Wednesday, 30 March 2016

One Line A Day, for five years...

In late 2014, I was in Waterstones – shocker, I know, right? You know how you can calculate the proportion of your life that is spent peeing or travelling on a train? Well I swear for 87% of my life I am in Waterstones. I'd love to work that out, actually...

I was in the Greenwich branch, which just so happens to be my absolute favourite for the following reasons: 
  • Their Young Adult section is adequate. There are so many stores that have a teeny tiny (and wrongly named 'Teen Fiction') section pushed towards the back like they're ashamed. Uncool. Greenwich understands the importance of this rad genre.
  • Their in-store cafe is not a Costa franchise, it is a Cafe W. Their coffee may not be quite on point, but at least they're not that scummy chain. God, I hate Costa.
  • The lovely Daniel J. Layton used to work there. I'd see him from time to time when I visited and have that whole 'where do I know him from?' feeling which drove me bonkers, and by the time I realised that the place I know him from is my YouTube subscriptions page, he'd moved to another store. C'est la vie.
  • They have a photo of Caitlin straddling some horrendously lucky individual on the carpet no doubt at a signing event, at the top of their stairs to the second floor. I mean, wow.

Anyway, I decided to treat myself (as I always do when in a Waterstones, so really it's not a treat and more a mandatory activity)...I bought the One Line A Day book. The Chronicle Books edition – as, much like adult colouring books, this idea became a niche fad not long after I bought this. It was the only one on the shelf when I saw it, but since then many other editions have appeared! 

I was crazy excited to start this book. Basically, one has to keep it close to hand (I personally keep mine on my bedside table) and summarise each day in one line, every day for five years (that's how long my edition gives you, anyway). Each double spread page has two dates on with five years separated into boxes. You fill in the year and write your little line...I do try and keep it to one line, but I can't help cramming as many words as possible into all the available space...

I go through phases with this One Line A Day thing. I'll be on it for a few weeks, scribbling thoughts down each night before I go to bed – as I find that's the best time to do it, does anyone do it in the morning?! – and then I'll just...forget. For a while.
I'll then go back through my diary (the one in which I write important dates and deadlines) and fill in all the blanks that have accumulated. That's a little tedious, but I feel it's necessary. Despite my lack of follow-through with this book, how I don't prioritise it all that much when really it's not that big a commitment...I desperately need to have it to look back on someday.
In five years' time (cue that adorable pop song) I'll be excited to flip back through it, I reckon. I get excited even now, filling in dates just one year on from when I started and seeing the previous year's musings!

I really do wonder where I'll be in five years. Who I'll be with, what I'll be doing both for a living and for fun. How I'll be, within myself. Hopefully this book will accompany me there.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Grinding in Soho.

So my last cafe-related post about the magical All You Read is Love in Leytonstone was an absolute hoot to write (while in the cafe piggybacking on their wifi) and got such a nice response...I've decided I should really make it a habit, writing about my coffee dates in certain spots. I am a barista, after all, and probably one of the absolute worst coffee snobs you will ever meet, so readers can trust my word when I rave about a place and their brews...

A few days ago, I went to Soho Grind for my fourth coffee of the day. The first coffee had been a panicked double espresso from my favourite chain (their position as my favourite totally not influenced by the fact that I work for them) Caffe Nero on Fleet Street while I was en route to a meeting. The second coffee was in that meeting, adjacent to the most gorgeous roof garden situation I have ever seen in London. The third coffee was in Natural Kitchen with the papa, his favourite coffee haunt, where we discussed my meeting and my plans for the rest of the day.

My plans had been to meet up with a London pal and grab a bite to eat. Then they soon, quite unexpectedly, became 'wander aimlessly around Soho until you find that place that's apparently good for coffee, despite the fact that you've had three coffees already and are dangerously close to vomming pure espresso'.

Now, Soho Grind has a nice tidy rep for itself. The streaming queue of customers in the tiny place as I sat against a wall was evidence enough of that. Apparently it is one of a few Grinds you can find in LDN.
I have actually been inside one of its sisters (ooh err) in Holborn – the cafe ingeniously named Holborn Grind, with its gorgeous big windows and sexy neon lighting, which was the reason I strolled in confidently that time with my phone outstretched to take a photo of the neon sign (to then show to papa, a major Roxy Music fan). So yeah, I didn't actually get a coffee in there that time, I just got some Instagram goodness...

Covent Garden Grind may have to be my next stop. I tend to avoid Covent Garden these days, since realising there's more to London than the cute central stuff, but the coffee will be worth the crowds.

Despite my instincts screaming at me that I'd had enough caffeine for one day, or two or three, I ordered a long black. I automatically love stores that call their americanos 'long blacks'. I had thought they only called them that on the beautiful shores of Australia, home to the mothers of all coffee snobs. Apparently not! What a delight.
The long black was essentially a double espresso that had ran a little longer to add, well, length. I sipped until the cup was half empty (yes, I am a pessimist) then sheepishly went back to the lovely guy on the machine and asked for a top-up of hot water. He smiled and gave me a glass of boiling water, which was much appreciated.
I would have loved to have tried one of their flat whites, as the latte art I spied was on point. 

I really appreciated that the guys working behind the bar were never flummoxed or phased; every customer got a relaxed smile and a top notch beverage. The guys were machines, doing everything almost on autopilot – but with the necessary concentration. I often find myself doing that at work, making each drink diligently and relying mostly on muscle memory.

One thing that threw me was when I was desperate for a whizz and had no clue where to find a loo...then I realised the neon sign saying French lessons given downstairs was in fact not 100% correct, as downstairs there was more seating, more plug sockets (omg there were plug sockets EVERYWHERE in this place, it was incredible) and rather lovely loos.
I might have considered moving down there, sitting on a sofa in the slightly quieter environment, but I just enjoyed the hustle and bustle happening upstairs way too much! A good atmosphere is crucial in a cafe, and this place had it. 

Thank you, Soho Grind. It was a pleasure. I'll be back for the French lessons. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

3 weeks totally tuneless.

Three weeks ago, I lost my iPod. I had lost my iPod. My iPod was lost. 
As in, I got home after a night away and a day in London, I unloaded my stuff on my bed, and abruptly screeched in horror when my little purple Nano did not appear in any of my bags or pockets. My reaction shocked me, actually. I didn’t even shout ‘SHIT!’ like you (and I) would have expected me to. Instead I broke down and sobbed, immediately. I cried like an absolute baby. A baby left stranded in the city in the middle of the night with no way of reaching mama or papa and no music to keep it company... 

The first thing I did, and I am not proud of this, was run downstairs to dad and cry all over him, embarrassing myself by how much I was freaking out but not really caring.
We sat down and I ran through all my activity and locations in the past two days - home, station, train, station, Morrisons toilets, work, train, station, train, shopping centre, cafe, car, cheap hotel, shopping centre, cafe, train, London…! So many places, so many spots to lose items. I’d been losing items a lot, actually, in the week preceding this meltdown, and I’d been told that was most likely because I was muddled in the head with all my busyness and personal problems...yes, that was very very likely. But each of the previous lost things had been just little bits and bobs here and there - my Oyster card, a letter, a hat...nothing quite as valuable as my iPod. My gorgeous purple diddy - with the perfect supple Sennheiser plug headphones! Shit. 

My key fear was that I’d left it on a train. The last time I remembered actually listening to it was on the first day of the two, on my way in to visit my workplace and colleagues. I always check my seat and the floor beneath/around it when I get off a train, though. And the shelf above the seat, too - after one too many forgotten umbrellas and I’m thorough in checking before disembarking, these days. I wouldn’t have missed the little iPod on the floor. And it definitely didn’t fall between the train and the tracks at any point. Could I have left it in the toilets when I dashed into Morrisons for a quick pee? If that were the case, it would be long gone...some lucky kid would have pocketed it. Because people suck.
At this point I cried even more thinking about someone picking up my iPod and deciding to keep it, or give it to a pal as a present. That made my heart hurt. Why are people so awful? I could never do that. I’d go mad with guilt and sadness for the person who lost it...whenever we get lost property at work, we’ll joke about selling it on if it’s not claimed within a few weeks, but secretly I could never do that for real. 

Happy ending time: the iPod was located at one of the cafes. An employee had found it - during the Barista of the Year competition we were all attending - and locked it in their safe. It was in a safe. It All good. The following morning when I was told this over the phone (very casually, them just taking my word for it that it was mine and I needed it back…!) I happy-cried. My chest released. Thank goodness.
My area manager agreed to pick it up and bring it to my store when he was next able, which was a major help.

It did mean I’d have to live without it for a few days, though. Oh. 

The prospect of living - journeying, chillaxing, strolling - without my iPod for a week or two was a little...odd. Not frightening, I mean I’m not addicted to music like some (sadly, I’m very boring in my tastes tbh) and luckily I don’t require my iPod to fall asleep at night (I weaned myself off that when I was a teen). I just didn’t like the idea of not having it. It was unsettling. When my area manager texted to say he’d grabbed it and it was being kept in his car, that was nice. It means I know where it is, at least. But yeah. Still not a 100% pleasant feeling.
I knew I’d miss the tunes a fair bit, though. When I walk into town, when I’m hopping on and off the Tube, and most of all - when I’m on a train. An actual long-distance train.
I don’t listen to music on my phone, either. And I couldn’t - my headphones were with my iPod!
My only option was...reading.
What a tragic shame, right? Wrong! Well, kinda.
See the thing is, I adore reading, y’all know I do, but sometimes you just gotta zone out, stare out the window and let the music take you away. Being a book blogger, though, means I have a long TBR list and strict deadlines on when to read what, so when I’m 5 mins away from London and just want some chill time with the iPod, I feel so immensely guilty plugging in and putting the book away. I shouldn’t, but I do. Any of my other bookish peeps feel me on this one? I hope it’s not just me.

Now, I reckon everyone’s expecting me to say ‘living without a music device for the past few days has been so excellent, so magical, I’ve actually been aware of and taken pleasure in the world around me, it’s been a life-changing growing experience…’ nope. None of that. I have found it different, don’t get me wrong, but not necessarily enlightening. I’ve enjoyed the Tube journeys, hearing all the tannoy announcements and babbling between commuters; also the walking places and hearing as well as feeling the rush of air around me...I’ve missed putting the soft sound-deadening ear buds in when reading on a train, to silence all the noisy idiots around me and let me focus on my book. I’ve missed Dallas, and Joshua, and Newton, and Carole.
I think when I get my iPod back, hopefully soon, I’ll treat myself to one long guilt-free train journey staring out the window at the passing buildings or fields and listening to the cheesiest loveliest music.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

TBR: The Faber Edition.

I really do love being a book blogger. If only because I so enjoy that tell-tale THUD on the doormat that happens every so often - a couple of times a week, these days! I am forever grateful to my pals in publishing who see fit to send me all these early editions and general goodies. It’s a real treat.
The only downside...the TBR piles. Oh, the insanity. 

I currently have four distinct stacks of books taking up my desk - beneath my beautiful colour-coordinated shelves (courtesy of Clare, gorgeous super-organised yet wildly creative mastermind). The four stacks I refer to are somewhat organised; one is for the reads I snatched up in bookshops totally independently, the second is books my friends have lent me through the goodness of their hearts, the third is the proofs and arcs I've been sent by publishers (and sometimes the actual authors!) to read and potentially review, and the fourth is...well, books I've come across and am finding a place for within the aforementioned three piles.

You’ll notice in the picture above that the stacks are all nearly half my height, and precariously balanced surrounded by my bits and bobs that I really need to clear up and organise as well as I do my books…! You could make approximately one and a half Graces with these stacks. And probably at least one of my parents, the freakishly tall creatures that they are.
My family do joke about the ever-wowing ridiculousness of my hoarding - and I understand how any other standard human could walk into my bedroom and immediately go ‘whoa dude, got books?!’
Whereas to we book bloggers, a super-human race of our own, this is completely normal. 

So let’s break down some of these bad boys into a nice concise To Be Read list.
I've done this before, several times, separating the TBRs into months or seasons or just general desire to read - it’s worked to some extent!
This time I’ll be separating the reads into: PUBLISHING HOUSES!
How thrilling and ingenious of me, I know.

Here are my FABER TBRs…

I recently got to spend the afternoon at the Faber offices in London, and that alone was a dream come true. Let’s now add on the fact that as well as being there, I was in the company of the most fantastical group of book bloggers - my own kind! I happily sighed walking into that room, being swept away on the smell of books and general excitement charging the air around us. I also got to meet so many of my online friends - shout-out to Luna, Chelley, Virginie & Minerva, all of whom I have chatted to on Twitter and consider good pals, but hadn’t actually seen (or hugged endlessly) in person. 

There were tables all set out for us - each with a plate of book-themed cupcakes in the centre, which we resisted as long as we could, honest! - and we got to see a special show of upcoming releases from this rad publisher. Two of these were Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton and The Graces by Laure Eve. The Faber Children’s team could barely contain their excitement at getting to set these beauties free into the world (‘We rarely get two majorly perfect books AT THE SAME TIME!’). These two lovely authors (my writer/girl crushes are immense) then answered questions about their stories and Laure even treated us to a little read (her first time reading! How thrilling).

So yes, Rebel of the Sands The Graces are on my Faber TBR list. (Well, I’m like 3 pages from the end of Rebel so technically y’know…) (I also mentioned Rebel and its fabulous author in this post about writing!) 

Also on this list are :

Highly Illogical Behaviour, by John Corey Whaley. (released: 10th May)

Soloman is agoraphobic and hasn’t left his house in three years, but that’s totally cool with him.  However, Lisa soon comes crashing in and takes it upon herself to ‘fix’ Soloman. She wants to then write about it in an essay, to secure herself a place at university. Of course they become friends, and things get a little more complicated…

(We got to watch a video of him talking about his book, and my gosh I am now in love with this guy)

The Smell of Other People's Houses, by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. (released: 23rd February BUY IT NOW Y'ALL!)

Alaska, 1970. Being a teenager here isn’t like being a teenager anywhere else.
Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck strikes. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance, with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—that is, until one of them ends up in terrible danger.

Just the title alone, though. C'mon! I read it and thought 'yes, people's houses have smells!' I could be given a smell extract to sniff, and could immediately say whose house it was from. Or whose clothes. Remember in primary school when we all dropped our jumpers in the ditch on a hot day while we played Stuck In The Mud, and then when we had to collect them up we'd all say 'whose is this one?' 'Sniff it!' 'Yeah, it's yours!'

The Graces, by Laure Eve (mentioned earlier) (released: September 1st which is WAY TOO FAR AWAY!!)

Like everyone else in her town, River is obsessed with the Graces, attracted by their glamour and ability to make magic. However, what if they’re not what they seem? Are they more dangerous than they let on?

When given the opportunity to ask Laure some questions, obviously I had to ask ‘where did the name Grace come from?’ I couldn’t help myself. C’mon, Grace is a fantastic name. Laure then talked about how a name can be so crucial, can give you everything you need to know about a character. I agreed whole-heartedly. She then threw in that River, her main character, may not even be called River, and we may not ever know her real name...WHAT?! Oh, wow!

Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah, by Erin Lange. (released: 3rd March)

In this exciting thriller the acclaimed and well loved author of Butter and Deadlands tells us the tale of four teenagers, the most unlikely friends, who are now fleeing the scene of a crime together. They are literally a rebel, a bully, a geek and a pariah. The question is, do they tell the police...or are they running from the police?

Thank you, Faber Children’s, for the gorgeous yellow tote bag containing these delicious TBR joys. I’ll let you all know (most likely via excited tweets) how I find each one, when I finally get round to them all.

See you soon, I hope! 

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

One tattoo, two tattoo, three, four..........more, more more!!

Once upon a time, young Grace considered tattoos 'odd' and generally just not her thing. It's true, she did! What a fool. If she could see me now, eh? 

Because now, I am sat here in this cafe downing my third americano and musing on how I've ended up with seven (whoa, SEVEN!!?) little tatts. 
They all mean something. Of course they do, for goodness' sake I wouldn't get stabbed repeatedly with a needle and have ink bled forcibly into my skin for nothing - or for something I wasn't 100% in love with in some way. 
Each one has a story, and a meaning. I actually, unlike many of my tattooed peers, really enjoy telling the stories and don't mind when folks point to one and ask where it came from, what it is...I'm in a minority there, I think. 

(Some of Kel Violet's designs)

So here they are, in no particular order...

  • Three words.
    I have three words on my left (your right) inner forearm. They are a saying that my dearest Grandad has always uttered to me, since I was very young and prone to strops, sulks and tantrums. These days he'll say the words when warning me not to get too drunk on a night out on the town, of course. The words are in his handwriting, and will (hopefully) prevent me from doing silly things in the future. And obviously always remind me of my Grandad, one of my favourite humans.

    -- I was thinking about this one for three years.
    -- The amazing Kel Violet did it for me (and she was saying what a good idea it was throughout; that I'd never ever regret it. She's right!)

  • A teeny growth.
    I always loved the rec in the city of Winchester. I'd go there to run a few times (I gave up very soon after), to train with my Ultimate Frisbee team, and I would walk through it rather a lot whenever I fancied seeing pretty things and hearing the river flow.
    There is a row of trees there, running through the two big grassy fields. I have no idea what kind they are...oaks? Whatever. They are all gigantic trees. All broad and tall. Except one guy. He is teeny tiny, and stands alone within the line. Some might say he's a silly little squirt, trying to play with the big boys, shunned by his bros for being embarrassingly weak. I say he's a badass outspoken mother effer who his peers wouldn't dare touch for fear of getting owned.
    So I got him, and his friends, on the back of my neck. Obviously.

    -- I was thinking about this one for a few months, but seeing the artist's work spurred me into getting it done immediately.
    -- The beauty Daisy did this one. And she will do many, many more for me in the future. If I get my way. She is just my style. So fresh and crisp.

  • Brolly. There's an umbrella on my ankle. It symbolises the extreme protectiveness I feel towards my little sis, I'll always protect her from the rain - and it's also a nod towards Gilmore Girls, our favourite show, and the 'in omnia paratus' thing. My favourite episode, You Jump I Jump, Jack. Also at the time I was thinking about its possible link to How I Met Your Mother (even though my umbrella is blue), but after that ending? Nuh-uh. Any association was severed.

    -- I was thinking about this one for a year - the tattoo, anyway. I've been a protective big sister for approximately seventeen years of my life.
    -- The rad Kel Violet did it for me (and I am honoured to have one of her original designs on my bod forever...however small it may be!)

  • ;
    Just that. A semi-colon. To symbolise mental health awareness - inspired by my darl Clare Bear, who got one on her toe. The semi-colon is where things could have ended, but they didn't. The writer carried on. I adore that, and I do actually abuse this punctuation device when writing.
    It sits behind my left ear (your right), just next to my bald/baby hair spot that cropped up (or rather, didn't) after radiotherapy. It's also beneath my scars from my operations - the operations that altered my brain, mostly for the better, but sadly left some nastiness in the way of mental health. It seemed so so appropriate.

    -- I was thinking about this one for a few weeks, but then on the day it was an impulse. Walked in, laid down, boom! Luckily Clare was with me, for moral support.
    -- I got it done at Ink Scape, Bexhill, and so help me I cannot remember the guy's name, but oh lordy he was a dude. He took my £15 (!!) and put it in an envelope to donate to the centre a few doors down that takes care of mentally ill folks who cannot take care of themselves. Epic.

  • Three more words. 
    A Joshua Radin lyric - or a fragment of a lyric. On my ribcage - gee, that's a killer there isn't it? Ouchie. It's in my handwriting, because I was so amazed I could handwrite again and this was when I decided I needed every script tatt I ever got to be in someone significant's handwriting.

    -- The legendary Kel Violet did this for me. It was the last time she tattooed me in Winchester before she effed off to this place in London and made it big. Rightly so. 

  • Five words. 
    My second Joshua Radin lyric. A proper full lyric, this time. In his handwriting. Yeah, that's right. I got him to scribble it down for me when I saw him live recently (for the 7/8th time). Another ribs one - the other side to the last. The last actually may need covering up someday, anyway. With something big, that I already have planned.

    -- I was thinking about this one for a few months, but again on the day I walked in and luckily they had space that afternoon. That was an exciting Saturday.
    -- It was inked by Amber Ida, the apprentice at Seven Tattoo, Eastbourne. She was a proper cutie, and will go far for sure. 

  • Pen-knife.
    There's a pen on my outer wrist (my right, your left) which looks suspiciously like a knife. This was not intentional, it was supposed to be a Parker-style clicky-top pen, but actually I've come to love its knife-like qualities. I also like that people I'm talking to see it, whereas I don't always.
    This bad boy was my happy promise to myself that if I got a First in my Creative Writing dissertation (ECP) I would treat myself to a tatt. Of a pen, of course. Because I want to be a writer, I had finished my degree in writing, and...yeah.
    Then I lost the ability to handwrite. I physically couldn't hold a pen, or push it on a piece of paper. That was the beginning of my hideous journey back in 2014, which began with weird loss of motor skills and general disorder in my limbs, and ended in hospital with staples in my head. So then the tattoo, which I got immediately after I was released from hospital and realised I had the ability to handwrite again, became all the more important, and more meaningful than ever.

    -- I'd been thinking about this for the best part of a year when I finally got it.
    -- Yep, the gorgeous Kel Violet did this for me, too. What a babe she is.

So yeah, those are my tatts. There are more in the pipeline, though. At least two more booked in for the coming months - oops! Whatever would young Gracie think...!
My philosophy recently has been: screw it, it's my body, I love this and I want it on my skin. I only get this body once. I will make it my own, and however much it dicks me around I will fight back and reclaim it as best I can. I'll also let it run free, now and again, of course. You just gotta. 

City and Colour @ Troxy : a bewitched fangirl's review.

On Saturday 29th February I ventured into East London for the best possible reason – a gig at the Troxy, and not just any gig, but the one and only Dallas Green. Better known under his quietly ingenious band name, City and Colour. 
I've seen Dallas perform live a couple of times before in recent years but even with past experience I could not be ready for the electric excitement within the venue, and the awesome on-stage presence he commands. That man and his guitar, plus a perfect backing band. 

First we were introduced to Lucy Rose. She is gorgeous, quirky and infinitely talented. Her wild acoustic beauties got us in the mood – oh, especially when she abruptly called out “Ladies and gentlemen, Dallas Green!”
The man himself walked on stage, in jeans and a casual tee, stepped up to her accompanying mic and sang along with one of her own penned singles. Just a curt nod hello – he didn't make it about himself. What a gent.
The lights went down and of course the crowd began shrieking and applauding, some even yelling above others professing their love for Dallas. I will admit I was immediately swept up in the desperate thrill, and let myself whoop a couple of times. Then the hush fell. We waited patiently, breath held.
Imagine our astonishment, then, when suddenly some ancient country music starts playing. The tension in the crowd breaks and laughter circulates – people start dancing along and chattering amongst themselves. Then Dallas takes to the stage, and all he says before launching into the first song is “We’re the Three Amigos. Even though there are five of us.”
The set list was unreal. Mostly tracks off his deep and delightful latest release ‘If I Should Go Before You’, the most exciting and dance-inducing being ‘Killing Time’, ‘Wasted Love’ and ‘Northern Blues’. He opened with his 9-minute tune ‘Woman’, which was unexpected and fantastical. It brought the most beautiful calm to the crowd; we swayed happily throughout.
Dallas also mixed it up now and again with some of the lesser known B-sides from the last couple of albums (‘Hurry and the Harm’, ‘Bring Me Your Love’).
He purposefully, famously, does not play some of his most well-known songs at his gigs. Classics from the ‘Sometimes’ album such as ‘Save Your Scissors’ and ‘Like Knives’, even ‘Sam Malone’, are never heard live these days. As a die-hard fan, I have accepted this. However, a little part of me has always yearned to hear ‘Hello, I’m in Delaware, my favourite song in the world, played live – just once.
So when Dallas started strumming rather vaguely on his snazziest electric guitar and then slowly leaned in to the mic to utter the words ‘there goes my life’, I felt my knees buckle, and there was an uproarious cheer all around me as my fellow fans realised what was happening.
As if that whole portion of the gig wasn’t emotional and beautiful enough, in his encore he played ‘Body in a Box’ and did his usual jokey spiel beforehand, saying “everyone get your cell phones out and shine the light…great, now put them in your pocket and keep them there for this entire song!” Which was, as always, met with hysterical laughter and applause. It’s no secret that Dallas hates those who hold phones up and record during his shows.
Dallas would occasionally pause between songs to utter the most gentle and sincere ‘thank you’, but I feel we should all have been thanking him, endlessly. For the most wonderful evening, packed with joy and magic.
(FULL SET LIST: ‘Thirst’, ‘Northern Blues’, ‘Two Coins’, ‘If I Should Go Before You’, ‘Killing Time’, ‘Hello, I’m in Delaware’, ‘Wasted Love’, ‘Weightless’, ‘Lover Come Back’, ‘Waiting…’, ‘Sleeping Silence’, ‘Woman’. ENCORE: ‘Body in a Box’, ‘The Girl’, ‘The Grand Optimist’, ‘As Much as I Ever Could’)

Sunday, 6 March 2016

My time at...........The Times!

From 29th February, the magical leap day, until Friday 4th March I was in London’s beautiful, inspiring and only mildly intimidating News Building, being an odd jobs doer and research slave for the team at The Times Magazine (out every Saturday, recent winner of Supplement of the Year, really rather good read). 

I was on 'work experience’. That means I’m experiencing what it’s like to work in a newspaper/magazine office, surrounded by all the creative types and commissioning editors, on one of the top floors in London’s most vibrant and central news hub. I’m so so grateful that I had this opportunity - it was really a matter of getting the right email address, sending a gushing message with helpful hints about being a Creative Writing graduate with an interest in all things newsy, and then just...finding the right week! That was all it took. It adds to my growing realisation that sometimes you just have to reach out, put yourself out there in the world you want to be thriving in, and soon enough things will happen. You’ll get moving in the right direction. As I am, these days...I think.

There are many many reasons why I love The Times Magazine, too many to list. I won’t lie, I first started reading it in cafes that stocked the papers when I didn’t have a book on me (in the days before smart phones and wifi, those dark dark days) - and I continued reading it because I enjoyed their celebrity profiles, I loved the spotlight opinion pieces, and...Caitlin. 
The goddess Cat. The woman who has worked at The Times for 23 years, having faxed them an article when she was just 17 years old and living in her bonkers family home in Wolverhampton (you might say she was raised by wolves...heh heh, references though). She put herself out there, however disillusioned she was in sending her work directly to one of the biggest and most powerful newspapers in the country, hell that is admirable and inspiring.
So when I was sitting in that office on the 11th floor I would listen out for that voice, the one I sometimes hear in my silly head cheering me on (or telling me to calm the fuck down and have a drink) and the one I can now imitate perfectly after seeing two of her live events (will be three, this Tuesday 8th…!). I’d scan the break-out areas for that gorgeous mop of black hair or the trademark denim shorts and tights combo. Nope, nothing. She had tweeted me before I started to say she would mostly work from home, so I wasn’t too disappointed. I know she and I will meet and get drunk together someday.

Moving on, climbing out of the cavernous Caitlin Love Hole that many of my blog posts will fall down time and time again...back to the experience. Let’s talk about the experience. Or rather, I’ll talk AT you about my experience.

I was a bundle of nerves on the Monday morning, of course. I was due in at 11, so obviously I got a train that ensured I was in London Bridge by 10. Maximum time to stand around, stare at the clock, grab a coffee from the station, stand around some more, then finally after 40 minutes I’d approach the desk and give my name, plus the name of my supervisor for the week, and then sit awkwardly in the lobby with the other guests eagerly awaiting their summons. That was when the nerves hit me. 
I am ever so slightly more socially anxious these days, especially when meeting legit writer types, because I worry that they’ll see right through me and wonder why they’re even giving me the time of day. I know they won’t, every writer and bookish businessperson I know is properly lovely and always happy to chat with me, sometimes at events they even seek me out and are properly excited to see me, but...I still worry. So when the lovely E approached me, with her bright brownish-green eyes and perfectly chic messy hair sporting the most fantastic pair of distressed retro dungers - I froze up a little. Just a little. Like, when you fill an ice cube bag with water and put it in the freezer then take it out after just twenty minutes...yes, just like that.
I needn’t have worried, it was all very casual and friendly. I was taken up to the offices, talking about my degree with E in the lift and seeing her surprise because work experience humans are usually a bit younger than I am.

I was given a computer, a scrap of paper with the logon ID and email address I’d be using and all the necessary passwords, then told my supervisor wouldn’t be in that day, so to answer to H instead. He was lovely. He gave me things to do, and continued to for the rest of the week - and when he gave me these things to do he was excitable and sweet about it. He’d suggest things gently, like ‘we need to do research on this guy we’re interviewing, do you fancy doing some cuts on that?’ (I quickly learned that ‘doing cuts’ meant copy & pasting info here and there. Such newsy lingo…) 
An exciting moment was when he said ‘we’re doing a piece on James Corden in a few issues’ time, do you want to write the intro for that?’ Now, that’s a tiny job, but it blew my mind. My first piece of writing to ever be published in a legitimate news publication will be a little description of national treasure James Corden - just 60/70 words saying how old he is, where he lives, what the reader would know him from...that’s exciting, for me. I don’t think the editors realised how exciting. I already am planning to buy that magazine and save the page forever. Maybe frame it someday and have it displayed in my penthouse flat in North London, showing my humble beginnings. It’ll be up on the wall next to a screenshot of my blog, back when it was and every post was about my heroine Taylor Swift or especially emotional Drama lessons or that boy I totally fancied… 

Don’t get me wrong, I did find it amazing and somewhat humbling to be in the thick of it, kind of, in the snazzy office at a desk hearing the writers and editors all around me shouting to each other and shooting ideas into the air about fashion, cooking trends and celebs they hated...I just felt a little excluded. I could have been used so much more. I know I have a voice - it may be a little shaky under pressure but it’s there in the back of my throat and buzzing in my fingertips poised over the keyboard. They could have got me to do more for them. Not that I didn’t love forwarding mail to the columnists, clearing up all the mess between the desks and recycling all last week’s papers, oh boy that was such fun. I just would have liked to have been more useful. Felt more accepted. Heck, some of the writers could have at least said ‘good morning’ to me when they came in, or learned my name.
Having said that, they have kids on unpaid work experience every week...why should they bother?
It was just slightly disheartening.

I can only hope that in the future I have more internships and experience days/weeks, and I’m given more of a chance to shine. Because I bloody can, if you let me.

Okay, whining over. Let’s wrap this up with a list of things I have learned - work experiences, within the work experience.

  • Coffee is crucial. 
    Y’all know I love coffee. But I love good coffee. A good cuppa makes the world go round, gets your juices flowing; it makes your day that much better and the office more bearable. This place had several coffee outlets, and all of them were shit. For various reasons - one was a cheap filter job, one was weak even when I selected ‘strong’ on the machine and put in an extra shot, and one was lukewarm from the first sip. Not okay. I had to get a coffee on my way in from the Nero Express at the station, then sneak the takeaway cup into the building and be careful not to spill any in the pristine offices. Totally worth it - you gotta do what you gotta do. 

  • Little things matter.
    I saw one guy spend an hour deciding the size of font on the contents page, and another working out if a comma ‘should go there’. There were also women giving their thoughts on each and every model and their poses, arguing that one was ‘piggy-eyed’ and another was ‘striking extra hard’. 

    I do understand this, I feel the same about my blog. If the title of a post doesn’t seem quite right, or the image I’ve inserted needs more space around it, or the banner is looking a little off-centre...I freak out and pause everything to correct the issue. It’s a good way to be, y’know, super OTT organised to the point of anal.

  • Rock it. 
    I had been cold as ice for the first three days coming in and out of London Bridge, to the point that my feet had gone permanently numb and chattering teeth had ripped my bottom lip to shreds. I’d been wearing my smartest jacket, feeling it was appropriate. It was also my lightest jacket. And guess what, it really was not worth it looking business-like but freezing my tits off. I came home on Wednesday night and made a decision. I had to wear something warmer for the next few days. I knew exactly what, too. I just wasn't very confident about it. I consulted with mum, saying I felt a little silly all rugged up in this huge flamboyant thing, and she said that if I didn’t feel 100% awesome in my planned outfit, it would show. I had to rock it. 

    So on Thursday I walked into the building in my huge cream fake fur coat (Primark’s finest, circa 2012). I swiped my week pass at the barriers and sashayed towards the lifts. I flicked my hair out of my face and sipped from my takeaway cup. I reapplied my lippy in the loos and then hung the luxurious coat over the back of my desk chair for the entire day, unintentionally making it become a little swivelling throne. I owned it, worked it and rocked it.

  • Take the freebies.
    If there are books lying around the offices that were gifted by the authors or publishers, or any sample foods or prototype gadgets...take them. That’s what they’re there for. I of course waited until an editor actually said to me ‘You’re welcome to any of these - please, take one!’ before I dived in and loaded up my tote bag. But when I did, I went crazy. If there’s anything being a book blogger has taught me over the past few months, it’s when you’re offered something, you grab it. You can never have too many books. 

  • Be keen & grateful.
    I genuinely think I alarmed the writing team whenever they asked me to do something and I responded with such excitement it was like they’d set my arse alight. My enthusiasm was borderline ridiculous. I was asked at one point to condense a press release for men’s moccasins to go in the Style section, and I clapped my hands together with joy. I was then asked how I felt about Tumblr teens, and I brought up my own (dusty, barely touched any more) Tumblr page, scrolling through and babbling away about the users I had always loved. And when my supervisor suggested I do some research on Muslim dating sites for a future feature, oh boy, I jumped in my seat and spent over an hour looking at (reading the success stories section and almost weeping with happiness).
    Yes, I was keen as a bean. 
    I am also grateful. Despite my bitching earlier about not being used and abused for my passions and talents, I am still happy to have been able to sit in that office for five days. I was happy to help with each and every task, however minor, however silly. I will treasure this experience always, and I can safely say it won’t just be an extra item on my CV. 

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