Confessions of a shopgirl

October 31, 2012

I’ve always enjoyed working.  I’ve enjoyed nearly every job, or at least some aspect of it. My first proper part time job was Sunday morning at the newsagents in the small town where I grew up. I loved it. As with all my jobs, my sister had done it first and then I got the gig when she gave up. Having had her diligence and efficiency for a number of months (maybe years), the owner had no hesitation in disappearing after my very first hour and leaving me to get on with it. It was simple enough. People came in, chose their paper or asked for it from where it had been reserved in advance, got their cigarettes and I took the money. The till was a childhood joy. A proper pre-digital cash register. Loved it loved it.

And friends would come in for their cigarettes. Twenty Number 6 was probably the commonest request. They’d  cost 33p and my mate would give me 50p and I would give her change of about 30p so she got them at a discount. I feel bad even admitting it now, but sadly it is true.

The papers were laid out on a large flat counter which I stood behind. Magazines were on shelves on the other side of the shop, in front of me. All the classics were there. And a top shelf.

The townsfolk would come in and I would know most of them as it was a small town. I am twelve or thirteen.  It takes a few weeks for me to recognise the patterns. Firstly it is nearly always the men who come in for the paper. Women come for cigarettes and some do buy papers, but not often. Those buying a combination of the Sunday Times plus the News of the World would put the NoW hidden inside the Sunday Times so that no one could see it as they walked home. Those buying the NoW and The Sunday People  didn’t care who saw.

Then there were the various rituals. One of the men had his News of the World under his arm and said. “And another £2”. I was puzzled. “Sorry,” I asked, “What do you mean?” “Take for the News of the World and add another two pounds on because I owe it.” I still didn’t understand. “Is there a bill for it?” I asked, moving towards the huge book of money owing. “No,” he sighed resignedly, “It’s for a magazine” But I still didn’t get it. Didn’t understand he was trying to save both of us so I asked “Which magazine ?” Whereupon he pulled out Mayfair or Playboy, (I don’t remember I was so emabarrased at the enormous breasts)  so I could see the title name. I started to look for the price but I couldn’t see it. All I could see were enormous bosoms and the hugest nipples known to man.  Other customers were coming in to the shop and he was keen t get this over with. He said, “It’s £2. Here. Just take the money”. Which I did. I never questioned anyone again if they wanted to give me extra.

Then there were those coming in to pay for their newspaper deliveries. In those days, lots of people had newspapers delivered, and there was an enormous book with alphabetical tagging. Within each section were pages of yellow sheets perforated to make  tiny yellow tickets, each corresponding to a week. The customer would pay for however many weeks they were owing and I would carefully tear out the tiny tickets and give them as a receipt. Wonder if those books still exist. The only emabarrasment there was when people would ask to pay and I would have to ask them their name. If you come from a small town everybody expects everyone else to know their name.

And sometimes men would come in and say “There should be an envelope for me,” as if I was meant to know what that meant. But sure enough they’d point me in the direction of a grey plastic box, and there would be a small brown envelope with the customer’s name on. So I’d hand it over, none the wiser. And I never asked the owner. So it was that when I also started working on a Saturday occasionally, men would come in with a brown envelope and say “Give that to Mike for me.”  or “Put that in the box for Mike.”  Mike owned the shop. I would put it in same grey box and thought no more about it.  Until a few weeks later, when Mike had a word with me. “When the men bring in the envelopes you need to  write on it the time they brought it in.” I asked one of the women who worked in the shop what it was all about. Turns out that as there was no betting shop in our town, he would basically do it on the side. My not putting the time on the envelopes had meant that canny customers realised they could bet on races that had just run and he would be none the wiser as he only picked up all the envelopes at the end of the day -so he wouldn’t know they’d been placed after the results were in. I must have lost him a lot of money, but  he didnt make a fuss. And I realised I had unwittingly become an illegal bookie’s runner – another job to add to the CV.


 Another Ode, this time to my sister,  a connoisoeur of doggerel generated by the family.  I think she enjoyed it – she was in tears as is her usual emotional state when anyone says anything nice about her.

It is bizarre how non-tactile we are as family members. I am less likely to kiss her in greeting than an old work colleague. Even the children screamed with amazement the first time we did it (about 10 years ago). But it doesn’t mean we don’t care about each other. Just we weren’t brought up in a household that ever said ‘I love you’ or any other sentimental guff.

We had a turbulent relationship during our teens – she was out there, getting in to trouble with my parents whilst I was a few years behind and getting away with much much more. Oh what luck it is to be the younger child. But since we both left home and didn’t have to live together under the same roof we recognise each others strengths and rely on them. And get on really well.  So, of no interest to anyone who doesn’t know her no doubt, but herewith a tribute to my sibling.

Ode on the Occasion of Kate’s 50th Birthday

And so it is that we are gathered,

On this auspicious date

To celebrate with wine and food,

The youthfulness of Kate

For aging isn’t something

That Kate cares much to do

She gets fitter, better looking

Than she was at twenty two

In childhood she seemed older,

Taking care to be so good,

And organising friends and me

Into a cycling sisterhood

Being sensible was her hallmark,

So she couldn’t believe it when,

She saw the film Pollyanna twice and

The girl broke her leg AGAIN.

From Scotland then we moved toWales,

She went straight to grammar school,

Where slowly but undoubtedly she

Started to be cool

My friends would tell me wide eyed tales

Of my sister’s latest antic

Of boys with bikes or bus or truck

No wonder Mum was frantic.

And moving swiftly on from then,

She left home at seventeen,

A gap year then to Uni

Where her Dad and Nain had been

Although English was her subject

Her forte seems to be

Making friends who’ve lasted through the years

From both home and from Uni

And then the world of work did call

With Marconi her first job

From training into personnel,

Or HR, sorry Rob.

Her loyalty and diligence,

And increasing expertise

Ensured her working life was full

As she moved around with ease.

In her twenties and her thirties

She seemed to have it all,

Enjoying country life indeed

From Kent to Dunstaball

An endless round of social whirls

With friends both far and wide

They spent their time just having fun

And learning how to ride

And of course that’s something she still does

The only family member yet

To win not one but two great big

First place red rosettes

As teens she’d sometimes slap me

“Just because I can”,

But she’s been a rock to lean on

When the s*** has hit the fan.

As an aunt she has been perfect,

Giving time, and love (and gifts)

The children all adore her

(No I’m not taking the pi**)

You are loyal, you are caring

You put others before you,

You have insight, sensitivity

And you know what’s right to do

You are modest, self-effacing

Well organised and smart

And now you seem much more relaxed

Since someone stole your heart.

So now please raise your glasses

And let’s really celebrate

The wonderful woman that she is

My elder sister Kate

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I hate Halloween nowadays. I shall be locking the doors and turning the lights off in a churlish avoidance of answering the door. What is it with this banging on the door and demanding something nice or they’ll do something nasty? Trick or treating is  the equivalent of demanding money with menaces and people seem to think it’s cute. It’s not. For an old person living alone, opening the door to a bunch of masked teenagers is scary. And let’s be frank the effort made by the standard teenager in the dressing up department is minimal. It’s more along the lines of a bank robber or mugger than a vampire. Why the Hell should I give you anything? Putting on a Batman Mask does not constitute dressing up let alone be relevant to Halloween.

Then there are the small children in groups with their Mums hanging around and I think why are you teaching your kids it’s OK to believe that if someone isn’t nice to you you can throw an egg at their door? What life lesson is that?

What happened to the Halloweens we had as a child and ours had when small? Bobbing apples, dressing up and having a party at home with friends.  The U S of fucking A happened. That’s what. And we saw a chance to get a shed load of sweets from unsuspecting neighbours and took it. The supermarkets latched on and now we have a plethora of halloween-related paraphernalia that we are supposed to buy to ensure any sweets we do give away are specially wrapped for the event.

I didn’t let ours go trick or treating except I think I might have once when a friend was doing the Mum thing and taking them round. But she’d been round to the various neighbours in advance and asked if it was OK so she didn’t worry any of them or put them in a difficult position.

And it’s also caused the death of the penny for a Guy. No-one does that anymore – building a Guy and hawking it round asking for contributions. But not saying “But if you don’t give me a penny I’m going to do something horrible to you or your property” – Penny for the Guy was straightforward fundraising to buy the fireworks or sweets for bonfire night.

If, like Carol Singers or penny for the Guy -ers they came round and hoped for a donation because the effort they have been to was worth it I wouldn’t really have an issue. It’s the inclusion of the threat in the request that rankles with me. It’s so un-British. It’s not the way we do things. The giving of sweets or treats is a reward for the effort of dressing up, it’s not a right because it’s October 31st.

Chariots of Fire on stage

October 25, 2012

As we take our seats the athletes are warming up on stage in their Lycra. As the house lights dim the familiar strains of Van Gellis kick in and they start running around the revolving stage and the track that is made round the front rows and back of the stage. Men in in long white shorts and tee shirts join them and the Lycra clad athletes peel off leaving us in the 1920s. Suddenly we are at at Cambridge train station and Harold Abrahams is arriving for his first term. There are some wonderful set pieces of singing, running and dining evoking life at Cauis college. We meet Eric Liddell in the puritanical Scottish highlands and see more wonderful running. There is a marvellous hurdling scene with the champagne resting on the ends as the actor flies over repeatedly. These  boys have to be bloody fit with all the running and jumping they do.

The production is great and clever and fun. But the pace dips in the middle third. Luckily we all know how it goes thanks to the film, so we give them a bit of leeway and the second half picks up being the actual Olympics. Having had such a fantastic experience this year at London 2012 just seeing the five rings lifted spirits and basked us all in a warm glow. And then the races were run and the big sweeping music kicked in and we cheered him home.

Great idea for Olympic year and impressive multiskilled cast- acting, singing, running, playing instruments, choreographed moves, but not as emotionally engaging as the film. Which I am going to get off amazon and watch again! Three stars.

Hot desking

October 23, 2012

Some of the companies I consult to have introduced hot desking. I don’t just mean they have a few spare desks where visitors or field-based personnel can park when in the office, but the system where no-one has an allocated desk. At all.

Plus not only does one not have a desk to call one’s own, but there are not enough desks to go round if everyone in the team happens to be in on the same day. Personally I hate it.

I like having a space to call my own, leave my books and files and papers on it. Usually looks a mess, but I know where things are.

People say ‘Tidy desk, tidy mind’.

I say “Empty desk empty mind”.

Ideal for me is an office where I can close or open the door. That old fashioned way of saying ‘Do not disturb’, or ‘Welcome’.  But even an allocated desk in an open space allows for collecting important information in one place, ready to turn to at a moment’s notice. Not to mention personalisation – not something I do but others like their family pictures around them. And I have that luxury in my own office. But places I consult to frequently, it would be nice to know roughtly where I am meant to sit.

Then there’s knowing where to find someone. Without an allocated desk, you have to contact them first to find out where they are. Or wander over to the area you think they sit in and hope you can find them. Made impossible if you don’t know what they even look like as there are no names on desks any more. I always liked those name tags to help me remember who was who. No cheating now.

Hot desking is meant to engender cross functioonal collaboration, infomal talking, sitting next to colleagues one doesn’t routinely meet. But of course it doesn’t because lots of people don’t use it properly. And there are various forms of abuse I’ve noticed;

Top Ten Anti – Hot Desking Behaviours

  1. Always sit in exactly the same position so people get to realise this is ‘your’ desk
  2. Even if you are not in early, make sure your colleagues  know it is ‘your’ desk and politely suggest others don’t sit there, This is usually achieved with phrases like “I wouldn’t if I were you.” or “She always sits there”
  3. Get a special chair that only you can use and musn’t be adjusted for anyone else and put it in position at your favoured desk.
  4. Make the small meeting rooms your office by planting yourself in there for whole days or weeks at a time.which means that no one can find meeting rooms because they are filled with people making personal calls or internet shopping.
  5. Hide in different teams so that no one is able to find you
  6. Come in early, bag a desk space then bugger off to an all day meeting making sure you leave enough belongings around the desk space so no one can use it
  7. If on a communal table vibrate leg repeatedly so that the entire table vibrates with your incessant nervous twitch
  8. Spread all your papers across my bit of the desk without even asking.
  9. Don’t bother to report a broken phone or screen as you can sit somewhere else tomorrow
  10. Leave all your stuff all over the desk when you leave in the evening, marking your territory like cat spray.

I preferred the old way. I could walk in and immediately see if someone was in or not. Now it can take me ages wandering round the whole building looking for them if I don’t have their phone or they haven’t logged in to the internal office communicator system. But don’t get me started on that –  how people sign in and then manually change it to ‘busy’ or ‘away’ the whole bloody time……..another of my bugbears….. 🙂

I was out a few weeks ago with three mates who I have known for about twenty years. They are friends that I met through having children. We haven’t lived in each others pockets, but have constantly met throughout those years and seen each other at numerous events. We have marked occasions together, had dinner parties, barbeques, walks, picnics, coffees galore, seen shows, days out… the list goes on.

We had a lovely time . We chatted and laughed and talked about what we had been doing, and about our husbands and children. Against the national statistics we are all still married to the fathers of our children. And in fact I look around my local friends and find the vast majority are still together. Why is that? We aren’t a religious sub cult that can’t get divorced. But perhaps it is the luxury of having a local network of friends to share stresses and strains with over a coffee or a chablis that has helped us all  through the difficult times even without talking about those difficulties directly.

I’m not suggesting it is the counselling of friends that helps relationships, but simply the outlet of having friends to be able to take some time out with. To have a good time. To see beyond the relationship. To see others in their relationships. To see things are not always sweetness and light even in the seemingly most harmonious of households. And knowing that’s OK.

facebook has reconnected me with many people that I had lost touch with and it has been utterly wonderful to talk to them in cyberspace and in real life. Even those I had kept in some contact with are now closer than ever as we can easily write a line to each other or comment on a photo. Even this blog allows me to feel I am still maintaining contact with people albeit through this bizarre medium. But when someone mentions in passing that they read something on here,, it lifts my heart to know we are keeping in touch.

And it is when I am physically with longstanding friends that I realise the fact that we have so much history together is part and parcel of the binding. The memories of times past. Times when things went well, went badly or just went. Someone says something about a present situation and someone else remembers a previous time when something similar happened. And the re-living of those memories can be so gratifying – recharging and reminding us of great times we have had, or bad times we have been through and recovered from. When one is feeling low it can be a real boost to reminisce –  sometimes to remind us that actually things weren’t always as fabulous as rose-tinted spectacles would have us believe, and other times simply to re-enjoy fantastic moments and to cherish them even more with the benefit of time. And old friends can do that for us – be a present reminder of the history of our lives.

Here’s to all of you with love.

cooking Sunday roast and toasting friends!

I often have moments of reassessment. When I think – really? Is that normal behaviour? Is it acceptable to the rest of civilisation but not to me?

One of them is watching women put their make up on during their journey – be it tube, bus, car. Wherever. I would not consider applying makeup in public. I don’t know why, but it just seems a slightly intimate thing to be doing. Not to mention the fact that my hands wouldn’t keep everything steady enough to draw a decent line. I’d poke my eye out as the tube screeched to a halt.

God knows i need a makeup artist now

But I am amazed at these young women, and they have all been young, who settle down and proceed to get out an enormous bag of tricks. Usually a soft zippered bag containing numberous pens, pencils, eyeliners, brushes, foundation, mascara. God knows what. And they plaster it on. Oblivious to everyone around them. They trowel on concealer, slather  on foundation, usually get an enormous blusher brush and then proceed to add clown-like cheeks. Even more worrying for me is when they decide to highlight their decolletage with sparking bronzer or somesuch. Have you no shame?

let’s pucker up

Then the eyes get done – and I get worried about the jolts whilst they calmly stroke on layer after layer of mascara. And finally the lips. Sometime with those horrible dark pencilled outlines. And very finishing touch is the perfume.

But perhaps the bits that make me cringe the most are when they decide to do their hair. I really really do not want bits of your scalp  spraying round the carriage thank you. Let alone your hair flicking in to my face as you decisd to give it some va va voom by waving your head about.

I don’t know why I am so squeamish about it.  I realise it is probably an efficient use of time that would otherwise be spent reading or staring in to space. Although today  I saw someone put on antiperspirant by putting their hand down the neck of their dress before she started with the face. Yeuk. Couldn’t you just get up ten minutes earlier? Or do it in the cloakroom at work before you go in? Surely if you are bothering to put make up on at all it is to present this newly made up visage to the world, not the pasty, creased, lack lustre and slitty-eyed version you boarded the tube with. Or perhaps that new improved face is only for specific people. It can’t be for ‘you’ as you have already shown us, your fellow travellers, what you really look like. So the face must be for special others.

But the funny thing is I often think they looked better before they started. Or would look way better if they didn’t put so much on. But then I am aged and jealous of their youth and wish they understood how beautiful that virtually unadorned youth is.

Perhaps my rule of thumb is that things normally done in the bedroom or bathroom should stay private.God knows what I’ll do when someone decides to go that bit further and change her pantyliner.

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