Saturday, November 28, 2009

The sales assistant story

With time to kill on Wednesday evening between leaving work and attending my very first Bad Film Club event at the Barbican, I found myself headed in the general direction of Westfield. Actually, with quite a bit of time to kill between leaving work and heading up to the Barbican I actually found myself heading to Westfield, then to KFC in Shepherds Bush, then back to Westfield before finally deciding it was about time to jump on the tube and head up town - and even then I was half an hour early and milled about for so long outside the Barbican that two security guys came out and started glaring at me.

But that's not the point of this story.

The point of this story is that I went to Westfield with a bit of an agenda. I'd seen a top online, you see, and I thought I'd go into the shop whose website I'd seen it on, try it on, and if I liked it, buy it. A pretty simple plan, I think you'll agree - and then I'll remind you that this is me we're talking about, and nothing *ever* goes according to plan.

Within about a minute of walking into the store I'd found the top I liked, picked out a small, and was heading for the changing rooms. Once in the changing room it was a simple matter of jacket off, headphones out of ears, untangling myself from said headphones, top off, t-shirt off, new top on, and admiring myself in the mirror. Once I'd admired myself for so long, I decided to pay some attention to how the new top fit, and I'm chuffed to say it fit stunningly; I immediately decided that I was going to buy it - good times.

Unfortunately, as I was hanging it back on the hanger I noticed that there was a hole in the arm. Not a hole on a seam, but a hole slap bang in the middle of the fabric. I may have harumphed audibly, but then I figured I'd just go and get another one of the same size and buy that instead. So off I toddled back to where I'd first picked it up. There were another six or so identical tops, so I started looking along the rack: medium, large, large, medium, extra large, and … extra large.


I wasn't having this, though, and decided to track down an assistant who might be able to tell me if they had any others in, say, the stockroom or something. I found one who bore a remarkable resemblance to the unfortunate girl from All Saints who looks like a cocker spaniel (y'know, the one you were torn between wanting to make out with or stroke and call a "good girl" back in the late 90s).

"Do you have this in a small? I want to buy it but it's got a hole in the arm - look." I showed her the hole for effect. "I just looked on the rack and there aren't any more in this size."

"Ooo … I don't know. Let me check!" she replied. And then she walked over to where I'd picked it up from and looked through the rack that I'd looked through just seconds earlier. "No, sorry, it doesn't look like we do."

I may have rolled my eyes right in front of her.

"Would you have it in the stockroom, perhaps?"

This, I thought, was a reasonably straightforward request, but apparently I was mistaken. Instead, a remarkably complex chain of events were set in motion, because cocker spaniel girl could not just go to the stockroom on her own. She had to ask the manageress, an angry looking woman who wielded a walkie talkie like it was a loaded revolver. I don't know whether the stockroom is some sort of mythical place where only the most senior members of staff can tread, but once cocker spaniel girl had asked the angry manageress, who glared at me like she might leap the counter and throttle me at any moment, the angry manageress strutted off through a door that led, I assume, to where they keep their stock. Or, perhaps, the mythical land of Narnia.

Anyway, I was left standing there holding the holey top while the cocker spaniel went back to her previous duties of folding t-shirts badly.

After a couple of minutes I realised I'd been standing there for, well, a couple of minutes. And then I noticed that the angry manageress was behind the till again, and the cocker spaniel had moved to the changing rooms where she was collecting more clothes to fold badly and return to the shop floor. After a few more seconds I walked over to her and waved the holey top in her direction.

"Um, any luck?"

"Oh," she said, taking a few seconds to register who I was despite the fact that only a couple of minutes had elapsed since I'd first spoken to her. "Let me check."

She took the holey top off me and walked up to the angry manageress. They spoke briefly, the holey top was shown, and the angry manageress said something. Then the cocker spaniel came back over to me.

"No we don't, I'm afraid."

I was *this* close to grabbing her by the shoulders and shouting "DID NEITHER OF YOU HAVE THE SENSE TO COME OVER AND TELL ME?!" Instead I just said "Ah."

She then admired the top and said "so you don't want it then?"

I thought this was where she might say they'd knock a couple of quid off it because of the hole, but even then I wouldn't have bought it because I'm a sophisticated and well-dressed gent who does not wander around wearing clothes with more than the prerequisite number of holes in them.

"Um, no, not really."

"OK!" She smiled at me like that Muppet that was all lips and hair, popped the holey top BACK ON THE RACK and then skipped off to do god knows what somewhere else; I'm guessing it wouldn't be serving a customer in a diligent fashion. I stood there for a couple of seconds slightly shell-shocked and thinking that perhaps I should go after her and suggest that maybe they, like, take the damaged goods OFF THE SHOP FLOOR, but then I decided that the whole debacle had wasted a good five minutes of my life as it was, so I headed out of the shop and round to Starbucks.

Where I used my iPhone to buy the top from Amazon.

And people wonder why the high-street shops are having a hard time these days?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Soft furnishings, good times

A couple of weeks back Big Bro stunned me with some exciting news via text:

I've bought a flat!

I'm really pleased for him, but essentially he's already lost. Y'see, I'm damn sure when we were kids that we made a bet as to who would move out first. I, of course, said that I would, not because I was eager to fly the coup, but because I recognised that I liked material possessions and quite frankly it was pretty obvious that I was filling up my tiny bedroom at an incredible rate; it was either going to be me moving out, or me being crushed by stuff, and quite possibly bringing about the collapse of the upstairs flooring in the process - something that would probably have miffed Sparky Ma and Pa a bit.

So I moved out and Big Bro lost. He, however, maintains that there was no such wager. Anyway, that's by-the-by, because what happens now is that I get to relive the excitement of filling a new place with furniture and exciting, unnecessary stuff with the bonus of not spending any money or having to live there if nothing matches or fits properly or smells weird.


An aside:

OK, is it just me or is this not the sexiest looking biscuit evah?

If you lick it the chocolate goes even more swirly!

(Did I just confess to making out with a biscuit?)

I initially offered to help Big Bro look at sofas. Sofa shopping is fun because you've got a airtight alibi for sprawling across someone else's sofa; I mean, there's going to be plenty of times when you pass out on it, so you better make sure it's comfortable before you buy it, right? I almost got down to my pants when I was checking out sofas because you don't want to risk chaffing of the thigh while you're chillaxing. That's one reason why I ultimately went for a leather one - smooooooooth. Anyway, it was a moot point because he decided to bugger off to DFS on his own.

Fun was to be had, though, because on Saturday afternoon Big Bro texted me to ask if I wanted to go to IKEA with him.

What a stupid question. Of course I'd go to IKEA.

And so on Saturday night we headed over to Wembley so I could introduce my naive big brother to the wonderful world of Swedish furnishings, and correct his initial impression that IKEA stuff was a load of old tat. I don't know where he'd got that from, but he was either going to have to change his mind or walk home (and let me tell you, it's a long way back).

Fortunately no brute force or cheeky threats were needed, because once he settled himself into one of the first fake living rooms in the showroom he was sold. He didn't buy anything, though; this was more of a reccy to see what he liked. He took plenty of photographs though, which is promising, and we were both taken with a chair called the Karlstad - him because he thought it was really comfortable; me because I thought it looked a bit like the captain's chair from the new Star Trek movie. He's going to get one, and he tried to goad me into buying one too - even going so far as to play on the Star Trek connection. Outrageous.

We rattled through the kitchen department pretty quickly because Big Bro's flat has a fancy new one just waiting to be tarnished by super-noodles and Angel Delight, although I was surprised to see an errant rodent on one of the work surfaces.

And for the rest of the evening I walked around with the song 'There's a rat in my kitchen' playing in my head. And I bloody hate UB40.

Any-hoo, all in all it was a success pop of the IKEA cherry for Big Bro, topped off by the fact that halfway round he got something in his eye, and while rubbing it said "there's something in my eye and I think it's…" and together we shouted "inspiration!" before laughing heartily and skipping off to the lighting department. It looks like he'll be spending quite a substantial amount of cash there in the coming months, which is very exciting. Now might just be the time for me to buy some shares in IKEA. Or at the very least dig out my old IKEA allen keys, because I freakin' love putting their stuff together - it makes me feel even more masculine than usual.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


In the absence of regular lunching partner Yazzle Dazzle, I have recently taken to entertaining myself with a variety of other things on that small island of hope that splits the working day. Proofreading, writing, watching episodes of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia on my iPhone, and more recently reading a book have all helped relieve the emptiness that comes from not engaging in half an hour of endlessly witty, exceedingly puerile banter.

Today, though, I had Helen.

I arrived at Secret Starbucks a little later than usual today which meant that all the decent tables - particularly the two with the comfy chairs - had been nabbed. Being utterly shameless, and seeing as both tables with the comfy chairs where each occupied by just one person, I decided that I would ruthlessly invade one of them and take it for myself. The first was taken by a man with a laptop; the second by a young woman on her phone. I plumped for the latter.

I made my presence know to her by waving like a special and mouthing "is this seat free" in an overly exaggerated fashion. She nodded and gesticulated at it (as if there was another chair I'd been planning on taking instead), so I popped my coffee on the table, sat down, and pulled out my book.

Usually when I'm in Secret Starbucks I knock the volume of my iPhone down a notch or two so my music doesn't bother anyone else. This young lady, I realised a little too late, was talking rather loudly, however, and so I was forced to turn it up a notch in what turned out to be a somewhat futile effort to drown her out.

As it turns out, though, I soon found myself riveted to what she had to say.

Her name was Helen, and she'd recently accepted a new job. BUT! She also had an interview for another job that she *really* wanted and she didn't want to start the new one only to have to resign and work out a notice period if there was the possibility she might get the one that was just - girly squeal! - perfect for her. I never actually found out what either of the jobs were, but I'd be really disappointed if one was at Tesco and the other at Sainsburys.

So Helen was on the phone the entire time I was sat there, which was at least half an hour. After about 20 minutes I covertly turned my music off so I could listen more carefully. I made sure to keep my eyes on my book, however, to give the illusion that I was still reading. It's things like this that provide a clear indication that I would make a good ninja.

I don't know whether it was one person on the end of the line, or whether the phone was being passed around a variety of different people so that Helen could canvas a broad cross-section of the population on what she should do. At one point she got particularly loud and I wondered whether she'd taken to broadcasting her dilemma to all the patrons of Secret Starbucks or simply gotten a bit overwhelmed and emotional about the whole thing. If I'd been in more of a carefree mood I might've considered giving her a hug and telling her to get her roots done, because whichever job she ended up taking I somehow doubt they'd tolerate the current state of her hair, particularly if it was a position in which she'd have to deal with the public.

So I was warming to Helen somewhat - that is until she made a cardinal sin. Turning to face the window beside her, she pushed against the table with her leg, pushing it into my thigh and almost spilling my coffee. It also meant that I ended up looking like I was sitting slightly side-saddle in the chair as the area previously occupied by my legs was now occupied by table. This warranted - and resulted in - a withering stare. And I don't mean one of those smouldering ones that makes none all of the ladies swoon in my presence.

Helen didn't notice because she was too busy procrastinating and using her reflection in the window to pick something out of her teeth. I picked up my coffee and took a mouthful (while this may have appeared on the surface simply to be me enjoying my beverage, it was actually a second, slightly more subtle response to her nudging of the table - i.e. 'I better drink some of this so you don't spill it with your random and bizarre movements'). A couple of seconds later I put my mug down and resumed fake-reading my book.

And it was then that she did it again.

To be brutally honest, if I'd had one of those little wooden sticks that Starbucks give you to stir your coffee with, I would've snapped it in fury. I briefly considered getting up, going and getting one, and then snapping it in fury in front of her. As it was, though, time was up and I needed to be getting back to the office.

As I arose and tucked my iPhone into my pocket I glared once again at Helen and her outstretched, slightly dumpy legs. She remained oblivious to my rage as she continued to talk the hind legs off the donkey she was speaking to. I never did learn if Helen came to any conclusion about what to do, but quite frankly I don't think either company would benefit from her employment; her decision-making skills are appalling. What's the betting she's still sitting there tomorrow dithering about what to do?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A load of pants

While engaged in riveting conversation with Marcosy the other day we somehow got on to the subject of a survey recently conducted by Debenhams which exposed the mystery behind the undercracker buying habits of the typical British male. Both of us had read the results, and so were well-informed to digest and discuss the outcome.

The key fact of note is that we chaps apparently only buy our own undercrackers within a 17 year window of our lives. No, that does not mean we hoard them until we hit our late teens then coast along in the same old pair of skiddy-strewn Superman pants we've had since we first bid adieu to nappies; what it actually means is that we tend to buy our own between the ages of 19 to 36, but rely on our mums, and later our wives, to pick us out a cracking pair of dashing undies in the periods bookending that magical window of our pant purchasing prime.

This means I have less than five years in which to find myself a woman before I'm left high and dry and and utterly pantless on the shelf.

Although this was the key fact determined by the survey, it was not, however, the most fascinating; no, because that was reserved for this gem:

Underwear buying peaks among males at 23, when they will buy up to 31 pairs annually.

Yes, underwear buyi- wait a minute! Exsqueeze me - what was that!?

Underwear buying peaks among males at 23, when they will buy up to 31 pairs annually.

Thirty-one pairs a year? THIRTY-ONE PAIRS OF PANTS. PER. YEAR?! Believe me, when I first read that fact my eyes popped out on stalks in total amazement like I was Tom tied to a train track watching Jerry pilot a fast-moving locomotive towards me. Thirty-one! Geez. Let's do something I rarely, if ever, do here (or indeed anywhere else if I can help it): some maths.

There are 52 weeks in a year. If I purchased 31 pairs of pants per year, that would equate to one pair just over every one and half weeks. Really? I'm sure I had better things to be doing when I was 23 than perusing the underwear department of the local fashion emporium for the latest pair of Calvin Kleins with a popping neon waistband. Shouldn't they all be out getting hammered and shagging girls?

Not only that, but think of the cost! I'm guessing CKs are the ones most chaps go for (I shan't be conducting a random pant appraisal in the middle of Westfield, funnily enough), and they don't come cheap. OK, let's say they're 15 quid a pop. That's … *furiously counts on fingers and toes* … £465 a year!

(Geez, maths twice in one post. I might need to go lie down in a minute)

Four hundred and sixty five pounds a year. On pants! Outrageous! Shouldn't they be paying of their student debts?! Or, I dunno, saving for their future? It's all very well having some nice supportive boxer briefs when you're 23, but what happens in years to come? The gusset will go and you'll be old, penniless, and with your balls by your ankles before you know it, that's what. You'd have to dispatch your wife to buy you some new ones from Matalan, providing you successfully ensnared one in your youth.

So, 31 pairs a year at a cost of just under £500. I think I've bought four pairs in the last year, and that's only because some of my others outlived their usefulness and went a bit saggy. I would've bid farewell to them with a Viking-style funeral if I hadn't had a nagging feeling that they might explode when I tried to light them. Can't say I didn't get my moneys worth out of them though; forwards, backwards, turn inside out and repeat.

That's over half a week's wear right there. Kids today have got more money than sense, clearly.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Birthday week

This last week has been a rather busy one with a somewhat unexpected turn just past the halfway point. Sufficiently intrigued? Let me walk you through it.

As usually happens around this time of year, I had a week off work which just so happened to coincide with my - shhhhh! - birthday. Handy, eh? That being the case, I had a very chilled out Saturday after finishing work on the Friday. Sunday was another matter, though, as I planned an early yoga class followed by my traditional week-off house cleaning frenzy.

Unfortunately, these darker mornings apparently aren't too conducive to getting up on a Sunday morning just after seven, and so I actually found myself waking up around 11 am feeling like a naughty school boy. Still, I did get up and clean Sparky Towers from top to bottom, including - eeeeeeww - cleaning out the plughole in the bath. As the day progressed, however, I felt myself feeling increasingly guilty at not having gone to yoga, resulting in me doing something totally unexpected and spontaneous and going to the day's final class at five pm.

What with all the cleaning and the guilt-yoga I was well knacked come the evening.

Monday's sole objective was a haircut, which I was almost late for thanks to some stupid roadworks just outside Kingston. Fortunately, my regular lady wasn't too busy and actually laughed at me as I ran into the shop huffing and puffing after running all the way from the car park looking, I imagine, for all the world like I'd shoplifted something from HMV and was hot-footing it from a portly security guard who was in lukewarm pursuit.

The haircut, needless to say, was awesome; I've gone for something a little bit different this time around, and have abandoned my regular short and spiky look for something that looks a smidgeon like Brad Pitt's 'do in Inglorious Basterds, just without the severe side-parting. I'm guessing this will be a bit more high maintenance than my usual cut, and I'll probably be moaning about it in about three weeks, but for now I'm well happy.

Tuesday was, of course, my birthday (thank you for all the lovely birthday messages, by the way). Rather than lounge around in my pants watching Trisha and This Morning, though, I decided to do something I wouldn't normally even think about doing on my birthday: I went to yoga. The reasons for this were actually three-fold: reason the first was the aforementioned 'do something different on your birthday' idea; reason the second was that the class is understandably a bit emptier if you go during the day when everyone else is at work; and reason the third is that one of my favourite teachers teaches on Tuesday mornings.

So, I got up early, jumped in Clubbie with plenty of time to spare and … promptly got stuck in a massive traffic jam. At several points along the way I seriously thought about turning round and going home as I didn't think there was any way I'd make it to the studio on time, but I persevered because quite frankly I couldn't think of a good way of filling the time having got up so early. Anyway, I parked up with about 15 minutes to spare and legged it to the studio, arriving with eight minutes left before class started and looking for all the world like I'd shoplifted something fro- oh, you get the idea.

In the few minutes before class started I somehow managed to get my regular spot in one of the slightly cooler parts of the room, and was pleasantly surprised when the teacher came over and told me that my class was free because I was attending on my birthday. BONUS. I then quizzed her on how she knew it was my birthday, basically accusing her of having psychic powers before she said I'd given them my date of birth when I first signed up and they kept it on record. Ah … of course…

Anyway, class began and the teacher, bless her, singled me out and told everyone that it was my birthday. I think she might've done this to show everyone how dedicated I was to my yoga training, because she then said "so Tim, why have you come to class on your birthday?"

I shrugged my shoulders and replied "because I've got a week off."

She looked at me a bit sternly and said "I'll ask again: why have you come to class on your birthday?"

I don't know whether she was expecting some sort of profound existentialist statement from me, but what she ultimately got was "because I've got nothing better to do."

This seemed to please her, and after the entire class turned to wish me happy birthday (there was MUCH LOVE in the studio, let me tell you; I was *well* touched), we began with our Pranayama breathing. The birthday comments continued throughout class, mainly when I was flagging a bit and the teacher shouted over to me to put a bit more effort in, referring to me as 'birthday boy' rather than by name.

The rest of the day was spent over with my family where I was given lots of lovely presents, but only after I successfully managed to get out of my road after a big truck parked across the top, thus preventing anyone from getting in or out. Rude.

At precisely 19:46 that evening, however, I noticed a little tickle in my throat. It couldn't be … could it?

Wednesday was scheduled in as my usual Christmas shopping trip with Sparky Ma, and yes, it could: I woke up with a sore throat. Nothing - and I mean NOTHING - stops our shopping expeditions, though, and I powered through under the influence of lots of coffee and a big Nandos for lunch.

Didn't buy any Christmas presents, though.

Thursday pretty much sucked. I felt so ridiculously rough that I sat at home and watched a full two-thirds of the latest Family Guy boxset. I didn't move in about seven hours.

I awoke on Friday feeling pretty much equally crap, and seriously considered a last-minute cancellation of my birthday party that was scheduled for that evening. I didn't, though, and actually felt a hell of a lot better being in the company of my pals. I'm not quite sure if the excruciatingly painful nipple twisting inflicted upon me by El Deano helped in any way, but I've sure felt better since the evening as a whole, and a wonderful time was had (by me at least).

Since then, it's all been pretty chilled out; I'm still a bit snotty and phlegm-y, but I think I'm over the worst of it. Sadly, it has meant no yoga this weekend, but on the other hand I did watch the entire second season of Flight of the Conchords. I also went food shopping in a branch of M&S Simply Food (tres posh), and in addition to buying two of their coffee sponge rolls (*orgasmic*) I thought I'd give their new alcohol-free soft drinks for grown-ups a whirl.

If anyone else was considering this, might I suggest you don't? It tastes like booze (which to a tee-totaller like me is pretty gross), but you don't get the awesomeness of being tipsy - where the hell is the fun in that!? I'm going to be so angry if I wake up tomorrow with a hangover!


Sunday, November 08, 2009

The C-word

Mention the C-word to me at the moment - and by that I mean Chr***mas; get your mind out of the gutter - and there's a good chance that I might take you down with a roundhouse kick. As far as I'm concerned, it's way to early to be dealing with Chr***mas stuff at the moment; I mean, I haven't even had my birthday yet (hint, hint).

As far as I'm concerned, Chr***mas - and that includes all decorations, advertising, and general frou-frou - should be outlawed until December 1st.

Still, as with most things, there is an exception to the rule. And in this instance it's a caffeine-based exception to the rule.

Towards the end of October I was informed by the manager of Secret Starbucks that head office had decreed that Chr***mas would begin in every branch of Starbucks on November 4th. That meant decorations, Chr***mas music, and the traditional Chr***mas beverages. I can, however, forgive them for the former solely for the arrival of the latter. It should also be noted that as he told me this he rolled his eyes and said that he was considering telling them that the CD of Christmas songs had gotten lost in the recent postal strikes that have plagued the UK; in fact, his general demeanour was like that of Michel from Gilmore Girls, which I highly approve of.

At any rate, my normal fury at the mere mention of any impending festivities was placated by him handing me a bunch of vouchers for free Chr***mas drinks: BONUS.

So, on Wednesday November 4th I strutted down to Secret Starbucks (I actually did - it's all a result of me following the instructions of my yoga teacher and being conscious of my posture at all times, although the music I was listening to probably helped too; my iTunes recently listened to list informs me it was the Rolling Stones), and ordered a venti gingerbread latte.

For none-Starbucks aficionados, 'venti' means an effing big one.

(And is it bad that I originally, subconsciously wrote 'addicts' instead of 'aficionados'?)

Then I settled back in a comfy chair and watched an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia on my iPhone (Mac and Dennis: Manhunters - thanks again, iTunes recently played list!). GOOD TIMES.

They actually gave me a spoon to eat the cream.

But it didn't end there! In the evening I strolled down to Westfield where, after buying a piece of soap and being given the most ridiculously immense bag in which to carry it, I treated myself to a dark cherry mocha.

Knowing how sweet the dark cherry mocha can be, I wisely went for a tall (i.e. small) so as not to overpower myself and fall over.

All in all, then, while I am incensed that Chr***mas is kicking off so early, I'm pretty happy about the holiday beverages coming back. And I'm sure I'll be getting better acquainted with them this coming week as I'm off work - ready to start my Chr***mas shopping…

Tuesday, November 03, 2009