Monday, 14 November 2011

Ding Dong, stressed woman calling

It just gone 6 o' clock on a Monday evening in November. It's pitch black already and just nine degrees above freezing. All I want to do is get some unattractive pyjamas on and sit with a duvet and a mug of turkish delight flavoured hot chocolate (my latest addiction) but that's not possible for at least a couple more hours, for soon I will have to go out on my round as a "lady" who sells brochure based cosmetics and perfumes.

I started working for this well known company- you know the one, they ring lots of doorbells- last month, in an attempt to raise some much needed Christmas money. So far I have earned £15 for myself, despite posting brochures through 180 doors. Anyone who thinks this is an easy gig is wrong.

Think of this kind of work, and you may think of perfectly turned out 1950's ladies in smashing blouses demonstrating their powders, cold creams and scents to an audience of gingham based housewives. This company has been running for decades, and while you can't deny that the products are indeed smashing, I'm sure my predecessors would feel that the standard of the "ladies" selling them these days have gone slightly orf. By the time I do my round, I've already done a day at work, picked my daughter up from school and started making dinner. By this point I am not so much Doris Day as Waynetta Slob, and caking my face in perfect make up is pretty low down on the agenda. It's probably no surprise, then, that the orders haven't exactly been flooding in yet.

Also, I think I need to accept the fact that I'm pretty rubbish at sales. I have lots of marketing ideas but when it comes to good, hard selling techniques I feel a bit awkward about it. According to the manual all new representatives are given, there are some tips you should use to enhance your sales. One of them is starting conversations with strangers at the bus stop; e.g "That's a very nice lipstick you're wearing, have you ever considered buying from us?" (at which point you whip out a pristine brochure, special offer booklet and a swiss army knife of mini lipsticks and tiny perfume bottles). This plan is flawed for two reasons. Firstly, where I live, starting conversations with strangers at bus stops is far more likely to result in a punch in the face than a lipstick sale. If you're very lucky you might get off with a funny look and some whispering, but it's very unlikely anyone's going to buy anything from you on our local bus services other than bargain priced crystal meth or rohypnol. Secondly,the last time I had to dig around my handbag at an impromptu moment I found the following: a pen with no lid; a sweet wrapper; a wrapper-less sweet; an unidentified black thing; several receipts; some yellow business cards (they weren't supposed to be yellow) and two expired vouchers. The idea of me whipping out anything pristine and sales inducing is pretty far fetched.

And I haven't even mentioned the customers yet. Some are of course lovely. But others have ranged from frosty to downright Antartic, despite my very polite "please just leave the book by the front door with a note if you'd rather not receive any more brochures" letter. I'll only knock if people haven't left their books out- partly because there's the vain hope that they may want to talk to me about an order, and partly because reps have to pay for them and I need them back if I'm going to be able to recycle them around 180 houses. As someone who despises pushy door to door sales people I'm very respectful of people's right to say no, but this doesn't seem to matter to some people, and I've had everything from mild huffing to very shouty "NEVER COME BACK AGAIN!!". In addition to the angry, shouty people, there are the countless ones who lose/recycle/blow their noses on the brochures despite the very clear, polite requests to leave them outside if not needed. And then there's the very nice lady who did make a £55 order, but paid me half of that in coppers.

Now it's getting darker, it's even more of a challenge. With most houses not having outside lights you have to rummage a bit to see if they've left the book by the door, and I am becoming increasingly aware that I could be easily mistaken for a burglar and hit over the head with a golf club or eaten by an angry dog. Last week I knocked on someone's door because they hadn't left their book out, and after much curtain twitching and the slow opening of a creaky door, a woman with one eye appeared , her good side flickering with blue light from the telly. Fortunately I was already shivering so much that she probably didn't notice me jump, but when she said "you frightened me to death knocking the door in the dark!" I nearly said "I frightened YOU to death? Hello!!", pointing at her one eye. Happily, I didn't.

I'm sure I'm not the only frazzled female who's doing this on top of a million other things and is far from the perfect painted ladies of the 1950's. I'll carry on for a few more weeks, but I'm pretty confident that this isn't going to be the way I make my millions. But I have got some very nice freebies, and if you want any doll's house sized perfumes, I'm your girl.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Who's that Trip Trapping Over my Twitter?

I can't claim to be either an expert, or a very high profile person, on Twitter- I've only been on for a few months and only have about 160 followers- but today my experience has stepped up a level and I feel compelled to write/rant about it. I have just been on the receiving end of a nasty little troll, which is something I thought was confined to Dom Jolly and other sometimes contentious Tweeters. I feel a bit like I've passed some kind of bizarre initiation ceremony now I've had my very own troll. Wonder if there's some kind of badge..

The reason for the trolling was that I "unfollowed" someone. I don't even remember how or when I started following in the first place, but, cursed with good manners and a need to please others, I've developed a silly habit of always "following back" when someone follows me. (This is starting to sound like organised stalking). This has proven to be a big mistake for two reasons- firstly, it's turned my Twitter account into another version of Facebook, and secondly people seem to get the right hump if you "unfollow" them.

One of the things I liked about Twitter at first was the anonymity that it can say whatever you like, and because you don't know a lot of the people on your list, you don't have to worry about getting funny looks the next day in the office/playground/ shop. I also liked the huge amount of people you can interact with, bounce ideas off and learn from, and the fact that you can choose whose comments fill your timeline. Every day I get to read the thoughts of 280 different people, ranging from the obligatory and brilliant Stephen Fry, to the Dalai Lama to the Big Ben Clock (who doesn't say anything other that Bong but is very helpful with letting you know how much of your day you've wasted staring at a computer screen). I love the variety, the fact you can keep up to date with what's going on in the world, and the probably immature and slightly ridiculous sense of satisfaction I get when someone off the telly replies to one of my tweets.

With Facebook there's an obligation to stay "friends" with people because most of the time you know them in real life; no matter how insanely, brain warpingly boring you find their comments about what mood they're in, what they've put on their toast, or how much ironing they have to do, it's very hard to delete someone from your friends list if there's a chance you'll have to face them the next day.  I have about 20 people I know in "real life" on Twitter, and about another 5 who I've grown to like so much that I forget we don't actually know each other, but the vast majority are people I never have, and never will, meet, so I thought it would be easy to disappear into the night. Or not. Apparently some people take it very personally if you do a runner, even if you'd never even recognise each other if you sat together on a bus.

Sometimes I "unfollow" by mistake, as I'm mostly using Twitter through my phone which is very temperamental and I'm a bit rubbish with technology. Sometimes I just do it because I find the things that some people say boring, annoying or offensive. Today was one of those days. This particular person had been filling my timeline for some time with increasingly offensive "jokes"- often involving violence towards, and humiliation of, women. Today he wrote about 9 tweets about what brand of chocolate he should use to stick up his (obviously imaginary) girlfriend's bottom. I'm far from prudish and love comedians who push boundaries and use satire. As someone who's followed, and defended, Chris Morris's work for years, I do "get" comedy that tackles difficult subjects and makes people feel uncomfortable. But Chris Morris he is not. Maybe I'm having an off day, but I just don't see the big joke in a "bitch" being anally raped by a chocolate bar. If this was real life I'd have given him a verbal what for, but this morning in Twitterville I just shook my head, tutted a bit and clicked "unfollow". Job done.

But here's the creepy bit.  Within a few minutes I had a very shouty, sweary comment from him asking who I thought I was. Apparently there's some kind of technology you can get that tells you when someone unfollows you, and who they are. This to me screams paranoia, self obsession and immaturity- who cares if someone takes you off their list? It's not like being dumped, get over it. I've been unfollowed a few times and although I did go a brief moment of "what did I do wrong?" it isn't exactly the ultimate rejection so I moved on pretty quickly. I write mostly about cooking, my love for Alan Partridge, current affairs and silly mistakes I make in daily life- this isn't going to suit everyone and I wouldn't expect it to. Mr Troll obviously wasn't able to be quite so sanguine about it and threw his toys not just out of the pram, but all over the nursery. Except with swearing and insults. Apparently I'm humourless, stuck up, stupid and frigid according to him and his team of little furry, wart ridden friends. Not sure what else has been said because now I've blocked him.

So, lessons learnt today:
1) in future, I'm only following back if people genuinely interest me
2) next time I unfollow, I'm blocking too.

If I do unfollow you, please don't cry/ jump off a building/ call me rude names- it might have been an accident. Or you might just be a really annoying, rude and unfunny blot on my Twitter who just needs to be a big boy and get over it. Now, where's my badge?.....

Monday, 17 October 2011

Tarantino Housewarming

Where I live at least, landlords who rent their properties via estate agents usually present their houses in a pretty good condition, often newly decorated and with new, or steam cleaned carpets. The property I moved into in 2000 was no exception, and although it was small, it was very well presented with gleaming (if magnolia can be gleaming??) walls and perfectly fresh minty green carpets throughout.
We had a few friends round, all offering housewarming presents of varying degrees of alcohol content- brandy, vodka, beer and wine. The wine was the problem, for I realised at 10pm that night when presented with another bottle of wine that there was no corkscrew in the house- not packed away in a box or at the bottom of a disorganised cutlery tray- as a 90's ladette I was a confirmed beer drinker, and had therefore never had need for one. The late 90s for me were spent drinking men under the table, swigging beer out of bottles and pretending to smoke. The idea of a corkscrew had never entered my head until that Saturday night, before the days of screw cap wine and 24 hour supermarkets.
My friend Sarah, who had brought the wine with her, was obviously more sophisticated than me and very keen to get into the first bottle of rioja. Without the luxury of a corkscrew, and never one to be beaten, I decided there must be another way to crack it open so collected a selection of implements- pen knife, meat  skewer, kitchen knife, scissors- and lay them out on the side of the sofa like a surgeon about to conduct a very haphazzard and probably illegal operation. Why I thought the living room was a more sensible place than the kitchen is unknown, but I did, and determinedly began poking and prodding in an attempt to remove the cork. The pen knife was too small, the kitchen knife nearly resulted in the loss of my leg and the scissors were too fiddly (this was turning into an alcoholic version of Goldilocks) so I moved on to the meat skewer. By this time the cork was obviously starting to feel the effects of the poking, and the final stab was one step too far.

A slightly less gruesome version of what my front room looked like   

Before I could poke any further, the cork gave in and the wine exploded, with me sitting on the sofa covered in red wine from head to toe. It was all over my hair, my clothes, the sofa, and the wall. The newly painted magnolia wall. After the initial shock, then hysterical laughter of everyone else, I got up to see the wall and ceiling looked like a scene from a Tarantino film- blood red wine, flecked with lumps of brain matter-esque cork was splattered across the previously immaculate surfaces, with a clear magnolia stencil of the woman who had been sitting there minutes before. That scene in Pulp Fiction where Marvin's head gets blown off in the back of the car? This was it, but with wine instead of blood. As it turns out, red wine is just as difficult to remove from paint as blood, and several paint jobs later it was still visible when the light was on. We never did get our deposit back on that place.


Monday, 3 October 2011

I bet Michelle Obama has got a hand whisk

The disastrous baking episodes are still alluding me at the moment, and I made Rosie a more than passable birthday cake this year. It's starting to anger me slightly now.

Go from this..
When I say passable, I mean not disgusting, I'm under no illusion that I'm suddenly going to be crowned Queen Baker at the W.I, but I realise I must try harder these days to create disasters so will be attempting something meringuey this week. If that doesn't work it's all over. this...

If you've ever tried to whip cream using just a hand whisk you will appreciate that it takes a REALLY long time. Every time I' ve ever done it, I've nearly given up after about 10 minutes, but suddenly something miraculous happens and the previously runny liquid turns as if by magic into the holy grail that is described as "soft peaks". The other day, I was whisking the cream that was going to sandwich together the chocolate birthday cake and truly nearly lost the will to live.. After 8 minutes I had sweat starting to melt my upper lip and it still looked the same as it had when I opened the pot. It hurt. 9 minutes in, I was calling both the cream and the whisk very rude names.

Then I caught sight of my right arm, which, muscles flexed, looked really quite impressive. I liked it. Suddenly the pain became good pain, and as the soft peaks spectacularly and magestically appeared I wanted to start all over again- this time with my left arm. Soon discovered that, not being ambidextrous, the left arm would need a bit more practice as there was cream everywhere except in the bowl.

Later, I was left with not only a not disgusting cake but a pleasant, self satisfied "exercise ache" in my arms- the kind of ache that can make you feel quite smug, and allow you to convince yourself you're allowed a bar of chocolate because you went through the pain barrier earlier that day.

..with one of these
It made me realise that proper baking is probably really good exercise. All that wisking, kneading, stirring and folding is a real work out on the arms, and when you add the heat of a kitchen on a summery day I'm sure it's on a level with a zumba class for cardivascular exercise. My nan did lots of baking, and maintained a good pair of bingo-wing free arms well into her 70's- and when you think of round, flour faced grannies in aprons they're nearly always solid looking- huge, yes, but flabby? Not usually. So it got me thinking- who needs to spend money on expensive gym memberships when you could probably do just as well making a couple of cakes every day (as long as you get someone else to eat them). I think I might just set up my own little "gym" in my kitchen, and charge people £30 a month to join in. Even if the majority of my client's bodies may remain rotund, they'll end up rivalling Mrs O on the arm front.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A (Molly) Coddled Egg is a tasty egg

I have recently purchased a pair of egg coddlers. Three weeks ago, I didn't even know what such an object was, but have jumped on the Vintage band wagon and started collecting mismatched cups and saucers, for making jellies and housing small plants. Ironically, I've recently got the living room looking quite themed and now I'm going for completely uncoordinated stuff (think it's a rebellion against uniformity or something). Anyway, heard that all the chicest vintage tea party eggs are cooked in coddlers these days, so decided to get one and try it out. Apparently they've been around since the 1800s, and the principle is similar to poaching- just in pretty little porcelain pots with silver tops.

The word "coddle" has been around since about 1598 and means "to boil gently", and this then led to the term "mollycoddle"- which means "to treat with an obsessive and absurd degree of indulgence and attention". Dictionary definitions of a mollycoddled individual have included "sissy", "pampered weakling" and "pathetic, ineffectual man" (Watch out Stephen Fry, I can do old fashioned words too). As a mother I have to suppress my quite strong urge to mollycoddle my child, but I figured that as an egg was going to be eaten anyway it didn't matter if it became a bit of a pathetic weakling, unable to live in the big wide world. At last I could totally smother something without the fear of it being bullied at school the next day.  

Anyway, here's how you coddle an egg. It's very easy, quite delicious, and makes you feel a little bit like a proper cook from the past. 

  • Boil some water in a pan
  • Butter the inside of the coddler and the inside of the lid 
  • Break the egg into the cup and season. You can also add other ingredients like cheese and bacon, which will come out in a little eggy parcel.
  • Screw the lid on and stand the coddler upright, with the water level halfway up.
  • Simmer for about 5 mins. 
  • You can eat them straight from the coddler with a spoon or arrange them artistically on top of something savoury

    Oh.. apparently there's this thing called Health and Safety that means I should tell people not to put the coddler WITH ITS METAL LID in the microwave...but you wouldn't do that anyway would you? Nope, thought not.

    You can buy coddlers in antique shops, car boots or on that online auction site I'm not allowed to mention. Mine cost 99p for the pair and are allegedly antiques (I would get them checked out but am a bit worried I'll be laughed out of the shop- they look a bit 70's to me). I think they taste better than poached, and they don't take any more time, so if you like eggs, and have an urge to obsess over something, my advice is give it a go.

    Saturday, 24 September 2011

    A Nightmare on Cambridge Street

    Ever tried to give eye ointment to a kitten? If you like impossible challenges and stomach churning gore, it may be for you. If not, don't even think about it.

    Three days ago, Lily, our four month old kitten, appeared on my lap looking like she was auditioning for a horror film, with a grotesquely swollen, bloody right eye. I won't go into details here because people will have come on thinking they're about to read something about food, but it was enough to take her immediately to the vets. He thought it was probably an infection, gave her a jab and administered some ointment. This would have been fine but I had to witness him poking, prodding, and pointing out to me what was going on inside the eye, which was one of the most repulsive things I have ever seen in my entire life. I don't do eyes.

    Despite all the probing and bunging stuff into her injured eyeball, she just sat calmly in his arms and let him do it, as he explained that we had to do the same at home twice a day. I later came to the conclusion that vets are hypnotists, and normal human beings cannot successfully give eye ointment to cats. Even with two of you, the only place that ointment is going is all over yourselves, the furniture, and possibly the ceiling. I can't say I blame her; being held down while someone pokes a plastic nozzle milimetres away from your painful eyeball cannot be a pleasant experience, but each time we tried we were beaten by her iron will and ended up shredded and desperate. By the fourth attenpt she took to hiding under the stairs for an hour, with a big lump of medicine hanging off her nose. Next day we went back to the vets and again he managed it without the slightest bit of hassle.

    The key here is clearly don't panic. I've had loads of pets over the years and spent probably thousands on pet medical bills and insurance, and have never once seen a stressed looking vet. Everyone I've ever encountered has been an oasis of calm, with an added dollop of "don't mess with me, cat". We've since attempted to take the same approach, swaddling her in a towel and just calmly, assertively going for it. She's getting better.

    But I'm still never going to be able to look at an eyeball ever again.

    Tuesday, 20 September 2011

    A serious post for a change- No Child Born to Die

     Thanks to my friend and fellow blogger, WelshWalesMam, I've just been on the Save the Children Website to read about their new campaign,  No Child Born to Die. Every year, 8 million children under 5 in the world's poorest countries die because of they do not have access to healthcare. I know it can seem like we are bombarded with such stories and in times of financial pressure it's easy to become de sensitised- but just think about that for a moment. No matter how bad things get for us here, we still have access to healthcare for us and our children. For those born into poverty, that basic right is not available.  
    My story..
    At age 6 I started coming home from school with different shaped and coloured bruises on my head. Upon further investigation it transpired that I was blacking out;  running along fine one minute, then going into a dream state and tripping up the next. Some days I’d be out cold for 10 minutes before coming to in the middle of the playground, dazed and confused. It was slightly alarming that nobody had paid any attention to my strange behaviour and egg shaped lumps on my head before, but this was the late 1970s and Health and Safety wasn’t so high on the agenda.

    Several trips to the hospital for brain scans (complete with sticky wires all over my head, connected to a beeping machine) later I was diagnosed with epilepsy by a paediatrician who always made my visits to the children’s ward fun- he’d put by toys and books especially for me, and even put on little puppet shows to make me laugh.  If this had remained undiagnosed, I could have been hit by a car, drowned in the bath, fallen off a climbing frame..  it’s quite possible that this doctor saved my little life. Had I been born in another country, I may not have been so lucky. My little girl is off school with a bug at the moment, but I can dose her up with Calpol and I know she'll be better in a couple of days- if we lived in East Africa, it could kill her. No mother should have to live with that constant fear.

    Here’s what you can do to help:

    2.       Help @Helloitgemma and @Michelletwinmum get 100 blog posts up by Tuesday 20th September by telling your friends, retweeting and sharing.. blog posts just need to be 100 words about the positive impact a health professional has had on you or a member of your family.

    Thanks to @welshwalesmam for sharing this with me.