Monday, February 23, 2009

This Post Is A Security Risk

I was in Manchester library last week. It is a cavernous, domed building, and it is beautiful. I've been in there a few times now, just to sit and read. I love big libraries, listening to the muffled sounds of people working, shuffling the books from the shelves, each in pursuit of his or her particular brand of knowledge. It is a bit like being inside the Internet, only without so much porn.

When I lived in Paris I used to go and sit in the Pompidou Centre library for whole days, to avoid the cold anonymity of the city outside. In a library you can find familiarity in books, and silent solidarity with the people sitting all around you. I love the curious looks people sometimes give each other in libraries. In Paris I read the entire work of Jane Austen in a fortnight and then moved on to the Bronte sisters. I found it endlessly comforting.

Last week I decided to find some books on fairy tales. I perused the shelves until I found some that looked interesting, and took a seat at a table in the main dome. I had just started to make some notes and indulge in some library-echo listening, when my phone flashed. I took the call in the stairwell, leaving my coat and small suitcase tucked underneath the chair.

It was Ben, with bad news. I spent a while on the phone, to him and then to my sister.

When I returned to my seat, my bag and coat had gone. The women sitting on the desk nearby leaned over.

"Were you sitting there? Sorry, we didn't see. The security man came and took your bag and coat."

I went to the Information Desk. The woman was on the phone, and gestured that she would be with me in a minute.

Five minutes later she listened as I whispered my plight. She sucked her teeth briefly.

"If security have it they'll have taken it round to the back. You have to go outside."

Clutching a biro-scratched map I stepped outside, internally grumbling.

Why'd they have to take my bloody coat? It's February, for fuck's sake, and they're making me run a freezing gauntlet as punishment for leaving my stuff unattended for twenty minutes. I can understand then taking my case, but my coat? Did they think there was a bomb in the pocket? Fuckers.

Consulting my map, I climbed the steps to the security booth.

Two middle-aged, rotund men looked up from their heavily-pawed copies of The Daily Sport and smirked.

"Someone took my stuff." I said. "I was on the first floor, and stepped out for a phone call, so security took my bag and coat."

I waited. The closer one raised a greasy eyebrow.

"It wasn't taken, love. It was removed for security reasons."

I stared at him.

"You should never leave your items unattended."

A pause.

"Security reasons" he added, in response to my blank expression.

I shivered. "Sorry, I wasn't aware that my coat posed a security risk. I will be more careful in future. Can I have it back now?"

After a bit more telling off and some light perving I escaped with my things.


This week I am going to London, as Ben has a gig on Wednesday. Unfortunately on Friday we are going to a funeral, at which I am singing. I am very, very nervous about this. The nerves are outweighed by the feeling that I do want to do it, but still. Since I was asked I have been lying awake at nights, thinking about it. Not really worrying, just thinking. I feel it is the least I can do, so I want to do it.

But, yikes.

When I am back up in Manchester I am going to go to the library every day and leave innocuous things on a desk, to see what security deem as a "risk". A scarf? A scale model of the security booth? A dead pigeon? It will be an interesting experiment.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Everything and Nothing

There is too much happening, and too much not happening, for me to write about.

I still have no job, but I did have an interview for this shop. The woman interviewing me asked me a series of complicated questions including which brands of flour were gluten-free and the names of the animal products in some toiletries. Shockingly, I could not answer her. It was a five page application form, and a twenty minute interview. In my head I asked her to confirm that this was, in fact, a shop assistant job and not the new head of brain surgery, but I wasn't cool enough to say out loud. I just smiled and stumbled through my answers, hoping I didn't actually have to work somewhere that clearly had such lofty opinions of itself. I'm sure my disdain must have shown through, though, when she started the interview by saying "your experience doesn't really match what we're looking for, but your CV was interesting so I thought I would see you anyway". What an excellent waste of my time, I thought, as I walked away from it. "We're having second interviews" she said at the end, without looking at me. "So you'll find out tomorrow. There have been some very strong candidates." Second interviews? I thought, incredulously. For shelf-stacking? It was no surprise when I received the haughtily-penned email the following day, informing me that I had not been successful. I was quite relieved.

On Sunday night I tagged along with Ben to an Oxfam shop in Chorlton, South Manchester. It was a night called Do It For The Love, and involved poets and musicians performing to raise money for Oxfam. The organisers had brought along wine and food, and soon people began to cram into the shop, sitting on tiny spaces on the floor to listen. Ben and Martin (another member of the collective) were doing some pieces, and asked me whether I wanted to sing one of my songs. At the end of their set they called me up from where I was sitting, cross-legged on the floor, and I sang Writing In Pencil while Ben beatboxed to provide a beat. It was weird, singing into a silent shop packed with people. No microphone to hold or hide behind, just Ben slightly behind me, keeping time. After I sung that one Ben carried on beatboxing and Martin freestyled some lyrics. I improvised little melodies, and then did a freestyle verse of my own, which ended up being about the fact that I couldn't really freestyle. People seemed to find my ineptitude funny, which was lucky. If only more people thought the same way, I would probably have a job by now.

The week before I had done a similar thing at The Dukes theatre, in Lancaster. I sung a few more songs, and thankfully there was a microphone. Afterwards the producer of the theatre came and spoke to me, telling me she was booking the autumn season, and would really like to book me. She took me into the large theatre space to show me. I nodded, mutely, grinning. I had already told her that I didn't really have a band yet, but I blinked at the stage and pictured my band, certain that things would happen soon.

Oh, yes! Valentine's Day was brilliant. I sat on a fancy cushion on the back of Ben's bike (something that happens quite regularly) and we went to the park. We found a picnic table, looking out to where the sunset was mingling with the warmth of the streetlamps, Ben reached into his bag and brought out a half bottle of wine and two glasses. We sat, sipping, listening to the sounds of the kids playing football nearby and watching the sky change colour behind the black spindly trees.

That evening we babysat so that our friends could have a rare night out, while we wrestled with their one- and two-year old. As I finished reading the stories, Ben slipped downstairs and started on dinner. A dressed crab for starters, with salad. Lightly cooked tuna steaks for main course, and crepes for dessert. It was delicious. We stayed up, listening to music, until Nathan and Thea rolled in from their night of dinner and dancing, and we all hung around until they went to bed. Ben and I watched a DVD, and listened out for the babies. The one year old, also called Ben, woke up, so we got him and played with him until the early hours, giggling as he crawled over us and played deliriously with the curtains.

The following day, after a hangover-quashing breakfast, Ben and I left. We went back to his house via the park, and then rested until the gig that evening.

It was a delicious weekend.

Now I have to go and rush around, making sure that the house is span and spick for when my grandmother arrives back this evening. I am quite scared that I will have mucked something up horribly, but I am sure a spot of hoovering will do the trick.

Happy post-Valentine.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Project Roller Disco

I am very cold. My neck is cold, and my ankles. The skin behind my ears, my eyelids and my elbows: all are deeply chilly.

This is due to finally having secured two days worth of employment! It is a very glamourous position, and involves standing outside Manchester Students' Union trying to force bits of shiny paper into the be-mittened hands of passing students. It is truly an exciting step on the career ladder.

The only thing that buoyed me about this potentially extremely miserable type of work was that yesterday my friend Aisling had been handing out these flyers, and when we saw her last night she told us that she had been invited to a roller disco as a result of handing someone a flyer! I was secretly hoping for a similar result. Actually, I was hoping for exactly the same result. I wanted to be invited to a roller disco. I would decline the offer, of course, but I really, really wanted to be asked.

At nine thirty I was standing in Ben's kitchen, sipping tea and staring forlornly out of the window at the wind and snow. I then realized that there was nobody else in the room to witness this spectacle of dejection, so I cheered up a bit. Then the cat came prowling in, looking for balls of paper to torment, so I quickly rearranged my shoulders into a slump and sighed plaintively. (I am not sure he noticed.)

By ten I was positioned at my post on the Oxford Road, wearing eighteen layers of clothing (or thereabouts) and clutching a bundle of flyers that said the words "Hot Jobs!" on them. On my back was a rucksack contained many, many more. The snow was still flit-fluttering down and landing in my eyes, but nevertheless I began to hand out my flyers.

By eleven I was feeling miserable. I had handed out loads of flyers, and said the words "hot jobs!" at people for an hour, and had not once been invited to any kind of disco. I was very disappointed. Oh, and very, very cold.

I slunk off into the union and bought a paper cup with some stuff in it that claimed to be coffee but which was really just brownish water. I sipped it and reflected on the bitter irony of the situation. Here was I, a graduate, working for £5.73 an hour handing out flyers for a graduate recruitment fair. It could, I supposed, be worse. I could actually be working for... (I glanced down at the flyer) ...HBOS. Ack.

Back on the streets, I upped the smiles, and attempted to look alluring from underneath my oversized hat and pulled-up-to-the-nose scarf. By this time I was also jumping about a bit, from foot to foot, as the cold had seeped into my bones and I needed to remind myself that I was still alive. A man stopped. Bingo! Roller disco invitation, here we come! The first thing I noticed was the overpowering smell of Special Brew, and the second was the fact that this particular Lothario was staring down the barrel of his late sixties. Nevertheless, he began to work his magic, and took one of the flyers from my hand.

"What do you study then, love?" His watery eyes attempted to focus on my face.

"Oh, nothing. I'm not a student."

He took a swaying step back and looked at the flyer, then back at me. "What is it you do, then? This is no sort of job."

"I, um. I'm a. Um. I'm a musician."

His red, veiny face took on a sceptical expression. "And what is it you play?"

I began to wonder when he was going to get around to asking me to the roller disco, but thought perhaps he wanted to get to know me first. Quite right, really. You can't just go around asking strangers to roller discos. Anything could happen.

"I'm a singer" I said. "I play cello as well, but..."

I trailed off as he twisted his features into a sneer and looked back down at the flyer.

"Right, love. Good luck with that love. Ha ha ha!"

Chortling drunkenly, he shambled off.

At lunchtime Ben came to give me warming broth, in the shape of homemade artichoke soup in a thermos.

"Nobody's asked me to a roller disco!" I exclaimed. "Although I did get chatted up."

He patted me on the arm. "Well, that's good, baby!"

"Although it was by an elderly drunk man who went off me when he realized I had no prospects. Does that count?"

He patted me again. "Yeah. 'Course it counts."

Satisfied, I drunk my soup.

By the end of the day I was no nearer to a roller disco, but I was considerably closer to a severe case of hypothermia. It has now been three hours since I came inside and I am still cold. All I can hope is that I warm up before I have to go back and do it again tomorrow.

Now I am going to go and fashion myself a badge that says "ASK ME ABOUT ROLLER DISCOS!" in hopes that someone does, and I can pretend that they asked me to one.

I'm not sure why this particular obsession has developed. I think perhaps that I like to have stories to tell about my experiences, and so far all I can say about this one is that I got really cold and didn't get invited to any roller discos.

Project roller disco re-commences tomorrow morning at ten AM, sharp.