Bit of paranoia

Time for me to renew my travel insurance. I tend to keep an annual multi trip policy that I let expire and then randomly renew before I think I’m going to step into international waters again for whatever reason.

I HATE going through this. A friend told me to just buy and stop overthinking as it probably won’t make a blind difference what I do, the policy holders will wriggle out irrespective of who they are if I try claim. Why is it we assume insurers are part of the rings to hell and out to screw us all over? Possibly because I have never once successfully managed an insurance claim for anything I’ve ever been insured for.

Nevertheless it doesn’t stop me on a paranoid mission to scour the comparison websites, the ‘unbiased’ reviews of people who have purchased policies I have an eye on and ultimately, the greatest penance of all, trying to work out how much of the small print has shot me dead in the water before I’ve even begun the doggy paddle.

I’m actually quite indifferent to baggage or money loss being insured. I figure that’s why you should probably not travel with anything too valuable and these claims are near impossible to prove anyways. WHO still has the receipts to all their electronic goods and valuable luggage items? (Even as I write this I can tell someone is putting up their hands proudly, looking at their neatly indexed and filed folder of expenses.)

I’m more concerned about a policy paying out for medical bills. Not ‘serious’ ones like an emergency tooth filling or a bout of food poisoning or a few stitches. But actual serious ones. Ones that require a stint in hospital and the sinking feeling (literally) you are too ill to deal with the bills of the hospital and travelling back to wherever ‘home’ is. And the repatriation of my body and maybe someone to accompany me, dead or alive. These claims are hard to test without actually claiming on them though.

In the meanwhile I searched for five star reviews. HOW is it possible an insurance policy with only three stars has over 95 activities covered? While one with five stars has only 31? (Which, incidentally, exclude all sorts of things like safaris, motorcycles and kayaking (even on water like glass, limiting you pretty much to walking.)

I’m telling you it’s all rigged.

But they know that I know that to travel without anything is really asking for it. Like jumping out a plane without anything strapped to your back. As opposed to jumping with a heavy pack that MIGHT be a parachute that MIGHT open before you impact on the earth. (And MIGHT even be covered in insurance!)

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Dying Young

Plus one and I were chatting and he mentioned how old he was before he attended a funeral. It was pretty old. Like university or beyond. This seems the English way. Either they don’t know anyone important to them who has died (first world problem, people live forever!) or they aren’t ‘allowed’ to go to the funeral when they are young.

I can’t really relate to this because, culturally, I was taught memorials and funerals were the last chance to say goodbye. (And potentially my parents were just bad at finding babysitters).

One of my cousins died when I was pretty young. He was a good few years older than me but on that side of the family, the closest in age to me. He was, however, eternally adult in my eyes, two heads taller than me. I did not particularly like him. He spent his time either ignoring me or teasing and tormenting me and I remember him throwing my dog into the pool while I cried hysterically in order to prove that ‘all dogs can naturally swim’.

My mother always thought it was quite tough on him, as he was so different looking from the rest of the family, he knew he was adopted. My aunt did dote on him but her brother was always one to rub in that blood is blood and he was clearly not blood so I’m sure my cousin must sometimes have felt the slight of this. That, and growing up in a small town in South Africa in the dregs of the apartheid era where being ‘different’ probably wasn’t the best thing.

His life and his hobbies are captured in his room like something out of ‘Boys Own’ of the 70s. There are vintage cars on the curtains, a crochet blanket on the bed. A weavers nest with pride of place above it. A loud ticking clock and framed butterflies which he used to catch in the veld beyond and then mount, neatly labelled.

That was the innocent side of him. The side that teased me got caught kissing a girl in the house when he thought his parents would be out and perpetrated mischief in the neighbourhood.

Still only 17 he and his friend went driving on his friend’s farm, both underage but not a big deal in farming society. I imagine they were still inexperienced and reckless and wound the windows down and went really fast, yelling and shouting with teenage joy. The car hit some stones, rolled and the friend was killed instantly. The coroner said my cousin lived on for a bit after the crash but it is unlikely he suffered, that he was probably not conscious due to the head trauma. I’m not sure that wasn’t said to make the family feel better. Either way, both died at the scene.

It was a closed casket funeral. The body was not in any state to be viewed. The men of the family who did in order to identify it said it was not a pleasant experience. I know the funeral was not shared with the friend who died. Strangely I have no real memories, which one would expect, of my cousin’s classmates rallying at the funeral or of them standing up and speaking for the dead. I mostly just remember my family taking over the whole day, the little that I do recall.

I remember not feeling particularly sad. If anything, a little bored. And maybe a little thrilled at wearing nice clothing for the day. It’s only when I got older I wondered how it would have been if my cousin had been with us longer, would our relationship have evolved as the age gap ‘narrowed’ in the way it tends to once you reach adulthood. Or would he still have remained the elusive tease I dreaded seeing?

 

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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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Almost Christmas

I can’t believe it’s meant to almost be Christmas. It’s true the shops have had their Christmas stores open and their lights up since beginning of November but I wasn’t paying enough attention at the time.

Now, however, it’s totally in your face. Two candles lit on the Advent wreath, kids singing carols on the street for money (hopefully for a charity).

My new workplace has gone all out for Christmas. The few decorations I’ve known as office Christmas decor have generally been very carefully coordinated affairs, with (often very contemporary) themes to Christmas. So it’s all red perspex or white snowflakes or traditional green living trees.

In this office they have literally thrown everything but the kitchen sink into the effort. It’s a bit like when we were kids at home when my mom would let us go mad on the house. We’d put fake mistletoe across some doorways, hang gold origami stars over the others, pull paper chains across the television, wreath the entrance and go to town with tinsel on the plastic tree. It was sort of themed in that mom bought the bulk of the decorations that made their way all across the house in one year. (Whereas the tree looked like everything gold tinsel and ornaments through the ages that were homemade, factory made, sad and broken, new and sparkly had all exploded across it at once) When first purchased the decorations were beautiful and trendy, now they are so old they are probably trendy again. Either way, I am quite nostalgic for them as they recall all my Christmases as a child when I see them.

I know with hot South African summers everything was fake and smelled of plastic. Unlike in Europe where some people do choose to have real trees shedding needles across the floor and the smell of pine forest inside.

The office didn’t want the mess though. But they did buy live poinsettias. The thing is, they also bought blue fairy lights, a white tree with silver and mauve baubles, with a stack of white and blue presents below it, a bowl of blue and white baubles with a coil of (white) fairy lights inside it, a vase of green and gold ones that just sits there and fake silver and green wreaths. All of this interspersed among the filing cabinets and desks with (I kid you not) a veritable forest of fake orange trees.

The one lady said it was beautiful and amazing and so nice they made such an effort. I looked really carefully at her face and I think she thinks she actually meant it? Personally I appreciate the effort but I wish someone had picked one theme only to run with.

Rather greedily I am enjoying the mince pies and chocolates that seem to just replenish themselves daily at the moment. (Although it is also probably accurate to say I derived more enjoyment from my old office’s weekly Friday sponsoring of cold beers in the last few hours of work)

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Not Indispensable

Part of being human is the intense desire to prove worth. To be worth something. The ego desires acknowledgement of the impact your life has made on those around you. And hopefully in a positive way, not a mass murder Columbine way, most people want to be remembered when they are gone.

Sounds extreme?

Yes.

But even on a smaller scale than life or death, it’s what we want. We start families believing being a parent creates little dependants who need you for everything. It makes us feel special. We own pets knowing we are the centre of their furry/feathered worlds. (If fish float your  boat, I’m not exactly sure how this works out for you although admittedly your screensaver behind glass is more dynamic than mine.) Sad is the human who did not realise one day their children will grow up and need them less. That pets can turn on you and bite if ill treated.

The thing is, we take this same attitude into work. Into jobs without soul, without fulfilment. With colleagues who annoy us and bosses who don’t understand us. And, for the most part, we persevere. Age, circumstance, experience (or lack thereof) meaning very often we try outlast the job. We tell ourselves it’s about stability, promotion, that we are ‘invaluable’. Sometimes our companies feed us the same lies, ‘we couldn’t do without you’.

The fact is, no one is truly indispensable. Not in a work situation. No matter how important you think you are. Empires may fall and rise as despots and leaders are executed or rise. But when they vanish, humanity does carry on and nature finds the vacuum.

That is not to say you shouldn’t enjoy your work and be important and significant in it. That you won’t change lives and make a difference to many.

You just have to remember it’s still just a job. It’s only a part of who you are as a whole.

And more importantly, if you hate it, yes, perhaps it’s not easy to change your circumstance. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. And the surprisingly thing when you do is how many of those people who told you they couldn’t do without you will understand and let you go with greater ease than you thought.

Sometimes because they didn’t like you and are glad you are gone. But sometimes because they are your friends and glad you are going somewhere better.

 

 

 

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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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Sterotypes

I had to work late last night and as a rule if you commit past a certain hour the company is obligated to get you food. Issues with the usual delivery company and a credit card followed by a long wait time resulted in a decision to rather do a takeaway from the local Vietnamese restaurant.

One of the guys went off to pay and collect the telephone order – quite a big switch from our usual impersonal internet order with delivery.

Later in the day I made a factitious comment and then apologised that it was bordering on racist assumption.

‘That,’ said my colleague, ‘is nothing. Do not send an oriental guy in a white shirt to pick up an order at a Vietnamese restaurant. I stood for ages at the bar and all the staff just ignored me. But customers kept coming up to me and waving their arms in the air for the bill, like I worked there or something.’

On the upside, the food was good, still warm and the order was correct which is more than I can say for the delivery company.

Oh, and we didn’t have to tip.

 

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