Archive for February 2016

Your not really here

February 24, 2016

Recently my Facebook feed erupted in pedantry when someone shared an inspirational post about how Harrison Ford at 30 was still making cupboards and Kurt Cobain at 30 was still washing dishes and Rimbaud at 30 was still working in SpecSavers, or whatever. It was one of those posts that puts a load of text into an image for no reason because hey, blind people don’t need inspiration.

trust me your good

Anyway, the issue was that the poster muddled up “your” and “you’re”, prompting multiple comments on the error.

The poster was Scott Alan, who apparently is a well-known musician.He defended himself by saying:


Yes, we all know it’s suppose to say “You’re.” This was a simple repost while waiting in line at Disneyworld. I never expected a million people to see it & call me dumb.

Grammar aside, as an artist I find the sentiment to be what’s important. Especially being 37 now and often wondering when all my hard work and tireless dedication to my craft will pay off. I know I’m not alone in this thought.

Take what you will from it. Either a grammatical lesson or a life lesson to not give up hope. Or just keep calling me dumb. I’m at Disneyworld in 82 degree weather. I can handle it.

Ps. Don’t comment on the haters below. Don’t involve yourself in hate and anger. Trust me.

I see this kind of thing all the time online: “Hey, don’t judge me for the stupid thing I said! I’m actually busy doing something else!” So many forum flounces take this form. Sometimes it’s a self-righteous thing like: “I’m too busy looking after my children for this nonsense!” Sometimes it’s more along the lines of “You’re the fool for getting upset by this flamewar, because I’ve been watching telly the whole time! I invested nothing in this discussion, which I have nevertheless been prolonging, while you have been paying attention to what I say and responding accordingly, and therefore somehow I WIN!”

The thing is: if a discussion isn’t happening face to face, participants initially have no way of assessing what the other person is bringing to it. Yes, you pick up on cues during the conversation but initially you just have to make assumptions about the level of attention and engagement the other person has. Why is it unreasonable to assume that there’s a certain baseline level of engagement below which they wouldn’t be joining or starting a conversation at all? Why is it unreasonable to assume that a famous-ish person would check the grammar of a post before sharing it with the 16,000+ people who follow his Facebook page?

So many justifications for making mistakes online boil down to: “Yes, I’m being rubbish at this, but it’s because I don’t think this thing is important enough for my full attention.”

This bothers me partly because it seems to be part of a broader trend to be online even if you can’t pay attention properly, even if you have a solid reason for not being online at all (you’re travelling, you’re in hospital, you’ve got a day off to go to Disney World). And that in turn bothers me because it seems to be part of a smartphone-enabled blurring between public and private, between work and play, between “on” and “off”.

I’ve had a couple of bad experiences with people who simply didn’t believe that my out-of-office meant that I was really offline for the stated period. Even if the out-of-office message specifically says that you’re not checking email and gives alternatives (speak to my colleague, ring this number to speak to me in an emergency), people will still make decisions based on the assumption that you will see their email in the next day or two.

I’ve had even more bad experiences with bosses and colleagues who go on holiday, or off sick, and then proceed to be digitally present for their entire “absence”. But of course, this digital presence doesn’t mean they’re going to sit down in their Puerto Vallarta hotel room and put in a solid few hours of solitary work on their laptop. It takes the form of “checking in”, meddling, fiddling. They’re squinting at a smartphone in the hot Mexican sun because they can’t keep away. The first thing they wanted when they got to their hotel, or their host’s house, or their bed in the hospital, was the wi-fi password. But they can’t/won’t do anything useful with their device + internet because they’re not really there, not really working. The people who are really there are having their energy and focus drained from thousands of miles away by someone who maybe should just be having a cocktail or a nap instead.

It’s getting to the point where the only people who assert proper boundaries about their online-y-ness are the arsehole cousins of the minimalist arseholes I’ve blogged so much about. They go on “data detoxes” and “declare email bankruptcy” and write Medium posts about how they survived six months without Twitter. And again, it’s privilege. How many wage-slaves get to write an out-of-office saying “When I come back, I’ll be deleting every email that arrived while I was away”? You need power and privilege for that, just as you need power and privilege to own just one plate or whatever the fuck it is we’re not owning much of this week.

But I’ll be honest: the whole “hello, I’m here, no, sorry, I can’t participate properly because I’m not really here” thing bothers me mainly because it’s plain bloody rude. Is a professional musician’s official Facebook page not worth the full attention of the musician himself? OK, maybe not, but the real question is: if he doesn’t think his Facebook page is worthy of his own attention, why is he demanding ours?

Crap acronym: WINTER

February 19, 2016

WINTER crap acronym

This crap acronym is from the NHS campaign “Stay well this winter”.

Warm (Keep your house warm this winter)

Immunisations (Get your flu vaccination)

Neighbours (Keep an eye on elderly neighbours and relatives)

Timely (Seek advice from a pharmacist at first sign of illness)

Enough (Pick up repeat prescriptions so you have enough while pharmacies/surgeries are closed)

Restock (Make sure you have enough food and medicine in the cupboard)

The key messages are basically: heat your house, get your jabs, stock up on food, sort out your meds in advance, see a pharmacist if you’re ill, look out for the old/vulnerable people in your life.







Paper is the element of the Dragon-Goddess

February 17, 2016

Probably the most controversial part of the KonMari Method (Marie Kondo’s approach to decluttering, which I’ve mentioned a few times recently) is the bit about paperwork. Her approach has been misrepresented as “Throw away everything and damn the consequences!” which is a bit harsh when you just have to read the book to see that what she says is quite different.

My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away. My clients are stunned when I say this, but there is nothing more annoying than papers. After all, they will never inspire joy, no matter how carefully you keep them. For this reason, I recommend you throw out anything that does not fall into one of three categories: currently in use, needed for a limited period of time, and must be kept indefinitely.

So she’s talking about chucking out stuff like old gas bills, old tenancy agreements and so on – not your birth certificate or certificate of house insurance. And not “sentimental items” like old diaries or love-letters either. (They’re in a different category.)

Frankly, I think what she really writes is controversial enough without exaggerating it to misrepresent her. Throw most of your paperwork away? All at once? It is key to the KonMari Method that you tackle the job of decluttering each category of possessions in one go, while you are feeling focused and energised and excited.

All I have to say about that is…clearly Marie Kondo doesn’t have to deal with a fortnightly recycling collection. She doesn’t know about the British festival that is Bin Day and all the rituals that surround it. How we bond with each other through moaning about it, anxiously ask each other when it is and tut at the people who put their bin out too early.

The plastic shrines stand on the kerbside. (They are different colours for different areas of the country; if you tell someone from another area what colour yours is, they will immediately tell you what colour theirs is, in a tone of voice that suggests the colours for your area are wrong and barbaric.) Many households decorate their shrine with identifying marks so that the Goddess will bring their home good luck in the coming week.

And then, early in the morning, the Dragon-Goddess comes. She whines and whirs. Her joyful priests in their bright yellow jackets ride the dragon. They lift the shrines and throw the contents into the maw of the Dragon-Goddess while shouting incantations over the noise of the huffing dragon. Once empty, each household’s shrine is flung to the ground.

Later, once dawn has broken, the householders will come out to retrieve their shrines from all the different places they’ve been thrown; perhaps outside a neighbour’s house, perhaps a bit further down the street or on the opposite side of the road, perhaps simply lying in the middle of the road. Here the decorations on the shrines serve a practical as well as spiritual purpose: allowing people to identify which belong to them.

Every now and then, it just so happens that your paper & card recycling is not absolutely jam-packed when Bin Day rolls round. Perhaps it’s been a fortnight where you didn’t make any online purchases, so nothing arrived in an inconveniently large cardboard box. Whatever the reason, there is space to spare! This is a rare thing and you must take advantage now – it’s not as if you can save the extra space to use in two weeks’ time. So you rush round the house wondering what paper and card can be removed. Sweep up all the newspapers and magazines you’ve sort-of-finished reading. Take the eggs out of their cardboard box and put them in the holders in the fridge. Hey, that big box of tea has individual foil packets inside – why not take them out of the box so the box can go in the recycling? But still there is space. The Dragon-Goddess will not be sated. And that’s how my paperwork clearouts happen. Space in the box? Bye-bye, notes from that course I went on two years ago. More space in the box a fortnight later? Farewell, paperwork for a business venture I tried but failed to get off the ground.

Maybe it’s not as psychologically cleansing as doing one giant clean sweep, but it does provide sporadic nudges to get rid of stuff. And maybe by the time I reach the paperwork stage of the KonMari Method, I will already have so little unnecessary paperwork that it all makes just one offering to the Dragon-Goddess.

Marie Kondo and Miranda Priestly

February 10, 2016

I’m still working my way through The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. It’s a super-quick read; the slow bit is actually putting Marie Kondo’s suggestions into practice.

And yes, her approach is not for everyone. Any regular reader of this blog will be able to guess without reading a word of the book that this professional declutterer has a lot of privilege and is writing for people who also have a lot of privilege. Her simple (but powerful) idea is that you only keep the things that “spark joy” in your heart; taken literally, that would involve getting rid of a lot of boring but essential things. Fine if you have the funds to replace them, maybe, but disastrous if you don’t. (And, actually, pretty irritating even if you do. I could afford to get rid of my boring raincoat and buy a new one, but the thought of going shopping to buy one that “sparks joy” fills me with dread.)

So every time I mention something from the book to my partner, they sing the word “Pri-vi-lege!” in the way that we imagine Geri Halliwell sings “Protein!” at lunchtime. But I have a lot of affection for the writer. For a start, she’s so clearly on the autistic spectrum. She’s been obsessed with tidying and reorganising spaces since the age of five, possibly younger. She feels as if she can relate to objects in a way she can’t relate to humans. She’s astonishingly good at rearranging objects and spaces in her mind – so good that she doesn’t need to physically be in a space to come up with ideas for organising it. In fact, she can conjure up a picture in her mind of every single house she’s worked on and tell you exactly where her former clients keep their different categories of stuff. But because her obsession is in a domestic, traditionally female area, I suspect her Aspie nature has gone completely under the radar.

Same with Miranda Priestly, the bitch boss in The Devil Wears Prada. If you read the book, you start to suspect that 99% of the nightmarish crap she puts her assistants through is because she lacks theory of mind. Time and time again, she forces Andrea (the junior assistant) to play detective by withholding some important piece of information. For example, at one point Andrea is tasked with contacting an antique furniture shop that Miranda has recently visited; all she is told is the rough area of the city it’s in, so she travels from shop to shop asking people if her boss has been in recently. It turns out that all along, Miranda has been in possession of a business card with the full address and contact details for the shop. When Andrea admits defeat, Miranda gives her the business card and insults her for not using this information in the first place. The book is full of incidents like this. Does Miranda withhold information on purpose, to make life difficult for her assistants? Or does she genuinely not grasp that not everybody will be in possession of the information she has unless she shares it with them?

At another point, Miranda throws a party. Andrea is tasked with obtaining pictures of the guests, then memorising their faces so she can identify them correctly and greet them on the night. Is Miranda just putting Andrea through another trial? Or does she in fact need Andrea to do this because she herself has big problems recognising faces? At the party itself:

I didn’t have to hear what [the guests] were saying to know that she was barely responding at the appropriate time. Social graces were not her strength […] I always enjoyed the rare occasions when I got to watch Miranda trying to impress those around her, because she wasn’t naturally charming.

Towards the end of the book, Miranda is told she’s going to receive an award and will be asked to give a short speech.

“Why the hell was I not informed that I’d be receiving some nonsense award at today’s luncheon?” she hissed, her face contorting with a hatred I’d never seen before. Displeasure? Sure. Dissatisfaction? All the time. Annoyance, frustration, generalized unhappiness? Of course, every minute of every day. But I’d never seen her look so downright pissed off.

A sudden change of plan involving having to give a speech at short notice is enough to stress most people out, but is the intensity of Miranda’s reaction because she’s on the spectrum?

You shouldn’t internet-diagnose real people, so I guess you shouldn’t internet-diagnose fictional characters. But Miranda Priestly ticks a lot of ASD boxes. And yet…she works in the frivolous, female-dominated world of fashion, so of course she must be neurotypical, right?

Miranda Priestly can tell the difference between two seemingly identical white scarves with just one glance; that must be because she’s a silly frivolous woman obsessed with fashion. She can look at a person and instantly identify the designer of every single item of clothing they’re wearing, even if she can’t reliably recognise the face of her own assistant; that must be because she’s a label snob. Don’t get me wrong, she seems like an absolutely terrible person as well as an Aspie, and it’s her awfulness that moves the book forward. But if a book depicted a male editor of a magazine about model trains and kept every other detail the same, would it take 13 years for someone to suggest that he might possibly not be neurotypical? (The book came out in 2003, the film came out in 2006, and yet as far as I know, I’m the first person to suggest that the Miranda Priestly character could be on the spectrum.)

Since a female friend of mine came out as Aspie recently, I’ve been wondering how many other women have gone undiagnosed because their Aspie traits have been masked by stereotypically female interests.

Boring things: curtains

February 3, 2016

This is a post in the not-very-regular series about boring things.

One of the shitty things about moving into a new house is that often, for a variety of stupid reasons, some or all of the rooms lack curtains. So you end up doing stuff like hanging blankets or towels over the curtain rail in the bedroom while you try to work out how the hell you’re supposed to go about getting new curtains. Once I did this for literally a year and only solved the problem by moving out.

What are you going to hang the curtain off?

The big important thing nobody ever tells you (because you’re just supposed to know) is that you need to get curtains that will match the thing you have to hang curtains off. So far I’ve come across two main types of thing-to-hang-curtains-off: poles and tracks.

A pole is a piece of wood (or whatever) that sits above the window looking kind of like a broomstick. The curtain you need to hang off a pole is an eyelet curtain. Eyelets are big metal-reinforced holes in the top of the curtain – the pole goes through them.

A track is a shitty-looking piece of plastic that may be capable of bending if necessary. The curtain you need to hang off a track is a pencil-pleat curtain. You might think “pencil-pleat” means “falls in pencil pleats”, but it is in fact code for “has a band at the top that you can stick curtain hooks through”. So you stick the curtain hooks through the band, then the hooks attach to the track.

Got it?

  • An eyelet curtain has metal-reinforced rings to hang off a pole.
  • A pencil-pleat curtain has a band at the top to stick curtain hooks through.

If you need to attach a pencil-pleat curtain to a pole for some reason, you can attach the hooks to curtain rings, and then the rings hang off the pole like the eyelets in an eyelet curtain would.

But I’ve got nothing to hang a curtain off!

If you have no thing-to-hang-curtains-off at all, you will obviously need to get one and then choose a corresponding curtain. So if you’re buying a track, you will need to buy pencil-pleat curtains plus several bags of hooks. If you’re buying a pole…good luck getting that home on your bike.

As with most things, buying curtains is way easier if you’ve got a car, partly because they’re bulky but mainly because the kind of places that sell them are designed with the assumption that all their customers and potential customers will be driving. So the cycle journey there will be unpleasant, the bus route there will be non-existent and there will be an enormous free car park with possibly a “wheelbender” bike stand or two so that cyclists can make the choice between having their bike stolen or rendered unrideable. But do tell me more about the war on motorists.

Putting up the damn pole (or track) is one of those things that workmen are reluctant to do, because they think everybody should be able to do it themselves. Of course everybody has the skills they make a living from! Like knowing what a fucking eyelet is, this is apparently knowledge you should have glugged down with the first drink at your eighteenth birthday party.

They’re wrong and it is fucking hard, even if you already have a drill, a  spirit level and strong DIY skills. To persuade a workman to do it, maybe think of another job they can do in your house at the same time to make it “worth their while” coming out. (It will be super-tempting to tell them to stop denying your lived experience and check their privilege, but try to resist.)

Making your own curtains is some next-level shit

On the subject of privilege: if you talk about how you’re buying curtains, it’s highly likely that someone will recommend making your own. And when they say it’s cheaper and you get to choose the exact fabric you like, they’re not wrong. But this is only really an option if you’re privileged enough to have  a sewing machine plus the skills to use it plus access to a car plus all the knowledge about curtains that you clearly don’t have, or why would you be reading this blog post? And you know that.

But the  follow-up suggestion is more tempting, because it will involve a “brilliant lady” who makes curtains really cheaply. And it will be so tempting to throw money at her to make the whole confusing curtain problem go away, and maybe she will also make you some nourishing soup and let you rest your weary head on her ample bosom?

It’s a trap. Of course it’s a trap. The “brilliant lady” who does curtains will only ever do the actual curtains. She won’t put up a pole or track for you, and that’s the most difficult bit. So you still need to cope with somehow buying that and getting it put up.

Meanwhile, the “brilliant lady” will just do the fabric-y bit, and she will expect you to buy your own fabric, which will probably involve going to yet another place that’s hostile to non-drivers. She may also expect you to bring it round to her house and then collect the finished curtains. If, like me, you have no car and no navigation skills and you feel that cycling around trying to find multiple unfamiliar places while drivers attempt to kill you is a massive drain of cognitive resource, you will saddle up the nopetopus and flee.

If like me, you are also self-employed, you’ll look at what you could earn using that time and those spoons (without anybody trying to kill you, unless you’re a mercenary or something) and decide that ready-made curtains are incredibly good value compared to “brilliant ladies”.

If you’ve been driving for years  and you own a car and you have a good sense of direction and/or a sat-nav, your cost-benefit calculations will be wildly different from mine, but this blog post is not for you.

Curtain sizes

The task of measuring and choosing the right size has soooooo much Stuff Nobody Tells You Because You’re Supposed To Know.

The height of the curtains is called the “drop”. (The width is still just called the width.)

You know you’re supposed to measure the actual window space…but you might not have twigged that the track or pole will be above the actual window and the curtains will need to hang some way below it, so you’ll probably need to add at least 20cm to your calculations when you’re working out the drop.

There are standard sizes for the drop: 137cm, 182cm, 228cm. (These are more memorable if you think in inches: 54”, 72”, 90”.) If you have to choose between too long and too short, always go for too long.

The track or pole, as well as being higher than the window, will probably also be wider, so you will need to measure the track or pole, not the actual window, when you’re working out the width.

The width of a curtain stated on the packet is the width it is when stretched out completely flat. If you want your curtains to hang in gentle folds, you need the stated width of the curtains to be roughly double the width of the window space.

When you buy two curtains in a packet, the width stated on the packet is the width of each curtain, not the width of the two curtains combined. So a pack of two curtains sold as W117cm will contain two curtains, each 117cm wide (when stretched flat).

Buying the right size of curtain: a real-life example

I’ll give an example using a real window in my house. The actual width of the window is 102cm. But the plastic track that goes above the window is 125cm. Double the width of the track, not the window, to get the width of curtain material you’ll need to have curtains hanging in gentle folds rather than stretched out taut, and you have 250cm. At this point it’s tempting to look for a packet of curtains that says “250cm” on it, but remember, when you’re buying a pair of curtains the stated width is per curtain! So you actually want a pack of two 125cm curtains. (Yes, I did just ask you to halve the number you just doubled.) Or you could get a single 250cm curtain. But you can’t actually get either of these exact sizes, because there are standard sizes for the width too: 117cm, 168cm, 228cm. Unlike with the height, you can err on the size of smaller because you doubled the width in the first place to get all those lovely folds. So probably go for a pair of 117cm curtains or a single 228cm curtain.

So now you know what width you need, but what height do you need? Well, the height of this window is 125cm. (Yes, it’s portrait rather than landscape.) It seems at first as if the 137cm drop will be perfect, but that only gives you 12cm of height to spare. If the track or pole is 10cm above the window, you’ve only got 2cm of extra fabric at the bottom, even assuming the curtains are really the exact size they say they are. So they’ll only just meet the windowsill, they won’t keep the heat in and they’ll look a bit odd. And if they’re in your bedroom, you’ll be woken up by light coming in through the gap because your eye-level will be below the bottom of the curtains when you’re lying down. So go for the 182cm drop even if it seems excessive.

If just one person finds their curtain-buying experience less of a nightmare as a result of the hard-won information in this post, I will be absolutely delighted. If they don’t…at least I will be able to refer back to it myself.