Friday, 26 December 2014

Relationships and money - friends or enemies

Relationships and money
friends or enemies

I am an old-fashioned girl with classical values like marriage, loyalty and a little black dress. I was brought up in the family where parents were faithful and loved each other till death parted them. That set the best example for me and I always assumed that’s how all couples should be – happy and in love, just like my mum and dad were.

As I started navigating my career through London, I realised that what my parents had was no longer a norm – they were a pleasant exception in the society that was moving fast and relaxing its standards even faster. Loyalty was no longer fashionable, cupid became worldly, and even the little black dress evolved past all the boundaries of propriety.

Not that I was thinking about it on that rainy Friday morning, but when I got to the office I found a message from my colleague. He was asking me if I could look after this VIP who was supposed  to use our office for a couple of hours first thing in the morning.

The said VIP showed up almost immediately. He was charming, wealthy and very hungover. I’ve met his type before – experts at smart investments and cashing in at the right time, they are also very skilled at bed hopping.

Used to dealing with pretentious rich capitalists, I settled him down at a desk in front of me and fixed him up with a coffee and a large paracetamol. He was one of those extroverts who couldn’t stop talking, even with a pounding headache. Within half an hour I knew that he had three kids, two dogs and more money than sense.

There was also a Mrs VIP who was a lady of leisure. She didn’t trust him for a minute on his own and he was strangely proud of it. I knew that after three kids and two dogs there was only one reason for a woman not to trust her man. He had a history of double dipping and was caught and his pants around his ankles more times than he cared to remember.  (If I had a pound for every man I knew with a similar story…)

He told me that to clear out his playground, he sent her to Miami on his private jet to catch up with her sorority gals. The trip was mainly about designer shopping, sipping cocktails and lusting after a pool boy. In fact, he was certain they weren’t just lusting... But in his own words – what he didn’t know couldn’t hurt him.

“Do you trust her?” – I ventured. There was a pause. I couldn’t be sure if he was thinking or battling the next wave of nausea and headache. “Yes, I guess I do” - he finally managed. “But you just said what you don’t know…” - I began. “Oh please, pool boys don’t count” - he interrupted and waved my comment off.

Like many other City men he was all about money. He called for his chauffeur and while waiting, he showed me pictures of the the new penthouse he had just bought in Kensington. He asked if I had any plans for that weekend, I told him I was fully booked.

When he left, he was still hungover and still looking for trouble. And as I watched him leaving the office (but not before he blew me a kiss and winked at me) I couldn’t help but wonder, in the world of the City and wealth, did we evolve past loyalty and faithfulness? Did the value of money become more than the value of relationships?

With my thoughts I immersed myself into spreadsheets and bank statements. I found a discrepancy and went to my boss’ office to ask if he knew anything about it. I entered his office as he was just finishing a phone call with his wife. ‘Bye darling, have a good day’, - his voice resonated across the room.

My boss is an old school gentleman. Kemble and Oxford graduate, he married his university sweetheart. A few years later he came into a substantial inheritance which he promptly invested filling up his bank accounts with more money than he bargained for.

Two kids, one dog and way too many cars later he stayed exactly where he was all those years ago – true to his values and in love.

I smiled. Maybe there is a hope for us yet. Or maybe, just like my parents, he is an exception.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Green Park ghosts

Green Park ghosts

There comes a time in every person’s life when the age of innocence becomes an ancient history. We stop believing in Santa and swap monsters in our wardrobes for ghosts of bad memories.

Some places, smells and even shapes, haunted by the past, become off limits. One of my girlfriends abandoned a bottle of a very expensive perfume because it reminded her of an ex, another friend refuses to go to one particular restaurant because a girl broke up with him in there. I myself developed an allergy to Grand Prix and cold pasties from Tesco.

One lovely December Sunday we took the boys to Covent Garden to see the Christmas installation.  While the boys were munching their cookies and admiring the Christmas tree, Mr Chateauneuf was progressively regressing into an alcohol induced coma. The night before he spent with his buddies on an annual catch up which involved football, alcohol… and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what else.

After an hour of watching his attempts to surface into the world of the living, I gave up and sent him to Kings Cross station to take a train home. It was still early so I took a tube to Green Park and instead of changing for Victoria I got out and walked. I knew the route as I used to walk through that park once upon a time and I remembered how much I used to enjoy it.

It was a sunny, nippy afternoon and the park was just as I remembered it – serene and huge. There was still the little kiosk selling weather appropriate beverages and snacks. I stepped on a path and immediately remembered how I had dropped my phone there it had fallen into the puddle a few years ago. The memory made me cringe – it was an expensive slip.

I was walking deeper into the park, past a bench where I had fed a squirrel my chocolate muffin, past the very old tree that I had always wondered about how many kings and queens it had seen. I was sinking deeper and deeper into my memories and half way through the park I realised I was surrounded by all the ghosts of my past.

They were swirling around me, forcing me to go back to that winter when I felt so lonely, scared and abandoned.  I was ambushed by my own emotions. It was like being in a museum of my own life, exhibit ‘First few months after separation’.

I even remembered the boots and the coat I had worn that winter. The bitter taste of loneliness and the chill of winter I had felt that December became all too real. Before I realised what was happening I was regressing into my past.

 On Buckingham Palace Road I was so lost in my thoughts that I barely noticed the new pavement I was walking on and the fact that they got rid of the shop I used to pop into for cigarettes. There were new things on my old route. There was a completely new development around the station. And as the scenery was changing so was my mood.

I realised that even though the past had happened and affected me the way it did, I was no longer the girl I was a few years ago. I regained my confidence, rebuilt my life and got a new job. But I went even further, I opened up my heart and let a new love in.

The park will never change and neither will my memories, but I have changed. So I confidently walked, brushing off the ghosts and ignoring their moaning. And even though my walk was haunted I enjoyed it. Because I knew my past stayed in Green Park while my future was on its way to Kings Cross station.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

It's not working out for me

It's not working out for me

Little Dude broke up with his girlfriend. “He said ‘sorry, it’s not working out for me so I’m dumping you.’ OMG”- read the text from Mr Chateauneuf. I choked on the tea I was drinking.

It all started three months ago, they met in the park across the road. She was wearing skates, a pink jacket and a cheeky smile; he was in his football gear and already in love. He asked her out straight away and she said yes. Together they were chasing the ice-cream van, hanging out by the swings and holding hands. It was the perfect relationship. Or so I thought.

That night I called Little Dude and we had a little chat. He didn’t want to talk about it so I kept interrogating him. I wanted to know exactly what ‘wasn’t working out’. He held out for all of two minutes and then he started talking.

He told me he never saw her anymore. They had a date place on the football pitch where they used to meet during the break at school. But over the past few weeks she stopped coming. He was waiting and waiting but she never came. On the last occasion she didn’t come because she chose to go into a detention with her girlfriend instead of seeing her boyfriend.

So he cut his losses and drowned his sorrows in Cadbury Ritz and more Coke Cola than his little tummy could handle. He had his standards and the girl clearly hadn’t met them.
I didn’t know what to say to him. So I just listened and asked questions. When the dumping topic was exhausted, we talked about his day at school and what he had for dinner. It was our usual Tuesday night conversation.

When I put the phone down I started thinking about ambitions. Little Dude is only 11 years old and yet he knows exactly what he wants from life –  to be a footballer, to have a girlfriend who values their date time and only ketchup with his fries.

I couldn’t help but wonder, how many of us out there know exactly what we want? We might know how we like our coffee and fries, but do we know what we want from life?

The following weekend, Little Dude and DeeQ visited their ‘London home’ helping me to put my Christmas tree up. We were singing carols, eating chocolate and arguing over where the crystal ballerina should go. Little Dude was adamant she was supposed to be just underneath the robin.

That ballerina was my favourite decoration and I always made sure she had a good spot on the tree. Underneath the robin was a completely wrong place and I tried to suggest putting her elsewhere. But Little Dude wouldn’t have any of it. He told me that she already made friends with the robin and that we couldn’t possibly separate new friends.

I buckled under the sheer force of his imagination, determination and sugar rush. (That’s when I realised he had the entire Cadbury chocolate bar to himself which made him even more persuasive!). There was no way I could argue with his logic and was perplexed by the fact that an 11 year old just told me how to decorate MY tree and I let him.

The boys slept in my lounge and because they like to have the lights on while the fall asleep, I left the Christmas tree lit up for them.

After the usual 34 rounds of kisses, good-night’s and love you’s, I was about the leave the room when I took one last look at my tree. It was beautiful, the boys did well. I scanned the tree and found the ballerina – she was still in the wrong place but I smiled.

I admired Little Dude’s determination and confidence and made a wish upon my plastic Christmas star that some of it would rub off on me.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The great divide or a different division...

The great divide or a different division...

When I first started my career, I quickly worked out my place in London. Ambitious and determined, I carefully navigated my career through the rough seas of the employment market until I arrived exactly where I wanted to be - in the City.

Within a matter of days, the City consumed me with its power, speed and energy. I fell in love with white crisp shirts, cufflinks and patent black shoes.  I have never looked back, until a few days ago, when we had a visit from outside the City - HMRC.

f there was a stereotype for a tax man, this man was it. In fact, he very much reminded me of Gru from Despicable Me, before he turned nice. Tall, thin and menacing, he looked like a baddie from a cartoon; aggressive, obnoxious and arrogant, he acted like a baddie too.
There was nothing pleasant or human about him – he acted like a villain and sounded like a broken record of a bad performer from X-factor.

Having introduced himself and requested to speak to somebody in charge, he rejected my offer for refreshments and proceeded to my boss’ office.

I watched them from my desk. My boss wasn’t the one to be intimidated and promptly requested an ID – it was produced. Satisfied he leaned back in his Saville Row suit and began listening to whatever the HMRC representative had to tell him.
I ran Gru over and mentally produced a report:
  • Age: early to mid 40s.
  • Status: married judging from the ring, probably kids.
  • Income: around 30k-40k – no more than that.
  • Appearance:  the suit - Tesco or Primark; the shoes - 2 sizes too big - Shoe Zone or Sainsbury’s.
  • Phone: Nokia circa 1995.
  • Personality: dull and monotonous.
Acting like a well-trained dog, he proceeded to accuse us of tax avoidance and treating us like criminals. His face showed no emotion, his voice stayed on the same level without going up or down. He was so tedious and intimidating that for a split second I thought we were talking to a robot with a faulty media player. He was stuck on ‘computer says you owe money’.

It turned out that we owed them less than £1000 which we promptly put on a company credit card and settled it there and then. It was an unexpected encounter which felt like a bird poo that lands on your suit on the way to work. I sprayed perfume and brewed us fresh coffee to get rid of a lingering stench of his presence.

I returned to my desk and got back to work but the image of a Gru-looking man stayed with me for the rest of the day. He didn’t belong in the City. Uncomfortable on an unfamiliar territory, he attacked us with accusations and bad aftershave.

I remembered a blind date I had a few years back with an adorable civil servant boy. He was educated and well-spoken but we had nothing in common. He was passionate about environment and politics, while I was mostly passionate about my bonus and the next LK Bennett collection. I never saw him again, it would’ve never worked.

I couldn’t help but wonder, in London and in life, when it comes to ‘us’ and ‘them’, is it a great divide or simply a different division?

Later than day as I was crossing London Bridge, I spotted a few seagulls splashing on the river. And suddenly it dawned on me, seagulls don’t fly with owls, and swans don’t hang out with ravens – it’s against nature. Birds of feather flock together. It was only natural that we split London too.