The Accidental House Party

I genuinely didn’t mean to throw a party. As with most things I do, it started with good intentions.

I used to be a member of a youth club. They used to hold national events. This one involved a disco. As I was talking to someone I dimly recognised, she mentioned that she didn’t have anywhere else to stay that night. “That’s OK”, I told her, forever wanting to be helpful, “you can stay at mine.”

“Great,” she said, “can Rachel* stay too?” “Sure!” I said. I was sure my parents would be fine with me bringing two friends** home to stay.

At some point after that, something went wrong. I can only guess that the girls got chatting to other people about where they were staying, mentioned that they were staying at mine, and it’d probably be fine if they stayed too. And that those people had similar conversations with other people. And so it spread, like a cold through a crowded tube train, until everyone was staying at mine and I had no idea.

I’d noticed that there were a lot of people from the youth group on the train home, but that didn’t worry me. Lots of my friends lived near me, so it made sense that we’d all be going home together , then we’d all go our separate ways at the station. But, as I started walking home, I realised that no-one was splitting off. That 30 or so teenagers appeared to be following me. And that I barely knew most of them.

There didn’t seem to be much I could do about it, so my brain switched into my default denial mode.

“It’ll probably be fine”, I thought.

It wasn’t fine.

Actually, it was OK for the first hour or so. But more people kept turning up. And they weren’t ready to settle down for a cosy night’s sleep. There were people everywhere, chatting turning to shrieking, making out in dark corners, going through the fridge.

“You’re surprisingly calm”, I remember one boy telling me. I wasn’t. I was numb.

I remember the rest of the night in a series of flashbacks. Panicking that my parents’ lovely house would decidedly less lovely by the end of it***. Repeatedly telling the rowdiest people to shush, to no end. Eventually rounding up the loudest of them and taking them out for a walk to try and calm them down. Returning to see a police car outside (someone hadn’t told their parents they were staying out). Making a large pot of pasta at 3am to feed my ravenous guests. Knowing that this was not going to end well for me. Realising that no-one else around me would care about that.

It was a long night.

People started drifting away in the morning. My parents finally ventured downstairs, but my dad didn’t speak to me for the best part of a week.

It feels like there should be a moral to this story, but there isn’t, not really. Life went on. Dad started talking to me again. I continued to make unwise decisions, I failed to stand up to people.

But, perhaps it’s not yet time to learn something from the story. Maybe next year, maybe in five years, maybe in ten years, one of my children will do something well-intentioned that spectacularly backfires. Something that keeps me awake all night. That gets the police banging on the door in the middle of the night. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll remember teenage me, panicked and out of control, and desperately wishing she hadn’t started any of this. And, hopefully, I’ll be kind.



*I can’t remember what the first girl’s name was, I certainly can’t remember what the second girl’s name was. Let’s call her Rachel. Everyone was called Rachel back then.

**I was always quick to assume everyone I met was my friend back then. I am somewhat older and just a touch more cynical now. But only a touch.

***Astoundingly, there didn’t seem to be any damage, just mess. My mother found some chewing gum stuck inside the curtains a few weeks later, but that was about it.

Socks. SOCKS!

I spend a surprising amount of my life bellowing the word “SOCKS”. It’s the eternal call of the school run, of the tired mum who doesn’t want to be late for work AGAIN, aimed at the small daughter who is cheerfully running around the house half-dressed, waving a spoonful of Weetabix around.

So, this morning:

Small Daughter: Mummy, I can’t put on my socks. Can you do it?

Me: OK, because we’re running late. But tomorrow you really need to put your own socks on. Or will you still be asking me to put your socks on for you when you’re 37 years old?

SD: Of course not! I’ll get my husband to do it.

Proceeding with Dignity

Paw prints courtesy of my Muddy Little Dog

It was a long train journey, so I had to eat my supper on the way. It wasn’t ideal; I hate eating food on public transport because I’m wary of the potential mess, any food smells and the idea that people are watching me eat. But, sometimes, needs must.

So, I ate my duck wrap and a yoghurt on the train, then settled down to read my book for the rest of the journey.

As the train pulled into my station, I looked down and realised that I had a yoghurty spoon attached to my left boob.

Dignity at all times.

 

Don’t look under the bed

I was staying in a scuzzy hotel in San Francisco. This wasn’t a deliberate choice; I presume the owner had taken the photos and written the description in a more optimistic time in the distant past. It was the hotel equivalent of the numerous first dates where I’d squint at the chap across the table from me, trying to match up the dashing young buck of the profile picture with the somewhat older stag who had actually turned up.

Not that there’s anything wrong with ageing or being old, of course. I was once the baby of the office, half the age of my senior colleagues, and I’ve recently started a new job where I’m one of the oldest members of the team. My age is a fact, it doesn’t actually matter; the important thing is not being dishonest about it. Whereas, I spent every date with someone who’d failed to supply a recent photo of themselves wondering what else they’d been dishonest about.

Anyway. I went down to reception.

Hotel owner: “Hi, what’s up?”

Me: “I found something unpleasant under the bed.”

HO: “Why were you looking under the bed?”

Me: “Why shouldn’t I? My pen rolled under the bed and I wanted to get it back. So I put my hand under there…”

HO: “You really shouldn’t put your hand under the bed.”

Me: “…And I put my hand on a used syringe. And I’m freaking out a bit now.”

HO: “Yeah, what were you thinking? You shouldn’t go under the bed.”

Me: “OK, but I did and I put my hand on a used syringe.”

HO: “What do you want me to do about it?”

Me: “Could you get someone to take it away, please?”

HO: “Well, no. The cleaner hasn’t turned up today. I don’t know where she is.”

Me: “No? Is she coming tomorrow?”

HO: “I don’t know. She hasn’t turned up all week, now I think of it.”

Me: “Could you take it away, please?”

HO: “No. I’m going to Vegas.”

Me: “Vegas.”

HO: “Yep. Just about to head off for a weekend in Vegas. Drive all night, party all weekend.”

Me: “This doesn’t help me with the syringe situation.”

HO: “Just don’t put your hand under the bed while I’m gone! Or ever!”

Working Girl

I was going to be an accountant, you know. I only received minimal careers advice at school, but I knew that I liked words and numbers; however, I presumed that I’d never make it as a writer so, accountancy it was.

Unfortunately, no-one had pointed out to me that I would make a terrible, terrible accountant. I’m too disorganised, too distractible; it would have been an awful fit for me. This isn’t to knock accountancy in any way; it’s an important profession. Indeed, I’m profoundly grateful that my own amazing accountant chose it as her own career path as, before I started using her, I struggled to complete my tax returns. The last seven words of that previous sentence tell you that I really would have been a disastrous accountant. Happily, I slipped sideways into a career in radio, and accountancy was spared the horror of my services.

Anyway, my own crappy career choices mean that I’m keen to help others avoid similar pitfalls. So I’m taking part in my daughter’s school’s career fair this morning; they’ve asked me to talk about my glittering* career as a book editor and copywriter.

Well, it turns out that very few kids actually want to talk to me (note to self: everyone else has corporate banners and freebies to give away. I have nothing except a few copies of my books; no teenager wants to read them, which is fair enough). So, I have plenty of time to ruminate on my working life and give you some career advice instead.

I mean, you probably don’t need any career advice. Certainly not from me. If you were here, you’d also be queuing for a free gonk from the paramedic—or a go on the policeman’s handcuffs—and giving a wide berth to my pathetic trestle table with its hastily scribbled sign. I don’t blame you; I’m hoping to score a free gonk myself. But, for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learned about work:

1) Do a job that you love—or at the very least, that you care about—or it will rot your soul.

Having done many jobs that I adored—and a few that made me dread getting up in the morning—I know I do my best work when I’m happy and motivated. Which leads me onto:

2) The money isn’t worth your health or your sanity.

If you suspect your job’s making you ill—whether physically or mentally—then you need to change something. At the least, talk to your boss about how the issues and what you can do about them. I’m lucky that most of my jobs have been brilliant, but I had a few that took their toll on my health. I quit them and didn’t regret it for a second.

3) There’s usually an open window somewhere.

I studied economics at uni, in preparation for my fabulous accountancy career. But life had other plans. I got involved in student radio, which led to some work reading travel bulletins, which led to a job in local radio. I kept thinking I’d get a proper job at some point but, 25 years on, I’m still in the media and I’ve never used that economics degree.

4) Say yes to everything that isn’t a terrible idea.

It could be an amazing opportunity; some of my most exciting jobs have come from chance conversations. But, even if it doesn’t work out, there’s always something to learn and something good that comes out of it. Even when one client stiffed me over a payment for some work I’d already completed, I was able to feel grateful (eventually); the skills I’d learned on that job opened a window for me somewhere else four years later.

5) You are not your job.

Enjoy your work, but don’t confuse it with your own value. When I had my first daughter, whenever I met anyone new, I’d usually blurt out: “I’m on maternity leave BUT I USED TO BE A RADIO PRODUCER”, as if that was the only thing that mattered.

Anyway, I’m having a lovely morning. I might have only spoken to a handful of kids who had any real interest in writing, but they were so sparky and passionate that it made doing the fair a pleasure. And if it saves one of them from an ill-fitting career in accountancy, then it’ll all be worthwhile.

*haha

Hot Mess

My friend Jane invited a bunch of us round for a house-warming supper;  she’d just moved out of her parents’ place and into her own flat, and was ever so excited about it.

She scooped us all a generous serving of dinner: some sort of brown splodge and rice.

As we hungrily raised our forks, Jane thanked us for joining her: “…and I know you won’t believe it, but this is the first time I’ve ever cooked! Bon Appetit!!”

Oh.

The rice wasn’t just undercooked, it was still raw. And I’ve still no idea what the brown splodge was actually supposed to be (tumours au gratin? braised dysentery? hot misery?)

Whatever it was, it remains the second-worst meal that I have ever eaten.*

We exchanged panicked glances over our heaped bowls. Jane beamed at us: “Are you enjoying it?”

She was one of life’s genuine sweethearts, a thoroughly lovely person. It would have been like kicking a puppy. “It’s delicious!”, we enthusiastically lied in unison.

Being a well-brought up type, I forced down every last horrifically crunchy mouthful. My friend Matthew later confessed to having tipped his bowlful into a pot-plant.

We all declined seconds. “I’m so full, I couldn’t eat another mouthful!” Well, half of that sentence was true.

I didn’t even let her make me a cup of tea after that

*There’s a chance that the creator of the third-worst meal that I’ve ever eaten will see anything I write about it, so I won’t be telling you about that one. But at some point I will tell you about the worst-ever meal that I’ve ever eaten. Because I made that one. (I’m usually a pretty good chef, honest.)