The British Design exhibition at the V&A is delightfully full of “Oooo, I remember them/that” things. It also made me feel unexpectedly proud to be British, there’s a lot of cool stuff, including things you wouldn’t have thought of as classic British design, for example there is a set of traffic lights on display.

There is a dark room full of computer/video games, sadly not interactive. I don’t recall first hand the really basic ones where figures consisted of a few square blocks, but to see the development is astounding.

I don’t usually pay attention to audio exhibits but I did watch and listen to a few music videos. For example, I hadn’t known that Derek Jarman directed the Pet Shop Boys’ It’s a Sin video. I watched all five of the ground breaking advertisements. I was shocked to see THE Levi 501s advert with a young, fit Nick Kamen stripping off in the laundrette to wash his jeans was both still exciting *snigger* and that it was first shown in 1985! Hearing the “I heard it through the Grapevine” soundtrack took me right back, though I’m pretty sure I only appreciated that advert years later, I just don’t remember being ten when I saw that advert, surely I was older? Along with the other adverts (including the Guiness one with the surfers and horses in the waves and the Hovis boy on bicycle on), I appreciated how innovative and memorable they were (too many now to distinguish in a way). Here’s a You Tube link to the Levi ad:

I found an original, possibly the first, Habitat catalogue fascinating. I forget how ground breaking Conran was with Habitat and making people want to be stylish and more creative in their homes. On display are some pieces from his early collections that I would proudly display today.

There is also a pristine mini and, my dream car, an E-type Jaguar. I desperately wanted to get inside the Jaguar in particular. What cool people we Brits were to design these things. Then there’s Concorde. The friend I was with was hugely excited about this and watched repeats of video footage of it taking off and landing. It seems so sad that it no longer flies.

I was particularly interested to see a lot Damien Hurst’s fittings for Pharmacy restaurant. I read about that restaurant recently. It was THE place to go in the 1990s, but sadly it was not financially viable, in part due to the amount of famous friends of the owners who never had to pay to eat there. I suspect their drinks were also freebies, and those were heady times. I loved the aspirin table stool seats and the very quirky, detailed wallpaper. Even as recently as the 1990s, uber design still seemed like a novelty. Nowadays, a lot of places are modern and different so it’s unusual I go somewhere with a real wow factor. Mind you, Pharmacy would still be amazing and different if it were recreated today.

I loved that exhibition and it was really cool to go somewhere that exhibited things you were either familiar with (traffic lights, road signs, crockery) or had never really appreciated were great works of British design but which on reflection really are things you associate with Britain (mini, Concorde, Amstrad keyboard and some of David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust costumes!). Go, it’s part nostalgia, part pride and all interesting!


I often wonder if things I do are “normal”. Possibly they aren’t but while once I would have cared, I am now prepared to embrace my perhaps verging on OCD habits as quirks, eccentricities even. So I shall lay myself bare and with any luck at least one person I concern “normal” will announce they do such things too!

Bread and butter. I can’t eat sandwiches with butter, nor butter on toast destined to be paired with jam, nor toast that is hard through. But marmite requires the toast straight out the grill, with butter spread on straight away. But if the toast is too hard, I’ll just have jam on it. Hot toast with (what becomes) melted butter is good on its own.

Toilet paper. The bit you pull has to come from the top rather than the bottom, ie it will roll clockwise. I have been known to take loo roll off the roller and turn it round.

Tea mugs. I only have two tea mugs that produce a perfect cuppa. They are both fine bone china, white, tall and slim. One has crocodiles on it, the other cats. I don’t like crocodiles but they are cute ones. Both mugs were presents, one when I was a teenager (recently found it while clearing out) and one from maybe ten years ago. I’m not so bothered about using them during the day but my one necessary tea is my first tea of the day and I have to use one of those mugs. I understand why Lady GaGa has her tea cup on tour with her.

Drink-in cappuccino, ie in a china cup. Before drinking, I will always stir just the froth, slowly, then do a full spoon around the inside of the cup. Then it is ready for drinking.

Washing up. I will always wipe off food debris and pile up dishes for washing. Only then will I even contemplate starting to clean them. Rinsing is essential. Drying up is an appalling prospect, only to be done when you need more drying room. Even when I’ve been drunk, I have always washed up before going to bed. I hate washing up and the thought of being faced with dirty dishes the next day horrifies me.

Clothes. If I am going to be getting up early or know I will have very little time in the morning, all my clothes for that morning will have to be laid out ready.

Clocks. Alarm clocks and car clocks are always to be set between one minute and ten minutes fast. My watches are set to the time on the train station clock!

Packing lists. I spend a long time writing packing lists. I am now so dependent on them, I worry what would happen if I forgot to write something down. I didn’t used to write obvious things down, eg clothing, I now write out of the ordinary clothing down as I did once forget my suit for a work trip that required smart clothes.

Petrol. My tank is rarely less than a quarter full. I have only once driven in the warning area and it distressed me enormously.

{29/03/2012}   Reality TV

For two series, I enjoyed watching Big Brother. The first series of Pop Idols and bits of X Factor I have also enjoyed. I have always hated I’m a Celebrity … Get me out of here! I like Strictly and I used to watch The Apprentice and love it. Last night, not even aware The Apprentice had started again, I turned on the TV and there it was. I saw a group of testosterone charged boys in suits arguing about something. I was not in the mood to endure their bickering or inevitable uselessness.

I did once see a bit of TOWIE but I still can’t get my head around this alleged new concept of reality fiction, or whatever it’s called. I am so thoroughly cheesed off with reality TV, in large part because it’s like a Jeremy Kyle show on in primetime television slots, but the same people over and over again. I can’t watch Jeremy Kyle for similar reasons to not wanting to see reality shows, namely that I see and hear annoying people in my daily life. I do not need to see them on TV as well, I watch TV to escape.

Where are these largely awful people dredged up from? A lot of the non-“celebrity” shows are the worst offenders because they display a pet hate of mine, the desperate wannabe. I gain nothing from seeing some mouthy underwear model type trying to come across as intelligent or witty. It pains me. Fame, fortune and footballer seekers are not women I have any interest in, and I am even long over bitching about them. As for Big Brother type blokes, it’s more about the image for them too. Again, it’s all just horrid and ugly. These lab rats are made to do some humiliating things, all seemingly in pursuit of being papped on leaving the confines of a a studio. I find it ugly, degrading and deplorable.

Shows like Strictly are fun, the people in them seem generally to be in it to resurrect their flagging careers and/or to learn to dance. It’s not about them being shown to be ignorant and gossip magazine fodder.

When reality TV became more commonplace, it ruined the novelty element and for me killed off any interest. I realise that to be in Big Brother, say, I would need to court controversy, become an exhibitionist, wear as few clothes as possible, be liberal with foul language and have some odd fetish that could be exploited on TV. It wouldn’t be pretty and, thankfully, it wouldn’t be me.

Viewing figures show there is an audience still for this kind of cheap televison, but I think at a dumbing down cost. It’s all very nice having television programmes you can relax with, but seeing some of the worst of society’s behaviours and language isn’t remotely challenging or interesting beyond a horrified curiosity. I am not saying I just want good quality dramas, more news, etc, I just wish there were more real television than reality television.

Yesterday, a friend and I ate and drank our way around Soho, with a brief foray into Bloomsbury. I am thinking this is my 30s equivalent to my 20s’ pub crawl. So today was my first cake and caffeine crawl. Bring it on!

My friend, N, and I started at Nude for a takeaway coffee in Soho Square. Excellent start as their coffee is wonderful. We also examined their food offerings and, while the cookies, for example, looked chunky and tasty, we agreed £2 is excessive for a fancy biscuit.

Our next stop was accidental. N was drawn to a window display where the hot cross buns spelled out Gail’s, the name of the bakery on Wardour Street. She got chatting to perhaps the owner, lovely friendly bloke, and ended up bagging us a free hot cross bun. As I had the bigger bag (clever), I looked after it. Sadly we forgot about it so I ate it all this evening. Gail’s Bakery make the fluffiest, most delicious hot cross buns I have probably ever eaten. Yumtious. Really.

We then stealthed diagonally across the road without being rumbled by lovely Mr Gail’s (I will be going back there for hot cross buns and lemon meringue fairy cakes) to Princi (I can never remember the name of this place, largely because I can’t read the scrawl that is their name on the signs outside). It’s a very lively, very Italian cakery, bakery and foodery. Baking is done in view of the dining area. We went a bit mad and decided this was a pre-lunch stop. We ordered a side of salady things, ie a selection of two dishes. We ordered salmon with fennel and pumpkin with ricotta. Also ordered a knobbley bread stick rammed with olives. The latter was salty and quite hard on the outside (as it should have been) and tasty, though not something I’d order again. Both salad things were nice but not as spectacular as I’d hoped. We also ordered cake, a cheeky pistachio and peach number and zuppa inglese, a stripy fruity, syrupy, custardy sponge cake with almost lemon meringue style meringue on top. The pistachio peach was really good, the zuppa inglese was also good but very sweet. While both were lovely, fortunately so considering each cost £4.20, neither are worthy of being new favourites. On the down side the service was annoying. Wrong teas, wrong milk, confusion over whether to wait or have it brought to the table and neither of us thought the staff behind the counter knew the food well enough.

Then lunch. We went to Spuntino, an American South diner of sorts that reminded me of somewhere in Lucca, Italy. All bar stools, lovely shabby decor, friendly staff and a selection of largely small dishes. We ordered battered aubergine with fennel yoghurt dip, fried chicken and a prawn po’boy. It was all served in enamel dishes and we also got an enamel mug of chilli popcorn (v good!) on arrival. Great place for a savoury snack fix and I expect the more substantial dishes would be good too.

Our final stop was the London Review of Books cafe. I had an oolong tea and N had Assam. That was good, though slightly alarming to be warned that ideally you won’t break the teapots (attempting their fancy but effective tea pouring process) as they cost a lot but we wouldn’t be charged for breakages. I had a beetroot and cherry kind of crumble cake and N had carrot cake. I may’ve ordered the best dish, subtle beetroot with bursts of cherry and a really nice dense crumble texture. N thought the carrot cake wasn’t cakey enough but we agreed it tasted lovey. Lots of nuts in it, so value for money in terms of different textures! Their cakes are always good though and their teas are well sourced and presented.

And there our bellies declared no more could be consumed! Thanks, N, for a fantastic day of foodie fun!

Over the past three days I have seen two school friends, one I’ve probably known for 27 years and the other for a seemingly impossible 31 years. However, while neither of them are friends I see most regularly, they are two of the easiest people to just gabble away with for hours on end. We have also known each other since way before we really became the people we are now.

I think the friends I have made since university are more reflective of my post-education self; most I have met through travelling and a few through work. All of them I have chosen to be friends with. I am lucky that most of my school friends went to the same schools as me from five to 18 so I still have quite a few “old” friends, ie we had a long time to become friends so more chance of staying friends. We have all gone very different ways. I doubt our paths would have crossed and we would have become friends had we not stayed in touch past 16 or 18, and had Friends Reunited then Facebook not existed for those with whom contact was lost for a while after school.

Many years ago, I went alone to the wedding of someone I’d known from about three years old. I only knew her and her family at the wedding. My friend, the bride, introduced me to her closest friend, someone she met way after we first met. It really struck me that I know the bride as someone she might hardly recognise as the close friend she met when they were both working adults. But she knew the bride as the person she is now. I still think of her as the schoolgirl, but she now has a proper grown up job, a husband and two children. Whenever I think of her (it’s probably apparent but we hardly ever see each other as grown ups), we are about five or six years old in a grey and yellow school uniform clustered around the outdoor drinking fountain in our school playground. I guess we are still friends because of the significance of having known each other so long. I am glad we are friends still but we really don’t know each other as we are now.

I don’t think I revert to being more like I was at school when I’m with old school friends, but there is something ever so slightly different about spending time with people you’ve known for, as far as my memory serves me, ever. Maybe in part it’s because you know their family and can share distant memories of childhood experiences, significant because it’s hard to remember things about yourself unaided. In fact my friend last night reminded me that she didn’t really have curry at home as a child but she remembers eating curry with sultanas and apple with sliced banana on the side at my mum and dad’s house for my birthday. There is potentially a vulnerability to you with old friends because they know so many things about you in your early stages of development. But I know just as much about them!

I am not for a minute distinguishing between friends I’ve known from school and those I’ve met later, each friendship is important, in fact essential, and unique. I thought a lot about such things recently, particularly having been through a lot of old photos. I have friends from all key stages in my life and that makes every single one of them a reminder of who I am, how I got to be who I am and that at every stage of my life I have collected along the way some unloseable “souvenirs” worth infinitely more than all my photos and nick-nacks.

{26/03/2012}   Hay fever

Something seemed unusual as I walked through a garden of blossoms and spring shoots. I was sniffing the air and it felt like a novelty. Aha, yes, the weather is warm, flowers and polleny things are coming out, yet it’s not quite hay fever season. I realise that usually when it’s this warm and sunny it would be foolish to sniff in the fresh air because that one sniff would lead to nasal misery. For the next few days, weeks if I’m lucky, I am going to inhale the warm air with joy.

I know there are people who get hay fever worse than me but it still makes every day for a good few months a little more challenging than I’d like. Fortunately, antihistamines work enough to alleviate the worst of my symptoms but they do not enable me to, say, walk around a flower show without itchy eyes, a sniffle, the odd sneeze and a sore throat niggle.

Like most hay fever sufferers I have tried most things, from chewing licorice root to natural remedy pills. The only thing that helps is that Haymax cream. You rub it around your nostrils and it smells nice. I believe the idea is that it makes a film around your nostril so when pollens fly noseward they never make it past the filmy block around your nostrils. However, it only really works if you regularly apply it, so to that end it would be great if you wanted to not make a fuss while sitting next to your gran’s pride and joy lily display.

As for itchy, teary red eyes, wearing gas permeable contact lenses has always helped, probably in part because wearing them stops me rubbing furiously at my eyes.

I took up someone’s advice last year and bought an air purifier. They take up a fair bit of room but if you use it overnight (doors and windows closed) most mornings I felt pretty much hay fever free. I think a decent one is a good investment.

For me though, it is the almost constant sore throat that annoys me most. I hate sore throats at the best of times but I can never get rid of allergy sore throats and I do that hideous inner throat gulpy itch thing that makes my neck look like a snake swallowing a whole frog. Not pretty.

This year, having had a few days of non hay fever warm weather loving, I am going to try as many supposed remedies as I can. The thing I am most optimistic about is NeilMed SinuRinse. A pharmacist recommended it to me for a particularly heavy cold and sinus pain. It made a huge difference and I now always use it successfully for heavy colds. However, it claims to be effective for hay fever symptoms. But if you see it, don’t be put off that you basically squirt saline up your nostril and it comes out your mouth or nose! Honestly, it feels merely weird rather than remotely painful. It makes your head feel bizarrely flushed! Fingers crossed it will work on hay fever!

Floppy disks, fax machines, non-internet PC, paper and pens, landlines … I last worked in an office in 2000. I did a temp credit control job and these were the most used things to aid me in my work. I may not have fully embraced the modern age in terms of technology but I am glad things have progressed. I think.

If somebody needed a document straight away, I would have to fax it. I was never a big fan of fax machines though. All communication was via the telephone and any additional information would be posted. I used to write and print out lots of letters and attach statements, etc, then make sure they caught the day’s post run. This makes me feel old, but it really wasn’t that long ago.

I realise that I have never had a work email, I have never had to deal with daily bombardments of emails. Opening the post doesn’t seem as intrusive or needy, plus you could easily deny having received something in the post. If you deny receipt of an email, it can be re-sent immediately. The horror. No escape.

Distractions? Well, there was the odd sneaky phone call on the work landline and there were more mugs of tea than were strictly necessary, largely made so I could have a chat and a gossip with colleagues. We did not have the internet, or if we did I didn’t use it. I never had a work email or Facebook or Skype or search engines and I didn’t have a mobile phone (some people in the office did but as a lot of people didn’t have them still, they were expensive to use and there weren’t smartphones). If I needed to get the phone number of a debtor I would have to call directory enquiries. It somehow all worked.

If I needed to give information from my PC to someone in a different part of the building I would either have to print it out or save it onto a floppy disc and hand over the disk. I don’t recall ever wishing there were a simpler way to do things because I doubt it even occurred to me that it would be possible to improve and make easier my working day. I feel that doing that job then would have taken up more time than it would today.

However, I do get easily distracted and I have a suspicion I would get the same amount of work done today, despite it all taking less time. I would ponce about on the Internet and Facebook, I suspect I would write a few blog posts, I would keep up to date with texts, instant messenger … The thought of having to wade through irrelevant emails and receiving huge numbers of them every day (I only used to get a few letters in the post for work) horrifies me. It was only yesterday that I realised I haven’t worked in an office in the days of modern technology. That’ll look great on my CV! With my stenography job, I have only just progressed to a machine that doesn’t take a floppy disc and it was only five or six years ago that we went from cassettes to digital recording. Whatever next? I will be way out of my depth if I ever work in an office!

{24/03/2012}   Spring cleaning

There are times when I love cleaning. This morning was one of those unfortunately rare occasions. Last night I tidied and dusted (my rock and roll Friday night!) but couldn’t face vacuuming or cleaning. This morning I have been furiously cleaning. I am definitely a morning cleaner. The windows are open, I can hear birds singing and there is an air of freshness everywhere. I am well and truly feeling the joys of spring.

Spring is my favourite season. The days suddenly seem longer, the greens are fresh and vibrant and there is hope for … well, all kinds of things, not least a cleaner home! I did a big spring clean a few weeks ago. Room by room, most things got moved and cleaned. Windows were left open, washing dried outside and I even managed to throw a few things out. It does horrify me how quickly vacuumables reappear though. I understand more than ever that having a cleaner would be a joy. I would miss my unplanned big cleaning sessions, but not so much that I would rather not have a cleaner. I’m not planning to get one though as I have time to do it myself most weeks.

A friend had a cleaner for a while (quite a few friends have cleaners, it transpires) and as his flat looked so good after a few visits, I decided to take advantage of her cleaning knowledge so took note of the products she’d been using. I am now largely tooled up for some hard core cleaning. I had previously tried to be a bit more eco about products, but sadly they largely don’t work. Though vinegar in the sink with a sprinkle of bicarbonate of soda left to fizz before wiping away is a wonder to behold. Also, vinegar to wipe away grease is amazing. And cola down the loo gives a good clean. I’m on an eco roll here. A bit of lemon (eg what you’d throw away after squeezing) wiped over chopping boards then rinsed off is good at getting rid of a bit of garlic/onion odour. That might be it for my eco cleaning repertoire. i would feel even more virtuous about spring cleaning if my cleaning products weren’t full of things origin-unknown.

But I won’t let a few chemicals get in the way of my spring cleaning enthusiasm. This is quite out of character but I am writing this and hoping to end very soon so I can crack on with the bathroom! It’s been dusted and vacuumed but I am now lusting after the mega chemical tile cleaner that makes my tiles gleam, Viakal. I have discovered a real appreciation for glossy tiles! What fun lies ahead this morning. Largely thanks to a friend coming to stay for the weekend! See, there had to be a reason, didn’t there?!

{23/03/2012}   A day of two halves

Do you ever have a really rubbishy day that at first glance appears to have had no highlights? I did yesterday (it wasn’t a hugely bad day, it just felt that the tedious and uncomfortable (back issues) working element of the day eclipsed any nice things that may have happened without my really noticing them). So I am going to tell you about my day as if only the good things happened, a bit of spin!

I got into London unscathed, I had a double seat to myself for my 55 minute high speed train line and the mixture of sun and mist was quite enchanting. I am reading a book that I’m increasingly getting into (David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas) and the journey went quickly. I detoured to Soho Square on a coffee bean mission. For every bag of coffee you buy you get a “free” coffee. I bought two bags. Maybe a bit sad but I sort of made out that I was giving a friend a coffee so I asked for a cappuccino and a flat white to go. Research. I have always been slightly unsure as to the difference in taste between the two and think of myself as a cappuccino girl.

I took my coffees and sat on a bench in the sun in Soho Square. My verdict was that the flat white is the way forward: stronger coffee taste and less milk. They were from Nude coffee, one of the few cafes I seek out and whose coffee I really like.

I walked to the Royal Courts of Justice (work) along Drury Lane, thinking how nice it was to be in the sunshine and having a different walk to work. I took a cut through LSE and wondered if I’d like to be a student again. I decided I wouldn’t but that I like the idea of studying again and challenging my brain.

By lunch time I was ravenous so I took my stinky egg sandwiches into New Square (behind the RCJ) and sat on a stone bench overlooking the beautiful gardens and buildings in that square. I eavesdropped on two girls who were talking about a missing pen and how the one who had lost her name-engraved pen ended up emailing all 400 London-based lawyers, etc, within her office asking if anyone had seen her pen. For completeness (this was an extraordinarily long story!), the pen was mysteriously left on her desk while she was away from it. She was wondering whether to email everyone again to ask about it/thank someone but her friend thought it wise not to pester everyone. Again. Egg sandwiches were good too. If I ever come into lots of money and want a flashy car, I will go to QC car parks to get an idea of what car to buy. Bizarrely, I saw a Maserati (yes please, though not that model, it looked like a flashy Mondeo) parked next to a white heavily pimped-up Corsa, go figure!

It was home time just after 5pm, which was unexpectedly early for a full day’s very interrupted submissions. Due to unforeseen transport problems, I ended up at Stratford’s Westfield and as there was time before my next train, I popped into M&S. I was drawn to “Offers” and there, tempting me delightfully, were chicken kievs. I’d not had them in ages and I really, really fancied chicken kievs for dinner. Very exciting!

As ever, I got a seat on the rush hour high speed train home and continued reading my book. There is an area of Essex within the M25 where there are marshy looking lakes. There was an early evening fog/mist that in the dark looked very Wuthering Heights, strangely mesmerising. Saw the standstill of traffic on the M25 QE2/Dartford Crossing and felt thankful to be zipping along at about 140mph.

The chicken kiev, peas and carrots dinner with a glass (two?) of wine hit the spot. My cat sat on my lap, I chatted to a friend on Facetime (Skype type thing on iPad) and had two phone conversations. Feet up, bed reasonably early. Ahhhh, not such a bad day after all!

Do you ever make plans with someone then wish you could change them for something you perceive to be more interesting? Do ever change plans to do what you want to do, perhaps by telling a porky to the person you want to blow out? Planning your social life can be a major juggling operation.

I have some friends who make plans months in advance and others who are more last minute. I am not about to moan about either, we all work in different ways. I find it difficult to make plans in advance of about two weeks, in part because I like it when things crop up and you can just go with them rather than having a dilemma as to whether it would be rude to cancel the longstanding plan. As my work times are unpredictable and I sometimes go away for work, often on a Sunday, I don’t like having to cancel weekend plans, but I have done it. Similarly, I don’t often make advance week day evening plans because I might be working late, finishing early or not working at all. I live in Folkestone and if I finish work at, say 12pm, I am more than likely not going to hang around, lugging equipment with me, until a, say, 6pm meet up. And neither, sorry, would I be keen to go home and come back out again maybe two hours later. I am the perfect person to call if you fancy a drink at a particular moment, there is a chance I will be up for it.

I don’t like canceling on other people and neither do I like being cancelled on. Well, there are always genuine reasons and canceling in advance of the day is fine. I used to have a friend (note the past tense) who would fit you in and make it sound like you should be honoured that s/he would be attending … for two hours between work drinks and a friend’s birthday and clubbing with old friends. Some people tend to stretch themselves a bit thin. I would rather see someone like that less frequently but for a whole evening of undivided mutual attention than to feel slotted into a clock watching social operation.

Some memorable nights/days out have been impromptu. A few years ago I used to have weekends booked up for the next two months or so. It used to really stress me out, especially as during some weeks you’d be really tired and just want to have a weekend at home doing very little, but train tickets were booked for Scotland, etc, etc. Now that’s a whole can of worms. I have friends who live in northerly parts of the country. It’s cripplingly expensive to make last minute plans to visit them. That really hacks me off.

As usual, I am skirting around valid points without making one good. Actually, I can’t think of a point, I just think it’s difficult to organise your social life, especially as everyone is so different in how they organise themselves. With some people, we have failed to make plans to meet, then a spontaneous “I’m passing” has resulted in an on-the-day catch up. I love that, it gives a sense of excitement and good fortune. I have also made plans months in advance and looked forward to them for all that time, another kind of social pleasure. I suppose what it boils down to is that everyone you want to see and spend time with, you do arrange to meet somehow. And with real friends, it doesn’t matter how much time has elapsed since you last met because when you see them, you will know your time is precious so it will be like there has merely been a pause in proceedings. But what then happens is you wish you arranged it more often because you had such a good time together. So maybe there’s a moral to this after all!

et cetera