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Unconventional Sexual Pursuits

An internal memo from B&Q has been leaked, advising employees that “in light of the box office opening of the film of the popular novel 50 Shades of Grey” (I wonder if EL James now simply writes these press releases herself. They certainly have the same robust indifference to being succinct), “customers may be asking for certain items intending to fulfill unconventional sexual pursuits”. The memo urges B&Q’s employees to remember “B&Q’s commitment to assist customers in a polite, helpful and respectful manner.” It finishes with a helpful quote from a B&Q Spokesman*: “Customer satisfaction is always our number one priority.”

Although I can think of nothing I would rather do, had I made more money than anyone else ever, other than write tongue-in-cheek press releases for home improvement stores, in many ways E L James has once again opened things up for the rest of us. For a start, I had entirely forgotten that Valentine’s Day is naturally an opportunity for everything in the world to remind us that it is sexy. No longer will we have to make do with candles and chocolates and actual, real-world sex. Nowadays we can slog around IKEA, or B&Q, or buy a “commemorative” washbag or “sultry lightbulb” or whatever.

Listen, it’s not just me/ E L James. (The more I think about E L James, the more I feel convinced that she is a fully-formed AI media invention, sort of the author-version of Damon Albarn’s ‘Gorillaz’)

One of my friends is having her wisdom teeth out today, and I’m off to collect her afterwards. “Is everything going OK?” I texted her. “Yup,” she replied. “I’m in a private room with Angela. Angela has just told me I don’t have to put on the gown and funny pants yet, because I would be “too much sexy”.

Wisdom teeth removal: for those of us who just want to make an effort, this Valentine’s Day.

*E L James


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Gym-buddies and other new hobbies

I’ve returned from the Australian Open, which is a tournament where extremely drunk people watch extremely fit people play tennis.

Screenshot 2015-01-24 00.13.37

“It is time,” I told myself at the wrap party, where 3 of my colleagues were so drunk they missed their flights home the next morning. “That I moved myself to the other section.” With that in mind (and jet-lag that saw me awake from 2am this morning), I headed to the gym. I hadn’t meant to go to the gym. I had meant to go for a life-affirming, head-clearing, boast-worthy run, but it’s approximately 35 degrees colder in London than it was in Melbourne, and I had failed to convert my usual drinking habits into running alongside a helpful St Bernard, so I ran to the gym. (Total imagined time of future run, whilst warm in bed: 1hr. Total actual running time, whilst scouring the pavement for rogue brandy-bearing St Bernard dogs: 5mins).

I was pleased I went to the gym, as it turned out, because I now have 2 new hobbies. The first is going to the gym, and the second (and far more durable), is eavesdropping on other women at the gym. It was my first day there (no-one asked me for my membership, which makes me fear that some of us have been spending huge monthly sums for years purposelessly) so I limited myself to merely listening, and occasionally nodding or shaking my head subtly in response.

Here are some choice extracts. (I’ve put my inside-my-head but extremely visible on my face responses in italics):

  1. “Yeah, she’s called Sarah. They were together for 5 years, but it didn’t work out, because she was way too into her job.”

Oh my god run away from this dreadful man, gym stranger.


  1. “No, I mean, he’s 49. So it’s just on the cusp of what my parents would find acceptable.”

You’re at the most 25 years old. Your parents would find someone who was 29 at the cusp of acceptability. This is going to go so unbelievably badly; let’s be friends so I can invite myself along when you introduce him as “slightly older”.


  1. “I wasn’t that into it, but then I saw his car.”

I wish you a long and fulfilling life together.

  1. “I think it’s the perfect Valentines Day activity, don’t you?”

“What?” (this is not in italics, because I said it out-loud, by mistake).

“Seeing 50 Shades of Grey.”

“…oh, bloody hell, ouch.” (I was so busy staring at her in horror that I forgot to run, and fell off the treadmill)

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Oh, Thanksgiving

I went to two thanksgiving dinners this weekend, and I have a luncheon with my grandparents this Wednesday, which means that I’m not eating anything for the next 48 hours. This is because my grandparents are the only people in the world who think that I am ‘too thin’ and also ‘have a lovely singing voice’, and if I get through the lunch without them mentioning both, 2014 will be ruined.

Thanksgiving is a relatively new phenomena (for me. I am aware, hazily, that it’s been a longer-term thing for some other people), and as a newly-minted expert, here are the things one needs to do to enjoy it:

  1. Develop the sort of generous and reliable reputation that means when items are divided amongst the group (stuffing, vegetables, pies etc) you are asked to bring ‘some jars of cranberry jelly’, and then informed that this is because ‘you are the type of person who wouldn’t show up if given something difficult.’
  2. Arrive late.
  3. Make a huge fuss about the fact that you have remembered to bring your item.
  4. People love people who are good at conversation, so be able to talk on a wide variety of subjects: how long it took you to get there, where you went to buy the cranberry jelly, how vital cranberry jelly is to thanksgiving dinner.
  5. Find a chair and sit on it. As people walk past you, they will stop and chat; bring you beers; look enviously at your comfortable position. If you appear truly ensconced, other people will ‘make a plate’ for you, at which point you realise that the only person who has had it all figured out, all along, was your grandfather, and resolve to emulate him in all things from now on.

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Stop coughing

I have been working in the British Library. I moved from my local library because they were using the ground floor of the library for Tai Chi classes, which were being led by an extremely loud and posh woman, who kept asking everyone in the class if they were all right. I briefly considered joining the class, just so I could tell her that ‘no, actually, I wasn’t all right at all, and that this was a library, not some sort of discotheque,’ but the Tai Chi part looked a little complicated, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I had, previous to the library, worked very happily at my dining room table, but the whole of our living room is treacherous in the winter, being either extremely cold (no heating) or terribly hot (yes heating), and in both states my focus tended to be much more corporeal than cerebral. ‘There is nothing so insistent as the body,’ I thought to myself, as I put my extremely warm head onto my dining room table for a little nap. It is impossible to overestimate how many intelligent thoughts I have just before I fall asleep. I did, briefly, write them all down, but it turned out that was just part of a dream.

Anyway, my flat’s out, and so is the local library (although it may possibly be getting a second chance, as an exercise centre/ way to meet my local community), so I’ve popped along to the British Library. I have only good things to say about it here. The building is beautiful, and easily accessible, and there are ping pong tables in the piazza outside, which as Google and Facebook have taught us, are imperative to all money-making endeavors, and it is filled with studious, non-communicative, non-tai chi doing visitors.

Silence is strictly enforced. Talking is absolutely verboten. Coughing, however, is not. Here, in ascending order, are the most irritating coughs other people can muster:

The lung hacker

(Get yourself to a doctor, I’m too young to die)

The cough and sniff

(Sniffers ought to be banned from all public places)

The Repeat offender

(Just leave the room and have a drink of water, OK?)

The just spit it out cougher

(A refusal to cough properly, once, results instead in a continued barrage of ineffectual, fake-modest mealy-mouthed coughlets.)

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You can’t say that

‘Have you read this?’ I asked, carefully sliding a book out of my flatmate’s bookshelf. ‘Can I borrow it?’ ‘I haven’t read it yet,’ she said. ‘But sure.’ I was surprised, because I don’t like to lend out books until I’ve read them myself, but wasn’t about to argue. ‘You know,’ she said. ‘There’s a word in Japanese that describes people who buy books, but don’t read them, yet keep on buying more.’ ‘That’s awesome,’ I said, trying to slink out of her room without her rescinding her book-loaning offer.

Screenshot 2014-11-19 11.24.01

I couldn’t pay much attention to her at the time (it is harder than one might think, trying to leave a bedroom whilst pretending you are not holding a large hard-backed book), but I’ve been thinking about that Japanese word ever since.

Here, therefore, are some words that don’t exist in English but ought to:

  1. The person who repeatedly buys near-identical versions of the same thing, and then wonders why they don’t have the perfect capsule wardrobe
  2. The feeling of overwhelming rage when hearing the words ‘perfect capsule wardrobe’.
  3. The surreptitious act of checking Tinder in public.
  4. The irresistible attraction of wires and cables (computer, TV, charging) to one another.
  5. The bleakness when faced with the impossibility of ever untangling those wires.
  6. The heart-stopping anxiety of hearing your alarm used as someone else’s ringtone.
  7. The feeling of bliss when you wake up, think you’re late, then realise it’s Saturday
  8. Which is second only to the happiness of watching a teacher wheel a TV into your classroom.
  9. The increasing antsiness of waiting for someone to meet you in a public place, where they might approach from any direction.
  10. Wanting to know if you’re going to be offered pudding, so you can manage your expectations accordingly, but not being able to find a polite way to ask your host.

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The Bitch is Back

The dog is back. This isn’t a euphemistic reference to an old boyfriend, or local cad, although whenever we talk about the dog, I’m singing Elton’s ‘The Bitch is Back’ in my head, which makes it hard to pay close attention to what my flatmates are saying, but I’m 100% certain that the dog is, in fact, a dog. I know this, with great certainty, because I have seen the dog. I have seen the dog once, and heard the dog 45 times, and therefore I noticed when it was gone. ‘The dog’s gone,’ my female flatmate told me, as we walked back last night. ‘I’m worried about it.’ ‘What?’ I said, because I was thinking about how Dusty Springfield did the backing vocals on Elton’s track, and wondering if I should rewatch Twenty Feet from Stardom. ‘Do you think they gave it away?’ she asked. ‘Oh no,’ I said. My flatmate stared at me in confusion.

I was feeling guilty, you see. The dog arrived last month, as part of the new family who live next door. Being a socially responsible and community-minded sort of person, I knew that new people were moving in next door, and had taken great pains to avoid meeting them. For several blissful days, I could tell you absolutely nothing about our new neighbours, except that they seemed to have the same attitude to neighbourliness that I did, and therefore either ignored, or watched in amusement as I drunkenly tried to open my front door with my oyster card, or left home at 11am, merrily pretending I had ‘been up for hours’.

That was before the dog. ‘Hello,’ I shouted as I returned home that evening, having successfully mastered the art of opening my front door. ‘Hello?’ ‘Mmm,’ one of my flatmates mumbled unenthusiastically. Naturally, I followed this invitation into his bedroom. They were standing there, both of them, staring out of the window, and making the sort of cooing sounds one often hears over fiendishly expensive prams, in gastro pubs that you used to be able to visit unscathed. ‘It’s a dog,’ one of them pointed out, when I remained silent. ‘A dog,’ the other repeated, beaming like an idiot.

It was a dog. It was a dog that stayed in the neighbours garden, which our bedrooms overlook, and howled pitifully all day, and all night. It was a dog that my housemates discussed incessantly, exclaiming that it ought to be inside/ walked/ adopted by us. It was a dog that meant our doorbell rang at 9am, waking me up, and a querulous voice asked if it were ‘our dog’, and I took all the pleasure in the world informing her that ‘no, she wanted next door.’ (I haven’t told on someone in years. I had quite forgotten the delicious pleasure).

It was a dog, until, suddenly, it wasn’t. (I have some trouble, even now, acknowledging that other people continue to exist when outside my immediate viewpoint, so I’m not quite ready to give psychological autonomy to a dog). ‘What?’ I repeated. ‘Maybe they got rid of it,’ my flatmate suggested, and I thought, ‘I’m too young for this.’ It was my fault, you see. Ever since the arrival of the dog, I have had nothing but enmity towards it. When it yaps on Sunday morning at 6.30am for a clear 3 or 4 minutes, before I drag a pillow over my face and fall back to sleep, I think nothing but evil towards that dog. I once read a good 3 pages of ‘The Secret’, in the Paddington WH Smiths, so I know that all I have to do is think something to get it. And look where that had gotten me. A homecooked dinner from my flatmate (honestly, I was just sitting in my room, feeling hungry, and he began cooking), and a dead dog.

‘This is terrible,’ I told my flatmate. ‘Um,’ she began. (Looking back at my past comments on the dog, her bewilderment is fairly understandable). I shook my head sadly, to show her that I couldn’t say anything more on the subject. And I didn’t. And now look where we are: 6.30am on a Tuesday, and the Bitch is Back.

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The library people

I’ve had a stressful morning: my flatmate broke our bathroom door (we’re still trying to bottom out why, or what precisely he was doing in the shower, but we are all very grateful that he broke the door, rather than shout for help at 6.30am) and my mother told me that avios miles are ‘worthless’, so all that time on was in vain, but at 10am sharp, the library opens, and everything calmed down.

(For those of you wondering what I did pre-10am, try taking a bathroom door -free shower in a shared flat, and see how efficient you are in the morning).

There are many things I do not like about the library – the designated ‘quiet zones’, for instance, make my head explode, but all of the shuffling and not-even-trying-to-whisper talking is made up for by the library people. I begin by nodding hello to a tiny, perfectly spherical 80 year old woman called Beth (I helped her with her library card last week, almost exclusively so that I could determine her age). Beth has two t-shirts, both XXL. One says, in hot pink: ‘Don’t try to stop me’ and the other, in more muted sparkles, ‘I am a fashion victim.’

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Beth likes to come to the library to read after her early-morning workout. (The library and the gym share a building, along with a café called ‘Delice’, which, as their board explains daily, is because ‘all of the food is delicious’.) She reads teen fiction exclusively, because those are the books kept on the bottom floor, and, obviously, she’s already climbed quite enough stairs at the gym. I regularly offer to collect adult fiction from the 1st floor for her, but Beth has no time for my ‘hilarious’ nonsense and prefers if I don’t linger too long near her sofa.

The sofas on the ground floor of the library are hotly contested real-estate. I have often watched in admiration as Beth fakes a limp to move some non-80- year old person out of her seat. Leaving Beth (although I often peer over the balcony at her, another habit of mine she dislikes intensely), I clamber up to the 1st floor, and sit in my usual seat. There is no squabble about my usual seat, because I get to the library when it opens. There are, however, deep disappointments and barely suppressed rage for other people’s usual seats, when they rock up at 10.05 and discover that some rogue GCSE student is occupying their space.

However, assuming that teenage idleness continues in fine fettle, the rest of my 4-person table is filled up with the usual library people. Who consist firstly of balding middle-aged man (I am not 100% certain what middle-aged means, anymore, now that I’ve read so many articles telling me that 50 is the new 40 etc, but this man is in his mid-40s. Is that middle age? I can’t see myself living past 90, but who knows? Today I did almost 14 minutes of exercise, trying to fix the damn bathroom door). Balding middle aged man wears a white t-shirt (one hopes he has several, but it is hard to tell) and shorts. Always shorts, no matter what hat and jumper combo I myself am modeling. He wears earplugs, and breathes heavily, sniffs almost perpetually and is visited at lunchtime by his girlfriend, who speaks too high and tries to sit on his lap. Balding middle-aged man and I are not friends.

Nap-taking black man and I are friends. We sit opposite one another, and he used to ask me to ‘watch his computer’ when he went to the loo, until I pointed out that it was an ACER, and no-one wanted to steal it. He ‘works’ for approximately 15 minutes of every hour, and fills the remaining 45 minutes with desk napping. We recently had a great moment when I lent him my jumper as a pillow, and then had to sneakily take it back, when I got cold. In unrelated news, nap-taking black man has not been back to the library this week.

The final space on our library table is shared between angry white female, who exclusively looks at books on feminist theatre theory (this is not why she is angry white female. She spends much of her day stalking about the library, frowning hugely and bearing down on people who are whispering, during which time I read great swathes of her books, which are brilliant), and Martin, who is writing what I can genuinely say sounds like the worst sitcom pilot ever.

(Martin once shared a not very good muffin from Delice café with me, and told me both his name and his pilot premise. Neither were particularly inspiring.) Martin and angry white female do not know each other, but I have firm hopes that one morning they will both arrive at the desk spot simultaneously, and the rest of the table will be asked to vote as to who gets to stay. (I will rig the vote, naturally, and ensure that balding middle-aged man gets kicked off). There are other library people, naturally, but I can’t talk about them at the moment, because it’s lunchtime, and I need to go watch stretching Asian man perform his entirely mysterious library tai-chi.

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