Downsized and out in Bristol and Somerset

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I can't get over the flood thing in the Indian Ocean. Me and Prince Charming have been to several of the places that were affected and every time I see them on the telly it just breaks my heart. I mean, I didn't even have a very good time in Phuket but seeing the main street barely recognisable under a load of rubble and water was just awful; thinking of all the corpses on the beach where I sunbathed is just unbelievable.
And then there's all the people that I remember from my holidays who are almost certainly now dead. For instance, if you said to me, "Hey, remember that waiter in the New India Cafe in Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, the one with the lazy eye who was so patient about explaining what all the things on the menu were, and who had to keep reminding us that they didn't serve dosas at lunchtime or thalis in the evening? He's popped his clogs, the poor old chap" that would be kind of sad.
But not only is he almost certainly dead, but very probably all the half-naked guys who worked in the tiny, roasting hot kitchen are dead; the guy with the crazy tika designs on his forehead who worked the till is dead; the friendly receptionist at the Jagarnath hotel who lived on one of the outlying islands and had to get the ferry to Port Blair at dawn every morning is dead; the lady who did my laundry and had the weird iron full of burning coals is dead; the family who slept out on the roof of the neighbouring house are dead; the guy at the beach on Havelock island who made me a bhang lassi is dead; the man and his wife who ran the restaurant by Beach Number 7 who made such nice vada are dead; the coral reefs were we went snorkelling are destroyed; the little secret beach covered in cute little hermit crabs where we made love is now littered with the corpses of fishermen; the cafe with the slowest service in the world, where we waited two hours for a curry and then saw phosphorescence in the water on the way home, is rubble; the family on Havelock island whom we walked miles to visit because they had been so kind to our friends the year before are dead... it's all a bit too much to bear, really. And I'm sitting here all safe and warm in my house in Bristol; I can't even begin to comprehend what it must be like for the people who actually live there.
The worst thing for me though is that this really is a case of there but for the grace of god; if the earthquake had happened in the Atlantic Ocean instead of the Indian Ocean, it'd be us who'd be burying three generations of our families and then fighting our way through a crowd to get a bag of rice from Oxfam. If we were lucky enough not to be dead. OK, maybe there's a whole load of geological reasons why it wouldn't happen in the Atlantic, but it still freaks me the hell out.
PS Encouragingly, I just tried to donate some money to the Red Cross earthquake appeal, and couldn't get through coz it was so busy. Just out of interest, I wonder how much money the general public of America will be donating to the relief fund, in relation to the amount they donated to the September 11 disaster fund?

Friday, December 24, 2004

Santa Corpse, Inflata Claus and mmmmmmmn.....cake part III

Hello - it's Christmas Eve and this is a special festive edition of Provincial Princess. In other words I have a large glass of Baileys and a big chunk of Momma Charming's christmas cake to enjoy while I type (no marzipan, unfortunately, because Prince Charming doesn't like it, the freak).
Well, it is Christmas and of course it's a well-known scientific fact that anything consumed while there's a tree in your living room doesn't make you fat.
It's been a bit of a last-minute rush here at Chateau Provincial; I'd like to say that it's because of us being such interesting people that we couldn't find time to do the shopping in between a round of fabulous parties where I got to wear lots of spangly dresses like the kind they always have in the fashion pages of the December issues of women's magazines ("sparkle your way through the party season for under £50", you know the kind of thing). But guess what. Actually I've been bloody ill for weeks and PC's been visiting his folks.
The thing that really rankles is that we actually DID have a Christmas party to go to on Wednesday night, which, like, never happens, because whatever they tell you in the magazines, apart from possibly one office piss-up, no one except journalists on women's magazines really has a round of parties to go to where the dress code is formal and people actually intend to stay sober enough to risk wearing a sparkly frock.
But for once we did have a party to go to, with the chance to make lots of lovely new friends, and I had a new pair of fluffy boots and some new earrings to wear - boots £20 from Ebay, earrings £3 from a stall outside the Bristol City Museum. So as you can imagine I was like totally stoked to the max, dude (the person we were going to the party with is a surf instructor, so thought I'd get into the spirit of things there, lingo-wise).
Sadly, though, I was struck down by another flare-up of this horrible lurgy I've had for weeks. You probably know someone who's had it, too, as it seems to be going around: I keep getting flu for a few days, and then feeling better, but as soon as I leave the house I get ill again and have to go back to bed with 15 boxes of Kleenex Balsam and a hot water bottle. Last time, I had such a blinding headache I couldn't even read the National Enquirer, so I couldn't find out how Britney's coping with the miscarriage she hasn't had and what Beyonce would be doing if Jay-Z had been unfaithful, which of course he hasn't, but if he had, well, she'd be heartbroken because she's really fallen for him, say close pals, and let's hope it doesn't turn out to be another Whitney/Bobby thing.
So PC set out on Wednesday night at 7.30 on his own - and eventually came home at 4 o'clock the next afternoon, having had a brilliant time while I'd been losing half my body weight in snot.
So he's been Useless Simon since then, nursing a few extraneous emotions, but luckily, Superwoman that I am, I'd already done most of the Christmas shopping in a brief moment of convalescence on Tuesday night. I got really organised and went to Asda at 10.30 pm to miss the crowds; I'd have gone even later but for some reason, our normally 24-hour Asda decided to close at midnight in the busiest week of the year. Evidently the Wal-Mart family needed to get the kids to bed early or something.
I managed to spend £120 even though I was determined to be frugal, but really, that five quid Cava is so minging, you've got to get the Lanson haven't you. And also there was a much-reduced choice on the shelves at that time of night - again, the concept of Christmas being the busiest time of year for supermarkets seemed to have passed by the Wal-Mart family; I had to run round the vegetable section grabbing things as they were being tidied away, at only 11pm, so I couldn't get the Value potatoes and had to get the posh ones (I sense a marketing ploy). So much for Julie Walters "going hands-free". And they were re-stocking the shelves already so you had to squeeze your trolley past big pallet-loads of washing powder and stuff, which seemed a bit unecessary since they were going to be closed for six hours. Now I know why my mum used to take the time to make her own christmas pudding.
Anyway I got it all and on the way home I took a little detour around the estates to look at the lights on the houses. I'm a big fan of outdoor Christmas lights - I don't have any myself because I can't afford them, what with the Asda Super Special Real Brandy Whole Lotta Nuts! Christmas Pudding-style Giant Desert (Serves 12) that I had to buy because there weren't any of the small ones left, but I do like them on other people's houses.
Call me a chav if you think it's acceptable to mock the working class for having tastes different to those of more priviledged people, but I think when it's getting dark at half past three, a few flashing reindeers brightens the place up a bit.
The fashion this year seems to be for snake lights that spell out "Merry Christmas" which is very festive. There were some rather dodgy ones though, including a couple of people who had large Santas hanging on ropes out of windows that were blowing around in the wind in a manner a little too reminiscent of corpses dangling from gallows. Or how I imagine a corpse would look hanging from a gallow, I've never actually seen one. And someone else had a really odd Santa-in-a-box thing going on on their garage roof, which looked like a bloke in a red coat was burgling their house.
But the clear winner had to be the 15-foot-high inflatable Father Christmas in someone's garden. They had a big hedge, rather incongruously as it suggested they enjoyed their privacy, which would seem something of a contrast with drawing attention to yourself with a fucking great big blow-up Santa. Still, it cheered me up no end after the shopping nightmare.
So hoorah to them. You don't get that kind of thing in Stoke Newington, that's for sure. Merry Christmas everyone, and remember: if you feel sick, just eat a few segments of satsuma, and you'll soon find you can fit in another mince pie. Hoorah!

Monday, December 13, 2004

It's not all work, work, work ...

...although I kind of wish it was. It seems I needn't have worried about the local paper because I heard back from the lady and she said she hasn't got the budget to employ freelancers. So you see I was right - all that worrying and planning I did about how to persuade her to hire me was a complete waste of energy because she came out with the one thing I can't argue against.
It was a very nice email though and she did imply that if she had the money she'd hire me, which is encouraging I suppose, and also said she'd keep my details in case the situation changed, which might be true I guess, although it might also be double-speak for "I'm going to file your email under W for Wastebasket".
To add insult to injury, Prince Charming sent out a load of emails asking for work to the Bristol-area electrical companies listed on the NICEIC website and this morning at 9.30 he got a phonecall offering him an interview. So, even bearing in mind that people in the construction industry start work quite early, he effectively got an interview for a job two hours after applying - and he'd only got up to C on the list of companies. That'll be the skills shortage that we're always hearing about, I guess.
Now he's stressing out about whether he might get a better offer somewhere else. The jammy git. And I'm about to catch another bloody bus up the M4 to work in London, again, although at least this time it's working with Sundried and the old Housing Today gang - I've been away long enough now for the office to have gained a sepia tone of nostalgia, which I'm sure will disappear at about 9.35 tomorrow morning when I have to sub Case of the Week.

Everybody needs gurrt lush neighbours

The nice man from next door came round again the other evening to lend us his digital camera so that Prince Charming could take some photos of music stuff he's selling on Ebay (now that he's bought an Imac G5 - wooooh! - and a flash guitar with effects built in, the room full of pedals and keyboards and and other things with twiddly knobs on them are apparently no longer necessary). Nice Neighbour is turning out to be so nice that I am kind of wishing we'd gone to their party when we first arrived - they had some people round on Saturday night and it sounded quite raucous (apparently they have a tradition each year of getting their mates together and then driving round the local estates looking at all the lights on people's houses, and then getting pissed, which sounds like quite a laugh).
Anyway he told me about this great website. I was particularly interested to find out from the Bristolian dictionary that the local variant of "itchy chin" is "itchy barry" - where I grew up it was "chinny reckon" (with the emphasis firmly on the "on" and with an accompanying gesture of thumb to underside of chin). What a living language we have.
I attempted to extract information from Nice Neighbour about the Nasty Neighbours on the other side, but he didn't know much about them apart from the fact that they have a large barky-type dog. Being the owner of a large dog himself, he didn't necessarily agree with my theory that their dog was unhappy because they keep it in a small house, but we did have a good bitch about the fact that it got out of their garden twice over the weekend and ran around everyone else's gardens weeing in flowerbeds and scaring the life out of poor Ringo. I went round and knocked on the door to let them know their dog was loose and they didn't answer, although I could hear them out the back going "Harry! Harry!" which I guess must be the dog's name.
I didn't ask Nice Neighbour if he'd noticed the jeans. They're still there - two months to the day since I moved here - although now unfrozen.
Stil, he probably hates me now because not only did I say that keeping a big dog in a city was a bad thing, I also keep accidentally interrupting him so he probably thinks I'm super-rude. This is something I do when I'm really interested in a conversation and want to ask questions about what someone's saying (it stems from having grown up in a household where if you wanted to get a word in edgeways, you had to shout the other person down, and if you wanted to ask a question about what someone was saying, you had to interrupt or else by the time you got a chance to say your piece, not only would the conversation have moved on to other topics but you probably would have all grown up and left home) but it always comes across as the opposite.
At least I didn't crack jokes about foreigners or anything (his wife is Spanish). But I'll probably do that next time.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The hardest word

Yikes. I've just turned down some potentially highly lucrative work in January on the basis that it was in London and I don't want to be always working in London rather than doing stuff here. So now I'm getting the wibbles about whether I should have done it - will I starve? Will it be the last work anyone ever offers me ever? Will I use the time constructively or just end up watching daytime TV? Did I, basically, do completely the wrong thing and make a terrible mistake that I'll regret for ever and ever and possibly even longer?
Every freelance reading this will, no doubt, be nodding along in understanding but for those of you who are still wage slaves, I'll explain: contrary to popular belief, being freelance isn't all about pottering in the garden and tapping out interesting articles about your hobbies, in between flitting from highly-paid part-time contract to highly-paid part-time contract. Well, OK, sometimes it is, but generally most freelances that I've met say yes to any work they're offered (within reason of course - clearly, it doesn't do to get out of bed for less than £100 a day).
This makes things quite difficult because of course most people go freelance because they want more spare time to relax/pursue other projects/work within, say, a 75-mile radius of where they live, but there's always this nagging feeling that if you say no to any work then that's it, you'll starve and die and really bad stuff will happen to your cat.
It didn't help that this is work for RIBA Journal who are good payers, too (don't worry Taxloss and Sundried, I told them to ring you instead).
But the fact remains that if I'd taken the shifts I'd have been in London for pretty much the whole of January and even though I am too skint to buy the lovely pair of fluffy boots that I've been watching on Ebay for the past week, I have to spend some time looking for work in Bristol. I mean, I want to start house-hunting, and I want to start that book I'm always talking about writing, and I want to sleep in my own bed at night and stuff.
I did apply to the chief sub of the local paper yesterday though so I am very proud that I achieved something in between knitting hats and watching Buffy re-runs. I did it all flash by email with PDFs of some of the stuff I've worked on before (it took my ages to get my Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0 Starter Edition, the free software I got with Windows XP, to make the PDFs, and a lot of swearing, but I managed it in the end and I'm quite proud of that too) and an email about how great I am. But she'll probably just email back and say the usual guff about using people with newspaper experience.
Now, I know I'm always wittering on on other people's blogs about how you should think positive and not assume that the worst is going to happen, but I have had problems before with persuading people that I'm good at my job because I've mostly worked on trade mags and people who work in other areas of publishing seem to have quite a low opinion of trade mags in general. They all seem to think they're jokes, like the guest publication slot on Have I Got News For You.
Granted, some of them may not be the height of publishing quality, but some of them are very good and it annoys me when people don't give me a chance because of that - not least because I am actually very good at my job and I am certain that anyone who hired me for a shift would want me back again. I've been a chief sub and I know how hard it is to find good people and what a joy it is when you actually find a freelance who's reliable and talented.
Plus, I don't see how there's any difference between subbing hard news or human interest features for a magazine or for a newspaper. So I don't understand why people turn me down because I don't have newspaper experience - but then I've never worked on a paper so maybe there is some subtle difference that I don't see.
Anyway the point of all this is not just to whinge (hey, it's my blog, so suck it up, readers!) but to ask your opinion. If the woman from the paper does say no, should I basically say the above to her? Not in so many words, obviously, but should I just say, 'look, I'm not just blowing my own trumpet, I'm really good, everyone who hires me always wants me back again (which is true), I've been a chief sub myself so I know how many people are out there making a living from freelancing because they're basically too crap to get a full time job, but I'm not one of them, so give me a chance and you won't regret it'?
If you were hiring, would that make you think, what an arrogant woman, or would it make you think, OK, maybe I will ring her referees and ask them about her instead of just dismissing her straight away?
For me, it would be the former, but I generally like people who speak their minds.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Reality TV

Now, as you probably know, the best thing about being ill is having a licence to sit around wrapped in a duvet watching daytime TV instead of working. Well, this goes for the home-worker, too, particularly if, like me, you are someone naturally given to work-avoidance tactics.
So that’s what I’ve been doing the past couple of days. And what I found out was that this is not nearly so much of a waste of time as it’s often thought to be!
Yes, that's right. I can now exclusively reveal that daytime TV is not brain-melting chod, in fact it's remarkably educational. Let's take a look at just 10 of the many things I’ve learned from daytime TV in just the past 24 hours!

1) Tarantula legs taste like prawns.
2) A paranormal investigator’s equipment always includes a thermometer.
3) If you spray glue onto roses and dip them in glitter, you can make a lovely sparkly display for your Christmas table.
4) Whether boiled, scrambled or fried, eggs in the morning can be bliss if they’re served with a kiss.
5) When Prince Charles informed Diana of the death of the bodyguard with whom she’d been having an affair, he did it in a rather brusque tone of voice.
6) Pork from a female pig, or sow, is more tender and tasty than that from the male.
7) Dogs aren‘t just a fashion accessory, even small ones like those owned by Paris Hilton or Britney Spears take quite a lot of looking after and are likely to do "mini-poos" on your carpet.
8) If you are a woman of colour hoping to be successful in Hollywood, you can’t just wait for the roles to come to you, you have to get out there and make it happen.
9) It’s best to focus on the things you have in common with your work colleagues than your differences.
10) The (Irish) singer from the Corrs did not have any trouble doing a regional Irish accent for her latest film role, although she did take quite a bit of time to study it.

Have you learned anything useful from daytime TV recently? If you have, I‘d love to hear about it! You can call, text, or email, or evenmake a comment by following the link below. How easy is that?
Wow, that's so simple. Anyone could do it, really. Now, coming up later in this blog, we’ll be looking at my efforts to avoid doing any work and asking: how the hell am I going to afford to pay the rent in January? But first, it’s downstairs to the living room to find out what’s happening on today’s episode of Scrubs.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Snot funny

Be ad Bridz Charbing have both god derrible golds. So I doad feel buch like bloggig. Bud I doe id's beed a while (sorry, duthing very idrestig has happud laidly) so I thord I'd just pop od to benchud that the dext door deighbours have still god the sabe pair of jeads od the washig lide, bud because we had a frost this bordig, they are dow frozed solid. Which I thord was quide fuddy.