worried about not being near to a McDonalds, but you’ve seen photographs.

M –Mushy Peas. When serving your family with pie, you must place the peas on the plate AFTER the pie to avoid any unfortunate pie-slipping episodes. Unacceptable pea formats include petit pois and tinned chip-shop-style peas.

N – Newspapers. Being caught reading a newspaper is a grave offence. Unless it’s the sports pages. The only time you should have a newspaper in your hand is to line the ferret cage, or when you’re eating your fish supper from it.

O – Offal. Another of the basic Northern food groups. The basic rule is that if it was in or on an animal at one time, you can eat it. Kidneys, livers and hooves are all fair game, as is tripe and onions.

P – Pigeons. Any self-respecting Northerner keeps pigeons in a loft in his modestly sized back-garden. Racing them is optional, but referring to them as “our pride and joy” is not.

Q – Queen Mother. Without doubt, the greatest Englishwoman who ever lived. A mutual love for the late, great Queen Mum is found across the North, despite her living in a big expensive palace in the South, and never really visiting much.

R – Reminiscing. Telling whimsical anecdotes whilst in your local public house or working men’s club (See A) is greatly encouraged. Remembering when all this was just grass, and regaling your peers with how badly you were beaten as a child are good places to start.

S – Swearing. Cursing in every sentence is an integral part of living up North. Stick to classic swears, such as fuck, shit or bollocks. For extra kudos, add one to the middle of a word to show your friends how important your point is. (E.g. abso-fucking-lutely)

T – Teenage Mothers. To be accepted into Northern society, any female must be pregnant by age 15. Suitable baby names include Rocky, Kylie and Chardonnay. Babies going by the moniker of Tarquin, Giles or Tiggy will be shunned.

U – Unecessary Niceties. These should be used after every exchange with every person you happen to meet. The unnecessary nicety should involve calling a stranger ‘pet’, ‘love’, ‘lamb’, ‘flower’ or, of course, ‘duck’. Nobody is excluded from a pet name, unless it looks as though they might hit you, at which point it’s best to revert to ‘mate’.

V – Viz. A Northerner needs some Northern literature. Viz should be the only periodical to adorn your bathroom for both friends and family alike.

W – Whippet. The only dog of choice for the discerning Northerner. Owning anything smaller will lead to ridicule. A Staffordshire Bull Terrier on a rope may substitute, and will make you look menacing and afraid of nothing.

X – Xenophobia. The best way to pull this one off is to complain about the foreigners taking all our jobs, preferably whilst in the Dole queue. Wearing a hat stating: “PROUD TO BE ENGLISH” will really hammer your point home.

Y – You Southern Poof. Must be uttered at anyone who lives below Birmingham. Inquiries may also be made into the origins of the offending person’s parents, and inviting him outside for a friendly tussle with sticks and broken glass.

Z – Zante. The only holiday destination for a group of discerning young males. There is fine dining to be had at Bob’s British Bar, where the fry-ups are greasy and so are the barmen. A uniform consisting of an England shirt and sunburn is guaranteed to bring the ladies flocking. Failing that, the watered-down beer will do the trick.

Driving me fucking crazy

Everytime I go to the supermarket, I inevitably have to put up with the vast amount of numpties who believe that the rules of the road don’t apply to them because they’re doing their weekly shop and they have a more expensive car than me/screaming children in the back/a superiority complex.

One way traffic? Fuck that. These fucknuts have got 2 pints of semi-skimmed on the brain, and nothing will stand in their way. Not even the Highway Code.

Mini roundabouts? Give way to the right? Obviously. This is grocery shopping we’re talking about. It’s serious business.

My favourite is the swervy road-bump driver. The one who doesn’t want to go over a 3 inch high speed-bump, and so swerves into my path just to avoid his Merc’s suspension from doing a little extra work.

I think the only solution is to offer a free copy of the Highway Code with each loaf of bread, and if it’s not enforced, I get to jam it down your throat.

I bagsy Waitrose.

Noisy Neighbours

As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve moved house quite a large number of times.  (I’ve moved twice more since the time of writing that)

While moving house inevitably means spending money, breaking things, and getting stressed, it also means a whole new set of neighbours.

Having lived in a variety of abodes, I’ve also had a veritable smorgasbord of odd neighbours. Upstairs neighbours, downstairs neighbours, across-the-hall neighbours, next-door neighbours, and oddly enough, an hairy old man who would sit out the front in just a pair of shorts at the slightest hint of sun.

The problem with being a misanthropist is when you have to be reminded that you live in the vicinity of other people, separated only by a wall, a ceiling, a floor, or in one case a half inch thick piece of plywood with a gap so big you could post Jaffa cakes through it.

Usually this reminder comes in the stark form of people making noise.

Having heard all manner of things from people I don’t like/care about, I’ve experimented over the years with different noise abatement techniques and have produced a handy little guide on my findings.

Noise Abatement Technique #1: Drowning out the sound with something else.

Put on a good film, or an album you like. This works until there is a quiet lull in proceedings and you can hear bass thumping over the top. Much like tinnitus, it’s easy to forget about it until you’re reminded it’s there. Then it stays. For ages.

Noise Abatement Technique #2: Putting up with it.

Do the English thing and pretend it doesn’t exist, or attempt to accept it because you don’t like conflict. Works for the first few days of annoying sounds, but is likely to cause extreme resentment and pent-up aggression which may manifest itself in unhealthy ways. A notable example  is taking up origami to relax and littering your house with paper prawns.

Noise Abatement Technique #3. The Counter-Attack.

Annoyed by shitty dance? Revolt with shittier trance. Rig up your speakers in the direction of the offending neighbour, and blast them with the worst music in your collection. Past triumphs have included The Vengaboys and that Bad German Thrash Metal Band That I Can’t Remember The Name Of. The caveat is that they may also employ this technique, thusly beginning a long and arduous process of music warfare.

Noise Abatement Technique #4. The Broom

Only works if you’re being annoyed by upstairs neighbours. A good broom technique involves a steady, rhythmic bashing of the handle on the ceiling. Cons include getting your hands covered in dust from the floor, and overenthusiastic brooming will inevitably leave your ceiling with circle-shaped dents. Landlords do not approve of this.

Noise Abatement Technique#5. The Shouty Swear-a-thon

Best for lazy types, or for those who have carpets and don’t own a broom. Shouting “SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU STUPID TWAT” in the general direction of your noisy neighbour will often end the din. Most people, however, do not take kindly to being called a twat, whether they admit to being inconsiderably noisy or not. If you take this option, asking for a cup of sugar the next time you have a spontaneous cake-bake  is unwise, incase they fill it with shit.

Noise Abatement Technique #6. The Passive-aggressive note.

This is a technique I haven’t employed, but I have had it used on me after a particularly drunken an debauched weekend. It didn’t work for a number of reasons. The first being that they lied and said they could hear my TV over theirs. I don’t watch TV. My TV is a very expensive ornament.

The second being that they included the phrase “because we want to remain friends with you.” Our ‘friendship’ has so far consisted of a 3 minute conversation which occurred 2 days before said note-writing claiming they have never heard a peep from my flat.

A coward’s form of confrontation, and leaves the reciever with a number of days to stew over whether to write a a strongly worded letter in return. Also makes seeing them very awkward. If this happens to you, I’d suggest attempting to ignore it as your neighbours are clearly pricks.

Noise Abatement Technique #7: Call the Police

Don’t be such a cock.

Noise Abatement Technique #8: Have an adult conversation

Sensibly exaplaining the problem to your neighbours will make them aware that their actions are having a negative impact of your life. This method, however, requires social interaction.  Also not good if you know your neighbours are the type who have “cousins with dogs”.

If all of this fails, buy a pair of earplugs.

If you can’t hear it, it doesn’t exist.