Monthly Archives: November 2015

High fashion and Publishing Chic

Until last week, I worked for Macmillan Children’s Books – an ancient and illustrious publisher home to Alice in Wonderland and The Jungle Book, Judy Blume and The Gruffalo. The offices are situated in the heart of Kings Cross’s trendy redevelopment.

Just round the corner is what I believe to be a training school for Mac Cosmetics. (More below about why this is uncertain.)  Every morning and evening, employees of the two businesses walk up and down Wharfdale Road from the tube to their place of work and back. At lunch-time they take a similar route, this time to the nearby Pret.

The workforce of both institutions is almost exclusively female, and to an observer in the street, there is no question at all who works for Mac and who works for Mac-millan.

The Macmillan staff are characterised by their woolly jumpers and dungarees, colourful tights and pinafores. They carry ‘Books are My Bag’ bags and wear glasses. There is an abundance of patterned skirts, flat shoes, fingerless gloves and cardigans.

Books are my Bag

The Mac staff are dressed entirely in black. But it’s not a uniform. The brief seems to be that they can wear anything at all provided that it’s black, tight, shiny, accompanied by high heels, and complemented with make-up that wouldn’t look out of place in a Vaudeville act or a Burlesque club.

You’ll notice that I haven’t actually named any specific items of clothing or styles. That’s because I don’t know anything about fashion – I’m one of the woolly jumper and patterned skirts people. These Mac girls (and they are all very young) wear garments that I don’t even know the name of. Their clothes defy ordinary descriptions such as ‘skirt’, or ‘jumper’ or ‘dress’.

I’m well aware that I sound like someone’s maiden aunt here. But I’m actually not judging – just describing. This is clearly the way you have to look if you’re working for a high-end cosmetics brand. It’s simply that that world is so far removed from anything that I know about, that it’s like looking at an alien species.

So why the uncertainty about the identity of the Mac Training School? Well, while everyone in my office always referred to it by that name, for the purposes of this blog post I wanted to check that that was its formal title. So I Googled it.  And it doesn’t appear to exist.

A couple of generic postcode-finder sites refer to ‘Mac Cosmetics’ with an address on Wharfdale Road, but with no further information. And aside from that, it doesn’t appear under any other type of search.

So I’m coming to the conclusion that the place is actually a top-secret front for some kind of spy operation. The black clothes are possibly Ninja costumes, and the whole cosmetics-training angle is just a cunning rumour, propagated to explain the staff’s outlandish appearance and allow them to buy their lunch from Pret undetected.

But no longer – I’ve blown their cover!

Meanwhile, tomorrow I start a new job at HarperCollins Children’s Books, home of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, David Walliams and Dr. Seuss. This is situated in The News Building – a huge glass box next to the Shard, that also houses The Times and Sun. I wonder whether the styles of the people working for those three organisations will be equally distinctive.


So what do they wear in your office – and what does that say about the people who work there? Do let me know in the Comments section!

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Invisible Fireworks and Burnt Toffee Apples

Every year on 5 November we have a fireworks party at our house, for our extended family. The first time we did so our son was a toddler and found the whole idea completely terrifying. So as it was my husband Anthony’s job to set off the fireworks, it was therefore my job to sit in the house with my son, the curtains closed, distracting him till it was all over.

By the time he grew old enough to enjoy the fireworks, our daughter was around. She was so petrified that she wouldn’t even be in a room with windows. She and I had to sit on the landing, as it was the only window-less room in the house. (Actually, the downstairs loo would have been another option – perhaps I got off lightly.)

This year she was brave enough to watch the display, but our younger son needed looking after…

So, every year we have a fireworks party at our house, but I never actually get to see the fireworks.

This problem pales into insignficance, however, next to the fiasco of the toffee apples. Last year I decided that as it was Bonfire Night, there had to be toffee apples. And buying them from a shop would obviously be far too simple and convenient. Homemade ones were the obvious answer.

Anyone who has made toffee will know that it requires your full concentration as you keep an eagle eye on the sugar thermometer while trying not to scald yourself.

So, with a house full of excitable kids getting ready for the party and asking questions, what better activity could I have chosen?

I got down the 10 litre cauldron we were given as a wedding present, and the satisfyingly enormous wooden spoon that we have to go with it. Into the cauldron went three blocks of butter and two pounds of brown sugar.

Thirty minutes later, I had a cauldron of burnt toffee.

So my immensely practical side kicked in. I realised straight away that it was essential not to let the mixture harden in the pan, making it impossible to clean. And you can’t pour molten toffee down the sink – that would be an immensely stupid thing to do. No, the answer I realised was to pour the whole lot straight into the bin. A cauldron full of caramel at 130ºC, into the bin…

Naturally, the bin bag melted, and as our kitchen bin has no bottom, vast amounts of molten toffee poured on to the floor.

Still I was calm and collected. Clearly, what was left of the bin bag had to be got outside. I doubled it up with another one, then carried it through the house to the dustbin.

What I didn’t realise is that the second bin bag had also melted (obviously), so that as I walked I left a trail of toffee all the way through the house, which stuck to the floor like superglue. The only way to get rid of it was to prise every single drip off with a knife.

Anthony took the bin outside to clean it, and I’m not sure how he did it, but it involved safety goggles. Amazingly, we are still married.

This year I tried again, and… success! The achievement felt even greater, because I managed it despite my daughter marching in halfway through the process and asking brightly, “Mummy, have you burnt the toffee yet?”

Toffee apples

So why exactly do we have a fireworks party every year? I’m really not sure, but it’s possibly something to do with the joyful faces of my older children and their cousins as they oooh and aaah at the magical display in the night sky.

I wouldn’t know – I never get to see their faces – or the fireworks they’re ooohing and aaahing at.

So what are your Bonfire Night experiences – good or bad? Do let me know in the Comments section!

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