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The towel dilemma

I’m not sure how, why and when it’s happened (cough – Pinterest – cough), but I’ve suddenly become obsessed with interior design. I wouldn’t even say ‘obsessed’ is too strong a word. Mr T is finding it all very taxing, especially as the poor man is very logical, and can’t see why I, and everyone else, wouldn’t be happy simply to have four solid walls around us. Sigh.

Looking back, I think it might have started when I first got sick earlier this month. I wasn’t sleeping very well, so, I did what Momma P does, and mentally redecorated. When I finally fell asleep, and then awoke in the mornings, I would look around at our (lovely) flat and feel a little bit dissatisfied. It’s a very dangerous falling asleep tactic. Now our flat is rented, which means we are limited by what we can do (who am I kidding with this ‘we’ business?), but there were still a few changes that I (better?) could make.

I’m on a budget. A poorly managed budget, but a budget nevertheless, so while I fantasised about John Lewis towels (no, really, I did), I actually ended up at Matalan and Wilko. Wilko, for the uninitiated, used to be Wilkinsons, and I only found it when I moved to university in Newcastle. Once you banish your inner snob, it’s fabulous. It does everything – cookware, bedding, furniture, toiletries, DIY stuff, stationery – good quality (for the most part) stuff, but at lower prices than even your local giant supermarket.

And so began the towel saga. I think Mr T still has nightmares. Let me set the scene. We have a minute ensuite that’s tiled in white, with a patterned black line running about waist height. There fixtures and fittings are chrome and white, and, for some unknown and frankly baffling reason, it’s carpeted in sort of honey cream. Wouldn’t you think either black or white towels would fit the bill here? Absolutely. And fortunately, I already had white towels. Sorry, did I say fortunately? Hmmmm.

My problem is I’m a sucker for a great marketing campaign, and The White Company’s strategy is genius – all those gorgeous blonde models prancing around in silver and white cashmere in their pristine white homes with pristine big soft fluffy white towels. Oh how they tricked me! For white towels do not stay white long. Especially if you wrap your hair in one after showering, and then proceed to use it as a handy place to wipe off excess makeup…

Wouldn't this lure you in?

Wouldn’t this lure you in?

So, white towels are OUT! I had some soft brown ones, but pah! Those towels no longer fitted into my sleep-deprived interior design scheme. And as for Mr T’s towels; suffice to say thin smelly blue ones had no place at all.

As you already know, research is a thing of beauty in my mind, so I grabbed my laptop and began searching for black (and possible graphite) towels. I narrowed my search to Matalan and Wilko, and here we are, only 200 words or so, back to the story in question.

Dragging a reluctant Mr T behind me, we went into Matalan, bought a set of black and grey towels – two bath sheets and two hand towels each – and left. Mr T couldn’t believe his luck, until I promptly went into Argos to look for a new set of curtains…

We got the towels home, but something wasn’t right. They weren’t fitting into my dream scheme. Were they soft and thick enough? Was the black the right black? And didn’t the grey look a bit greenish? And weren’t the grey ones softer than the black? I decided to nip back to the store on my next day off, and see if there were better towels to be had. And there were! Softer ones! Thicker ones! But at the same price. So I exchanged the old black for the new black, and left a happier person. Until I went next door into Wilko.

Their towels were the same price and they were much softer and thicker. And the black was a truer black. And they had matching face cloths. Gah! What to do? What did I do? – I bought two black and two grey sets, of course! Lugged them home, plonked them on the bed, and then, in the dim light of a winter afternoon, demanded Mr T pick the best. Fool that he was, he picked the grey Matalan ones and the black Wilko ones. Well that couldn’t possibly work as the woven stripes wouldn’t match. I was stymied. There was still something intrinsically wrong about both sets of towels. How could it be this hard? Was I going to have to resort to John Lewis after all, and live off baked beans and stale bread for the rest of the year?

Saviour came in the form of Wilko’s ‘best’ range. Slightly pricier, you could get your hands on soft thick fluffy towels in true black and grey, and they also had matching face cloths. Ever so slightly sheepishly, I returned the whole lot to Matalan, and, blaming Mr T (sorry, love), exchanged the normal Wilko towels for the ‘best’ ones. And what a wonderful decision it was.

I got home, and I just knew I’d made the right choice. I couldn’t wait to hop into a steaming hot bubble bath to hop right on out into the luxury soft arms of my new black towels.

‘Erm,’ said Mr T, in a cautious tone.

‘Yes, darling?’ I replied, as I snuggled up to him post-bath.

‘You look a bit fluffy.’

‘What?’

‘Your face and arms are covered in black fluff.’

I looked down at the unmistakable signs of towel ‘moultage’, which I’d been steadfastly ignoring, and said, ‘They’re worth it.’

He wisely said nothing. Good man.

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Beauty

The perfume hunt. The update…

Gosh, it’s proving scarily difficult to rediscover my writing mojo after so long away. Rather than tackle anything complex or attempt some creative writing, I bring you this – an update to my perfume hunt.

It was all getting terribly frustrating, trying to track down that one scent that would express all the nuances of my personality (!), and then I realised two things:

1) Stop being a pompous arrogant idiot. If one scent doesn’t jump out at you or its base, heart and top notes don’t immediately tell everyone around you exactly who you are as person, then that’s absolutely fine. So I decided to simply search for any and all perfumes that appealed to me, and just see how that went.

2) Of course, I couldn’t quite be that simple. So I went scientific. Very very scientific. I discovered several websites – Fragrantica and Base Notes – that break down the components of thousands of fragrances. I racked my brain for all the scents I’ve enjoyed in the past, noted down not only their base, heart and top notes, but also what category they fitted in, and lo and behold, suddenly I had a starting point…

What was that starting point, you ask? Well, apparently I’m rather fond of the old Floral Woody Musks (I know! Who knew?), and once I’d established this, I could search the databases for other fragrances that fall into this category.

This left me with a satisfyingly (yet simultaneously scary!) long list of perfumes to consider. I am a diligent student, always searching for the gold star, so off I popped to various retailers with my list in hand, aka stored on my iPhone. First up, Chanel’s ‘Coco Noir’ again, and I have to admit, it’s growing on me, and I adore the bottle, and well, it’s Chanel!

CHANEL-COCO_NOIR

Then there’s Estee Lauder’s most recent launch – ‘Modern Muse’. I’d toyed with this earlier and quite liked it, I quite liked it when I sprayed it again this time, but later, armed with a teeny tiny sample, I decided it was a bit too chemical-y.

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Next is Acqua di Parma’s ‘Rosa Nobile’. Now, I almost forgot to mention that another way I found floral woody musks was through Space NK. I love that place, and could, quite literally (if I had the funds) spend thousands and thousands of pounds. Anyway, when I was buying some essential new beauty items (Shu Uemura eyelash curlers, since you ask), the girl serving me (who was an example of EXCELLENT customer service) popped a roll on sample of this scent in my bag. I almost told her not to bother as I’ve never seen myself as a particularly rosy person (in outlook or scent), but hey ho, a free sample is a free sample. I opened the mustard yellow box, unscrewed the gold cap, and had a sniff of the rollerball, and my my, wasn’t I pleasantly surprised? When I searched it in the perfume databases, I gave a sort of knowing nod to myself when it revealed itself to be a floral woody musk. ‘Betsy,’ I said. ‘Betsy, you might be on to something here.’ So anyway, back to the latest perfume hunt, and a good old spritz of ‘Rosa Nobile’ still had me smiling with pleasure. Huzzah!

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John Lewis is a middle-class mecca, yes? And they’re about as desperate to please as I am, which makes them about as cool as I am, i.e. not very, but, it does make them useful. On my last visit, I was accosted (the only word to use) as I pottered about the fragrance section by an extremely earnest young woman keen to show me the niche perfume ranges that the company had invested in. Apart from when I’m in a toweringly black mood, I’m too polite to refuse, so I obediently trotted after her, and I’m glad I did, as I discovered Evody – a small French mother-and-daughter perfume house – and their fragrance ‘Musc Intense’, which, surprise surprise, also turned out to be a floral woody musk (FWM from here on out!). I wasn’t sold, but I really liked it.

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The other FWM that intrigued me was Narciso Rodriguez’s ‘Narciso’. My research showed that people raved about his ‘For Her’ scents, but something about them turned me off. ‘Narciso’ is his latest release in a beautifully chic white bottle, and I’d be lying if I said the perfume bottle itself didn’t have an effect on my attitude to it. I grabbed a spritz (poor Mr T was getting soon bored by this point. Bless) and I bloody loved it! Thank god!

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So, after my extensive search, I think that I’m popping ‘Rose Nobile’ on my list as well as ‘Narciso’, and as soon as I get down to Boots (where I have a £5 off voucher, got to watch those pennies…), I’ll be making a purchase of the latter.

There you have it, I’ve finally found a perfume I’m happy to buy and wear, for now… However, I still have a very very very long list of other FWMs to try (I’m particularly keen to get my hands on Tom Ford’s ‘Violet Blonde’) but I’ll do my level best not to bore you with a terribly long update like this again. For those who are interested, I’ve pasted the list below – go forth and smell!

Floral Woody Musks to try:

Aerin Lauder – Iris Meadow

Agent Provocateur – Agent Provocateur, Au Emotionelle, DD Edition, Strip

Bex London – W11, W1X

Bobbi Brown – Baby

Burberry – Burberry Brit Rhythm, The Beat

Bulgari – Jasmin Noir, Omnia Crystalline

Byredo – Rose Noir

Cacharel – Noa

Calvin Klein – Downtown, Reveal

Carven – Le Parfum

Cerruti – Bella Notte

Chanel – No.19, Jersey, 1932

Chloe – Love Chloe Eau Florale

Christian Dior – Dior Grand Bal, La Collection Couturier Parfumeur Milly La Foret

Diptyque – Eau Moheli, Eau Mage, Tam Dao, Vetyverio

D&G – Anthology La Temperance 14

Elizabeth and James – Nirvana White

Estee Lauder – Modern Muse Chic, Very Estee

Floris – Sirena

Frederic Malle – Eau d’Hiver

Ghost – Captivating, Serenity

Givenchy – Neroli Original, Naturally Chic, Ange ou Demon

Gucci – Premiere, Forever Now, Flora Generous Violet

Guerlain – Eau de Cashmere, Eau de Lingerie, Elixir Charnel Floral Romantique, Le Bolshoi Black Swan,

Issey Miyake – Pleats Please, Summer Glimmer, Light

Jasper Conran – Nightshade Woman

Jil Sander – Sunrise

Jo Loves – A Shot of Muguet & Cedar

Jo Malone Intense – Iris and White Musk

Kenzo – Madly Kenzo!

Kiehls – Patcholi and Fresh Rose Blend

Korres – Tonka Purple

La Perla – Charme

Lacoste – Femme de Lacoste

Lancome – Tresor Midnight Rose

Lanvin – Jeanne Lanvin Couture

Le Labo – Aldehyde 44 Dallas, Belle du Soir, Jasmin 17, Rose 31

Loewe – Aire Allegro, Aire Evasion, Aura Loewe Magnetique, El 8 de Grand Via, I Loewe You,

Marc Jacobs – Daisy (Silver, Pop Art and Black), Splash Cotton, Splash Grass,

Michael Kors – Gold, Michael, Michael Kors and Suede

Narciso Rodriguez – Essence Musc, For Her L’Absolu, Narciso Musc, Narciso Rodriguez for Her (Black)

Nina Ricci – L’Eau du Temps, Mademoiselle Ricci

Oscar de la Renta – Coralina, Oscar Gold, Rosamor,

Paul Smith – Extreme Woman, Summer Rose, Sunshine

Philosophy – Sunshine Grace

Prada – Infusion d’Iris

Richard E Grant – Jack

Tom Daxon – Crushing Bloom, Iridium

Tom Ford – Violet Blonde, Musk Collection

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Uncategorized

Hi there!

Yes. I’m still here. A few unforeseen circumstances have popped up over the last few weeks, not least being hospitalised! However, I’m now back in the real world and hopefully my normal life won’t be far behind so, fingers crossed, there’ll be some decent, semi-interesting, posts coming up soon. Until then, byeeeeeee!

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Alfie Boe - Decca Press Photo Session
Culture, Food, Interview

Alfie Boe in the buff

Who is Alfie Boe? When I was offered an interview with him, I knew his name. I thought I knew he was a singer (I was right), but turns out he’s also an actor, an Italo-phile (that’s an Italy lover, duh!), and a bit of a flirt. Here’s what went down when I chatted to him last week.

Let’s start with the easy questions to warm you up, so do you have a favourite book?

I have to admit I don’t read very much; whenever I do try and read I feel guilty, that I should be looking at music. But I should try and get into it a bit more.

Does that apply to films as well?

I do like watching my movies, and I have a number of favourites. I like the old-fashioned 1940s films, things with Cary Grant, Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart, so Casablanca, Out of Africa and The African Queen. They’re the best, they really capture a romantic time period that I really love.

A favourite album?

These are tough! [Groans] I love all types of music so I have favourite albums across the board. I love Led Zeppelin’s ‘Houses of the Holy’, The Rolling Stones ‘Exile on Main St’. Dean Martin, Enrico Caruso, but I can’t pinpoint one in particular.

Do you still feel Northern?

I’ll always be Northern. I’m about as Northern as you can be, I think. I’ll never lose my roots. I’ve spent time in America but people say I’ve not lost my English accent and I can’t. I can’t ever lose my identity as being a Northern English bloke.

So it’s not grim up north?

Absolutely not. Morrissey was wrong with that.

I’ve read that a businessman overheard you singing when you were working as a mechanic, and he told you to audition.

Yes, but he wasn’t the only person who was encouraging me. I had a lot of support, but this particular guy told me about the auditions.

So what song did you sing?

I sang a song called ‘You Are My Heart’s Delight’ and it’s an old song written by Franz Lehar – an old classical composer – and it’s one that my father used to play around the house all the time. So I’d hear this song constantly and because it was an opera company I had to try to sing something like that. Because my father used to play it all the time, I couldn’t help but learn it, and know the words. I did it in English, it’s actually originally in German, but I did it in English, and got on. They asked me back for a second audition and I sang some West Side Story for them then and then they offered me the job.

I know what you mean, I remember listening to my mum’s Tina Turner album in the car for ages.

Your parents teach you things.

But not always good! I remember getting into trouble, aged six, for coming into school and singing the words to Tina’s ‘Private Dancer’. That was a tough one for my mum to explain!

Oh my word! Not so good! [Laughing] That’s absolutely great.

Do you still get stage fright?

I do. Not fright, but nerves before I do a show. It’s part of the job, and being a performer. All that nerves are are wanting to do well. It can sometimes be horrible to experience, but then also they can be exciting. Once you turn the nerves into excitement and develop them into your performance, that’s ok.

How do you feel about being known as ‘the Lancashire Michael Bublé’?

[Chuckles] Is that what they’re calling me now?

Apparently so.

Really. Well that’s a nice compliment. I’m fine with that. I didn’t expect that.

Is that what you’ll call yourself now?

Completely. I’m going to drop the name ‘Alfie Boe’. Bit of a mouthful for an album cover though.

You were in ITV’s Mr Selfridge recently; what brought about the move from musical theatre to TV?

Well, I’ll always been acting really in the shows, and it’s always been a part of my career, and when I got this opportunity, I jumped at it. It was a great chance, and something that was going to open another door for me. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’d like to do more. Music is taking up a lot of my time at the moment, but if the opportunity arose to do some more acting on TV, I’d love it. Great fun.

You’re known for your performance of Jean Valjean in Les Mis; what did you think of Hugh Jackman’s version in the recent film?

Well, we’re very different obviously – different people and different performers – he did a good, he did a great job. With that role, it is a strong acting role, if you have the acting and the vocal ability too, then that’s great. Hugh sang it in a very different way than I did; I’m operatically trained and he’s musical theatre trained and he used the voice that he has. It is a very different performance and character that we both play but that’s the beauty of Les Miserables, many people have done the roles and brought something new to it that keeps it alive.

And now you can move on to Lancashire’s Michael Bublé?

Exactly. There you go. I’ll get my dance steps moving.

And get the hip shake?

Get the hips going; that’d be good [laughs].

What question do you wish people would stop asking you?

Oh, my word. ‘When did you decide to become a singer?’ or ‘When did you discover you had a voice?’ That’s the one I get asked a lot.

So what do you wish people would ask you?

Erm, I don’t know. ‘What am I going to have for my dinner tonight?’ Anything but that. I like exciting questions, things that make you think a bit, rather than just coming out with the same old explanation about why I became a singer. You know, ‘What would you advise?’ Well, it’s to work hard, and go for your dreams, and that sort of thing, there’s nothing exciting you can say.

What would surprise your fans to learn about you?

Probably that while I’m stood here talking to you on the phone I’m naked.

[Guffaws]

[Chuckles nervously] I’m not really. I have just got out of the shower, but I’m not naked.

Wow. And we’ve just been talking about that hip action… Alfie Boe naked. Done. I can knock that one off the list. So… on to do you feel kinship to Italy? Obviously you have your name, the tenors, your new album features Italian songs, and you’ve been cooking over there; is it a country that you really enjoy?

I love Italy, I really do. It’s a great part of the world: the food, the culture, the weather, the atmosphere. The music is something I’ve grown up listening to for a long time, since being a kid, so yeah, I do have quite a strong connection to Italy. I go over as much as I can, and I love the food. There’s so much of Italy I’ve got to discover. Some beautiful areas, I’ve been to quite a lot of different parts but there’s so much more I want to try and find.

I think you get the sense with Italy that it wasn’t really that long ago that is wasn’t a country, that it was almost counties.

Exactly. I suppose it is a little like counties in a way; in England, with the counties, there are different accents for parts of the country.

And you get the sense of pride.

You do, and that’s the same in Italy. You get your Romans, Tuscans, Venetians, Sicilians, and they’re very very different, and make a point of pointing that out.

Well, I’m going to have to stop monopolising you now, but thank you for talking to me.

My pleasure, come and see the show if you get the chance!

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Challenge Betsy, Writing

A novel in progress – Live in Five – Stella’s (Revised!) Guide To The Tube

  1. Most important thing to note, if at all possible, do not use tube at rush hour. Use bus. Or feet. Or bike (or maybe not bike if value life and hairstyle). Or skateboard. Or boat. Or anything other than Tube. Trust me. (Note: when desired location isn’t accessible via Tube, spit dummy out. Brand said location ‘uncivilised’.)
  2. After resigning self to unavoidable torture of getting Tube in rush hour, refer to smartphone underground map app so can look like know all tube lines by heart and stride past loiterers thus avoiding looking like tourist.
  3. Vital to memorise route so don’t have to constantly check app, thus avoiding looking like tourist (again) and cursing when can’t access when actually on Tube. Dammit.
  4. Arrive. Have Oyster Card* on hand so don’t have to queue like tourist. Avoid rookie error of insufficient credit, yet still do silent and motionless happy dance that have enough credit so can be on way with nary a delay. Demonstrate Oyster Card swipe (can be practiced at home) – smooth single movement of card’s retrieval from bag/pocket to presentation at barrier and successful passageway through without noticeable decrease in pace. Sigh and tut at stupid tourists fumbling with travel cards.
  5. Hit escalators; right hand side for tourists and people with nothing exciting or important going on in lives. Left hand side for life’s winners. Go left, walk briskly.
  6. Reach platform and head for emptiest, least-tourist-y spot. Check digital arrivals board. Check watch. Sigh loudly when realise have to wait two whole minutes.
  7. Train arrives; do not stand behind yellow line. Real tube experts able to suss exactly where doors will come to standstill. Imaginary fist pump when correctly judged. Don’t wait for ‘passengers to alight’, get hell onboard as fast as possible in pursuit of seat.
  8. Ignore woman laden with shopping bags as rejoice in grabbing only available seat (however, proudly and ostentatiously vacate seat for elderly and pregnant women). Whip out kindle, iPad or copy of Evening Standard to further avoid eye contact. Put in headphones for greater effect.
  9. Arrive at destination; fume silently when people getting on don’t wait for self to get off. Rude.
  10. Reach escalators. Decide too tired to climb energetically. Shake head sadly at commuters rushing past. Think life too short. Congratulate self on calmer, more chilled attitude.

*Oyster card – secret society membership club card

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Cover-Live in Five-Black-Crop-Small
Challenge Betsy, Writing

A novel in progress – Live in Five – Part 2

It would take a bigger cynic than I not to be excited about working in television, so I put my disastrous security pass to the back of my mind, and followed Simon into the lifts.

‘It’s so lovely to see you again,’ he chirped. He checked his watch. ‘We’ve got another hour before the show finishes, so shall we go to the studio first?’

‘Yes, please,’ I said, remembering the exciting dark of behind the scenes from my work placement a few months before. ‘Who’s on the sofa today?’

‘The usuals – Dermot and Francesca – although she’s pitching a fit because someone from the Beeb wore the dress she’d planned. Between you and me though, it’s because it didn’t zip up when she went to Wardrobe this morning!’

‘Really?’ I asked, laughing.

‘Really,’ he said, dryly. ‘She’ll be on a juice fast for the rest of the week so I’d steer clear of the studio toilets.’ I wrinkled my nose. ‘Oh, what glamorous lives we lead!’ he said, then the lift doors slid open and we walked out into what appeared to be a vast warehouse. ‘We’ve moved studios since you were here last. Changes a-foot apparently. Anyway, this one’s bigger and better, so no one’s complaining. Apart from the presenters, whose dressing rooms are on another floor, and the wardrobe ladies, who are also dashing between floors, and the runners, and the Green Room people, and you get the idea.’

He turned the corner, and we left the grey space behind, immediately walking into a brightly light corridor. I could already hear the buzz of people, and another turn brought us into a buzzing café.

‘Gallery or studio?’ Simon said. ‘Or Green Room to meet the ladies; you’ll love Amanda, or the runners’ office?’

‘Erm, studio?’

‘Good shout. You can meet everyone later, when they’re not rushing around. By the way, I’ll be training you.’

‘You will? That’s great. I thought you’d been promoted.’

‘Oh, I have. But Jason – can you believe anyone is actually really seriously called that? Poor boy – so Jason, he’s, shall we say, temperamental, so I thought I’d volunteer for the job.’

‘Who’s Jason?’

‘He’s your fellow runner, darling. He was on his jollies when you popped in to see us. Don’t worry, he’s fine really. Right, quiet now.’

Without a second to process this (whatever Simon said) frankly worrying development, he’d pushed open a door and I followed him into the gloom.

Feeling rather than seeing him thrust something into my hands, I grabbed and taking his lead, slipped the headphones over my ears, and the Walkman-like bit into the pocket of my jeans. He thanked the guy who’d produced them for us, and then spread the heavy black curtains in front of us and we reappeared into semi-brightness.

A scene familiar to every viewer at home lay before me. A comfy-looking plump purple sofa was at the centre, with a glass-topped curving table in front; behind was a giant backdrop of the London skyline, and the whole area was lit by several massive and incredibly bright spotlights overhead.

Perched on top of the sofa, in a beautiful fitted cream dress with perfectly blow-dried bouncy chestnut hair, a face of make-up so expertly applied she appeared radiant rather than caked, and which highlighted her big hazel eyes, creamy skin, and satiny pink lips, sat Francesca Lowry.

She looked every bit as gorgeous in real life as she did on screen, and every bit as glamorous too. Right then and there, I vowed I’d be sitting on that sofa one day. Especially if my co-host was as lush as hers.

Rather brilliantly, Wakey! Wakey! hadn’t fallen into the Freudian trap of pairing a ripe twenty-something with a dashing late forty-something. With more luck than perhaps skill, they’d hit on the dream combination of Francesca’s stunning (yet also relatable) early thirty-something looks and a handsome late thirty-something silver fox partner– Mr Dermot Graveson.

Taking the Cary Grant-approved approach to make-up, he sported a year-round tan, which un-coinincidentally brought out the intense royal blue of his eyes. Clean-shaven, and dressed in a crisp pale blue shirt with a French navy bespoke tailored suit over the top, he was every (carefully researched) housewife’s fantasy.

Oblivious to our entrance, both presenters chatted easily to each other and the cameras, sharing a laugh and a joke, and drawing their viewers in with thousand pound smiles. I was hooked, but their little microcosmic living room was just that, and a few feet further from the fancy designer coffee table, blackness reigned. Not in a melodramatic metaphorical depressing kind of way, but in a very literal one.

It was as if someone had painted a black line down the middle of the room; in fact, looking more closely, that was precisely what someone had done. And everything beyond that line strictly adhered to the dress code – the thick theatrical floor to ceiling curtains, the walls, the cameras, the cables, the microphones – even the people, excepting Simon and I. My cream blazer suddenly felt very bold, and I almost felt drawn to the sofa and the light, stopped only by the knowledge that would have seen my television career start and end in the very same day.

Urges to rush the set controlled, I focused on the on-screen talent. With Simon at my side, leaning across occasionally to add helpful facts, I could have stayed there all day, but after ten minutes or so, he nudged me, and pointed to the doors. Reluctantly I went to hand back the headphones but Simon gestured to me to keep them on.

‘When you’re on the studio floor, and if there’s enough, you keep the headphones on. It connects you to the Gallery, haven’t you noticed?’

‘Of course,’ I said, reluctant to admit I’d heard nothing with my concentration firmly on the famous sofa.

‘We’ll go there now.’

If the studio set is the Lady of the Manor, the Gallery is very much the downstairs staff. The talent in the latter is just as impressive, but this time, both literally and metaphorically, it’s kept in the dark. With the lights lowered to barely a dull glow, all eyes were fixed on the wall of television monitors and screens at the front of the room. Actively detached from the studio, the digital feed was vital, and the screens showed not only the studio I’d just left, but also all the other terrestrial channels also broadcasting, with the main rival in a slightly bigger screen. Directly in front of the screens was a bank of desks with feverish-looking people staring intently ahead.

‘That’s today’s director, Eamon. He’s only twenty-five; he’s sort of a wunderkind.’

I looked at the man he’d pointed out, who was confidently pressing and pushing buttons and knobs on the insanely complicated desk. As I watched, he consulted a woman sitting to his left, and seconds later Wakey! Wakey!’s logo appeared on screen before switching seamlessly from the sofa to a weathergirl.

‘All the show’s producers sit here too, unless they’re wandering around panicking that is! And the sound and lighting guys are just there. And the autocue is controlled there. And th-’

Simon was cut off by a frantic man, who dashed past him, knocking into his side, and placed a sheaf of paper in front of Eamon. He then ran back past Simon, without apologising and disappeared from sight.

‘And that,’ continued Simon, as if he hadn’t been interrupted, ‘is Jason.’

***

‘So, what did you think?’

We’d left the studio floor and returned to the main offices several floors above. By now, full daylight streamed through the windows and at nine o’clock on a Monday morning, the office was beginning to fill up as the day shifters came to take over from their night counterparts.

‘It was so exciting,’ I said.

‘Isn’t it? I’ve been here for three years and I still love it. And now, I suppose, we should get down to brass tacks.’

‘Yup.’

‘So, first off, the tour.’

Simon whizzed me from desk to desk, throwing names out like bullets as I smiled and shook hands with person after person. And then we moved on to another floor, and another set of people and names. And another floor. It was beginning to dawn on me that I would be expected to know all these people and their names, and where they sat, and what they did.

‘Is there an office seating plan?’ I asked as Simon explained about delivering internal and external mail.

‘Not really, I’m afraid. We tend to move around quite a bit, but you’ll soon pick it up. After the post, we check all the kitchens to see if they’re stocked, and tidy up from the night shifts. Then we’ll man the runners’ desk and deal with everything and anything really – stationery requests, organising transport and hotels for guests and staff. Then if you’re on the night shift, you’ll be booking cars for the morning, collecting the newspapers, restocking the Green Rooms and kitchens, arranging for food deliveries.’ As Simon carried on, I could feel the panic rising in my chest, as well as a sinking feeling, the resulting emotion being mainly sickness.

How on earth was I going to remember all the things I was meant to do? That was why I was panicking. But as for the sinking feeling? Suddenly my new job didn’t look half as glamorous as it had thirty minutes before. My official title was Programme Assistant, but it was becoming rapidly clear that Dogsbody would have been more appropriate. I consoled myself with the fact that since I was on the graduate programme, I only had nine months, tops, to endure. And apart from those lucky gits whose dads own a production company or whose mums are the Editor in Chief of a glossy magazine, everyone has to start at the bottom.

‘Stella,’ said Simon. ‘I can see panic in your eyes. Don’t. Trust me. We might not have an office plan, but there’s a handbook with everything written down in it. You can pretty much follow it point by point, it’s even time scheduled.’

‘Thank god!’

‘And you’ll have me by your side for two weeks. Now, let’s go and get a coffee.’

 ***

As it turns out, one of the perks of working in a huge national company is a Starbucks in the basement. A free Starbucks. One of the disadvantages of working in aforementioned company with free Starbucks is the huge queue. Almost forty-five minutes later we were back at the runners desk. This time, instead of an empty chair, there was Jason.

‘Jason, Stella. Stella, Jason.’

‘Hi,’ I said, and extended my hand.

‘Hi. So you’re the newbie.’

‘Yup.’ I smiled as warmly as I could.

‘Simon?’ Someone called from behind us.

‘Just a second,’ he said to me. ‘I’ll just deal with this, and I’ll be back in a tick.’

I stood by the computer, and as the silence grew between Jason and I, I grabbed the nearest chair and pulling it close to the desk, sat down.

‘It’s so exciting, isn’t it?’ I said.

‘What is?’ he replied.

‘Working here. Seeing it all in action.’

‘Is it?’

‘So how long have you been here?’

‘Six months.’

‘And you’re a Programme Assistant too?’

‘Clearly.’

I almost gave up but I had to work with this man so I persisted. ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’

‘I doubt it.’

‘Ok then,’ I said, and matched his silence. When Simon came back, that’s how he found us.

‘Making friends already, Jason?’ He turned to me. ‘Right, we’ve got to do the fashion returns. Shall we?’

‘Yes, please.’ I jumped up. ‘He’s, erm, temperamental.’

‘Told you. Anyway, ignore him. He’s just mad because you got on the grad scheme and he didn’t.’

‘What?’

‘They only take on a few grads each year. All the other runners are just that. I mean, they can get promoted, but the grads usually go first.’

‘That explains a lot.’

‘He’ll get over it.’

I secretly doubted Simon’s optimism, but just listened as he explained our next task – bagging up, labeling, and organising the return of all the clothes, shoes, bags and accessories the fashion team had had PR teams send over in the week for various shoots.

We loaded bin bag after bin bag into a van, and while I waited for Simon to come back with another trolley load, I entertained myself by looking over the labels. Zara, Topshop, Reiss, Warehouse, all my favourite shops were there, and I wondered if you ever got to keep anything. A loud honk from a car horn frightened the hell out of me and reverberated around the underground car park. I poked my head out of the van.

An enormous shiny black Range Rover with blacked out windows was idling. I looked around, but I couldn’t see what the car was honking at. I went back to rifling through the bags but the horn went again, and this time it didn’t stop. I got out of the van properly but still utterly clueless. After drawing the honk to a close and adding one short sharp blast for good measure, the driver’s window was rolled down.

‘Move out of the fucking way,’ drawled the speaker. I gawped at him, instantly recognising Kevin Stevens for the primetime chat show host that he was. ‘Are you deaf?’

‘I’m sorry, what?’

‘I said, ‘move out of the fucking way’. You’re in my parking space.’ I couldn’t stop myself looking around at the almost empty car park. He caught my action. ‘That,’ he said, pointing where the van was parked, ‘is my parking space. Are you a fucking cretin?’

‘I’m sorry,’ I said, repeating myself like an idiot. ‘I- I-’ My words trailed off and my hands were shaking.

‘Oh, for fuck’s sake,’ he said, rolling the window up, and violently threw the car forward and abandoned it across two vacant spaces nearby, before climbing out, slamming the door and stalking across the car park to the access door without a backwards glance.

***

 

When the clock finally hit eight o’clock and I’d been at Wakey! Wakey! for more than twelve hours, Simon bid me a cheery goodbye. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so tired. My whole body ached. The shoes I’d thought were so comfortable had rubbed blisters all over my feet. The waistband of my skinny jeans seemed to have got tighter as the day progressed. My spine felt out of alignment. And as I reached the tube, I realised I was absolutely starving, which was unsurprising since I hadn’t eaten anything.

Spending far more than my daily allocated budget in Marks & Spencer, I devoured a packet of sandwiches, some gourmet crisps, and I blamed the brownie entirely for the lack in concentration that saw me jump on a train going in the wrong direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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