Category Archives: modern living

Ageing gracefully

There is a lady who catches the same bus as me most mornings now. It sounds cruel but if one were to describe her, you are likely to use the words ‘drab’ or ‘stodgy’. Her hair is regularly coloured and clipped, but lank and limp. She’s picked up a few kilos over time and tries to hide this with dark coloured shapeless long skirts, blouses and jackets. She walks like someone who struggles a bit with her health.

If she was a bit richer or vainer, she’d probably get hair extensions and blow dries, structured designer clothing and maybe a personal trainer who would shape up her figure and add a bit more vim to her walk. If she had more natural flair (like my beloved blogger friend, Footloose) she’d just exude flair irrespective of what she was wearing. She’d give off a sense of vitality and energy. As it is, everything just seems a little bit run down for her.

My mother used to be very vain. Even when there was very little money while I was growing up she somehow found petty cash to perm and colour her hair. As she got older, she got a bit more indifferent to exactly how good her hair looked. (To be fair, she has pointed out once it thins to a certain point, it’s optimism and nothing else that will allow you to do anything with it). She’s also thrown out dressy in favour of comfy. The woman who would wear skirts so short and tight she couldn’t sit now believes stretchy pants are the way forward.

Some people never seem to cross that line between image and comfort. Some slide oh, so easily over it, even in youth.

I’m wondering which way I’d go?

It’s hard to say when elements like health, wealth and time must obviously feature in a massive way on this, unless your ego is so massive it overwhelms all of these external factors.

 

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All Change

I was standing on the platform last Friday, waiting for a train. The notice board tiresomely said ‘next train not in service’. Which seems to happen a lot on that line. It’s like at that junction point they remove a third of the trains from service because they think there is a lesser population stupid enough to go northwards to nowhere.

Which is sort of true except an INSANE number of people, including myself, want to go one stop north and we want to get out the barriers as soon as possible which is at the front of the train. So I shuffled to the head of the track and tried to position myself near where an entering door might ultimately stop. This was not helped by the fact that, as usual, what are usually young east European or Asian (see ‘Indian’ if you are South African) women – not to generalise of course – tend to quite aggressively calculate where the space is and then park DIRECTLY in front of it. So they bump backwards into you when a train stops and people have to get off to let them on. They stand as close to the edge as is possible without you pushing them onto the track and elbow outwards with their oversized tote bags to maximise surface area (of very skinny girl) in front of the doorway. There was one there on Friday.

The station master was getting quite fed up with staring across a cold platform at what were clearly, to him, mentally deficient people. ‘The train on Platform 2 is terminating here. Do NOT get on the train. It stops here. If you don’t want to listen to me, at least try observe and notice that when everyone gets off, you should not get on because the train won’t go anywhere.’ And when it pulled in, ‘To the people ON the train, get off the train. This train terminates here. Follow the other people who already got off.’

So the train departed and the top end of the platform crowded up with all the idiots like me trying to get on a carriage near the exit on the next stop, bunched up together like penguins in a polar gale keeping warm.

‘There are two minutes until the next train, I’d advise all of you squashed up at the top to move down the platform. You have a better chance of boarding if you move down the platform. The train after the next train is not in service and this next train will be full. You have a MUCH better chance of getting onto this next train if you move now. You have two minutes and you have legs, I’d advise you to use them and move down while there is still time… or you can just stay where you are and ignore me.’ (Obviously we were ignoring him.) In all fairness, he had guessed right, the next train WAS full and it WAS very hard for people to get on. I was just lucky to be hot on the heels of the crazy chick as I’d actually been on the platform before her and before most of the crowd of people.

Oddly enough I seemed to be the only person on the platform who was amused by the conductor’s sarcastic personality. The rest of them didn’t seem insulted either. They all seemed to be deaf to what he was saying. So maybe he was onto something when he questioned our general listening capability and/or understanding of English?

 

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Homeless

Homelessness is a growing problem. What with refugees and economic migrants escaping into ‘safe’ countries then falling through cracks, ex-military staff, people escaping abuse, drug addicts, the list goes on and so does the list of homeless.

I once thought if I was ever about to become homeless I would use the last of my savings to buy a ticket to somewhere permanently warm and verdant, like the north of Brazil. Where I would require less clothes to sleep on a beach and be able to poach coconuts from neighbouring trees.

Apparently there is a growing list of people who may hold jobs but still not be legally living in sheltered accommodation and paying rent. Difficult conditions, especially in the northern hemisphere where, this weekend for example, the sun shone gloriously and the frost sparkled underfoot as we ran through the park. But sitting freezing in the park overnight… that may be a different story.

This weekend I got on a train and immediately thought, I need to move seats. But unfortunately, have been in Britain just long enough, my blunt SA self would not kick in to allow me to very obviously get up and move half a carriage down from a man passed out face down across two seats. He smelled vaguely of sick and someone who had not properly been (literally) face to face with hot water and soap for awhile.

What was worse was when he finally got up and started scrabbling around in his bag. We all pretended we couldn’t see him. As much as it is no doubt terrible to be stared at, perhaps it is worse when people act like there is an invisible black hole around you.

He was scrabbling for a cigarette and succeeded in lighting up a stub of very ‘fragrant’ tobacco, causing a bunch of us to choke. Still we said nothing although we all stared at each other shifty eyed. None of us looked at the Problem however. You could see us thinking, ‘Maybe he will go away soon? What if he gets violent if I ask him to stop? Is someone else going to do something?’.

In the end the Problem resolved itself in that the stub only had a few drags in it and Mr Man stumbled off the train shortly after.

But I felt embarrassed how I had handled the Condition of Being Alive. The same way I am slightly embarrassed and irritated that, after texting a man to donate to him quite a good oil heater and having someone meet him to hand it on (it’s very hard to donate electrics in the UK, they need to be safety checked and ‘normal’ people have gas/central heating with no need for oil heaters), he, who is on some dodgy verge of being homeless, although has somewhere to plug this heater in, promptly bombarded me with requests if, please, Sister Juliet (that is NOT me but the person who put me in touch with him), I had blankets and warm clothing to help him out. On top of my work place looking for help for Syria.

I have more coats than I really need. And I can say I worked hard to have them, therefore deserve them. I have enough food in my belly. I could drop a few coins a few times into a number of hats that may or may not convert to food or drink. But where does it end?Others would say, there, but for the grace of God, it could be me so should I not be sharing them? As my eyes slide over that space where ‘invisible’ lurks…

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Crush ’em

The Pokemon-go thing seems to have calmed. There have been less incidences of my being run over by random hipsters standing in spastic clusters pointing from their phone to spaces of air on the roadside. Funny how quickly some trends blow over. I thought it would last at least as long as those terrible little elastic bands loom band things that even the British Royals were seen wearing at some point. (No doubt gifted by some little child at a function instead of a more easily disposed of posy.)

One trend that still seems to be going strong is Candy Crush, more than two years on. I’m not going to lie, I play it sometimes on the train as it doesn’t take a lot of brain and uses up time when I’m too tired to read or have nothing to read. (I’ve also been stuck on the same level for weeks now so the allure is paling.)

I tend to try not to let people I know know I have it on my phone though. It’s like admitting to frequenting those dodgy no name brand fried chicken shops they have here, picking your nose, shopping at Ackermans and, in the Big Smoke, admitting you voted Brexit.

It was therefore astounding to me that two young strapping Aussies sat opposite each other on the train  yesterday leaning over a communal phone. I think one of them was teaching the other about the game. Frequent exclamations of ‘ahh yeah’, ‘yeah, ah yeah’, ‘ah, that’s a bummer those chocolate blocks,’ emitting from the two of them. The guy who’s phone it was admitting with pride that it was a great little time waster while travelling.

Candy Crush, despite it’s name, it’s brightly jewelled graphics and cheesy cartoon characters, has transcended both genders and a huge age demographic. I’ve been surprised at who else has been playing it next to me on occasion.

Still, those two put me off a bit.

It might be time to find the next big thing.

 

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Lateral Career Moves

 

My poor long suffering mother has gotten used to her children’s differences in options regarding work ethic to herself. She was of a time and era where you tried to stay gainfully employed and you stuck it out, no matter how good or bad it was. You brought home the bacon (or bread or milk) and were glad of your contribution to household and society.

I am of a different ilk. As are my siblings. The last time I said, ‘I’m fed up I may change jobs’, my sibling sent a picture of a tree, ‘you are not a tree rooted, if you don’t like your work, change’. So I said, ‘I’ve resigned’. Mom, promptly, after only a millisecond of a pause, ‘oh well, if you weren’t happy… Hopefully you’ll get something soon.’

I could feel her poor heart sinking at the thought yet again one of her miscreant children could be attempting to rebound back on her. Secretly she loves having us around but publicly she would prefer us to show some sign of outward success.

She sort of has a point. I lost my job when the economy took a huge hit in 2008. About a third of my industry landed up jobless.

At this point I thought, I’ll go intern somewhere, change careers, or at least, work in an office because my little legs are too tired to want to stand all day like I used to in student retail and restaurant jobs. How hard can it be? I know my alphabet. I can file. I can add. I can even touch type, although I can never actually format anything in Word or Excel.’

HAH. Turns out that temporary jobs are harder to get than you think. One temping agency turned me down before I even turned up as I had ‘no experience’. Another let me in the door and tested my touch typing etc in a horrible hour long test. They then also pointed out I was somehow underqualified (and probably overaged although they didn’t say this) to answer phones, file and play general girl friday.

Not to worry, they would get back to me when something came up. I’m still waiting.

In some ways I do feel for the unemployed.

It was a thoroughly degrading experience dressing up repeatedly for these people, trying to get a slightly above minimum wage job that wouldn’t require standing on the street with a sandwich board handing out flyers or flipping burgers.

I was just apparently completely unqualified for the basics required.

Despite all my so called qualifications and work experience.

Fortunately (or not) I managed to get an opening back into the industry I was already in.

So I took it.

It involved the commute from hell.

But it did pay above minimum wage.

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Evolution

I never really have time for soap operas. It therefore horrifies me every time I go home, for some mystical reason my mother persists in watching things like The Bold and the Beautiful. What is even more alarming is how many of the characters, literally decades down the line, persist in the programme despite having already had relationships with every possible person in the cast who is not direct bloodline to them.  Talk about a guaranteed job for life.

Besides the fake floral sets and the copious Botox, one of the things that never really makes any sense on soap operas is how, in the twenty first century, noone seems to understand how cellphones work. If people just called each other and communicated a bit more there would, of course, be a lot less intrigue.

It’s things like this that have made shows like the BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ interesting as, being set in contemporary time, a very clever set of rewriting was necessary to allow Sherlock to be a modern man using technology while still holding the intrigue created from the past. Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie both wrote the great whodunnits in times when the telegram was an advanced form of written ’email’. (‘Telegram? What’s that?’ I hear the millenials shout) When telephones were genuinely not the first option for communication. Often the delays caused by the alternative means of conveying information, the reliance on newspapers, the awaiting of the written word in the form of a posted LETTER are what allowed murderers to think they could get away with their crimes.

I don’t actually think the texting children of today would be able to write mommy a letter without their fingers developing some kind of sprain although their thumbs may be overdeveloped from all the texting on the phone.

Of course, one would be excused into thinking if, therefore, we have all these clever means of staying in touch, we should be more connected than ever. Never mind that most people have no idea what their Facebook friend is really feeling beyond an update to 300 other people telling them ‘I just ate a cupcake’. Never mind that divorce rates are higher than in previous centuries as we all believe we have the freedom to leave if it’s too hard to work out. Never mind that people are in therapy and on prescription drugs with greater ease than before.

No, we are in better touch than ever before. I know, because I got a ‘personalised’ email from my online retailer telling me so.

 

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Them that knows better

I am not a fan of social media. Especially quick witty snapshots of peoples’ lives in the form of photos, one liners, instant multimedia barrage updates.

Today I spent an unnecessary amount of time trying to block a feed from someone I used to know. I’m debating just unfriending him but that seems rude. Or blocking him but I wonder if he will know? I really should just get rid of him as we were never close friends but part of a much bigger circle way back when.

I knew him as the class smart ass who appeared to do no work but came out tops every time. He overcame bad eyesight (for which he refused to wear glasses) and thinning hair to bring off a certain, if not ‘cool-ness’, grungy indie look. He wore black tshirts sometimes with logos of rock/metal bands, drank pints of beer and shots of spirits with us and looked and acted like discordant youth who had no worries beyond passing class and trying to get with the pretty girls. Not a moral bone in his body, not a tie to anything beyond a house where his mom desperately tried to get him home for supper.

How times have changed. Since then he discovered religion. Or maybe he always had it but he hid it really well from the rest of us. But he’s now a CoE elder. He has a girl and a boy and bought into suburbia just outside the big smoke and posts pictures of his mediocre life in his mediocre house of his family and pets. All is as it should be really. They are not mediocre to him after all.

The thing that really riles me though is when South Africa held elections he started to rant and rave on social media about latent racism and how we had to stand up for people’s rights. I do not remember him having any black friends and barely tolerating the rest of our motley crew who were non-white (certainly, he never showed a romantic interest in them). Eventually someone told him they would give him money to shut up on social media and someone else told him if he fled the country he had lost his right to have an option.

So he moved on and started ranting about how refugees should be better taken care of and we should welcome them into the UK. Although he lives an area that is pretty Caucasian and English.

Now he’s blaming the fact that some people voted Brexit as the reason for every evil to befall England. From the possibility of visas being introduced to go to the EU (big deal, like the old days for me) to political uproar to deportation issues.

He rants non stop on social media. I think he might be writing to his MP (I pity them whoever they are). But often, although, he is intelligent I think, how one sided is your outlook? Have you considered the other side? Do you really know what the future holds and it will be so bleak because someone didn’t pick your side?

I’m a glass half full person but when it comes to politics, I figure the people spoke, so just get on with it already. If you do feel so strongly then post that picture of you going to the demonstration at Westminster against Brexit and the one for refugees. Show me you donate to the Syrian causes.

You didn’t do that did you? Too busy with your cat and your kids?

Then shut up already because noone wants to know.

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Old before your time

Plus One  often complains I don’t seem that interested in drinking with him but I will go out all hours with other people. I say it’s also his fault because he refuses to be baited into having a glass of wine with me at home, although he will do so at a restaurant. This means I won’t open the bottle because I don’t want to drink alone. (I wish I could say this means he doesn’t drink at all at home but this is not true. He necks cream liqueurs by the wine glass and tells me this is because they have the same alcohol content as wine so therefore it’s okay. I can’t seem to convince him by default of the cream and the fact it is a liqueur you are meant to sip them slowly not chuck them down like a thirsty American footballer at half time.)

So yesterday we compromised on being social not quite at home but at home by asking the flat above us if they would join us at our ‘local’ for the pub quiz. They promptly annoyed me by being nearly late. And on arrival, choosing NOT to get anything to eat and drink for the whole first half of the quiz. Which I found slightly strange and antisocial. The friend attached to them did get herself a drink. And another drink at half time with the rest and a third one when the quiz ended.

I was in an Appletiser mood so probably just fulfilled Plus One’s prophecies of my not wanting to drink with him. He pretty much paced with the friend – but in a more laid back fashion as we’d been there longer, having arrived early enough to munch and sip before the quiz.

The guy from the flat above did not comment on Plus One, perhaps because he didn’t know us well enough. But he put in at least three not very subtle digs at the friend saying she’d had enough, didn’t she think she’d had enough, didn’t she have work tomorrow, did she really think that last drink was necessary? Sort of ironic when his other half had said to me they would be delighted to join us because he never has drinking partners nearby.

I think they are younger than us.

I reflected that I have gotten to the stage where I don’t count my drinks but I try stay within sober enough to get home okay and feel not too bad the next day. But I am pretty sure I have done at least three if not more ciders as that girl did, plus other stuff, fairly recently in my past on some random evenings. I’m not saying that is wise or acceptable and it is over the limit the NHS recommends.

If I had had that guy judging me the whole evening I think I would have been tempted to break a bottle over his head. Maybe it is possible he knows this girl better than me and she can’t contain her booze, although she looked okay to me. But I just thought, you are too young to be this old. You are still supposed to be out there acting silly occasionally too not spoiling other people’s evenings being a dad.

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No fool like an old fool

The Pokemon-Go craze has hit the world. Well. Parts of the world with internet and phones that connect to 3G/4G services and wifi.

It is huge news in London as almost everyone here has a smart phone with few notable exceptions. Like the early 30 something weirdo in my office who’s too young to have a phone that only has buttons and a monochrome screen. For some reason he is the only person that young I know who thinks a tablet compensates for the fact that he can’t connect to any social media on his phone or googlemaps on the go.

He is also weird in other ways though.

Anyways. People catching Pokemon are just as odd. I thought it would mostly incorporate people in their 20s and early 30s who had watched the show. No it’s not.

It’s women and men in their late 30s and 40s too.

Apparently the makers of the app have said it hasn’t really helped the company’s overall stocks which are still down.

They missed a trick. They needed to strike better deals with cellphone companies before launch.

Apparently the app drains data like nothing else. My colleague was sulking yesterday as he’d run out of data allowance after catching a Pokemon on the head of the person opposite him in the office. He’d used the rest of it running around a park looking for them. We can’t get connected to the wifi in that particular corner of the office and he’d resigned himself to the fact that as that isn’t exactly mandatory to his job he’d have to sit data-less til the next month rolls.

Which is still a shade better than almost getting run over by cars jumping in front of things trying to catch imaginary creatures. Or, true story, hovering like vampires in a graveyard with phones pointed up, jumping around like idiots, trying to catch an invisible creature.

They are NOT REAL.

I got an actual update from a friend on his holiday to Sri Lanka that he was upset the rare Tamil Pokemon had been rendered extinct centuries ago by Buddist monks. Like that was really a thing.

He is also in his late 30s.

Talk about reliving your youth.

 

 

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Last Friday

Last Friday evening was one of those magical nights when all was right with the world. Which was great given it was on the back of a not great week.

But, after having finally gotten bank cards back, I was flush with cash (well, not really but I was able to at least BUY stuff without borrowing off other people) , the weather was balmy and I was meeting friends by the riverside.

As usual a shambolic system as we are incapable of managing time or location very well. But we eventually managed to find each other and after forcing our way past a load of young men who had managed to Bring You Own with two crates of Fosters and bags of Doritos, we found a place on a series of steps leading off a pub into the river.

The Thames rushed in eddies and whirls past us, reeking pretty much of refuse from the boat just downstream from us, with river boats flying downstream and literally chugging with effort upstream. We pretty much took a safe bet on drowning if any one of us was suicidal enough to try get into the water. Not to mention if you managed to not drown, inhaling any of the Thames would probably kill you more slowly.

‘There are three things essentially that float’, declared my friend wisely as we watched a box float by and wondered what was in it, ‘wood, and there isn’t a lot of it on this river, plastic and condoms, which are mostly just plastic.’

‘WHY on earth did you choose that as an appropriate subject to prove what floats.’

‘Oh, you know, my friend used to kayak along the river but tired of all the condoms that would slap him in the face when the paddle came up bring up debris.’

I’m not sure that was a true story.

What was true was at some point a police boat raced up the river at speed. It was yellow and blue like police cars and vans here. Inexplicably it also had a whirling light and a very loud siren, both of which were on.

‘What,’ I found myself asking, ‘Do they need THAT on for? It’s not exactly like the river is so crowded they are going to be weaving between a traffic jam of ferries, it’s a bit show offy and extreme, no.’

That’s me, cynical.

Other friend pointed this out to me on leaving, that I needed to stop grumbling as she knew I didn’t mean it but other people don’t always.

That’s what true friends are there for. To point out the good and the bad.

It was a good evening.

(Until I woke up in the wee hours of the morning with a raging thirst regretting the last half pint – oh wait, does that make me sound cynical and whiney again?)

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