Friday, 30 December 2011

I'm Not A Terrorist, I'm A Photographer. Even if not a very good one.

I'm not sure how many photographs there are going to be on this blog, you know. I do rather fancy popping in a few rants about actual Types of Letterbox, by way of a USP or at least a way of venting my rage and pain when I come home with skewered fingernails or ripped knuckles, but another cause for rage and pain in the wider world is the current attitude towards photography, or at least towards possession and use of a camera in a public place. I have actually had my collar felt, or very nearly, for the awful crime of wielding both a digital camera and a notebook on a quiet suburban street, and though the Noddyplods who did the near-lifting were very civil and there was no taking-into-the-van-for-a-kicking involved, it was unsettling and really, when I think about it, very annoying.
It happened a couple of months back, when Mr Kite was still being a would-be property magnate, and had assigned me to a few days' house-hunting. The brief was to roam a designated area and report back to him any houses or flats that were for sale, for rent or unoccupied, something which I had previously been doing while delivering leaflets offering to buy properties the owners wanted to sell. So there I was, outside a none-too-delightful 60s terrace, snapping the middle one with its For Sale board and up popped Little and Large the Noddyplods, wanting to know what I thought I was doing. I explained. I gave them a copy of Mr Kite's property-buyer leaflet. They listened, then they asked for ID. Having been down the payday loan shop before starting work, I did have a phone bill in my pocket, which they studied gravely before calling the station to run a criminal records check on me! Midway through this malarkey, I realised that Large, the taller plod, was in fact the plod who usually patrols outside Trainboy's school, chasing away the parents who park in the No Parking zone, and mentioned this. I prattled brightly about Trainboy, schools, parenthood and the community, and the fact that Large was off his regular patch as much as I was. The plods relaxed a little, and then relaxed some more when the station got back to them to say that they had absolutely no record of me ever having done anything naughty, so they wished me well and wandered off. Leaving me feeling a bit like that poor sod who almost got labelled a peedafil and hauled off in a meat wagon for taking a picture of his own kid riding a plastic elephant in a shopping centre.
So if I get observed taking photographs of people's front doors I will probably end up in Guatanamo Bay.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

New Year's Eve: WHY do I get in such a flap?

In the process of sorting out What To Do On New Year's Eve this year, I found myself running through a mental checklist of ghosts of New Years past. Because (and this is perhaps one of the few 'normal' things I actually do) I always desperately want to have the Best New Year's Eve EVER, because it's the Best Party Night Of The Year, but in the course of the last 30 years or so I have only had about 10 New Year's Eves that were really any fun. Most of them have involved being squashed in nightclubs, failing to pull, rowing with numpties, crying in the bogs (not necessarily crying myself but getting lumbered with comforting someone who is doing so) and repeated cases of making the wrong party choice and becoming aware of it very early on but too late to change things.
Why not get some nice posh food in and some DVDs and spend it at home? That's what lots of people say whenever I start to whine and flail and hunt for party invitations or at least details of which club/bar/party my mates are going to be at. Well, because that is not my idea of fun. I don't mind being in my own home, eating pleasant things and having a drink, but that's what I do most nights anyway. It's not a celebration to me, to sit in my own front room. I have never, ever understood people who would rather stay indoors and watch television than be out and about when they had the opportunity to do so, still less do I understand the idea that sitting on your arse on the sofa in front of Celebrity Pet Executions or Vaguely Attractive People Do Heteromonogamy is some indication of moral superiority or maturity.
This year I thought I had it sorted nice and early: party at friends' house which was suitable for Trainboy as well as me. Then it all started to go wrong; the only other people with kids Trainboy's age couldn't go, I started fretting about the sheer distance (overnight stay job) if Trainboy got the hump, and ultimately I worked out how scarily expensive the fares would be, so decided to bail from that party and hunt for another one. With no luck.
So I ended up in a miserable sulk, convinced that no one likes me or Trainboy, that we have no friends and are complete social failures when the reality is probably that people have all sorts of different plans for the evening and the bulk of them are simply not that child-friendly.
Still, I am eternally optimistic and have managed something of a plan for a New Year celebration that will suit both Trainboy and me. Chopwimp, who is quite usefully upfront about his lack of interest in the festive season, has agreed to come and look after Trainboy on New Year's actual Eve, so I can go out in adult-only company, and then on New Year's Day we will go to a nice miniature steam train rally and have a good lunch somewhere nearby.
So have a good New Year even if you do spend it in front of the telly. At least Jools Holland is probably on, and at least his programme is quite good even if it was recorded in July.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Enjoy your Christmas, proles, it could be worse.

At least I think that's the message the Lizard Overlords like to transmit at this time of year. Why else would every soap opera's Christmas edition have to feature domestic violence, cannibalism, sudden death, a clip of someone roaring and pushing over a Christmas tree, oh and the pub in Eastenders burning down (again! I'd hate to be the loss adjuster for Albert Square...) It's not like they can even manage to keep it to just a few gentle reminders that the festive season is a bit difficult for some of us, such as a scene where the bailiffs turn up and snatch away the kiddies' bikes, or the whole cast coming down with salmonella. Or even just Auntie having one sherry too many and shitting her combinations on the new sofa. Mind you, the comfort-and-joy has spread to Actual News at least this year. Crap Christmas? You could have been stabbed over a pair of trainers or indeed shot dead by a loopy family member who dressed up as Santa before going postal.
Or you could be Phil the Greek and have a nice heart attack and stuff up the holidays for all those freelance subs who were expecting a day off but now have to go in and hover over a hot newsdesk updating your obituary in case you do cark it.

Friday, 23 December 2011

It's... You know. CHRISTMAAAASSS!

And actually I'm quite happy to call it that. I'm equally happy to call it Midwinter, Winterval, Yule, Saturnalia or whatever you like. 'Christmas' will do. Just like 'Thursday', or 'January' will do, as they are what most people around me tend to say, despite them not actually believing in either the Norse (Thor, Freya-Friday, Wodin-Wednesday) or the Roman (Janus-January, etc) pantheons of imaginary friends. Years turn, seasons change, marking points is generally a nice thing. What could be bad about choosing a day or two and dedicating those days to tasty food, exchanging presents, random shagging and active merriment? Generally I like to keep or at least mark (in order round the year) Burns Night, Mothers' Day, St George's Day, Easter, Mayday, Fathers' Day. Summer Solstice, Halloween, Bonfire Night, Winter Solstice, Christmas and New Year. I like spotting the relevant decorations when I'm on my rounds, but most households only mark a couple of the festivals I celebrate. Some households, of course, acknowledge other festivals that I don't know enough about to participate in, such as Eid and Diwali and Hannukah. I'm quite glad that the local card-and-tat emporia have decided to start selling culture-specific cards-and-tat for each of these even though said cards-and-tat have an air of having been produced by the clueless and aimed at the clueless, ignoring the concept that most of the people who mark these festivals have been doing so for a long time without the aid of 'Happy Whatever' cards with a picture of a kitten wearing a relevant hat. Festivals are good. The more reasons to give people presents, eat nice food and snog random strangers, the better.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

'So What Do You Do?'

About 20 years ago I asked a woman this question, as you often do when you've just met someone and are casting about for conversation, and let myself in for a good few minutes of lecturing on what an annoying and dumb question that was. I don't remember if she ever actually answered it, and at the time I thought she was a pretentious wanker. However, I have over the years realised that she had a bit of a point. It is a fairly loaded question to ask, both because these days, once again, a lot of people are not in paid work and are already feeling miserable about it without having to make it known to strangers and put up with all the guff that follows, and because some people seem to ask it as a way of allowing themselves to pigeonhole you immediately as acceptable or unacceptable. I've floundered over this question more than once in the past, even in the days when I had a Proper Job (as defined by an office to work in and a salary paid monthly into my bank account) because the Proper Job was a bit unusual. I would say, oh well I work in publishing and try to change the subject. Magazine publishing, I would say, if pressed a bit harder. I would try to guage whether the person asking thought that I was bigging myself up because I was 'really' a secretary/receptionist/some other womanjob and trying to make it sound more interesting just because I was a service appliance for the men in an impressive corporation, or if they had already gleaned some idea of what I did and wanted to see if I would admit it. (Don't waste your energy speculating, I was an editor of of porn mags). These days, I find the question even more of a pain, because I still can't actually give a straight enough, quick enough answer to allow everyone to feel that the formalities have been observed. Yes, I put leaflets in letterboxes and get paid for it. I also sometimes knock on people's doors and ask them if they want to complete surveys. In addition to that I am a trained wedding celebrant, a representative of a well-known catalogue seller, an occasional specialist market trader and a phone-sex operator. I'm starting another little business related to the funeral industry. And, far less often than before, I sometimes get paid for writing stuff as well. So when someone asks me, I fluff and go, oh well, various odds and ends, really. And the person thinks that I must be a drug dealer or a fence, or a sex worker.
Given that most jobs are not, exactly, the stuff of intense passion, why do people want other people to be defined by the way they earn their income? Once you've asked someone what they do, and been informed that they work in personnel, or on the checkout, or are the junior head of stationary purchasing, do you really want to have a whole conversation about that? Some people do wrap their identity in their jobs, but many more consider their real selves and real lives to have very little to do with what brings in the money: they are performers, artists, all-England scrabble champions, bell-ringers or poets.
A lot of jobs are not very interesting to do, but are reasonably necessary. So people will always have to do them: the selling of things, the wiping of arses, the cleaning of floors, the production of food. It isn't shameful to work in such jobs, but it's understandable to regard them as a means to support yourself while you 'do' other things.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Christmas Lights and Class War.

One of the things Mr Kite appreciates about me is my allegedly well-honed market research skills, so he bigs the service up to the clients as including proper area targeting. I normally provide this by checking things like how much off-street parking there is in any given road, looking for indications of family occupiers such as lots of toys/pensioner households with mobility scooters and handrails all over the place. But this time of year I get an extra set of really useful unmissable clues in the form of Christmas decorations. High proportion of Santa Please Stop Here signs is a pointer to a high density of young families living in the area, for instance. You don't get much of this in posh areas, for instance.
(image randomly nicked from somewhere else on the web)

Sure, there might be a tasteful shimmer of fairy lights in one window, or they might have gone so far as to illuminate an external tree or two, but your upmarket household generally only acknowledges the season with something like this.

I think it was Jilly Cooper who said that all children are lower-middle-class by inclination, and it's certainly the socio-economic grades C2 and D that expend the most cash and energy on extravagant Christmas lights, and certainly true that Trainboy adores them, the more flashing and colourful and enormous the better. Chopwimp, despite having that educated-boy-desperate-for-street-cred desire to portray himself as a lot more common than he is, gets very sniffy about such things, and has referred more than once to a neighbourhood close to his parents' home as 'Where all the plumbers and so on live. You can see the lights from fucking Mars...'
It's lack of money rather than snobbery that stops me from giving in to Trainboy's pleas to cover the front of the house with illuminated parachuting Santas and light-up trains and stars: I like them too and have great fun spotting different arrangements on various bus journeys. But then I probably am upper working class, if anything.
Still, soon enough they will all be gone, and I will have to go back to the more usual methods of assesing the class structure of an area street by street, such as remembering that garden ornaments consisting of piss-stained mattresses and broken bits of cars mean the inhabitants are probably not up for chakra healing or aromatherapy, and that luxury mansions with organic veg delivery still sitting in the extensive porch are not the target audience for two-for-one from Dubious Fried Chikken R Us.*

*Examples completely made up and hypothetical and not representative of actual clients at all. Oh no, Mr Kite, not at all.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Working Parent Trap

Between the strike that shut Trainboy's school on Wednesday, and the fact that today he has been thoroughly off-colour and therefore in bed while Chopwimp watched TV for most of the day (it being Chopwimp's day to be here), I have been thinking about the whole work/life/parenthood mess.
The sort of jobs that really fit round looking after children are either the unobtainably wonderful ones where you're basically a sleb and all your whims are indulged, or they are precarious, unpredictable and badly-paid. Oh, and one of those Big Lies, the perpetrators of which should be either taken out the back and disembowelled or at least made to join the queue applying for not-quite minimum wage dinner supervisor jobs in a sink school because it's the only thing you can get to, given that you're car-free, have several infants and are going to have your
benefits cut off if you don't show that you have at least applied for a job this week... well that's the one about the Mumtrepreneur, who has Reinvented her Life after getting up the duff and now runs her Own Business from the kitchen table selling miniature fairy wings or handmade pet dildos or something. Whenever one of these is featured in a magazine, there's always a bonus-guzzling banker hubby in the background, or her grandparents just carked it in a bizarre gardening accident and left her a convenient quarter of a million. Or she's actually made three sales in eight months but happens to have gone to school with the editor of the glossy magazine that's featuring her.
When Trainboy was embryonic, I did have a job, which was hell for various reasons, including being on 24/7 callout for not that much money and having to interact with a particularly demented and unpleasant cross section of the general public. I have never been one for logical career progression, at least not since I got forcibly made freelance about 15 years ago, it's always been a bit here and there, so to an extent I might have been better prepared for the prospect of random life changes and being able to Trust No One. The job I had was pretty grim, but as a manager of other staff, including quite a few single mothers, I had set it up in such a way that it wouldn't be entirely impossible to combine it with parenthood, and I did visualise, from time to time in the early stages of gestation, doing my share of the work with a chuckling chubby infant in a carrycot at my feet.
Unfortunately, the company decided to dispense with the division I was running about a fortnight after I passed the deadline for a legal termination of pregnancy, so there was no option but to work out other ways of surviving and earning a living.
Much as I may have disagreed with vast chunks of the New Labour government, I have to say that if not for tax credits, Trainboy and I might have starved. As it is, I am in an endless cycle of borrowing from one moneylender to pay another while working about 45 hours a week in jobs that pay maybe/sometimes/dependent on results/not at all if they don't feel like it. Getting a Proper Job doesn't seem to be an option open to me any more. I have limited qualifications in a specialist and almost defunct area (magazine publishing), for everything else that comes with things like a desk and a secretary and a guaranteed monthly salary I am either too old, 'overqualified', or have no relevant experience. Many jobs demand 'flexibility' and 'commitment' by which they mean a willingness to work unpaid overtime at short notice - not possible for the single parent or even the co-parent whose own Chopwimp doesn't live in and has his/her own work responsibilities anyway.
It's all a complete bastard and if I can think of a solution I'll share it with you.