With great powers comes great responsibility...well window cleaning is a hard job!

Today was much like the day before … and the day before that.

There was election expenses to make known to the world and I felt like I had a huge responsibility on my shoulders.

Paul was an elderly Ben Parker and I was the prepubescent Peter Parker, infected with the gall of a journalist and the cunning of Columbo.

‘With great power comes great responsibility.’

So armed with my Apple Mac and a spongy wrist cushion, I set about the task at hand, as I waded through over 100 PDFs of Councillor capital to pinpoint where exactly the funds were going and how effective this use was to us as voters.

After 2 days of tagging and forwarding receipts for anything from sound speakers to sellotape, I had concocted a list of my most interesting finds…

  1. The amount of times I must have tagged the word ‘leaflets‘ into my Hotmail subject window was untrue. It seems that on almost every receipt I looked over there was a charge for leaflets. Small, large, double-sided, full-colour, singing & dancing, they were all there. But this just makes me question ‘are they really getting their monies worth?’ For example, how many of us actually sit deep in thought with a flyer that comes through our letter box? In all truthfulness it’d be lucky if it got a quick glance before being chucked straight into the paper box. Recycle, recycle.
  2. On a few receipts, I noticed details of ‘equipment hire’…from themselves! I can’t understand how the Liberal Democrats could charge themselves for equipment lease and then reimburse themselves?! The mind boggles…
  3. I was surprised to find on a number of occasions that some of the candidates had been ‘fined‘ for varying reasons, and this had also been taken out of funds. One example of this was a fine for failing to returned leased goods from a sound company. Apparently only 3 out of 4 megaphones had been returned! Why didn’t they just return them all?!
  4. On a few of the expenditure breakdowns, there was a whole host of food receipts for staff. Mostly from ‘Papa John’s‘. He may be pleased to know that Birmingham Council is keeping him afloat! However, some of the things claimed for just seem a tad excessive considering the amount of money these people are on! i.e. a claim for £3.95 from Somerfield. Now surely times aren’t that hard?!
  5. Now the expense that really wound me up was the ridiculous amount of money spent on ENVELOPES! Just on 6 sets of receipts I totted up a gigantic bill of £3,269.20!! ‘Blue envelopes’, ‘white envelopes’, ‘TNT envelopes’, & even ‘reinforced envelopes’ were purchased in their tens of thousands. On one receipt in particular one candidate forked out on 90,000 ‘windowed envelopes’ costing a whopping £1,054! And the best about it is over 20,000+ weren’t even used! I guess the ‘window’ gave the game away a little bit. Tut tut.

To view images of Birmingham’s Hall Green expenses, click here.

To view images of Birmingham’s Edgbaston expenses, click here.

Today was a bit of a mish-mash of occurences…

Having been unable to squirm out of my schedule of ‘slave labour‘ i.e. work, I spent 5 hours of the beginning of my day operating a till and tending to the general groans of complaint issuing from the front of the Customer Service desk.

When I eventually arrived home, I checked my inbox, which was full to the brim with PDFs from Paul.

In a ‘your mission, if you chose to accept it‘ manner, the pile of PDFs were followed by another email detailing the …. well, ‘details’ of my ‘mission’…

Each of the PDFs he’d emailed me were a scanned document containing the ‘election expenses’ of a certain Hall Green candidate. The documents covered receipts for anything from ‘rubbers’ to ‘room service’ and  I was to tag each of the documents with the company names involved and the ‘document type’. I then forwarded them to the posterous site documenting these expenses, which is available to the general public so that they can see for themselves where the money is going and what it’s being spent on, down to something a trivial as pens and pencils.

I, as well as the rest of the nation had witnessed the huge amount of press coverage when the government’s expenditure was leaked into the public domain, but it still came as a shock to see the huge amount of money that goes into candidate campaigns.

It was most certainly an eye-opener!

Carol 'number-crunching' retro style!

Now I’m über ‘queasy’.

If I even get a whiff of a paper cut I’m off.

Flicking past Holby City, Children’s Hospital and Bear Grylls with a lightning reaction that Jackie Chan would be proud of is something I’m toying with the idea of exploiting financially when the student loan gets a bit low…

Therefore, you can imagine my relief when the ‘dissection’ involved in my first task as an ‘Assistant Journalist’ for Help Me Investigate.com involved more ‘brains’ than ‘blood’.

And we’re off…

I was encouraged by ‘Head Investigator’ Paul Bradshaw to explore the site initially to find my feet in the unruly waters of the ‘investigative journalist’.

The site was easy to navigate, and soon I’d mentally bookmarked a whole host of possible avenues of investigation that i felt i could lend my ‘acquired skills’ (at £4000 per annum) to.

The first topic that caught my fickle attention was an investigation headed by Sarah Hartley.

The question she had put forward was: “How much local council coverage is there in your local newspaper?”

I felt that this was a really interesting topic of discussion, as an avid reader (and contributor) of my own local paper, I had never really noticed a ‘lack of council coverage’.

This question got me wandering, and so I signed up on to her spreadsheet to say that I was going to dissect ‘The Cannock Chase Post‘.

Using the ‘crude’ method in which she encouraged her fellow investigators to tally up the scores, I set about this week’s edition…

Results

Total number of published pages: 54

Number of pages deducted (areas where you couldn’t realistically expect local authority coverage i.e. advertising, features, sport, specialist sections such as business or farming.): 35 (due to high amount of advertising as this is how the paper is financed largely!)

Available pages for Council news: 19

Score given based on system provided: 4.5

Overall percentage of coverage: 23.68%

I entered my findings into the spreadsheet and will continue to aid in the investigation until a have provided at least 8 or so editions.

Phew!

Now that’s re-jigged a few long-forgotten maths lessons back in High School…

Now just hold on a cotton-picking minute!

I was just about ready to take the bullet for my local ‘rag’, but after having crunched the credentials, it appears that this week’s particular issue sports quite a high count of the ‘hard stuff’. i.e council coverage.

Having worked at the paper myself on a number of occasions, it is easy for me to pinpoint many of the reasons as to ‘why’ a higher count of council news is not available in today’s local papers.

1) No one wants to read mundane articles about the council if they aren’t ‘blowing up’ some treasured block of flats or are hiking up the council tax. And until anything ‘newsworthy’ happens, a paper wont touch it.

2) Now you’ve heard about how long it took officials to eventually lock up Ronnie Biggs. Now throw in Potter’s ‘cloak of invisibility’, and you’ve got an MP. They’re harder to track down than gold dust! And have a tendency to disappear off the face of the earth about an hour before deadline when you’re trying to squeeze just one solitary sentence from them.

3) The ‘readership’ (especially round my neck of the woods!) has long since adopted the view of ‘I’ll believe it when i see it’, and so no matter how much the Council may protest they are going to erect a speed camera down a road frequented by gang of prepubescent lads who fancy their chances at being the next Jeremy Clarkson, their constituency just doesn’t want to know.

this is obviously NOT a unicorn cat. Truth be told, i couldn't find the image. BUT this picture also makes me laugh!

Today marked the end of my first week at SUPERSUPER, and a subsequent lie-in tomorrow morning. I couldn’t wait!

However, my day didn’t start as well as I’d have hoped…

I obviously hadn’t got the memo for the ‘National Foreign Schools Tour of London’ that ensued around what would have to be the only tube that I needed to get to placement…and so a 20 minute wait incurred me missing a Maccies double sausage & egg Mcmuffin yet AGAIN.

😦

But not one to be beaten, I headed to McDonalds anyway as I was half hour early for my placement and so decided to subdue the lack of muffin with 4 measly chicken nuggets, which went some way to edging the gap.

After giving Editor Steve an extra 10 minutes or so to get into the office I made my way over the road to start my day.

However, as I went to push open the door I found that it was giving no more than a fat kid would share cake.

I was locked out.

I sat outside of the office for 40 minutes on my todd with only the errie SUPERSUPER smiley staring down at me from the wall.

Finally Steve turned up.

Dom wasn’t in until the afternoon, so Steve set me the task of researching the current most popular fashion blogs so that he could ‘test the water’ as it were before venturing into the hazy domain of the ‘blog’ himself.

The time went quickly while I went from ‘cherry blossom girl‘ to ‘byranboy‘ and everything in between.

Meanwhile, Steve was boasting about his most recent achievement … the next issue’s front cover.

I could hear the general groans of improvement until one of the contributors shouted “WOW, is that a unicorn cat?!”

So curiosity got the better of me (and had adverse effects on the cat, obviously), as I peered around my screen to see an Austin Powers-style ‘Mr Bigglesworth‘ staring out at me from the cover, along with its protruding ‘magical horn’.

‘Errr nice??..”

If looks could kill…

After all, I had only been a fashion intern for a week…how was I supposed to appreciate the apparent ‘powers’ of the hybrid feline?? Maybe that’s something that comes with time…

After the fantasy feline incident, it had reached around 1530 and in a couple of hours I could escape to my weekend of pure laziness..

But first, Dom had plans. I needed to ‘rush’ up in to town and take some designer labels back to a PR company.

I soon found out I was needed to ‘rush’ into Oxford Street..

Now I don’t know how long it had been since Dom last ‘nipped’ into Oxford Street, but to the average Joe, ‘nipping’ into Oxford Street incurs around an hour-hour and a half journey.

Now I ❤ Oxford Street. The shops, the shops, & …. the shops…

But when you’re only there to ‘nip in and out’ it’s like hell on earth. I don’t know whether there was something in the air, but today, all ‘Oxford Street goers’ seemed to loose all sense of ‘on-coming traffic awareness’ and many a time commuters in front of me were nearly run over by a Rover!

Having earned my keep for the day, I headed back to Euston as there was a juicy cheese burger waiting for me there with my name on.

I awoke yet again this morning at the obscene hour of 6am to the ‘cup cake-clad’ Katy Perry, warbling California Gurls, as my iPhone lit up like Blackpool Illuminations…following a much-needed day off yesterday.

I’d only done 2 days on placement so far but it had really taken it out of me. Used to bombing around in my Peugeot, the hiking around the Country’s capital has really tested my fitness levels.

I spent my designated Wednesday off by being conned into joining my darling Jessica to the ‘grand unveiling’ of a new Lush store in Birmingham City Centre.

After squeezing into the packed soap shop and avoiding a rather high number of kamikaze wheelchair users, I left with some ‘Summer Pudding‘, ‘Bubblegum lip scrub‘ and £9 worse off.

But today, it was back to the Big Smoke and to yet another empty office (most of the colleagues were away in Berlin still for something to do with fashion…)

Dom, who seemed more stressed than usual wanted me to take some clothing back to funky fashion label Cassette Playa, Hackney & also take some ‘eye catching’ vestments to the prestigious David Parfitt studios for a photoshoot he was due to do this morning.

I rushed (as quickly I could while having to wait what seemed like a lifetime for about 10 tube trains) to get into Old Street and walked the rest of the way to the studio.

After this, I journeyed (again, via about 10 tube trains) to hackney, where I returned some items to the Cassette Playa ‘mother’ and designer Carrie. Having buzzed me through into her workshop to receive the goods, she appeared at the door, sporting large ‘geek glasses’ and a number of ‘unique’ items of clothing. If asked to describe her on CrimeWatch I would say she was the love child of Lady Gaga & Dierdre Barlow…but this ‘glasses trend’ seemed to echo throughout a lot of places I had visited during my time there so far…maybe I should invest?

On arriving back from my 3 hour stint in London’s East End, I was sent off for my lunch my Dom. I headed just over the road to a very ‘dry’ looking McDonalds (it was peeing down outside).

I found solitude and an hour’s peace in the heart attack on a bun I devoured and a frothy coffee. Ahh bliss.

On returning to the office, I was given the task of delivering some clothes and jewelry to Nam (Editor and Co-owner) at the flat, as she was to be photographed for Grazia magazine the following day.

But first I had to pick up some one-off pieces of jewelry from MAWI near London’s Dalston Junction. After strolling into a side street off of the main ‘drag’, a walked into what I can only describe as one of these ‘sweat shops’ you hear about in Africa and such. There was loads of Victorian looking sewing machines lining the walls, and just visible by the tops of their heads behind them was an army of small chinese women.

Now I am not suggesting that they are indeed ‘whipped’ into creating these unique pieces of over-priced weares, but I was simply in shock at the amount of small chinese women that were packed into the shop.

The owner lady came from an office at the back like a Mafia boss to hand me over the goods (as it were) and off I went.

After a further ridiculous amount of both underground and overground services, I made it to Namalee’s flat and completed my task.

I then made my way back to Euston, where I was to depart from in just a couple of hours (the day has gone so quick!).

I went and sat in the food court department, where shortly, I middle-aged gentleman in a tux came and sat on the table next to me and began devouring a Burger King.

I take it whoever he was ‘wining’ tonight was certainly not ‘dining’.

…Or maybe he had just come back from the worst meal after and had to rid himself of the taste…

Who knows.

Once I had boarded the train that would take me back to the Paradise City (Hednesford. And I know it’s not a city. Creative license.), I rather ‘loud’ man started a very loud conversation in the seat behind me.

Man: “Yes yes it’s gone well..”

Boss (i’m guessing) speaks

Man: “well actually I changed everything around.”

Boss: ‘WHAT?’ (everybody on the train heard this.)

Man: “well put it this way…I’ve sacrificed a lot for a lot”

Boss: (stunned silence [most probably.])

Man: “I mean, i mean (backpedaling so fast i could smell the rubber.)…i’ve sacrificed a little for a lot. ”

Man: (nervous laughter)

Boss: (obviously unimpressed. Audible raised tones. Mild heart attack.)

Man: “hello? you there…?”

Now. When Dom told me to wear comfy shoes for my two-week stint, as ‘I would be doing a lot of walking’, me being…well, ‘me’ assumed the term ‘comfy’ meant ‘on trend, light grey ballerina-style flats with cute studding detail, purchased at the bargain basement bounty of £6’.

Apparently not.

What he REALLY meant to say was ‘wear 6-inch-thick padded hiking boots Nat’, as that is what I wished I’d donned this afternoon after doing a marathon of the City’s tube stations!

The pain was somewhat numbed however by a trip to the famous Portobello Road in London’s West End. I had been requested by Dom to take back a few loaned items to some ‘hot designers’ of the very same road, and so off I went.

I had never been before, and had only heard chinese whispers about the vintage haven that awaited me…

It was like stepping into Diagon Alley, only instead of magically passing through a magical wall, I felt like I had literally walked into one as my body ached from head to toe from a mixture of 3 hours on public transport and the excessive walking (for me anyway!)

I wound my way along Portobello Road, as I gazed in awe at the vintage shops and small boutiques that lined its streets. Fruit and vegetable stalls set up in the middle road formed somewhat of an obsticle (to oncoming traffic and people), as shoppers stopped to talk. There was a huge ethnic presence here compared to some other areas of London I’d already visited and it added to the area’s vibrancy.

However, on making my first delivery of expensive designer wares, I was told that the lady who owned the shop was out but that she would pass the bag onto her. I do not know if she even knew the lady but as she appeared from the flat above the shop I assumed she lived with her or was her tenant.

Either that or she was robbing the joint!

After this, I continued to wind my way up the high street to a cute little shop called ‘Jessie Western‘. A small but rammed Western-themed boutique, stocked with everything you could ever want/need to become the Milky Bar Kid (minus the chocolate.)

After making my deliveries I wound back down the road and had a gander at what treasures lined the streets outside of their very inviting shops. Dom even text me to say to have a mooch for a while before coming back..

I don’t need to be told twice.

Having cured my urge to purchase, I made my way back on myself to the office, where Dom had already got some other returns lined up. I was to go to Shoreditch High street this time.

He warned me before I left that one of the P.R offices had some weird lift that I’d need to play with in order to get to work.

Weird is an UNDERSTATEMENT.

It was like something out of The Twilight Zone!

Those of you who’ve been to MGM in Florida will understand me when I say it was just like The Hollywood Tower Of Terror (minus the sinister bell boy and the 199 feet drop….well I was hoping!) Thankfully, on the way up, I was joined by a member of staff who navigated the lift with all the precision of …. someone who had the knack? However, on the way down, it was a whooole other story…On my own (after waiting some 10 minutes for the thing to stop on my floor), I crept into the completely wooden (and very rickety-looking) contraption, and after 3 attempts at shutting the 1930s style gates across the front and selecting my floor, it began to descend … I had a rather unnerving vision that when the doors opened I would have been transported back to 1930, greeted by posh hotel-goers milling around a candle lit reception and a smartly-clad bell boy.

I was greeted by two cockney workmen on the ground floor.

“Alright love, after you.”

I made my way (gingerly now) back to the office where Dom informed me he’d forgotten to give me another parcel to take to Shoreditch and could I possibly ‘nip back’ and return it…so off I went again.

On arriving at ‘Child Of The Jago‘ (I don’t know. Don’t ask. All I know is they had a ‘psychedelic dummy’ hanging in the window by its neck. I’ll stick to River Island thanks.), I noticed a door next to the shop window which I assumed lead to the ‘studio’. I buzzed.

Man: “hello?”

Me: “Hi, I’m Natalie from SuperSuper. I’ve got some returns for you.”

Man: “Some what?”

Me: “Returns. For a Judy…”

Man: “Never heard of her love.”

It was then I realised that the shop window continued around the front of the building and opened into an actual shop.

Minor embarrassment over, I headed into the shop and made the exchange.

I gave the prepubescent lad the bag. I got to nurse my sore fingers.

I grabbed a well-earned Maccies on the way back to the office as I was sooo hungry I could have gnawed at my right arm.

After a decent lunch and a nice rest for my weary feet, I headed back to the office.

Luckily Dom didn’t want me to head back out again but to do some ‘research for him’.

They’d been contacted by some woman who wanted to do a photoshoot where she wanted the models to be dressed in the theme of a series of ‘real life stories’ i.e. the weird and wonderful stories you get on the front of cheap women’s magazines, like ‘I married my dog’, ‘I ate our hamster’, ‘I got married to a football mascot’ … you get the picture.

I had the task of tracking down costume hire places in London and then seeing as to whether they stocked items that the lady required to do her shoot. After cramming in as many links as i could onto an email, i sent them off to Super Steve, and made a quick exit, as it was already 1807!!

As I sat waiting for my train, I noticed a rather large number of ‘senior men’ being shadowed by rather young-looking Thai women. I sat and wondered if any of them were possibly together for the pure enjoyment of being with one another and that they’d been high school sweethearts since he was 17 and she …. wasn’t even born?! Then one couple walked past me and i spotted a rather ‘pricey-looking’ Rolex on the wrist of the man. I’m talking the kind of watch that not only incurs the remortgage of a house, but sings the time at you in japanese AND takes you back in time. Now THAT’S a watch.

Needless to say, I quickly concluded ‘nah…she’s with him for his money!’

why you should never let Dad help you make a mermaid costume!

And so my epic placement in the ‘big smoke‘ begins…

Armed with a railcard (that has cost my doting parentals so much, we now have shares in London Midland!), and with a belly full of nothing other than butterflies…I caught my first train of the day.

On arriving at Birmingham New Street, (after an unnerving journey sat next to a strange man who had obviously misused his aftershave as a bubble bath and who chose to sit next to me when the whole carriage was empty!) I had a nifty 30 min gap where I nipped into WHSmiths to purchase an extortionately-priced bottle of Volvic and a small notepad (you never know!…journalistic habits die-hard…)

My 8:30 train was arrived right on time, and I scurried along the aisle in search of a lucrative ‘available’ seat.

Having secured a seat next to a very quiet lady (who I think may even have been asleep), I whopped out the ‘Spicy Tomato flavour Crunchies‘! (Needless to say she wasn’t asleep for long…)

An hour and a half later (and I’m sure much to the relief of my fellow passengers), the train pulled into Euston station and I disembarked while phoning my already panicking mother to let her know that I’d made it there alive (although, I’m sure the lady who I was sitting next to was concocting ‘Crunchie murder’..)

I was really nervous about having to use the tube for the first time on my own, and where I wasn’t following around some long-suffering boyfriend or a willing ‘accomplice’ from Uni…But to my surprise I managed to get there without getting lost!

…More than once.

😛

Ok, ok, so I took the Central Line from the platform instead of waiting for a Hammersmith & City…but i’m not renown for my patience.

The only problem with my small error, was that instead of ending up in a station only a short walk away from placement, I was now a BIG walk away from the road my placement was in, let alone the building!

After a brief conversation with a very nice parking warden…I got a sprint on to the road I was meant to be on.

I eventually arrived at the SUPERSUPER office half an hour late, with a face like a beetroot, and sweating like … a person who sweats a lot! … BUT to a surprisingly ‘calm’ Dom, the stylist. He briefed me that everyone else was away in Berlin and so I would meet the rest of the team during my time there.

And with no time like the present, he set me on my first errand (as I was already half an hour behind schedule!)

I had the responsibility of taking a designer bomber jacket back to its rightful owner/creator/lender in return for another ‘short-term loan’ of some more designer clobber.

He’d kindly printed out some maps and gave me an idea of where I needed to be heading. I was to then meet him at the studio where he was shooting for the day with the desired outfit.

It was a big ask.

Especially for someone who has absolutely NO sense of direction…or London for that matter.

I couldn’t find my way down a one way street most of the time, so this was a task and a half…

But none the less, I set off. Again down the seemingly endless Commercial Rd and back to the subway to start my journey.

I took me about an hour of tube changes and stuffy, packed-in train conditions to get to Hackney Central.

(Now I know what a battery chicken feels like…

If they smelt of B.O…

And rode on the tube.)

Anyway…I arrived in Hackney and set off down the road to an old warehouse-like workshop where the designer in question created her masterpieces.

There was a swift exchange, much like the dealings i imagine the likes of the Mafia have…accept this wasn’t crime, it was ‘Cassette Playa‘-a wild and ‘with it’ designer of the 21st century, who sports a huge fan base in Japan.

Having ‘done the deal’, I headed to my next port of call…the studio.

After backing up on my original journey all the way up to ‘Old Street’, I made my way on foot to the prestigious David Parfitt studio, where Dom was already at work.

Having got some rather suspicious looks from the locals as I waited outside the iron gates to be buzzed in, i made my way up a concrete stairway and into the huge studio.

I met who I think was David (although I never did quite catch his name, as he remained very quiet and most likely very busy at his desk)…while I met the photographer, model and make-up artist.

It was exactly as i imaged a fashion shoot to be (albeit a little less glamorous…) I sat down in front of a table groaning with all kinds of antique accessories and vintage vestments. Magpie heaven.

The first shoot had a ‘western’ theme, with the model sporting mini shorts, blouse, waistcoat, stirrups, and cowboy hat in a variety of poses.

The second shoot was by far a lot more … ‘exotic’, with the model donned in Cassette Playa top, fishtail skirt, ruffly denim…’arm thing’ and lots of very pretty-looking necklaces and beads.

It was definitely a girlie haven, but I wouldn’t want to be holding the poses she had to for over 2 hours. I was very comfortable sitting and watching…oh and drinking tea! 😛

Although I did help Dom out when he needed it…

At one point, while the model was being preened she said: ‘do i look like a mermaid?’, at which point the photographer turned around and replied: ‘no, you look like a bohemian fish on a stool!’

😀

It did look very cool though..something like you’d see at London fashion week….where the women come out in all kinds of crazy costumes that you would simply never be able to practically go out in, let alone afford, short of re-mortgaging the house!

An apparent need for ‘music’ was soon aired, and so for the remainder of the shoot i listened to music as colourful as the clothes on display, ranging from Jimmy Hendrix to James Brown.

It all added to a surreal experience I felt like I was ‘spying on’ in a way, as being a journalism student, i don’t usually get to see that ‘behind the scenes’ stuff, being a ‘contributor’, but this was interesting to watch.

On the way back to the office, as me and Dom carted a few grands worth of clobber onto the 135 bus, we set the world to rights to do with all things ‘degree-based’, as we conversed in all the woes of the media world which I am hoping to get my toe in after having bagged a degree next year.

It’s a real shame that there just isn’t the money their used to be in the industry anymore, and everything’s a struggle, but it makes me all the more determined to make sure I get the best possible job I can after graduation.

On arriving back at the office, we were greeted by ‘Super Steve’, the magazine’s Co-founder, along with singer/fashionista ‘Namalee‘.

And soon it was time for me to part in order to make the 30 min journey back to Euston and to a much-needed sit down!