Friday, 29 January 2010

Good manners are a piece of cake

ROSIE MCGEE

Small, seemingly insignificant, acts of selfishness are the bane of my life. Often tiny, they fill me with an immeasurable irritation. Unable to let them go, I replay them over and over in my mind, brooding. It’s made even worse when they are in direct response to an act of kindness, like giving someone a beautiful little cup cake.

Last Sunday, once the tedious admin of life stuff was under control, as a treat to my inner child, I made a batch of cupcakes. Covered in coloured piped buttercream icing, they looked even more attractive than I’d expected. However I knew if they stayed in my house throughout the week I’d slowly eat my way through the lot, consuming some 20,000 calories and enough butter to give myself an instant heart attack. So instead, being nice, I sent them to work with the other half. If I was going to have enough restraint not to stuff myself silly then the least I could do was share.

The remaining pretty, petite cakes went out the door and I hoped that they’d find good homes. When other half returned home the insecure part of me had to ask: “Were the cupcakes eaten?” He nodded. “All by 11am, I didn’t even get one.” I allowed myself a little smile. With the topic almost forgotten he added: “Oh, someone scraped the icing off. It was smeared it all down the inside of the bin.”

Initially I felt mildly offended – what was wrong with the icing I had lovingly made? Within a few minutes that offence had hardened to rock-solid indignation. I sent 10 cakes to an office of roughly 40 people. By my basic maths that means there was enough for every fourth person. Now, why, please, I’d really like to know, why would you take something clearly in limited supply only to throw half of it away?

A cupcake comprises two constituent parts: sponge cake and icing. If you know that you don’t like 50% of something, why take it? Especially as this deprives someone else of having one, you selfish, self-centred, greedy person.

“Since when is it acceptable to use a handmade cake as prop in a demonstration of how embarrassingly immature you are?”

This is typical behaviour of the sort of people who never think about how their egotistical actions impact on others. They’re that person who always takes the last item off a sharing platter without asking if anyone else wants it. They’re the person who’s always at the pub for the first two rounds and then silently slopes off. They’re even the person who refuses to buy the designated driver a soft drink because “it’s not like they’ll get me one back, is it?”

Thoughts of this lowlife pestered me all through dinner. Eventually anger overcame me and before long I was calling for the installation of CCTV, disciplinary action and immediate sackings. At one point I even said “Heads will roll!”

In my defence, it brought back painful memories of a birthday party I attended a few years ago when, too broke to buy a gift, I took a cake. Carrying two sponges filled with handmade crème patisserie and covered in thick chocolate icing I teetered all the way there, holding it like an unexploded bomb. The birthday girl was chuffed and placed it, reasonably, on the buffet table.

The evening wore on. With about a third of it eaten, the overly-silly-drunker-than-everyone-else-party-guest, as part of a squabble, rammed someone’s face smack bang into the middle of it. It took all the self control in the world to stop me screaming in her face. Since when is it acceptable to use a handmade cake as prop in a demonstration of how embarrassingly immature you are? Aside from the time I’d spent on it, it was a gift to someone else who would now not be able to enjoy it.

Where have people’s manners gone? I can clearly remember my mother regularly barking at me: “Don’t take it if you’re not going to eat it all.” After a while I never did. And it wasn’t just her. Teachers, friends’ parents and every dinner lady in the world were chanting the same mantra. Has everyone else got a nasty case of selective amnesia? Or is it more convenient to forget it and to think about ourselves at the expense of others?

If you don’t want something, or don’t like it, it’s fine to politely refuse. But be mindful that when someone has cooked something, they’ve spent time, energy and money. Under any circumstances, it’s a nice gesture and to squander, or even destroy that, is nothing less than the worst possible behaviour. Read more by Rosie.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Thanks for the support, chums

ROSIE MCGEE

I’m career changing at the moment and so far it’s turning out to be one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. Caught in that need-experience-to-get-a-job-need-a-job-to-get-experience catch 22, I’m trying my hardest to stay upbeat and positive.

Luckily I have some great friends around me who have been wonderful and supportive, told me I’m doing the right thing, helped me out, listened to me gripe and generally boosted my ego. Unluckily, I also seem to have another, just as plentiful, supply of not great friends only too quick to be as pessimistic as possible.

At some point in our catch up, the typical unhelpful friend will ask what my plan is, what I’m going to do etc. and in response I’ll reel out the same speech I’ve given a hundred times.

The phenomenon of Christmas didn’t help as it entailed lots of meeting up with people I don’t often see and having to go through it all again with them. Now I actually understand how one-hit-wonders feel, endlessly being asked only to perform their one famous song.

Nonetheless each time I go through it all as keenly as possible, using up precious enthusiasm which really should be reserved for my new endeavours. In my heart, I know about midway through when I’m onto a loser but for some reason I keep trying, keep flogging that dead horse.

Once I’m done, and borderline exhausted from my energy-sapping monologue I sit back and wait for a response. And then Bad Friend shows their true colours and begins the criticism. “How do you think you’re going to be able to make any money?” seems to be a firm favourite which crops up again and again. Or, coming in a very, very close second: “What with the recession, you’ll never be able to get a job.”

Thanks, thanks a lot guys, chums, pals, supposed friends. Thanks for all the encouragement.

“It’s not only that these words are incredibly annoying; it’s that they also hurt. I’m taking a risk. I know that I’m going to have to deal with a shed load of rejection. I just wasn’t expecting it from my so-called friends.”

But my new favourite came at the weekend in the form of: “There are loads of people already doing that; it’s not exactly a new idea.” OK ... I understand that would be a major problem if I was pursuing a career as an inventor, but I’m not. Just because people already do something doesn’t mean they won’t need others to also do it. It’s called a trade, a profession or even a vocation, actually mate.

When children decide they want to be a plumber or a carpenter, should parents turn round and say: “Well kid, there are loads of people doing that already. Not exactly an innovative choice, is it?”?

A career doesn’t have to be about constantly reinventing the wheel. Sometimes it’s just about crafting a wheel that rolls smoothly.

It’s not only that these words are incredibly annoying; it’s that they also hurt. I’m going out on a limb here, putting myself out there and taking a risk. I know that I’m going to have to deal with a shed load of rejection before it all comes good. I just wasn’t expecting it from people supposedly on my side. My so-called friends.

Thankfully I’ve still got the nice ones on hand to complain to. During one of these rants another thought hits me. Looking at the denigrators I realise I don’t see people totally happy in their own careers. Instead I see frustration, inertia and insecurity.

Getting your foot on the career ladder and working your way up it during your twenties is bloody hard work. I know that and so does everyone else doing it. I painfully remember the horror of trying to make your mark in cut-throat offices, playing the games and trying not to get burnt in the politics. Unless you’re a direct descendent of Machiavelli himself, it’s not a fun way to pass a decade of your life.

And if you hate it as much as I did then don’t carry on doing it. Have the courage to address what it is that makes you negative to the point of spiteful. Could it be that it’s nothing more that old fashioned jealousy causing these unkind words? Quite possibly.

To these people I’d like to say two things: look at those around you doing something different as an inspiration not a threat, and if, fingers crossed, I make it, don’t expect me to share any of the spoils of my victory with you. Read more by Rosie.

Image: www.freeimages.co.uk

Putting the YOU in 'queue'


With all the money that banks make, I would have thought that their profit margin would allow them to invest in technology that actually works. But – silly me – that would effect the bonuses that have made so many people redundant.

No, I’m not talking about the carousel that is the automated telephone line that banks love so much, or even the ATMs that give you a receipt not for your own account but for the person who used it before you. Great security.

The particular contraption with which I take umbrage is the paying-in machine. The bank that I use (apparently the world’s second or third largest – staff have informed me of this fact several times, but I tend to glaze over every time) moved locations not long ago, from a small site on a busy high street to a larger site across the road. It should have been a good thing: more space, more tellers, more assistance! Could it be? An efficient bank?

No such luck.

In fact, what they did was reduce the number of teller windows to two (remember: busy high street) and loaded the place with machines. Now, this particular bank used to have paying-in machines that worked perfectly – cash and cheques in an envelope and pop it in the machine – but these were obviously too simple and they got rid of them. The new machines have the ability to sort the deposits, though, and don’t require any staff to empty them so I suspect that has something to do with it.

I have to confess, I wouldn’t actually mind them if they worked once in a while, but what is the point of filling a bank with machines and then covering them with ‘out of order’ signs? The ones that do work still don’t work properly: woe betide anyone who tries to deposit any notes that have wrinkles, dog-ears, creases, writing or anything else the machine doesn’t like. The machine has class: “Dahhhling, if it’s not pristine, I don’t want it.”

Besides that, you can’t deposit cash and cheques in the same machine – how foolish of me to think I could. Waiting in one queue before waiting in another is my favourite pastime.

The member of staff standing by the door like a greeter, looking important and efficient with the addition of a clipboard, is never any help. Question: “Why are your machines always broken?” Answer: “They are due to be repaired soon.” Not only is that not what I asked, but it means nothing when I am standing there wanting to deposit my money. You would have thought that they would be eager to take my cash so they could get back to playing on the stock market.

When the inevitable queue does build up at the two windows behind which actual humans sit, Clipboard actually tries to encourage those waiting to use the machines: “Roll up, roll up! See the wonders of another queue. Wait your turn to see the amazing sight of a fortune teller – let it tell you whether your notes have ever been folded.”

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to be standing at a machine with a wad of notes in my hand while it whirrs and clicks as it considers assisting me.

If it was a one-time occurrence, it wouldn’t be so bad, but the fact that it happens all the time makes it even more galling that the very same bank sees fit to call and email me to offer me some sort of premier account. (“All for the low, low price of £12.95 a month!”).

What’s premier about it? Are they going to ensure that their machines work? Are they going to make sure my calls to them get answered by a real-life person? Of course not. All the same inconvenience with some useless stuff thrown in that I’ll never use.

Hmm, yeah, I’ll pass. Thanks anyway. Read more by Shermaine.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Ladycrap

SAM PECZEK

Wow, women are sort of useless, aren’t they? The media twats who sculpt the gloriously vacuous landscape of the ad world certainly want us to think so. I had always thought we ladies were reasonably hardy creatures but, evidently, I am wrong. As it turns out, even basic bodily functions throw up a mishap-strewn minefield.

The ladyfolk all have broken bowels, to varying degrees of severity and symptom. The first type of malfunction comes in the form of an identity crisis. According to certain infuriating ads it is clear that at least seven or so ladies are frequently blighted by bouts of uncomfortable (and unsightly) bloating. This leaves them feeling hideously weird, wrong and unable to leave the house in case their friends don’t recognise them in this monstrous guise. And, let’s face it girls, if these friends know their stuff, they’re pretty much duty bound to shun you if you’re not looking suitably gaunt and groomed. Fortunately, help is close at hand: upon snarfing down a pot or two of branded yoghurt-gunk these unfortunate women are gleefully able to feel just like themselves once more. If only the answer to every problem was so tasty.

Other women fall into more the more bothersome diarrhoea/constipation category (I mash these two complaints together as they foster an opposite side of the same sort of coin shaped relationship). Pills usually sort out both. Probably different ones. It’s actually quite boring to advertise, so sometimes they use girly props such as handbags to help outline the dynamics of these toils. All about knowing your audience, innit.

A lesser known ill advertises its ominous presence on the backs of doors in public loos, and is by far the scariest arse-related mishap. Oh yes, it’s those ads for ‘stool softening’ drugs. Seriously girls, what’s the deal with this? Does anyone out there really need this stuff? Why are you all so crap at crapping?

It would appear that slipping in some vegetable matter amongst the non-fat non-food nonsense is not sufficient. This is why the men think we are feeble. Maybe they think we get confused by all these faecal-themed ads and literally end up putting foodstuffs into our handbags instead of our mouths. Even if you’ve also stuffed a teeny tiny fake dog in there, it’s still sad and wrong wrong wrong. Let’s live and learn.

Men are never shown to be suffering from any of these issues on the bits of telly that sandwich together our nation’s pathetic excuse for entertainment, so we can only assume that these sinister complaints target only women. Either that, or the ad gods decided that ladies would make a better public face for all things faecal. Girl power ahoy! Perhaps not. Read more by Sam.

Spitting in our general direction

SAM PECZEK

I keep witnessing a phenomenon and feeling bothered by it. Sometimes I get to wondering why it even happens to begin with, but never grasp far enough to latch on to anything by way of enlightenment.

Yes, it’s the spitting thing, and yes, only men seem to be afflicted by this sinister and unsightly compulsion.

Rather alarmingly, they either have no idea as to the degree of ick this behaviour incites in the beholder (or simply don’t care) or it’s such a natural occurrence that they don’t even know they’re doing it. And let’s not forget about that special subgroup who are fully aware of the ghastliness of this act and reap buckets of glee from depositing gloopy little pieces of themselves all over the place. Such a stance is most evident in the lads who aim their treasures at the patch of pavement directly in front of my feet.

I demand answers. None are forthcoming. In lieu of scientific justification, my failsafe solution of throwing Scrabble pieces at dirty crockery has unearthed the following explanation:

The male creature is cursed with unholy rivers of saliva. This abundance of ick fluid periodically threatens to flood their feeble brains with cleansing thoughts and rush forth through their ears in urgent, gurgling torrents. It is highly likely that this vicious stream would include not only saliva, but also precious flecks of grey matter and chunks of the foetal twin sister they ate in the womb (because, yes, all sister-less boys have absorbed their unborn sibling).

To sidestep this potential gore fest, the poor lads are left with the not so heroic option of expelling these pesky globs of saliva in smaller but more frequent bursts through the holes in their faces – admittedly less spectacular than ear vomit, but decidedly less harrowing.

Sadly, for the hapless female who happens to be passing by during such an event, this behaviour will appear bizarre, unnecessary and rather revolting. Rather than feeling bemused and disgusted by this common occurrence, we should seek enlightenment and endure these episodes with silent understanding. Even when they unleash their manly mouth fluids in frightening proximity to our shoes, or faces.

Alternatively, men who chuck their spittle around are simply rude and wrong. We should burn them all. Read more by Sam.

Special offer: Nothing for the price of something

CHESS TAYLOR

After being discharged from hospital following a particularly nasty kidney infection I am disgruntled to find that some hospital bright spark has managed to put my phone and my brand new blazer in a puddle of bleach.

Now, not only has my only means of communication been snatched from me but it basically looks as though a baby has vomited over my left shoulder.

After mourning the loss of my new favourite, twice-worn jacket and spending a few more days in bed recovering, I decide it’s about time to reconnect with the outside world. Off I trundle to the local phone shop. Swarovski-encrusted BlackBerry covers glimmer and wink at me through the window, and a sign outside proclaims: “We can fix anything!!!” I’m feeling pretty optimistic. With hindsight this is probably due to prescription painkillers.

I explain my predicament to a fast-talking guy with the most precise facial hair I have ever witnessed, who assures me that for a “mere” 30 pounds I can expect a fully-functioning phone within 24 hours. If they are unable to repair it, my money will be refunded, no fuss. Excellent, I think. I hand over three crisp 10-pound-notes without baulking at their request for a cash-only payment (due, apparently, to their card machine being broken).

Two days later I return, still high on painkillers and excited by the prospect of discussing that afternoon’s Ricki Lake marathon over text with whoever will listen. Goatee’s halfway through an impressive sales patter but acknowledges my presence with a nod and a smile, so I wait patiently. A few minutes later he reunites me with my baby who is now sporting a masking tape bandage with “WATER DAMAGE – FIXED” written across it. At last! I scamper home and settle myself in for an afternoon of “Girlfriend, if your butt wasn’t flat, you’d be all that” ... Or something.

An hour later and in true Ricki spirit I pick up my phone and begin to type: “Dump that zero and get yourself a h –”. Bollocks. It’s died on me. No matter. I switch it back on and try again. This time I don’t even get as far as typing “zero”. I think it’s broken. I feel deflated. I can’t concentrate on Ricki anymore. The phone thing’s burst my bubble; I think about ringing someone for a moan – and then remember I can’t.

“Goatee hands it over with what looks suspiciously like the same piece of masking tape on the back. He’s trying to make me pay for providing me with precisely no service.”

The next day I make my third trip to the shop. Goatee is trying to surreptitiously eat a chicken thigh below the counter and the smell of grease is permeating the entire establishment. He attempts justification – “late lunch” – then grins inanely before taking another bite and wiping his hands on his trousers. I give him the phone back, telling him it doesn’t appear to be working. He looks shocked, declaring “this never usually happens”, but agrees to have another look, free of charge of course. I make a hasty exit and fleetingly contemplate KFC.

A new day dawns and another trip beckons. I have started to feel somewhat apathetic towards my phone but still want it back on principle. On cue, Goatee hands it over with what looks suspiciously like the same piece of masking tape on the back. I decide to try it out there and then and insert the SIM card and turn it on. Nada.

“I thought you said it was fixed.”

“Maybe it’s your battery. I can get you a new one for £9.99,” he tries.

“You see the label on the back?” I ask. “It clearly says my phone is fixed. Why are you trying to sell me a battery?”

He looks thoughtful for a moment. “Well, sometimes it’s just that the battery’s broken so ...I’ll go get you one now.” He heads to the back wall where the batteries hang on racks.

“Can I just get my 30 quid back instead, please?”

He stops. “Well you see, darling, I’ve had costs. I don’t get these things looked at for free innit.” He’s trying to make me pay for providing me with precisely no service. He’s trying to make me pay twice for no service. I articulate this to him in no uncertain terms and cause such a scene he is forced to give me my money back.

I feel quite self-satisfied as he glowers at me; I’ve won this one. I leave with a spring in my step and my friend’s kindly-donated brick of a phone in my pocket. Never again will I step foot in a phone shop. Particularly not when on statutory sick pay. Read more by Chess.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The disappearing customer

MADDIE YORK
I have always been a person who manages to get overlooked, and frequently forgotten entirely, in customer service situations. I’m that person who arrives, hopeful, at the theatre box office to collect my definitely booked tickets and is told: “We don’t have a record of your booking.” I’m that person who phones up the bank, gets put on hold for 15 minutes and then hung up on because they’ve simply forgotten I’m on the line. Give me a customer service situation – anything – and I’ll be forgotten at some point during it. Guaranteed.

I ordered the mini cheese and ham toasties in Starbucks for lunch today, handed over the money, was told to find a table and wait while the toasties heated up, did so. Did the toasties appear? Did they buggery. The barista had listened to my order, taken my money, watched me sit down, then allowed me to completely disappear from her brain. “Are my toasties ready?” I was forced to ask, in a mortifyingly small voice – Hell, I wish I’d ordered something with a less ridiculous name – nearly 10 minutes after I’d sat down. “Ohh, sorry!” said the barista, laughing. Oh, yes, you’re right, taking money and then promptly forgetting your customer – yes, that’s side-splitting.


Seriously, though, this happens to me all the time. For whatever reason – I don’t know, maybe because I’m polite, posh and female – I am apparently somebody who instantly gets lost in the system just as soon as I’ve entered it. I constantly have to repeat orders in restaurants and cafés, watching as umpteen other tables get their food within a sensible length of time and mine doesn’t materialise. I’m getting mighty fed up with having to ask for everything twice, or more, and hearing my own pathetic voice saying things like: “I’m so sorry, but ... about that coffee I ordered half an hour ago ...?” or: “I’m really sorry, I’m sure it’s nobody’s fault, but I’ve been sitting in my freezing car on my own in Herne Hill for hours and nobody’s arrived yet to change my tyre.”

Yeah, I’m still raw about that last one – it only happened last Saturday night. And it really was a perfect example of this problem I have of being a disappearing customer. As soon as I discovered my flat tyre, at 5.30pm, I rolled unsteadily into a dark residential street in Herne Hill, and called the rescue service. It all seemed to go swimmingly: a polite voice answered, chuckled gently with me about my tyre-based misfortune, took all the details and location, booked the rescue vehicle and assured me somebody would be there by 6.28pm (nice and precise, exactly what you need in a slightly anxious situation), wished me well and Happy New Year and recited a reassuring limerick to me – well, not quite, but you get the picture: it was darned efficient, hunky dory and on track to be a thoroughly successful customer experience.

They even sent me a text to verify the booking! (she screamed) It read: “Dear Miss York” (ooh, my name; nice and personal), “a rescue vehicle will be with you no later than 6.28pm.” Excellent, there’s that reassuring precision again, and with a “no later than” added in for extra cushiony comfort. Brilliant, I thought; they’ll probably zoom over and be here before 6pm, even. Gold stars all round. I put my hazard lights on, swung my legs up to rest on the passenger seat, and began texting my friends to tell them of my dramatic situation.

You’ve guessed what happens in this story, of course, but sssh, I’m telling it anyway, for catharsis. At 6pm there was no sign of them and, considering they did boast “no later than”, I decided to phone up, in a non-confrontational way, just to check progress. I ought, really, to have realised something was amiss at this point, because I was greeted and spoken to – different customer service rep from earlier, unhelpfully – as though nobody had heard of my case. Disconcertingly, I had to restate rather too many of the details of my original call. It could have just been for security reasons, or whatever, but with hindsight this would seem to have been my opportunity to make a bit more noise to check they had actually registered my existence. Eventually: “Oh, yes, Miss York, we have 6.28pm as the call-out time.”

I rang off. Hmmm. As I waited through the next half an hour, getting very cold and a bit blue around the lips, I reflected mournfully on the situation. The second person was not nearly as reassuring as the first. He clearly didn’t actually bother contacting the rescue vehicle to check where it was – he simply glanced at a computer screen and threw that fast-approaching 6.28pm at me and hoped I’d shut up and disappear from his life.

6.30pm. Their bright, shiny, precise 6.28pm had been smashed to smithereens. I called again. The first voice answered, thankfully. She put me on hold so that she could call the rescue vehicle, and then came back to me: “We’re so sorry, Miss York. They haven’t been able to set off just yet, actually, as there’s been a serious delay at the base. It’s going to be another 45 minutes.”

What I should have said to her is this: “What sort of delay exactly? Late afternoon tea and biccies for the drivers? Lady, tell them to cease their dunking immediately and get their lazy good-for-nothing bums to Herne Hill and rescue me, your customer, because I’ve been sitting in my car, which is now colder than a witch’s tit, for an hour. And tell them they’ll have some explaining to do when they arrive because I am one angry lady driver. And also, your customer service sucks. Don’t make promises you obviously can’t keep. And it really wouldn’t hurt to read customers a reassuring limerick once in a while.”

Instead, I quietly said: “Oh, ok. But, was there possibly any way somebody could have informed me of that situation an hour ago ... you know, when you ... sort of confirmed that everything was on track and that I’d be rescued within the hour?”

With no explanation or apology from them beyond a pathetic “we can’t always keep to our promised times”, I sat there, teeth alternately chattering with cold and grinding with irritation, until the rescue truck eventually rocked up.

Seriously, what is it? What is it about me that means I end up in situations where I’ve ordered something I need, only for my request to be immediately lost? What actually happens behind the scenes? Is someone just scribbling my details on a bit of loo roll and then flushing it down the loo straight away? Are they not even scribbling them down in the first place?

I know I’m a bit repressed and full of pointless apologies and pleasantries, but I’ve learnt to be that way because somewhere along the line something convinced me that politeness makes people want to do things for you. I’ve spent 24 years as a polite person, living by the assumption that being a bit too bolshy and demanding in a restaurant will get you nothing except spit in your soup.

Well, clearly, that theory can go to hell. Apparently customer service types – who, understandably, get into a sort of trance sitting in their depressing little booths or open-plan offices that smell of body odour and hot computer wires and coffee, or shuffling around their restaurants lost in a reverie about the acting or writing career they should be enjoying by now – need us to actually bark our requests at them in order for them to wake up and notice.

Fine, if they want the whole thing to be less polite and even more unpleasant and difficult than it already is, I’ll give it a go. I’ll yell my initial order for my ham and cheese toasties and make the barista jump out of her (probably) Starbucks-branded skin. Anything to stop myself disappearing and having to say the word toasties more times than is dignified for a woman of my calibre. Read more by Maddie.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Gimme some space

ROSIE MCGEE

I have a dirty little secret. You might not find out when you first meet me, but eventually you will, and then you will see me differently. I’ll be lessened in your eyes somehow and I’ll see it written all over your face on the occasions you decide I’m still worth speaking to.

So what is this shocking undisclosed fact? Well, I’m comfortably under 30 and even though I tell people I live in London I actually reside in the suburbs. That’s right, you heard me, I live out in a place with no tubes, no Starbucks and a greater London dialling code. And it’s not even the trendy part with any possible chance of being up-and-coming. In fact, it’s widely accepted as being pretty naff.

I’ll understand if you stop reading now. It’s not uncommon when socialising to find people make a certain sort of face and then politely make their excuses as soon as I drop this bombshell.

Kinder folk have been known to throw a rope down into the social well I’ve just landed myself in. “Are you still living with your parents?” they’ll ask, sympathetically, ready to hear how expensive it is to buy or even rent anywhere central. But my leper status has made me defiant. “No,” I tell them, “it’s my house. I chose to live there.”

By then there’s no hope for me. I extinguished the last glimpse of that. It’s not so bad at standing up cocktail-and-canapé events where the newly disgusted can seamlessly glide away. Sit-down dinners are far more painful. The person next to me will have to execute a nifty subject change or, failing that, fake choking on the pudding to cover how truly awkward it makes them feel.


“No, there is not an über fashionable coffee shop at the end of my road, instead just a dilapidated dry cleaners. This doesn’t bother me as I waste enough money during the week on overpriced beverages.”

In truth I haven’t always been the confrontational conversationalist I am now. Not so long ago, I did the decent thing and lied. I pretended that I’d ended up there by an unfortunate succession of coincidences engineered by Fate herself to teach me the value of my zone 1 flat, when I finally got it.

However as time wore on I started to question my own propaganda. If I could actually afford to move, and god knows I’d heard myself extolling the advantages of it often enough, then why didn’t I? I could cast off the endless conversational dread and in one fell swoop become socially accepted at the same time.

The truth was, and is, that I like where I live. I’m 27, with an active social life but I don’t see the attraction of living smack bang in the centre of town. Overground trains are an amazing thing. They are faster and cleaner than tubes, and are even known to operate late into the night. No, there is not an über fashionable coffee shop at the end of my road, instead just a dilapidated dry cleaners. This doesn’t bother me as I waste enough money during the week on overpriced beverages. On the weekends I can make myself a decent cuppa and drink it in my pyjamas. I’ve yet to see a coffee shop offering that.

When it came to housing I picked space over location and I stand by it. I could move and live in a bona fide urban apartment 10 minutes from absolutely everything. For the same amount of money I’d rather have a garden to sunbathe in, a downstairs loo for visitors and a utility room to hide drying knickers.

God, I’m bored with justifying this decision in order for supposedly cool friends to keep speaking to me. I’d rather eat my own eye than move to Clapham and become part of the Clapham cliché of new grads wandering up and down the Northcote Road on a Saturday still in their hoodies, flip flops and trodden down jeans running into people they know and gossiping about their new alter ego as a banker Monday to Friday. Or worse, still getting drunk in infamous Inferno’s, which might as well be a student union if you disregard the inflated prices.

If I want the heady delights of a metropolis then they’re right there: one short, sanitary train journey away. Armed with an A-Z, I can experience just as much of the big smoke as my friends living the central London dream. And at the weekends I get the benefits of privacy, peace and quiet and lots of lovely space. So grumble about needing to bring your passport when you come to dinner at mine but take note that I can make everything from scratch because I’ve got the room to cook properly. And speaking of rooms, there’s always a spare one here if the idea of the return journey is too much travelling for one day. Read more by Rosie.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Who let the dogs out?

SELINA NWULU
Apparently, back in the day, I used to quite like dogs. And so while my sister’s definitive scary childhood moment was being chased up the hill by the neighbourhood Rottweiler, I’ve been told that as a fearless 3/4/5-year-old (the age changes depending on who tells the story) I put my hand in the mouth of that brazen Rottweiler, much to my sister’s dismay and to my own childish glee. So maybe that 3/4/5-year-old would have been a bit more compassionate and understanding than the current 24-year-old. But these days I resent being around people who see no need to control their dogs.

The usual scene takes place at someone’s house – generally an acquaintance, elderly person or neighbour, basically anyone that you can’t really be honest with. So when their dog is clawing on your favourite jeans and gnawing at your new shoes, all you can do is politely cough, screaming expletives on the inside, but having to put up the usual awkward “oh, it’s fine!” bravado, hoping that said owner will react accordingly.

Most of the time it’s OK because they do, but for the extreme dog lovers it’s apparently all fun and games. Just because they love their dogs this way, it apparently means that it’s all gravy for the poor visitor, caught in the cross fire. I’m not a dog hater; I’m just irritated by those who tell me their dogs are harmless or “having a giggle” when they are staring me down and aggressively baring their teeth at me. Of course the dog’s going to be all sweetness and light to the owner, who whispers sweet nothings to it in its sleep and feeds it. I signify the bolshy intruder who is sitting in their favourite chair and eating food that would otherwise be theirs.

I don’t have any problem with the ordinary pet owner. It’s the extreme dog lovers I take issue with – those who try to humanise their dogs by putting them in an array of matching knitted jumpers, woollen slippers and a diamanté encrusted feeding bowl. Those who give their dog its own four-poster bed and who think that it’s appropriate to writhe around in its drool-soaked jowls until their face is wet. We are talking about animals that can actually lick their nether regions here; can we think about the germs if nothing else?!

If dog lovers want to be this way: fair dos. What ever gets you through the day; who am I to (openly) judge? However, if they do insist on balancing obsessive dog life with human interaction, there need to be few ground rules. I’ve taken the liberty of creating a little list. Follow me, if you will:

1. No talking about Rover’s new abscess over my shepherd’s pie.

2. No allowing him to eat off my plate especially when I’m not finished. Anyone close to me will know of my reluctance to share food off my plate (this could be a whole other rant) so what gives you the impression that I would want to share my glorious food with a panting four-footed fiend who smells of mud and damp?

3. No leaving me alone and trapped in the living room with the over-zealous puppy who won’t take no for an answer.

4. On that same note, when it charges at me and brings me down to the ground, do not give a hearty chortle, cooing “ooh you cheeky little mite” while I scrabble around on the floor looking for cover.

5. I don’t care if your dog is a “good lickle boy”. I will not join you and talk to your dog in baby language.

6. When you know Skippy’s bowel movements off by heart and talk about them in public, something has gone awry. Sense the ill-concealed disgust and move on to something conversationally safe like the weather.

7. If you insist on doing something like nose nuzzling or allowing him to lick food off your face, be prepared for my reaction.

8. Sorry, but it’s not a baby. It doesn’t eat Haribo, and it shouldn’t eat with a bib.

My guard feels defensively up because previous discussions on this topic have left me feeling like some kind of modern day Cruella de Vil just because I refuse to be that person who melts and coos at every doggy whimper. It’s precisely this brazen “he’s-so-cute-let-him-do-what-he-likes” attitude that allows these dogs to run wild and therefore isolate everyone else. I can exist in harmony with dogs. I just don’t want to live in a world where it is OK for them to hump my leg till the cows come home without so much as a glance and a tut from the owner. Is this too much to ask?! Read more by Selina.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

On the buses

NAOMI SAFFERY

Is it just me or are London bus drivers the dregs, I repeat DREGS, of society?

Every day I trudge along to the bus stop to catch the bus to work. I stand at the bus stop, knowing, just knowing, that the bus will take half an hour to arrive. I live in central London; the buses are supposed to be every five minutes. How is it then that my bus runs so late, every single day of the year?

Not only does the bus run late but the bus decides to change destination half way through the journey. I say “the bus decides” because a woman’s automated, robotic voice blasts out of the speakers announcing the destination change because, of course, the driver can’t actually talk to the passengers.

This drives me apoplectic with rage. My eyes start bulging, my forehead throbs, I start breathing heavily as I tell myself that today is the day that I will make the driver answer the little old lady’s question about where to get off for the museum.

But no, I sit there in a state because whatever any of us do I know that it is no good. He won’t answer; he just turns his head slowly and pushes the button: “The Victoria and Albert Museum,” the woman’s voice menaces at the little old lady.

But, this rudeness is nothing compared to the sheer audacity of the bus driver who decided he was a little parched and fancied a nibble during his ‘arduous journey’. He pulled over next to a newsagent, alighted and went in. He left behind a seething mob of commuters packed into his bus like caged animals whilst he toddled off in the middle of rush hour to get himself a packet of crisps and a fizzy drink.

I don’t know what staggered me more, the fact that he did this or the fact that he conducted himself in the obligatory bus driver silence throughout the whole criminal act.

My mouth was agape with fury and I looked over at my fellow, stressed, tired passengers and in that moment I realised that this was the final straw. The fight had left them as they were so used to this sort of behaviour that it now seemed normal to them. Where has customer service gone? No, scrap that; where have basic manners and human decency gone?

I was late for work that day – and I was late for work the day that the driver turned us all out as if, yet again, he was changing destinations. Only he wasn’t changing destinations, and we watched as he went on his way leaving us all behind at the bus stop, in the rain. One woman had the balls to scream after him “You are so evil! That was a wicked thing to do” – but I don’t think he heard. The whole thing was completely inexplicable as he could not tell us what was going on (because bus drivers don’t speak) and the button didn’t have a woman’s voice behind it for that particular scenario.

I decided to do something about the shocking state of London’s buses. So, I went onto London Transport’s website. Can someone please tell me how I can speak to a real person on the phone as I have emailed and emailed again to no response?

Do you think BoJo will sort it for me? The Mayor’s wonderful bus which is ‘going green for London’ doesn’t work when it is really cold – as it has been recently; funny that, seeing as it’s winter and all – they conk out and, again, there is no woman’s recorded voice to keep us informed. So the bus driver resolutely sits in silence as he is blocking traffic, we sit in resigned silence as we notch up another late entrance into the office and I feel trapped in a nightmarish dream that I am going nowhere.

I now stand at the bus stop and hope with all my might that the bus to come around the corner will be the knackered, old, polluting tank of a bus which is certainly not green. Funny, at least I know I will have a chance of reaching my final destination – even if the bus driver can’t tell me where that is. Read more by Naomi.

Image: www.hamleys.com

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Location, frustration, desperation

SAM PECZEK

In case you haven’t checked of late, January is a particularly shite time of year to look for a room in a house you don’t own.

I can only assume that the people with the rooms are too busy with their new gym memberships and chowing down trashy celeb book bilge to bother with moving out so that I can move in.

This is most inconvenient, as although it means I’ll be free of those disconcerting flatmate bathroom noises (I swear several organs have been hacked up and choked back down by a certain perpetrator) it also means that my odds of finding another room that is a similar size, proximity and price are less than zero.

Initially I tried to be upbeat and embrace this unwelcome change; I could find somewhere further out, but in a real house with proper walls and less mould creeping in through the ceiling; I could get a bike and cycle to work rather than walk and everything will be rather lovely and better than before. Or at least sans the sinister drip drip drip of what I hope is just rainwater sneaking not so sneakily into my room whilst I pretend to sleep (and pretend not to notice).

Pickings are indeed slim; the first place I went to investigate was a squalid doss house deal, with eight rooms (each door unlovingly adorned with its respective number, perhaps in case someone lost count) holding more than eight bodies, all of whom were sharing one shower room and one almost-kitchen. I wasn’t allowed to look in the place where the toilet/shower lurked, but was able to smell one of them from afar. To add to the allure, the kitchen bin had two times the volume of rubbish stacked on top of it than its feeble frame could swallow. So far, so shabby.

It would appear that my options are either to accept my limitations and live somewhere appropriately scummy, or pay more than I can afford to live in a house share that shares its facilities with no more than four other not-students.

In a sorrowful bid to save some precious pennies I could crank the Weetabix Week up to a dazzling new level and eat those delightful little wheaten bricks for breakfast and dinner. Maybe they could sponsor me ...

“After chatting to the nicest landlady humanity has crafted since maybe the dawn of houses, time and teapots, I left an hour or so later with somewhere to live ...”

And yet – Friday’s turn of events left me completely flummoxed. After a mildly grim working week (you know the sort; lots of dark, dark thoughts) I crawled towards the end of my day broken, bruised and not tremendously thrilled at the prospect of traipsing into the unknown to see another hideous non-house. Oddly enough, my non-fortune took a something of a u-turn.

First, the required bus arrived just as I got to the stop, enabling me to hop on, enjoy the luxury of a seat all to myself before arriving somewhere near the street I needed to locate. A few minutes later I found myself being welcomed into a warm, cosy, and remarkably lovely house.

I was invited to sit down on what is now my favourite chair and served proper teapot tea (saucers, biscuits; the works). After chatting to the nicest landlady humanity has crafted since maybe the dawn of houses, time and teapots, I left an hour or so later with somewhere to live that bears more than a passing resemblance to a proper home and – all the more remarkably - within my shamefully humble budget. These things are not meant to happen.

It didn’t end there. As part of some possibly ominous karmathon, the next bus driver took me back to the stop I’d missed in my ignorance, and the second one let me on for free when my Oyster maxed out.

Why is the world suddenly making space for me? I’m not going to question it. Regardless of what the karma gods have stacked up to later balance out this clot of everything sliding into a more gleeful place than before (something from the harrowing second act of Last Exit From Brooklyn perhaps?) I’m going to enjoy it whilst it lasts. The former, rather than the latter, in case you were about to make a rather damning judgement.

I have been pulled back from the edge. Maybe Spiderman was right; everybody gets one.

The only downside (other than my inevitable grisly comeuppance) is that I’ll probably never figure out what ungodly acts warrant the bizarre bathroom soundtrack that without fail wake me up every night. I could just ask the performer directly, but that would be too easy. I think it best to wait until after they return my deposit before demanding answers as regards their gruesome after-hours rituals. That, my pretties, is the glory of foresight. Methinks it wise to develop this skill further.

Next week, we can look forward to either: How It Was All Just A Dream – or – Karma Kicks Back: why one should never type the words ‘Homerton’, ‘crime’ and ‘spree’ into Google if you are keen to avoid The Fear. Answers are not required on a postcard. Mace, doilies and matches can be sent in any combination to an address of your choice. Read more by Sam.

Image: www.freeimages.co.uk

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The law really is an ass

SHERMAINE WILLIAMS

Who knew that I would ever discover a newfound respect for one of that group I normally consider so loathsome – a celebrity. The individual in question is Myleene Klass, all the more surprising because I considered her personality so lightweight and saccharine. It appears that she has more balls than first thought.

If newspaper reports are to be believed, Ms Klass scared away intruders on her property by banging on the window and brandishing a knife. Considering she’s a young woman and was in her own home with a young child to look after, I would have thought it was an action to be commended. All the poor woman actually got was a warning from the coppers that her action could be constituted as carrying an offensive weapon. The audacity of the woman – trying to defend herself, her child and her property from trespassers (potential thieves, rapist and murderers).

I can’t even take any comfort from knowing that so-called celebrities get treated the same as us mere mortals: my blood boiled equally hot when several fine members of law enforcement treated me like an idiot.

On calling them when some punk tried to break into my block of flats (not a mistake I will make again), they tried to treat me like the criminal: taking down my details and telling me where to stand. They then tried to suggest that it was simply someone else who lived in the (four-unit) building that I don’t know. That must have been why he was trying to force the door and ran away when I screamed at him.

I utilised great restraint to stop myself confirming that I knew the three other occupiers in the block that I have lived in for six years; instead, I asked how long I would have got if I had held him off with some Chemical Mace. I know it’s illegal, but what else am I supposed to do when three gormless coppers tell me there’s nothing they can do? Do their job for them is what I say – what’s wrong with a bit of vigilantism in the right circumstances?

It seems that the story of people becoming victims is more acceptable in the news than that of people defending themselves.

It’s no wonder that our prisons are overflowing when we seem to care more about criminals that we do about the victims of crime. In fact, people are actually going to jail for defending themselves against criminals. Yes, I know the law, I studied it – more fool me! – and know all about reasonable force. Screw that for a game of soldiers: if someone wants to try to break into my home then they deserve to get beaten within an inch of their lives (baseball bat, if you’re asking – “it’s not an offensive weapon, guv. I play a spot of rounders at the weekend”).

Much like the story about the escaped convict who taunted police via Facebook – ah, the benefits of social networking – the case of Ms Klass is just another one of those stories that make the police look ridiculous.

With her husband away, I can only imagine how scared she must have been. Keep your knife to hand, I say. When it comes to the crunch, you can only rely on yourself. Read more by Shermaine.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Quiet Zone: where nobody can hear you scream


The test of good manners is to be able to put up pleasantly with bad ones.

I hate travelling at the best of times. And I mean hate it. It makes me feel uncomfortable, crotchety and a bit sick. To combat my particular abhorrence of train travel I always make sure to book a seat in the Quiet Zone.

Ah, the Quiet Zone, my noise-free sanctuary. No iPods blaring Euro-dance, no cretinous idiots shouting “Hello? Hello?! Sorry, my reception keeps ... Hello?!” into their mobile phones. Just peace, quiet and the chance to have a doze. However, every time I make a booking I seem to forget the frustration such seat allocations have caused me on all previous occasions, instead opting for a rose tint and a self-satisfied smile as I type in my credit card details and pay.

The last time I made such a gross error of judgement was shortly before Christmas. After finding my seat and noting with pleasure a distinct lack of other passengers, I settle in, put my head back and close my eyes. A few others shuffle quietly into the carriage but quickly immerse themselves in books and papers. I allow myself to relax. Amateur mistake. Seconds later the tranquillity is shattered into infinitesimal pieces by the arrival of a cheeseburger-wielding, loudmouthed chav and her squabbling brats.

“Jack, just eat your fucking chips and leave Paige alone. Do you want a smack or something?”

“Oh shut up!” (My thoughts exactly.)

“Right!” She swipes at the boy, who looks no more than seven, knocking him into a chair with a thump. “Now eat them, shut up and stop messing about!”

I could quite easily clobber her at this point but I weigh up the options and decide against it. Actually, that’s a lie – I’m terrified she’ll knock me out, so instead I close my eyes again and pretend to ignore it along with everybody else. But the noise doesn’t just continue; it escalates. The kids are using profanities I’m sure I didn’t even know existed until I got to about 18, while Chavarella’s talking (loudly) to her friend on the phone about someone whose company they clearly do not enjoy whilst intermittently barking at her little darlings.

I start to glare and tut. But they’re timorous displays of annoyance; I can’t quite commit to them with the gusto I’d like because I don’t want to provoke her too much. I just want to kick her quiet-carriage-conscience into touch. I glance around to find some allies but everyone seems to be feigning ignorance. Either that or all of their senses have been immobilised. Surely I can’t be the only one driven to distraction by the incessant noise and stink of McDonald’s? Spineless so-and-sos. I continue to glare, sigh, tut, shift around and then, the final straw. Crisps. Rustling bags and open mouths.

“Excuse me?” I’m feeling brave now.

She silences the kids and all three of them stare at me. So does everyone else, thankful, anticipating some respite.

“What?”

I point at the Quiet Zone sticker on the window.

“Erm ...”

My courage is waning and I’m hoping the sticker will do the work for me. It doesn’t. I try to look imploring rather than confrontational – also unsuccessful. I’ve just got to spit it out.

“Would you mind keeping it down a bit?”

She eyes me with amusement. “Sorry, are we disturbing you?” She raises an eyebrow.

“Erm ...”

And that’s all I can bring myself to say. Where is the show of solidarity from my fellow passengers? Why am I so gutless? And why do some people seem to think that intimidation transcends manners? I should have just cut my losses and booked a seat near the coffin-dodgers discussing the scenery.

You see, that’s the thing about the Quiet Zone: sitting there just makes travelling an infinitely more unpleasant experience than usual. Read more by Chess.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

In the bleak mid winter, booze and pizzas we buy


A few flakes of snow and we’ve all gone mad. As one of the lucky few who works from home, I’m not getting myself into a state of hysteria about the prospect of a terrible commute, or in anticipation of a skive off work. Instead I have the luxury of sitting at my desk as the snow falls, watching the rest of the world deal with it.

Last year’s deluge was so bad that almost all cars couldn’t navigate many of the roads. For the first time in my living memory the roads were taken back by pedestrians as the undisputed supremacy of the motor car was challenged by the sheer force of nature. People, dressed in attire usually reserved for the slopes of the Alps, milled around rolling up the snow, sliding down it and even more shockingly, speaking to one another as they passed. Anyone with a car that could get around was stopping to offer pedestrians lifts to wherever they needed to go. It was almost as though Victorian Britain had fallen along with the snow.

I had some of the nicest days I can remember in a long time. Snow, much like Christmas, brings out a sense of community, kindness and good will to all men. Last February most of London used it to get a day off work, and then it started to thaw and disappear along with the collective benevolence and unprecedented helpfulness people had shown each other.

This time around the cold snap’s got staying power. The latest forecasts suggest up to another fortnight of these arctic conditions with intermittent flurries of yet more snow. And isn’t it interesting to see how things have changed? The first day of the snow, I watched the other members of my locality relishing the day off and walking up the steep hill to the supermarket. Coming back down with only what they could carry, I couldn’t help but notice every carrier bag had booze in it. And a very large percentage also contained frozen pizzas. Half an hour of larking around in the white stuff seemed to be enough for most who then clearly planned spending the rest of the day on the sofa getting tanked and gorging on junk. How truly British of them.

The following day more roads were gritted and public transport seemed to have recovered. Through social networking, I observed the beginning of the griping. Actually it had started the previous day as those supposedly snowed in whined into cyberspace about bosses who had given them work to do at home. How dare they expect their employees actually to do some work on a work day? The cheek of it.

And once everyone had uploaded endless samey pictures of their snowy gardens and them in woolly hats making snowmen, the novelty had well and truly worn off. Now statuses and posts openly whined about the snow. How dare it ruin their plans, stop them going out and getting pissed? Fine when it meant a sneaky day off but as soon as it had the nerve to creep into the weekend, doing totally unreasonable things like cancelling football matches, then it became vilified.

Worse still these morons began to post that they were tired of it. “Snow go away, I’m bored with you now” popped up again and again on my feed. I felt my inner rage bubbling up hot enough to melt any ice.

Are people so stupid and totally self-absorbed that they think their need for constant entertainment is bigger and somehow more important that the weather? I seem to be living among adults who have the attention span of borderline hyperactive children. What amused them for a day is now so boring, so tedious, so yesterday.

I want to scream from the rooftops that the weather is not here to amuse this group of potential ADD sufferers. The climate is something that happens around you. Any insane egotism that leads you to believe your wants and desires are greater than the climate is just that: insane.

So instead of bitching and whining because you can’t go down the local pub to kill off more of your brain cells why don’t you remember the shortlived Blitz spirit? Think about others who really suffering: the elderly too frail to risk going out in the slippery conditions and those shivering because they genuinely can’t afford to turn their heating on, and then consider how selfish and short-sighed your boredom really is. Read more by Rosie.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

MADDIE YORK
When you think about it, shoe shops are ridiculous, and they have somehow got away with it all this time, sniggering at the ease with which they managed to convince us punters that putting only half of each pair of shoes on the shelf is a perfectly sensible way to sell something. “They’ll never fall for that one, fellas,” giggled Barratts to Clarks all those years ago. Well, sadly we did fall for it, and we have let it go unquestioned for TOO LONG.

Shoes are the only thing sold on the basis of half of the item being on display to the customer. No, I don’t care if it’s technically two items that make up a pair of shoes. Two shoes make ONE thing that can be purchased. Therefore one shoe is HALF the item for sale. Somehow we’ve accepted that in this particular shopping situation we don’t mind seeing only half of what we intend to buy. It’s to save space, they tell us, and to allow us to look at the shoe we like and then ask for it in the correct size. OK, OK, in principle I get it, but it’s still ridiculous and it really doesn’t make the process of buying shoes easier or more tolerable, neither for customer nor sales assistant. In fact, it makes the whole thing downright farcical.


You wander about, eyeing up all the single shoes – always the right foot – thinking that some of them are quite nice and might possibly be the ones you want, but your heart sinks at the idea of having to initiate the whole process of approaching an assistant and sending her out into the back room to find the left foot. You know that as soon as she’s gone through those doors into the vast unknown world of left feet that you’re committed to trying on the pair when she comes back, even if you’ve changed your mind in the meantime about that pump or that boot because you can’t very well turn down her shoes after she’s foraged into the stockroom for you.

But you do approach her, steeling yourself for the little play that you know is about to start in which you and she feign a sort of camaraderie as you negotiate the size you need and you ask for the next size up as well to avoid having to send her out back again later. And she goes, and you sit on one of the chairs and wonder whether to take your shoes off in preparation for her return – and you do take them off, but she takes ages so you’re sitting there in your socks in a public place feeling absurd and vulnerable.

And then she’s back and taking shoes out of the boxes for you, taking bits of tissue out of them and loosening the laces if there are any etc., and inside you’re screeching “just give me the damn shoe!”, and then she stands with you while you try them on and you feel as though you HAVE to make little sounds of contemplation and prod your toes, dragging the whole thing out as a courtesy to her, when in actual fact you decided you despise the shoes long before she came back, or you noticed that they pinch like hell the second you put them on, or, really, you wish she’d just bugger off for five minutes while you have a chance to walk around in them without somebody watching your every move.

“Are they OK for you? How’s the fit?” she asks, and you finally have to break it to her: “They don’t fit, I’m really sorry”. There, you’ve apologised – you’ve actually apologised to a shop assistant for not being able to fit your own feet into her stupid shoes which you really hate now simply for having had to try them on in this absurdly public way. Read more by Maddie.

Friday, 8 January 2010

New Year's Eve: A Night Out with The Bondage Family


Despite my best efforts, New Year’s Eve did not pass me by completely unnoticed. I really believed that this year I could stay in and fall asleep on the sofa with my face in a pizza box having sunk a bottle (or two) of rosé blush, but I was beaten down by some well-meaning (I think) friends who convinced me that it would all be glorious. Just one snag: we would be getting a train all the way into the country to ring in the new year. “Well, that’s lovely,” I said, as I envisaged myself in a cosy country pub with the log fire burning, the champagne flowing (this is a fantasy remember) and the pianist playing mellow jazz in the corner.
Fast forward to 10.30pm and I am hunched over my vinegar - sorry, ‘white wine’ - in the Bricklayer’s Arms, locally known as ‘The Bricks’, and we are now settled in a little corner booth with a good view of the woman on her own who is so pissed she can’t lift her head off the table and the family who apparently encourages their children to wear bondage gear. I kid you not.

Happily, my friend notices a sign advertising that they have put on a free buffet - joy! And as I am the lucky girl who has been nominated to negotiate my way through the crowd, I set off on an interesting journey into the back room. I say interesting, as when I pass The Bondage Family (as I now like to call them) I notice that the teenage daughter’s thong has studs for décor – and her netted top so delicately reveals that she has a matching bra. Do I phone the Social Services now or after I have collected my free food? Tricky.

Anyway, I make it to the buffet table and am confronted with carcasses: some sort of bird, a thing that used to be a sausage before becoming charred beyond all recognition and, as the landlady comes over to explain, deep fried prawns “for the vegetarians”. Oh, goody.

“I had it all so carefully planned! It was so simple: order my half Veg-a-Roma half Mighty Meaty, slump into my pyjamas and resolutely refuse to acknowledge the dashed hopes that were flying out with 2009. But no, ‘you can’t stay in on your own!’ (oh, really?)”

I make it back to the vinegar/wine with a plate that resembles a scene from Saw and tell myself that I must get into the party mood. So, 11.30pm and I am now swaying to the sound of my friend singing American Pie very loudly - and then it hit me. 2010 was about to arrive. Shit. I hadn’t achieved my resolutions for 2009 and now I had more to pile on to the festering heap that constituted my ambitions, my hopes, my aspirations.

He moves onto You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ and the despair openly floods the backwater bar as I mentally clutch about for the slippery answer to that universal question that the disappointed ask themselves: “where did it all go wrong?”

How did I end up here? I had it all so carefully planned! It was so simple: order my half Veg-a-Roma half Mighty Meaty, slump into my pyjamas and resolutely refuse to acknowledge the dashed hopes that were flying out with 2009. But no, “you can’t stay in on your own!” (oh, really?) “you have to come with us” (why?). So I am sitting in The Bricks with my best friends and now several shots of sambuca and the failure that was 2009 is right there in front of me and I have to face it because I don’t have the pizza, the pyjamas, or the rosé blush to take my mind off it. I don’t even have the log fire, the champagne or the mellow jazz. Just The Bondage Family and the woman who still can’t lift her head off the table. Actually, by this time I am not sure if she is conscious anymore.

2010 arrives with my friend leading the united chorus of Auld Lang Syne (I hate Burns; patronising pastiche poet) and I throw the sambuca down as I say goodbye to the excitement and adventure that was supposed to be 2009. I link arms with Bondage Dad and compliment him on his dog collar as I welcome in yet another mediocre and monotonous year which will be spent in an office in front of an Excel spreadsheet.

And just as I feel like putting my head on the table and despairing of my sorry predicament, the woman opposite lifts hers and she gives me a thumbs up. Staggered, I reciprocate and wonder if things are going to be that bad this year after all.

But then she leans to one side and vomits all over Bondage Mum’s coffin-shaped handbag. Welcome to 2010, then. Read more by Naomi.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

'The Three Rs': Reading, Writing and ... Recession?

SELINA NWULU
Is it nearly over yet? Sorry to be the whining kid in the back of the car here but, despite my A Level in Economics, my knowledge of the progress of our pitiful economy is – no thanks to conflicting opinions in the media – sadly limited. I left the country for a year in the thick of the recession, with my bags overflowing and a metaphorical “see you later, suckers” sticker attached to my forehead. I watched the Lehman Brothers collapse, the job losses and shop closures (RIP Woolworths, I’ll miss you more than you’ll ever know) from a concerned but far distance, safe in the knowledge that this whole mess would be neatly concluded the moment my feet stepped back in Blighty.

So now on my reluctant return, I have grudgingly joined the lost graduates group: a sea of bewildered youngsters who’ve been promised the world but have ended up on a barren land of sparse opportunities. Jobs, if ever found, have been lost, graduate schemes cancelled and, after hearing “the world is your oyster, kiddo” pep talks for as long as we can remember, the majority of us are still unemployed and living at home. We’re a group of people overwhelmed with information but with actually very little personal guidance, a group with almost too many options but in reality not many open doors.


If you decide to be a doctor, lawyer or teacher: fair enough, it’s a well trodden path with directions at every junction. But if you want to mix it up a bit and try to go for something a little outside the box, you are well and truly on your own. For example, careers advice. Why does every career advisor want to turn me into an accountant?! Are they doing a deal on the sly with my parents? One career advisor actually told me to come back when I was less vague ... Thanks buddy, I’ll just do all the work myself and come back to you when it’s all neatly figured out, shall I? Wouldn’t want to make your job too tricky for you. And if I want this sterling careers advice as a graduate, it’ll cost me the bargainous price of £120. It’s almost as if an awkward graduation ceremony and a handshake suddenly makes me exempt from free advice, or do they assume that, despite my student loans, being a graduate now makes me well-off?

Oh, but where would I be without those generic graduate websites which, as if sensing my fundamental indecision, have crept, with added gusto, into my inbox with their emails about their soulless graduate fairs, “top notch jobs” in Coventry and their oh-so helpful daily graduate tips that tell me that despite all qualifications, personality is the be-all and end-all. Oh, great, so if I just shimmy my way into every interview, I’ll be laughing my way to my dream job then? I didn’t sign up for this, did I? Unless “post graduate confusion” was written in small print on my university prospectus.

The problem with further education is that we all leave with a sense of self entitlement. We feel like just because we rocked up to a few afternoon lectures, we’re owed a job worthy of respect and a middle class sized pay check.

So while older generations look on exasperated by us “young’uns” who’ve spent thousands on education to end up more confused than ever and mums mention that girl from down the road who was in your year at school and has got a good job/mortgage/steady boyfriend/dog (delete as applicable), we skirt around, bouncing from one idea to another, fighting tooth and nail for unpaid internships and reluctantly succumbing to the under-paid, over-worked 9-5 lifestyle. Did I mention I didn’t sign up for this?

It’s ok, it’ll all be ok. I just have to remember never to become an accountant. EVER. Read more by Selina.