Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Tables Will Turn

I know it's wrong to be jealous of a cat but having spent the majority of the last few weeks in the company of Major Richard Parker, I must confess it has been very difficult not to feel that way. Constantly exhausted and suffering from a “splitting headache”, I've often had to smear my head with Tiger Balm in a vein attempt to perk myself up. As I move from one room to the next to give myself a change of scenery, I've constantly been tailed by a large ginger familiar, a being who loosely legitimises talking to yourself in order to avoid impending insanity.

Having recently visited a doctor, The Major has been diagnosed as bordering on the obese. When we adopted him, he'd come from a schizophrenic owner who'd clearly over-compensated for her neglect of him and his siblings with copious amounts of food. Normally I'd revel in his tubby good-humour but as he's predominantly a house cat, he potentially gets less exercise than the average moggy. Weighing in at around a stone, despite having stumpy legs and an impossibly short tail, The Major has had to go on a diet. Naturally this isn't a self-imposed diet.

Each day, we are woken by his hungry yowls and each morning I hear The Boy trying to appease him with small snacks. We've decided to apply the dieting rule that frequent small portions are better for the metabolism and easier to digest.

Later, as I settle down to my daily batch of 130 product rewrites, I hear strange noises from the kitchen and a jangling bell that are both getting closer to the bedroom. He enters the room with a ribbon and two small white pompoms draped from his mouth, looks at me and drops it, yowling to ensure he has my undivided attention. He then picks up his comfort pompoms and noisily returns to the kitchen where he begins the whole process again and does so repeatedly until his next meal.

Watching him, I'm jealous that someone can enforce a diet without him “cheating” but that's not the main source of my jealousy. Between meals, sporadic checks on my status, and the occasional trip outside to sniff around the patio or bask in the sun, The Major sleeps for the majority of the day. He sleeps on the third tier of his “cat tree”, on the storage box by the window, on the sofa, on the carpet in the bedroom, by the door of the bathroom, on various favourites spots across the laminate and on the terrace... Watching his peaceful slumber gives me enormous contentment but then I yawn and I'm jealous that he can just curl up whenever he wants to without any guilt or product rewrites.

The most dangerous time of the day is before bed when he starts to get a hunger on again. We've taken to giving him strategically timed snacks throughout the day to try to avoid visits in the early hours. Having a Major in the confined spaces of a flat is like Groundhog Christmas Day – every day we are woken by the patter of tiny feet and excited jumps on the bed, telling us that it is “time”.

Now my 31-days-in-25-days stint is over, I'm gearing up for my holiday and rather disturbingly, I'm most looking forward to sleep. I suspect when I come back the tables will have turned and The Major will be the one harbouring resentment towards us for abandoning him. Although if our regular across-the-hallway companion for The Major is less strict with his diet regime this possibly won't be the case. Time and the scales will tell.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

When Magpies Attack

I'm taking a weekend “break” from churning out product rewrites. It's ten to eight in the morning, The Boy's alarm went off some time ago and we've slept through it. I've spent the last 15 minutes charging around, only briefly stopping to check my watch and realise it's actually an hour earlier than we originally thought. Now showered and semi-awake, there's regrettably no turning back to bed. Anyway, as time does, it speeds up and despite having much longer than planned we're once again nearly running late.

We pull up about twenty minutes later and I'm clutching the cherry Lucozade I hope will steer me through the day. We're ushered towards “a pitch” and pull-up. Before we have time to contemplate unloading, we're surrounded. Battling our way out, we nervously push past the crowd and attempt to set up shop – a task that increasingly becomes near impossible.

The few boxes we have got out of the car are already being rummaged through. I'm in a dilemma – do I watch our “goods” being man-handled or continue to unload an exceedingly full car?

“Got any jewellery?” he says peering through the car window, hands on the glass to conceal his eyes from the non-existent glare of the non-existent sunshine.

I curtly respond and continue attempting to place the contents of several boxes on a roll-out table.

“How much for that violin?” Another vulture says pointing through the boot at the still boxed instrument. Not happy with the answer, he tells us he regularly gets “them” for a tenner and we're left imagining some kind of bizarre dump specialising in nearly-new violins.

Choosing to get on with the task in hand, we continue attempting to unload, except I've become the watcher, the amateur security guard, attempting to safeguard our potential earnings. Taking on the manly role of removal man, The Boy lifts all the boxes out of the car and leaves me to interact with the increasingly demanding crowd.

There's another half hour until we're officially open to the “public” but it seems “the public” don't know this. We're actually both feeling a little over-whelmed and perhaps a tad uneasy. Deciding as an ex-teacher I'm well equipped to deal with the situation, I firmly but politely ask them to let us be so that we can unload everything and lay it all out properly, making it easier for them to look through. I get a few snorts of acknowledgement but the rummaging continues.

The jewellery fan seems to have had enough looking through my wares and single-mindedly asks: “Got any gold or silver?” I'm confidently doubtful but place the final box on the table. “Just costume then?” He outwardly projects his disappointment having eyed-over the goods.

Less perturbed, a sea of snake-like hands grab at the box and I feel like I'm part of a magic trick watching where each clutched item has gone. I'm dumbfounded when someone actually asks how much a necklace is and even more surprised when they start to try and barter with my two for a pound pricing.

In less than half an hour the quantity of jewellery has seriously diminished to mostly plastics. A hatted man is pouring at a large Oliver Bonas necklace box full of fake and exceedingly tacky plain and pink diamant√©, mostly from C & A and New Look. "How much?" he asks me. I look-over the contents of the box counting the number of items inside, aware everything needs to go and of the sorry provenance of this tat. “Four pounds for the lot.” He challenges me to drop by fifty pence and throw in the box, claiming he fixes up damaged jewellery. For whatever reason, he's clearly telling porkies as none of this “jewellery” is broken. Taking his money, I'm just grateful to see it go.

Ten minutes later, a lady leans over and smugly says, “He had you” with a wry smile on her face. I'm really not sure who she means. She describes the hatted man and tells me she saw him find a silver mark. Never one to believe in the impossible, I brush this remark aside, finally able to finish setting up what's left now that the vultures and magpies have gone.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

All Dressed-Out With No-Where To Go

So I'm back in Leeds and I feel like a hermit. I managed to land some much-needed writing work for over the summer and have taken on much more than I can reasonably handle without my health rapidly declining. I have 31 days worth of work to do before I go on holiday which means I have 25 days to do this in, including weekends. The average day is supposed to be comprised of re-writing 65 product reviews for a certain big-name catalogue website. As I already have weekend plans, my week days follow a rigid work schedule:

  • Get up around 9 to tidy my inbox

  • Start the first batch of 65 product rewrites

  • Have a break after about 20 to make a vitamin drink I hope might make me feel more alive

  • Continue writing at least another 20 before taking another break to eat something quickly

  • Finish the first batch of 65, do my daily pilates routine for 40 minutes and have a shower

  • Start the next batch of 65 rewrites

  • Have a quick break after around 20 rewrites where I might treat myself to unloading the dishwasher, doing some other over-due writing work that's a tad more creative or cleaning the Major's litter tray

  • Continue for another 20 rewrites before briefly stopping to eat something and making a quick phone call while preparing food

  • Finish the second batch of 65 rewrites in the early hours of the morning

Of course not every day is quite like this but nearly every day. I was afraid I'd be having nightmares about dresses, instead I have a permanent dull headache. Don't get me wrong – I'm really appreciative of the work and a keen dress wearer but working “double days” is exhausting.

The hardest part is writing positive reviews when I'd really love to be honest and pen an enjoyably venomous product description:

This sack-like dress from ? hangs shapelessly from the body yet somehow manages to accentuate fat tyres. Available in a range of ill-fitting sizes, for a tasteless look pair this with figure-hugging 80s leggings to get that shapely camel-toe look (http://www.celebsin • Washable but may shrink • 100% itchy polyester • Length approx: 86 cm (34 ins) • Sizes S - XL to fit sizes 10–16

The dresses I'm writing about seem to come in waves. Last night I reached the “ho” section and again found it difficult being positive about a whole array of near identical minis:

Dress like a street-walker in this unflattering cheap-looking dress from ?. Perfectly teamed with over-the-knee “f••k-me” boots and crotchless panties this is a dress that'll get you some unwelcome attention at 3am when the club lights come up. • Hand-wash to remove unsavoury stains • Body: 96% Polyester, 4% Elastane. Frill: 100% Polyester • Wearing length approx. 82 cm (32 ins)

Writing about 100s of dresses, sadly hasn't put me off buying them (much to The Boy's dismay), despite feeling all-dressed out. I can't wait for the start of the tops section... Cramming this much work into so few days, reminds me of preparing for exams - the end is in sight but in the meantime life is a monotonous haze of over-whelming somewhat repetitive tasks. Thankfully, unlike school days, the end is not a nerve-wracking exam but a week relaxing in the sun and hopefully catching up on some much needed sleep.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Of No-fixed Regionality

It's all very well having dual nationality or owning a second house in an exotic location, but when you're getting National Express twice virtually every weekend, there comes a time you've got to stop booking tickets. I survived my last routine National Express journey some weeks ago and have since returned to my adopted home city of Leeds.

Having trawled up and down the country for 23 months, I decided some time ago there had to be an end date to this insanity. I first “part” moved to London to commute to Harlow for my journalism course and then stayed on when I realised so many employers wanted to see an address from the capital written on application forms and CVs.

Although I've spent nearly two years living in London, I've never really felt like a “Londoner”. Constantly rushing away at weekends, I've spent a grand total of three in London in that entire time. Delivering home tuition sessions at clients' houses, writing restaurant and bar reviews, attending film screenings and flitting across the capital at the command of a supply agency have all meant I've seen my fair share of London and some of its suburbs but I've never really had the time to get to know one part well.

It's only when I'm asked to name my favourite pub, club or restaurant, I begin to struggle and find myself instantaneously thinking of Leeds' addresses. Having spent my whole university course in the city, a further year of teacher training, five years teaching and a few years in various other roles, I can't help but think of Leeds as home – after all I've spent virtually all my adult life here.

Having applied for every suitable job imaginable, I've given the big smoke a pretty decent shot and got all I can from it. It's time to say goodbye to bed and room sharing, infuriating locks, scolding showers, deafening traffic and stuffy tubes... And of course my daily routines, London-based friends and all the reviewing opportunities London threw at me.

I'm still unemployed and working freelance and it looks like I'm going to have to continue living out of bags and boxes for an unforeseeable future but I'm no longer one half of a long-distance relationship and perhaps The Major might even warm to me more. Sad to go but relieved to be grounded again, if the London Underground billboards are true:

then perhaps I'm a quarter Londoner, a quarter Kentish and half Yorkshire? Except I don't drink coffee or own any designer bags...