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Lessons in Londoning

Today, I finish a three-month temping stint in London. Three months, I’ve decided, is my limit – the 6am alarm call, the astronomical train fare, the pollution, the people – it all gets a bit… much. I’d really rather be ‘not working’. Or at least somewhere within the same time zone. But it’s certainly been educational.

Here are some things I have learnt.

1. The windows at Liverpool Street Station are shaped like willies. Perhaps Victorian train station architects weren’t so anatomically aware back then, perhaps they were just less childish than me and hadn’t seen as many internet memes on the subject, but I thank them anyway for making me giggle every morning at 8.57a.m., when absolutely nothing else will.

2. People in London spend too much money on lunch. Lunch is just food you eat in the middle of the day, rather than 15% of your earnings, and no one within the M25 seems to grasp the concept of making sandwiches at home. An itsu salad costs £5.45. £5.45! For a bit of quinoa (bloody quinoa – the last thing I need on a wet Wednesday lunchtime is a lesson in pronunciation from a 17-year-old barista), approximately an eighth of a chicken breast, some edamame beans and a drizzle of fluorescent orange sauce. A Pret sandwich is £4.95. A ‘slim pret’ (there’s an amazing bit of marketing) is £3. Fruit juice is £2.50 (you can add an extra 15% if it’s raw – no, I like my fruit juice cooked, thanks). £4 for a miserable cheese sandwich, a packet of crisps and a can of coke is neither a meal nor a deal, but as ‘little Waitrose’ won’t allow you out of its doors with change from a fiver for your pasta salad, you start to reimagine the value of a damp piece of cheese on curling bread, and believe yourself to be getting a bargain. And don’t get me started on the latest fad for ‘protein pots’. You’ve got to seriously question the sanity of a world that happily pays £1.40 for a boiled egg and three pieces of spinach.

3. Birthday cakes are taken very seriously. Not for Londoners is it acceptable to pop down to the local Tesco Express and buy a Colin the Caterpillar chocolate swiss roll, to be shared between 15 people. London has cake shops, there for the purpose of expense receipts, and one can choose from any number of expensively decorated and themed goodies, so that Marjorie from Account’s 57th birthday can be celebrated with all the glamour and occasion that the day deserves.

4. There is nowhere to sit in the Square Mile on a sunny lunchtime after 12.30pm. City bankers can be mistaken for Big Issue sellers as they begin to spill out on to pavements and traffic islands in an attempt to find a piece of space where the sunlight is not completely obstructed by a skyscraper that looks like a penis (see above). The concept of personal space is completely redefined in summer. Whereas you cannot normally induce a Londoner to even look in your general direction, let alone make eye contact throughout the rest of the year, raise the temperature by ten degrees and suddenly 15 people are sharing a bench, or sitting quite literally on each other’s laps on the two square metres of grass outside the church of St Botolph-without-Bishopgate (also incidentally the best-named church, ever). And then some idiot will decide to feed a pigeon, and suddenly it’s like a scene from The Birds and not only are you sharing your legroom with ten other Londoners but are also covered in shit and feathers.

5. Londoners are some of the rudest people you will ever meet.

6. Londoners are some of the kindest people you will ever meet. Just watch (don’t push) someone fall over on a wet floor at the train station (literally just next to the ‘wet floor’ sign in my rather embarrassing case) and you’ll see all number of people forget immediately about their imminently-departing trains and rush to help you. They’ll dust you down, offer you water, commiserate that yes, your laptop is most likely broken, and send you off on your way with some cheering words and a Munchie. Possibly they’re only doing it in order to get into Metro’s Good Deed Feed, but hey, it’s still nice.

7. The Metro’s Good Deed Feed is a little ray of sunshine into an otherwise dark and thankless world. The Rush Hour Crush, on the other hand, is faintly disturbing, and the only reason people read it is because they hope to be in it. Frankly, it is made up. I have never once caught sight of the ‘gorgeous hottie in the blue top’, or ‘cute blonde carrying a tennis racket and a banana’. Rather, I’m acutely aware of ‘profusely sweating guy in bulging overcoat’, and ‘shifty-eyed emo with poor personal hygiene’.

8. There is no hotter place on earth than the Circle Line on a July afternoon.

9. If you wish to know who is entrusted with the safeguarding of your hard-earned cash, or pension, look no further than the front doors of Marco Pierre White’s Oyster Bar on Threadneedle Street at around 3pm on a Friday, when you will be mown down by parties of blue-suited, floppy-haired Apprentice-rejects-turned-RBS-employees, as they stumble into the street after a long lunch, and return to their desks for a little more wheeler dealing. Be assured, your retirement’s screwed.

10. Skyscrapers are amazing.

11. However, there is no sun at street level in central London any more.

12. Your Oyster card will always be out of credit when you’re running for a train. It will always be nicely topped up when you leave it on the bus. Train doors shut ‘up to 30 seconds before departure’, no matter how much or how hard you bang on them. There is no quicker way to provoke barely-concealed rage than to stand on the left hand side of the escalator. Just don’t do it, ok?

13. The Evening Standard crossword on a Wednesday is sent from Hell, and is actually unsolvable. An eight-letter word for ‘rush’?! Answers in the comments please.

14. London is a crazy place to work. It’s overcrowded, noisy, smelly and dirty. It’s also beautiful, diverse, alive and welcoming. Everyone should work in London for a while – if only to have something to blog about. Thanks London, I will miss you.

15. But not much.

The box from 1995

Private. Keep out. Not to be opened until December 31st 1999.

Pity the poor teenager (me), who on a rainy Tuesday sometime in 1995 stuffed an envelope (adorned with Britpop stickers) with a bunch of photos, letters and lists, and imagined her future self opening it on the eve of the Millennium to see how much of the ‘Stuff I will have done by the time I’m twenty’ list she could tick off, some four years later.

Back in 1995, at the time of writing this list, I was sixteen years old, and probably couldn’t fathom a time I would be doing anything more interesting on a New Year’s Eve than watching Clive Anderson tell jokes I didn’t quite understand on BBC1, whilst sipping a warm can of coke. As it turned out, what I ended up doing on the Millennium was little more exciting than this, but it did at least involve alcohol, and nothing could have been further from my mind than opening up a dusty brown envelope to tick off the lustful imaginations of a clearly quite introverted and somewhat mad teenager.

To be fair, most of the activity on my ‘to do’ list appears to be boys from my school, or celebrities, most of whom are now married with children, or dead from drug overdoses (I could add the word ‘respectively’ here but the two are actually interchangeable), and my greatest ambition, it appears, as a sixteen year old is to go to Glastonbury and ‘meet Ian from Have I got News for You’. I am quite disappointed with myself.

The reason I know all this is because this weekend I went into the attic at my mum’s house, to see how many of my two-decade old Sylvanians have been massacred by mice, and if there was anything valuable up there that I could sell so that I don’t have to do this tedious thing called ‘work’.

Once I had said a quiet prayer for the souls of the beheaded badger family, and sulked at the lack of Ming vases and first editions Harry Potters, I rummaged through an old box containing files and projects from my schooldays. Imagine my intermingled horror and delight when I found a rusty old metal box, locked but keyless, which I knew for a fact I’d put up there in 1995, and forgotten about ever since. With careful cunning and expertise (for which read an old screwdriver, a hammer, and much brute force) we managed to jimmy it open. If 1995 had a smell, this was it. Nostalgia flooded back as I found my old homework diary (doodles professing my love for Damon Albarn far outnumbering any attempts at writing down homework activity, apart from one notable entry – ‘English: Write something about Chaucer’), a travelogue written during a particularly hormonal week-long school trip to Italy, and, weirdly, a tape measure.

I soon discovered the reason for the tape measure when I unfolded a chart on a sheet of paper, painstakingly filled in, for each month over the course of a year, noting with unnerving accuracy my exact weight, and the various bits and bo(o)bs that sixteen year olds find important to weigh and measure, and agonise over when they don’t go up or down satisfactorily. It seems I was unhappy about weighing eight-and-a-half stone. I’d like to go back to my sixteen-year-old self and shake her. Tell her to write something about Chaucer, stop agonising about her non-existent bingo wings, and attempt an ambition bigger than ‘going to at least ten Blur concerts’ and ‘writing a song’. Although that last one is quite cool. And I think I’ve been to seven.

I’d like to tell her that she will never get off with the ten boys she’s listed as she will “just die” if she doesn’t get off with soon, and that she’s really quite glad about that now, even though most of them have turned out to be quite respectable. Not all, but most. I’d like to tell her that exam results aren’t everything, but that her handwriting really needs some work. And I’d like to rip that chart into a million pieces and tell her that one day she will find the fact she weighed as little as eight-and-a-half stone quite incredible, and to enjoy being a really-not-fat, frizzy-haired, care-free teenager for as long as it lasts, because y’know #YOLO, and soon she’ll learn things she never wanted to about student loans, and rusty old boat steel, and she’ll have far more boring things to write lists about.

She also won’t open that box on New Year’s Eve 1999 (she’ll be getting stoned on hash cakes on a boat in Cornwall), and she won’t for a second regret all the things she never ended up doing. Except for that song. And there’s still time for that.

Bothered?

There is a bunch of flowers on my desk that is slowly dying. The flowers have been there for four weeks now, given to me as a leaving present when I quit my job to go freelance as a writer, and the slowly decomposing petals and leaves metaphorically represent my dreams of being financially solvent ever again. But I really cannot be arsed to throw them out.

Every time I visit the bathroom I stare aimlessly at a growing collection of toilet roll tubes on the floor. There are seven now I think, of various sizes and shapes. They are taking up a considerable amount of floor space in my bathroom, but I really cannot be fagged to scoop them up and deposit them in a bin.

There are lots of other things I am finding myself weirdly reluctant to do. Like admitting I can’t bake. I’ll spend an entire morning painstakingly burning three dozen meringues because my oven just doesn’t have a ‘low’ setting, experimenting with leaving the door half open, and adding extra trays to block the heat, in the hope of making something that isn’t so carcinogenic it’ll lower my life expectancy by several years. But I won’t cheerfully toss the lot in the bin, stick two fingers up at Mary Berry and go and buy a Sainsbury’s pavlova. I’ll forget the whole episode, and then waste another two boxes of eggs a weekend later in an attempt at macaroons.

In the meantime I’ll accumulate a ridiculous amount of Active Kids vouchers (I don’t have kids, and highly doubt they’d be very active if I did) that I’ll never redeem, and box up leftover lasagne and spag bol into tiny tupperware boxes in the fridge, only to throw them out three weeks later when no one’s eaten them and they’re threatening to spontaneously combust. And I’ll click ‘not now’, for the 36th time, when my computer warns me it urgently requires an update or I’ll lose all my work and friends.

So what sits behind my reluctance to do these things? Clearly, the flowers represent a connection to safe, secure income – a time when I didn’t wake up each morning and wonder just what insane part of me ever thought it would be a great idea to attempt to make a living out of blogging – and thus I am scared to throw them away, and be left, flowerless and powerless and staring at a P45, with barely an intelligible or creative thought to put to paper. Plus, I know the water in the vase will really stink.

But the loo rolls? I don’t have an attachment to toilet rolls. Not since I was seven and made a colourful desk organiser at school, with a special little pot for my pencil sharpener and an extra tall tube (from a kitchen roll, and designed to store spaghetti – I had only a hazy idea of what should be organised on a desk, and to be honest, there are times that I’ve wished my writing environment housed some easily accessible carbohydrates) have I had quite such a collection of bog roll inner tubes.

The meringue thing is clearly just stubbornness. That oven was expensive, and I refuse to believe that just because we had to convert it to Calor gas in order for it to run on the boat, it now cannot cook at less than 300 degrees. It just needs fiddling with.

Maybe it’s just apathy. Why do today what can comfortably be put off till tomorrow, and there are quite clearly so many other things to do – like play Words with Friends and watch entire series of The Big Bang Theory, back to back, and claiming it’s educational cos there will come a day when I really need to know about string theory.

But I’d be interested to know if it’s just me. Do other normal-in-every-other-respect people hoard loo rolls because there is a distance of some fifteen feet between the bathroom and the nearest bin? Have stinking foliage blocking the sunlight from their desk? Refuse to accept Paul Hollywood will never wink aggressively and say ‘Good work Davies’ as he tucks into a perfectly risen, char-free meringue? Please let me know. In the meantime I’ll go and water that plant that seems to somehow survive despite my almost pathological refusal to give it any attention, and download an update for Words with Friends. Don’t want that giving up on me.

A degree of equality

It takes a special sort of person to start rowing at five in the morning. By rowing, I mean the sport, rather than arguing loudly, although you could argue (loudly) that there is a certain amount of sport in rowing competitively, and just as vigorous a training regime. But for now let’s stick with the concept of rowing (the sport) and the people who willingly get up before the birds on a cold wintry morning to don an implausibly thin piece of blue lycra and perch three inches above a stretch of river that is only a degree off freezing, with a small person yelling at them for three hours. For such is the training regime of your average university rower, and the lifestyle choice of all those men (and hurrah! women) you’ll see lined up, quietly shivering, on the Thames today.

Rowing, for the main part, is a fairly unobtrusive sport. We only really remember we’re actually quite good at it once every four years (it’s the Summer Olympics equivalent of Curling, only with fewer Scottish shouty people) and on one weekend at the beginning of April when thousands of people pledge allegiance to one of two towns in the south of England that they’ve probably never been to, but imagine is a bit like Hogwarts, only with fewer Scottish shouty people. For the rest of the time, rowing sinks into sporting oblivion. No international rowing stars adorn the front pages of the tabloids, leering blearily into 3am paparazzi lenses, whilst fighting a million pound divorce or a battle with alcoholism. You might get the odd one looking a little dazed and confused on a celebrity comedic panel show, reading lame jokes off an autocue and wondering how they ended up sitting next to Sean Locke, but for the most part, rowing has a good reputation – if you do it well enough you get made into a knight, and they all seem very jolly when they chuck the small person into the river at the end.

Well – let me dispel that myth. Although perhaps slightly unpatriotic to mention it, and I may well lose my membership to Cambridge forever more, may I say that those nice young university students you’ll see being interviewed by the lovely Clare Balding later on today have a slightly tarnished reputation in my eyes.

For that punishing training regime I mentioned, the one that sees them perched atop a carbon fibre banana skin at sparrowfart each morning, is one that I know all too well. I live on a boat just outside Cambridge, and due to our 3mm thick walls, and laughable insulation, what happens on the river at 5am basically happens inside my boat. The laughing. The shouting. The swearing. Trust me, the swearing. Inventive, these university types, in the language they use to describe their oars, their freezing cold feet, their colleagues and indeed these pesky barges that get in their way, being so casually parked at the side of (their) river.

So loud their voices! So screechy their oars, when dragged against the sides of your freshly-painted hull! So pleasant, that rocking motion, caused by the wake from their training boat zooming past at 15 knots. So sudden, that moment between deep night-time sleep and falling out of bed in fright. So relaxing, this boat life.

But I kid, of course. Just like every other Cambridgian on Saturday, I will naturally be cheering on the Light Blues, yelling at the Oxford lot to keep their oars on their own side of the river, and feeling a certain amount of pride (and an even larger amount of amusement) that our County’s finest minds are spending their Saturday splashing energetically on a bit of river around Putney Bridge.

And this year will be even better because, for the first time ever (a fact still slightly unbelievable given it’s 2015, and not the 1970s), the women’s race will be fought along the same stretch of river, and on the same day, as the Men’s. You heard that right. Prior to now, the ladies were entitled to race, but away from all the big crowds (presumably who wouldn’t want to see such an un-ladylike spectacle) and on a day when people weren’t quite so excited by the Main Event that someone with a whistle, and enough interest, could be found to set them off.

So – happy days. As befits the reputations of two of our best, and most progressive, educational establishments, both sexes will now be afforded a degree of equality, and those mums and dads who have packed their kids off to Cambridge and Oxford will now be able to cheer on both their sons and daughters from the same stretch of river on Race Day. And get a glimpse of Clare Balding. It’s a great leap forward for women’s sport, especially one so steeped in tradition, and with such ties to academia, and if the commentators can restrain themselves from making wet t-shirt remarks, it will be a great day.

And if Cambridge does win (they must be on a mission to recover those eleven lost lengths last year), I will give them a cheery wave from my porthole the next time they go past at daybreak, instead of my usual growl. Possibly. Come on you Blues!!

Grinding gears

My friend is a nurse. After working a sixteen hour shift with no breaks the other night, she went to the canteen and asked for steak and chips, and was told that, due to the time of night, she could only get a sandwich. So she said ok, thanks very much, I’ll have a sandwich.

Not very newsworthy, is it? A bit dull. Wouldn’t sell many papers. And it probably happens thousands of times every day – a hardworking person, on a low wage, is forced to eat something insubstantial and on the hoof, before falling into an uncomfortable bed, and waking up to do it all over again.

I expect nurses the world over feel sorry for Jeremy Clarkson. After a hard day’s filming (probably involving some difficult auto-cue reading, a test drive in an expensive sports car, and some casual racism), he was then forced to endure the prospect of some cold meats and salad, rather than the steak and chips he was obviously so hungry for.

Poor bloke. Lucky then that he was provided with a ‘junior member of staff’ who he could shout at for 20 minutes, before punching in the face. Every star needs a punch bag, and if Oisin Tymon didn’t realise what he was getting himself into when he signed up for the role of Producer at the BBC, he evidently didn’t read the small print.

But possibly we’re not hearing the full story. It takes more than one person to have a 20 minute argument, even if that person is Jeremy Clarkson, and the time spent fruitlessly arguing over a steak could have more profitably been spent ordering a takeaway. Maybe the producer had been winding Clarkson up all day, suggesting he redo the take because it simply wasn’t funny, or asking just how much longer the Top Gear team could stretch the same tired old format out for. JC is getting on a bit now. Perhaps he stalled the car, messed up a turn, forgot which gear he should be in (top) or had to redo an entire segment of the programme because he accidentally caused a diplomatic incident. We’ll never know.

What I do know, however, is that if my friend/brother/dad/husband had gone to work one day and come back with a punch in the face from his boss, I’d be pretty incensed. I’d want to know what the company was going to do about it. I’m not sure I’d describe it as a ‘fracas’. I think I’d call it assault. At the least, bullying with violence. Gross misconduct.

And so it has been proven, and Clarkson has been sacked, potentially facing criminal proceedings. It doesn’t matter how good he is at his job. There are rules in the workplace – rules in life, actually – that state that you don’t punch someone in the face over steak and chips. No matter who you are, or what you’ve been doing all day. Even if a million people, the PM and the white Power Ranger still think you’re God’s gift. You’re an idiot.

And on that bombshell…

In the midnight hour

A few months ago I signed up to an interesting-sounding competition, the NYC Short Screenplay Challenge, which gives screenwriters up to four assignments to write in four 48-hour periods, assigning them a genre, location and object to weave into five-page screenplays. It sounded simple enough, albeit within a very tight timescale, and I looked forward to the challenge.

Of course, when you sign up to something on paper, a few weeks in advance, everything sounds simple.

I didn’t bank on the first challenge landing on the same weekend as the London Screenwriters Festival, during which time I was spending up to ten hours a day immersed in creative writing lectures, seminars and talks (sorry, I think they’re the same thing) and really didn’t have the headspace to write a five page screenplay (nor, for that matter, a desk, staying as I was in my brother’s flat and attempting to balance a glass of wine, a laptop and a Pret sandwich for my tea on his bed). Despite the circumstances, however, I created my first entry, as well as some lasting relationships with other Festival-goers who were also participating in the Challenge.

My first challenge went as follows:

  • Genre: Suspense
  • Location: A running track
  • Object:  A steak knife

I really enjoyed this challenge. Mainly because it was the first one, and I didn’t yet know that I would get more and more stressed each consecutive round, with increasingly less time. I’ve never written anything ‘suspenseful’ before, nor with as little dialogue. I was off!!

Everyone progressed to the second round regardless of how well they did, but this time I felt more pressure. I scored 14 points in the first round, out of a possible 15. This meant I had to do well. The parameters were:

  • Genre: Romantic comedy
  • Location: A graveyard
  • Object: A popsicle

What kind of weirdo would set a romantic comedy in a graveyard? And hello, I’m not American, what the hell is a popsicle and why is it in my graveyard?

In addition, how is it fair that this particular weekend falls between me leaving my old job and starting another, leaving me approximately 12 hours inbetween throwing out my old wardrobe and re-mortgaging the boat to fund my weekly train ticket to create something vaguely entertaining. I ended up abandoning my first idea, panicking and going for something completely different in the final three hours, hating it, cracking open a bottle of wine, deciding it was ok, sweating a lot, until I finally had something I thought was passable.

The challenge is New York based, and runs from midnight Friday, to Midnight Sunday. As we’re a few hours ahead, the challenge for UK writers started at 6am on Saturday morning and finished at 6am on the following Monday morning. My first all-nighter (well, 3am) was pulled during Challenge two, making my first London Monday morning commute quite an experience.

Amazingly, I got through. Challenge 3 awaited:

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Location:  A public library
  • Object: Prescription medicine bottle

My favourite by far. Maybe it says something odd about my psyche but I instantly thought of two old biddies setting up a drug deal in their local library, siphoning off their nursing home fellows’ prescription drugs to two young hoodlums. It wrote itself, and was the only one I enjoyed. Ironically it did the worst of all the challenges, but I scraped through to the final round. The final round!!!

‪So there I was, awaiting my final challenge, and trying not to worry too much about the fact that I had planned a cocktail night on the Saturday evening, and had a four hour choir rehearsal on the Sunday (hangover permitting). Plus a trip to a ski shop to buy new gloves. I got:

  • Genre: Open
  • Location: A zoo
  • Object: A hidden camera

A myriad of ideas sprang to mind. The location and object seemed to work really well together – there could be so many reasons to why a hidden camera would be in a zoo. I sat by the fire on Saturday morning and drew an impressive mind map of ideas, getting thoroughly carried away with coloured pencils and squiggly lines. Most of my ideas revolved around undercover reporters and the birth of an endangered species at the zoo. Then I decided that it was all hopelessly unoriginal and uninspiring, and sat in a funk for a while, before deciding that, if I didn’t know what I wanted to write, I might as well list some ideas that I really didn’t want to write. The first involved talking animals.

I then devised a script in which talking animals foiled a plot by an undercover reporter to film the live birth of a new baby panda at the zoo. Ta dah!

It took a while to finesse, and I wasn’t convinced it was my best work, but during the course of my research I discovered that a baby panda weighs only 100 grams when born, and that the twitter bird is called Larry, so all in all it was an educational weekend, plus I got a really nice pair of gloves.

Two days after submitting my entry, however, I felt a bit depressed, deciding I hadn’t done my best, and it was highly unlikely I would have placed. Then I read a few entries on the forums and realised everyone else felt this way, so decided just to shut up about it. So much so that I nearly forgot about when the results came out, and only realised the evening before – hence a sleepless, anxiety-ridden night in which I dreamt that the results were being announced at the top of a rather steep mountain (I wasn’t even wearing my cosy gloves), and during which I would keep waking up (heart beating stupidly fast, I do rather hope for the sake of my health I never actually get nominated for a serious award) before the results were announced.

At 4am my phone beeped, signifying the results were in. I skim-read the email in the darkness of my bedroom, eyes blurred from lack of sleep and snow-induced nightmares, and realised I wasn’t on it. I wasn’t in the top ten. Gutted.

And then my eyes adjusted and I stopped crying, and realised I had come third. Third!! I was pleased.

Of course I had to check about nineteen times that it was true, including on the main website, Twitter, Facebook, and anywhere I could seek validation. It was true – I was $250 richer, had some lovely free software to boot, and had beaten 498 other people to get there. Through talking animals.

Writing’s a funny old game.

I have subsequently signed up for the next competition (these people know how to do their marketing), which is a longer challenge, producing 12-page screenplays over a week-long period, which should be slightly less stressful and will feel like a luxury after condensing everything into five pages up until now. It has been a great exercise in discipline, and has forced me to write outside of my usual genre, and in a different format. And it has enabled me to test just how sleep deprived I can get, but still function. There’s still time to enter if you fancy competing, and if you wish to read my scribblings, here they are.

Round : Last legs

Round 2: In the land of the dead

Round 3: Alternative medicine

Final: Pandamonium

The word is not enough

Last weekend my sister gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, her second child, making me a proud aunt for the fifth time over. I take particular pride in this ever-growing brood of nieces and nephews, it being the most passive way I can attain praise and congratulations for doing nothing more demanding than being the sister, or sister-in-law, of the people doing all the hard work. My sister has made it especially easy for me this time round, arranging to give birth on the same day as both my mum and her daughter celebrate their birthdays, so I don’t even have an additional date to remember. I applaud her efficiency.

In the interests of efficiency however, I was struck with the notion that, to my knowledge, there was no shorthand way of telling people that I had gained a new addition to my extended family. I appreciate this is probably the definition of a First World Problem, but I could think of no collective word for niece and/or nephew. Whilst a granny can proudly boast she has two grandchildren, or a mother that she has five sons (God help her), poor old Auntie here has to laboriously say she has three nephews and two nieces, whilst screwing up her face in concentration to decide if this is really true or if it’s the other way around. Hang on, three nieces and two nephews. No, wait, I had it right the first time. Oh, you’ve lost interest.

Surely after all these years, I thought, someone must have noticed there is a gaping hole in the market for this collective word, and done something to fill it. If we can come up with a name for someone who creates crosswords (I’m sure everyone has used the word ‘cruciverbalist’ at least once this week), then we must be able to put our literary heads together to find a word for this much-needed term.

So I took it upon myself to solve this pressing problem, and after much deliberation, came up with what I decided was the best word ever for referring to a collection of nieces and nephews – nibling. Do you see what I did there? I took the first letter of both words, and combined it with the word sibling, and in so doing came up with a word that is adorably cute and will create a brand new sub-sector for greeting cards companies.

Satisfied that I had secured myself a footnote in Wikipedia for all eternity, imagining people looking back and saying – “Wow, do you remember when we didn’t have a word for a nibling? Crazy times!” – I wrote up this blog, feeling enormously proud of myself, and my creativity. And then I went on Google.

I am not a journalist, nor do I ever wish to become one, mainly because there is this tiresome thing they are supposed to do called ‘fact checking’ before publication. Imagine my disappointment and despair to learn that there IS actually a collective word for nieces and nephews. And guess what – it’s nibling. NIBLING!

Concerned, I delved a little deeper. I like making up words. Like scimple – for the scab that forms when you pick a pimple. Or belight – for the occasion when you both baffle and delight someone (often by informing them of your brand new word, nibling). I’ve even gone so far as to invent a word to put all these new words in – the alexicon. But they’ve all been thought of before. All of my words, already in the sodding Urban Dictionary. Except for the Alexicon, which is apparently a telecommunications company in Colorado.

I suppose I could feel validated – my thought processes are evidently sound – but rather I feel supremely disappointed that someone else has discovered these words for themselves before me. I suppose the Golden Age of word-mongering, in all likelihood, was many thousands of years ago. I can imagine a particularly distinguished caveman sat in a clearing being presented with objects for his appraisal, scratching his head and proclaiming ‘rock’, ‘bird’, ‘wife’, ‘nintendo’.

And all the local people from the surrounding villages shuffling off to tell the neighbours that henceforth this thing they had been using to poke fires and hit their wives with was a ‘stick’, and being delighted that they could now tell each other they had done so.

I think I would have liked to have been around during these times – I would have had a lot to add (and certainly several more uses for the stick). But I think there is still space in our lives, and our dictionaries, for new words (even if they’re only briefly new to us before we realise some bugger came up with it years ago), and I welcome you all to belight me with yours. The best will assuredly get a place in the alexicon, and be treasured by my many be-scimpled niblings forever more.