Saturday 27 November 2010

Breaking muse

People often ask me, what is the secret of your consistently brilliant blog? Where do you write such dazzling posts? What are the surroundings that inspire you to such dizzy heights of eloquence?

Well, I've taken a deep breath and revealed this candid picture of my blogging room. It is in fact the Marilyn Monroe Memorial Library in the East Wing, overlooking the Boating Lake.

It may look quiet and sedate but unfortunately my creative endeavours have often been interrupted by disturbing and gruesome tragedies.

My half-sister Sophie, in a state of hopeless depression after the death of her beloved chihuahua, jumped from the window and was killed instantly as she hit the granite flagstones by the statue of Oscar Wilde.

Uncle Bernard, the incorrigible womaniser, was seriously injured when the massive light fitting fell from the ceiling and fractured his skull. He was in a coma for seven weeks, which came as a great relief to the 15 women he was actively pursuing.

My cherubic niece Tiffany was overcome by fumes from the fresh varnish on the writing desk and was found in a deranged state by the housekeeper. She had torn hundreds of pages out of my priceless first editions.

Still, never mind these depressing memories. What of the creative secrets hidden in this innocent-looking room?

In a special compartment under the floorboards there's a stash of banknotes to persuade rival bloggers to abandon their pointless outpourings. If that doesn't work, there's also a shotgun and a phial of arsenic.

In the writing desk drawer are the computer codes that lace my posts with subliminal messages compelling visitors to keep reading. Mostly they refer to sex, chocolate cake and designer dresses.

But that's enough of my fearless candour. I shall now lock the door, draw the curtains and wait for the Muse to let rip. If she's gone off in a huff, I'll just have to paint my nails and finish off the marzipan cupcakes.

With thanks to Catalog Living

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Unsavoury kilts

It seems the old Scottish custom of not wearing anything under your kilt is no longer sacred. It's being attacked as unhygienic, childish and offensive.

Firms that hire out kilts are complaining that because of the no-underwear tradition, kilts are being returned to them in a disgusting state that upsets their staff, and they have to be thoroughly cleaned before they can be reused*. Some firms are now demanding underwear as a condition of hire.

Regular kilt-wearers however are having none of it. They say insisting on underwear is namby-pamby nonsense and undermines an age-old custom. Kilt-wearers like fresh air and freedom of movement around their intimate areas, and they can't see what all the fuss is about.

But I daresay their women folk aren't entirely happy with the scantily-clad tradition, and aren't too keen on the possibility of accidental exposure.

Personally I've never seen the attraction of kilts anyway. Rather ungainly, old-fashioned things, surely? Why hordes of women find them so exciting and dashing escapes me. If men fancy wearing a skirt (and why not, for heaven's sake?), how about something subtler and prettier?

I must say I'm seeing kilt-wearers in a different light after those squalid revelations from the hirers. I think I'll keep well away from anyone in a kilt in future for fear of unsavoury goings-on. Me, I'm definitely in the compulsory underwear camp. Good grief, lads, have you no sense of personal decency?

* That's the kilts, not the staff

Sunday 21 November 2010

Be my guest

Even if we were desperate for money, Jenny and I would be very reluctant to take in a lodger. We could so easily end up with the lodger from hell, taking advantage every which way and driving us nuts.

But the number of people taking in lodgers to make ends meet is rising dramatically in the current economic downturn.

More than 200,000 British households now have a lodger - that's a rise of 15 per cent in three years and a level not seen since the sixties. The typical lodger-landlords are middle-class thirty-something couples.

Some of them have had their fingers burnt though. They've had lodgers who keep stinking food in the fridge, cook meals at all hours of the night, take umpteen showers a day and monopolise the washing machine. Then when they ask the lodger to leave, they dig their heels in and refuse to go.

Jenny and I simply wouldn't want to take that risk. Because however carefully you try to vet someone and predict how reliable and well-behaved they're going to be, you can always be fooled by someone who knows how to fake it and present themselves as the ideal lodger.

It's simply not worth the possibility that our cosy and comfortable domestic routine would be hit for six for someone who couldn't care less about our wishes or our well-being.

In my twenties I shared a few places with other people and sometimes it was a nightmare. They would invite all their friends round for wild parties, never do any housework, play loud music at any hour and leave food to fester and rot. I would have to move out rapidly and with a huge sigh of relief.

If all lodgers respected their landlords and behaved with sensitivity and courtesy, the idea of taking them in would be more appealing. Unfortunately too many lodgers turn out to be a law unto themselves.

PS: Okay, be honest, am I just mean and selfish and uncharitable?

PPS: Jenny points out that even if lodgers are a pain in the arse, they may be paying the landlord's mortgage. In which case complaints ring a bit hollow....

Thursday 18 November 2010

Binge and run

Have you ever been tempted to walk out of a restaur-ant without paying when you notice the exorbitant prices on the menu?

A couple who were arrested in London are suspected of doing a runner from a string of posh restaurants, clocking up unpaid bills amounting to £2500.

The bills included bottles of vintage champagne, repeat orders of foie gras, hare, venison, mille-feuille and other exotic items.

I must say when I see the phenomenal prices some eateries charge for very basic dishes, simply because the venue is fashionable and luxurious, and the obscene levels of profit involved, the idea of stuffing oneself and then scarpering is very appealing.

I do wonder whether these affluent diners are simply savouring their over-priced titbits or whether their real aim is to feel superior to all the impoverished grafters peering enviously through the windows.

I'm sure most people would love to dine out in style every night rather than cobbling up another makeshift meal in a poky kitchen. Unfortunately they don't have bank accounts hefty enough to finance such casual extravagance.

Mind you, on the odd occasion when I've found myself in some fancy restaurant renowned for its haute cuisine, the servers have an unnervingly supercilious attitude, as if they know far more about culinary nuances than you, the uneducated punter, could possibly know. They give the impression you're gracing their tables on sufferance, only tolerated for the sake of financial gain. They'll wash their hands of you at the earliest opportunity.

When I recall occasions of that sort, I think maybe there's something to be said for a makeshift meal in a poky kitchen.

Monday 15 November 2010


I'm an intensely curious person. I'm never satisfied with the obvious. I'm never satisfied with glib platitudes. I want to know more, I want the facts behind the facts, I want the hidden story.

So you have marital squabbles? Medical problems? Financial headaches? Tell me the details, the sheer awfulness, the whole desperate mess. Don't fob me off with vague hints, lay it all on the table.

The trouble is that most people don't want to tell me the full story. They're suspicious of my curiosity. They think I'll criticise them, or laugh at them, or lecture them. They're embarrassed by their own foolishness or vulnerability or incompetence. They can't believe I'm simply interested in what they're going through, what they're having to contend with.

So most of the time my curiosity is frustrated. I have to make do with imagining the missing pieces in the jigsaw, imagining what they're not telling me. And quite possibly conjuring up something far more lurid and catastrophic than is actually the case.

Someone will hint at marital tensions, and immediately I'm assuming sexual infidelity, domestic violence or seedy obsessions, when the reality may be nothing more than persistent snoring.

I don't mind other people's curiosity about me. I don't have anything to hide (well, very little). People can ask away as much as they like, I'm happy to tell them whatever they want to know. I'm a fallible human being like anyone else, I make mistakes, I get into tight spots. I don't feel any need to cover things up and pretend I'm perfect. I don't expect criticism or ridicule, and actually I seldom get it.

There's nothing wrong with curiosity. It shows a healthy interest in life. What does disturb me is people with no curiosity at all, people who respond blankly to anything and everything, be it trite, odd or utterly insane. That's what really sends shivers up my spine.

Thursday 11 November 2010

A warm welcome

What a wonderful way to welcome new women employees to your office. Circulate pictures of them to the male employees and ask for a rating of the top ten most attractive recruits.

Wouldn't that make you feel good? It wouldn't? What's the matter, lost your sense of humour, love?

Unluckily for the 17 men who did exactly that at an Irish branch of Price Waterhouse Coopers, a journalist discovered their jolly jape and alerted their managers. But only after the pictures were forwarded to other firms and then flooded the internet.

The company is now promising a full investigation and say they will "take all necessary steps and actions."

Apart from wondering how the 17 men had the time for such concentrated ogling, it baffles me how they could possibly see such an exercise as a welcoming gesture. The answer presumably is that their intention was never to be welcoming but to put the women in their places as bits of totty whose specialist skills are of no importance.

I can only imagine what the 13 women felt, as none of them has had the courage to speak out. Shock, horror and embarrassment probably don't begin to describe their feelings at being turned into a global public spectacle for the amusement and sexual frisson of countless horny males.

They joined the company expecting to be seen as productive and valued employees, only to be relegated to pin-up status in a leering beauty contest.

They rapidly discovered that their male colleagues may look polished and professional in their crisp little suits, but underneath lurks the same old swamp of misogynist crudity.

PS: Incredibly, many of the media stories include all 13 pictures, which only encourages further circulation. My link is now to the story in the Irish Times, which doesn't include the pictures.

PPS: And when are we going to see pictures of all the 17 men, with their names and personal details? Somehow I think their identities will be carefully hushed up....

Pic: Fiona and Sharon check out the Top Ten Ugliest Male Employees at Soddit and Halfwit Ltd

Tuesday 9 November 2010


Guilt is an ambiguous thing. It can be a healthy feeling of regret and the need to put something right. Or it can be a hopeless neurosis, a constant brooding over past mistakes.

Men are assumed to be low on guilt, just ploughing ahead regardless and not too worried about the consequences of what they do. Anyone who objects is seen as an oversensitive fuss-butt, unable to deal with real life.

Women are thought to be guilt-ridden, forever wondering if they've caused offence or not been generous enough or treated someone badly. They're always ready to apologise, declare their own shortcomings and make frantic amends.

I have to say I follow the male pattern here. I seldom feel guilty and I tend to think that if something I do causes some unexpected disaster or distresses someone, it's really just bad luck. Of course I'll do what I can to put things right, but I don't lose any sleep over it and I don't beat myself up over my miscalculations.

It occurs to me though that if men were a bit more prone to guilt, a lot of the horrendous massacres and barbarities they've carried out across the world wouldn't have happened. If they could feel a shred of human empathy with the victims of their atrocities, they wouldn't be capable of them.

But too much guilt can paralyse a person and make them so timid and hesitant their whole life stalls. They blame themselves for everything and can't accept that shit happens despite the best of intentions.

A smattering of guilt helps us to be civilised. But too much of it can be a millstone.

PS: Is there a difference between regret (feeling you did something wrong) and guilt (feeling bad about it)?

Saturday 6 November 2010

Old and past it

I'm devastated to have to tell you that I'm being replaced as the presenter of nickhereandnow on account of being "too old and wrinkled and generally past it."

The new presenter will be gorgeous, pouting Veronica Trinket, aged 25, the glamorous supermodel and fashionista. "I'm looking forward to this exciting new opportunity" she gushed. "I don't know anything about blogging but I'm keen to learn."

I had an unexpected phone call from Simon Hatchett, Human Resources Director of the British Blogging Corporation, on Friday morning.

"I don't like to say it, Nick," he said, "but someone has to. There's a general feeling that you're a bit over the hill and due for retirement. To be frank, your face looks like a mountain path and your eyebags are bigger than my wife's tits. A bit of botox and plastic surgery might do the trick, but I hear you believe in natural ageing."

"I certainly do" I spluttered. "You heartless monster. You moronic crowd-pleaser. Don't you realise I'm the one who creates the unique flavour, the special ambience of nickhereandnow? How can that possibly be left in the hands of some gormless anorexic coat-hanger? Are you insane?"

Needless to say, my protests fell on deaf ears. I'm dispensible, I'm yesterday's cheeseburger, I'm a laddered pair of tights. I've got to go, the sooner the better.

But I'm not taking this lying down. I shall join the sacked BBC Countryfile presenter Miriam O'Reilly (53) who is suing the BBC for sex and age discrimination, and sue the pants off Mr Hatchett.

And don't be surprised if gorgeous, pouting Veronica is involved in a very nasty accident.

Pic: starving but wrinkle-free Veronica Trinket

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Smoke alarm

I haven't much sympathy with workplace smokers, but the new tendency to make them clock out and clock in whenever they take a fag break does seem a bit over the top.

Apparently a number of local authorities are now asking smokers either to clock out while they smoke or work overtime to compensate.

Not surprisingly smokers are objecting to being singled out for penalties. What about non-smokers who waste their time on the internet or Facebook? Or make themselves a cup of coffee? Or spend ten minutes gossiping with a workmate? Or spin out that out-of-office trip to do a bit of shopping? Shouldn't they be penalised as well?

The truth is we all sneak little breaks from work to give ourselves a boost or fend off a heavy workload for a while. Either we should all be sanctioned or nobody should. It's hardly fair to jump on smokers and nobody else. I'm with the smokers here.

Those non-smokers who claim to feel resentful about 'privileged' smokers should look more honestly at their own personal indulgences and the little work-avoidance tricks they themselves get up to. If they aren't careful, they could find themselves hoist by their own petard.

We all have our dodges, especially if we've had decades of work-experience to suss them all out and refine them into barely-noticeable spells of truancy. One of the vital skills to pick up on your first job is the art of ingenious skiving. But still, that's another subject altogether.