Category Archives: Work

Going Back To My Roots

Dramatic weather, DM boots in fashion, football fever, landline phone calls, streaming hayfever… during the last week I have been successfully transported back to a simpler time in my life – the 90’s – when the anticipation and expectation of the future meant that every moment of the present was lived in a heightened state of exhilaration….or so it feels with hindsight.

When I look back at my teenage years there is a sepia tinged haze, as if I’ve been using the Hipstamatic App in my mind to create the memories. One of the first images that comes to mind is of me actually skipping through a field of buttercups with a boyfriend…as if that ever happened! I know for a fact that I was actually quite miserable for most of my teenage years, but somehow the Pollyanna in me has taken over and redefined that decade as one of joy and hope. I think on balance it probably was, so am happy to go with this interpretation… as long as I can recognise the pain and difficulty that was surely there, if not actually than surely in a hormonal teenage angsty way…all that longing to grow up and desire to remain a child was so confusing!

If I think about how I viewed the world it horrifies me how naïve I was while doing such worldly things in my quest to become a woman. For example, here are three things which I strongly believed:

  1. That men and women had equal opportunities in all aspects of life.
  2. That there could never be another war, that genocide couldn’t ever happen again. (we learnt about history at school but not current affairs so I had no idea these things were actually happening as I sat in class)
  3. That we had invented everything we could possibly need in the world so there was no point in inventing new things and technology would not advance much further.

Can you believe what a moron I was? Sometimes though I would love to still believe these things, if only for a moment. This is why a return to 90’s sensibilities has been a welcome distraction this week.

I promised myself I wouldn’t go on about ‘pickpocketgate’, but from the initial gut-wrenching feeling of anger and failure having lost every contact I’ve ever had in 2.5 seconds, I have now reached a state of transcendental acceptance about said loss and feel grateful to have had the opportunity to let it all go. My current date is not scared to use the phone. He has called me a few times for a chat this week, on the landline, and there is something so ‘normal’ about answering the phone and not knowing who it’s going to be, and then just having a chat about nothing in particular. I know this is hardly a revelation, but when you are so used to being connected you are just, well, connected, and there is nothing you can do about it so having a chat often feels like a chore. Not having a phone has also meant that I haven’t been able to bail on appointments with a single text like I might have done in the past – you make an arrangement and you have to be there, you can’t even be late, I like the finality of that.

I also realised this week that I have been essentially recycling the same favourite outfit for twenty years. Flowery dress and heavy boots is my staple go-to look. It was only when I caught classic teen rebellion flick ‘Pump Up The Volume’ at the weekend, in which Christian Slater plays a late night radio DJ who fake masturbates to his listeners (really), that I noticed I had copied Samantha Mathis’ character’s look and have never looked back, or, clearly, forward. Not an easy thing to admit, but fortunately fashion does return, and DM’s are back…if only I hadn’t chucked those amazing bottle green ones.

When you spend at least 40 hours a week in an office for years you start to forget the power and beauty of the weather, especially in London where it is usually bland. Back in the 90’s though I saw so much more of it. Much of it was spent outside on the Upper school playing field in the wind and the rain, knees knocking together and knuckles barely able to grip the enormous hockey stick. I stood there on the left wing singing ‘More Than Words’ under my breath, fantasising about the novels I would write and how it was ok to be tortured in this way because one day I would use it for inspiration. Then, one day, the ball suddenly appeared at my feet and I had no choice but to run with it…as I heard the crowd and my teammates going wild, I reached the goal and swinging with all my might took a shot… GOAL!!!!! Only it wasn’t. When I looked up to bask in the glory my teammates were just walking away shaking their heads. Oh yes, I had scored a spectacular own goal. As you can imagine that was the end of my sporting career, but I do miss the weather those forced games sessions subjected us to, time to get out of London more often.

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When I was living in it, I thought the 90’s was a nothing decade. There was no fashion or music to define us (of course there was, I just couldn’t see it because I was it) and the disenfranchised youth really had nothing to be disenfranchised about. But now I recognise that was the beauty of it. Compared to the world today it was innocent, and in 20 years time the world today will seem innocent to the grown ups of the future, that’s just the way it goes. So be it.

I had a joke about Southgate taking a penalty (remember Euro ’96?) to end on, but sadly times have not changed that much and the England team have bowed out already so the joke might be in poor taste. Instead I’ll leave you with a link to THE song of the 90’s which still has a tinge of rebellion to it, compared to the manufactured music of today.*

*Gawd – I knew I couldn’t finish this post without sounding like a grumpy old woman saying ‘wasn’t like this in my day’, sorry!

 

 

The Art Of Losing

A colleague told me on Friday that it had been scientifically proven that it was the happiest day of the year. Ok, it was also his birthday so he may have just made it up, but I’ve heard of these equations, designed to make those of us who aren’t deliriously happy on that day feel inadequate so maybe he was right, although it felt like a fairly ordinary day to me.

After the football however, I suspect many people in England were inclined to agree that it was indeed the happiest day of the year so far, and they couldn’t believe their team’s luck – sorry, talent. Sadly I was not joining in with the celebrations. Oh, I was in the pub and I support England, but during the last half hour of the match (the best bit apparently) I was outside on a friend’s phone trying to get through to Orange customer support to report my phone as stolen.

I have lived in London for nearly 15 years, I’m pretty street-wise and extremely paranoid. If I was having dinner at The Wolesley I would probably wrap the strap of my handbag around my foot in case of a snatch and grab incident. Therefore it might not come as a surprise to discover that I have never been robbed…so I guess you could say I had it coming. I was pick-pocketed by a c*ntful dodger…I patted my phone into my back jeans pocket (I normally walk around with my hand on my arse to keep it in place), then I leaned over the bar to order a drink, and then it was gone. I should have screamed ‘SOMEONE JUST STOLE MY PHONE – DON’T LET ANYONE LEAVE THIS ESTABLISHMENT UNTIL WE HAVE FOUND THE CULPRIT!’ But of course I didn’t, I didn’t want to be ‘that’ girl so I looked around, pulled my friend over to one side to avoid interrupting any conversations/football watching and I quietly said, ‘I think my phone’s been pinched, let’s look through all my bags just to be sure.’

And here we have the age-old conundrum; social embarrassment or death. It seems I choose death (or bad things happening) every time. Several years ago I was on a plane with my sister – we were going to Las Vegas to meet up with our cousin who we rarely see. We were excited. We were given bulkhead seats which made us even more excited. Halfway through the flight two meatheads, Scotch in hand, wandered through the plane. They stopped just in front of our seats, next to the emergency exit door, and decided to hang out there for a bit, just chatting. The Scotch took hold and they got more relaxed, evident by them leaning on said door, and then on the big red handle on said door. What did my sister and I do? Did we call for a flight attendant? Did we say, ‘Excuse me sirs but would you mind not leaning on the handle of that door which leads to certain death?’ No, of course not, we got nervous and fidgety and then started to giggle until we were crying with hysterical laughter at our inability to confront these men who could have easily ended our short lives – but hey, at least we would have died laughing.

So I know this is a recurring theme with me, but I am still angry with myself for my handling of the phone incident. Being the paranoid bitch that I am, I have pictured my reaction to having something stolen a thousand times. I have decided exactly what I would do and how I would respond and it’s never embarrassing to stand up to the criminals but when it came to it I did nothing. I panicked, I was not a hero, I was not brave. I was simply gutted, and angry. I don’t care about the physical phone at all, but I do care about the reams of data and contacts I had in there, which were not backed up. You heard me right, it was not backed up. Guess what? I’ve been meaning to make sure it was backed up for ages, but there is so little to be rebellious about when you’re 35 that I have continually put it off knowing that it is something I should do, and therefore not doing it. A complicated idiotic justification for being an idiot, but there it is, I blame my naturally rebellious desire to not do what I’m meant to do.

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Two days on and I am finally having the calm and zen reaction I hoped I’d have. It certainly beats my immediate reaction which was to sulk for 24 hours (sorry flatmate). Sure, I hate the fact that someone can potentially access all my contacts, passwords and photos but I need to let that go…it’s just a phone, and it’s also not that likely that the desperate person who stole it will be bothered to do that. I have to accept this loss graciously and move on, and enjoy four days of being un-contactable. So, it might not have been the happiest day of my year, but it was a darn sight better than many people in the world, including the thief I’ll wager, and for that I am eternally grateful.

 

Bad Decisions

God. There have been so many I don’t even know where to start. I’m not talking about the life altering decisions we make which we spend days mulling over and which then turn out to be bad. Like buying a house just before the crash, or taking a new job and finding out your boss is a bully. I’m talking about the tiny decisions we make every day, the ones we know are bad decisions but we make them anyway out of some misguided wish to be rebellious and not do what we are supposed to do. I’m saying we a lot here because I really hope it’s not just me who does this, but if it is I apologise – you are all better people than I.

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The bad decisions I’m talking about are things like drunk dialling, getting off with a random, having one more beer or getting the night bus home – wait, these are all drink related bad decisions which we can hardly be held accountable for – I’ll start again. Things like wearing uncomfortable shoes when we know we’re going to be standing up all night, having a pizza when we know we’re going to have to run to the loo immediately after, or messing around on Facebook when there is work to be done. I like to think I’m quite sensible, at least I’ve got my head on my shoulders, I know right from wrong, I give out advice all the time, but when it comes to my own life it’s almost like I purposely want to mess things up…all the time.

Luckily my bad decisions don’t have any impact on anyone else. I am single, I don’t have any dependents so if I decide to go to the pub (drink-related again, I know) instead of re-writing my screenplay, I’m not hurting anyone except me but I worry that as I get older and if I do end up having responsibility for people, my desire to rebel and the ease with which I make a bad decision, could impact on other people and have far reaching consequences. With age, life takes on a more routine pattern and our lives are more settled, so the desire to do bad things becomes suppressed. We have finally reached a point of contentedness so why on earth would we want to mess that up – to screw with everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve? The thing is at this point the bad decisions get even worse. We’ve given up smoking, we hardly drink any more so with contentedness I imagine there can be a tendency towards boredom and maybe this is why people have affairs. This is possibly one of the worst bad decisions you can make, to break the bond you made when you committed to someone else and whereas in the past you were open about the bad decisions you made, and found them almost funny, when the possibility of hurting people that you love arises, the world becomes filled with secrets and lies. Surely it would be better to be upfront about your desire to make this bad decision and to talk through that desire with your loved one? I can’t imagine many people do that though. Call me naïve and I am sure there are a gazillion reasons for an affair, not just boredom and rebellion, but I am not sure there can ever be any justification. Anyway, I digress – maybe it’s the 3 margaritas I’ve had this afternoon.

I’m not entirely sure what makes bad decisions so attractive. Sometimes if we vocalise what we are about to do it makes us feel better about it, as if someone might tell us to stop and we would obey, which of course would never happen.

My latest bad decision may be a sleeper hit. Things are going pretty well with my writing and theconversation.tv seem to love what I am giving them. So I have written, and submitted, a fairly controversial piece about being an atheist. I even talk about the poppycock of creationism. Now, in the UK I wouldn’t have a problem with delivering this kind of article, but the US has a different attitude to religion. And I don’t know enough about it to gauge what kind of reaction they are going to have. They have told me that nothing is off limits, and I’m certainly not ashamed of anything I have said, but for some reason I have made the decision to push the boundaries to the limit, to find out how far I can go. So let’s see if they publish it. And if they do, whether I can handle the inevitable backlash. I’m fine with putting myself out there, but I don’t really want any death threats.

Back to the day job tomorrow then, with a determination to run there every day, eat only porridge and salads and not even check my personal emails during the day. So I’ll see you on Facebook at about 12:30, while I’m eating my fish and chips and wishing I’d looked harder for my trainers tonight. That’s just the way I roll so I better get used to it and as long as I continue to be honest about it, it’s really not that bad.

Lost In Music

I’ll be honest with you. I suck at commitment. Really suck. A mere five weeks into my blogging career and I really don’t feel like writing today. No offence, but I can’t be arsed. Is this the beginning of the end? The classic ‘Janey gets really enthusiastic about something for 0.5 Seconds before being distracted by other things’ syndrome?

Squirrel!

Sorry I’m back. No it’s not. Stop being so negatory Ballantyne, I may be tired but I am here and I am writing.

Ok, I’m tired because I just spent five hours salsa dancing, which was the last thing I got really into before I started writing again. But I haven’t done any dancing for 6 months. See? I suck at commitment. Anyway, it was great to do it again, and it was with a terrific group and a fantastic teacher but I have to say, over five hours we danced to about six tracks and the music for the most part was not good! I actually like salsa music a lot. And after a few years and several Spanish lessons I can now tell the difference between good Latin music and bad, and this didn’t hit the spot, or rather, the soul. Maybe it just wasn’t loud enough but instead of feeling every beat in every inch of my body and letting the music propel me through the tiredness, I found myself too aware of my surroundings, knackered and sweating in a basement club off Tottenham Court Road on a sunny Sunday afternoon, to dance like no-one was watching.

I’ve been thinking a lot about music this week, mainly because music helps me write and I am currently writing my second screenplay, exactly a year after I wrote the first one with a wonderful group of people in New York. Spring seems to be an inspiring time. Anyway, the first screenplay, entitled Come As You Are, relies heavily on a score by Nirvana. I knew before I sat down to write it that Nirvana were one of the hardest bands to license. But I carried on regardless as I never thought in my wildest dreams I would actually finish it, let alone want to send it out to competitions/agents to try and get it made. Idiot. Nirvana’s back catalogue is owned by several people, mainly nutty Courtney Love and poor old Frances Bean and they are very protective over it. At least they are in good company, like The Beatles and Dylan they are one of the most use-restricted artists. Fortunately the new screenplay has a large 1950’s influence so I hope the music will be slightly more usable. One of the best tracks I’ve found so far is called ‘London Is The Place For Me’. Check it out, it’s a classic… But I do hope it’s displaying 50’s irony at it’s best. If you compare this to what was going on musically and culturally in New York at the time, you might get a glimpse of why I am so drawn to that city, over London where ‘the English people are very much sociable’ apparently. As I say, check it out.

The first record I ever bought was Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper. It seems my 8 year old self knew what was important, even then. I clearly remember going into Our Price in Southgate Mall, Bath, with my pocket money in my sweaty palm and going home to play it over and over and over and over again. What’s brilliant about that record (and I know a lot of people will say nothing is brilliant about it) is that I still own it. And it gives me goose bumps every time I hear it because of that memory, and that knowledge. At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, kids ain’t gonna remember the first song they ever bought any more, in future formative memories are going to be very different. This is why I was so excited yesterday, on National Record Store Day when I walked into Rough Trade West and went straight to the counter and asked the owner (now a celebrity in his own right) if I could buy the new Good Cop album, which is beautifully pressed in clear vinyl and comes with a clear CD as well. The staff there were all very excited, a man behind me saw me buying it and got very excited and there was such an amazing buzz about the place, that it made me yearn for the old days.  At least there is still a rebel alliance alive and well and trying to hold on to those memories. People with kids, take them to a record store to buy their first song, and if you no longer have a record player, buy one. They’ll love you for it.

Squirrel!

Help! I Need Some… Support Pants.

Now, I know it appears that summer has been and gone, but I shall relate to you a little cautionary tale in case it decides to return.

A couple of weeks ago, when it became clear that the weather wasn’t a tromp l’oeil and it might indeed stay warm for an entire day, I decided to wear some Spring clothes. Unfortunately most of the clothes I own are still in storage from my 7 months ‘sabbatical’ last year so I was left with a sweet little dress which I picked up in Mexico. As my flatmate will confirm, I am definitely not a morning person so even though I did look in the mirror before I left the house that morning, I cannot guarantee that my eyes were fully open.

Unsurprisingly, by lunchtime that day, when I had seen my reflection a couple of times, I started to have the intense realisation that not only was my dress definitely not appropriate office attire, but that things were bulging and hanging out in the most unacceptable places. Thankfully, my office is close to Shepherd’s Bush Market so despite the heat I threw on my overcoat and 10 minutes later found myself naked behind a rail of velour leisure suits and half a shower curtain, pouring excess inches into an array of support underwear which would have given Buddha a waist line to be proud of. You can imagine how much effort this exerted and soon I was feeling positively peckish so I paid up and, feeling confident that all the lumps and bumps were straightened out, headed to my favourite falafel shop.

It was only when I returned to the office that I realised the support pants I had purchased were rather long on the leg and it looked like I was wearing lycra cycling shorts underneath my very pretty, if slightly indecent dress. I spent an entire meeting with my boss trying to push the pants up/pull the dress down and of course came out of it not having a clue what had just been discussed. Normally I would have just worn my coat for the rest of the day and jumped on the bus home immediately after work but that evening I was going to the theatre. Dahling. Luckily it was only in Hammersmith so on the way there I dived into Primark, grabbed another, shorter, pair of support pants and put them on in the Lyric Hammersmith’s fancy new toilets. Finally, feeling

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positively fabulous I waited at the bar for my friend with a glass of wine. Trying to ignore the fact that I was suddenly having trouble breathing I chatted to my friend as we took our seats. Just minutes before curtain up my breathing became so laboured that I rushed to the toilets yet again to peel off the new support pants – which I then discovered were a (UK) size 6 to 8… I’m sorry, which woman who is a size 6 to 8 EVER needs to wear support pants?! As I sneaked back into the pitch black auditorium, with everything hanging out, I sighed and settled down with my wine resting on the handy shelf which is my belly.

After such an epic day of several underwear changes it occurred to me that in actual fact I wasn’t any thinner when I was in Mexico, I wasn’t any more toned, in truth nothing was different about my body except I was a little bit more tanned. So why was I more than happy to wear this dress almost every day for two months in Mexico and think I looked gorgeous but in London I’d prefer to waste a whole day and a whole lot of energy chasing after the perfect support pants? Come to think of it – and I’m horrified I haven’t yet mentioned these words in this post but ‘when I was in New York’ I never once even thought about support pants and I lived on a diet of pizza and beer. So, pizza and beer in New York, tacos and tequila in Mexico (yes, I am that clichéd)…why then am I wasting my time trying to eat salads, and the odd falafel wrap, here in London when there appears to be no direct correlation between what I eat, how I look and how I think I look?

In celebration of this most simple yet liberating of realisations, I headed home to eat pizza and drink beer. But I did put the little Mexican dress back in the cupboard to give my mind a chance to catch up with my body…or the other way around.

Oh and in case you’re wondering I have done bugger all this week about moving to New York…I have been too busy eating pizza and tacos and cake.