Sunday, 30 November 2014

Penguins, Bears and Hares! Oh my!

...

Nobody wants to admit it? Fine. I'll go first. 

I think John Lewis is shit. 

I understand this is hard to take for a lot of people. It was a shock for me when I first came to this opinion. It's a bit like learning that Santa isn't real. There's the brief moment where you bury your leaky face into your pillow as you can't believe you've been taken for a fool all these years. But when you open your eyes, only light will stream in, and you'll realise that life is marginally better now that your Christmases can no longer be built on a foundation of lies.

Speaking of which: "This is perfect, you owe me an Orla Kiely hand towel", I'm told by my girlfriend, holding an Orla Kiely towel in one of their stores.

This is a lie on two counts. No, it's not perfect, and I don't owe her shit.

"Yeah it looks quite nice." I reply, "Feels nice too! Don't we have one by Orla Kiely?"
"Well, when you were cleaning the bathroom, you decided to get bleach on the it, and it's ruined, so you need to buy this one." 
Intently looking at some rugby scores, I must have made some nodding sort of action which signalled that I had agreed to buy something which, as of yet, I haven't even properly looked at. 

"Brilliant, thanks James, now how much actually is it?... Oh that's alright, that's not as bad as I thought."
Woah, hold on - what the hell does not as bad mean? Suddenly I realise that I'm holding a towel that's exactly the same as its barely marked predecessor, and its cost has been described as not bad? I need to do something that mildly resembles making a stand! 

I look at the price.
"I'm not paying that much for a fucking hand towel." (Because it can't hurt to simply charge in headfirst into a dispute.)
"Alright, if you find something better than this, we'll get it instead." 
"Well how about this one? It's a store brand one, it's just as soft, just as nice, and about a third of the price."
"....hmm... No, it's just not as good. I can't explain to you why, you don't understand, but it's just not. Just get the Orla Kiely one."

This is the first problem with John Lewis. The store's own-brand stuff, pricey though it might be, is bloody good. I'd be over the moon to have a John Lewis hand towel in their bathroom. I'd pop it out when guests came over, and take good care of it, and be proud of it. But because they've plonked other-branded stuff next to their perfectly good stuff, it now looks like a knock-off piece of crap. So not only am I paying more than what is acceptable for a hand towel, I'm not paying more than more than what is acceptable. I've been double-done by John Lewis. Bastards.

Treat this as an intermission, but with no fucking 
stupid faux-love story forcing you to buy a toaster.

"Oh my god!" squeals an excited voice from beside me. "There he is! Oh my god this is amazing! Can we get a picture?"
A picture of who? I wonder. A famous celebrity? A sports personality? Is it a national statesman? An old friend?

As it turns out, in the corner of the store, surrounded by a lot of plastic painted to look like ice, stands a lone bit of plastic painted to look like a penguin. 

"THIS IS AMAZING!" 

We walk over to where the bits of plastic are, but are unable to get particularly close to it, as every infant in a 20-mile radius has had the same idea as us. Which brings us to the second problem with John Lewis. 

Those fucking adverts. They're beautifully made and the stories in them are fantastically told. It's not so much the adverts themselves, it's the way we absorb them. The two-day trend on Twitter, the constant Guardian articles, the fawning over it on Facebook. We have created a monster, which very kindly is only making us want to buy things. If next year's advert subversively told us to storm Buckingham Palace and overthrow the monarchy, it would be beamed to an already willing audience, ready to die for the John Lewis cause.

Joseph Goebbels, Propaganda Minister for the Third Reich, once allegedly said that the most effective messages are conveyed with 90% fiction, and 10% truth. Hold on, I'm NOT comparing John Lewis at all to the Nazis, but how much would they realistically have to alter their adverts to inspire the nation to carry out despicable deeds? We're already halfway towards pledging allegiance to them. We're just lucky the worst thing they're going to make us do is buy some extortionate hand towels - for now. Did you know the Tom Odell song this year started with "All my little plans and schemes"? Yeah, that's why we need to start worrying. 

We continue our magical Christmas journey through this sacred British institution, and towards the menswear - and swiftly through menswear, because I'm not as stupid as everyone else. I know a stitch-up when I see one, and I'm not being taken for a fool. Anything in this store, I can get cheaper elsewhere. 

Actually, that bag looks quite nice. Ooh, it's Barbour. Ooh, and there's 20% off all Barbour stock. That's not bad. 

Out of nowhere, a John Lewis salesperson, disguised as my girlfriend, pops up. 

"You've been talking about having a bag for ages, this looks perfect for you, oh and it's only [a fucking shitheap of] pounds. Ooh, and there's 20% off, so that would make it [a shitheap of] pounds."

Hmm, I have a shitheap of pounds, I was paid on Friday! This might actually work. And it is a nice bag... And it is 20% off... Oh, go on then! 

But, moments later at the till, what's this? 

"That's [a fucking shitheap], please."
Excuse me, Lady at Checkout?
"What, no, it should be [a shitheap]"
"Hmm, sorry Sir, it's coming up as full price"
"But there's a sign on the shelf that says 20% off all Barbour stock?"
"Err, the sign probably just says 'on selected stock', do you still want it?"
"pffff, yeah whatever then, I'm here, you're here, I'll pay for it."
Oh well, so it was a fucking shitheap of pounds, but that's alright, it is a really nice bag. 

As we walk out, we walk past the shelves where the bags were. My girlfriend checks the sign again. 

"Oh my god, they just fobbed us off, it does say on all stock! Let's go back and dispute it."
But that will cause a fuss, won't it? I'm not a fussy kind of guy. I've worked in hotels and shops, I've seen people cause fuss. I've dealt with people who kick up fusses, and I can say that each and every one of them is a certified cunt. 
"No, let's go back, they were just lazy and didn't check the facts. We've both worked in retail, it's what's right."

Over we march. 

"Hi again!" the lady at the checkout says sweetly. I've banned myself from talking - I won't be responsible for this fuss. 
"Hi," my girlfriend takes control, carrying the sign that confirms our consumer rights, "the sign does say 20% off, so you have to honour that promise."
The lady is unperturbed. 
"See, the bag is exclusive to John Lewis, and it says here '20% off all full priced stock compared to other stores', and it's not in another store."
"Doesn't matter" my girlfriend rumbles on, "it's under the sign, it's misleading if the product is right there next to it."
Something is going to give.
"I'll get my manager."

A boy roughly 12 years our junior in a suit waltzes towards us. 
"What's the problem?"
The lady explains the situation, which the manager mulls over for ten seconds. He doesn't want to fuss. 
"Yeah, give them the discount."
Good man.

"Just pop your card back in here, Sir."
If there is such a look for sheepishly smug, I am suddenly the embodiment of it, despite doing nothing.
Even as we walk away, I mumble something resembling "thank you". A look is returned which says "this has only happened to you because your girlfriend has a spine, you slug". 

Well, so much for their famous customer service, eh? What about the historical niceness of their staff? It's no better or worse than any other store. At least we've got our own back on one of them. Oh, and now her manager is barking at someone to do something. He doesn't look happy. Wow, now two of them! Power to the people!

But in reality, we have no power over John Lewis. It is the epitome of what is wrong with consumerism. It's not like Tesco, or Sainsbury's, which is filled with things you need, such as food, water and some things you want, like batteries for the TV remote. Instead, John Lewis is half-crammed with things you want, and half-crammed with things you didn't even realised you wanted until you saw it there with a "20% off" sticker on it. It is a warehouse full of waddling middle-class adults who are unhappy that the TV adverts have opened up "their little secret" to the masses, as if suddenly the store had unveiled a partnership with Poundland and a deluge of delinquents had descended on their precious fortress. 

For most of us, it remains an aspirational symbol. If you can buy something in John Lewis, it means you've made it. For most of us, visiting the store is a bit like watching one of their adverts. Yes, it's really nice, and it makes you feel good, but the X Factor will be back on in a bit, and soon as we step outside of the bubble, our shit lives will continue. It's only a very select few, that stay inside, and don't look out.

As we prepare to re-enter the real world, a barely-movembered teenager is removing all the "20% off" signs. It's catching the attention of quite a gaggle of middle-aged, middle class women.

"What, so that's it? Just like that, no more discount?" one splutters, holding a blouse that's just risen in price by a fifth before she can even blink. 

Don't worry, dear. You'll be never knowingly undersold. 

Friday, 24 October 2014

Training Day

Technology, for all its faults and trolls and Gangnam Styles, has done a lot for us, it must be said. There’s the way you're reading this for a start, and the fact that, after you've disposed of our brief moment together, you could learn how to tie a bow tie, or how to cook dauphinoise potatoes, or join ISIS. That’s how great our possibilities are. But there’s one thing that technology can’t really conquer, and that’s the warmth of a face-to-face conversation.

Having offices in three cities, as we do at where I work, a decent conversation is never beyond the realms of possibility. In fact, it’s encouraged. I’ve been to an all manner of towns and cities in my short time as Junior Undersecretary to the Head Tea Maker, and I've thoroughly enjoyed flying the nest to meet and greet people all over the country.

The only problem is, being a business; they want you to take the train.  

Yes, train, that great leveller of peoples (except those in first class).

When Isambard Kingdom Brunel created the Great Western Railway, it was the marvel of the world. Unfortunately, it seemed that we've been so suckered in to congratulating ourselves about this, we haven't bothered to really move things on. Everything about the modern train is detestable. From the seats with room enough only for ant legs, to the tray so small that, unless you want to write on the back of a postage stamp, you're fucked, to being served a lukewarm mug of water which apparently has been shown a teabag and didn't like it’s presence.

Then there’s the unwritten policy that nobody ever talks, and to do so will result in your immediate and involuntary disembarking. Why does no one speak if there is nothing worth shutting up for? Viewers of Top Gear will know that the only way to get Jeremy Clarkson to shut up is by playing the sound of a glorious V12 thundering through a tunnel in Italy. If the train made a glorious puff of steam every now and then, people’s silence would be justified. So why doesn’t everybody drive?

It used to be so beautiful...


“I prefer to work on the train, so I'm not wasting time”, sneers a colleague proudly, in front of her boss.  

But our world is so constantly connected that it’s widely accepted by scholars that if you don't have the Internet, you might as well sit on your hands and count to a billion, so useful are you to the bustling beehive of business. It’s actually unusual if you aren't hooked up to some digital dialysis of civilisation – I don't know how some people manage it. But trains do offer Wi-Fi. At extortionate rates. Even BT, who are recognised, not just throughout their industry, but the entire cosmos for their commendable levels of bastardness, offer free Wi-Fi to their customers.

“I’m saving the planet”, claims a Jesus-like figure from across our open-plan office.

Really? How much power do you think it takes to move a hundred tonne train at a hundred miles an hour? Less than it takes to move my one tonne car at 70? Plus my car is running for less time, because unlike you, I don’t drive to London and stop at Swindon, Reading and Didcot Parkway, I just go to London, like any sane person would. And where do you think all that power is coming from? It’s not exactly running on Kale juice and piousness.

“Look at those views, Biggins!” “Brittain, Sir” “Look at those views, Brittins!” says my boss in a hushed voice (in case the Silent Stasi catch him) on a train journey that even I couldn't talk myself out of, because yes I hate trains, but I also would like him to promote me at some point, “you wouldn't get that pottering about in a car, absolutely stunning!“ The train grinding to a halt then interrupts him. The captain comes on the crackling system “Sorry about the delay ladies and gentleman, there’s a beetle on the tracks, and, frankly, I'm not paid enough to become a murderer.”

We're now late for our meeting. But it’s not even our fault – and that’s another problem: trains remove accountability. “Sorry I was late – train was delayed/cancelled/made obsolete fucking years ago.” “Well, that’s alright we just lumbered through the make-or-break meeting on our own, failed miserably and now my wife will have to shop at Iceland, but we can't really blame you for that, if your train was delayed/cancelled/a waste of trillions of pounds.”

Whereas when I drive…

“Sorry I'm late, there was an accident on the M40 and I had to cut across two lanes to make the sliproad and find another route. I was speeding so fast, the cyclist I catapulted into the air hadn't even hit the ground by the time I went round the junction.” “Really, Brighton?” “Brittain, Sir” “This could have been avoided you know – why didn't you leave earlier?”

Firstly, I didn't leave earlier because if I wanted to make a 2-hour journey last three and a half hours, I would have taken the fucking train. Secondly, if I wanted to travel with my face full of the elbows of a Metro reader (which is essentially a Daily Mail reader with a sense of entitlement, as they are the same paper), my nostrils full of the stench of a Metro reader, and being hurtled facing fucking BACKWARDS BECAUSE THAT’S NOT AT ALL DISORIENTATING, I would have taken the fucking train!

More smug than all the "Apprentice" candidates put together. Prick.


“I can eat what I like and when I like on the train, and drink,” boasts one final hypothetical colleague.

Paying £3.99 for some rubbery cheese and furry tomato slapped between two pieces of soggy yeast does not really constitute ‘what I like’, in the same way that whenever someone else decides he can be bothered to drag a trolley through the carriages is not ‘when I like’. Unless you're a really forward thinking kind of guy, and decided to instead pay £3.49 for the same sandwich in Pret beforehand, because you think coffee stores like that are really fucking cool yet you're always really surprised when you don't see a Chandler/Monica type couple snuggling on the sofas. Oh, and good luck with your idea of having a whisky and ice before a meeting, you're not in fucking ‘Mad Men’ now.

Please don't mistake my hatred of trains for hatred of the tube. The tube is a most marvellous invention, and is the scene of some of the funniest and touching moments I've ever seen (as well as the odd drunk). Part of my reasoning for driving to London is so I can spend more time on the underground. I'll be old and very grey before I forget the time I saw an incandescent mother scolding one of her five children for licking the pole in the centre of the carriage on the circle line. If she had a bottle of Dettol on her, I imagine she would have emptied it into his mouth and made him swallow the lot, regardless of the longer-term effects.

But trains are simply the most detestable transport ever to have existed. They have the illusion of being executive versions of buses (you know, those things you have to take anyway when the bastard train is cancelled?). Buses, though, don't pretend to be something special, and they don't charge £160 to get to London. They're not perfect by any means, but they're alright.

So for god’s sake, if you're lucky enough to have a job that means you have to go somewhere, and you're the kind of person that cares about pretending to work hard, daytime drinking and saving pandas, GET IN A CAR. It’s got music, it’s got your CDs, and you can go absolutely anywhere in it. Fields, hills, towns, villages, pubs, friends’ houses, anywhere you want. If you're really lucky, you could travel with someone, and have a decent conversation, because there’s no stupid secret noise restriction in a car!

So how about it? There’s nothing embarrassing about it! Why should car drivers be vilified for wanting a little luxury in our otherwise short and despicable existence? Enough of being branded as a Clarksonian Luddite for simply enjoying a bit of pleasure behind the wheel! We're taking back transport! Get off the train, get smiling! Get back enjoying life again!

Wait a minute...

Where the fuck has this tractor come from?!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

We're Going to Need a Bigger Vote

Now, you can say what you like about Europe, especially if you vote for UKIP. But whether you like your Brussels or not, the elections are in town.

For those of you who have never voted in one of these before (which is fair enough, it only happens once every five years), it’s quite simple. The parties are the same, but you probably haven’t heard of your MEPs before. That’s fine, the feeling is probably mutual. On average, there’s one British MEP for every 860,000 of us. They have a lot of people to listen to, so I’m sure they’ll get round to you eventually. Your call is important to them.

Before the outrageous theory that politicians aren’t listening to you puts you off Europe, and you start to consider lifting up the anchor and seeing if Britain can paddle it’s way further into the Atlantic, flicking the Vs at any continental passer-by, remember that: 1. Europe is bloody important to us and 2. The Atlantic is full of sharks and bits of the Titanic. It simply won’t end well.

That’s where you come in. The purpose of this article is not to recommend who you should vote for. You probably have a good idea about which politicians you absolutely despise the least, so it would be hugely in your interest to put an ‘x’ next to their name. I promise it’s worth it. You’ll get a huge sensation of contributing to democracy, which is what our forefathers would have wanted. Don’t forget, if you don’t vote, you can’t whinge about which party wins. You’ll be limited to just whinging about the government in general, which is massively risky, because if somebody even half-challenges you for your idea of an alternative way of ruling people, you’ll have to be forced to invent something on the spot, and it will be crap.

Politicians have been begging for “yoofs” to pay attention to them since Supreme Warlord and Kaa from the Jungle Book impersonator, Tony Blair, tried to rebrand Labour as a cool party. In a delayed response, David Cameron (you may know him by his more deroga-Tory nickname), told his Conservatives to ‘hug a hoodie’. Nobody under 25, or over, for that matter, could keep a straight face. As a result, barely any young people have voted. Some, like Russell Brand, have never voted. So, when it came to raising tuition fees in 2010, nobody in Westminster batted an eyelid, because how many voters were affected? Not as many as you might think.

Now there’s a wedge in the chasm between politicians and students that will only grow bigger unless one group does the right thing and try to bridge the gap. And seeing as well all know that politicians are smelly poopy bums, it’s up to the younger generation to be mature about the situation.


Vote for whoever you want today. It’ll be the last thing they expect.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Think Void: The Wall

It's a day in early March, and nothing has happened. 

Well, stuff has happened. I work full time, and stuff happens there. I spend a lot of free time walking around Cheltenham, and I see things happen; some of it in front of me, some of it involving me. Some of it has had a positive effect on me, but most of it seems to be detrimental to my overall happiness. But there's something about it all that has eaten me up inside. None of it is noteworthy. 

No matter, I'm imaginative enough. I'll embellish a bit!

I'm sat in my armchair, a cup of Earl Grey beside me and a non-descript album on in the background, staring. Staring into a blank screen. Something must have happened this month! I rack my brains for something to write about. What could I possibly share with you? 

I do things I never usually do to try and get some juices flowing. I stand up and walk around. This is something I've noticed my boss does, and it must work for him because, somewhere along the line, more than one of his ideas have made him fucking successful and popular. God, what I would brutally kill for an idea like that right now. Probably him, if I really had to. Does it work like a monarchy, where if someone dies, we all move up the line of succession? Would I have the "Junior" knocked off my title, and move one step closer to the ultimate goal - business cards? That's right, I don't want a company car, a season train-ticket, or a huge wage (handy those all might be), but, for some reason, I can't help but yearn for a business card. Something with my name on it! I could really be somebody in this place!

But I digress, plus it's my turn to make the tea.

****************************************************************

It's mid-March, and I'm not panicking. 

I'm sat in my parent's house, discussing their upcoming holiday to New Zealand. They are doing something noteworthy. The bastards. They have a moral duty to make sure I'm doing something noteworthy! What kind of parents are they if they're not giving me stuff to do?

"So, how's work going, Jim [my parents call me Jim, you don't because you're not allowed]? How's the missus?"

I must add, that nobody, NOBODY calls my girlfriend 'the missus' except me, and I'm not so uncouth as to do it in the real world. Just here, in case there is a change in casting. 

"Yeah, it's going well, and we're both very well, thanks. How's Henry?"
"He's good, his fianc├ęs good, their little one is coming along nicely."



That's right, my younger brother is engaged, and his first child is due in September. He's got stuff to talk about. Some people will do anything for a bit of material. 

"How's Grace? [my sister]"
"Yeah, she's alright, just getting ready for A-levels and India"

For God's sake! Everyone in my family is doing something except me! This cannot be for too long. I've got to do something about anything!

Right, that's it. Tomorrow, I'm going to have an event!!



****************************************************************

It's lateish March. My New-Year's resolution of producing 12 quality pieces of work is being absolutely trashed by my tiny brain not being able to translate anything that has happened into words.


An email appears. The font has been changed to protect the identity of the computer that sent it.

Hi James and [a much better informed colleague]

Can we pls get a blog from both of you about the pension and ISA reforms announced yesterday in the Budget.
If I could have something by the end of the day from both of you that would be fab.

Thanks




I'm being mocked! Mocked for my literary impotence! I can't think of ANYTHING in a month, and now I have one afternoon to knock up a blog about the Budget?! What to say? How do you make something like that interesting? Why do I only have an afternoon to come up with this? Furthermore, why am I being put against a colleague who is much better informed than I am about these matters?! This is unfair. I've been deliberately set up for a fall. 

In a flash, I clear my afternoon and stare at a blank Word document, for quite some time. How humiliating. A politics graduate, albeit from Swansea, unable to say anything about the Budget. 

As it turned out, I said a fair bit about the Budget. In fact, I wrote too much, and bits had to be taken out - most of the compliments about the Tories failed to make the final cut, but those are acceptable losses. Was it so hard to write something? Do I just need to be sat down and told what to do, with the incentive of continuous employment being dangled in front of me. Do I need to be forced to do it, with something a bit more intimidating dangling in front of me? Something as to give. Something will happen. Even if I have to force it. 

****************************************************************


"So, what do you think?"
"I think it's stupid, why would we do it?"

Walking away from the burning wreck of March, it is now April. I now have to come up with TWO things to write about this month. Time, the wily fox, has forced my hand.

I'm sat at work with a colleague, friend, (and I don't think he'll mind if I share it with you) and secret lover - bugger! okay, lover - whom I have just pitched an absolutely shite idea to, to try and get a bit of hustle going in both the office and my own head. An idea which is for my own benefit as much as anyone else's, but it's one of those crazy things marketing agencies get up to. What are we like, eh? 

"Wouldn't it be really cool and kooky if, on Friday, all the men in the office were wearing checked shirts?"
"Nope", he said. 
"Oh. Well, let's see how it goes anyway!" 

Turns out he was right. Half the men didn't do it, all of the women complained that they weren't included. I didn't even own a checked shirt. He has six. Would he share one? Nope. He, almost gleefully, strode in, had a quick chuckle at me, and sat down at his desk. 

Two minutes later, a message from him. 

Hey, at least you've got something to talk about for your blog! Haha!



The swine.

****************************************************************

It's now the middle of April. A century has passed since the last blog post. I've gone above and beyond in search of an awkward situations, but, after 2 car washes, a new phone, a round of golf, a game of monopoly, #CheckedShirtFriday (don't look for it on Twitter, it didn't get the 'traction' (that's a marketing word, apparently) I hoped for), a 20 mile walk in Worcester, a 16 mile walk in Cheltenham, and a purchase of a tin horse, things got desperate. I tried, dearest reader. I tried so hard for you. 

How do writers do it? How?! One minute they're at the dead end of a labyrinth, surrounded by mind blocks and mental barriers, and the next, they're centre stage in a story unfolding before the reader's very eyes, real or fictional. They're so current, so relevant, so cool! Some writers don't even bother with pithy little articles, they sit in a shed and somehow come up with entire fucking novels! How the fuck does that happen?! 

I know someone who has actually done this. He's an incredibly cool man, and, paired with a particularly inspirational English teacher in 6th Form - who used to be able to come up with entire essay plans on the fucking spot - awed me so much, I used to desperately want to be a writer, albeit a hugely idealised one. I imagined my mornings would be filled with supping fresh, corporately-branded coffees in a small flat in London, my fingers moving too fast for the human eye to compute over a keyboard, only briefly pausing my trail of thought to either light another cigar, or to usher out the model that stopped by for a coffee last night. Or maybe to fight crime. Right now I'd take anything. Anything! 

Anything!... Anyone?...

If you've been snubbed/in an accident/erect at work, and you'd like to get in touch with your story, just telephone 0845-5839-224 and press '2' to speak to an empathiser. If you're not the billpayer of your telephone, calls are essentially free, so we'll cross that bridge when we get there. T&Cs apply, but are 87 pages long, so just tick the box and let us all get on with our lives.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fashion

It's a blustery weekend in Dublin, and the missus and I have "randomly" taken shelter in a luxury department store. Some seriously big labels inhabit the floors of this building - Alexander McQueen, Mulberry, Bobby Valentino, including some other exotic ones which I didn't recognise, but I'm told are big in the fashion world. 

We stroll through past some watches which are expensively irrelevant, and some handbags which are as ridiculously priced as they are impractical ("You see, this one is €895, but you'd have to be so careful about what you put in it, so you don't scratch the leather or scuff the fabric, or stretch the handle, and really this could only work with one or two outfits I have... Let's just keep looking"), and eventually the inevitable happens. 

"Oh, I love this one!" 

It's an Orla Kiely (me neither) handbag, and, incredibly it's an absolute bargain! Just over what the government thinks I should pay for the privilege of owning a thirsty, rainforest-destroying Alfa Romeo, per year. It's a lot, but in the time it has taken for you to realise that the rest of this sentence is a just a bit of unnecessary filler, she's bought it.

We continue walking around the various departments, as she clutches her new product more tightly than you or I have ever been embraced by our own mothers, and eventually, we head down to the men's section. It's an exhibition of a lifestyle I can only dream of. Suits, shoes, accessories, designed by men with iconic names, made by men in Italy by the finest craftsmen and women, and worn by people who have "made it". Nobody knows what 'it' is, but I believe it's when you're rich enough to be able to buy a pint in London and not go "fucking hell, you could cure AIDS for that much!". They're the kind of people whom you don't care if they're late for an event, you should just be glad they're there so that you can bask in their excellence. The sort who throw in the odd french words in their sentence, and have a certain joie de vivre.

I am no such man. 

I trudge around the various labels, looking at suits I can't afford, browsing shoes I'll never wear. It's all so hopeless. The biggest giveaway that I couldn't afford a shoelace in here is that nothing was priced at something-ninety-nine. Not one item is "just €99.99!", it's €100. Whole numbers terrify me. It makes me wonder why our forefathers even bothered to decimalise currencies.

"Ah, wow, James you'd look incredible in this!" 

The missus is holding a blue, rather extravagant, Ted Baker waistcoat. It looks very, very nice, I might give it a bit of a try - wait what? HOW-fucking-much-you're-fucking-kidding-me?!

"Just go and try it on- oh, and this shirt would look great with it!"

What the fuck? The shirt's as much as the waistcoat's as much as the GDP of Luxembourg!

Sheepishly, I accept the shirt and waistcoat, and trudge off into the changing rooms to try them both on... Hm... I look alright in it. 

I look more than alright, I look like a bloody sexy bitch!

Or do I just look good because it's an exorbitant amount of clothing? Would I look good in any clothing that's that expensive. Would someone typically sartorial like David Beckham or Eddie Redmayne wear something like this? I look quite smart! But Jesus it's a lot of money. 

It takes an almighty, plaster-ripping moment for me to cave in. Fine, I'll buy these two ridiculously expensive items of clothing. 

"Ah, I'm so glad you are" said the missus, who seems to take some kind of sick pleasure in me handing over money, "you'll look so smart in them. It's the kind of thing David Bowie would wear".

My eyes light up. 

David Bowie!

A few years ago, and in the space of about 2 months, I went from 0-100mph in my addiction and affection for Bowie and all his alter-egos. I was, and still am, nuts about him. Even right now, as I write this, and probably as you read this, I'm listening to one of his songs. 

I return to the mirror. Maybe it is the kind of thing he'd wear? I don't really know, he's worn some pretty outlandish things in the past. This is probably a bit vanilla, a bit magnolia (I have been described as both before) for someone like David Bowie. 

Okay, I'll get it, but NO more spending for the rest of the holiday.


A scarf, two dinners, a jumper, countless Guinnesses, and a pair of sunglasses (in Ireland in February?!) later, we're back in Blighty. 

I unpack the clothes that started this whole mess and hang them on the back of the door. 

They do look nice. 

But now I cannot find an occasion that would warrant such an expensive outfit. Out for dinner - but with what money? What kind of looks would I get in Kev's Southern Chicken Parlour? To Mum and Dad's - I can see the conversation now; "How's things with money, son?" "Pretty good thanks" "Yes I can fucking see that, any chance of repaying us what you owe?" To work? - Ah, maybe!

We have a big client coming in soon, and they'll be sure to expose every flaw we have. We've got to be at the top of our game and, for me, that means - rather superficially - looking my best, and letting the little work I do around the place take care of itself. 

This is it! I now have the perfect occasion to wear my shiny new outfit! It shall be preserved until the sacred day, where I'll do my little turn on the catwalk (yeah on the catwalk, on the catwalk, etc.).

The big day comes, and I wheel out the shiny new fabrics. Cut off the labels (now there really is no going back), and pair the shirt/waistcoat with a pair of chinos I bought when I was, once again, under the influence of an intoxicatingly swish marque. And some boots I found in a sale.

I must impress that it's not often I do this, but, I admit, I did give myself a little twirl in the mirror that morning. Okay, I do it all the time, but who cares, I'm fabulous! I do look a bit like the Thin White Duke!


How do I look?

I 'accidentally' wake up the missus so she can see me. 

"You look great" she says, face buried in the pillow. 

That's all I needed.

Into work I strut. Listening to Bowie all the way. I could make a real stand here and become the office fashionista. Will they like the new me?

"Morning James!"
"Morning, Identity protected!"
"Interesting waistcoat!"
Whatever. 

"Morning James!"
"Morning Colleague"
"Funny-looking waistcoat - you look like you should be a snooker player!"
Okay, that's two people now. That's two who like it (the missus and I) against these two philistines who have mocked it.

"Hey James! Been snookering recently?"

Now, there's nothing wrong with the fashion sense of snooker players, but they're hardly up there with the iconic man himself! Do I look that uncool? Snooker's not the most glamorous of sports. Is it that bad? Maybe the waistcoat is a little garish. 


I couldn't work it out either...
The rest of the day hideously knocks my confidence. I'm conscious of how I look everywhere I walk. But marketing's quite an edgy sort of business, isn't it? I've seen some pretty trendy marketeers. How do they do it?

They are understated. Black trousers, white shirts, black designer specs, white iPhones, black smart shoes - you see a theme here? A splash of colour is maybe channelled through a tie, or a handkerchief, but it's not Jackson Pollocked across the whole outfit. 

I look bloody ridiculous. I'm too colourful!

My 15 minutes of fame with a big new potential client is more of 30 seconds of shame, as I'm shown the door quicker than I had time to say hello to our possible new friends (all wearing very fashionable specs, none looking like they've been assaulted by a child with a handful of Sharpies). 

Mortified, the rest of the day goes by with my head bowed down, all communications done online, and at 5:31, I bolt out the door. By now, thankfully, it's dark outside and no-one can see this abomination. I barge in home, slam the door shut, lock it twice, close all the curtains and pour myself a drink. 

Missus enters, stage left
"Oh, you're early, how was your day?" 
"Never mind that, who do you think I look like?"
"Hm, a bit like a gay snooker player." 

It's just one of the side effects of being this avant-garde, oui?

Friday, 3 January 2014

#NewYearNewYou

The start of a new year means that anyone and everyone with an outlet to spout their miserably unwanted thoughts is obliged to come up with some fake 'resolutions' because it makes them look willing to better themselves in this imperfect world, and also because it makes them look festive and with the times, even if they write something ridiculously dated like "I promise I'll stop listening to that TRULY ADDICTIVE Gangnam Style!"

Instead, I present to your my New Year Resolutions for you, the Great British public. If you are an avid reader of the Daily Mail (and, being a human being capable of sensitive thought, I sincerely hope you aren't), you'll know full well that we, as a society, are crumbling into disrepair, and will soon be unable to say the phrase "It wasn't this shit back in my day", because it just won't ring true any more. 

So, here they are: 

1. Don't get your hopes up too much. 
This year, a select 23 from a pool of 60 million citizens will fly to Brazil to try and win the World Cup, while the rest of us sit at home and just hope that they don't completely humiliate themselves, and us, for another four years. To achieve this, it's vitally important that NOBODY predicts anything other than a Group Stage Exit. Anything better than that is dangerously optimistic, and will only leave us flat and sobbing like Gazza when we exit at the Group Stage. 

2. Try not to kill anyone. 
America spent so much time defending it's right to bear arms after the Newtown Massacre of December 2012, it completely looked over the fact that, since those horrible events, over 9,900 more gun-related deaths have occurred. This issue was most-famously discussed on Piers Morgan's CNN show with red-faced gun enthusiast Alex Jones, who firstly barked on about how dangerous Piers is, and then about how Great Britain is since it banned the ownership of automatic firearms. After watching the interview on YouTube, I managed to prove him wrong by not going out on the street to stab someone. Perhaps this year a few more of us could do that

3. Stop messing about with your own hair. 
I should know. 
Blonde in Berlin, 2008
'ENOUGH!' I screamed, last month. Why do I put myself through this each day? The cuts, the products, the messing about with it, the combing, the brushing, the dyeing, the straightening, the curling, the wind, the rain, the eventual misery when you realise that you'll never look as good as David Beckham. 
It had to stop. So must you.

4. Write and feature in your own TV show.
Go on, try it. Oh, you can't? That's because it's REALLY FUCKING HARD. I've tried it all from heartwarming sitcoms, to chilling dramas, to even an arthouse indie show. It's really tough, and now I appreciate how tough it is to write a decent TV show week in week out. Alternatively, if you don't want to try writing/featuring in a TV show, how about never complaining about one ever again? If you sit there watching Made in Chelsea going "This is so good it's bad, how can anyone watch this?! I only watch ironically it to laugh at the people who watch it?" then you, my good friend, are not the solution. You are the problem.

5. Stop someone mid-meltdown, and make them laugh. 
Judge the mood first - don't make a fart noise in front of your grieving grandmother. But if someone's having a sob about how work's getting on top of them, or having a crisis of confidence in their own ability to cook rice, now's the time to remind them of that picture you have of them licking one of the Queen's guards to see if he will move, and how hilarious it was at the time. See? Life's too short to get in such a state.

6. Stop using the word 'bants'.
"So there I was in Yates's, absolutely shitcunted off two WKD blues, when the-legend-that-is-Spunko headbutted a stranger for no reason, threw him to the ground, and then me and the LADS started shouting verbal abuse at his missus as she tried to use some tissues to stop the heavy bleeding coming from the side of his head. BANTS"
It's safe to say that the word 'banter', and all it's variations, have been heavily bastardised.

7. Stop asking people if they've seen 'Breaking Bad'. 
Barely a day has gone by since the bloody thing finished that I haven't been treated like an inferior being because I didn't watch it. Nor have I watched Homeland, The US Office, The Sopranos, Spaced, Peep Show, Frasier, Ripper Street, or Sherlock. Can we still be friends?

8. Don't take part in Democracy
In the UK, and throughout Europe, elections in May will decide Members of the European Parliament, in which the views of 63 million of us will be condensed into 73 men and women. That means one representative for each 863,013 of us. 

Last year, drug-addict-turned-comedian-turned-Jesus-H-Christ Russell Brand told Jeremy Paxman that he has never voted, and doesn't intend to. I disagree with him: go to the polls, and spoil your ballot. Show these people that they don't represent you. Unless one of them really does. But, as we know, there's a 1 in 863,013 chance of that happening. 

Failing that, get a myWaitrose card and only go there for the free coffee, and nothing else. Apparently it annoys posh people. Stick that up your arse, establishment!

9. Stop going to nightclubs
Everything about them is ridiculous, as I have tried to say before here, (and failed, because I still frequent them). On the last night of 2013, I, and two good friends who are more handsome than myself, was lured into one by a lady more attractive than the three of us combined, who assured us all that it would be 'fun'. The loud music, the inability to dance, the standing next to people distinctly more attractive than you (male and female) and wondering how you ever managed to have intercourse with another human being, the £10 to get in even though we weren't there for the New Year's Countdown, the £5 for 25ml of vodka, 35ml of lemonade and 150ml of ice. All in the name of fun!

Interestingly, at no point for the whole 45 minutes we were there did my two attractive male friends, or even our very pretty friend, say "This is so much fun!". Which was the correct thing to do, because friends don't lie.

10. Keep the faith
I will still love you, no matter what you do. Remember that. Go forth and hold these resolutions close to your bosom. Love them, cradle them, print them off and tape them to the back of your lover, or record someone reading them out loud and have it as your alarm clock, so that we all may have a better life, one day at a time. 

And, for God's sake, don't read the Daily Mail.