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The Spike

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May 2016

Working from home

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It used to be that only frauds and charlatans worked from home. “Working from home” was a pathetic euphemism, showed up for what rot it was in Bridget Jones’ Diary, as an excuse to bugger about ineffectually and, in the end, depressingly, at home.

But now I think it’s less of a blatant bunk-off, more acceptable and considered mostly efficient to work from home. Work now is genuinely the more flexible concept we dreamed it might be ten or fifteen years ago.

For many years now we haven’t all been getting the 7.23 to the office in order to hang up our bowler hats and say “Morning Miss Jones” to our secretaries and then sit in our airless offices for eight hours, thinking up efficient ways to kill ourselves, before getting the 17.06 back home. But there has been a transition period recently, when the office didn’t quite work and home didn’t quite work either. But that’s shifting.

And that’s a good thing for everyone, because working in an office isn’t always ideal. When you work in a great, modern office with a ace team, there’s nothing better. But most of us work, or worked in The Office – and if you can avoid it, punch the air.

But when you work from home, how do you get stuff done? How do you not just roll about the place, staring out of the window, filing your nails and shopping online?

Here’s what I’ve learned in my nearly 7 years of using my house as my office:

1 Get a fucking grip. If you really can’t motivate yourself, maybe working from home isn’t for you and you actually need to be in an office.

2 If you’re having trouble getting this grip, but not quite ready to give up, set aside two hours in the day, whenever you feel most lively, for working. Do nothing else in that time but don’t worry if you don’t actually get any work done. Just keep returning to your designated work space for two hours a day, every day. Eventually you will produce something and there’s nothing more motivational than achievement.

3 Freelancing (if that’s what you’re doing) is a roller coaster, emotionally. Try not to get too down when things are quiet, unless your flat is literally about to get repossessed. We all have times when things are hot and times when your inbox is like the Sargasso Sea. Distract yourself with tidying up your work area a bit or making a list of all the admin you’ve been putting off. Then put it to one side actually do it.

4 It’s okay to be happy. If you can make it work, freelancing is a very nice life. When you’ve got your work done, don’t pointlessly sit at your desk. Read a magazine, put your feet up, water your plants, go to the shops. It’s okay.

5 Stay on top of your invoicing and always ask what the pay is. This probably my husband’s most useful working tip. First, filing your invoices on time – or at all – will increase your likelihood of getting paid by 100%. And, when you are commissioned to do something, ask what the pay is. You don’t have to say “How much dosh is it then? Eh eh?” you can say “What’s the word rate over there these days?” They will always say “Oh well usually xx per word, but I can push it up to xx?” And then you say “Call it XXX and you’ve got a deal.” See? Perfectly easy and okay and not embarrassing. (I must admit, I don’t always do this, especially if it’s a big publication and I’m just fucking thrilled they’ve asked me. But I ought to.)

6 The Internet is the enemy of the freelancer. We all have things that we would rather do on the internet than work. But we’re not here to talk about my obsession with the songs of garden birds of the UK and Northern Europe; whatever it is out there that drags you away from your work, you are just going to have to compartmentalise it and use it as a treat. You will work for however many hours or minutes and then have a massive perv over the Baxter.it Chesterfield Moon sofa. Or do what I do and go on to Net a Porter and spend twenty minutes putting loads of things in my basket but then don’t check them out.

7 Whatever you are doing as a freelance, when you hand your work or project or whatever into your editor, or agency or client, never ever apologise – another gem from Giles. Never say “I hope this is alright” or “Re-write the whole thing if you want” or “It’s a bit patchy in the last third.” That is not confidence-inspiring. It will make your boss feel panicky and insecure. It will make them look for things for you to re-write or re-do. Don’t give them that option, just file it and they can fuck themselves if they don’t like it. You’re on to the next thing (i.e. your head in the biscuit tin).

If anyone else works from home and has helpful tips for making it work, please leave a comment in the handy box below.

2 items for men

Apologies for my absence yesterday. It was a busy weekend what with getting Sam out of nappies and then on Monday all morning I was out shopping with my friend Annie who needs a brand new wardrobe because HER FUCKING HOUSE BURNT DOWN!!!!!

Okay not her whole house, but parts of it. It’s a DISASTER. And she said “All my clothes were burnt. Where shall I go for new clothes?” And I said “Rodeo Drive, baby. But actually Brent Cross.”

So off we went to Brent Cross and had a high old time throwing clothes about going “No I hate it,” and occasionally “Perfect. Get it.” Then we had a very meaningful conversation on the way home, while Annie was very brave about my haphazard driving, about the difference between style and fashion – more of which later.

Today this is all about the boys! Sorry – I know you all hate men’s specials. I certainly do. I hate them! I throw the supplement across the room in a rage and stamp on Eddie Redmayne’s face (because he is ALWAYS in mens’ specials). Get out of my changing room! I was looking forward to a DPS on jewelled sandals and a polemic about waterfall cardigans! Fuck you, Style!!!

But, you know, sometimes one wants to update the man in one’s life – visually, I mean, not update him to someone else – without the first real idea about mens’ clothing or what you really want them to look like. You just don’t want them to look like that.

My husband is very good, these days, at buying new clothes for himself. Before we met he would always do it pissed off his face, or in a great hurry, and buy ghastly things. Now about twice a year he makes a special trip to Selfridges or Liberty and zeroes in on precisely the homosexual man he knows will find him most attractive and commands his attention for 45 minutes while he buys a clutch of new items.

So I very rarely have to buy him anything, but recently I did – this “work jacket” by the Carrier Company for £110. It is really really good. Modern and useful. You want it in navy and please ignore the wesbsite’s styling, which is reminiscent of Communist Party propaganda. This can be worn with jeans and a t-shirt and trainers as a light summer jacket. It hints towards Japanese clean, boxy lines and will painlessly modernise even the tweediest of stuffy young fogeys. I adore it.

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For shoes, I do like the look of these “posh” espadrilles, from Mulo Shoes; the problem with espadrilles being that they are at their most wonderful and comfortable about 30 minutes before they fucking fall to bits before your very eyes on about August 15th, when you don’t feel like buying another pair of summer shoes and come on can term start please for the love of God.

But these are made of stronger stuff, with a sturdy rubber sole and a stout cotton upper. They are £125 but the espadrille/slip-on trend is going to be with us for a while, so you can buy for value with confidence.

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Fallout Friday

 

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Sorry guys, I’ve just like… fumbled the catch on this one and I’ve got no post of substance today. I’ve been caught up with prep for Little Sam’s third birthday, which is TODAY, and also getting too excited about Series 3 of Peaky Blinders, which premiered last night, which is one of my all-time favourite shows.

So instead I’ve just got this here picture of Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby. And a note to not forget this weekend about an SPF for your lips! I burn my lips at some point every summer and it’s awful and it takes ages to recover. The best SPF lip balm is this one by Ultrasun.

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Have a good sunny weekend! I will be potty-training Sam – I cannot put it off any longer in good conscience and Clare Rayner once told me it was alright to wait until they were 3 – and so I will simply be awash with piss.

Think of me as you sip rose in your sun-dappled gardens, you utter bitches xxxx

Top 3 interiors stores…

… that you’ve probably never heard of.

This is a guest post from my good friend Liz, who is a graphic designer and I’m grateful to her for taking the time to do this. All notes on the shops are Liz’s own

Manufactum

This is a German retailer, with shops across the country including Munich and Berlin. It’s available online to uk.
This shop is very clever. It is a collection of products which zooms in on the details of everyday life. It has the ability to take some of the most mundane of domestic duties, and celebrate them with design which makes them fun. Tools, toys, appliance, it’s all the same here. The gadget obsessed among you will be excited.
Orange peeler anyone?
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The look is one of utility chic. Think Labour And Wait styling but on a grander scale. The collection of products feels museum like. Each item carefully researched, enthused over and made to last. These products appeal to our desire for clarity and authenticity, often hand made or small scale production using traditional methods.
This is where I go if I’m feeling geeky and I can’t find just the right piece of hardware. For example this fold up cast iron coat hook. It fitted perfectly near my sink to hang a hand towel on. No one else will notice it, but I will, and I know it’s special. 
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Did you know an axe could be so beautiful? These are hand made in Sweden, each one initialled by the craftsman. Perfect for a bit of kindling prep down the garden. 
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After all that axing you’ll love to slip on your Haflinger slippers. Great arch support, easy on and off, keep your feet a good temperature, and I love the clog shape.
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SCP

Poster girl Donna Wilson lends scp a fun and childlike aesthetic, while offering a great range of buyable ceramics and textiles perfect for gifts. Yet somehow, all this cuteness sits perfectly happily alongside a seriously beautiful collection of modern furniture.  For example Lucy kurreins teepee sofa, solstice sofa by Matthew Hilton, or the palissade outdoor collection from HAY.

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There is a confident modern look at scp, where process is celebrated and conventions deconstructed. Forward thinking and intelligent, this store reminds you that having a grown up budget shouldn’t mean you stop having fun.
The thing I’m itching to buy which feels not to far out of budgets reach is a shaved rug. Think traditional Persian tufted carpet but with all the tufts shaved off and then the whole thing over dyed to give a harmonious tonal palette. A hip London translation that might have an artisan carpet weaver spitting on your floor? Possibly, but I genuinely like the way shaving allows you to see the construction of the rug in a new light, and the over dye colours make this traditional comforting rug format more compatible with a taste for flat weaves, block colours and modern lines.
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Lifestyle retailing done in style, this shop puts you the body at the centre of the picture. It’s a fashion and homewares collection which tells a great story about a visual culture that values quality of craftsmanship, and appreciates provenance.
Imagine wearing some Karen Walker sun glasses and a pair of old silhouette trousers from Perks and Mini, while carefully watering your house plants and listening to Cat Power. After, sit for herbal tea from a Japanese hasami porcelain mug while making notes in your new special ideas pad, not for shopping lists….
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The Herogram

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Does everyone know about this? Or is it just me and my husband who talk about Herograms?

If you don’t know, a Herogram is when someone emails you and they’re like: “Thank you for this, you did a great job. Well done, we’re so grateful.”

Boom!

No “but”, no “and also” no “and so”. Just “you’re awesome”.

There is nothing better than getting a Herogram. Very occasionally my editor at The Times, Nicola Jeal, will send me a Herogram. Actually I think it’s only been once. It was very short, like “Great to have you in the paper today,” or something. That from your editor is a big deal. I was like dizzy with little hearts and birds tweeting round my head for hours.

Sometimes my husband and I send each other little Herograms at about 10am  when the school run is done and dusted and we are settling down to the serious emailing business of the day.

“Listen,” we will say, “you did so well to sort out batting back XXXX for the XXXXXXX. It was really inspired to tell them that XXXX instead of XXXXX!!!! ha ha ha! what do you want for dinner.”

But, it is also very important to send Herograms, you feel me? You also have it within your power to make someone else feel that boss for a day. And I do believe that it improves everyone’s mood and therefore performance to receive a (an?) Herogram.

So if everyone sent 1 Herogram today, via text or email, (face to face is very advanced. I have occasionally done a F-2-F Herogram and it’s intense for an Englishwoman), to anyone, to a builder, a teacher, a friend or a spouse, the world would spontaneously improve.

 

 

Sauerkrauting for health

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£3.99 for a 410g pot. Leaves you with a handy glass pot afterwards. 

I am obsessed with my diet at the moment. I eat pulses, fish and green leafy veg only during the week so that I can eat cake and drink wine and pig out on lasagne on the weekend, which means that a) I don’t put on as much weight as I might otherwise and b) it ought to, in theory, keep me healthier than if I just starved myself on weekdays.

Sauerkraut, specifically this quite medicinal-looking “unpasturised” fresh sauerkraut by RAW Oragnic (available on Ocado), is very handy during the week to have as an occasional side.

The extra benefit of sauerkraut is that you’re supposed to have fermented food in your diet, such as sauerkraut, kimchee, live yoghurt and miso.

Yoghurt is easy, miso you can have in miso soup – or as a paste onto grilled or baked fish. I like kimchee but it can be a bit challengingly spicy and, err, just sometimes a bit yucky – especially at lunchtime when maybe you’re not emotionally or physically ready to ingest something quite so stinky.

Anyway this sauerkraut has a very gentle flavour, leaves no trace and lasts, properly covered in the fridge, for about a fortnight.

Book review: Eligible

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This book is an updated version of Pride and Prejudice, written by the American writer Curtis Sittenfeld as part of a project of updated Jane Austen novels – Alexander McCall Smith did Emma and there were others.

I read it because I have read all of Sittenfeld’s other novels: Prep, The Man of my Dreams, American Wife and Sisterland. Some of them I loved, they were brilliant and others I hated passionately. It’s odd, I have never encountered an author I have found so engrossing and so repulsive at different times.

Eligible is smartly-done and the updates are fun to spot; Lydia and Kitty are hateful Cross-Fitters and iPhone obsessives, Darcy is a neurosurgeon, Liz is constantly going for runs (as opposed to her famous P&P long walks). But Sittenfeld just can’t do romance, really, or sex. She really can’t do sex. My god the sex scenes in this book! Christ. My husband is safe from me for a few nights. The sex scenes in her other books were awful, too. You might argue that her sex scenes are realistic and I would say yes, fine, I’ve had sex that bad, too – but it’s not always that quiet and square and dismal.

I think Sittenfeld is just too much of an intellectual to tackle sex and romance with any real passion and the result is that this – and her other books – are bloodless.

And this wasn’t her idea, it was a commission -so it isn’t fan fiction, which is a bit of a shame, because however bad fan fiction can sometimes be (Fifty Shades?) it can also be a glorious passion project (Death Comes to Pemberley). PD James fancies the fucking pants off Darcy and it shows. EL James would lick Christian Thingy to death and it shows. Sittenfeld would probably want to sit down and talk about bloody politics with Darcy. And it shows.

Anyway, look, this is a good book despite all that. Sittenfeld does dialogue and social awkwardness like no-one else. Prep and American Wife are two of the best books ever so I’m probably just bitter.

The Guardian reviewer absolutely hated it and all the Americans loved it, it’s already a massive bestseller. You can buy it and read it with confidence; it passes the time nicely.

Very important subject

 

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Fab Little Bags, £2.99 for 20

Right I’m going to discuss something gross but it’s important.

It’s about the correct way to dispose of tampons.

I’m going to leave a gap now for all the squeamish people to clear the room. Everyone gone? Yes? Are we all just friends here?

Okay. I used to flush my tampons because I had no idea that you weren’t supposed to. That it fucks the oceans and does all sorts of other horrible shit. Then I started going out with Giles and he said “you flush your tampons?? That is the worst thing I’ve ever heard.” I was taken aback. I am a good person, I don’t do awful things on purpose, or because I don’t care.

I resorted to binning my tampons. But when you live with other people, or you are somewhere where there isn’t a sealed bin in the bathroom or whatever, it can be a bit nasty. It’s just a bit unnecessarily real. It’s not very Japanese.

Then I discovered Fab Little Bags, which I get on Ocado, which are biodegradable (and made of recycled material). You open the bag, peel off the sticky seal, pop the little sucker in and then pinch together to seal and bin it.

This is a piece for Net Doctor by the inventor, Martha Silcott. And here is the website for more information about FLB.

Eveyrone else can come out from behind the sofa now.

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