Category Archives: My work

Taking responsibility

I’ve just had a thought. My column seems to promote the consumption of vodka. Seems to promote? Does promote, more like. Well, yes, I do endorse it. Indeed, if any vodka company is interested in sponsoring my forays into the night, equipped only with my wit and a skinful of the stuff, then they are quite welcome to get in touch. Until then I shall refrain from mentioning any vodka brands, like Stolchinaya, which happens to be my favourite.

This then is simply a disclaimer to shrug responsibility and avoid the unlikely possibility of a lawsuit. And if you think I am being over cautious, just think how many impressionable adults you know. Then try to imagine the number that must exist in the entire world if you know that many. And remember, the entire world has access to this, a world where litigation is a vastly popular source of income for stupid people who cannot take responsibility for their own actions. It’s growing in popularity here too, in soon-to-be-as-bad Britain.

Haven’t you seen those adverts on TV by companies that offer to follow up your claims and only take a vast percentage of any compensation payout? Also recall the woman who sued a hamburger chain for selling her a coffee at a drive-thru, which she placed between her legs and subsequently scalded herself. See, I have to be careful. We all do.

Where will it end? Companies increasingly have to protect themselves against their products being put to any obscure and unlikely use for which they will be held responsible. Will microwaves come with warning labels dissuading people from drying their pets in them? When will we see stickers in cars telling a passenger that exiting the vehicle while it is in motion is a bad idea? What about a much-needed caution to gardeners not to be tempted to cut their child’s hair with the Fly-Mo?

I even suspect that’s lawyers have made sure that written somewhere on this site is a declaration that the company distances itself from the writings and opinions of its contributors. I could not afford to be sued for encouraging appalling behaviour or self-abuse. I could only offer to buy someone drink to make amends, but I doubt if that would go down too well.

The British, in general, have always been rather naïve or perhaps normal when it comes to this sort of thing. If someone accidentally bumps into me in the street, I usually apologise (and then curse myself for having done so). How terribly polite we are. The last thing we think of is turning a simple human error into a lawsuit. We leave the dirty work for our insurance companies. These days they tell us to never accept liability or blame for a car accident at the scene. I’m sorry, but if it is clearly my fault – and it never is – then why shouldn’t I own up? If I crash into someone who was simply driving along quite innocently, then not only is it expected of me to get out, ask if they are alright and apologise profusely, mumbling something about having had to swerve violently into their path to avoid a small child, but it will be a natural reaction. I pay insurance so that I am covered. The insurance company will have to cough up. They will put my premiums up, yes, but that’s life. I should have kept my eyes on the road and not messed about with the stereo.

On a recent trip abroad I dropped and damaged my camera. Reading aloud the report I had just written to claim on the insurance and cover the cost of repairs, my friend sternly objected to my stating that a friend had accidentally bumped me and caused it to fall from my shoulder.
“You haven’t given my name have you?” She almost screamed.
“No. Why?”
“‘Cause your insurance company will sue mine!”

It wasn’t her who had knocked me and I can only assume that she thought she may have because she is such a clumsy person naturally. The point is that it hadn’t even crossed my mind that my insurance company would do such a thing for a relatively measly amount of money. It seemed ridiculous and I told her to shut up.

In the light of such things however I hereby claim in plain English, as spoken by Her Royal Highness the Queen of England and all who sail in her, that any use of the content provided herein is the sole responsibility of the reader. This column is for those of legal drinking age and I endorse sensible intake for pleasure only. Furthermore, I do not guarantee that application of the information provided here will not pose any harm to the user; in fact, excessive consumption of alcohol, or probably anything for that matter, will probably cause irreparable harm to your body.

I continue. If you choose to do as I say and not leave it to a professional then please do not drive while under the influence of alcohol. You may injure or kill yourself and I need all the readers I can get. Get a cab, basically.

I may as well take this opportunity try to make vodka-clear my vague motives with regard to the Vodka Diaries, or VD, as it’s known lovingly in certain (private) parts. Don’t worry; this isn’t a manifesto but merely the brief concept behind it. Oh yes, there is thinking behind this believe it or not.

The Vodka Diaries is about a certain lifestyle that seems to sit casually alongside vodka (perhaps on a black leather Italian sofa?) It is not meant to be pornography for vodka-philes or a connoisseur’s dry academic journal. It is about life and the observations on the city in general; glimpses of the urban experience and its vast possibilities; an intended celebration of life; a subliminal advertising campaign to boost vodka consumption among the 18-35 age group and, through use of a code, a way to transmit information to a criminal network that operates out of Cirencester.

It’s about an attitude, and a good one at that. So while we’re not hurting anyone, no one’s suing and there’s liquid in that bottle, let’s party – liquidation rather litigation as it were. I’ll drink to

This Is ‘Allo

This week finds me abroad, with only the ‘Best of Blur’ for company. For reasons which I won’t trouble you with, I’m on the French Riviera. And as you might expect, very nice it is too. Or so it seemed. We flew in Sunday (November 5th) to find the locals enjoying a typically English summer’s day complete with little fluffy clouds, warm sea breeze and gormless ice cream guzzling pensioners (albeit ones with considerably better dress sense than their slightly less Gallic Blackpool and Bournemouth-based counterparts).

Anyway, so far so tres chic thinks I – a nice few days away from a drowning Britain is on the cards and is most certainly not to be sneezed at. Some hope. Monday dawns and the merde has really hit the fan.

It’s teeming down with rain. Umbrella sellers are laughing like that toothless Oriental pet shop owner in that online share-dealing advert. Ducks are standing under bus shelters moaning about the weather. Experienced Frenchmen have forgotten how to shrug non-commitally and are sprinting for the last train home. Yannick Noah’s running around terminally confused because he can’t find another Yannick for the ark he swears he’s been told to build. In short, il pleu to the max.

So what are we going to get from le Continental Monsieur Stuart this week,I hear you cry? I bet he’s going to connect all this French malarkey to the weather at home and ramble on about pollution, global warming, excessive car use, the destruction of the environment blah blah blah. I bet there now follows three hundred and fifty words of unworkable left wing tedium on how we should all live in solar powered caves and how the optimum mode of transport is a family sized bright orange space hopper.

Well, maybe there could be, maybe there should be, but thankfully for your coffee break, there won’t be. What would be the point? We’re all soaking wet through and only require some soothing music, a hot towel and a damn good sit down. I’m old and my skin is cold. Besides, as Leonard Nimoy said in The Simpsons, my work here is done.

In a week where Nice airport has been closed due to it now being in the sea, where the ancient inland Roman capital of York is only accessible by boat, where respectable Sunday broadsheets commission weighty articles about the possible onset of a new Ice Age, where even Tony Blair has decided that he might, perhaps, possibly, make the environment, you know – maybe – an electoral issue, why should I further numb my freezing fingers and your saturated brain by adding some more wet nonsense to the
whole Icelandic saga?

Exactly, so I won’t bother. Although honestly I did have a closing paragraph but it got wet in the rain and I lost it. And the dog ate it, Miss. Anyway, in place of those sixty or so
words, why don’t we have some music? And into the sea, goes pretty England and me…

Where the Nailbomber went wrong

As David Copeland begins six life sentences in Broadmoor we must deem him to be a one-off, an exception and not the norm.

Through reading The Turner Diaries (which details a mythical white uprising) and The Terrorist’s Cook Book (which details exactly how to make a bomb) – which he found on the internet – Copeland decided that he wanted to cause a race war. In this he failed.

His misguided idea was that after a few attacks in Brixton, Brick Lane (and eventually Southall) an uprising from the ethnic communities would follow which would provoke a white backlash. His thinking was flawed because in order for his scheme to work, everyone else in Britain would have to have the same warped mind.

Copeland simply did not realise – and could not comprehend – that the vast majority of the population do not think that way. Apart from the fact that this is not (by and large) a racist country, the British public always supports the underdog. Therefore if some mad prankster starts to blow up certain areas just because they have a higher proportion of blacks, Asians or gays, our sympathies immediately turn to those communities.

Some commentators have posited that Copeland may represent the small tip of a larger and more worrying iceberg, and it may indeed be true that the number of people who read and believe in racist ideology is more than we would like to admit. However, the number of people whose sense of right and wrong is so warped that they feel compelled to commit violent acts based on such misguided philosophies is small.

It is because the behaviour of David Copeland and the killers of Stephen Lawrence and Michael Menson is so contrary to the norm and so against what the vast majority of ordinary right thinking people believe, that such crimes are so newsworthy.

It is to the credit of the Criminal Prosecution Service and The Mirror that Copeland’s plea of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility was rejected. While personal liberty moralists may debate the ethics of a tabloid newspaper playing agent provocateur and sending letters to Copeland, purporting to be from a female penfriend, the ruse worked. In his correspondence with “Patsy” (ie The Mirror) Copeland admitted “I can’t believe that I have fooled all the doctors.”

That Copeland failed the tried and tested “get out of jail free” card of diminished responsibility/temporary insanity so favoured by spouse slayers (male and female) will be of some comfort to his victims, although greater comfort to us, the general public, knowing that he will never see freedom again.

Perhaps we can only hope that in prison Copeland may experience “a little of what he deserves”. His attack on the Admiral Duncan pub was apparently provoked partly because of his confusion about his own sexuality. Who among us can’t help notice that as a fairly fit and not unattractive young man, Copeland might be picked on by inmates for sexual favours?

Let’s Get Grilled

Job interviews… love ‘em or hate ‘em, we all gotta have ‘em if we want a job. Gone are the days when you could blag your way into a job by inventing bizarre and obscure qualifications on your CV (“So, Mr Jenkins, you have a BA in Goat Milk Chemistry and Himalayan Ornithology from Grozny University? Excellent!”) and making up work experience (“Yah, I spent 3 months delivering tiny babies in the Gobi desert before moving on to building saunas in downtown Sarajevo for a health charity”). Nowadays, application forms and then, if you don’t make a complete balls of the form, the subsequent interview are designed to get you sweating, thinking and in some instances crying hysterically, to prove that you have got what it takes to get that job. If you receive an application form that contains questions that start off with, “Describe an event where you have… blah, blah, blah” then you’re in trouble, mate, because they are going to make you work for this, baby. Get your ass ready for one hell of a grilling.

I have had an interesting life I suppose, but it seems that no matter what deep and meaningful question I get on these forms, I have done nothing that would remotely relate to it. So what to do? Well, I remember as a child that adults used to mention something called “telling the truth” so I thought I’d try that. Naturally for the jobs I was applying for, experiences of setting up entertainment shows for children (just don’t even ask about that one, OK?) and my unlimited knowledge of how to fold BHS cardigans (another job that I ‘forget’ to put on my CV) didn’t really cut the mustard, so needless to say in most cases I did not even get an interview.

Of course, actually getting an interview can be even more traumatic, especially if you don’t really know what to expect. The question that always make me want to run for cover is: “So what are your good qualities?”. I’m like, “……”. What does this mean? Do they really want me to say all that crap like, “Well, I’m enthusiastic, hard working and organised, and it is very unlikely I will sleep with your wife”.

If you want to know what a person is good at, do you really ask the people themselves? Once in an interview, a young lady even asked what my bad points were. I mean, what could I say? “Well, I can be lazy, I’m loud when I’m drunk and I may not call you after a one night stand…. In fact I really won’t…or maybe I will, look it depends OK? Leave me alone, you stalker!!!” Sorry, sort of lost my thread there… Yes, so anyway… job interviews.

The worst kind of interview is the “informal chat”. Invariably I turn up suited and booted when the interviewer looks like a breakfast television presenter in a pastel cardigan and bri-nylon ‘slacks’. The words, “Now just relax, this is going to be a very informal chat” just make me more nervous and suddenly my suit feels ridiculously over the top and I might as well be dressed up in a kilt complete with sporran. My perfect interview would be where the interviewer just asked me my name, complimented me on my hairstyle and gave me the job. I mean, is this really too much to ask? Well, is it?

London Calling

For many, Easter is a time to gorge oneself on the biggest confectionery rip-off known to man. For myself it is a religious experience: it heralds an exodus from London of biblical proportions. This year’s departure however was especially significant. Not since the construction of the Berlin Wall have so many families and friends been separated and left in bewildered isolation. Yes, this particular weekend away saw the brutal maiming of the telephone codes.

I therefore battled my way to Paddington station through April’s monsoon season in order to catch the inter city to Cardiff, my last ditch attempt at salvaging friendships that were utterly at the mercy of Oftel. Dragging my waterlogged carcass onto the train, I managed to find a seat spared from the reservations of the pathologically organised. Armed with nothing but London’s own fascist rag, The Evening Standard, I was prepared for a thoroughly uneventful journey. Small black objects strategically placed like altars in front of most of my fellow passengers however alerted me to the fact that the next two hours were not to be peaceful. Within half an hour nearly every mobile phone aboard had screeched out like a rape alarm. The only assault taking place however was that of schizophrenia inducing ringing tones on the senses.

Never mind killer kitten-healed mules, today’s ultimate must-have is the mobile phone. But as the Pointer Sisters proved with twisted headbands back in the early 80s, it is possible to over accessorise. Everybody from council estate kids to my mother has one. The mobile phone is the clutch bag vibrator of the Naughties. With a slick and shiny exterior, its handy proportions are conducive to rapid relief. Granted it is useful for those tricky car-over-a-cliff situations, but it has rendered the Western world a tribe of insecure people-tracking junkies. Big Brother has descended on us in the form of a communications overload: with the trusty mobile you need never be alone again.

The thought of being constantly contactable is beyond comprehension. Turning off the phone provides temporary relief but still incurs the wrath of those attempting to monitor your whereabouts. The streets of London are rife with mobile phone sluts. In the cafés of Soho nobody speaks to each other any more; sitting outside Bar Latino recently I witnessed an American with a cheese-grating accent jabbering hysterically into her mobile while her friend appeared to have a Doris Stokes moment, staring blankly into space. Does it never occur to anyone that marathon mobile chit-chats whilst in the company of others is rude? Nothing can numb the mind more than those fateful words: “I’m just getting on the train”.

Kath accompanied my return journey from Wales. Having replaced one phallic object with another, it was not long before the obsessive itch to fiddle with her phone had left her fingers trembling with anticipation. Brandishing a text-messaging model she proceeded to meticulously type out the usual mobile platitudes for the benefit of her boyfriend. Within minutes he had phoned her back. Bemused, I asked if it would not have been easier just to call him in the first place: “It’s cheaper to text-message!” Pardon me. Mobile communication is an extravagance; my response to anyone that wants a cheaper option is to use a landline.

Our host for the holy weekend, Jason, is a self-confessed global village idiot. He and modern technology are as compatible as Caroline Aherne and non-alcoholic beverages. His sole purpose for computers has always been to short-circuit them with a Mellow Birds spillage. Unfortunately getting him to upgrade his coffee to the sweepings off the floor would be like me swapping my PC for a mobile. Nevertheless it is refreshing to know someone as alien to mobile phone rituals as myself. Besides they are hardly convenient for lighting up your last Marlboro Light. Eating and smoking at the same time is the only greater talent I can think of.

It’s a shame that radiation from mobiles no longer poses a health threat; maybe then I would have approved of them. However, I can hardly imagine them ever looking as classical as a Sobrani cocktail cigarette. In an attempt at being all things to all people they have turned into the latest fashion gimmick, with snobbish one-upmanship driving them into the realms of the ridiculous. What next: combined hair tongs and phones? With endless deals and variations on a theme they risk making you feel more insane than the hands free phone model could ever make you look. They are the bastard relatives of computer mice: the rats that escaped the laboratory.

You’d better work!

I do not appreciate being screamed at and for this reason I always flick the channel whenever Melanie C is foolishly asked to perform live. Despite sounding like a wire brush on a blackboard you have to admire her hunger for exposure. Not since Madonna have I seen such blatant greed for fame and fortune. Her ambition to succeed is all consuming; faced with the choice of pushing her grandmother into an industrial centrifuge or bowing out of the limelight for good, I know where my money would lie. But what is it that drives someone to succeed? Is it physical, monetary or do they just want to show off? I suppose career aspiration should be venerated, not so much for itself, but for the sheer physical exertion it commands.

Such flagrant ambition can only be compared to the pound signs glowing in the eyes of every recruitment consultant London has to offer, and there is nothing more mercenary than a recruitment adviser with a mission for commission. My initiation into the capital’s workforce came via Office Angels on Baker Street. To this day I can still remember Debbie Gold, Jewish princess extraordinaire. With a voice sweet enough to make you vomit, it is quite possible that she was the inspiration for the Philadelphia cream cheese adverts. If this were to be true however, the creator obviously didn’t stick around for long enough. Every time she slammed the phone down the sweetness and light evaporated to reveal a visage that looked more like it had just encountered an unflushed public lavatory.

The days of being asked if I’d had a great weekend followed by the inevitable “what’s your name?” are thankfully long gone. Permanent employment has now ripped a hole in my lifestyle and firmly imbedded itself. Strange that at the time it was the only thing in the world that I wanted, other than a pair of Birkenstocks (how 1998). Now every week day when I wake the first thought that goes through my head is “Oh my God, please not again.” The reality of work is enough to make you want to go to sleep and never wake up. I shouldn’t really have anything to complain about; I earn enough to go out, buy clothes, go on holiday and live in central London. But I will never be able to reconcile myself to the monotony of a day’s work. Remuneration can never compensate for the emotional cost of a career.

Of course the solution to this predicament is to get a new job. This is, in fact, what I’ve been trying to do for the last 18 months. However I always have Jason at the end of the line to dutifully remind me that sending out two curricula vitarum is hardly bombarding prospective employers. It’s got to the point where I roll my own eyes every time I proclaim to be searching for new employment. So I’ve decided to put everyone out of their misery and just stay put. At least for the time being I don’t have to worry about looking like a Spanish waiter every time I go for an interview. And besides, a recent promotion and pay rise is always a good way to keep your staff shackled to you for just that little bit longer.

After two years I can now call myself a manager. Although quite what I’m supposed to be a manager of I’m not particularly sure: the only thing I ever seem to manage is to just about cope. My job seems very much the same as it ever did except I have now acquired two new protégés to impart my knowledge of the business to. The first tester of their suitability for the positions was if they succeeded in not dying from boredom after the first month. They only just pulled through. But now they have the grey pallor that artificial lighting brings, signifying their true integration into the workforce. Enthusiastic, industrious, diligent and competent are not adjectives I would use to describe them, but how do you motivate people when banal is as interesting as it gets.

Do I care if they read the Evening Standard at their desk? No. Do I care if they get in late? No. Do I care if they spend half an hour on a personal call? I couldn’t care less. I just wish someone would do something reckless like defecating on a desk to break the monotony. Maybe I’m being unprofessional, but one thing I’ve learned is that no one ever is. Most of the people I have to deal with rarely know their tit from their teeth.

Confused secretaries, alcoholic managing directors, and posh eccentrics called Ciggie Tudor-Jones are just some of the characters that populate my working world. With enquiries ranging from “where do I find my A-drive” to “I don’t know what I’ve ordered”, it is hard to comprehend how most of these people could get past holding down a paper round.

The biggest perk of my job is that it does not require me to wear a suit. There are enough upstarts wandering the streets of the City in seriously misguided purchases from Burtons as it is. For me, not wearing the nine to five uniform is the last shred of freedom I can retain for myself. As a child in middle class suburbia I was securely shielded from the realities of working life. Even then I dreaded leaving the protective arms of education, which I managed to drag out to within an inch of my life. Sitting in a café at lunchtime is all you need hear about the horrors of office politics. As a nation we tend to regard working as a moral responsibility; anybody that opts out is lazy or a state scrounger. My advice to anybody is to dodge it if you can.