Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Crackheads ~ Youth Edition

So it’s Christmas Eve and as I write this, in less than one hour, it’ll be officially Christmas Day. As such, I’m suddenly reminded of the times when I was a kid, and I was granted the opportunity to stay up until midnight where I was allowed to open one present before the morning. Back then, as most children are, I was excitable and this ritual happened every year like clockwork. As I steadily approach a quarter of a century, however, this Christmas tradition and the excitement accompanying it has proceeded to dwindle. And maybe it’s because I’m older and because I know all the secrets of Christmas now (or the fact that as I write this I can feel the onset of a cold coming on) that this time of year just doesn’t seem so special anymore.

I mean, everyone talks about the holiday spirit – the chance to eat, drink, give and be merry. And some people truly have it. For example, on facebook, a friend of mine organised a charitable affair by collecting hats, scarves and gloves and donating them to the homeless. Commendable stuff really. But I think that as we get older that unless we have children directly in our midst or unless we’re devout Christians or family men and women, the message of true Christmas cheer gets lost in translation. And then there are the people that make you scrunch up your face in disbelief and wonder ‘No seriously! What is up with that?’. And I’m not talking about the Scrooges and Scroogettes. I’m talking about the people who seem to have no sense.

As my contribution to the dinner table this year, it was my job to make dessert so I decided to bake a cake. Just as I was about the start, I realised that the butter had expired so decided to pop out to pick some up. In true British fashion, it was raining so I donned my trackies, hoody, boots, scarf, coat and umbrella and proceeded to make the descent down the road. As I was walking, I spotted three people across the road, dressed in a similar fashion to myself and couldn’t help by wonder if they too were trekking down the hill to pick up some last minute titbits.

How wrong I was.

A loud noise later and I saw that one of them had managed to get a hold of one of the large bins on wheels. Two seconds later, said culprit had pushed one of the bins into the road and rather callously pushed it back again where it rather loudly fell against the pavement edge. By then, I realised that these people weren’t like me at all. They weren’t even drunk. They were youths with nothing better to do on Christmas Eve than ransack public property. It only got worse though when said youth decided to push the large compactor into the centre of the road…and leave it there. By then, I’m thinking ‘what the fuck?

I mean I wish I could have snapped a picture or taken a video or something, but people like this are wicked in nature (no doubt they would have chased my down the road) as clearly they were looking to cause a public catastrophe tonight. But I just don’t understand why it’s amusing to cause trouble. What goes through the mind of people when they think bad is good and good is bad? What is the purpose of defacing property? And why would anyone want to deliberately cause a car crash – possibly even taking someone’s life and cause a family grievance this Christmas?

Last year in August, the riots happened where people, young and old, took to the streets to loot, pillage and destroy public property. It derived from a peaceful protest gone savage and people took it upon themselves to join in with the chaos. In psychology, we call it minority influence. People attempted to justify their actions by implying that they were ‘taking back their taxes’, fighting on behalf of the Mark Duggan case or just fighting for minority and/or poverty stricken groups in general. It’s all stupid really because I don’t think setting someone’s family business on fire justifies these means at all.

But maybe we’re not supposed to understand these people - these kids who think playing cruel jokes are funny. If you recall from an earlier post of mine, the kids in my class used to put pins in the ground hoping that someone might sit on them. Similarly, throughout the UK, we’ve had the Happy Slapping epidemic, an increase in knife crime, turf battles and the like. I know people who are frightened to raise their children here for fear of what they might become. At the same time, however, we’re the adults here are we not? Why is it that we’re so afraid to deal with these youths who seem to have no sense? Why do we let them trample up and down the streets at night when they should be indoors with their families helping to prepare this year’s Christmas dinner instead?

The outside world may be full of negative influences, but I truly believe that stability starts with family. So even though this is coming from me, who feels that she is not as close to her family as she should be, surround yourself with loved ones this Christmas. Hold them close. Treasure and appreciate them (for all their flaws as well) and have a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Call of the Wild ~ When Animals Attack

If I haven’t already made it painfully obvious (in actuality, I don’t think I have now that I think about it but), I hate my job.


I mean, people will always whinge in glee about how much they hate their jobs; how much they crave to sing “thank gawd it’s Friday” at the end of the week so that they can kick off their work boots and swap ‘em for a pair of trainers or kitten heels; and ultimately, how much they hate that Monday feeling when they have to drag themselves out of bed for another week long haul of daily grind. But I mean really. I hate it. And nowadays, it’s almost entirely the fault of the clientele.


Now I know quality customer service. I can feel it. Granted, I’m sure most people can. And I know how important it is in any business, but the more I work where I work, the more the quality that I acquired during my year stint as a coffee shop girl begins to dwindle. And while I have stated, and will continue to state, that difficult situations will make you stronger, there are just some situations that I feel are a little too mentally and emotionally draining. And while cock-ups are inevitable – we’re all human – some people just aren’t willing to compromise. And when things fail, they morph into sub-par human beings and scratch and hiss and roar at the top of their voices.


Now I’m not guilty. I’ve animorphed in the past. When there’s been a cock up at the doctor’s surgery or at the student loan’s company or a mysterious charge to my mobile phone bill, I’m the first person to call up somebody in demand to resolve the issue. Nevertheless, I rarely stay angry for long. I’m not a very confrontational person as it is and I tend to find what I lack in verbal skills, I make up for in writing (but I guess you guys can be the judge of that). Nevertheless, not everyone is like me. Some people are quick to point the finger at the first person they’re put through to without any real consideration as to where or who the problem lie with. And as I said, it seems natural to see red first before actual common sense sets in, but when you really think about it – does shouting really help the situation?


Example one. In the past, my internet service provider was TalkTalk. In my honest opinion, they’ve got nothing on Virgin or even Sky but they seem to be doing quite well apparently. We were having continuous problems connecting to the internet. So I called them up. According to them, there were no problems in the area and our connection was fine so I decided to call technical support who indicated the problem could be with my phone jack. I must have called them a number of times – insert issue number one; 0845 number = extra expense. As usual, you’re met with that annoying computerised voice when really you’re desperate to speak to an actual person – insert issue number two; automated phone calls equal further expense. I must have spoken to at least three different people – insert issue number three; lengthy discussions with relatively unhelpful staff – and by then I was getting frustrated. What can I say? I need my internet. Hello! My name’s Melissa. And I’m an addict.

Anyway, at this point, I decided to call customer services threatening to cancel my contract. I started off all guns blazing. And yet, the woman on the other end was really nice about it. Thus, the beast clawing to come out was restrained and after the entire conversation, I couldn’t help but think to myself – ‘Why am I getting mad at her for? She didn’t do anything’.

Ultimately, the situation and situations like this always seem to get resolved – even if it is for better or for worse. But I have to ask myself, what is the point of going in all guns blazing, when simply raising the issue in a firm, but diplomatic fashion works just as well?

Example two. Remember I said that I’d legally changed my name? Well I had to have my medical records updated. They issued me with a medical card which had spelt my name incorrectly so I contacted the designated channels and they said they’d rectify it. Low and behold, a week later, they issued me with a second medical card…containing the same problem. Great stuff.

Now I don’t know what possessed me to do this, but I figured I’d write them a letter about it and post the incorrect medical card back to them. A little under two weeks later, I receive a response indicating where the problem lie and that it would be rectified. A couple of days after that, my new card arrived. Problem solved. And I didn’t even need to get leery with anybody. A few words on a piece of paper and it was sorted. I’m seriously going to start adopting this method more often.

Now I’m not sure how it works in other cultures, but I’ve realised – heck, I know – that in the west, we are some of the most selfish sons of bitches ever. If the boat isn’t cruising smoothly, we’re gunning for somebody. We pick up our spears, don our war paint and start attacking the closest person in sight. And if it’s not that poor unsuspecting customer service representative from British Gas, it’s our nearest and dearest who have to put up with us, whether we take a minute or thirty to air out of grievances, or execute an unintentional tongue lashing because we’re a little more irritable than usual at that particular moment in time.

But while airing out grievances is a good thing – we’re humans, we’re social creatures; we need to vent – is howling uncontrollably the best method? It certainly might make some of us feel better, but rather than raise our own blood pressure and give that poor unsuspecting recipient a phenomenal ear ache, isn’t it easier to talk it out like civilised human beings?

Obviously, this is wishful thinking however. Not all those who work in customer service actually know how to serve customers. So we get frustrated with them, especially if we feel like we’re going around in circles. But after being on the receiving end of many a furious customer, whether it was genuinely my fault or not – I can’t help but wish for an ideal at times. Because I’m human. I want that rocky road to be void of craters. I want to live a stress free existence.

I want, I want, I want.

Ultimately, I think that’s the problem here. And so long as the heart wants what it wants, I’m sure that there'll be a time in the future where I’ll forget everything that I’ve written here just because some tosser overcharged me at the supermarket.





Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Price of Nice ~ Payment in Kind


Ever slipped down the stairs? Or down an escalator? Well, today, I tripped up one and had it not been for my umbrella and a little dexterity, I would have probably ended up flat on my face as the escalator carried my hunk'a'junk, embarrassingly so, to the top of the tube station. Standing only a couple of steps behind me however, was a man who didn’t even bother to ask me if I was okay. Granted, I was fine. The toes on my right foot were a little sore, but whenever something like this happens, I get up, dust myself off and get on with it. I didn’t look back however. I was thoroughly embarrassed – temporarily reminded of my school days when such a feat would have caused my peers to burst out laughing. But even as I crossed the barriers and carefully climbed the stairs into the street, I realise that had I been that man, I probably would have said nothing as well.

Fifty years ago, Britain was a very different place and there was a stronger sense of community spirit. In a single neighbourhood, everybody knew everybody else; people would exchange words at the garden fence or even ask a neighbour if he could borrow a hammer because he’d misplaced his. Grannies would look after children that weren’t their own for nothing more than the company and when a family went on holiday, the neighbourhood watch would be on standby just in case any unsuspecting opportunists would take it upon themselves to break in. Of course, even now in the twenty-first century, I’ve heard of cases like this still happening – even in London where the people are colder than a fridge freezer – but any community spirit is no more. There are wars happening between rich and poor, old and young, borough against borough – and as the divide gets wider, can we honestly hope to find kindness in our fellow man or woman.

A fine example would be the postman that delivers the mail to my workplace. We have a Solicitors above us but we share the same entrance point. But rather than hand-deliver the mail into our offices, this postman would prefer to drop the mail at the front entrance instead where anyone and everyone can just walk in – claim said precious documents and walk off with them. Another example happened a few years ago when it was snowing really badly. The bus had pulled up to the bus stop and a lady was running for it. The poor woman slipped and fell within metres of the door and what did the bus driver do? He drove off – leaving the poor woman wet, embarrassed and her dignity in tatters. I’m a strong believer in karma nonetheless and I’m pretty sure he got his, but rarely do people seem to spare a thought for others and it seems to be on the rise.

Granted, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not guilty. We all do it. We all have our thoughtless moments. I was bobbing in and out of sleep on the train once and saw a guy drop his scarf. Too focused was I on catching a few Z’s before work that I kept schtum, assuming he’d notice it and pick it up. He didn’t notice however and it took the woman sitting opposite me to point it out to him. It also, isn’t uncommon for me to walk past a homeless person begging on the street. And while I know that every situation is different and that some people are genuinely unfortunate, I continue to walk by them because of my preconceptions that if I give them money, they’re gonna fund their drug problem or drinking habit.

And maybe it’s that lack of trust that makes us as a society unwilling to spare a thought for another citizen. Maybe it’s because there are so many people out there who will take, take, take and give nothing back. After all, it’s a known problem in the UK that there are people out there that are content to live off of state benefits. There are people out there that purposely have children because they know it’ll increase that benefit. And there are people out there who evade tax and claim disability allowances even though there’s absolutely nothing physically wrong with them. So when we see that homeless person taking a puff or drinking a beer, we start to wonder if they’re genuine. And when we question a persons’ sincerity, we hesitate until hesitation turn into full blown apathy.

Heck, it seems like the only kindness that we’re exposed to nowadays comes in the form of hospitality or customer service. These chipper individuals will greet you at the door with a smile and try to make all your problems melt away for the hour or two that you’re in their company. But again, is this kindness even genuine? That broad smile; that “may I help you?”; that “please come again”. Is it real – or is it just scripted? Because I too, have been there. I’ve worked in retail and customer service for over five years now and I know that even though I regularly wish to disappear behind my desk so that my clientele can’t see me, when that client walks in with a query or intention, I’m gonna put on my brightest smile because I’m getting paid for it.

Customer service isn’t free like it might have been several decades ago. It’s bought. And even bad customer service is bought too. Not everyone knows how to disguise their attitude. Take the Nando’s cashier who became very impatient with my friend because he wanted to order one fino side and one regular side instead of two regular sides. Poor guy only speaks little English so I had to interject but I couldn’t help but think: so what if he didn’t get the discount; he wanted what he wanted and he was paying for it. Give it to him!

But this isn’t to say that London is a completely heartless city. There are people out there that will get up out of their seat for an elderly person or someone heavily pregnant. When I was hit by a car, a man asked about my well-being. If someone’s been waiting at the bus stop longer than me, I’ll let them get on first. A middle-aged man exiting a Debenhams even hung back a bit and held the door open for a lady exiting with her pram. So it’s there in smaller quantities. Just don’t expect me to knock on my neighbour’s door to borrow some milk.


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Desperate Times ~ Desperate Measures


I’ve probably said it a few times now, but I work for a training and employment company. And even though we’ve got the training side of things down pat, we haven’t really grasped the employment side of things. Nevertheless, we do have ties to agencies and companies that we refer clients to, but we often get people through the door looking for jobs. And I mean any job. In the UK, there has been a serious clamp down on state benefits meaning that all those people that purposely sit on their asses at home doing nothing, are now being forced out to earn their keep. And they come into the office in their numbers virtually begging for work and some of them, I do feel sorry for, because if they haven’t any experience in the areas that we help into employment, unless they train – and folk over £200 – they’re pretty much on their own.

Despite the cry out for employment, however, jobs are not the only thing that people are desperate for these days. And even though, as a society in west, we are blessed, we can’t help but want for more.

MONEY

I can’t tell you enough how badly I fit into this category. Because we’re all in the same situation and for those of us with bills to pay or dreams for the new year, money is something that we can’t get enough of. According to statistics, 32 million of us play the lottery every week in hopes that by some grace of God, our numbers will come up and we’ll be thousands of pounds richer. When that tax rebate comes in after so many years, our day is instantaneously brightened and we blow the whole thing on some manner of material or item. When pay day rolls around, we exhale as our bank accounts expand only to watch them simultaneously deplete seconds later as the rent, the council tax, utilities, insurance and everything else comes tumbling back out again. And even though deep down we know that we’re better off than some, we’ll always complain that we never ever have enough money.

BARGAINS

Christmas started early this year. The lights in West London went up earlier this month and I can’t help but roll my eyes a little because I was under the impression that Christmas was in December. But to the informed individual, we all know that this is just a simple ploy to get consumers to put their hands in their pocket. And considering that there was a decline in expenditure last year, I think that store owners and big-name brands are just a little bit concerned. But some of us simply can’t afford to buy our spouse that extra Christmas gift this year. And that large bird we usually consume at Christmas dinner will probably have to be reduced to a medium instead – maybe even a small. Every year, I usually buy three presents for the same people but this year, with my mind heavily on saving for a new life in the land of the rising sun, I’m starting to think that something’s going to have to give. So unless I can find a bargain, I’ll probably have to say that I genuinely can’t afford it this year.

COMPANIONSHIP


I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine the other day. He was talking about a friend of his and how he dislikes talking to him because he’s a self-centred – my words, not his. He also, mentioned that said friend is constantly looking for a girlfriend, but he always fails and as a result constantly asks for advice. I couldn’t help but snigger a little. You see, I’ve come across a selection of people who seem to be in keen pursuit of a one on one intimacy – whether it’s dancing that horizontal tango or something real that completely knocks you off your feet. And while I agree that it’s not nice to be alone a Christmas, I can’t help but think that some people come on a little too strong. 

Take today, for example. I was standing on the escalator heading towards the exit and some guy was walking up the stairs and stopped in the gap directly behind me. I didn’t think much of it. We were approaching the top of the escalator and it’s not uncommon to want to catch your breath if your heart can’t take it. But then I heard the most eerie of words ever:

“I miss you.”

I turned my head and there he was, smiling in my face as if I knew him. I vomited a little in my mouth and then hurriedly climbed the rest of the escalator keen to escape. This kind of desperation always carries with it a foul smell. Bathe daily utilising some self-respect and let love wash over your naturally.


HANDOUTS

Remember I mentioned earlier that people regularly flood my workplace looking for work because benefits have been chopped. Well, this doesn’t necessarily stop them from asking for handouts. Many a time have I had people come into the office asking if they need to pay to do a course. In my mind that’s a big WTF right there. For one of the courses we run, we offer an opportunity to do a short placement as a means of gaining practical experience. You will not believe the amount of times someone has asked me “during the placement, will I be paid?”. WTF part two. And lastly, my company also, possesses funding meaning that people can do some courses for free at Level’s 2 and above only as long as they meet the criteria. When people here ‘free’ – they flock, but in hearing the magic word, it seems that their ability to count suddenly flies out the window. Because unless you’ve done Level 1 or something to that standard, how can anyone possibly expect to jump ship and survive a course greater than ones capability. That’s like me starting an intermediate Japanese course.


ACCEPTANCE

Human beings are social butterflies. Even those of us who like our own company – myself included – will eventually desire some human contact whether it’s heading out into the big band world for a day out of a night on the town. But while some of us are quite comfortable in our skin, others of us aren’t comfortable letting the world see us as we are naturally. It’s known that we are socialised to behave in a certain manner depending on the environment and for some of, behaving in any other way other than what’s expected of us, means rocking the boat and making ourselves look less than flattering. Imagine the simple act that is slouching while having an interview with a big corporate company or not having a beer while watching a football match with the lads. And sometimes, we’re content to stand out and stick to our principles, but in all honesty, human beings are like sheep – and for the most part, the majority nearly always wins.

~

Even now, I’m searching for ways in order to do what I think will make my life easier for myself. I’m trying to tutor on the side for money, all the while seeking a new job oversees. I even desire bargains to keep my expenditure low, but ultimately, I think I scrapped this search some time ago and decided that I was simply going to make do with what I have already.

Ultimately, we really should be satisfied with what we do have because we have a lot more than other across the planet do. However, we’re a western country – we’re an individualistic society. We’re selfish, and we’ll always be a little desperate when something happens that shifts our perception of what we deem is the ideal.

Friday, 2 November 2012

The Angry Workout ~ Under Pressure

Everyone talks about going to the gym to let off steam. Whether you’ve had a stressful day at work or something has really gotten under your skin, a brisk jog or a couple of rounds with a punching bag is said to do the trick. I understand that via working out, you work yourself hard so that in focusing on 'gymming it up', you take your mind off your aggravation. Similarly, you gear your frustrations via a healthy medium; you get your heart rate up thus pumping blood around your body in a good way as oppose to letting things smoulder under your skin so that they may potentially become detrimental enough for you to develop high blood pressure. So I see the benefits – I really do – but at the same time, I wonder if letting off steam at the gym is generally such a good thing.

As you know, I’m in the process of applying for the position of Assistant Language Teacher with the JET Programme. I’ve also, just legally changed my name and my new passport arrived this morning. I’ve gathered all of the documents I require for the application. All I need to do is write up my Statement of Purpose (a bit like a cover letter), photocopy my new passport and get my doctor to verify that I’m fit and able to work overseas. As today was my day off, I decided to go to my doctor’s surgery. I figured that it would be as simple as it was the last time I applied to the JET Programme. I dropped it off with the receptionist and about a week later, I received a signature and a stamp indicating I had a clean bill of health.

How wrong was I.

Long story short, I explained my situation to the receptionist and she stated that I’d need to put my request in writing and fork over £30.

£30 for a stamp and a signature?

Really?



I paid anyway even though I’m not exactly flushed right now and then I went to the gym. All of this took up time, however, because I then had to visit an internet cafĂ©, type and print a letter, print off some additional information and then go back to the surgery. I was also against the clock because I had to return home in order to be present for a package, but all I could think about was letting off steam so as soon as I arrived, I jumped on the bike with intentions of warming up for 5 minutes and instead, doubled my time on it.

My usual workout is roughly ninety minutes – forty on weights, forty on cardio, five to ten minutes to warm down. I warm up on the bike, follow it with leg weights, do some arms, do some abs and finish on the treadmill.

Today, I had to cut this in half, but I was unusually energetic. I raised the weight of the weights I was lifting, upped the speed I ran on the treadmill and significantly decreased the amount of rest time I gave myself. As soon as I was done with one machine, I’d move onto the next without really stretching my legs in between. I had a water bottle but drank significantly less than I usually do. I was almost violent with myself on the abs machine, but discovered that the Tricep Extension isn’t as rubbish as I thought it was. I felt the brunt of the effects on the treadmill, however, because I could actually feel the blood pumping around my body and lastly, I forgot to stretch afterward meaning that right now as I type this, I’m most definitely in some kind of pain.

What I find strange is that my back is actually hurting me and yet I didn’t particularly lift any weights that might impact on my back…or at least I think I didn’t. But I basically overdid it today and even though I stretched when I got in the door, I think the damage has already been done. Fortunately, I don’t think it’s permanent, but there’s definitely a lesson in this.

Do you recall my earlier entry – when I was hit by a car? Well, it seems that I unlearnt that lesson all in the space of fifty minutes. So I deliver it to you again as a reminder. Take care of yourself. Seriously.

Also, a few helpful tips:

Always stretch/warm up before exercise~

I have a very bad habit of skipping this part altogether, but warming up physically prepares your body for your workout and reduces the amounts of aches and pains you receive afterwards.

When lifting weights, take a small break in between reps~

There’s a saying that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing and in this case, I think it applies. If you don’t give yourself a bit of rest, especially while working on weights, you’ll tire out the muscle you’re working on. You might even damage it.

Don’t lift more than your fitness level will allow~

I think this goes without saying really and like I mentioned above, if you try to run before you can walk, you’re likely to fall on your face. Start moderately and then increase weight or speed gradually. You’ll build up a better resistance that way.

Try to break things up a bit~

I’ve heard it said that sometimes it’s good to mix things up at the gym. So, on one visit, you might wish to focus on cardio, while on another, you might choose to focus solely on weights. I think this is up to personal preference, however, as sometimes I stick rigidly to my routine and other occasions, I might reduce things or cut them out altogether.

Always warm down/stretch after exercising~

I’m not sure if this is the case, but I contracted a case of Runner’s Knee back in my university days and I strongly feel that it was attributable to this. I never used to stretch after I exercised, and even though I failed to do so directly after working out today, I usually make it a habit to do this because I find that if I don’t, I become very stiff – similarly to how I feel now.


My last piece of advice is simple. If you’re like me, where angry or under pressure ~ don’t go to the gym.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Art of Flirting - There Are Those That Have It...


And there are those that don't.

And yes, I can admit without shame that I am one of those that does not have it. I can’t tell you the amount of times that I have missed the signals until it was too late. And then when I finally catch on, an awkward tremor of ‘ewww’ will slither up my spine, wondering if my kind and pleasant words were like music to ears with a hint of orange zest coupled with a shot of ‘Yep! I’m in there!’.

Funnily enough, I’ve been told that my default expression often makes me look a bit mean. I can’t help that though; it would be a bit strange to walk around with a permanent smile fixed onto my face. But I am a nice person, you see. I even politely decline the people begging in the street, or those people who hand out newspapers at the station in the morning – when what most people really do is just flat out ignore them.

And for the most part I do. I don’t respond to hissing fits or cat calls because I find them degrading, but at times, there are those who persist – whether you’re alone at the bus stop or standing at the end of a quiet platform waiting for the tube – and there is often no means of escape. With these people, however, it’s usually blatantly obvious what their intentions are, however, because this isn’t fifty-years ago where it was common to exchange words briefly with a stranger. This is the twenty-first century where people can no longer be trusted and charlatans walk around in high numbers.

So I feel that in addition to myself, these people don’t ‘have it’ either. British people – unless drunk – are a suspicious lot after all – and if a complete stranger wonders up beside me and asks me my name and where I’m from, I’m going to wonder if he’s trying to steal my identity.

Usually in this scenario, however, the questions that follow are pretty ‘high school’. Where are you headed? Have you got a boyfriend? Can I get your number? And even when you do decline – or you do like I do and lie through your teeth stating that you’re with someone already – some will even bold-facedly ask if they can still be your friend.

Bloody cheek.

These people are the creeps, however. The people that are so desperate for some coochie that they don’t care where they get it. I’m convinced that these are the kind of people that post up ads on plentyoffish.com with intentions of having an intimate encounter. Some are probably married.

But it isn’t everyone, however. And it’s not these people I fall victim to. It’s the people who have managed to bypass the level of acquaintance even though they mightn’t yet be my friend. I suppose it’s easier when you have something in common – it should pave the way for a little light-hearted banter – but I tend to find that with these people, it becomes very awkward when you have to let them down gently.

Here’s an example. My boss became very friendly with a man who fixed the boiler a couple of times so he would frequently come to the office. The guy was very talkative and friendly and even showed me a few tips and tricks that would save us if our boiler acted up again. I didn’t mind him. He seemed harmless, until one day when I was at work alone and he came in.

I had thought he’d wanted to see my boss about something – not uncommon as she’d had him over at her house to do some work. She wasn’t in, however, so he stopped to have a word with me. He began asking me what I did in my spare time and conversation turned towards my aspirations as I had yet to start my TESOL course at the time. He began talking about taking me out, which I fobbed off as a joke because not only does it seem to be a common joke in my workplace, but the man is old enough to be my father. I only realised he was being serious when he offered to give me his number.

Awkward.

I didn’t want to be rude, but I let him leave his number anyway. What I really should have said was ‘thanks, but no thanks’ – not in so many words, but enough to ensure he got the picture. I think he did get the picture, however, because I can’t seem to hide when I feel uncomfortable. He left shortly after and hasn’t been in contact since.

So I have to wonder to myself if my incessant pleasantries give off the notion of ‘leading on’ – or whether I’m just completely clueless about the inner workings of the male psyche.

Or maybe those who flirt naturally communicate in an entirely different language altogether – one that I haven’t really grasped. Because to me, the general consensus seems to be that a person is creepy or it’s all one big joke. But is it all down to suspicions or insecurities, or is it because I’m just not looking for it? You can’t catch what you can’t see after all. And in this case, things tend to find me when I least expect them to.

Or maybe for me, intentions need to be laid on the line from the get go - give it to me straight, doc. This is a little ironic, however, because if I genuinely genuinely fancied someone, that person would never know.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Busy Bee Syndrome ~ The Take-Off

Well, it’s all kicking off now. And for the first time in my life, it seems that I’m going to be genuinely doing things. A lot of things. Things that might even go over my head. But this is good because this is what I wanted. I wanted to be active – and not just in the gym either. I wanted to help my case so that when I start looking for work overseas in the new year, I’ll have a backlog of experience to put on my CV. I mean, I’m so used to my three day week and lounging around on Monday and Tuesday virtually doing nothing. So this should be good for me.

You see, it was always my intention when I booked my TESOL course that I would apply to the JET Programme again, but I’m actually starting to think that I might even stand a chance this year.

For those of you who don’t know, JET stands for Japanese Exchange and Teaching, which is basically a government programme which recruits graduates from English speaking countries to go and teach English to students in Japan. This programme is the finished article – if there was ever a safer and sure-fire way of working as a Assistant Language Teacher in Japan, JET is it. But as with everything government-related, it is highly HIGHLY competitive.

I was going to apply anyway, but in my mind I figured that I probably wouldn’t make it to the interviews (like the last time I applied back in 2009), but with things starting to move forward in my life, I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, I might have a shot.

You see, I did the TESOL course, not just for JET, but for myself as well. The concept of teaching English abroad was so interesting when I booked it and now that I’ve completed it, I’m determined to leave the country and actually do it. So first stop. Japan.

But even if I don’t make it onto JET, I’m going to Japan one way or another. I’ve been interested in that place since my cousin got me into anime when I was thirteen and now, over ten years later, it’s become a must.

So what am I doing in order to increase my chances of finding work over there?


  • Well, as you know, I completed my TESOL course. My certificate came the other day – the postman bent the corners of it – the wanker – but it arrived.

  • I’m in the process of legally changing my name. I’ve heard that Asia is very strict when it comes to names and identification. I even read a blog post where some girl had problems retrieving items that had been sent over to her in South Korea simply because of a discrepancy with the name on the package and the name in her passport. Therefore, because all of my certificates - dating back to my school days – indicate my surname with a gap, I’ve legally included a gap in my last name. The deed poll came today and thus, I now need to circulate them to the designated government bodies or what have you starting with acquiring the forms to apply for a new passport.

    Speaking of passports – I dropped mine on the street today and somebody found it. I am the luckiest person ever. I didn’t even know I’d dropped it until my mum phoned and told me that someone had phoned her. So yeah, lesson number one; there are some good people out there, and lesson number two; I’m rubbish.

  • I put up an ad on Gumtree advertising for a Japanese language exchange partner. I had a mountain of feedback, but as I know what Gumtree is like, I figured I’d email  people back and forth for a bit before meeting them in person. There are people out there that are looking for a bit more than just a language exchange. I kid you not when I say I saw an ad in the Skills and Language Swap section advertising for a live-in girlfriend.

    Fortunately for me, I found myself a language exchange partner who isn’t a creep. Seems like a really nice guy. He has a lot to say about things and I feel like I can really talk to him so we’ll see what happens there, but one way or another, I’m learning some Japanese and teaching English at the same time. EPIC!

  • In addition to this, I joined a few tutoring agencies and got a phone call from one of them last night. As I was in the cinema watching Taken 2, I figured I’d call them today and find out what’s up. Good news! It's a boy! He's ten-years-old, he’s lazy and I've been told that I need to be strict. I spoke to the mother this evening and stupidly forgot to list some questions to ask her about her son, but she seemed very desperate for the help and our regular tuition days will be Saturday mornings at 11am.

    Funnily enough, while I was speaking to her, the tutoring agency rang again so I called them back. They wanted to assign me a seventeen-year-old girl, but I declined that one considering that I haven’t even started tutoring yet. It sounds like they’re going to be throwing students at me left, right and centre, however, which is good because it’s an extra income, but I figured there’d be at least a week between new assignments.
    I’ll pick up the next one, however. I’m thinking my maximum will probably be three.

~

So, in terms of the JET application and working overseas teaching children in general, this looks good. I’m tutoring children, teaching English, learning Japanese and about the Japanese culture and I’m still earning an income. I’m hoping that by the end of this year, I’ll have enough to be able to survive the first month in Japan – the month you have to wait before that first paycheck. So come the new year, post-JET application process, the real job search begins.

So how am I gonna handle all this?

Well, I’m going to have to strongly organise my life. It’ll be like university all over again – only the assignments will be lesson plans and unlike uni, they’ll be due in fast and furious. My part time job as an admin is the part time job I had at university – I was a retail assistant. Fun. The little time I spend with friends and family will be the clubs and student union nights I’d go to every once in a while. I have to fit the gym in there somewhere and my bedtimes will probably have to be earlier as they're 12am if I’m tired, 1am usually and 2am if I’ve got things on my mind.

I think it would also, be helpful if I fixed my diet as well. There’s been a dangerous influx of Chinese takeaways of late. We did the monthly shop last week, however so I have no excuse.

I shall keep you updated, however. Hopefully I don’t burnout.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Family Values - Is Blood Really Thicker?

I’m probably taking a huge gamble writing this considering than any one of my relatives could click on this page and read my thoughts. I don’t expect to get feedback nor empathy either really as I’m pretty sure I’m one of few that feels this way, but I was thinking about this last night and it was further amplified by this blog entry that I read this morning. Because, you see, family is supposed to be important and it is – I don’t dispute this. You can’t choose your family and even if they drive you up the wall, you love them anyway. For example, some of the women in my family have a strong pride about things and must always get the last word in during an argument no matter what. Other members of my family repeat themselves and this irritates me to no end because I have a thing about feeling patronised. But even though I love my family and will always love them unconditionally, over the years, I’ve come to find that I’m not as close to my family as I would like to be.

On my mum’s side in particular, the vast majority of my relatives are women. Women like to talk. This dates back to history when ladies would meet with each other to have a good natter and gossip about their day to day experiences. Unfortunately, I’ve never been one to talk about myself much. I have no problems penning my thoughts; I find more comfort in writing, but speaking about them – especially if their negative – has always been difficult for me. In a sense, I was a very modest child - I believe I grew up with a few self-acceptance issues as well. Even now, I have a divine hatred of arrogance - modesty is the best policy - so it was quite difficult for my family to coax information out of me. In retrospect, I think I might have adopted a ‘guy’ mentality, similar to this:

(see between 30 and 42 seconds)


I talk in facts.

How are you? I’m fine? Do anything this weekend? Went to a club. How was it? Great!

I don’t always elaborate. And while sometimes I know that this isn’t on purpose, sometimes it really is. So maybe it’s not just about mentality, but about feeling comfortable as well. Because I’m sure that we would all agree that there are just some things that you don’t tell your relatives in the same way that you tell your friends and vice versa.

You’ll remember that I mentioned earlier on, that I grew up unable to accept the way I was for quite some time. For more information, you can read my opening entry. I was a very atypical child. In primary school, I played with children younger than myself because all the other girls ever did during playtime was hang around the football pitch, gossip and watch the boys play football -snore-. In secondary school, I used less of my mouth and more of my brain to get by, preferring to improve my intelligence instead of my popularity. By even then, I was secretive. I was almost ashamed that I had typically geeky pastimes. I played video games, I wrote fanfiction, I spent A LOT of time at my computer and I liked watching Japanese cartoons. I kept these sides of myself locked away indoors. The funny thing is, most of my family knew these things about me. I could even share one or two things with the members of my own generation, but at the same time, there are things that are strongly associated with myself – things that are integrated into my personality – that I am unable to share with them. And this is because I’m not at ease enough to do so.

It should be common knowledge that the way your treat your elders is different to the way you treat your cousins, your friends or those who are younger than you. There’s a level of respect that you must exercise to your elders just because their older than you and wiser than you. And I do respect my family, but what I’ve realised now is that I’m not comfortable enough to be myself around them. 

This doesn’t pertain to all members of my family however – just a lot more of them than there should be. Everyone’s got a black sheep in their family. I’m starting to wonder if I’m leaning dangerously close to becoming the black sheep of mine.

Perhaps it happened when I went to university, where the bridge between me and my family increased substantially. As I said, I was the kid that talked in facts.  I started to dislike speaking to people on the phone and even now as an adult, I find talking on the phone to be incredibly awkward. I text people more than I speak to them – potentially, this might be the influence of the writer in me or maybe it’s the fear of the awkward - if I can avoid an uncomfortable situation, I will. In fact, the amount of people I feel comfortable talking to on the phone are enough for me to count on one hand. That’s bad, I know. And because most of my family utilise the phone to communicate – especially as we don’t live particular close to one another, I feel that in me not contacting them the way their used to communicating, they may have potentially interpreted it to be me purposely distancing myself from them. And so they don’t call me. And I don’t call them. And as such, the distance gets greater and greater and the relationship starts to crumble.

Ever bumped into a person you once went to school with as an adult? You haven’t seen them in ages; you had some good times back in the day and now you wouldn’t mind catching up. Only your relationship in school might have been something, but as an adult, you’ve both become different people. You’re interests are different. The way you conduct yourself is different and in being different, whatever relationship you might have had, has no way of resuming.

I’m not sure I changed much during university - I may have become a bit more confident, a bit more responsible, a bit more self aware and a little less tolerant (of certain things) – but excluding that, I’m pretty sure I’m the same person I was…I think. Irrespective, I’m thinking that in having very little contact with my family, that distance between us simply became too great. As a unit, they themselves became closer and I became the person looking in from the outside. And even though I’m taking steps to reduce that gap, it’s difficult because it requires effort when it should be natural. These people are my family after all. They’ve known me all or most of my life, but it doesn’t detract from the unfortunate fact.

It pains me to say this, but what I’ve now come to interpret is the sad fact that while we are family, we are not friends. Spending time together has almost become an obligation just because instead of the desire that it once was. Because to good friends, you share everything with them. You talk about the highs and lows of your life. You may even go to a specific friend for advice. You talk about your innermost secrets. You laugh, you cry and you share the world together. But with certain members of my family, I cannot do this. And I’m pretty sure that this is the case for them as well. 

I feel like I don't know my family; I know them in a sense that I know their mannerisms and what they like and what they're good at, but I don't know them in that deep heartfelt way and I feel that they don't know me either. 

Furthermore, if I have an issue - whether someone or something has upset me, or even something as big as this problem in its entirety - I wouldn't feel comfortable enough to talk to them for fear of upsetting them – I dislike conflict – or overstepping the boundaries of respect. And there are things – issues that I have - that even now I’ve kept bottled up for years, and it's not healthy in the slightest.

All families have secrets nonetheless so maybe I’m not at all that different. At the same time, however, all of this concerns me and as I have intentions of travelling overseas next year, I feel that this needs to be rectified as soon as possible.

So how do we become friends? How do we become comfortable enough with each other to tell each other anything and everything? How do we get things back to the way they once were?

Is it as easy as picking up the phone or spending time together? Because I visit them every couple of weeks or every other month – and I never seem to feel any different. Should I divulge a secret? Extend my trust? Because I’ve done this too and it hasn’t brought us any closer. Or should I air out my grievances and then attempt to start afresh? Stir the pot; let emotions fly and then reconcile because it’s impossible to bring up an issue these days without upsetting somebody.

My advice?

Well, if I’m honest, I’m actually at a loss this time. And I’m usually full of logical solutions to problems. And I know that while there are families all over the world that are closely-knit, there are also, families that can’t stand each other.

Only I seem to be in the unhappy medium. :/

Friday, 28 September 2012

A Day at the Office ~ When People Test You


Now, I’ve been fortunate. I’ve worked in a variety of environments. I’ve been a games tester; I’ve been in retail; I’ve worked with people from all walks of life – your standard geeks, your office jockeys and your speakers of other languages – and in very different areas – the suburbs, the city…etc. Now, I currently work in the ghetto – there’s no point sugar coating it; it is what it is - of which I’ve been working in for the past year. I’m an administrator and in my honest opinion, it’s not at all as rewarding as it once might have been – not since I completed my TESOL course anyway. TESOL introduced me to a new world and I’m desperate to get stuck in but at the same time, I owe my current place of work a great debt because no other place in their right mind would have granted me four weeks off to do a course. So for that I am very grateful.

But I have to be honest with myself as well. Because I remember stepping back into the office on that Wednesday morning and thinking to myself:

Why am I still here?
Because I’m reminded of the life that I was so desperately trying to leave behind. University was supposed to have helped me get into counselling, which was my original career choice, but after a scuffle with said choice and being told that I lacked empathy, I was pretty much at a loss. I was working in a coffee shop at the time and no longer found it enjoyable. I, therefore, considered that office work was the way forward, but the office I work in is far from ordinary and I’m pretty sure it’s because of the area.

You see, I work on the high street so anybody can walk in and out as they please and the people in this area definitely indulge the opportunity. While some people are relatively normal, others just make you want to tear your hair out, but in the interest of business and maintaining customer service, I have no choice but to endure. I am however, 90% certain that if I were working in the city, where business etiquette is bustling, I wouldn’t encounter even half of these people:

THE TIMEWASTER

General Description: The timewaster is the person with nothing else better to do. For the most part, they are male, but I have encountered the odd female from time to time. They often have no purpose for being there other than to kill some time and bombard you with useless and sometimes senseless questions.

Example: A man came in asking about obtaining a National Insurance Number (NI). I’m pretty sure that the NI is local to the UK only, but I think it’s similar to a Social Security Number or a method of National Identification in general. Either way, the company I work for specialises in training but we are frequently mistaken for a job centre. As NI’s can only be obtained from job centres, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and tried to direct him to a job centre. He then went on to ask if we were a Citizen’s Advice Bureau because he’d had an accident on a construction site. I declined. He then went on to ask if we were a charity. I declined. He asked what we did here and I told him and then he reverted back to his question about the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. He danced in this circle for the better part of fifteen minutes to which I nearly lost my rag because I really wanted him to leave. Eventually, he did, but not before dragging a good slice of my patience with him.

Conclusion: These people are generally infuriating and have no real purpose but to get on your nerves. They are usually harmless nevertheless and if you demonstrate slight irritation, they usually get the message and leave. Don’t loose your top completely though. It’s not worth it.


THE MOUTH

General Description: The mouth is usually a previous enquirer or even a customer that feels the world owes them a bag of chips. More than that, however, they want the whole world to know about it and so usually they come into the office looking to start a fight.

Example: A colleague of mine dealt with a customer, who I’d initially spoken with, when I was away. She told me that this woman had brought her friend and would frequently make loud snide remarks as if she didn’t trust what she had been told on the previous occasion.

On a separate occasion, a man came in shouting the odds because he hadn’t received his Criminal Record disclosure in the post*. We tell all customers that it can take up to 8 weeks. As he needed his disclosure for something or other, he came in guns blazing even though he’d only completed his application with us a week before.

Further still, this happened to me again with a guy who had completed an application with us last year. He materialised several months later stating that he had yet to receive his disclosure – I always find these cases strange because if it was generally that important to him, he would have appeared sooner. Ultimately, however, his mouth was silenced when we discovered that his disclosure had been dispatched eons ago and that he needed to get onto the Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) or better still, his postman as to why he hadn’t received it.

Conclusion: These people are highly unpredictable and sometimes it’s really difficult not to lose your cool because these people might try to verbally attack you personally. A lot of the time, they’ll request to speak to the manager, but ultimately the easiest thing to do is to dissect the problem if it is a previous customer, and deal with it. If it’s a previous enquirer, I find myself trying to be smart with them. It’s probably bad for business, but if they role up with a bad attitude, would you genuinely even want their business?

THE MOTIVE-MINDER

General Description: These people are very easy to spot once you’ve been in the game for some time. They come into the office with an ulterior motive and it usually involves trying to get something for less than the price – or better still – for free. There are usually shady high jinks and red flags firing off around them, such as a fake passport. These people are always looking for handouts.

Example: I kid you not when I say I’ve seen a CRB application being completed where someone had to look at their own passport to write their signature.

On other excursions, people have actually come in to speak to my boss and ask for a reduced fee for certain courses. Additionally, as part of some courses, we also, give references for people who’ve trained with us and more often than not, ex-clients will ask us to lie for them. One woman wanted us to lie for her and state that she’d been working at a supervisory level. She’d already put it in her CV and submitted it, having assumed that we would lie for her. I really don’t know what she was thinking, but this was swiftly nipped in the bud.

On another occasion, a woman spent the entire day spilling her life story to my boss in order to get us to help her find work. We sent her for interviews which she failed and then she came back again for more help. Once again, our ties to her were swiftly eradicated.

I can always tell when this is happening nevertheless, because their tone is often hushed and my boss will frequently lose her temper and usher them from the office. I find it amusing sometimes because I’m a strong believer in karma. If you have to craft a serious lie to get somewhere, I’m sure it’ll bite you in the ass later on down the line.

Conclusion: It’s very rare that I deal with these people because they usually wish to speak to the manager, but I have had guy attempt to haggle with me. I’m quite no-nonsense about this nevertheless as I’ve never gotten anything for a “specially reduced price” in my life. If it’s thirty-five pounds, it’s thirty-five pounds! I’m not dropping anything to twenty just because someone’s supposedly skint and neither should you.

THE UNRELIABLE

General Description: I have the unfortunate role of dealing with funding. What this means is that we have access to funding so that customers can do certain courses for free as long as they meet a certain criteria. Of course, when something is free, people jump on it like wild animals. Everyone wants a piece, but when it gets too hard or it takes too long, they lose interest and this is because to these people, the value of “free” is worth about as much as fertiliser. It’s like gold for growing props and saving the future, but all it really is, is just shit.

95% of Unreliables are female. Why? Because the courses offered attract more females than anyone else. Sometimes their even paying customers who, like the Mouth, feel like the world revives around them and will schedule to come in one day and then not show up. These people won’t even call to let us know what’s up so we’ve booked the room and set it up for them, and low and behold, no trainee.

The non-paying clients (or clients that have qualified for funded course are worse) however because they don’t seem to understand that coming to classes is important and that they’re being monitored by the funders who have so graciously released money so that they can do the course. Now I understand that it may not be possible to come to every class – emergencies and illness happens – but these people generally take the biscuit. They don’t do their assignments. They disappear. No manner of telephone calls, emails or text messages seem to get through to them and then they materialise several months down the line demanding to know why they haven’t been contacted.

-facepalm-
Conclusion: If I had my own way, I would lock these people into a contract. Whenever I’ve done a course, I’ve had to sign something dictating my responsibilities as a student. TESOL demanded I attend 90% of the course or I fail. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of power and so I have to grin and bare it. What I do however, is keep a record of everything because if someone contacts me several months down the line, I regularly find myself telling them straight that there have been several attempts made to contact them, that they’ve missed classes (we keep attendance records) and that generally, it’s their own fault for not telling us they’d changed their contact details.

THE RANDOM

General Description: The name is as the name does. Randoms are the pinnacle of je ne sais quoi. Remember when I said that the Mouth was unpredictable? Well, Randoms are ten times worse because these people come in all shapes and sizes and while on occasion, you can spot one a mile off, others will appear to look relatively normal and these are the ones to watch.

Example: It isn’t uncommon to have someone come in off the street and ask for directions. Seems harmless enough, but when you’re in the middle of dealing with a customer and Mr. Random comes bounding in desperate to know where Northcote Road is, you start to question their sense of awareness because a) you’re not even paying for my time and b) you’re stepping in on someone who is. On a separate occasion, a man had a job interview and couldn’t find the location. My logic siren was roaring loudly at that point because I thought it was common knowledge that you research the hell out of a company before you head to an interview – address included.

I’ve had people come in and ask to borrow a pen. I’ve even had people come in asking to use the toilet despite the fact that there’s a Tesco not four blocks away from our office.

The kicker however, was the rather cheerful looking woman who came in one afternoon. She was dressed well and appeared to be seriously interested in dealing with us, until I realised that she had a rather overactive imagination and just would NOT stop talking. According to this woman, she’d been everywhere and done everything. In fact, she was so into herself that she didn’t even see me switch the forms she was filling out because there was no way in my right mind that I could have the company deal with this woman and she wasn’t in her right mind either.

Conclusion: Randoms are fairly harmless, although they might get a little antsy if you don’t submit to their whim straight away. Dependant on my mood or level of tolerance, I might indulge them, but if I feel that something isn’t right, I’m going to steer them clear of our services and point them elsewhere. You never know what to expect with these people and it really isn’t your job to be looking on Google Maps for directions when you’ve got actual work to be getting on with. An office isn’t a public toilet either.

THE WINDOW CLEANER

General Description: This person is right up there with the Randoms, only he’s got to have his own special category and yes, he is always male. The office I work in is inundated with posters in the window meaning that it’s difficult to see inside the building from the outside. I, therefore, expect that when I’ve forgotten to turn the lights on in the morning, we’re gonna get the odd person peering in through the window to see if anyone’s about.

The Window Cleaner goes that extra mile, however, and will press his face into the glass and linger there. And he will just stare at you like a stalker in the night – breath on glass included – and sometimes, like today, he will move between posters with innate purpose. The consensus seems to be:

a) seek window
b) move into window
c) position face
d) stare
e) remove face from glass
f) repeat.

And I’ll admit, initially, it used to freak me out, but I realise that if you indulge them, they will continually try to get your attention. So:

Conclusion: Don’t freak out. These people may not be generally all there, but 9 times out of 10, they don’t come in. If they do come in, and it’s clear their not all there, fob them off. If you fear for your life, call the police.

~

So this is just some of the things I face when I’m at work. I’ll admit that some of these are extraordinary cases, but they’re more common than I would like and they all seem to be specific to this area I’m afraid. The rules of business just don’t seem to exist here and I feel that if any of this took place in the city – at any corporate bank or skyscraper – the culprit would be financially reprimanded or escorted off the premises. If only I was so lucky.

What I can say, however, is that this has definitely made me stronger. In all of my other jobs combined, I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with quite a variety of people before and each situation presented something different.

I feel like I’ve become a bit more perceptive and a bit more aware as well so if you ever encounter someone difficult and they make you wish they would die, when you’ve managed to calm yourself down, think about it.

You’ll definitely be prepared for it next time.


*We do CRB/police checks. Enquire within for details. =D