Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hats off to the City of Culture

The Arts Council is still conspiring to get rid of me. I recently dropped my mobile phone in the bath and they sent a replacement that looked as though it had been made by Fisher Price: I took this to be the ‘naughty phone’. I thought that being seen using this phone would be ignominy and punishment enough.

Then they sent me to Liverpool.

The all staff love-in for this year was in the ‘City of Culture’ elect. As we drove into the city through Edge Hill I was heartened by the fact that most of the buildings were boarded up. ‘Marvellous’, I thought, ‘Liverpool’s closed, we’ll have to go home.’ My optimism was premature. We moved closer to the city centre and I could see shady, ragged figures shuffling through the streets – Liverpool was, in fact, ‘open’. The Arts Council staff had been booked into a range of swanky hotels around the city. The North East staff, by contrast, had been singled out for some perceived wrongdoing and were booked into what I can only regard as the ‘naughty hotel' – The Adelphi.

The Adelphi was the hotel featured in that early example of the docusoap. Angry scousers screamed and railed at all around them on the slightest provocation… and sometimes the customers were quite cross as well. The woman who gave me my keys was the manager herself ‘off of the telly.’ I recognised her, but didn’t mention it – she still seemed volatile.

My hotel room door was a portal into another era – an era in which stains were left on carpets and bedding, mysterious hands rattled the handles of connecting doors in the middle of the night and bathrooms had rings around their baths that were robust enough to hold mugs of tea. The windows were so dirty, that not a feature of the cityscape outside could be discerned and that was the only positive I could find to mention on the comments card.

In the circumstances of an all staff event, I was glad of a room – even a squalid one – in which I could hide. I’m not usually so antisocial, but I was scared by the hats.

The hat shock began when we were waiting for the bus to the big social event on the first night. One of the regional office grandees was obviously feeling the need to illustrate that he still has the instincts of an artist (he recently blurted out ‘I’m a poet you know’ during an appraisal with Original Susan – she didn’t know whether it was a come-on or a cry for help). He had chosen to do this with an odd grey felt chapeau – which gave him the look of a ginger gendarme. I think he was going for some kind of 80’s indie revival look.

On the second day of the event, there were lots of people shuffling down to breakfast with hangovers and tales of going to bed at 4am after a ‘wild night’. I smiled and forgave their exaggeration – they clearly didn’t get away from home much. If an evening of cheap buffet and middle-aged people ‘on the decks’ qualifies as ‘wild’, then life truly is elsewhere.

After a refreshingly meaty lunch on the second day, we were addressed by our national director. He reiterated his vision for the organisation. I surprised my colleagues by contributing wholeheartedly to our table discussion. I thought that this would pass the time more quickly. Original Susan nudged me at one point. I paused, wondering if my enthusiasm had reached an embarrassing level. She was, instead, drawing my attention to another eye-catching hat. At the neighbouring table, a man sat with his chin in his hand in a contemplative pose. He wore round tortoiseshell glasses, a donkey jacket and topped off the whole arts liberal caricature with a beret at a jaunty angle. My contribution to the flipchart 'thought shower' ceased at that point.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wait a minute Mr Postman!

So, rogue postmen do exist. We received an abused item of post in a polythene evidence bag from the Royal Mail – complete with a letter of profound corporate apology. The letter had been filleted by our postman (we think it had contained a voucher) and was the first item to be returned as part of ‘an ongoing investigation’. The case is in court, so we will have to wait for more information on what else the thieving swine took. He had been our postman for several years. Maude thought him very agreeable – as he remembered us from our last address a few miles away and would ask how she was. He would thoughtfully come into the porch (we rarely lock our doors in The Villas) if a parcel was too large for the postbox. Not for him, the leaving of a card causing the inconvenience of a trip to the sorting office. He was more interested in the massive inconvenience resulting from the theft of valuable post.

Since Aurora's birth we have excised several friends who failed to acknowledge the event with an appropriate gift. Now it seems we might have been hasty. Postie has probably had a bumper couple of weeks at the car boot sale – or on Ebay – with much profit made from cuddly toys and baby blankets.

I have begun to wonder what else he might have purloined in his 5 years as our postman. Maybe there was a letter (and cheque) from Archie & Leap – acknowledging their deficiencies and their indebtedness. Perhaps that literary agent did write back on receipt of my novel – with a record advance and an apology for not recognising my greatness earlier.