Monday 23 February 2015

Social secretary

Since moving back to the UK almost (gulp) 18 months ago now, my social calendar has taken something of a dive.

I've seen old friends, of course -- although many of the friends who have kids (nearly everyone) have moved out of London in the past few years. And what with working five days a week and then dealing with sons who have increasing amounts of homework, "playdate" type stuff has had to be restricted to half terms and holidays.

I tried quite hard with the school gate mums the first year back, but it seemed to be quite difficult to penetrate the layers of existing friendships between women who had got to know each other when their children were young, and who didn't particularly want a new mate to chat to on the school run. And I definitely missed the close community that I experienced in the US, where -- knowing no-one -- I'd made a huge effort to get to make friends. Although I'm not a huge party animal (I'm quite happy to sit at home watching Gogglebox on a Friday night),  I am someone that needs people, and a chance to put on a nice outfit and go out occasionally.

Which is why this year I plunged in at the deep end when it came to school stuff, signing up as class rep (something I said I would never, ever do). I've never been the social secretary type - I'm quite happy to volunteer for things and help out, but usually on the sidelines and not running the committee. Organizing events tends to fill me with horror - not because I'm disorganized, but I can't just chill out about things not coming together, which I presume is a prerequisite for being a cool-headed events person.

But I have to say, it's been a surprisingly good move. I've palled up with a very nice fellow mum who's doing it with me (and is also new to the school, and back in London after a spell living abroad). I've got to know all the parents in the class, via various occasions, and even felt confident enough to suggest starting a book club - something I've missed every since we left America. There was an enthusiastic take-up, and our first meeting is next week.  There's also a quiz night coming up and a summer party, both of which I'm sorting out tables for.

I'm sure The Doctor thinks there are an unnecessary number of school engagements in the calendar. But what I think he (and most husbands) doesn't realise is that, if you're at home all day -- even working from home -- you do need some social interaction other than talking to your children about their day and nagging them to do their homework. I look forward to my two or three work meetings a week, but, unless it's someone I've known for years, I'm always on guard and in "totally professional" mode. (Although occasionally, if I find a work contact is pregnant and/or has children, I have a tendency to gabble about various aspects of motherhood. Embarrassing).

So I think my role as social secretary will hopefully pay off -- it's either that or join the local Amdram club......

Monday 9 February 2015

Bearded at the BAFTAs

Ralph Fiennes: surely better without it?
Is there no end to the trend for facial hair at the moment?

In my line of work, there are plenty of "hipsters" -- so I get to see a lot of big, bushy beards. Advertising creatives are among those where the trend first started, and many's the time I've been told to look out for someone in a cafe or restaurant with the information: "Carlo/Nick/Andy has a really massive beard." Which isn't really that helpful when you're in Shoreditch House.

However, the hipster trend has now become mainstream -- The Doctor tells me that many of the junior doctors at work now have beards, something that would have been incredibly unusual when he was at the equivalent age. (I don't think many city types are bearded, but I bet there's the odd goatee, and stubble on the weekend, even among this crew).

But watching the BAFTAs last night it occurred to me -- all the good-looking actors and celebrities are now bearded too.

David Beckham's had one for a while now, but I also spotted beards on Ralph Fiennes, Steve Carrell, Ethan Hawke and Best Newcomer actor Jack O'Connell, and various other good-looking actors who I didn't even recognize because their chins were covered in hair.

Now, I'm not beard-ist. Some men suit beards, it's true. (I can't really imagine Mike Leigh without one, for instance).

But in my opinion, all of the above would look better without them. So come on, enough is enough. Shave it off! Leave beards to artists, Santa Claus and English teachers (like when I was growing up). It's high time chins made a comeback. I'd even give them a BAFTA fellowship.

Monday 2 February 2015

Resident Aliens

Waiting in line -- a New York tradition
A girl from work, who's based in New York, is over in London for a time and has been complaining about the woes of being an alien. She's not American, and has lived all over the world so I was therefore surprised to hear her take on landing in London.

She writes in an email: " I'd forgotten how bureaucratic everything is in Europe... so lots of queues and lots of appointments to get the basics took almost an entire week (and a fair amount of sweet-talking) just to open a bank account and get a new phone number!"

I had to laugh, because this was exactly our experience in America, and we spent the whole time complaining about how bureaucratic Americans were. 

It was impossible to do anything until one had a social security number -- which didn't arrive immediately, despite us registering with the social security office on our very first day in New York. So everything we needed to get set up -- renting a house, registering with utility companies, getting a bank account sorted -- was virtually impossible, despite the fact that we had visas and documentation saying that The Doctor was employed by a hospital there.

Buying a car was similarly nightmarish. We'd agreed to buy one off someone we knew who was leaving the US -- however, we weren't allowed to drive it without car insurance, and we couldn't get any car insurance until one of us had a New York driver's licence. We ended up renting the car off the friend for three months while we went through the process of registering for, and then taking, the NY driving test.

One of the most frustrating things was not being able to get an American credit card for over a year, because we had no credit history in the US. This was necessary, not because we buy things on credit, but because ordering things online in the US is virtually impossible without one. My British credit cards just didn't work, because they didn't have a zip code - and I had to get a friend to help with simple things like paying for children's swimming lessons online.

Given that credit checking companies are global, you'd think they could share some data (and it might even benefit them - after all, people with bad credit histories can start from scratch in a new country under the current system.

Coming back was similarly frustrating -- with four years away, we had lost all our car insurance history, and were forced to start again paying premiums for new drivers, despite having driven for twenty years.

As the world becomes more global, there must be a simpler way of making the transition process easier. Surely the time is ripe for someone to invent one, and tear through some of this unnecessary bureaucracy?