Thursday, 28 October 2010

Kids say the darnedest, most inappropriate things...

I like to think of myself as a fan of music, happy to listen to a range of genres from Billie Holiday to Buju Banton (“Who? Who?” That’s jazz and Dancehall for the uninitiated). However, at the moment, I couldn’t even tell you who is currently filling the charts. Not because I have suddenly gone off music, but something a touch more sinister.

On the occasions when I do hear the strains of some song or other from the charts, whether from a passing car’s sub-woofer (is that the name for one of those powerful speakers that only seem to play bass?) or some neon-tainted television programme, I don’t like what I hear. There seems to be concerted effort on the part of music executives (I believe the blame can be laid at Simon Cowell’s door) to fill the charts with younger and younger people.

I’m not sure that it would be so bad if they were actually singing about something that concerned them (puberty and acne anyone?). But there is something distinctly creepy about a youngster crooning about adult themes. Children should not know about love (unless it’s the type of love that they use to refer to their feelings about pizza or a particular sports brand), or heartbreak, or seduction, or sex. The idea that they do and feel the need to sing about it is a touch cringe-worthy.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that in general children seem to think that they are more grown up than they actually are. However, I really don’t think that it is a situation that should be encouraged: nothing good can come of it. All that happens is that weirdness reigns – from the sublime to the ridiculous. From the moronic teenagers who attack strangers without provocation to a young girl I spied – who could not have been more than about 10 years old – wearing heels larger than my own three inches.

Equally strange are the children’s beauty pageants that are so prevalent in the US and becoming more popular here. There’s nothing quite like seeing a pre-teen with a fake tan fretting about her false hair and make-up. In this country, we are already known for high levels of underage pregnancy; do we really want to make it worse? From ridiculous heels for a baby to a thong bikini for an eight-year-old, there seems to be no chance for children just to be children.

I’m sure there might be some people out there who are only to happy for the opportunity to buy a stripper’s pole for their little girl but, do me a favour, don’t let them sing about it. Read more by Shermaine.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

I’ve started, so I’ll finish...

This week I am on holiday. My annual leave runs until the end of this month, and as I have five days left to take, I am obliged to have a week away from the office. It’s a hardship, I know, but hey, I’m a trooper.

I haven't got any major plans for the week, other than a visit up North to catch up with my cousin at the weekend, but already my diary is filling up. I have been ordered by Him Indoors to make sure I give myself some “Shelly Time” with which I am in full agreement. But unfortunately I have a feeling my “Shelly Time” will be taken up doing something I don’t really want to do.

You see, my problem is I take the commonly used catchphrase “I’ve started so I’ll finish” a little bit too seriously. Take films, for example. Over the last couple of months I have sat through some pretty dire movies, but rather than switching off my DVD player and perusing the telly guide, I have sat and watched them to the end, even when Him Indoors has given up and gone to bed early in disgust. Why? Well, I tell myself it is because it might get better and I want to know how it ends. But I suspect there is more to it than that. I think I have a bit of an issue when it comes to sticking with something until it grinds to a painful, arthritic halt.

With films, it isn’t too much of an issue. Most of them are only a couple of hours long. But then there are books. Books tend to take a bit longer to get to the end of, and let’s face it, if you aren’t really into a book it can take twice as long to finally get to that blissful back cover than if it's a page turner. Earlier this year someone suggested I read a book of feminist existentialist philosophy. I was intrigued. 100 pages in I was just baffled. Yet I read it. All 750 pages of it. It took me about six months, on and off, and the sense of achievement was, well, there. But has my life significantly improved since I read it? Has by mind been noticeably expanded? My life enriched? Maybe not.

I guess perseverance is a good thing. If you need something finishing, I’m your girl. But it becomes a problem when I just can’t let go, even when the end result or product of my endeavour is no longer really relevant. Take that book for example. I started reading it for a book club, but had only managed a small portion of it when we met to discuss it. But I still insisted on reading it all- for no good reason.

My good intentions when it comes to making gifts for my friends and family also fall into this dangerous category. The pile of old clothes under the bed would fill my local Oxfam shop twice over, but I refuse to chuck anything out. They are all useful materials for the beautiful handmade toys, bags and household accessories I WILL make one day, you see. And, okay, so I might not get around to realising all my crafty ideas before December, but there’s always next year. And birthdays.

The problem even spreads into my work life. Once a task or job is on my “to do” list, that is it. I WILL do it. It might not get done for another three weeks, but once it is on that list, it has to be done. Or I have failed.

So, where does this small obsessive behaviour leave me? Well, it does make me ultra reliable, for sure. But it is very irritating for the people who are waiting for me to do more pressing tasks at work and for Him Indoors who just wants to watch something decent on the box.

It is also irritating for me. My life is taken up with doing meaningless things, watching meaningless movies and reading meaningless words, purely because I feel obliged to. So when you switch off that dire television programme or chuck that incomplete project in the bin, think of me as I pour over another exceedingly tiresome book as I attempt to make a lampshade out of some old newspapers and a faded t-shirt. But, whatever you do, don’t try and stop me. Like a tube of Pringles, once I pop, I just can’t stop...Read more by Shelly

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Never mind flat hunting; join us in our hunt for good manners

I’ve just started the delightful task of flat hunting in London and, after just a few hours of it, I’m ready to give up. It’s easy to become disillusioned by London; it’s monstrously expensive, very over-crowded, and full of extremely rude people. I thought I’d dealt with my fair share of ill-mannered people, until this morning. When I started ringing estate agents.

I know these people have a reputation that precedes them, and it’s probably something they can never really escape or, indeed, do anything about. Much like tax inspectors and traffic wardens, estate agents must enter their respective worlds knowing they’re not going to fill the most popular of shoes. But, unfortunately, like their loathed counterparts, they are very much a necessity. Which is probably why some of them think they can get away with it.

My wrath was excited this morning by my very first call, so you can understand why I was at boiling point by lunchtime. The woman at the other end of the phone was practically sniggering before I’d barely opened my mouth; when I told her my budget she emitted a loud snort, then tried to cover her tracks by quickly rattling on about a ‘suitable property’. She made me feel like a complete waste of her time, and, to add insult to injury, corrected my pronunciation of my own name when I told her what it was. When I went on, with gritted teeth, to explain why I had pronounced it so, she laughed and actually said the words, “yeah, whatever”. The NERVE.

Unfortunately, any estate agent I spoke to after that didn’t really stand a chance, even if they were nice in a snivelling kind of way. Most of them seemed to be irked that I’d phoned them at all, broaching the rather worrying question of what they thought their office phones were for if not for speaking to customers. I realised very quickly that as a young female with a small budget, I carry very little weight in the property world. If the London housing market were the Masai Mara, I’d be the tiny insect eaten by the oxpecker which sits on the elephant’s back. ‘Insignificant’ doesn’t even cover it.

The crux of the matter, particularly when it comes to people like that ghastly woman from this morning, is that they know they’ve got you in a bit of a bind. Without them, flat hunting is a damn sight harder, and people who can’t stomach their condescending tones have to resort to using word of mouth or Gumtree. Believe me, I’ve tried both, and neither have been fruitful. The latter, when I last checked responses to my ad, was rather terrifying. Note to all ladies: steer clear of Gumtree users who use the words ‘nice lady’ and ‘willing to’ in the same sentence. Yuck.

My main point of frustration in all this is the complete lack of manners exhibited by people who are there, and who are getting paid, to help you. Quite what they think they’ll get out of such bad customer service is beyond me; they won’t get customers, for sure. But perhaps this is a minor glitch, and just beginner’s bad luck. Perhaps there is a glorious estate agent waiting for me around the corner, with a plethora of properties all snugly within my budget. And with lovely manners to match. Read more by Rosie.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

It's October, can we turn down the heat a little?

Am I the only person wondering if the weather is currently on acid? We’re well into October and yet temperatures are hovering somewhere around the mid-20s in Celsius. Bearing in mind that this time of year the average maximum temperature is 14˚C but the mercury can easily dip as low as 6˚C, that’s insane.

Maybe this is the point where we should be blaming global warming or thanking our lucky stars that, after an August almost completely bereft of any sunshine, we now get to top up our vitamin D levels before the long dark winter begins. But still, whatever the reason, however pleasant it is, it’s starting to really annoy me. I like summer but it doesn’t get me all mushy and sentimental the way autumn does.

Autumn is my favourite season and from the moment the new season winter coats appear in the shops I feel a little tingle of excitement as my little mind fills with fantasies of me walking in parks with golden leaves falling, wearing oversized hats and drinking hot chocolate topped with marshmallows.

However I cannot get on with my saccharine love affair with autumn if what is ostensibly summer weather persists a good six weeks after it was due to leave. Of course it’s highly probable that at some point in mid-January, stony broke, half a stone overweight and suffering from acute SAD I’ll be craving sunshine and warmth so badly I’ll consider booking a week in the Canaries or something else equally close to lunacy.

Right now, with serotonin levels normal I can think of nothing more pointless than putting myself through all the horrors of international air travel to go somewhere that has average January temperatures of 19˚C: also known as room temperature. If I wanted to feel the heat of room temperature then surely I just go into a room. In fact I have several in my house negating the need to schlep all the way to an island in the Atlantic Ocean.

If it’s the highly paradoxical ‘Winter Sun’ you’re after then you will simply have to go somewhere where it is not winter. In short, the Southern Hemisphere or places very close to the equator. Nothing further north than 12˚N is not going to be warm enough. To be clear, it’s not the heat I dislike, quite the opposite; I would just like it in the appropriate places at the appropriate times when I am expecting it and accordingly prepared.

Due to the overly clement weather such matters are not yet a pressing concern. No, now is when I want it to wear my new boots especially bought for autumn weather in different russet shades. Instead I can only look at them longingly as they patiently wait, the aromatic waft of new leather filling the room as I’m still comfortably wandering around in flip flops.

It’s not only the boots, but my entire wardrobe that has been thrown entirely out of kilter. For although this freak weather is wonderfully mild, it has also been predictably, Britishly, wet. So each morning as I take the dog out to the woods for his hour of terrorising something that is not me, it’s a case of wading through bogs of rotting leaves, mud and puddles presumably filled with mixture of dirty water, left over canine slobber and the tears of fellow dog-walkers. For these expeditions into the forest of darkness I’m togged up in jeans (to protect my legs from muddy, leafy mulch) and a thin waterproof coat (to protect my torso from the onslaught of dog paws covered in muddy, leafy mulch).

Good preparation, you might be thinking. And yes it would be if the weather wasn’t still so temperate that even before 9am doing anything more than standing still in this get up causes me to turn an unflattering shade of puce while sweat bursts from my every pore, liquid rolling down my face and body in such fast flowing rivulets that I start to worry about dangerous levels of dehydration.

Back at home my post-walk cup of tea is more to cool me down than warm me up. I look longingly at the ready stocked woodpile. No fires will be lit for a while yet- aside possibly from a few more barbeques to capitalise on the late heat wave. And it all fills me with a sense of sadness. Summer, like all good things, should come to an end, and let us move onto the natural next phase of chilly mornings and dark cold evenings followed by the further pleasure of the grumbling about how much we miss the warm weather. Read more by Rosie .

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

How many plumbers does it take to fix a leaky sink?

Oh, how I wish I were simply about to tell you a lame joke. Sadly, frustratingly, all I have for you is yet another story of my being caught up in a customer service farce. And this time we’re talking plumbers. Several of them.

I’ve got a leaky sink, see. Nothing particularly unusual about that, is there? Nothing you’d think would be beyond the capabilities of a man who basically did a NVQ in Sink Studies (that might actually exist, for all I know), a man whose sole aim in his daily working life is the fixing of things that leak. Mending stuff wot spurts water out of the wrong bit. Master of leaky pipes and whatnot. Leaky McLeakerson.

Yet, somehow, this elementary task has proved too arduous for not one but three plumbers who have been called out on my behalf by my letting agency. Two plumbers have been, botched and buggered off, while the third is yet to bother turning up; perhaps he took the Distance NVQ in Sink Studies and presumed he’d never actually have to turn up in person, even once qualified.

Two men have knocked on my door, had a cuppa in my flat, messed about with ‘parts’, tightened various pipes, stuck bits of tissue and glue in places under the sink, and then sauntered off, assuring me that their work here is done, only for the dripping to resume its slow and steady erosion of my sanity as soon as I do anything that requires the use of my water supply.

Yes, it’s all very marvellous and mended for a short time after each plumber has had his fun; the leaked water having been mopped up, and a pipe vaguely tightened, things look jolly good on the surface. The First Plumber even had the gumption to say to me on his way out, “I wish all my jobs were as simple as this one!” Ho ho ho, we chuckled, feeling all glowy and satisfied. Then, an hour later, I thought I’d like to make a pot of tea; I’ll run the tap to fill the kettle. Oh. Wonderful. Even more dripping. Absolutely nothing has been fixed after all.

The Second Plumber was rather less talkative and chirpy than The First Plumber. Apart from a request for a glass of water, and the sound of some tool or other, I heard nothing from The Second Plumber, despite my best efforts to engage him in small talk. I can’t bear making small talk with tradesmen (“Have you come far?” or “Been busy today?” or “The weather’s turned, hasn’t it?”), but it’s just what one does; it’s far less uncomfortable and rude than sitting there in silence as though he’s a servant who doesn’t deserve to be spoken to. This chap – think Michael ‘Lurch’ Armstrong from Hot Fuzz, but even less articulate – refused to indulge me even a few small comments. His legacy in my life was nothing more than a clump of white glue and kitchen roll stuffed down the pipes; a depressing, entirely useless mess that melted and flopped away onto the kitchen floor gradually that afternoon, allowing the leak to persist.

So, my hope now rests in the absent hands of The Third Plumber, who is already my least favourite, and the least effectual, of my Three Stooges, simply for failing to turn up. He was requested three days ago, and he called me yesterday to say he’d come round today. And now it’s today. And he hasn’t made his entrance. I called the letting agency and they’re chasing it up for me. Incidentally, isn’t it immensely annoying being a tenant rather than a home owner, and having to go through an agency for every tiny thing?

All I can do now is keep mopping the leak, keep pouring the gin to take the edge off my irritation, keep the earplugs in to block out the dripping sound, keep sighing, and keep hoping. I simply need a man who knows about sinks to come and fix my sink. It ought to be so easy, the most basic of customer service interactions, a short sketch with just two characters, me and The Plumber, and a very simple plot. Instead I’m locked into a seemingly endless, terribly unfunny joke. And nobody is getting any laughter from me when the punchline finally comes. Read more by Maddie.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery

It’s not me that has the identity crisis, you understand, I am perfectly aware of who I am. It’s other people who don’t seem to get it. The trouble started when a friend of my sister reliably informed her that she had befriended me on Facebook. Hmm, really? That must have been difficult seeing as I didn’t have a profile and I hate Facebook. Yes, I said it! And, no, I won’t be going to see the movie about its creation.

After some CSI type investigation, I found out that someone was posing as me on the website, albeit without any pictures and getting my date of birth wrong by several weeks. Clearly someone that knows me, but not actually me. Though I’m not entirely sure what this nameless moron was getting out of their endeavours, I still didn’t want them doing it, which forced me to become part of the hated ineffective waste of time that is ‘the F word’. 

In addition to my justified anger at the individual who has too much time on their hands, I do have to wonder how it was so easy for someone to create a profile impersonating me. To add insult to injury, I not only had to create an account to tell them that they had an imposter, but wait an age for them to do anything about it. To a certain extent I can understand when cretins do this sort of thing with celebrities. I don’t fall into that special category. So really what benefit do they get?

Not like the donkey that hacked into my eBay account in order to sell e-Gold – whatever the hell that is – and gained access to my credit card details. Oh, what fun to be told by eBay that I shouldn’t give out my password to anyone! Of course, I don’t give out my password to anyone; I know about phishing emails and the like yet somehow I’m still to blame. No wonder internet security firms are making massive profits.

I do have to be grateful that I got off lightly when compared to some horror stories about people who have had their identities’ stolen. I can’t imagine the nightmare of trying to prove that you are who you say you are all while battling some criminal waster for your own identity.   

Supposed advances have brought us Chip and Pin, which allows you to show your PIN number to a whole queue of people. Genius. Paranoia about people standing too close is no longer confined to concern about traditional pickpockets, no, they’ve gone high-tech.

How is it possible that barely a day passes without the arrival of some new mobile/gadget/thingimy-wotsit to waste money on, and yet, there seems to be no way to prevent fraudsters from taking other people’s money? There is something very wrong when criminals can outsmart those who design the apparently secure systems.

Even basic procedures that should be secure are far from it. I seem to get a new person delivering my post every few weeks and – shock horror – have had many instances of expected mail going missing. Maybe it's incompetence, maybe it's fraud, either way, I would love to know if all these people are vetted. An errant household bill may seem trivial, but it becomes much more significant when it is used as a proof of address to get credit. 

When criminals are able to steal the identities of dead children simply by requesting a copy of a birth certificate we are really making it too easy for them. Roll up, roll up! Come get your fake driving licence and passport! Get away with crimes, apply for a credit card, apply for benefit you’re not entitled to! We’ll give you the tools and won’t check a thing!     

Never mind Slim Shady, make sure no one else stands up when the question 'will the real [insert name here] please stand up' is applied to you. Read more by Shermaine.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Large Groups of Language Students. Discuss.

Now that summer is officially over, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief and go about my business without the tiresome chore of avoiding tourists. Whilst I may be fortunate enough to live in a charming city, I certainly pay the price.

During the warm and sunny months I hide away at home and only dash to the shops when in dire need of sustenance as hoards of marauding tourists swarm through the city ingesting it whole and leaving nothing but a shuck for the residents to pick at in their wake.

Every time I dared to leave my house, normally only when we were down to our last crumb, it didn’t go well. I would step out and take a deep breath of pure, picturesque city air and mount my bike. Then, before long, as I peddled forth, I would inevitably start to encroach upon a mob. The hoards ahead of me would swerve about on foot, dipping off the pavement at random times just to freak out the approaching cyclists. Turning into a side street, it’s normal to find a group standing in the middle taking photos. I repeat: in the middle of the road.

I’d ring my bell; no movement. Followed by stopping and glaring; no movement. Ah, so the ‘I’m-terribly-sorry-softly-softly-English’ approach doesn’t work. Time to throw my manners out of the window. So barging through, shouting expletives it is. And then they would all get out of my way.

On one particularly offensive occasion, I parked my bike and entered the shop feeling faint from hunger and thirst. As I tried to negotiate the aisles with my basket to find the teabags, I came across a large group of language summer school students. Nowhere is safe.

They are the absolute worst. I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t say this but just the sight of their matching, branded, brightly coloured rucksacks drives me mad. Therefore, I have to make it known that I think they are all total dorks. I can’t help it – my inner prejudiced psycho rises up and I cannot contain my total loathing for matching, branded rucksacks. The children upon whose backs they reside are equally annoying but as they are human beings I cannot, apparently, loathe them as much. So I unleash my hatred onto the bags.

The bags hover around in clusters and do not move out of the way for anyone, least of all people trying to get to work. I sometimes wonder if a grenade would move them. But I am informed by several sources that this isn’t allowed. I see different groups of bags about – they are all as ill-behaved as each other, no matter the origin. For the life of me I cannot understand why it is so hilarious to sit on the pavement in multiple groups, eating McDonald’s and singing various pop songs, badly. I am obviously too stupid to understand the joke – maybe I should sit down and tuck in to a BigMac underneath a well-known tourist attraction and join in. Although, I don’t have a matching rucksack so am obviously never going to be part of the ‘cool gang’. And I can’t sing in French/Spanish/Italian/Portugese/American/German (delete as appropriate).

I am further disgusted by the hyper-excitement that all the rucksacks exude – being away from the bags from whose loins they sprung, being abroad where you can behave totally inappropriately because it is ‘abroad’. I never understand this (and this goes for the Brits abroad as well). Why do people behave so badly when they go to another country? Every rule of etiquette and social grace seems to fly right out of the window.

From mid-May until some time in September, the whole summer season is an operation in tactical tourist avoidance. I stupidly parked my bike somewhere central so I had to fight my way through a coach load of Americans to reach my poor set of wheels, and then try to scuttle through a group of Japanese tourists before mounting and riding off. At last I was cycling home – nope, screeching to a halt I waited and waited for the blue bloody rucksacks to move. Nothing. My blood started to boil as these children chatted each other up in the middle of the street. Seriously, you all have braces, spots and limbs more gangly than Inspector frigging Gadget, give it up. I decided to revert to being a teenager and started to rhythmically ring my bell. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.

A bag turned round; she looked me up and down. Ding. Ding. Ding. I wheeled out the biggest weapon I could think of – I raised my right eyebrow. Slowly, sardonically, I challenged the bag to a bike-on-pedestrian fight. No matter that I was about 12 years older than her and really should have gone around her little group of pimply admirers. I had taken enough crap from the summer parasites getting in my way and, worst of all, dithering about with fast food and guidebooks.

Ding. Ding. Ding. I glared. She glared. Slowly, drop by reassuring drop, it started to rain, a sure sign that summer, and my ordeal, were coming to an end. The bags started to scurry around, panicking, they all ducked for cover. The city was momentarily saved as the streets cleared of all tourists, bags and all. Round 1 goes to the residents. Relieved, I cycled on and rejoiced in the purifying rain, washing the streets of unwanted baggage. Read more by Naomi.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The grumpy girl's guide to shouting out of windows

I sometimes feel as I’ve just got to grips with how mind blowingly irritating life can be when something new comes along to irk me. The latest such annoyance is the growing, and totally unacceptable, phenomenon of shouting out of windows - especially at me. To ensure we’re all on the same page I’m going to start by laying down the rules on this matter.

The only thing ever acceptable to shout, yell or scream from an upstairs window is ‘fire’ or ‘help’. As far as I’m concerned there is no other word or phrase which justifies leaning out of a bedroom window and squawking into the street.
Downstairs windows are a slightly different matter and while leaning out of them there is a greater variety of phrases which can be safely used. What will determine whether or not it is appropriate is volume and content. For example, I have no problem with someone on the ground floor speaking at a conversational volume with another person, say in the front garden. An enquiry like: “Have you seen my glasses?”  and subsequent discussion about the whereabouts of said eyewear is perfectly fine provided it’s at speaking volume.
 I am also happy with same person poking their head out of same window and shouting, “telephone, it's for you!” or something equally short. Loudness isn’t a problem provided you’re not having a full blown chat. Basically, exercise some common sense. It wouldn’t be practical to have a drawn-out discussion about dialectic forms of government in Plato’s Republic through an open window; nor would it be polite.
You may feel that so much thought on a relatively small topic may be a tad over the top but for me it’s been an on-going issue for years. My dislike started as a child with my own mother. On the way to school most mornings she’d hang out of the bedroom window and shout “Goodbye! Have a good day!”  as I was half way down the driveway. Of course it’s a nice thing to say; yet it irritated me. Wasn’t this a conversation that could have been had inside the house? Why must it be shared with the neighbours? I never said this to her as I knew her intentions were good, but sorry mum, it’s just not very ladylike behaviour. This from same woman who’d routinely tell me off for screaming like a fishwife, especially when I was outdoors being overly noisy. Shouldn’t she obey her own rule?   
Even so I grew up with the notion that yelling in or onto the street was ostensibly forbidden. And I assumed that was a universal lesson. Clearly not in the case of the small, maddening children next door. Not content with hours of popping their oversized heads over the fence to pester my dog, they continue the barrage when inside. It was about six as some guests and I were enjoying a civilised drink in the garden basking in the still mild weather when a head leant out a bedroom window and garbled an incomprehensible sentence.
Children don’t always have the clearest speech but this utterance sounded like it had been heavily subjected to the Doppler effect. Us grown-ups, startled from pleasant chatter, didn’t know how to respond. What was worse was that this stream of babble was clearly a question as the little savage kept his head there waiting for an answer. Well how are you supposed to react to that? Ignore it? Acknowledge it? Say “awfully sorry old man, couldn’t say that again, could you?” Or go for broke and scream “get back inside you irritating little brute!”
Sadly it’s not only the minors who’re at it. A few days later while out on my morning dog walk, I was assaulted again.  The dog’s an inquisitive creature that strays a foot or two into front gardens sniffing shrubbery and grass. I try to stop him but most of the time he’s not doing any harm. Imagine my shock when as his little paws wandered about eight inches onto a paved driveway, some horrible creature popped her head out of the front bedroom window as if on a spring and screeched at ridiculously loud volume: “Get that dog of my driveway. Now!”
 In legal terms, she had every right; we were trespassing on what I presume is her property. Did she really need to scream that at me like some sort of banshee? I calculated that it would take an able bodied person a maximum of seven seconds to walk downstairs, open the front door before making the exact same statement. If she’d done that, calmly, I would have accepted her demand as totally reasonable, and would not be currently complaining about it.
 I don’t care if I sound like a snob but that behaviour is crass, and well, common. There I said it. It boils down to a question of class. Not in the old fashioned sense of higher and lower orders, but in terms of personal conduct. There’s no danger whatsoever that when people discuss her they’ll say, “Now that’s a classy lady.” Read more by Rosie.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Conversational Pet Hates: The Literal Meaning

No lady you didn’t literally write bullshit in your Politics exam paper because if you did the story would have been all over campus as soon as the papers reached the exams office and we would have spent the rest of the week laughing at your foolishness. Nor dear friend of mine did you literally wet yourself laughing at a joke you were told, because if you had you wouldn’t have dared tell me and would have been too busy stocking up on Tena Lady to recount the story. Man on the bus, you did not literally roll home from the pub because you were too drunk to walk normally, yes you will have been bouncing off walls all the way home but there was no literal rolling involved.
I don’t understand what the fascination is with the word but whenever I hear someone using it I want to slap them sharply across the face to make them realise how stupid they sound. Have our vocabularies shrunk so much that we are left with no other ways to express ourselves? Or are people just lazy? I’m sure there are people who have literally wet themselves laughing or literally told their boss to piss off before storming out of the office in a huff. However I will wager that those occurrences are few and far between whereas dropping the ‘L’ word into conversation is common parlance now.
It even annoys me more than people who use ‘txt spk’ or who go one step further and ‘rItE lYk DiS’ because I tend not to have dealings with people who do that. The literal zombie appears to have stolen several of my friends brains and infiltrates their conversations on a regular basis. I’d like to have a ‘Family Fortunes’ style buzzer hidden about my person so that whenever someone commits the crime of dropping the ‘L’ bomb I can stun them in to silence with a big fat ‘UHH ERRR’.
Capitalising on their stunned silence I would then gently, I promise not to use my fist, explain why they got buzzed before letting them go on their merry way safe in the knowledge that they have been schooled in the art of conversation. Read more by Alice.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Whatever happened to service with a smile?

OK, I admit it, in a lot of ways I am a proper snob.  If I go out for a coffee and cake I expect the cake to be made with the finest ingredients and my cappuccino to be topped with frothy milk, not squirty cream.  If I go to a pub I like sophisticated d├ęcor and a selection of premium beers, not a hole stinking of stale booze and urine whose idea of premium lager is Carlsberg Export.

I accept that other people aren’t as picky as me, and actually like Nescafe and McEwen’s. However, I pride myself in keeping my snobbery to myself when faced with such standards.What I can’t stand though, are people whose snobbery seeps out of every pore of their small-minded bodies.  People who think they are above others and aren’t afraid to show it.

On Sunday evening I was faced with such people.  I was in Brighton for a couple of days, and Him Indoors and I fancied some posh nosh.  Both dressed in jeans and Him Indoors sporting his prized C&A hoodie from Berlin (yes, they still have C&A’s in Germany), our waiter looked us up and down as we approached.
“Do you have a reservation?” he sneered, his lip curling.

Suppressing an eye roll he checked his list and, with a sigh, showed us to a vacant table outside.  Less than impressed, I scanned the over-priced menu and opted for a simple plaice and chips.  After what seemed an age, the waiter returned.  I ordered my local blonde beer, mackerel pate and main before Him Indoors placed his order of oysters, seafood gnocchi and Pinot.  As he reeled off his choices, something changed in the waiter.  He realised that the street rat in front of him actually knew about seafood and, even more shockingly, wine.  He almost smiled with relief before disappearing into the restaurant.

Raising my eyebrows at Him Indoors, I went to find the loo.  Approaching the bar, I asked who appeared to be the manager where I could find the ladies.  He answered my enquiry wearily without even turning around to look at me.  Unimpressed with his apparent disdain for his paying customers I headed up the stairs to the restroom taking in the three floors of empty tables.

I returned to our spot outside and told Him Indoors of my less than satisfactory experience.  He gawked at me, amazed by the further lack of hospitality and intrigued by the empty tables.  He explained that the couple sat next to us had been told they had the last table.  Not the last table outside, but the last table free.  In the entire place.To me, these are all signs of a seriously snobby and sub-standard eatery.  What business in their right mind would make their paying customers feel unwelcome? 

Fine, the service improved once it became clear we knew what we were talking about, but should customer knowledge really matter?  And why would you pretend you are full to capacity when you blatantly aren’t?  Are we supposed to feel grateful to be allowed to eat there? 

The following night we ate at another seafood restaurant in the same square.  We were greeted as soon as we appeared and shown to our table as soon as possible.  The specials were reeled off courteously and our questions answered.  The waitress complimented me on my little portable handbag hook; the waiter chatted to us about his experience of moving out of London to Brighton.  At one point our table was tended to by three members of staff, pouring our wine (favoured by a local celebrity, allegedly), serving our food and lighting a candle as daylight faded.  The service was slow, but it was warm and welcoming.  And the food was better.

So if I go back to Brighton, which I surely will, I will be missing out our first choice and go straight to the second.  I shall also be sure to avoid the surf-wear shop where we received dirty looks (clearly not beach-bummed enough) but head back to the over-priced smellies store where we were served with a smile and product knowledge- even after admitting we would not be taking advantage of their free gift only redeemable by spending over £40.

The moral of this story?  Keep your snooty looks and disdain to yourself.  That way, you might gain a few new customers rather than scaring them away.  Because, my dears, I would rather take my well earned money to someone who wants it more than their pretences. As long as they serve their latte in a tall glass and pronounce “espresso” correctly, that is. Read more by Shelly.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Trouble at the Tills

My fellow writers have raised concerns about the trials of supermarket shopping, but I actually find the weekly food shop quite enjoyable. The key is to go at a quiet hour (otherwise it just gets nasty) and enjoy swooping from aisle to aisle, looking at all the foods and their potential glorious concoctions. I do have to avoid the confectionery aisle, though; it infects my otherwise fairly healthy shopping basket in a way I have no control over. But otherwise, the supermarket and I are firm friends.

With its perfectly controlled room temperature and fancy deli section, it’s rarely a place I want to hurry from ... unless, you know, I actual have real things to be doing. And that first meal post-foodshop: what a treat! No missing ingredients, all fresh stuff and even a choice of desserts if I’m feeling crazy. What happy (if admittedly sad) times!

Despite my slightly sad affinity with food shopping, however, there is one aspect that ruins the whole experience for me: the checkout. I seem to have a most miraculous gift of being at the back of every queue, and my few attempts at strategic queue-dodging - leaving one queue for another seemingly faster one - more often than not backfires. The longer queue that logic tells me to avoid always seems to move quicker due to some over-zealous newbie on the checkout, while the shorter queue contains the kind of person who tries to claim 10p off a packet of crackers and who has to fill out a complicated form to do so. Of course said person has left their reading glasses/pen/the actual voucher/common sense at home, so I am left with the overwhelming urge to give the dude 10p from my own purse.

All this fury quickly dissolves any zen-like feelings I may have had in the first leg of my shopping trip, and so, by the time I get to the checkout, I’m irritated. When it gets to my turn, the checkout assistant seems to be on some sort of performance-enhancing drug and speeds through my stuff, leaving me having to pack my bags in a frantic, uncoordinated fashion. The others behind me huff and puff and look at me in the impatient manner that I probably had with the 10p man. (Hmm, there might be a lesson in there somewhere.) I, burning from their looks of hatred, hurriedly pack my bags, pay and limp off with one bag ridiculously heavier than the other.

Then there are the people who pack your bags for you. I find this all a bit unnerving. Am I supposed to just stand and watch while someone packs away my cereal? Too weird. I understand it for those who can’t physically do it themselves, but for me? I always feel really lazy, as though I’ll get so used to it that I’ll get carried away and give them a list of other chores of mine that they can be getting on with.

I also take issue with the ‘novelty’ packers. I have on more than one occasion met Brownies and Scouts who offer to pack bags in order to raise money for some camping trip to Bognor Regis. It’s always one of those moments where I have to decide whether or not to be that grumpy cow who refuses, thus breaking the hearts and dreams of an innocent seven-year-old missing a front tooth, or to play the game and let them pack the bags. So, obviously I do what any person attempting to feign normality would and begrudgingly say yes. But much like The Times payroll, if I’m paying for a service that was previously free, I expect excellence, and putting canned tomatoes on top of my bananas is not the way to go, kiddo.

Of course, I grit my teeth, remind myself that it’s a gummy pre-pubescent who knows no better and I pay the mite for the privilege of having my fruit bruised. But this ridiculous charade, plus the longer than necessary wait in the queue, always threatens to ruin the harmonious start to the trip.

To combat this, I’m thinking of seeking refuge in alternatives such as the self-service checkout. As soon the machines stop breaking down every two minutes, that is. Read more by Selina.