Monday, 19 September 2011

Cut the crap; I just want to wash and go!

Hair. We all have it – some more than others, and not necessarily on our heads, but there’s no escaping it. Never mind shoes; hair is the first thing we notice about other people. And first impressions do count, which makes the fact that hair often has a mind of its own more than a little bit of an obstacle when it comes to making oneself presentable to the outside world.

I’m one of those people who have to wash their hair every day (anything less than squeaky clean locks triggers post traumatic flashbacks to my greasy teenage years). So for me it is essential to have hair that is easy to style – as in wash and go easy.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Grumpy single gal WLTM: an age appropriate man

Every girl likes to be approached by a man on a night out, don’t they? Even if you’re not single, it’s probably nice to know you’ve still got it. If you are single, it’s exciting to meet someone, right?

What if that man is pushing 50 (or 60 but tried Botox), has a big enough beer gut that he can’t remember what his toes look like and yet still thinks he’s God’s gift to women? Thought so.

This is what happens to me on a regular basis. I am only 25; I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope for men aged 30-ish and under to approach me instead of middle-aged balding ones who may or may not be having a mid life crisis. What’s even worse is that these ageing, leering, old-enough-to-be-a-granddad men are getting in the way of the good ones.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

How do you like your toast in the morning?

There’s a lot not to like about being in hospital. I can state this as an unequivocal fact as I recently had the pleasure of three long weeks held hostage in one. There isn’t enough time left between now and the eventual end of the world to detail each and every thing that annoyed me, every comment that irked and every slight to common sense and good manners I underwent. They were simply too numerous and too pestilent. Before long I accepted that if I was going to make it out alive I’d just have to shut down the grumpy part of my brain and accept it all or else I was in danger of having an aneurysm or, worse still, being more closely “monitored” than I already was.

So as I endured all the horrors of the ward I tried to remain upbeat about the fact that most people were under the delusion that in a hospital fabric has the same properties as brick and therefore pulling a curtain means that your conversation cannot be heard by those six feet from your bed. There are now people who I could convincingly impersonate based on the amount and depth of detailed, personal information I now know about them.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Time at the bar: how not to treat the regulars

Generally, I choose the house I live in based entirely on the local. In London we lived a few doors down from a boozer that served Pimm’s by the bucket load and knocked out a wonderful BBQ every summer. This was followed by the lovely ramshackle gastropub just around the corner from our house in Oxford; it served amazing mulled wine and I had a very happy winter indeed.

The village that we have moved to has a wonderful pub made of stone, with roaring log fires and wooden floorboards akimbo. It is suitably ‘ye olde worlde’ and I fell in love with it. I had visions of numerous hours spent sitting next to the fire with a good Merlot whilst chatting to villagers about badgers, hedgerows and cricket. That was until the landlord arrived.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

And finally, news broadcasts get even more frivolous

A writer’s lot is a hard one. Why are you scoffing at the back? Well, I suppose it does all depend on the type of writing that one undertakes and how successful they are, but I reckon most writers are in the same boat.  

While everyone thinks that ‘writer’ means you’re getting paid like JK Rowling or Stephen King, the reality is often that a ‘proper’ job is also required in order to ensure the bills get paid. Oh yeah, this industry is all about the glamour.

One of the worst things about writing for (something of) a living is that switching off from work is like attempting to stop the wind from blowing. The laptop is always there no matter what you are doing, taunting you with its ability to travel ‘look at me—I’m portable!’

Monday, 1 August 2011

Beware the temptations of the internet

Ah, the internet. You have to love it, don’t you? How did we ever live without it? Communicate with our friends? Find out the name of that actor in that obscure film on the telly last night? Find a recipe that includes the random contents of our fridge at one in the morning? It doesn’t bear thinking about. I mean, you wouldn’t be able to read this when you’re supposed to be writing that important report or sorting out that account for your boss, would you? You might actually be doing some work. Perish the thought!

Having said that, the internet is not all good. Oh, no. It is a dangerous place indeed. And no, I am not talking about online stalkers, viruses and scams. I’m talking about its convenience. It makes life easy. Too easy. Especially when it comes to spending money. Let’s be honest here. Paypal is the shopping equivalent to the atomic bomb: just press one little button and the result can be catastrophic. It is even easier than a debit card. When you use that in a shop you have to physically hand over your form of payment to another person before you part with your hard earned cash.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Fight or flight

Last year I had the unenviable task of being on a 16-hour flight to Thailand. While the cabin crew did their best to keep 400 passengers comfortable and entertained, flying in general is a horrible process (unless it’s the dream where you can fly above the clouds, of course).

Every flight I’ve been on, someone around me has managed to annoy me with inconsiderate behaviour. Being suspended thousands of feet in the air in a metal tube is never the nicest thought, but having to deal with annoying passengers is worse than the possibility of plummeting to the earth in a screaming panic.

So, I’ve decided to make a list of things NOT to do so you don’t annoy the fellow traveller who might be sitting behind, next or in front of you.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Oh, it's awfully taxing

Self Assessment tax return. Four words that will send shivers down any freelancer’s spine, particularly around the Christmas period when we should be thinking about family, joy and cocktails but are instead plotting just how much longer we can put it off for, since the deadline is 31 January.

My mistake for the latest tax return was being a little cocky, thinking that actually, I had done one of these once before and it wasn’t too taxing, so why should this year be any different? In fact, I thought, it should be easy because up until April 2010 I was a full-time freelancer on a set wage. So, all I need is a few figures and hey presto! Tax return filed, Christmas parties here I come. But oh, no.

Monday, 25 April 2011

My name's Shelly and - achoo! - I have a summer cold...

So, my winter coat has retired for the next six months, daffodils are now widely available in most supermarkets for 99p, and I have felt the need to replace last year's sunglasses with a pair of oversized shades that I think even Victoria Beckham would envy. Hell, I have even got over my jetlag from the clocks going forward last month. All is well with the world.

Or… maybe NOT. You see, two weeks ago, I came down with a cold. And not even a little sniffle either. A full-blown head-bunging, limb-aching, mucus-infested blinder. The kind of cold with which a lot of people would call in sick, pleading swine/bird/man flu before cocooning themselves in their duvet and demanding Lemsip and chicken soup from their sceptical other halves.

Friday, 15 April 2011

"Hello, can I help you at all; would you like a basket?"

This is the story of how a simple shoe-buying mission became a rage-inducing heap of customer service fail.

I had found my dream shoes online, and more or less had my heart set on them already but, to be on the safe side, I decided to bring a friend to the shop to make sure they looked fabulous. (Spoiler: they did!) The point is, this should have been a nice, simple, straightforward shopping expedition. It was not to be.

We entered the shop and were immediately pounced upon by a trendy-haired, chunky-trainered sales assistant with the general demeanour of a Blue Peter presenter on laughing gas. "HELLO!" she sang. "CAN I HELP YOU AT ALL WOULD YOU LIKE A BASKET DO GIVE ME A SHOUT IF YOU WANT ANYTHING". The experience was akin to being hit in the face with a glow-in-the-dark chair. Had I not already had my heart set on the shoes, I would have walked out then and there.

Monday, 11 April 2011

A plea to the man in the street: keep your opinions to yourself

Lots of things about modern British society perplex me. The culture of insanely long pauses on reality TV shows, the fact people seem to actually like eating at Nando’s and jeggins are just a few. However, all of these merely intriguing phenomena pale into insignificance compared to the entirely baffling, widely held notion that it is entirely acceptable to shout at complete strangers in the street, or in some other totally unsolicited way comment on people you do not know as they go about their business.

I’m not talking about greetings, pleasantries and other totally innocuous comments in the vein of "good morning" or "beautiful weather we’re having". If anything I don’t think there is enough of that sort of nice, old fashioned chit chat. Instead, what I take issue with is people who deem it their God given right to pester unsuspecting members of the public with their inane drivel.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Stuffing your face on the bus? DON’T!

I have already written about my issue with bus drivers. But let me now turn my focus of derision to my fellow passengers. Up until a few weeks ago I only had minor complaints when it came to my brothers (and sisters) in arms. We were all in it together, battling our way to work; negotiating delays, rude drivers and the maniacal passenger who had us all staring determinedly into our laps.

But now all this has changed. The reason? The incessant need by a frighteningly large proportion of public transport-partaking society to eat their greasy, noisy and unnecessary food in front of others. I have been tipped over the edge by a particular incident that needs to be recounted in full for the enormity of the problem to be fully understood.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Don't judge a woman by her dress size

I think I’m the last person you’d expect to be sticking up for models but I am and I believe quite rightly so. They may be in another universe from my plus sized figure but I’m happily going to put my head above the parapet on their behalf this time. I have a real problem with the term ‘real women’ and the connotation that if a woman is skinny she is therefore somehow not a real woman. It’s batted around a lot during campaigns for ‘real women’ to appear on the catwalks and in magazines and I’ve reached the stage where I am offended on behalf of women everywhere.

People don’t accept anti-fat propaganda and insults so why WHY do we denigrate a section of female society? When people don’t accept anti-fat propaganda why on earth should skinny women cop it? I find the insult ‘skinny bitch’ just as offensive as ‘fat bitch’. Can’t we all just agree, for the love of women everywhere, to move on from insulting someone’s size?

Saturday, 2 April 2011

There’s more to Essex than vajazzles

It’s back. You’ll either love it or hate it. No, I’m not talking about Marmite. I’m talking about the reality TV show The Only Way is Essex.

If you’ve not seen the show, it’s about a group of orange 20-somethings who live in Essex showing us what they do best. Namely, partying at Sugar Hut Village, applying vajazzles/pejazzles, dressing up in leopard print mini-dresses and saying ‘shuuuuup’. Basically it’s trash TV both at its very best and worst.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Leisurely lunches: the enemy of customer service?

You can hardly turn on the TV or open a newspaper without someone banging on about we’re losing the ‘work-life balance’. Apparently we work longer and harder than lots of our European neighbours getting fewer public holidays to boot. What with the added trauma of a recession causing people to fear for their jobs it’s easy to conjure up mental pictures of masses employees being chained to desks for anything up to the maximum 48 hours a week toiling ceaselessly in exchange for a few pennies to keep the bailiffs from the door.

As someone blissfully excused the horrors of working in an office I always have a great deal of sympathy for those who do. There’s lots about it to hate and everyone who endures it has their own personal favourite. Back in the days when I did have to, mine was always the totally unnecessary stress of trying to get anything done in your lunch hour. Seemingly innocuous tasks would turn into one of the labours of Hercules if you needed to perform them in that precious 58 minute window between a morning of drudgery and an afternoon of willing the clock forward.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Fat facism in the workplace

It is the Friday evening following an exceedingly long, arduous week. I have just gobbled down half a humongous bag of Doritos and some Minstrels, washed down with a bottle of Becks. Still on that sugary high, the guilt has yet to set in. But it will.

Unfortunately this week has been particularly wicked when it comes to the calorific delights that have passed my lips. Having attended a handful of networking events over the last five days, I have been tempted with a wide range of naughty nibbles, from mini sausage rolls to chocolate crispy cakes and scones. With jam. And clotted cream. High levels of stress have prevented my usual willpower from kicking in, and one slice of pork pie has lead to an iced bun, bag of crisps and an egg mayonnaise roll, all in one sitting. Oh dear.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

What do you call someone subjected to bad jokes at inappropriate moments? Shermaine...

According to Shakespeare, all the world’s a stage, and the men and women merely players. It’s a fantastic line that I completely agree with. But where does it say that it’s a stage in a comedy club?

I love comedy and, contrary to having achieved Grumpy status years ago, it is quite easy to make me laugh. Whether it be a sit com or a stand-up comic, I’m usually game and can often be found cackling at the most childish of slapstick scenes. It’s my guilty pleasure. There are people who barely have to do anything to make me laugh—tears streaming, belly cramping guffaws—but it is always in the right context.

What I hate more than people who think they’re funny, are those that attempt to pedal their particular brand of humour when the occasion doesn’t call for it. I wonder whether the explosion of social networking and general electronic communication (grrr, text speak) has hindered people’s ability to read emotions and act accordingly.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Telesales: the worst way to start the day

I had been wondering what to write about next. The world has seemed a very polite place for me recently. Train journeys have been pleasant, service at shops has been efficient and courteous and the postman even said hello to me when I walked past him the other day. I know, I know. It’s like something from a Disney film. I half expected the bin men to break out in song and dance. They didn’t.

My dream of a perpetually polite world was shattered when I received a phone call at about 8:00 this morning. Who calls at 8am?!

The unwritten rules of life proclaim that all weekday calls should be made after 9:30. This gives people ample time to get into work, stare at a blank screen for a few minutes, fill the kettle up and indulge in a tea/coffee before the drudgery of the working day really hits home.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The customer is always right- at least when allowed an opinion.

Why hello Mr PC World man who was steadfastly ignoring me until you realised I was female and had a low cut top on. Yes, you can indeed see part of my cleavage -*gasp*- and yes I know I am the most devastatingly gorgeous woman you’ve seen in a very long time but here’s the deal – you can be a supermodel like I am and still not be a complete moron when it comes to buying a new laptop. To be fair to you I did look a little bit blank when you started prattling on about graphics cards and one of the questions towards the bottom of my list was going to be ‘does it come in any other colours’ but I’m still not an eejit.

You didn’t even give me a chance to explain what I wanted before you started trying pigeonhole me as a customer and then attempted to baffle me with your superior computer geek prowess. I’ve never worked in a computer shop before but I would have thought that a great jumping off point with a customer would be to ask what they were looking for rather than leaping in and recommending a machine which was the polar opposite to what they wanted.

Monday, 28 February 2011

The office: a small-minded space

There are many things that frustrate me about the workplace. I won’t start listing them because, frankly, I need the material for future posts. But perhaps the thing that bothers me the most is the tendency - and I don’t know if it’s a recent tendency or if it’s been happening for years - for the processes that keep places running to be needlessly complicated and fiddly.

And you go through with them anyway, because if you point out to the boss that there’s a quicker way of doing it, they might agree with you and hence realise they don’t need you around any more. As an example, let me talk you through the process one was forced to go through in order to purchase stationery at one of my previous workplaces, which happened to be a library (one of several I have been, er, privileged enough to work in).

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Feeling unwell? Medical staff can have that effect

For many years I have enjoyed good health. I took it for granted never realising how truly inconvenient it is to suffer for any prolonged period. Now, I have a medical condition set to last for months and along with the other physical symptoms I also have to deal with an increased number of medical professionals. The friendly toned, chirpy books I’ve bought keep telling me: pregnancy isn’t an illness. So then why does the endless stream of appointments, check ups and scans make me feel decidedly off colour?

Primarily because the people I have to interact with all seem to have had a routine lobotomy performed immediately prior to my arrival. I’ve read that the poor old NHS is overstretched and underfunded, that staff have unreasonable and impossible targets to meet but even so that doesn’t explain some of the rude, unhelpful and downright inexplicable behaviour I’ve endured.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Ready, steady, competitive cook!

I like a good bit of competition; don’t get me wrong. But competing to see who meets their targets at work or when it comes to Him Indoors (LADIES! BACK OFF! HE’S MINE!!) is not my idea of fun. What I’m talking about is healthy competition. You know, playing scrabble down the pub. A game of badminton with your dad. Trivial Pursuit over Christmas with the family. As long as it doesn’t get violent (which is why we no longer play Monopoly with Him Indoor's family) or just down right humiliating (I still have painful memories of PE at school), it is acceptable.

However, I have noticed how competitiveness has drifted into areas of my life where I thought it never would. Or could.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Service with a scowl

I seem to enjoy making social interaction uncomfortable for myself. If there’s an altercation to be had with a stranger, I’ll wade right in, all uppity and crusading (see my disagreement on the P4 bus). Yes, where others keep their heads down, I put my foot down. And yesterday, in the supermarket – which I won’t name; they’re all much of a muchness – in the face of insurmountably appalling customer service, I did just that. And it was exhilaratingly awkward.

I was standing in the queue with my basket – weekend supplies: gin, lime x 2, tonic x 1, Saturday Times, multi-pack of fun-size Dairy Milk – casually observing the customer being served ahead of me. The checkout girl was bungling items through the scanner, not making the vaguest hint of eye contact with the lady customer, and carrying on a conversation with her mate on the next checkout – “You gettin’ your hair dyed tomorrow, yeah? Wicked innit. You goin’ out tonight? Innit, though” etc. – and chuckling away as if we customers were in the way of her social life. This went on for a few minutes, the poor customer looking offended and uncomfortable. I saw red; I could not let this pass.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Weight comments soon wear thin...

Weight is an issue that graces the covers of magazines and papers quite often. If it’s not one celeb being criticised for piling on the pounds, it’s another being blasted for being too thin. And it’s the latter that really annoys me.

Let’s get something straight before I carry on. I’m at a healthy weight. I have a normal BMI. I eat my five fruit and veg a day. I eat breakfast (sometimes), lunch and dinner and I drink lots of water. I should really join a gym to keep the heart healthy but, aside from that, I’m all good.

As a naturally slim person I tend to get negative comments from friends and family, especially with regards to me putting on weight. Constantly. From grandmothers poking me and saying how skinny I am to friends joking about me puking after my meals. It’s a real hoot. Could you sense the sarcasm there?

Monday, 14 February 2011

14th Feb: just another day.

The 14th of February is the day of the year where couples (or those with dates lining up to take them out) get to feel sorry for singles and singles end up feeling sorry for themselves. For some reason not having a date on that particular night (a Monday, this year, for goodness’ sake), accompanied with something red, tacky and heart-shaped, means that you are missing out. Well, on what is about to be my third single Valentine’s Day in a row, I can’t say I’m too bothered.

When I was at school and girls started talking to boys, I felt left out. I didn’t talk to boys unless they talked to me and that was pretty rare. When other girls started kissing said boys and getting cards sent to them on Valentine’s Day, I hoped one day I’d be lucky enough to receive one too.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

What if you're just not in the mood?

When it comes to real life, I am as unromantic as they come. I like the idea of romance. I like the thought of a handsome prince riding up to my turret and whisking me away to a far-off land filled with roses, wine and kittens. But, the reality of being romantic is one of effort and hard work. 

After the prince has whisked, and it all becomes routine, it is too much effort to think up those sickeningly cute gestures and it is too much effort to be on one’s best behaviour in the hope of a romantic treat being showered upon you. I actually can’t be arsed. I would rather run myself a bubble bath, pour myself a glass of something fruity and light my own candles than have someone else do it for me.

No date for the 14th: what are the loveless to do?

A girl aged 23 extracts only the pinks and reds from her neatly organised pencil case. It can mean only one thing: Valentine’s Day. But who is it who requires such attention to detail, such effort ascribed only to the warmer hues of the fine berols? Her betrothed? Her secret lover?

Of course not; this is London and the girl is a 20-something. She is, of course, striving just to keep her head straight and battle up the rickety career ladder. The attention of a permanent boy figure would only complicate things and make doing what she wanted an exception rather than the rule.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Love, actually, is all-year-round

It’s not that I hate people being in love, and I’m not a bitter old spinster, but Valentine’s Day really gets on my wick. Quite apart from the shops going overboard with utter tat and radio stations filling endless airplay with sick-making ‘Snufflepuss loves Bunnywun’ messages, it’s the ungrateful and OTT nature of it all that makes me want to kill myself.

Expectations go through the roof and the greetings card companies rub their hands together in glee as they peddle crap to the masses, all under the banner of ‘being in love’. Of course it’s not just the blatant commercialism that does it for me; it’s the competitiveness of it all. If I have to hear another person – and let’s face it, it’s normally a woman – complaining about getting a crap present, I’ll scream and batter them to death with a heart-shaped box of chocolates.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Tapping at your last nerve: two perspectives on the pitfalls of office typing

There are many, many reasons why working in an office – any office – can be a challenge for those among us who would rather be lounging by a pool, with a cocktail in hand and generally enjoying a life of decadent debauchery.

One reason why working in an office is so challenging is the furious – nay, frenzied – speed at which people type. Is it just me or are there people in offices who genuinely feel that waving their administrative schlong around via typing at warp speed, will land them in the boss’s lap, complete with promotion, bonus and an all-round pat on back?

Monday, 7 February 2011

Is a sense of entitlement killing off our manners?

As a Grumpy Young Woman, it would be so easy for me to complain about the distinct lack of manners that society seems to have suffered. When it comes to examples, I’m so spoilt for choice that I’d be here from now until Dooms Day. And I don’t have that kind of time.

Instead, I would have thought that considering the cause of the bad manners would be prudent and might, somehow, make it easier to beat it out of the ill-mannered offenders—er—I mean, nip the problem in the bud. Yes, that was it, nip it in the bud.

Through some painstaking, scientific research (what do you mean the School of Hard Knocks isn’t a recognised institution? Besides, it was confirmed by the University of Life!) I have discovered one of the reasons. Ready? The misguided notion that the culprits are entitled to be rude as whatever gracious act that came their way is owed to them. That’s right, they don’t have to be grateful for what they have a right to. And this distinct sense of self-importance seems to be spreading.

Imagine being asked for directions:
“Excuse me, can you please tell me where X is?”
“Sure. Follow this road to the junction, take a left and then the first right/Sorry, I’m not sure.”
“Great, thanks for your help/no problem.”

Sounds like a familiar process? Ah, but that is when you’re approached by a sane and lucid person. If this has always been your experience, count yourself lucky. Now imagine not getting a request for directions, but a demand. Aggressive voice, aggressive expression, no please or thank you before they storm off on getting a reply.

Even if my purpose in life was to give people directions, I would still expect some manners. How naive I am. My response? “Los siento, no comprendo Ingles.” Find it your damn self. These morons are often too ignorant to even be able to speak their native English, let alone any other language.

Words are wonderful things—allowing us to convey all sorts of information. For example, 'do not smoke in my home'. Should be a simple enough instruction. Not for the asinine few. The asinine will ask for permission, not get it and smoke anyway.

As a volunteer, I suspect that I have inadvertently become part of fated ‘Big Society’ (though you can’t hear me, rest assured that my voice is dripping with contempt when I utter the phrase) which our esteemed leader (more contempt) so loves to promote. For the most part, the people I help are lovely and full of gratitude.

But then there are those that act like you’re working for them rather than simply assisting, they point to a PC and stare at you blankly, expecting your telepathy to kick in. They expect assistance that isn’t even offered and, yet, fail to reply with a tiny word of thanks when you do go out of your way to help.

I’m a pedestrian yet even I’m aggravated by those who seem to slow down when crossing in front of a car that has stopped for them. What is that about? Are people really that absurd? Save your evil look for when it’s absolutely necessary- like when someone tries to mug you or a cashier gives you the wrong change.

Bless my mum for teaching me my Ps and Qs, but I wonder whether her work was wasted. The way things are going, I may as well join the crowd. I reckon I’d make a great diva—where’s my mineral water and basket of puppies? Read more by Shermaine.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Job hunting isn't half hard work

A few weeks ago, I watched the last ever episode of Ugly Betty. And cried. I admit I was touched by my little Mexican friend’s optimism about life, and was genuinely happy to see her succeed. It gave me hope that one day my labours of love will become fruitful, and I too will have my dream job. Then reality kicked in.

You see, like a lot of people who work in the public sector, I might be facing redundancy. Bummer, I know. So, along with everyone else in my department, I am frantically applying for one of the few jobs that will be left come April and keeping my fingers crossed that I will be one of The Chosen Ones. But, let’s face it, I can’t rely on a position in my current place of work for much longer. So, I must look elsewhere.

The problem is that looking for a job has suddenly become a lot more complicated. Gone are the days when you bought the paper, kept your eyes open for notices in the window of local businesses and popped down the job centre. Oh, no. Things have got a bit tricky.

Whereas in the past I used to buy The Guardian on a Wednesday and forget about my endeavour to find employment for the rest of the week, I now feel obliged to check their website at least every three days. Their search options mean that if I leave it longer than that I have to search every single job on the entire website, which can be an awful lot when you are searching as broadly and desperately as I.

Then there is the plethora of other job websites which I dare not ignore just in case something well paid and lovely comes up. By the time I have searched, and a handful of other sites that promise me the world, it is half-past midnight and the closest I have got to a new career is stacking shelves at Aldi.

It doesn’t stop there. Next on the list of tasks one must do to get ahead is social networking. And no, I am not talking poking your friends on Facebook or following Stephen Fry on Twitter. I am talking grown-up networking. As in, professionally. This is not the time to be posting photos of yourself at NYE with a glass of Cava in one hand and a Harvey Wallbanger in the other. In my opinion, this makes the likes of LinkedIn not only dull but a little bit confusing. What on earth am I supposed to put as my status update if I don’t slag off the office bitch and moan about Him Indoors leaving the toilet seat up?

So, those of you in steady employment or lucky enough to be a student before a degree costs the same as a small fleet of Ferraris, think of me as you snuggle up in front of the telly with a glossy and the SATC box set as I trawl the net looking for my lucky break. As for the rest of you? I wish you luck. But please, whatever your circumstances, don’t tell me about any other websites, forums or networks that I need to join to secure my future happiness. I don’t think my Favourites can take it. Read more by Shelly.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

For the consideration of others, please turn off your phone!

Mobile phones. They have become so ingrained in everyday life that we would most likely not know what to do without them; holding them has become second nature, almost as if they’re an extended part of our hands.

Fiddling with their buttons absent-mindedly, or attempting to crack the various levels of games offers one way to pass time when waiting for a train, a bus, or friends. Issues with dodgy signal, the expense, the inevitable radioactive brain freeze and the weird deep-vein thrombosis feeling in your arm after using them for a decent length of time aside, they are extremely useful and in some instances life-saving.

But let’s all agree for a moment. At times, isn’t it easy to think that they’re the bane of modern life?

They manage to creep into every single facet of life, including places where they are categorically not invited. The theatre and the cinema are two that spring to mind. We’re all familiar with the ‘don’t let your mobile phone ruin the movie’ trailers, but as I’ve experienced so far, they don’t really work. I recently saw Harry Potter in one of those huge Odeon cinemas. Ten minutes into the film a girl four rows down got out her phone to browse Facebook. For crying out loud.

Aside from the fact that the light from her phone was terrifically distracting, who the hell starts social networking when they’re at the cinema? Who is that much of a slave to their cyber social life? And who has the attention span of a gnat to give up on a film so quickly? I personally managed forty minutes of The Wedding Crashers, a film so bad I have had constant nightmares about Owen Wilson’s nose ever since, before walking out. Even then I didn’t resort to my phone for comfort.

Then there’s the theatre. It’s more of a treat to go to the theatre, a little more cultured. Most of the audience will be of your parents’ or grandparents’ generation, so you’re lulled into the assumption that the majority have the decency and manners to turn off their phones, if they even own one.

Not a bit of it. Last night, whilst at the glorious Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, a woman at the back let her phone ring three times before the eventually the actors intervened and gave her a good mouthful. Luckily, the play itself involved mobile phone sounds, so the cast could be fairly good-humoured about it. despite the outraged huffing and puffing from the audience. Unfortunately, the offender didn’t do much to help her fast-growing reputation as public enemy number one by calling out ‘I don’t know how to turn it off!’  Who has a mobile phone they can’t operate? I hope she thanked her lucky stars it wasn’t Shakespeare.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not 100% chaste. I’ve definitely heard mine whirring away in my bag on unsuitable occasions, trying desperately to cough loudly enough to cover the noise up. But I am bemused at the situations in which people think it is perfectly acceptable to use their phone, forcing everyone else to join in on the experience, whether they wish to or not.

We’ve all been next to the guy on the train forcing everyone within the radius of three carriages to know that he was ‘TOTALLY FUCKING WASTED LAST NIGHT’, and the vacuous girl who manages to have a conversation that doesn’t actually involve any real information. ‘I know, I was like totally…yah, I know, I just said to him like, it’s…really?! Yah, I know…I was like…oh my God, I KNOW!’ Why don’t the socially inept and those with little or no manners realise they are just being a plain sodding nuisance?

And then there’s dating. Most definitely NOT the time to constantly fiddle with your phone. We’d all like the person we’re sat opposite to think we are at a least relatively interesting, or attractive. However, here’s a stark warning: there are people out there who, on a date, will not only make you feel invisible by regularly glancing down at their mobile, but who actually have the nerve to text someone else whilst you’re talking to them, as if you’re just an interruption to their evening. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the hat trick: they’ll wave their phone in your face at some point to let you know they’ve received a text message which they are powerless to ignore, and make up some wet excuse to leave. I think I’d even prefer the fake emergency phonecall to that.

So, what to do? We can hardly get rid of them. But, just in case you do come face to face with those who ignore basic etiquette and manners from time to time, make sure you order enough surplus popcorn to throw at tossers in the cinema, and thoroughly enjoy the self-righteous moan you can have in the theatre when the perfect moment of poignant silence is broken. If in doubt, practise your best angry glare, and, if you can, move seats on the train. Better still, keep it in your bag once in a while, to savour the messages when you do finally have a quick peek at work. And most importantly of all? Sometimes, just sometimes – turn it off. Read more by Rosie.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

The icing on the cake? Common sense, apparently...

With Christmas thankfully dispatched for another year and many more weeks of long winter evenings, what better time to take up a new hobby? Combining my love of food and talents more usually associated with your Gran (please see my efforts at mastering knitting), I signed up for class named ‘Cake Decorating for Beginners’ and thus began my first foray into the weird and wonderful world of local authority-subsidised adult learning.

The weekly classes, held in an old, grand Victorian school building complete with the antiquated signs marking boys’ and girls’ separate entrances, began with the inevitable getting-to-know-you ice breakers, the prospect of which makes most civilised people want to groan out loud in sheer dread.

Once the teacher had furnished us all with her life story, the students were encouraged to do the same. As this is all about buzz words like ‘inclusivity’, ‘diversity’ and never, ever, on pain of death, discriminating against anyone at any time, for any reason, we didn’t go round the group à la corporate training courses and most other situations where people have to introduce themselves. Instead we were invited to chip in only when we felt ready to. Nothing so draconian as having to take turns. How wonderfully liberal yet senselessly time consuming, as throats were cleared and everyone looked awkward and shuffled.


The only man of the group began. No surprises there. Sorry chaps, but it’s a known fact that you love to steam roller ahead in such situations. Twenty minutes crawled past as we went through employment history (recently took early retirement from middle management in the Post Office), marital status (was engaged a few years ago but now single) and other interests (learning to cook and gardening). I suddenly felt as if I’d spent more time with him recently than my nearest and dearest.

Next up was a lady who talked at length about a bereavement she’d suffered. Now, I would never gripe about someone needing to talk about their loss as a part of their own grieving process. Unless it had all happened more than 20 years prior and had nothing whatsoever to do with learning to cake decorate. After two such lengthy and personal disclosures an uncomfortable silence fell over the room. No one wanted to be the next person to go. What could you say? How much delicate detail would you have to go into to top that?

It was mild despair that made me suddenly blurt out, a little too loudly: “I’m Rosie. I can bake but I’m not very good at decorating cakes and would like to learn how to do that”. Silence was maintained for a full minute; the clock ticked, possibly even the only bit of tumbleweed in South London blew past outside. Even the teacher didn’t quite know how to respond to my direct, yet highly relevant statement.


The following week, as we practised applying icing to a dummy cake (yes, such things exist), more personal information was traded. The very nice woman at the workstation next to me confided all her medical history and details of the time spent in hospital after being sectioned by Dr Raj off the telly. I didn’t have the heart to ask what her name was again.

Two latecomers joined the class: one heavily pregnant teenager and another woman so obese she couldn’t stand unaided. Should she really be learning how to add more calories to a cake?

All these people from different walks of life had one major thing in common: they were totally incapable of baking. Anything. When asked to bring a cake in to work on the following week panic erupted. The teacher, in a bid to quell the mounting hysteria, recommended buying one from the supermarket. But it didn’t calm the mood in the classroom. 

I suggested looking online for an easy recipe but they were too far gone down the route of out-and-out terror. Only the soothing maternal reassurances from the teacher that she would personally bake them one each and bring it in next week (at a cost) took them from a near-frenzied mob back to a group of adult learning students.

And that was when I cracked. My desire to be an epic smartarse overcame my manners and I had to sarcastically ask what were my fellow students planning on embellishing with their icing sugar and egg white mix on if the act of combining butter, sugar, eggs and flour and then heating was so anathema? Even more peculiarly the same centre ran a course called ‘An Introduction to Cake Baking’ and suggested students consider taking it in conjunction. Of course none of these bake-o-phobes had taken up the offer.

As the only person who had made the logical progression from mastering baking tasty, ugly cakes to wanting to create something prettier, I was genuinely mystified as to why all the other students were there. There is no conceivable reason for learning such complex sugar techniques if your eventual plan is stand poised with a piping bag ready to ice onto a nice eight square inches of nothing at all.

However, it’s slowly becoming clear to me that what I have in fact signed up for is a big, bizarre weekly group counselling session. But, at £90 for a 10-week course, it’s far cheaper than proper therapy and you get the added benefit of learning a few new skills too. Read more by Rosie.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

One is certainly not on work experience!

Like many people, I have a job. I’ve had a job for several years, and before that I had a different job, and another one before that, all the way back to the shelf-stacking I did in Marks and Spencer’s when I was 16. (And there are years of pent-up rage in that one, but for the moment, let’s move on.)

Having a job is something that many people do, and as people go, I think I do fairly well at it. For instance, I arrive at work on time. I sit at a desk and drink cups of coffee and own a stapler. I have an extension number and a professional email address that is based on my real name. I do the tasks I’m paid to do (and sometimes, when I’m in a really good mood, I do things I’m not paid to do, because I’m just that nice).

I don’t insist on turning up to work wearing my pyjamas or a Spider-Man costume or a t-shirt with jam down the front of it - and if I did want to wear any of these items, I would simply do so, and not throw myself on the floor and scream until I threw up to ensure that I was allowed to. (And, to be perfectly frank, I work at a university, so given the presence of hippy students and slightly mad academics I probably wouldn’t look especially out of place. I digress, however.) I even go to meetings, although I confess I’m still not entirely sure what they’re for.

The point is, at the age of 28, I appear to be doing a fairly good job of masquerading as a responsible adult. So why have I noticed certain older colleagues treating me, and talking to me, as if I’m somewhere between six and 16 years old? Put simply, why does everyone seem to think I’m here on work experience?

This annoying phenomenon manifests itself in mainly subtle ways that I suspect go unnoticed by others, even by the people doing it. The tone of voice that people take when they ask me to do something comes laced with the tiniest hint of condescension. The tasks I end up with, more often than not, are closer to “alphabetise these three items” or “break down this box” than to “use your gigantic brain to build a robot”. When my closest colleague (older, and a parent, and a driver, and other things associated with being an adult) goes above and beyond the call of duty, the grateful recipient might bring him a bottle of wine as a thank-you; when I do the same, I’m more likely to get biscuits. (I mean, they tend to be nice biscuits; we’re not talking Rusks here, but still.) 

Sometimes it’s even more explicit: a few months ago I greeted an older colleague as I passed him in the corridor, as one does. He stopped, and turned, and looked at me while half-smiling and frowning a little, as if trying to place me, then snapped his fingers and said: “Of course! You’re Alan’s daughter, aren’t you? How’s the work experience going?” It’s not as if I was still new at that point, either - I had been doing my job for at least a year.

It happened at my last job too; in particular, I noticed that colleagues who were employed to do the same thing as me, sometimes who had started later than me and had less knowledge of the environment, would feel justified in talking down to me and passing on to me the most brain-meltingly tedious work, simply because they were older and therefore “in charge”. Never mind that in many cases I had more experience, better qualifications, and a more thorough understanding of practice.


I’m not the only person I know to have experienced such a phenomenon, either. Take my friend Lisa: she is 28, and a university graduate, and has been in employment for over a decade. She currently works in administration for a research centre specialising in cancer patients. Recently, a new colleague, a middle-aged woman, started working there too. On her first day, she turned to Lisa and with a beaming smile, asked her: “Is this your first job, dear?”

Like Rosie, I’ve been told that I look younger than I am (also like Rosie, I am regularly told I can’t buy that bottle of Fair Trade red wine, despite the fact that no self-respecting underage drinker would choose to drink anything other than White Lightning and nail varnish remover - although I suspect I may be veering off my point). So maybe it’s a simple misunderstanding and these people genuinely believe I need babysitting. Or perhaps it’s some bizarre biological instinct that makes these people talk to me this way; if I’m young enough to be someone’s daughter, then my presence provokes some dormant evolutionary urge, and if I wait long enough then they’ll start regurgitating food at me or something. 

But, deep down, I can’t help worrying that this happens because they’re seeing through me, because I don’t actually feel like a grown-up at all, and maybe they can tell that. Maybe they know that while I sit there and nod and say things like “I’m not sure that’s workable” and appear to take notes during meetings, I’m actually doodling crudely-rendered male genitalia in the margins of the agenda and wondering if it really matters that the name of the committee was changed but not everyone was consulted. And one of these days I’ll be discovered, and I won’t be allowed to have a job any more, and I’ll have to spend all day watching children’s TV and wearing Spider-Man pyjamas.

... What was the problem, again?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Train Commandments

I am on a train for around 90 minutes in total each day. God, that’s depressing. It’s not the best part of my day. It’s a space in which getting a seat is a highlight, and something you feel a bit smug about even if it’s only for five minutes so, hardly something to shout about.

But, after yet another journey of suffering people who either have no manners, no sense or just no awareness of anything around them other than their nose, I thought it was worth blogging about. And so, without further ado: The Train Commandments. Please try to remember at least one of the points when you next board a train. Or, indeed, any form of transport where other human beings are present. 

1. Thou shalt allow air into the train
I like air. Don’t you? Nice fresh air that wakes you up a little, helps you breathe, you know the stuff. So why, oh dear commuter, must you sit there idly, in your privileged window seat, as we all roast in this cabin of heated hell? If the windows are steamy, it’s not for drawing in it’s sweat and breath and goodness knows what else, so open a window. It won’t bite. If there is not a single window open on your carriage, despite it being full of people sitting and standing in every space available, open a window. I don’t care if it’s raining. I don’t care if it’s snowing. You’re probably wearing a coat. Man up and open it so that we don’t all have to sweat and smell each other’s breath there’s just no need to do that with strangers. 

2. Thou shalt not sit next to your invisible friend
Are you sitting on the aisle side? Look at the seat next to you. Is it empty? Now look around the carriage. Is the train getting full? Are people standing? Are you approaching a station with a platform full of people? Here’s a thought: don’t keep an empty seat next to you for no reason. Someone will see it and they will climb over you to get to it. That will be awkward, they might even touch you a bit with their boot, and given that you like sitting next to empty seats, that can’t be good. Shuffle over to the window side (or the middle if you’re in a row of three, there you go) and let someone sit down without having to negotiate the space between your feet and bags. Oh, and bags on a seat? Don’t you dare.  

3. Thou shalt remember your table manners, or find some
There’s a reason kids are told to chew with their mouths closed: it’s in the hope that they will remember it as they grow older and learn to eat like civilised human beings. None of us wants to see that mashed up Maccy Ds in your mouth. More importantly, none of us wants to hear you as you munch it, followed by a slurp of your drink, followed by more munching and loud exhaling through your nose. We don’t want to see crumbs falling all over the seat. If you must eat food while travelling (we’ve all been there), at least get something that doesn’t stink, doesn’t make too much noise and that isn’t messy. A Twitter friend had to sit on a train with a woman standing up, eating a Wasabi noodle soup. One can only imagine how sickening that carriage was, with its lack of windows open, full of people standing because the seats were filled by imaginary friends, while she slurped on soup. 

4. Thou shalt bend with thy knees
When you’re standing on a train and need to pick up your suitcase/briefcase/Maccy Ds wrapper, remember: trains are quite small. People sitting down are at about waist height. If you then bend over, from your waist, to pick up said item, you are quite possibly going to thrust your backside into someone’s face a little. This is bad etiquette. It is unnecessary. Simply bend at the knees and away you go, with no awkward encounters and probably no back problems because you really should lift with your knees, not your back. Those wrappers can be heavy. 

5. Thou shalt not infect the Metro
We all hate having coughs and colds and flu because we’re British and we still have to go to work and make sure we infect everyone else. But when you’re on a train, on your not-so-merry way to work, and that little tickle comes along, don’t sneeze into your Metro. Don’t cough into it. That is not a substitute for being polite. Use your elbow or hands to catch your grimy germs or, even better, use a tissue. Or even better than that, stay at home. No one wants to touch your germy dribble while reading about the royal wedding.

6. Thou shalt limit yourself to your assigned amount of space
Train seats aren’t luxurious, or wide, or particularly comfy, but they are a certain size. They are all the same size. Which means even if you are reading a newspaper next to someone who isn’t, that does not give you the right to elbow them in the ribs as you do so. Nor does it give you the right to spread your paper across into their space. And if you do, you cannot then get mad that they begin to read it. In fact, they should probably be allowed to turn the page.  

7. Thou shalt not try to get on the train before everyone is off it
Remember Funhouse? Well, in the final part of the game they had to wait for their team mate to come out of the funhouse before they could go in. Like a relay. Apply this logic to trains. Not only do you look like an impatient child when you shove your way past an old lady who is being slow at stepping off the train, but you are actually being stupid. The more people who get off the train, the more space there will be on the train. Let them get off, considering it’s their stop after all, and when you step on there will be more seats to choose from. See?

8. Thou shalt at least pretend to understand how annoying your voice is
It’s fine to have a phone conversation on a train. Really it is. But do you have to be so LOUD? We don’t actually need to know that your best friend has annoyed you, or that you didn’t get a pay rise. We’re not going to sympathise as we are busy trying to breathe in this airless carriage while not slapping the guy digging his elbows into our ribs. At least try to talk a little quieter or keep it short we’ll know you tried, and we’ll hate you less.  

9. Thou shalt not suffocate those who are seated
It is unfair that you have to stand for part or all of your journey. We get that, we have been there. But We, the Seated, do not deserve to be suffocated by your coat. Or your bag. Or your scarf. Or your dreadlocks (seriously, this happened this morning, I felt quite pukey). Remember that the aisle, like the seats, is a certain size, and while those people sitting down may look comfy, it doesn’t mean they can handle having all the air, even the recycled air, taken away because you need to lean. This is no place for leaning. 

10. Thou shalt offer your seat to those who need it
A slightly more serious one to finish, but one that shouldn’t even need to be said. No seats left and a pregnant woman gets on? Get up. No seats and some elderly people get on? Get up. No seats and a disabled person gets on? Get up. Just be nice – it’s not hard. No one will think less of you, even in London. You might even get a smile out of someone – and that is something to shout about... 

The Train Commandments were originally published on Judy’s website, here.