#642Things: LIVUNG

It’s your worst nightmare isn’t it? You never think about it as you walk past people on the street, sat on the pavement with their manky sleeping bag, bits of newspaper, their scruffy jumper and the obligatory dog. This is one of those things you wake up in the middle of the night sweating over, this.

I’ve always been different. Right back to primary school people always used to be able to spot it and, of course, they’d pick on it. It’s what kids do isn’t it? Seek out the ones who just aren’t quite the same and then make sure they know about it; more fool them though because every one I’ve ever met who was bullied at school has turned out far better than the ones who spotted it. It must be something about late-developing genius, not having the skills to blend in early or something means you stand out from the crowd when you’re older. Couple it with just a little tiny bit of genius and there you go: a success.

Well this is me standing out now, Mum.

Sat here on the closed lid of this toilet, waiting for the cleaners to shut up shop so that I can have free rein over the place for another night.

I was reading about it a few nights before it happened: when most people get made homeless they spend a few weeks, maybe a few months, doing what they call ‘sofa surfing’: staying with friends, switching between them, perhaps never telling anyone the full story of why you’re there or ever mentioning that you’re, y’know. That you don’t necessarily have a home of your own at the moment.

It means the homelessness figures are all wrong, so it’s a right pain for the Government to work out just how many of us there are. Not that I’m in their figures either. I don’t suppose even the most attentive homeless charities have taken to scouring their local IKEA after hours for the distinguished modern hobo have they?

It’s quite a good place to stay, when you think about it. I’ve not been doing badly out of it anyway – it’s been nine months now that I’ve been here, and the 99p breakfasts still haven’t lost their edge. I’m getting a bit sick of meatballs to be honest.

IKEA’s got just about everything a middle class person without somewhere to lay their Waitress organic quinoa might want. A comfy bed for the night, every night, no matter what kind of mattress you prefer. There’s sofas, desks, chairs and more cushions and rugs than you could ever want to lie on and the moonlight shining through the skylights dotted about the place makes it feel just a bit romantic.
The day times here are easy: I try and get out as much as possible but spending the day here an be a lot of fun and less hassle, especially if it’s raining out. The one thing this place doesn’t do well is washing or drying clothes.

I designed 4 kitchens today; the first time round I acted the customer and pretended I’d got an absolutely massive one. I had them putting everything in.I think we ended up with about four coffee machines and all at different heights so that my dwarf wife and her 7ft tall step-son could both have easier access, and then two for me obviously. Because sometimes I like decaf.

By my fourth time round I switched roles, and I ended up designing the kitchen for this lovely couple who’d come in with their 18 month old daughter.

She slept for most of the consultation, but towards the end – just when we were discussing the merits of a stainless steel sink over a granite one – she woke up and there wasn’t a peep out of her. Just a lovely smile. Even she must’ve liked the kitchen.

It ended up looking lovely on the screen and they were so pleased with it. They said I could pop over for a cuppa once they’d got it finished if I had the time.

The night times are a bit harder. There’s just so much time.

It was all so sudden when it happened that I didn’t think all that much about it. I just had to find somewhere to be, and I wanted to get a new bookcase. So there I was. In IKEA. And here I am waiting for the cleaners to finish up and lock up. They won’t be long now, I suspect. They’re normally done by about 11, which is quite impressive if you think about the size of this place, and they’ll be long gone by11.30. Then it’s all mine.

I usually wander about at first. The toilets, where I hide from the cleaners each night from about 9pm, are at the very front of the store so every night when I emerge it’s just like the first time I walked in through the door. I head straight for the beds. Through the pre-made living rooms, past the bloody kitchens and into the ‘desk and chair’ section.

They really do keep that hydraulic fake-arse running all the time testing the seat, you know. It scared the absolute shit out of me the first night when I heard it: I’d forgotten it was there, and it sounds so odd in the dark when you can’t see what’s happening and you remember that you’re creeping about in an IKEA store after it’s closed, looking for somewhere to sleep.

I don’t know what I thought it was but I was almost certain I’d been caught and I was about to get slung out, or worse slung into a cell somewhere. Maybe it’d be better in a cell?

It’s good to have a bed each night, don’t get me wrong, but living in IKEA isn’t the easy ride you might think. I mean aside from the farts that a diet of cheap bacon and eggs and meatballs and chips generates, there’s the problems finding a plug to charge your phone, the constant fear of being caught, and the bloody one-way system.

You’d never be able to get lost in your own house after nine months living there, would you? Yet, I can still manage it in this place.
If I’ve learnt anything from these last few months it’s that short cuts are never shorter routes to where you wanted to be. They all lead to the children’s section and in my case an hour or so of trying to get comfortable sleeping on a rubberised, garish sofa. I dread to think how much urine it hasn’t absorbed.

Nope, never believe short cuts are going to get you where you want. You get offered everything you’ve ever wanted, a chance at happiness, to do exactly what you want without all of that pesky admin and agro.

Then they find out, and they have to go and spoil it.

Picture by Fernanod on Flickr

A week with Apple Music

It’s been a little more than a week with Apple Music now, but today I reinstalled Spotify and walked away – but I didn’t want to.

If you read my blog earlier in the week, you’ll know I’m not anti-Apple at all and I’m pretty convinced that they’ve created the future with Apple Pay. I’ve got a MacBook Pro, an Apple Watch, two iPhones (I’m still not sure what to do with the 5C I keep in my desk drawer really), an iMac and an iPad. I’m really sold on the whole Apple thing, but Music just isn’t quite right.

When I pick up an Apple product I expect that I’ll work out how to use it pretty instinctively, but I’m still struggling with Apple Music. I’ve never read instructions for any of my other Apple products, but with Apple Music I’m increasingly feeling like I need a Reader’s Digest guide for it – and that’s just because of the awful UI.

I think it feels more like I’ve been given accidental access to full-length previews of songs on the iTunes store than a dedicated steaming service

There’s plenty of people around the Internet saying the same thing about the UI being awful: on OS X it feels badly wrapped off from the iOS App and on both you can get lost in a set of menus in search of an option that doesn’t exist.

Clicking on a song takes you to the album, clicking on an album takes you to the artist and I’ve no idea what clicking on an artist does but I can only assume it’ll have something to do with downloading a U2 album.

Basically, I think it feels more like I’ve been given accidental access to full-length previews of songs on the iTunes store and not that I’ve signed up to a shiny new streaming service.

Even the little things, which Apple are usually so good at, aren’t quite there: My offline playlists don’t work when I’m offline, I’ve somehow ended up with entire albums in playlists instead of individual songs and when I click play on anything there’s a noticeable pause while it considers playing it.

And don’t even get me started on why everything you search leaves you in the ‘new’ tab, or why you have to turn off connect in restrictions to get a bloody ‘Playlists’ button on iOS.

The whole thing looks like a marketing team leading the development schedule, the development schedule leading the UI and no one having the balls to mention that even before it became a music discovery and streaming app, iTunes was already a mess.

I’m sticking around for now, but only because I want it to be better than it is. I mean, they fixed maps eventually didn’t they?

A week with Apple Pay

After a week or so of using Apple Pay almost exclusively, I’m convinced it’s the future.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been carrying around some kind of payment or loyalty card on my phone. It started out with an unofficial app for my Tesco Clubcard and it’s only grown since.

I bet you’re the same, carrying around loyalty and payment cards for Starbucks, Subway, Costa, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Nectar, Cineworld and countless other one-time things like Airline tickets. It’s worked really well and, while I’ve said before that I’ve scrapped loyalty schemes, I’m guilty of carrying round more loyalty cards on my phone than I ever did in my wallet.

With success often there comes problems and the Passbook phenomenom is no exception. Without fail, almost every single time I’ve paid using my watch or phone since Apple Pay launched there has been some kind of untidiness about the transaction – and it’s Passbook’s fault.

Perhaps there’s an argument that retailers should have been preparing their staff better, perhaps card payment merchants should have contacted shops with contactless to let them know something new was coming that would work in their store, or perhaps it’s just something that needs time to bed in but I’ve been shocked by how confusing store staff have found the whole thing.

My first transaction, at 8am on the day Apple Pay launched in the UK, was confused – the Barista assumed I wanted to scan my Costa Card and turned on the scanner, not the card reader – but that’s not as bad as the Starbucks Store in Southampton this week who made the same assumption, only to find that cancelling it and clicking ‘card’ froze up the store’s tills.

A lady in McDonald’s just tried to make me insert my phone into the card slot. #ApplePay— Nic (@picnarkes) July 15, 2015

The staff member serving me at the coffee shop by work that I use on a regular basis had to call her manager when I paid with my watch, essentially accusing me of breaking their till or committing some kind of fraud because she didn’t think Apple Pay was allowed in her store. On the whole, I’ve just met massive problems with trying to communicate clearly how I’d like to pay.

“I’d like to pay with Apple Pay” is the obvious one, but that’ll only work in some places that have signed up or understand it’s just the same as contactless. Even in Nando’s (an official partner) asking that and presenting it to the chap serving was met with “what’s that?”, and that seems to be the theme.

I tried out asking “Can I pay by contactless?” and that worked in Hampshire, but trying it London was just met with someone looking confused. The same of “I’d like to pay by card” in shops I know support contactless, and of “Can I pay by Apple Pay? It’s just a contactless card.”

It seems the wrong way round, but I’ve actually found the language barrier with so many staff in retail in London means Apple Pay has a far better user experience than in our buzzing capital and I’m not sure how we fix that. Perhaps it’s just a case of waiting, and paying using Apple pay as much as possible.

Cineworld, you’re doing it wrong

I went to the cinema at the weekend, partially to indulge the old lady inside me and partially because I thought it might help me stave off the isolation and loneliness of a Saturday with no plans.

Sure, I had plenty to do this weekend but most of the things on the list weren’t all that inspiring and many of them involved staying in the flat, alone, staring at a computer and because that’s what I do every day for work I thought it was probably best to make a change.

So I went and sat in a dark room and stared at a screen I wasn’t in control of instead. The film was alright – The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, since you asked – although it lacked a plot, it was nice to check in on the old gals Judi and Maggie, and once again the film managed to convince me that I really do want to visit India again.

If you saw the first Best Exotic film and enjoyed it then you should almost certainly pop by for the second instalment because, although it is disappointing, you probably won’t leave feeling disappointed. Evyln’s (Judi Dench) indecision over a new job and her potential proposal and marriage to Douglas goes to show the immaturity of even the most mature adults, while Muriel (Maggie Smith) provides the reassuring guiding advice that we’ve all come to expect (or miss) from our grandparents.

It’s all just rather lovely, and rather than Popcorn it should most definitely be served with a homemade cornflake cake and a cup of tea from a proper china cup – but it’s not. I don’t know whether you’ve been to the cinema lately, but if my experience of a few of my locals is anything to go by then if you haven’t been for a while you may be in for a surprise.

Cinemas seem to have a rather odd feeling about them; a feeling not dissimilar to how Blockbuster felt towards the end and not perhaps unlike that cafe just down the road: the carpet isn’t quite as clean as it should be and there’s signs of what used to be just left; mothballed perhaps with the intention of future use, or perhaps because it would just be too expensive to do anything else.

In the past, a visit to the cinema was much like a visit to your own little bit of Hollywood. Just as films are renowned  for their glamour and glitz so was the local cinema – to a fashion, anyway. Right back to the wars and beyond, there was a special attraction about the houses of escapism but it seems as though in the age of the Internet, the downloadable film and the insatiable search for a profit from the ever-tightening wallets of fewer and fewer people.

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It’s tickets from the sweet counter and just one of the two ways you can get in to the cinema screens open today, I’m afraid. The carpet’s seen much, much better days and even the popcorn comes pre-made in bags now.  It’s not surprising really, since 2014 saw cinema box office sales drop by almost 3% – not much you might think, but this is an industry with high fixed costs and very low margins where a couple of percent can be the difference between an individual cinema being in the red or in the black.

So I was really shocked to see, when I booked my tickets using the Cineworld iPhone app, the rather backward experience of being charged to do all the booking myself. OK, it was only fifty pence but it worries me that the concept of charging for ‘remote booking’ is just the tip of a very big iceberg which, when you look closer, is actually quite easy to see.

A trip to the cinema is all about the experience, and it worries me that aside from the rundown buildings the closed-but-still-there ticket purchase point in the foyer and the abolition of the special card cinema tickets in favour of standard receipt roll ‘the special’ is getting lost.

There’s the charging extra for 3D films, then extra again for the glasses when you get there; the expensive food which suddenly becomes such a lot cheaper per item if you buy more of it and the extra-special seats that make up the 1st class cinema at the very back.

It seems to me that these guys are playing a short term game of profits now, but is it also a game of survival later?

I miss writing for just someone

Writing for an audience is one of the most important things you must do to make your blog (or book, or twitter post or anything) successful, but I really do miss when readers were just a concept and not real people with real names, real faces and real criticism.

I was reading Girl Lost in the city’s post I miss writing for no one a couple of days ago, and it reminded me of just how good it was when I wrote for someone I thought just probably existed, not ‘someone’ that I know does.

Now, that’s all changed. Knowing who my readers (might be) are, I’ve become super-critical of absolutely everything I produce and a negative comment can genuinely make me consider whether or not I want to keep going.

I distinctly remember that writing for that someone was easy; in the past I could easily bang out five blogs in a single sitting and for more than eight months I managed to post something every single day. I didn’t really care if anyone was reading, although I knew that at least a few were.

Now I couldn’t possibly post every single day because one post now takes a good couple of days to incubate in my mind before there’s a good couple of hour of writing to turn it into something I don’t mind other people seeing.

My writing process now, after years of very harsh self-critique, takes inspiration from Stephen King’s drawer method: posts sit for at least a day before I re-read them to check that my argument makes sense, and that there aren’t any silly typos left.

I’d say I was a massive failure at both.  

I regularly publish posts with multiple ‘silly’ mistakes in them and my arguments regularly don’t make sense either, but it’s the former that really gets at me.

The way our brains are wired makes self-editing really tough, but I do have to wonder why I’ve not managed to improve over the years and why I still manage to type completely different words to what I think I’ve typed, and fail to notice that I’ve said the same thing in two different ways in two adjacent paragraphs. I just do, and it’s really frustrating.

In his book On Writing, King describes the methods by which he creates fiction novels.  A manuscript should take a season to write, he says. Then he will put a physical copy of it in a drawer and forget about it for at least six weeks. Stacey Roberts

I’d say that ‘silly’ mistakes are the worst kind you can make and that’s not just because they’re the ones I can hear my mother shouting at me for making.

Think about it: what do you think when you spot someone has typed ‘their’ instead of ‘they’re’, or when you read something with an ‘an’ where there should be an ‘and’?  Well, you probably think the person is one of two things: stupid, or slapdash.

A silly mistake is the easiest kind to make, the hardest to spot when you’re self-editing and yet universally they’re the most damaging. That’s why I find it tough knowing that I’m writing for someone, not ‘someone’.

Then again, according to some people typos and mistakes are just part of what makes a blog a blog. It’s a tough one.

What do you think? Tweet me: @picnarkes.