Trains, Trays and Toenails

No Complaints #136

Well, my first week on the new email platform seemed to go OK — nobody had any complaints, anyway, which is the main thing around here. I sent my first subscriber-only update on Tuesday, in which I sounded off about some of the things which I think people are doing wrong in podcasting at the moment. You can take a peep at that here, and if it seems like the kind of thing you would like in your inbox on a more regular basis, there is still time to grab the early bird price of $5 a month or $50 a year here.

Things to read

“If I agreed to be Den Mother, along with performing my own job, I would be expected to clean up everyone else’s messes — in the communal kitchen, on the shared-file drive, with pissed-off clients — while teaching my adult colleagues the difference between right and wrong. (‘Bob, we don’t clip our toenails at our desks. The office is a public space.’ ‘Sally? Sally? Sally! Put down your phone. We’re in a meeting.’) I’m supposed to be the older, frumpy, shapeless, sexless female who always has a stapler, never raises her voice, and pesters the team to submit their expenses. But I won’t do it. Yes, I’m a feminist. Yes, sexual harassment disgusts me. But I am too fucking busy to be the in-house cop. You’re grown-ups, I find myself shouting (silently). You should know how to act.”

Put your hand up if you either are or have become dangerously close to being an office den mother, and you hate it. Email to Pocket.

The food comes in less than 30 seconds. I can't believe the speed. This is truly disarmingly fast food. I collect it all on a tray and decide where to sit. Finally I settle on a banquette, where a big burly man with a black beard and big boots is wolfing an even bigger hamburger. We ignore each other. I notice several other single people. Days later, when I take breakfast at the Hampstead McDonald's, every single customer is on their own. And comfortable with it. Usually when I eat out alone I make a point of taking a paperback and sitting in a corner or against the wall, keen to keep out of the way. Not in McDonald's. Singles are part of its culture.”

Joan Bakewell eating her first ever McDonald’s at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon in 2004 is truly a delight. Email to Pocket.

“I wish I could say my decision hit me like a lightning bolt, or a glowy miracle, or a loud, twinkly epiphany. I wish I could say my feelings about it are more clear, now that I’ve veered onto the keep-it fork in the road. I wish I could explain how I even got here. I can’t. I believe all women should have the right to choose, and that they should be supported before, during, and after. I believe abortion should be safe and legal, and I cheer for all the women who exercise their right to choose, and I ache for them. Life is hard either way.”

A beautiful essay about getting pregnant when you thought you had made sure you couldn’t get pregnant. Email to Pocket.

“The story of Napoleon poisoned by arsenical wallpaper while imprisoned on the island of St Helena in 1815 is a familiar rumor. Largely forgotten, however, is that arsenical wallpaper was common and widely used in Michigan, Massachusetts, and elsewhere in the 19th-century United States. In 1887, the American Medical Association estimated that between 1879 and 1883, 54–65% of all wallpaper sold in the United States contained arsenic, a third of which at dangerous levels. Over time, the poisonous pigment could flake or be brushed off the wallpaper and float in the air as inhalable dust or settle on furniture in the home.”

This is essential reading for anyone who likes whodunnits with improbable murder weapons. Email to Pocket.

“As an aging train pulls into view, two men wait patiently in the biting cold, taking photos as the diesel-driven carriages grind slowly to a halt, before jumping quickly aboard. It is not a good idea to miss the 2:56 p.m. service to Darlington: The next train will call here in precisely one week. At England’s least popular railway station, here in Teesside, the only travelers these days are those attracted by the novelty and rarity of their journey, which lasts a maximum of 14 minutes.”

An excellent example of a case where it takes an American newspaper to highlight how silly British transport policy is. Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

In the last 48 hours I have become completely obsessed with Slate’s Slow Burn, a podcast trying to recreate the Watergate scandal as it appeared to people living through it. (I even signed up for Slate membership so I could hear the bonus episodes, I have fallen hard for this.) A few different things I’m interested in are united in this show: the story itself, which after reviewing The Post on my own podcast this week I realied I don’t know enough about; the idea of trying to see historical events from the perspective of an eye-witness, not an observer with the benefit of hindsight; and the strategy of “windowing” a podcast, ie holding some content back for a paying audience in order to try and create a revenue stream that isn’t entirely about advertising. It’s great, you should listen to it.

Things to watch

This woman is incredible.

You will hum the theme tune to this all day.


Compulsory medieval thingamabob

Fly, my pretty.

The guest gif

Too real.