Tag Archives: books

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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Onion Goggles, Lemon Holders and the Joy of Specialisation

One of my oldest friends – we’ve known each other since we were nine – is hearing impaired. When we were children, she had a machine in her bedroom called an ‘S’ indicator.

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Its purpose was to help her to articulate the letter ‘S’. Basically, you hissed into it and a dial moved to show how ess-ish your S was.

I really like the fact that this machine existed – something designed to do one small task and to do it properly.

I have an automatic mistrust of objects intended to do lots of different things.

Shampoo and conditioner in one? No! I don’t want to wash and go! I want one thing that is really good at cleaning my hair and another thing that is good at making it silky soft. (Not that that I’ve ever discovered the latter – as anyone with very curly hair will appreciate.)

Sofa beds? No! They make really rubbish beds and really rubbish sofas.

And what about those restaurants that offer you a choice of pizza, burritos, chow mein, chicken korma and toad-in-the-hole? How much faith do you have that any of those items is going to be cooked to perfection?

In 2005, Anthony my husband and I visited the Lake District with our 4-month-old baby. We went into a local bookshop and said ‘Do you have any books that might help us work out where we can go walking with an all-terrain pushchair?’

‘This might do the job,’ replied the bookseller, and handed us a book called:

All Terrain Pushchair Walks, South Lakeland

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I found this immensely satisfying – even more so in the knowledge that if we were to visit the north of the Lake District in future, we’d be able to buy All Terrain Pushchair Walks, North Lakeland.

And speaking of ‘Lakeland’, the pleasure I take in objects designed for one purpose helps to explain the fact that my favourite shop bears this name. For the uninitiated, Lakeland is a kitchen and household shop that specialises in the most extraordinary range of kitchen gadgets. My own kitchen is crammed with its strawberry hullers, apple corers, banana bags, tuna can drainers and more. Much, much more.

Here, you can see me modelling my onion goggles – cleverly designed to stop you ‘crying’ when you chop onions.

Image copyright © Isaac Reuben 2015

Image copyright © Isaac Reuben 2015

They have the added benefit of making me look sexy, too. At least, when I forgot to take them off before answering the door to the Tesco delivery man, I think that was the effect they had.

Anthony has inherited from his German grandma a fork which is intended, exclusively, to hold hot new potatoes so that you can peel them.

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Many is the time it has saved me from that well-known menace of burned fingers caused by hot-new-potato peeling.

And yet, some of my most valued kitchen possessions are – unaccountably – mocked by visitors to our house. One example is this set of containers designed to store left-over halves of – respectively – tomatoes, lemons, onions and peppers.

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No longer do I find mouldering bits of fruit or vegetable wrapped in clingfilm and forgotten at the bottom of the fridge drawer. It surely goes without saying that no household should be without them.

Which is why, when I opened my container for storing half a lemon a while ago, and found that Anthony had put half a lime in it, it was a very difficult time for me.

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Our marriage has survived after some counselling, but it was touch and go for a while.

So, what objects do you appreciate for their highly-focused purpose… either at home, or in your professional life?

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The author apologises for the repeated references to lemons in her posts, and would like to assure you that she will attempt to give equal precedence to other fruits in future.