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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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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Challenge Betsy, Writing

A novel in progress – Live in Five – Part 1

Like every big day in my life, I take care with my outfit. I’m lacking in just enough confidence that if I think I’ve over- or underdressed, or simply misjudged the sartorial dress code in any way shape or form, I want the ground to open up and swallow me. According to the book I’d bought – the one that had helped me get the job in the first place – the world of television was a casual one, casual, yet peopled by designer labels slyly resting against skin. I didn’t own any designer clothes. Of any capacity. Not even a pair of fancy sunglasses from last year’s supermarket sweep of duty-free. Or a pair of Calvin Klein knickers. However, what I did have, thankfully, was the ability to dodge the corporate suit bullet, so at least I could wear my designer-free clothes with some semblance of relief. I didn’t look good in a suit. Pear-shaped woman rarely look good in suits. And pear-shaped women who can’t walk in high heels and have a phobia of bootcut trousers look even less good.

Jeans were my thing. So I pulled on a trusty pair of black skinnies. Well, they had been black when I bought them. Now they were a sort of blue-y grey colour with bobbly bits on my inner thighs where they dared to rub together, but hey ho, they were the smartest jeans I owned and they were like old friends. So on they went. I’ve never met a leopard print I could resist and a pair of calfskin leopard pumps had been my favourite purchase of the last few months, so I slipped my feet into those.

I surveyed the result so far in the cracked floor-length mirror resting gingerly against the wall. I screwed up my mouth, satisfied, if not exactly happy, with what I saw – a half naked woman whose skinny jeans mercifully had a rise high enough to contain love handles and a tummy pooch, running down to smart pumps that no one else need know had been bought from an orthopaedic shop and boasted not only gel-filled foot pads, but some sort of system for camouflaging the hideous knobby bunions I’d inherited from my mother.

I always found dressing a minefield. Once, I’d got ill at university and dropped to an unheard of weight. It wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t sustainable, and it certainly wasn’t intentional, and yet for the first time in my life, I found clothing delightful and dressing a positively enjoyable experience with all the zips doing up precisely as they should, buttons pulling seams together neatly, and no lumps, bumps or bulges to be seen. The fact that my ribcage was sticking out, I had a xylophone chest and no bust was an unfortunate aside.

Sighing, I dismissed my constantly disappointing figure and turned to the important issue of tops. After much deliberation, I chose a tight fitting vest top that had a Spanx-like effect on my torso, with a cream lace blouse layered over the top. With three layers to control it – jeans, vest top, and blouse – my muffin top had a tough job ahead of it. Finally, I grabbed a jersey blazer, and rolled the sleeves up. Body hang-ups aside, I thought I had managed to hit the right note of young creative quite nicely.

Now, for my face. Make-up makes me happy. It always has, and I’m pretty confident it always will; its beauty lying in the very fact that it always fits. Size 10 or size 20, you can wear the same foundation, so halle-fucking-lujah. It didn’t take me long to figure this, so while my make-up aged ten was very much of the lavender eye shadow and orange concealer variety, by the time I was studying for GCSEs, I had it down.

And I mean down – primer, foundation, concealer, highlighter, bronzer, blusher, eyebrow pencil, eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, lipstick, lipgloss – voila! The perfect ‘no make-up’ make-up look. It would take a skilled eye to see it had taken me fifteen minutes to craft this work of art. I almost felt sorry for the girls that were content with a sweep of clear or brown mascara, and some lip balm; and I definitely felt bad for men who didn’t have access to the good stuff. I’d got so adept at putting on ‘my face’ that I hardly ever remembered the time I was teaching myself the sexy cat’s eye flick with black eyeliner and ended up at the doctor’s surgery with a prescription for antibiotics and eye drops. Or the time when I accidentally used black mascara in an attempt to tame my eyebrows. Or when I thought Impulse body spray was a legitimate fragrance option…

With a final look in the mirror and the realisation that I’d now hit full procrastination, I grabbed my handbag and headed out of the door. I’d already researched the best bus routes for getting to work, but decided on this, my first day, I’d take the tube. I felt that it cemented my status as a true Londoner. When I reached the underground station, I fumbled in my bag for my Oyster card and proudly swiped it across the scanners, walking straight into the gates, which refused to open. I frowned and swiped my card again. Nothing. The crush of commuters was building up behind, and I smiled nervously. I swiped my card again, and this time, sweet relief flooded through me as the gates opened and the crowd swept me towards the escalator and down into the depths of the tube, and fortunately, as I scrunched my eyes up to read the digital sign, to the right platform.

The next train was due in two minutes. Perfect. And then it was approaching, and I panicked as once again, the crowd swept me forward, and this time past the yellow line that you must stay behind at all times, and towards the furiously blurred carriages of the train which suddenly slowed down, and the doors opened. Despite being at the front of the crush, I was left baffled several seconds later when the doors closed and the train pulled away, and I was left standing on the platform. How the hell had that happened? I looked to my left and right and saw that I was surrounded by a different set of strangers; clearly other people had made the jump.

When the second train arrived minutes later, I was ready. I moved forward purposefully yet still waiting patiently to one side to allow passengers to depart, but no one got off. Instead the pressure built up behind me again, and with stories flashing in my mind of unsuspecting commuters squashed like strawberry jam on the rails of the tube after slipping between the platform and the train, I stood firm, and, like a rock, allowed people to move around me to squeeze into the carriage in front of me. I shut my eyes, and heard the train move away.

Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to open my eyes. I needed to get on the tube. I needed to get to work. So when the third train arrived, despite no one descending to make room for new travellers, I pushed myself forward with the best of them, and suddenly popped, like a greasy olive, through into a gap between one man’s right shoulder, and another man’s armpit. It was a tight fit, and an unpleasant smelling one. The man whose armpit had become my temporary dwelling place, looked down with a sigh at this intrusion into his personal space, shook out his copy of The Metro in the blissfully empty space above our heads, carefully folded it over, placed it on my crown and carried on with the Sudoku.

I could feel the pressure of his ballpoint making contact with the paper, but after one aborted attempt to extricate myself which resulted in a pointedly irritated look, I resigned myself to newspaper ink in my hair and the fact that I was fairly certain he’d already put a 6 in that box.

Resigned, but not relaxed, I was constantly aware that my journey was not a simple one-liner; it required a change, and currently I couldn’t see the tube map. At each stop, more and more people had forced themselves into the train, and even if I had wanted to move, I couldn’t. The temperature was a good five degrees warmer than it had been outside and I could feel the sweat beginning to bead at my hairline.

As I felt the train slow down for the next stop, people around began to shift, and when the doors opened I felt an instantaneous release as scores of commuters departed. Sighing in relief, I glanced at the name of the stop, and shot like a bullet after them. By sheer luck, I was at my change over and I followed the mass across to another platform where another train was conveniently idling, determined not to leave until every single inch had been filled. Anxiously watching the second hand tick around my watch face and the minute hand move closer to my starting time, a fully formed drop of sweat trickled slowly from the nape of my neck before picking up speed and sliding to the waistband of my jeans.

When I finally poked my head above ground after thirty-five gruelling minutes, I clung to the nearest wall and gasped for air like a tsunami survivor. I’d never considered myself claustrophobic, but if that was tube commuting, I’d be taking the bus from now on. Despite the rising panic I’d felt earlier, thanks to my persistent habit of allocating far too much time to anything, I still actually had twenty minutes before I was due to show my face, and throwing up a prayer of gratitude to the gods of Google Maps, I followed the plotted out course from the station to the office with relatively little fuss.

The building loomed up above me, but coming from York, every building seemed to loom above you. And it was ugly – greige and square – shiny silver revolving doors did nothing to hide it. But it was my new work, and there was a beauty in that, I supposed. I pushed my way through the doors, and headed for the reception where two women sat – one with a phone wedged between her ear and shoulder, the other banging on the keyboard in front of her. I waited patiently, and smiled as widely as I could when the phone was replaced, and it was my turn.

‘Hi,’ I said. ‘My name is Stella Monroe. I’m due to start work at Wakey! Wakey! today.’

‘Are they expecting you?’

‘Erm, I hope so,’ I replied, temporarily flummoxed. I really bloody hoped they were.

‘Ok. I’ll call up for you. You’ll need a security pass. Look here.’

‘Look where?’

‘Take a seat over there, please, and someone will be down to collect you.’

‘Oh. Ok.’

‘Hang on; here’s your pass. Keep this with you at all times. If you don’t have this, you don’t work here. Ok?’

‘Ok,’ I said, taking the plastic pass from her. I cringed. ‘Is there a toilet around here?’ I asked her.

She smirked. ‘Just over there.’

With my head down, I scuttled over to the toilet, and ran to mirror. I had a thick black smear of grime across my forehead. I looked from my reflection to the pass in my hand. What a fucking bitch! The disgruntled owner of greasy skin normally mattified within an inch of its life with powder, the commute had caused huge shiny patches to appear; throw in the black mark and my cross-eyed and harried expression as I searched for a hidden camera, and the security pass I had to carry with me at all times would definitely never become my prized possession.

Patching up the damage as best as I could with my emergency kit, I reappeared into the lobby five minutes later. A tall slim man was standing with his back to me around the chairs I’d been directed to. His well-fitting slim leg indigo jeans were undoubtedly designer, while the dark grey jumper atop was probably cashmere and the smart suede brogues from an exclusive boutique. His jet-black hair was cut short at the sides, and as he turned, I saw full eyebrows framing blue eyes. His mouth broke into a smile, and I realised I was staring at a familiar face.

‘Simon!’ I said.

‘Stella. You’ve arrived. Welcome to Wakey! Wakey!.

 

 

 

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Challenge Betsy, Writing

A novel in progress – Live in Five – Stella’s Guide to Renting a Flat in London

 

  1. Visit property websites and earmark your favourites
  2. Realise you’d been looking at the rent per week, not per month
  3. Panic and realize you have to vastly downgrade your expectations
  4. Search again
  5. Realise you can’t afford to live in the area you fancied
  6. Realise you can’t afford to have a garden, or two bathrooms
  7. Realise you can’t afford to live on your own
  8. Desperately look around for someone to live with
  9. Find a friend of a friend of a friend
  10. Make awkward contact
  11. Try to establish the same budget and expectations
  12. Downgrade even further
  13. Settle on six mutually agreeable and barely affordable flats
  14. Contact estate and lettings agents
  15. Control panic when told that all the flats have been let
  16. Register with as many agents as possible, and give them your specs
  17. Make sure your phone is on loud
  18. Pounce on every call
  19. Arrange a viewing instantly for any flat that comes on to the market
  20. Arrive at agents and hide disappointment as you’re told you’ve missed the boat
  21. Repeat steps 16-20
  22. Arrive at agents, and jump in a Mini Cooper driven by a young man with slicked back hair and try to hold on to your lunch as he negotiates the area
  23. Arrive at flat. Hide disappointment as you establish it’s a squat. Not like a squat, but an actual squat. Or only has one bedroom. And an outside toilet. And it’s still above your budget
  24. Repeat step 23
  25. Arrive at flat that ticks all the boxes. Hide your excitement from the agent in case they try to up the price. Nonchalantly put in an offer
  26. Throw phone and any object within arm’s reach at the wall in frustration as agent informs you next day someone put down deposit IMMEDIATELY, so you’ve missed out again
  27. Repeat steps 20-26
  28. Ring parents in panic that you’ll never find somewhere to live. Consider sofa-surfing as a life choice
  29. Arrive at flat that ticks all the boxes. Throw money at agent. Sign every, and any, piece of paper they put in front of you. Hope you still have your soul. Realise in earlier panic you’ve gone over your budget, it’s nowhere near a tube stop, it’s unfurnished and there are neighbours above, below and on both sides, and ‘hang on, isn’t it the same flat you saw and disregarded two weeks ago?’ but you DON’T CARE
  30. Celebration drinks in local pub with flatmate who you now a) love having shared all your trials and tribulations or b) loathe because they’re a lazy bastard who let you do all the work. Spit out mouthful of wine when see price of wine
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Challenge Betsy, Writing

A novel in progress – Live in Five – Prologue

Prologue

You’re meant to start at the beginning. I do know that. But that paints a rather rosy picture and I want to draw your attention instead to the girl currently falling arse over tits down the escalator at Charing Cross tube station. I think (I hope) that you might like her more this way.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Stella Monroe.

‘Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck,’ she cried, as the sole of one rain-drenched Converse shoe slid out from underneath her, dragging its pair and partner in crime along for the ride. There was no comical slowing of time as she desperately tried to grasp on to a handhold (be it steel handrail or passerby); instead, she found herself landing, bum first, on the metal slatted edge of the bottom step within a matter of seconds. When that step treacherously flattened out in preparation to disappear under the floor and make its repetitive ascent, she was carried along in an inelegant wave to end up in a crumpled heap at the very foot of the escalator.

It wasn’t so much the loss of the helium balloons she’d had to brave the sleeting grey skies of London’s Strand for, that moments ago she’d been clutching in her sweaty palms, that finally broke Stella; rather, it was when the first set of feet simply walked their owner over the top of her pathetic looking pile, and made a quick dash for the approaching train without sparing her a glance, never mind a helping hand. She promptly burst into tears.

‘I fucking hate London,’ she wailed. When the second pair of feet did in fact, stop, crouch, and a set of strong arms pull her up, she found herself muttering, ‘It wasn’t meant to be like this,’ instead of the thanks that would usually have tripped so gaily from her lips.

She cast her eyes to the ceiling where the six revoltingly expensive silver and gold balloons bobbed with abandon, bitterly regretting declining the equally expensive balloon weights ten minutes earlier, she turned to her left, taking the escalator upwards and back out into the grim tourist-packed thoroughfare above.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that I am Stella Monroe. And I now have a bloody great bruise blooming painfully from my left arse cheek. And I’m pissed off, not only because I have to go back and get those fucking balloons again, and it’s chucking it down, but it really truly honestly wasn’t meant to be like this.

Let me explain. I’m fairly unremarkable, if I’m honest. Today I’m wearing skinny jeans, the aforementioned lethal Converse trainers (you’ll be binned later, you treacherous bastards), and an old university hoody pulled up in a cocoon around my ears, because, you know, it’s freezing. I’ve got blonde hair, blue eyes – the whole ‘my ancestors were pillaged and raped by Vikings hundreds of years ago’ package – which is neither here nor there in England. I’m pretty enough, in an average kind of way.

And now, patience rewarded, I’ll take you back to the beginning, just for some perspective. I grew up in Yorkshire. I have two parents (still together), an older brother (Charlie), a family dog (Deefa, as in ‘D for Dog’ – oh, how we laughed…) – went to private schools (first Prep and then Secondary), but only because my parents scrimped and saved. And if it appears from the surface that I made every sports team, hovered near the top of every class, and had a large group of friends around me, it’s only because the schools were so small everybody made the team. It’s not hard to be a big fish in a little pool; trust me. Then along came uni, hardly a doddle, and a slightly bigger pool, but, to a certain extent, if you go to the lectures, you do the work and you study for the exams, you’re going to do OK.

Fast forward to graduation (passing many many drunken nights and hazy mornings) and I was on the job hunt. I did what I always do in major life situations: I bought a book about how to succeed in said situation. I decided I wanted to get a job in TV. Just like that. And not just any job, presenting. So I researched production companies diligently, narrowed them down to a shortlist, applied for work experience placements, and finally won a fulltime permanent position as a Programme Assistant at one of the country’s biggest television channels. All of this in a matter of months. But there was nothing so surprising about that; after all, I’d done my research, I’d put in the hours, and now, I was receiving my just desserts.

So, you’re almost up to date and you’re probably sick of me already (I mean, who actually likes the girl who’s good at everything?), but it’s OK, not only have I just embarrassingly and painfully fallen down an escalator, I’m now screwing up my life completely. It’s my own fault really; I should never have ignored the tiny voice at the back of my mind telling me from the very first day that I walked through the doors of Wakey! Wakey! that I had made a terrible mistake.

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Challenge Betsy, Writing

Challenge Betsy – The Novel…

One of my biggest goals is to be a published author – one of the has a ‘glossy and pleasingly weighty hardback sitting on a display table in your local Waterstones’ kind of author. I’ve written a few books already – one under the guidance of No Plot No Problem / NaNoWriMo, which was a hearty tale of smuggling and lusty wenches. The emphasis of the challenge is quantity, over quality – you have to write 50,000 words in a month. Oomph. So I figure I was allowed some Mills and Boon-esque shenanigans.

Since then, I’ve written another novel – Mad Alice Lane – which I submitted to Curtis Brown and had a really favourable response (e.g. they want me to make some edits and come back to them). I’ve also got pages and pages of ideas whizzing around my head, but as every published writer will tell you, having the idea is the easy part, the hard part is writing the damn thing.

So, I’m toying with another book at the moment; working title Live in Five – a very chatty women’s lit book about a young graduate struggling to make it in the television world (anyone who knows me well will spot the autobiographical elements pretty easily!). Now, I’ve always been someone who works well with a deadline, and with some accountability, so I’ve decided to set myself another writing challenge – this time, I have until the New Year to complete my first draft of the book. This means writing, a lot of writing, every single day. Geez Louise.

This time, I’ve abandoned the traditional approach of a planned plot and character synopses, instead, I’m just going to go with it. And each day, at the end of every day, I’m going to update my progress to the blog. Bear in mind, it’s going to be incredibly rough, with no editing whatsoever, but I’d really appreciate your thoughts and comments.

So, watch this space…

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