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September 29, 2004

Working Again.......the joy

The smell was distinctive. A ready made vegetable soup drifted through the air. A clatter of plates in the backgroumd. It was twelve o'clock in this small office. This smell seemed to act as a prompt for others. For twelve o'clock was down pen's time, a rest bite for thirty minutes from the boredom of this office life. There were no shops to browse, no lunch room to reside in. Joy.

I last worked on January 15th this year. And now it was back to reality. In the few jobs I've had in the past, there have been some interesting times. The time I woke up at 4am, drove thirty miles in the snow, to a plastics factory. My skilled job was to pull apart pieces of plastic from an outer shell of plastic. It was'nt the mind numbingly plastic pulling that got to me. It was the people who worked in these places. I got crazy doing the job after five minutes. They had been doing the job for forty years and clearly, they were, without putting it mildly, zombies. How anyone could pull bit of plastic of other pits of plastic for forty years, was beyond me. But I stuck at it for for a week. If anything, it taught me, studying for your exams may be worth it after all.

I had been with my last company for five years. And now it was finally time to go somewhere different. After two months of 'leisure' time, in which I was 'recovering' from six months of travel, I finally plucked up the energy to go to the employment agency. And against my wishes, they phoned me.

Monday morning. Combined with the first day of school feeling couples with cripling road works, it did not get off to the best of starts. The company was a small family based one. The sort of company which spreads rumours and spreads marriage. The sort of company where everyone has been for fifty years sinmply because it is too homley to leave. And to make makes better, I was to sit with the I.T team. "Yeah, I know it's a bit sad, but I've been programming since the age of twelve". This was going to be a long week. This was followed by a number of computer code words, 'The three finger salute' being the favourite expression.

So I spent my first two days looking into space. I was setting up with p.c's which was fine. But part of this was watching a blue bar go from 0 to 100%. In twenty minutes. Never before had I been transfixed so much by the computer clock. It's amazing just how time can stand still when you look at clock for long enough.

At least there was half an hour for lunch. Maybe a walk across the industrial estate and a bananna for lunch. Now did I really say I was looking forward to routine again when I was travelling? Whoops.

September 23, 2004

Living life in the sloooowww lane

As I was walking along a leafy autumn street today I saw something unusual. I had given up trying to pass the one mile an hour grey haired man in front of me. He reached a drive way and stopped, a car was there waiting to pull out. Conforming to the old peoples conform act the elderly woman driver waved the man past. How kind. As he was half past, the car went forward, knocking into the surprised man. The old man demonstrated with a raised fist. The driver put her hand over her month as to say “oops”. Rule number one I learned that day. Don’t trust old people and clutches.

When you say ‘Bournemouth’ people say “Isn’t that where the old people live?”. When you say Southbourne, people should say “Isn’t that where the old people die?”. Twenty five percent of all people who live in Southbourne are over seventy five. The problem is we all know old people lie about their age. Twenty five percent have a limiting long term illness.

The problem is their slow way of life becomes your, slow way of life. I don’t know why they bother making cars with more than three gears here. You are lucky if you get out of second. It most towns if thirty miles an hour is the speed limit, they will drive at thirty five. Here if its thirty blood rushes to their heads if they go above twenty. But its just not driving behind someone that makes your life slow. Try stopping at traffic lights. Most people are down the road by the time the green man starts flashing. But in Bournemouth when the green man flashes that is what catches their attention, creeping across the road with a dark red shopping trolley in tow. If only my conscious allowed me to beep.

Driving will only make you stressed. Take to the bus instead. For some reason old people have to make it to the bus stop fully twenty minutes before the bus is due. As a result they form gangs, spreading small talk amongst their fellow peers. And then they ask their fellow bus goers “Has the bus come yet?”. If my conscious did not get the better of me I would say “Look blue hair, why, would we all be standing here if the bus had already come?”. Crisis over. The bus comes. Have you ever tried getting onto a bus with ten pensioners? Even though they have spent the last twenty minutes waiting after arriving ridiculously early, they leave it right to the time they get on the bus to find their bus pass. Even better, old people it seems, always have to pay the correct fair. It’s like a challenge to them. After all, they have to make sure the pennies they found on the floor don’t go to waste. Ten minutes after the bus has arrived the bus goes. Of course the bus driver cannot actually go until the last person sits down. If they accelerate before the person has been delivered into their seat, they will go flying.

Sit down and relax finally. Well actually no. Auntie Betty has decided to sit next to me. Her leg is uncomfortably positioned right next to mine. Her shopping bag is on my foot. The smell of old people is quite unique. They use perfumes that are not sold in the shops, simply unwanted Christmas presents that have been passed on. Their hair has been styled by Doris, the local hairdresser. Their clothes are normally navy blue or beige. And if like me you like over hearing conversations on buses, don’t bother. They talk absolute nonsense. Who cares if the number 22 route has changed from five years ago? Who cares if the butcher down the road is on holiday? Who cares if Mavis from Tuesday night Bingo has just had a hip replacement?

I dread the number twenty two route from Southbourne to Bournemouth. I can take most of the things that come with the route. But the main one is the ‘standing up for the old peoples rule’. Now this has never sat right with me, literally. When do old people become officially old? What happens if you offer your seat to someone and they become offended because they think you think they are old? And what happens if the whole bus like the twenty two is full of old people? Would I ever get seat? Even when I do get a seat I normally get blocked in by some shopping bag holding old lady who takes an eternity to get up when I need to get off for my stop. It has got to the point where I get up a stop early, just to avoid missing my stop.

A chance to relax, go to the shop. “Ahh yes you see, I have treated myself with the hobb nobbs”…….. “It is cold today isn’t it?”. There in front of me is an old person, trying their best to have a conversation with the poor shop keeper. They are completely oblivious to the large queue forming behind them. Then after the conversation to send anyone to sleep, the change comes out. Paying for your shopping in one and two pence’s is not illegal. Just highly annoying.

Be nice to your elders! You will be old one day. Now I don't believe you wanted to do that. Young man.

September 21, 2004

The way you speak

Until I travelled I did not fully appreciate how your accent could effect so many things. George Bernard Shaw famously stated in 'Pygmalion' in 1912 that "It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making someone hate them"

Take for example the American accent. It has been demonstrated many times on my travels that Canadians wear a maple leaf on their backpacks to demonstrate their origins. Quite simply I and many others cannot distinguish between the two accents. As a result the Canadians feel that they get better service and treatment just by wearing the flag of Canada. This remarkably has carried over to Americans that I have encountered. They admit that they too have sewed on the badge in an attempt to receive better treatment much to the bemusement of the Canadians. This is not just about international prejudice. It is when you are away from home and meet hoards of fellow English people that you realise the problem is even worse in your home country. It is simply amplified abroad.

They say first impressions are everything. Well it is certainly demonstrated by the first words we speak. Like it or not we have been brought up with misconceptions of people just by the way we talk. There are the obvious and well known examples. All people with a scouse accent must have a good sense of humour and be up to no good. All people with a geordie accent know how to have a good time but are from the lower class society. All southerners are cocky and think they are the best. All cockneys are involved in black market activity and are wide boys. The list goes on. It is something so inherent within our culture that it is difficult to avoid. Quite simply there is more than a north south divide.

A friend from Liverpool once went to live in Oxford. He had never lived in the South before. He went for numerous interviews but despite his good qualifications failed to convince the employers that he was right for the job. The next week he disguised his voice in the poshest tone he could. Two interviews later he had a job. To say his new employers were shocked when they heard his natural Liverpudlian tone the next day would be an understatement. Although this is a problem in Britain it happens all over the world. Different regional accents mean different things to different people.

Is it right to have pre judged views just from the way people speak? Using previous examples of what people have said I could define the following based on common misconceptions. All Japanese people stand in big groups and take photos. All Swedish people are very sexually active. All Germans have no sense of humour and are arrogant. All Americans are loud and dominating. All English people are up tight and reserved. The list goes on. My travels in the main have proved this to be incorrect. The funniest people I have met have been the Germans. Some of the most articulate and down to earth people have been American. Although it is difficult to judge a nation on a minority of travellers it is a start in taking away the barriers that exist. A Dutch girl once said to me "What is wrong with generalising people, if most people you meet are like that then what's wrong with stereo typing them?".

It is easy to play to these stereotypes simply by the way people speak. I have been guilty before but now I am wising up to the fact that everyone is unique in their own way. Where you come from does shape you but that what makes travelling and meeting people from different countries so interesting.

September 16, 2004

The low cost, high stress, airline

‘Tickets 1-60 to the right, 61-121 on the left’. Well that’s what the sign said. For a start the tickets were a piece of plastic, marked only with a number in felt tip pen. The sense of anticipation in the waiting room of terminal three was noticeable. The seats nearest the check in were already full despite the departure time being an hour away.

And then it started. An eagle eyed passenger spotted some movement from the check in staff. The rush began. A strange thing happened. Old people who for the most part looked weary and laden, suddenly became fifty metre sprint competitors. Little children who had been told to sit still for the last two hours were suddenly pulled along buy their parents. Bags were dragged along the floor. Small children were pulled along the floor. Even grandma Doris, was pulled along the floor. And there it was. A queue. Well sort of. It was more of a squashed pack of people, apologising occasionally for banging their suitcase into the poor old lady behind.

And then something happened. As in all occasions such as these someone thought they knew better than others. “Yes Margerate, tickets 1-60 need to go round the right hand side”. Like a series of Chinese whispers word got around. Slowly to very quickly a pack broke of and rushed to the right, forming a second opposing queue. “Families with children only please from the right queue” asked the check in lady. A huge series of tuts followed. “George I knew we should have stayed where we were”. Susan was clearly not happy with her husband’s decision making. A large and randomly bearded German man must have had his children packed in his equally large bag. He made it through despite the ‘how incredibly rude’ looks from the passengers around him.

And why all this stress? Its called low cost airlines. You see people go through all this just because they think they are getting a good deal. Well where do you start? Well you start by seeing an advert saying ‘Fly from London to Frankfurt for £2!!’. So you think, well you convince yourself, that must be a good deal. I mean it’s cheaper to get to Europe than down the road on the number 22 bus. But from the moment you book the ticket to the time you have come back from your destination your mind goes down through the gears, finally, after revving in first for a long time you consider, just maybe, it wasn’t worth it.

So two pounds. You can’t complain about two pounds. Well for a start it isn’t going to be two pounds. They add in three pounds in ‘fees’. What exactly these fees are for nobody knows. Ok maybe I can forgive the fees. But what about the six pounds ‘service charge’? What’s the difference between the two? And what ‘service’ have they given me? I'm insured for four pounds extra. What so if my flight does not go for some reason I’m insured against it? I think not. Add in the Government and airport tax and your two pound flight is now a forty pound flight. Well forty pounds still isn’t bad, is it?

It’s amazing these days how people can advertise things that, lets just say, stretch the truth. If I saw an advert for a day’s sightseeing in London, I would expect to see some famous landmarks, not a field somewhere in Luton. So when you book for a flight leaving from London you would expect somewhere near London, not somewhere sixty miles away. But hey, it’s cheap.

Flying is all about the show, the attractive air hostesses bring around the free food and drink. The random lottery that can sit you next to someone really interesting, or really strange. In the in-flight entertainment. So when you see that ‘how the hell did she get the job’ Tracy from Dagenham you start to think maybe, just maybe, this is not like a normal airline. The customer is always right. Or maybe not. The whole mentality has changed with low cost airlines. If the plane is delayed – it’s your fault because you pay for what you get. If the air hostess is not smiling, why should she. She is working on a budget airline and hey, you pay for what you get cheapskate. If you can’t get the seats with the extra legroom, well who gives a damn, if you wanted the extra leg room then pay the money!

But here is the best bit. When you land at an airport that takes double the amount of time to get to your required destination than the flight took to get across, then maybe you just start to think. Just maybe two pounds does sound expensive to me.

September 14, 2004


I've been to two weddings in the last month, one in Frankfurt and one in Northampton. There is something about these things that just don't sit right with me anymore. Maybe it's just because you know when you start to go to lots of weddings, you think, just maybe, you should be getting married yourself. It's like when couples have babies, their couples friends always think it must be a good idea as well.

But despite this warning bells I still like going to weddings. Sure I like to see my friends indulge in the best days of their lives. But weddings are fascinating. Weddings are very different depending on your gender. If you are a woman no doubt you would have spent the lastr two weeks looking for a new dress even though the ones you already have a just as good and no, threre is no chance of someone remebering if you have worn it to previous wedding. And then after they have spent a fortune on another pair of shoes they get up on the morning stupidly early to go to the stupidly expensive hairdressers. Only for it to rain. And besides, whats the point in having a nice haircut if you have to wear a hat. As a woman pnce said to me 'you will never understand'. I think she was right. And if you are a bloke? Just wear thew suit you wore for work that week and polish your shoes with a sock. Ready in five.

It's when you actually get to the church that you realise weddings are are social mis mash of people. It's amazing how many old people come out of the word work. But then again a wedding is the highlight of their year for them. Everyone stands in their groups. Well that it until the alcohol is brought out. It's amazing how a glass of champagne can cuase people to start blurbing out "So how do you know the bride?". But the best bit is when you have to meet all the brooms parents and brides parents before you sit down. Sure it's a great way of keeping out the gate crashers. "Err I went to school with him but hav'ent seen him for seven years" you would say. They of course could not admit that they did'nt recognise you..... "Ah yes, your errrm, the one one that used to come round our house". Once you get past this obstacle it's time to look fort the seating plans. The greatness of the table is normally determined by the amount of female names. And then time to sit baack and guess the long winded Pshycology of who sits at what table. You can only imgaine the conversations of "Yes but Aunt betty won't get on with Uncle Bob" followed by "Yes but Aunty Betty will feel bad if she is not sitting opposit the head table".

What's the best way to get on with people you don't know on your table? Drink. Yes drink. Don't only drink the wine, but snort the free champagne and make sure you have got at least five doubles by the time the free bar stops. And then what. Well thats it. You can never remember. You can't rememeber dancing. You cannot remember chatting up the bar maid and asking where she is from. Ten times. And you cannot remember signing guestbooks. Oh dear. But unlike going to a nightclub it all stops at twelve. Just at the height of you drunkness.

Weddings. Don't you just love them. Until it's your turn of course.


September 05, 2004

A text romance, with .................a CALL CENTRE

Whilst reading the Sunday papers, as I do, I came across a story that staggered me. A woman had spend over twenty thousand pounds in just a year on text messages. Ok, text messages that cost five pounds each, but still, that's a lot of text messages.

The woman had fell for this man after seeing and advert for 'Meeting a partner via your mobile phone'. She poured out her heart to this person she had never met, and amazing, never got his proper phone number from. It all came out when she threatened to kill herself, mainly due to the new mountains of debt she was getting herself into. Caused, by, the text messages.

To top it all off (thank God she did'nt), a lady from a call centre phone her and said it was all made up. There was no mystery man. Instead it was staff from an American call centre peretending to be her dream man. Using a database of information they could comunicate with her knowing all the facts they needed to know.

Stunning on both counts. Amazing that someone would actually spend so much money for a year without even speaking to this person. But more amazing that some unknown call centre staff could influence someone elses life in a 'Truman Show' manner.

Anway got to go, just got a text from Mandy, need to pop to the shop to top up my phone, don't know where it is all going these days.



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