Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Up Town

The only difference between me and real commuters is that I don’t have a DS lite – apart from that I’m as good as. But there again I don’t have a part share of a caravan at cleavleys either – should that matter? Not sure.

As my usual form of transport is solitary, and apart from Libby Purvis and her guests, without conversation, it was a shock to be reminded how many people hold telephone calls on the train of a morning. The lady I am next to is discussing with a girlfriend/female relative a forthcoming girls weekend to Amsterdam – No men allowed it’s just the girls. The key points were that they was coming back on Monday night and Nadine wasn’t getting herself a hotel room she’d just be bunkin’ down with one of yous lot. This point was made so often I think the woman may have had Nadine is bunkin’ down with yous lot tourettes. I really wanted to ask her why Nadine wasn’t getting her own room, and whether the other girls were ok about her bunkin’ down. They were being informed rather than asked. Anyway Fabien was out of the office today so she’d be busy – that’s all I can tell you.

On the other side of the carriage I had a far more business like conversation, one I felt sure if only she’d ask I’d be able to offer both fortitude, direction and solace. This was definitely a case of corporate mishap or unfair consequences. If she’d only let me have a word, my years of dealing with complicated case work could have been called upon……

Then from behind I hear ‘Well Nan, at the end of the day it’s your home you decide who comes in it.’ A very camp voice went into detail about how he is with his kids compared to the other relative under discussion’s slack ways. When we get off the train I see he’s wearing girl’s cut jeans – really standards have gone down since I was last a commuter! And you still can’t reserve seats. It’s all a bit of a lucky dip re who’ll you’ll get, mad or sane, clean or grubby, guardian or express reader.

So I get to Olympia. My conference is sharing the day with infosecurity 2008 which sees lots of people who look like retired bouncers getting out of cabs with small suitcases on wheels. It must be a fashion thing. This is Kensington after all!

I was just having my third mini cinnamon swirl when it dawned on me that I may have to speak to people. Now I don’t generally like having to speak to people I don’t know, especially if they have polyester suits and the afore mentioned little cases on wheels and hail from a part of the country where it’s more usual to make small talk. Id forgotten that……… actually these mini pan aux chocolate are quite tasty too!

Another key part of conference etiquette is a casual checking of the delegate list. Always good to know who else is coming from one’s own place. I spotted one who I’d be happy to spend the day chatting to should I run in to her so that wasn’t all bad. I didn’t recognise any other names from other places but then again this conference isn’t with regard to my primary function or usual disciplines.

It is still early, and there are currently 8 of us sat at 8 cafĂ© style tables (like ordinary tables but with a cloth on). The tension is palpable – at some point soon we are going to have to share! Sakes alive!

I start to consider a possible alias and imagine back stories. Then I catch the whopping great name badge around my neck glinting in the fluorescent light. Name rank and number - it’s all on show. Oh no, someone has just joined my table – panic – what to do? I’m British I’m not designed to chat. I suppose I needn’t look up, not compulsory I suppose. But what happens if they address me first? I’ll just have to deal with that if and when it happens.

Oh no – he’s eating with his mouth open, now I feel sick. One of the worst experiences in the world is the sound of another person masticating. What is it with people eating with their mouth open – do they think it will get them girls?

I’m reminded of my trip to the highlands ‘do you have much heather in Switzerland?’ I wrote a diary everywhere I went (god now he’s slurping his coffee – where are the police when you need them?). Writing is a good ploy – keeps you busy in alone situations whilst also keeping a tip top record of ones endeavours. Just the thing when you don’t want to appear good prey for conversationalists.

A lady seeks tea – she is listing a range of herbal teas – the server’s face is blank throughout. Her friend says ‘shall we just have proper tea?’ the server’s button has just been pressed, and they come to life ‘Two teas is it?’

I leave to check my coat in. I was trying to think who the coat check lady reminded me of so I could say something funny about her, but nothing.

There’s obviously been a run on the large font conference packs. The girl has just been round checking our sizes. She had a look of a startled deer, so I imagine there must be a visually impaired delegate at reception hungry for a larger font, and the girl has gone and given it willy (excuse the French) nilly to a non V.I delegate.

A very loud woman ‘No I wanted a cloakroom to go to the toilet not one to put my coat in’ appears. Big hair, big sunglasses, dog eared coat, in fact I think our old dog (St Jennifer) slept on its identical twin.

The sofa I am sat on is so low. I’m worried my worldlies which are now, since checking in my coat, residing in my trouser pockets, may slip out. I nearly slipped into small talk, but I held back. Two ladies did a ‘can we park are you bothered?’ style on the end of my sofa. They said to each other ‘gosh this is low!’ I nearly said ‘yes it is quite low isn’t it’ but I wasn’t ready to take the leap. Before you know where you are you’re looking at pictures of their kiddies and agreeing to send them postcards next time you get over to Ipsos or any of the Aegean, Peloponnese ….

Dog eared coat lady is back asking where her party have gone. ‘Black guy in a wheelchair, white guy with a stick; well where could they have gone?’ in a ‘what do I pay my taxes for’ style.

I’ve just had a banana – they probably think I have fruit all the time, and have an organic box delivery service. I can’t say it hasn’t crossed my mind, it’s just I can’t always think of something creative to do with celeriac.

Time to go in. Thank god I hear you say!

Who’d have thought waiting for a conference to start could be quite so perilous.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Gurlz just wanna have fun or how to eat ham in a headscarf

I've always thought Una Stubbs a little scary. Benevolent in a face powder comfort way, but on the brink of revealing herself as an automaton suicide bomber. Anyway that sort of thing.

But I was put right the other day courtesy of dear, dear Julia McKenzie who did the most scary 'a life in the day of' at the back of the Sunday times mag (I don't take it personally re being allergic to Rupert Murdoch, but I do sometimes glance over a neighbour's shoulder.)

Now perhaps like me you were always quite warm to Julia in an oak table and Aga sort of way. But be warned she is not to be messed with and thoroughly dangerous. Here for your safety and education I reproduce snippets of the evidence. Please don't show this to children, especially if they are not yours, and please don't share with any invalids currently receiving treatment in an NHS hospital. I most certainly don't want to be responsible for any ulcerous flare ups!

It was all very 'I don't wear make up in the country, but I do enjoy a slice of ham. I wear a headscarf in Waitrose, I'm not for being recognised'.

Here are some actual gems.

'I have several cups of tea. Then I shower and get into a pair of jeans and a white poplin shirt, my uniform. If a fairy granted me a wish it would be the ability to put an outfit together. I do try, but the result is not good. My friend Una Stubbs, who’s very crisp, tells me what I should and shouldn’t wear. She’s the most fashionable person I know.'

'If I’m going to Waitrose, I put on reading glasses and a brown woolly hat. I’m really not to be seen.'

'If I’m going to be away working I make vats of soup for Jerry’s lunch out of guilt. But I do love the days I come up to London. I wear different clothes, mainly black, and put a little make-up on.'

'I love my Aga. The trick is, knock your repertoire down to six recipes and don’t venture. And I do like a good spring-clean. Chaos makes me nervous.'

'I’m not really a country person. I’m set at town speed.'

'And we’ve got a terribly active village hall, where we have pub nights. We’ve got a licence and someone will start passing round something they’ve cooked, and it’s all very nice. Amateur dramatics, on the other hand, presents a line that should never be crossed.'

'We always eat unsociably early, around 6 o’clock, because Mother’s digestion isn’t what it was.'

And so on and so forth. Fantastic but not quite right. She probably had to take a lot of strong pills in the 70's when everyone's parents lived on gin and tonic, and had sheepskin car coats. That's what I put it all down to anyway.

But the thing is I'm worried that I don't always get the ladies, so it is possible that I may be reading Julia all wrong. It has certainly been suggested recently that I may not be suited to managing women of a certain age. Now I took this as quite an affront, but let's not delve too deeply for legal reasons. However it did make me review my approach.

I'm all for making the most of any potential learning curve, so I took my query to the local lending library where I was confident I would be furnished with the necessary advice and guidance.

Unfortunately I was thrown asunder on my way there. I needed to buy a greetings card (so sorry to hear your gout is weeping) and experienced the following in my local Birthdays.

The woman in the shop was on the phone to the girl who had not come in. Bear in mind this is 11 am.

Woman: Are you coming in today?
Girl: (gleaned) No I ain't got no money.
Woman: well you still have to come to work, you have a commitment to your work place.
Girl:(gleaned) whatever - I ain't got no money, sumfin 'bout mi Gran.
Woman: well will you be coming in tomorrow, cos I'll need to get someone to cover if not.
Girl: (gleaned) Nah I can't be bovered.
Woman: well you'll have to ring Clare and tell her you're not coming in.

All this excitement enabled all the old dears (advanced ladies) in the shop to gather round the till and do a 'in my day you dragged yourself in even if your eyes were bleedin'. One old dear asked of the woman 'is she a young girl? Yes well they don't have no sticking power' I don't think she was concerned about her double negative usage; It wasn't high on her list (under the radar).

When I got to the till, it took a while as everyone else in the shop had quite a low IQ, the woman said to me something about the girl in a 'I really do want to carry on talking about this and getting all the customers involved and debating the values of employment in this modern day throw away society' sort of stylee. I said to her, 'well at least it gives you a wonderful opportunity to say 'you just can't get the staff these days' which I took to be very funny, and a great opportunity to roll out one of my old standards.

She didn't really see it quite the same and ended up trying to over charge me by 10 pence (new) in the confusion.

As you can imagine I was even further off kilter re the employment of women so I was very grateful to Hilda, my local deputy assistant reference librarian who was able to supply me with some tip top guidance on ladies in the workplace.

We found the following tips from the July 1943 issue of Transportation Magazine.
  1. Pick young married women. They usually have more of a sense of responsibility than their unmarried sisters, they're less likely to be flirtatious, they need the work or they wouldn't be doing it, they still have the pep and interest tom work hard and to deal with the public efficiently.
  2. General experience indicates that "husky girls those who are just a little n the heavy side - are more even tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.
  3. Give very girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. You have to make some allowances for feminine psychology. A girl has more confidence and is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.
  4. Stress at the outset the importance of time, the fact that a minute or two lost here and there makes serious inroads on schedules. Until this point is gotten across, service is likely to be slowed up.

Well you can imagine what a boon these were. Although I had always been led to believe that the way to a woman's heart was through a nice pin cushion.

I think however my new policy will be to only communicate via mime - I think it might be for the best.

So there you go

All the best from the west.