Sunday, 23 May 2010


Yeah, that’s probably a made-up word, on account of how I just made it up, and yeah it’s probably bad practice to mix Latin and Greek word bits, but hey, it’s good enough for television. Before you ask, no, it’s not a fear of the island of Capri, the Ford Capri car, or the Capri Sun fruit-based drink. It’s not even a fear of the films of Frank Capra, though I swear if one more person tells me how great It’s A Wonderful Life is…

Capriphobia means a fear of goats, OK? Coz I say it does.

Apologies right now if I get distracted halfway through this (like you could tell), but I’m currently sat at one of the office hot-desks, right in the middle of the floor, which are kind of like the stocks in the village green, or the flogging post in the centre of the parade ground. This means that I’m not only isolated and spiritually drained, but also within hearing distance of a woman with a voice that I can only describe as Sybil Fawlty meets Custard from Roobarb And. Grating? Nasal? Monotonous? Very much so. Like a mosquito buzzing around your bedroom at night, except this mosquito has chosen to drone on about their bleedin’ holiday in Cuba ad infinitum. In many ways it’s a rare talent to be able to make a Havana travelogue both dull and irritating, but she’s managed it. Well done to her.

Back to the matter at hand, or hoof as the case may be.

Last Sunday, my brother and I drove over to the ancestral seat to help clear out twenty years’ worth of books and toys from the appropriately named toy-cupboard – a small cell-like affair in the eves of the roof, furnished with wooden shelves, a bare lightbulb worthy of Callan, dust, cobwebs, dead wasps, unidentifiable tree seeds, and the corpse of a small bird I once found while secreting certain personal documents under the floorboards. And toys. And lots of books:

• Mr Men books (the originals – none of your Little Miss Bulimic or Mr Nosey Goes To The Zoo spin-off nonsense here),
• Rupert books (from the era when sinister bear-napping gipsy types regularly cropped up, clad in Ottoman Turk vestments and foreignised by the judicious application of diagonal lines across the face),
• Dr Who Annuals (including the splendid ‘Rogue Planet’ comic strip from Dalek Annual 1978, and yes, I do realise the story was originally printed in TV Century 21, tch),
• How And Why Wonder Books (but really only the ones about dinosaurs, reptiles and prehistoric mammals – ah, the megatherium and his big licky tongue…),
• and Ladybird books.

Stay with me, we’re getting to the goaty bit now.

As soon as my brother waved the Ladybird book of The Three Billy Goats Gruff at me, I was splished by a ripple of nostalgia. Have a look at the cover:

No, not that modern revisionist pap – this one:

I had nightmares about three goat-things for years after we got that book. Almost every night. Three hairy horny creatures with evil slotty eyes, coming from where the garages were and up the back garden path. Single file they came, slipping up to the kitchen door like Lo-Pan sliding across his throne room, or more likely given my age, the simplistic animation of Mary, Mungo And Midge:
(skip to 4:00 for some classic Mungomation)

I mean, Christ on a freaking bike, will you look at those horny satanic mothers on the cover? I think it’s the middle one that’s the worst – look at the malevolent, capering grin on that ginger devil. Ladybird books bring you Baphomet Knows Where You Live. No wonder I was terrified. I blame (after a few minutes’ adroit Googling) the illustrator Robert Lumley. He’s also responsible for the picture on the last page of The Little Red Hen And The Grains Of Wheat, where, as my brother pointed out, an eerily realistic chicken is depicted menacingly waving a breadknife in one scraggy claw – no wonder the pig, the cat and the rat leave her to it:

If you’re wondering what the vandalism on the text page is all about, that’s the result of a very young me rewriting the end of the story. For some reason, I took great offence at the little red hen hoarding the bread to herself, so I cunningly edited that last page of text, subtly matching the typeface and literary style of the original ending. I think what had upset me was that the pig at least had a legitimate reason for not being able to help the hen with her wheaty quest earlier on in the story, as she was clearly depicted busily feeding her piglets (unlike the rat and the cat, who really were just feckless gadabouts). Even at that early age, I recognised the plight of the single working mother.

And that wasn’t the end of the revelations last week. I also came across a an old cereal packet full of Letraset transfers, which for those of you not of the original Pipkins / Tomorrow People generation, were the PS3’s of their day, oh yes. The one that jumped out at me, over and above the many dinosaur, Spider-Man and Star Wars masterpieces that we had lovingly rubbed onto poorly painted card backgrounds, was one featuring a sperm whale attacking a longboat on the high seas. It was bloody savage, I can tell you, that black bulgy headed monster surging up out of the waves, with the little harpoon guys about to be squished (or worse yet, eaten) mere feet away. Surely this, combined with the terror of being dragged into that room in the Natural History Museum, and a certain novelty aquarium at Blackgang Chine, is the source of my great and abiding fear of whales? And no wonder – I wish I could post up a shot of the picture in question to show you, but I don’t have it with me to scan in, and try as I might, Googling Letraset Whale Attack is getting me nowhere. Maybe If I try Sperm Attack

Maybe Not.

We will move swiftly past the unpleasant character of Raggety from the Rupert annuals, save to mention that he too was a source of some disquiet in my childhood:

Can’t imagine why.

Well, I’ve just looked for capriphobia on Google. It doesn’t exist. Nor does caprinaphobia or anything similar. I may have got in there first. Result.

There is a cypriphobia, but as you will see, that’s a fear of something quite different. Or perhaps not, if you’re the sort who associates goats with prostitution. Hey, I’m not going to judge you…

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

A Mixed Bag Of Monsters

A random run-down of things currently occupying prime slices of the ol’ brain pie:

The corner of Middlesex Street and Harrow Place, London E1 7DB
This expansive stretch of pavement is blessed with capacious hot air extractors running from head height down to the ground. Always warm and dry, even in a light rain, this is where I intend to sleep rough when I am eventually made redundant and become a homeless drifter. Obviously I shan’t be drifting very far from my chosen nest. Maybe just far enough for a different adventure every day, within easy walking distance of Aldgate East tube. A bit like The Littlest Hobo but with less barking on my part. Hope I get a good theme tune.

Compare The Merkin, Dot Com
An alternative advertising campaign I have dreamt up, featuring Tatjana, a charming Ukrainian fanny wig in a silk nightgown. I’ve already sent it in to the men who do adverts and am just awaiting my first pay cheque.

He’s A F*cking Vampire For Christ’s Sake
My proposal for a new dark fantasy television series. It features female lead character Cassie, a feisty young police detective-cum-doctor, and Brendan Lefevre, a pale and mysterious French-Irishman, newly arrived in the city. Cassie soon suspects that Brendan is more than he appears, on account of his pale mysteriousness and the fact that he continually appears at her shoulder off-camera, accompanied by a whooshing sound effect, not to mention how he starts to slightly combust in broad daylight.

Haunted by erotic dreams of this pallid mystery man with his perfect floppy hair and Darcy-esque shirts, our heroine begins to hope for a new chapter in her otherwise mundane life. Her secret prayers are answered when she stupidly lets the guy into her apartment, whereupon he tears her bloody throat out and drinks her dry. Of course. He’s a f*cking vampire for Christ’s sake. I think it would make a refreshing antidote to the current glut of girl-meets-nice-vamp tat out there. Though to be honest, I haven’t yet figured out how to extend my concept past the first episode. Maybe a different feisty young woman each week.

The Loneliness Of The Open Plan Office
Imagine a vast, endless plain, upon which are arrayed infinite rows of office desks, sculpted in ergonomically pleasing curves. Each desk is identical to the others in shape and appearance, as all personalising touches are forbidden by the great powers above. No posters, no fluffy toys, no cloying photos of grinning children to be used as PC desktop backgrounds. Now picture yourself sat at one of these desks, slack-mouthed and slumpy, only dimly aware that 5:30pm is still so very far away. Let us call your desk 06-BK13, for such it is.

This is our mise-en-scene, for which piece of poncy jargon I can thank the six-week Appreciation Of Cinema course I took earlier in the year. I’m pretty sure I must have learnt some other things on the course, but to be honest, mise-en-scene is all that’s coming to mind right now. Apart from that Mildred Pierce is pretty dull.

At any rate, this is our setting – the vast, impersonal open plan office wherein the Chocolate Ocelot is currently resident. The thing about office seating plans, and seating plans in general, is that you only tend to interact with the people you’re directly adjacent to – either side of and facing. Even the guys just behind me seem a hundred yards away in terms of conversational catchment area (Me? Turn round a whole 180 degrees to speak? I think not).

It’s the same at dinner parties, wedding receptions and Christmas meals – anywhere when, even though you’re nominally sat in a group of say twelve or more people, in reality you’re only sat with the three or four within easy talking distance. Though this doesn’t apply if you are loud, drunk, not English or any combination of the three.

This loneliness of the open plan office is never more apparent and mildly painful than when a conversation takes place within earshot but just beyond your own personal Acceptable Interaction Range. For example, a couple of men are sat two rows away, in a different team. You see them every day, but don’t know their names. Thoughtlessly, they have chosen to discuss Blake’s Seven just loudly enough for you to hear, but because they are a) unknown to you and b) outside your personal A.I.R, you are forbidden by laws More Ancient Than Man from joining in. Thus you must sit in agonised silence as they feebly try to remember the two actors who played Travis(1), and the episode where Cally died off-screen(2). Torture, pure torture.

1 – Stephen Greif and Brian Croucher
2Rescue, series D

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Tall Tales

Before we kick off, an apology. I should have started writing this an hour ago, but Certain People deliberately distracted me by bringing Bejewelled Blitz up on Facebook. If you’re one of the fortunate few for whom the portentous words ‘One… Minute.” mean nothing, then be thankful you still have a semblance of a life.

On with the show. Today we are remembering the tall girl from the other end of the office, who left us some weeks ago. I don’t mean she’s dead, although she may well be by now – I never saw her leave the building that last day, just spotted the big leaving card and the balloons on her desk, which was cleared that afternoon. For all I know, she’d put herself forward for some sort of voluntary euthanasia as part of the company’s draconian cut-backs, a bit like the Renewal ceremony in Logan’s Run but without the opal fruit-coloured gowns and exploding people.

Hurrah – a geek movie reference by the second paragraph. Certain People will be pleased.

For now, let us assume that the tall girl left in good health and is currently pursuing a rewarding career elsewhere in the highly successful high street banking sector. Ahem.

I feel a bit bad just calling her the tall girl. Let’s give her a name. Vertegra. Vertegra Prescott.

So, Vertegra Prescott left. I only ever spoke to her the once, to buy a charity butterfly cake for fifty whole pence, but still her departure has affected me keenly. When I say she was tall, I mean she was hovering somewhere around the six foot mark, so she wasn’t some kind of hulking ogress, but definitely above average in a pleasantly slim, non-hunched over sort of way. She may even have worn heels, Gawd bless her.

Why is this a particular blow to me? Coz with Vertegra Prescott’s departure, I’m left in the unenviable position of tallest woman in the office, by a good few inches. There’s one young lady who almost comes up to my level, if I wear my sensible flat pumps and take a pumice stone to the rough skin on my feet, but the rumour is she’s moving to the Netherlands, doubtless a land of wide-shouldered giantesses guaranteed to make her look petite by comparison. I imagine it’s the cheese.

This leaves me towering above my fellow she-workers by a head, a fact which is never more apparent then when I use the ladies’ loo and find myself at the sink, bracketed on either side by titchy five foot fourers, brushing their lovely hair in the shadow of my bulk. I feel like a wallopy teacher surrounded by her kids.

I blame the company’s recruitment policy – we employ a sizeable number of people from India, for whom, if the evidence of my eyes is to be believed, there is a strict ‘only employ women who have to stretch up for the lift buttons’ policy. Ever seen that Hole In The Wall programme on BBC One? I suspect our HR people use a similar approach during the interview process, except that the shape of the gap the prospective employee has to pass through is that of a doll-like homunculus.

The problem here is that I do not need to stand out any more than I already do, thank you very much. Being the tallest female in the office is just one more telltale giveaway I could well do without, in addition to already being the only woman who can carry her Tupperware box of stationery (another rant for another time) in one ape-like paw, and the only one who can do a passable rendition of Lee Marvin’s I Was Born Under A Wandering Star. I knew that inter-departmental karaoke contest was a mistake.

I’ve tried to disguise the obvious size differential with a number of cunning stratagems. First, jacking the adjustable seat at my desk down as far as it will go, even though this leaves my legs sprawling under the dividing partition beneath to play footsie with a frankly perilous Sargasso of power cables. Second, trying to only work with exceptionally tall men, this to be achieved by subtly measuring them as I stand by them in the lift. Third, and this is the trickiest bit so far, always going down to lunch at the same time as the statuesque Naomi Campbell-alike from the second floor. Thus far I’ve narrowed her luncheon timetable down to 12:20 – 12:27 and am zeroing in on perfect mealtime synchronisation. It’s working pretty well, except now I’m starting to feel fat and dumpy behind her in the queue for the till.

It’s a nightmare. My only choice, as far as I can tell, is to seek alternative employment in some arena that’s positively packed with looming six-foot plus muntresses. That or work exclusively with the blind. Blind and deaf.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Bloody Shoes, Stupid Bags

What follows is a somewhat random list of clothing-related issues that I currently harbour. You may well find the items discussed utterly trivial, but I can assure you that they occupy a disproportionate slice of my brain pie, displacing to a large degree my former encyclopaedic knowledge of Sgt Fury And His Howling Commandos. For example, as a result of learning the word pashmina, I can no longer recall the name of the Bavarian strongman from Baron Strucker’s Blitzkrieg Squad. Tch. If you take anything away from this, it will probably be that I am a rubbish girl. Anyways…

The blood price of shoes

In the old days, I lived mainly in trainers, or comfy lace-up shoes of the Clark’s variety. My time spent in heels was sporadic and fleeting, usually the odd evening party, so I had little experience of long term lady-shoe wearage. That has changed.

I am now the proud owner of two deformed little toes (currently assuming the form of tiny root vegetables shyly hiding under the bigger toes), and a heavily blistered right heel, courtesy of two year’s of solid pointy-shoe abuse. Never before has my wide-footedness been so painfully apparent as when I try to get through a day of wearing new work shoes without ending up limping the half-mile walk home from the train like that bit in Die Hard when John McClean has to walk across the broken glass.

My current chaussures de choix are a pair of dull-but-acceptable black pumps, of the flat and flimsy genus. Specially chosen from the mutant-flipper section of a SimplyBe catalogue, they look nice, go with anything, and have managed to rub my heel to a bloody mess within two days. My own fault really – I’d failed to adhere rigidly to this important rule- never wear new shoes two days running. In fact I’m going to modify that to only wear new shoes one day in five. That allows just enough time for my beleaguered footsie to regenerate before subjecting it to the cruellest of shoes all over again.

The problem is this – my right foot is substantially larger than my left, so any pair of matching shoes is bound to result in pain for the right or unacceptable looseness on the left. Something I never noticed with trainers, or socks. I’m not saying my right foot’s monstrously swollen, like the Elephant Man or one of those poor, vast women you occasionally see waddling down the street with a curiously lateral rocking motion. But it is bigger – probably just enough to doom me to walk around in circles should I ever find myself downed in a trackless desert, à la The Flight Of The Phoenix.

But I digress. What I’m driving at here is that, unlike any other item of clothing, the acquiring of new shoes carries with it for me an inevitable period of suffering. I certainly can’t remember the last time a new top cut into my ribs, or a pair of gloves induced spontaneous stigmata in my palms. But shoes, bloody shoes… the inside of my right pump is literally stained red from my ill-advised overwearing incident, a grim reminder of the blood-price I pay for pretty plates.

The irony is that they now fit very nicely thank you, so the pumps can now function as my primary comfy shoes while I slowly and painfully initiate a particularly stiff pair of new heels (like a brace of size seven faux-snakeskin vampires, they hunger insatiably for my footblood). What really galls me is that I know from experience that this golden summer of love between me and my pumps is fated to last but a short while, before they a) continue to stretch to the point that I actually walk out of them, probably while crossing a busy road, and b) start to fall to bits like the crummy pieces of sweatshoppery that they are. Oh for a pair of helpful elves to stitch me a proper pair of shoes overnight.

The rubbishness of handbags

Here’s the thing about handbags – they promise more than they can deliver.

Unsurprisingly, they’re definitely a case of form over substance, unlike say, the trusty but unfashionable rucksack. To wit – I’ve gone through three bags in two years for the simple reason that none of them are up to the task of carrying the number of items I deem absolutely necessary to my daily operations. Not a one has lasted more than six months before developing a serious rent in one compartment or another, usually whichever section I’ve chosen to contain my house-keys, which appear to have the cutting capacity of a small hacksaw.

I ask you, is it too much to find a decent bag with the following specifications?

• Shoulder strap – essential for hands-free bag supportage when rooting around for house-keys outside front door in driving rain.
• External stretchy pouch for brolly, so as not to make rest of bag contents damp.
• Matching external stretchy pouch for hairbrush – required at a moment’s notice.
• External sealable pocket for regularly-used items like train ticket, oyster card and ID badge (material to be thin enough that oyster card and ID badge can be waved against electronic readers without removing from pocket).
• Separate area for medical supplies – inhaler, Rennies, anti-histamines, plaster for wounded heel.
• Area for bare essential make-up – inevitably doomed to become saturated with loose powder, so must be kept separate. Accept that at some point the caps will come off eyeliner pencils and daub the interior with deep chocolaty smudges.
• Area for ever-growing collection of business cards – salons, drycleaners, garage, dentist, home-made cakes, maker of replica Judge Dredd badges. Can be combined with area for post-its, ever-blunt pencil, crappy pen stolen from Waldorf-Astoria, notebook depressingly empty of preparatory notes on Great Work.
• Large central section for general objects – tissues (minimum three to get through a sniffy train journey), current reading-on-train book, over-stuffed purse, personalised Swiss-army knife, sunglasses for concealing nazi-blue eyes from the sun.
• Mobile-phone-shaped mobile phone area – deep and snug enough so that bloody phone doesn’t immediately slip out and disappear under tissues.
• Secure zipped up bit for vital things – keys, memory sticks, portable screwdriver kit, six-sided dice, more keys.

Is that too much to ask? Is it? Apparently it is. Or rather it’s too much to ask for such a bag to last more than six months without falling to bits. My last but one bag saw out its final days held together on the inside by gaffer tape, but shhh – don’t tell anyone.

OK, that’s enough for now, but just to whet your appetite, here’s a run-down of future appearance-based issues I really need to address:

• What I don’t know about hair
• Clothes and what they’re called
• My one long arm
• One-day tights and the three-use rule
• Why I miss the 80’s
• My friend the waistcoat
• Fat-necked scarf girl
• Lovely stupid nails
• Evil shop dummies
• Trinny and Susannah
• The infinity jeans
• Smelly boots
• Why I can never wear a jacket again
• That make-up on the train thing