Suburban secrets; one never knows…

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Still unemployed, but don’t worry, this post isn’t about my job hunting larks.

However, being unemployed does have a fun side to it, because I get to look out of the lounge window when I am trawling the job sites, and let my imagination loose as I watch what goes on outside.

So join me as I lift the lid off what my neighbours get up to.  Disclaimer: this post is embellished with the richness of my imagination and is a work of fiction, because let’s face it, the reality is too painful.

First there is the house opposite, split into two flats.  The ground floor occupant prefers to live his life in the half-light of covert despair, wandering about bumping into the furniture, his body covered in the bruises of stupidity as he fears his secret stash of ill-gotten gains will be discovered.  He ventured into his garden recently and chopped down the branches of a tree, but I knew what he was up to and the tree is likened to the X on a treasure map; it marks the spot.  I shall say no more…

Above him, one half of a couple wages war on the local cat population that dare to vacate their bowels on his manicured front garden.  He prunes and snips and sprinkles cat repelling particles on the plants and shrubs that do nothing to repel them!  And he thinks that by suddenly ripping open the curtains of his bedroom and standing there topless shouting and gesticulating at said felines will do the trick.  Well, the furry four-legged fiends just look at the hairless creature and think “Man, that is one Hollywood wax that’s gone to far” and continue to lick their orifices .  Man’s new trick is to place a clothes horse in the window and display his collection of pants and socks in various colour coded positions, at different times of the day but always at a jaunty angle.  Silly man, that won’t stop the cats but it is a signal to a neighbour, an unwanted signal, but a signal just the same…

I watched a woman return from shopping yesterday and there was a covert entry into a building if ever I saw one!  No matter though, because as much as she tried to hide it, I spied the rather large baguette peeking out from under her arm and from that moment I knew.  I knew that she had not been watching or taking notice of a certain Liverpudlian baker that has just finished a TV series, as the baguette was (whispers and looks around to check that no one is listening) shop bought.  There, I’ve said it.  It’s out there in the public domain now missus and the Famous One knows it as well as he had a helicopter watching your every movement.  Take the shame lady, take the shame…

Now, here is an interesting fellow: bright jumper, two dogs.  Never have two dogs been walked so often during the day. He is the Pied Piper of the dog walkers as once his jumper is out there, they all come, pulling their dogs behind them, falling over themselves to be the first to reach him on the march around the park.  Sadly, the slowest are never seen again.  I hear the plaintive call of his flute as he gathers them to him from near and far.  I’m not going to speculate on where he keeps the flute though…

And how has this happened that the family of four opposite has suddenly morphed into a young couple?  Where did they go and why?  Were they eaten up by the huge clump of pampas grass that grows in front of the window?  Is it a gateway into another dimension?  Am I doomed to never see the kids grow up but forever wonder why their parents don’t age?  Will I never get to know what kind of cake the boy has for his birthday?  Did the young couple eat them for their anti aging properties?  Will I ever stop asking bloody questions about them…?

My downstairs neighbour is a lifelong member of a secret Order.  That most secret of Orders which was formed in 1856 in a cave somewhere on the Isle of Man, when the moon was full and there was no R in the month.  An Order so secret that there is no secret handshake or facial tic to use so that you can recognise other members.  An Order so secret that you will be forever led to believe that you are its only member and are doomed to wonder for eternity if you will ever get invited to the AGM knees up.  He belongs to the secret Order of Thou Shalt Never Open Thy Curtains.  Ever.  He is a proud servant to this Order and has never wavered from that rule once, for to do so would be to risk expulsion because one never knows when one is being watched and one can never, ever risk the shame of disobedience of said rule.  For that is the only rule to be obeyed and the reason for your existence.  His other quirk is that when he upgrades his cars, the new car always has flat tyres…

So, never underestimate what goes on around you, because there are secrets behind every door, in every street, in every town, in every… Sod it, you get the drift.

*breaks out into maniacal laughter, fade to stop*

A morning bus ride.

For the past four months, I have travelled to work by bus. One to Old Street, then a connection to King’s Cross. The first part takes me over London Bridge and into the Square Mile and I lazily gaze out of the window, watching everything and everyone as the bus moves on.

Now, that journey has ended, for the time being at least, as my temp job ended yesterday. My thoughts about the people and places I have seen, will stay preserved here.

Starting from London Bridge, passing the Shard; that glassy tower that has engulfed the station and surrounding area. The silver dragon marks the entrance to the Square Mile, proudly displaying the City of London’s Coat of Arms.

The view on either side of the bridge. To the left you can see St Paul’s to the right, Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast. Beautiful and I always try to turn my head both ways to see as much as I can. And if the sun is out, then see the glints of those morning rays bouncing off the buildings and the Thames.

The Fishmongers’ Company: that grand building on the river front with many, what look like to be, coats of arms or other such charters, hanging on the wall and glimpsed through the windows.

Monument: tall. Marking a time when London was nearly completely destroyed by fire.

Round the corner continuing on King William St, past the Japanese asset management company, watching someone half heartedly dust the railings and the steps. Flicking the litter off the property with a long-handled feather duster. He looks bored and perhaps thinks this job is beneath him.

The boys in blue anoraks, who give out the City AM free paper. Jumping on buses to put a pile down for the passengers and giving a cheery cry of thanks to the driver. Standing with their arms out as the people automatically reach to grab a copy. No words are exchanged between them and the public.

The lady with the black Labrador. They are who I looked out for everyday, and I would see them from about King William St to Old St and beyond, but my second bus always parted company with her by then… She, in her daily attire of a short skirt, tights, boots, a short jacket and a floppy hat, drinking a tall coffee from a company that has no concept of how good coffee should taste! Her trusty four-legged companion trotting by her side, looking up at her every now and then until an interesting smell catches his attention. His coat glossy and black as jet and seeing him/her made me smile.

The key cutting/shoe repair shop always open that early with him at the back starting on the work load and she at the front dealing with the city gents offloading their mound of white shirts for dry cleaning. Expecting them to be clean and pressed by the time they are collected.

The large M & S at Moorgate, open well before eight in the morning, and people are browsing the clothes and going downstairs to the food section.

Sleepy night security guards who wait for the morning receptionists, yawning and waving hello to the early morning arrivals, who struggle to get their security pass out with everything else they are holding.

At Finsbury Square, the large cranes of the construction site, lying idle and still, as the masses walk by on the pavement beneath them. These people clutching their coffees and bags of pastries and checking their mobile phones. Must read this email, must read this text message, must read this email, must read this text message…

Then onto Old Street where I would change buses. Passing the Honourable Artillery Company, and while waiting, sometimes peeking through the locked gate to Bunhill Fields. Fascinated by the old, moss-covered graves and every time making a mental note to come here one day and walk around this ancient area.

And on the second bus, approaching the large roundabout at Old Street and wondering about the Chinese café on the corner, missing two of its Louvre window panes. It never looks like it is open for business but the two gold maneki-neko or welcoming lucky cats, are always waving their paws to beckon you in.

Continuing on the City Road towards Angel. Watching the hoards of young school girls so inadequately dressed for winter. Experimenting with make-up and seeing how short they can make their skirts. Odd hair styles and busy texting on their mobiles. Rushing to become women and wave goodbye to their childhood. Ah, puberty! You are a strange creature.

The rows of elegant houses that line the City Road up to the Angel. They look Georgian to me. Many of them now offices of course, but how lovely it would be to have a whole five-storey building to yourself! Just me then…

Down Pentonville Rd and to my stop and a short walk to the café I went to every morning for a white Americano coffee. And a Full Monty breakfast – but that was only on a Friday.

Is it THAT time of year, already?

Well ladies and gents, here we are again.  The last day of the year and one that has been a bit of an adventure for me, as you well know, and as I look back at 2012, there are quite a few things to reflect upon.

I knew that it would be interesting back in January, even then events at my old work place were smacking me in the head loud and clear and telling me that there would be changes afoot for me.  And what changes they were!

What surprised me the most about the whole redundancy thing was how it made me feel and how much it effected me as a person.  I did not appreciate how low my confidence and self-esteem were and how I thought that even though I was happy with their decision, I was full of doubt about whether I would get another job, or that I had any talents of any description that are marketable and would make another company want to hire me.

That is where my outplacement consultant Sue, was an absolute godsend.  When I first met her I could not think of one positive thing to say about myself; I felt useless and really quite beaten and thought I was a waste of space.  I was scared of getting back out in the job market again after so long and was sure that no-one would hire me.  The only thing I did know is that I didn’t want a permanent job, I wanted and still want to do short-term contract/temp jobs and see how other places function.  I want to meet new people and go from place to place for a while until I make my decision about my future.

Sue gently steered me through my stupid maze of self-loathing and was the best thing that my old organisation did for me, well that and the redundancy money, of course!  With a revamped CV, a ton of hints and tips and always there at the end of the telephone or email, I was ready to face the world of the job seeker again and even though I was nervous when I went for my first interview, I had done my homework, was prepared and would have got the job, if there had been one to get in the first place!

I did get another job very soon afterwards and I am there until mid January.  The agency is pleased with the feedback they have been given and I know that my colleagues will be sad to see me go and wanted me to apply for the permanent position.  That is really good to hear and you cannot imagine how that has made me feel.  Finally knowing that I am good at my job and that people want me has been a real boost to my confidence.  Yes, I realise that it is my first job, but it is the start I needed and a good foundation for the future.

Usually I feel a little bit sad on this day and wish the outgoing year had been a better one, and yes, part of me was sad to have ended my career at an organisation that I once was so proud to work for.  However, not this time.  Today I am glad to see the back of 2012 and all that I went through, glad to see the back of that place where I had been unhappy for so long and curious and excited about my tomorrows and beyond.

It only remains for me to say that I wish you all a wonderful New Year, and I really hope that 2013 is a bright, brilliant and beautiful year for you all.

Bint.

The four seasons. No, this has nothing to do with Frankie Valli or Vivaldi, although the latter wrote music about it…

Those who know me well, know that I am not a lover of this time of year.  I don’t like the clocks going back, the short days and saying goodbye to summer always depresses me.  However, I do appreciate the physical beauty of the seasons and the memories associated with them, even autumn and winter, and the approaching bleakness does appeal to me.  Possibly, because I have a rather bleak outlook on life a lot of the time and am not always an optimist about things.

Anyway, as it is a rainy, late autumnal day and because I cannot be bothered to get the vacuum cleaner out, I thought I would do a piece on the seasons.  Also, I have not blogged for a while now and I need to remind you all that I am still here!

So, let me start with autumn, as this is the season we are still in.

On a bench in Blackheath

The trees are absolutely beautiful at this time of year; gold, yellow, bronze, red, copper and if the sun is out, walking through a carpet of freshly fallen, crunchy leaves is a joy and takes me right back to my childhood, when it was mandatory to do this.  It was the also the law of the playground that you threw bunches of leaves at your friends, and tried to outdo them by finding the biggest and the best and the most number of conkers.  I used to love finding one still in its spiny shell, and enjoyed prising it open to see how big the shiny brown nugget inside would be.  I played conkers but I was crap at it and always had bruised knuckles!  We also went blackberry picking in the hedgerows and ate as many as we picked, our lips and fingers stained with the juice.

Autumn also had Bonfire Night with grubby little boys pushing their makeshift Guy Fawkes around in a wheelbarrow shouting ‘Penny for the Guy…!’.  And there were the  garden fireworks.  Mum made something yummy to eat then we went out to watch Dad try to light the fireworks, not always with success and he would have to go back to the reluctant collection of colour, gunpowder and twisted paper to try again. (Remind me to tell you the story about the Christmas pudding and my sister when she was about 18 months old…).

Of course, this was in the 1970’s and Health & Safety was not so strong as it is these days, where you are told not to go back to a firework once lit, for obvious reasons.  Then, we just did it, and luckily, we never had any accidents.

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” –         Albert Camus. 

Winter.

Bleak, very bleak.  especially when the sun doesn’t shine and the sky sits upon our heads, because it is so heavy with rain or the possibility of snow.

My least favourite season; an oppressive density of quiet because the countryside has gone to sleep.  The repose of the land punctuated by the cawing of crows on the still air or a cow mooing in the distance.  And when it snows, the silence is deafening, and everything takes on another dimension as there is nothing to see but a white counterpane, with the black/brown stalks of the naked trees sticking out of it.  Of course, I am describing scenes from my childhood in the countryside, where winter was beautiful to look at, where we built snowmen and pelted each other with snowballs.  And there was a roaring fire in the lounge and hot, comforting things to eat.  Oh, and there was the fun of bunking off school if it snowed, because I lived so far away and the bus could never get up the hill into the village and beyond to Tunbridge Wells and my school!

I am an old, farty cynic now and snow in London is a right royal pain to negotiate and I don’t enjoy the cold, and the wet.  Yet, I do love the bleakness of winter; the anticipation of what is to become and after the 21st of December, the days start getting slowly longer, which always pleases me!

I have deliberately left out Christmas as it does not give me much joy now, but the Christmas’ of my childhood were wonderful and are worthy of a blog post of their own.

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape – the loneliness of it – the dead feeling of winter.  Something waits beneath it – the whole story doesn’t show.” –  Andrew Wyeth

Spring.

My favourite.  The bringer of optimism and promise of new life.  The explosion of colour in nature that never fails to put a smile on my face.  When I see snowdrops growing, even though it is still winter, the tiniest of sparks is lit inside me and I know that I will only have to wait a few weeks until the riot of yellow and green of the daffodils will be screaming for my attention again.  The horse chestnuts will start to slowly unfurl their leaves until each branch is groaning with the weight of new leaves and flowers.

Yes, yes, I know I am coming across all Wordsworth now, but just close your eyes and see all that vibrancy that smacks you in the face at this time, even if you live in a city.  I think of the gardens of my childhood and the London parks now, and the colours inspire, uplift and make me happy.  It is new life in what ever shape or form and sort of balances me again.  It also helps that the clocks go forward now.  That helps me.  A lot.

The weather is temperamental at this time.  Oh, who the hell am I kidding?!  The weather gives us a two-fingered salute at anytime of the year, but you know what I mean.  My optimistic side taps into the thought of warmer weather, but let us not forget that we have also had snow in April before!

Then we have Easter.  Chocolate eggs, cards with fluffy bunnies and lambs on them and Hot Cross Buns.  Loads of them.  Whole packets at a time.  Toasted and slathered in butter.  Three times a day.  Nothing else.  And bugger your ‘5 a day’ nonsense.

“The force of Spring – mysterious, fecund, powerful beyond measure.” –    Michael Garofalo, Cuttings

Summer

OK, I know that our summers have been *cough* very, shite of late but let’s pretend that they’re good.

Because when they are, they bloody are!  Long, long days of warmth in the sun, picnics in parks and glasses of Pimms etc.  I love being able to sit outside a cafe or in a pub garden until dusk, being able to eat al fresco and just enjoy life.  Being invited to BBQ’s at a friend’s house and watching the men (because it is always the men!) hold a bottle of beer in one hand and the tongs in the other, valiantly poke, prod and turn the sausages and burgers over until they are burnt on the outside and raw in the middle.

As a child, looking forward to the summer holidays and going to the seaside.  Tumbling and rolling in sand dunes and puddling about in rock pools.  Sand castles and 99 ice creams.

The season is in full bloom, the grass lush and fat and green.  We would try to find the fattest blades to press between our thumbs to make that weird sound when blowing through them.  Making daisy chains and tickling our chins with the buttercups to see who loved butter.  Strawberries and cherries and the abundance of fruit and vegetables that are ripe at this time.  Carefree and innocent was my childhood then.

Now, if I can get away with not having to wear a coat during the day, then I am happy!  There is the anticipation of your holiday; two weeks of freedom away from responsibility and routine with the annual race to see who will get the best tan.  And when you return, you hope the weather will be good so you can show off how brown you are…

“A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken.” – James Dent

So, that was my not so brief look at the seasons.  You know my favourites, what are yours?

“Working 9 to 5…”

“…what a way to make a living…”words and music by Dolly Parton

No office is this happy!

Being unemployed, I enjoy not having to get up for work and lug my behind into an office along with tons of other people.

Being unemployed is not a situation I want to be in really.

I look at job sites nearly everyday and I am registered with three agencies.  I have applied for a good number of jobs and even had one interview.  I would have got that job were it not for a small thing about it not really existing in the first place because of a freeze in recruitment.

Prospective employer, might be a minor detail, but do make sure that you have a vacancy in the first place before you embark on a recruitment process, otherwise rather a waste of time and money don’t you think? Just saying…

I knew that I would not walk into another job straight away when I left my old place, and I have to keep telling myself that I can’t become complacent and just coast along hoping something comes up, because agencies do need a bit of prodding to keep them on their toes and that is bloody tiring.

Oh yes, and FYI agencies, I put London as my preferred place of work on my profiles for a reason, so as much as I am flattered that you think I am the ideal candidate for the role you wish to fill, please don’t ask me if I would consider going for a job that is closer to Sheffield than Smithfield (market, that is).

So, here is the problem:  How do I keep myself motivated and upbeat throughout this time?

Answer: I don’t know!

Strangely, so far I am finding it a rather fascinating process and totally underestimated how many agencies there are out there.  The optimistic side of me wants to think that they are all working as hard as they can to get all the people on their books employed.  The pessimist in me knows that is all a load of bollocks, and that it is down to the individual to chase them and remind them that you exist.

Again, dear agencies, if I ask a question and you say that you will get back to me with the answer, could you please have the courtesy to do so. Even if it is something that I might not want to hear, having to chase you and remind you to do your job is not something that I relish.  Especially when you are the one being paid and I am getting nothing.

And why do so many companies want you to be educated to degree level, just to do an office admin grunt job?!  Really?  What about nearly 30 years work experience?  Does that count for nothing?  When so many companies complain that job seekers can’t fill in an application form why would they want this on their list?

Get down cynic!  Of course they are not putting that down in their job specs as a way of getting round the age discrimination thingy!  Perish the thought, I have never heard such rubbish!

Hmmm, I would like to challenge them on that, but that is for another day, and I will just keep applying for those jobs, because providing everything else looks good, I won’t allow the fact that I don’t have a degree put me off of applying.  So there, rotten companies!

So, I keep plodding on and looking and applying and chasing and hoping that something comes along.  That, or I win millions on the lottery and give the whole thing a massive two-fingered salute and ride off into the sunset with my loot.

I have spent enough time today looking at sites and applying for jobs, so I will stop now and make myself a nice cup of coffee, settle down to watch some telly and stuff my face with a family size bag of Maltesers ®

Kill me now! I don’t want to be sitting this close to any future work colleagues!

Those who can, stand up and be counted.

There is one good thing about being made redundant this summer, and that is that I have been able to watch so much of the Olympics and Paralympics. And these occasions, along with the major international football tournaments, are really the only time I am interested in sport.

With the Paralympics coming to an end tonight, the closing ceremony will mark the signing off of a great summer of sport for this country. But I am not writing about that this time. It is the Paralympians themselves that I want to write about.

I grew up in an era where words like “spaz” and “flid” were not seen as derogatory as they so obviously are. They were just words used against those who got a question wrong in class, or did something stupid in the playground and I am sure that some of my teachers used them as well. I don’t think any thought was given to what they truly meant or who they really represented.

WRONG!

You betcha.

Questions are being asked about the legacy of the Paralympics.  Questions like has it made us more aware of people with disabilities? Has it made us more tolerant and will the swell of loveliness that we have been riding due to the Paralympics, continue with us being more compassionate after the sport euphoria has died down, and London returns to its usual pattern?

I hope so, because I have been truly humbled by what these athletes have achieved and take my hat off to them because they are absolutely bloody marvellous! They have made me laugh with their humour and characters, made me cry and made me gasp in amazement watching them. I really think that the Paralympics absolutely deserve to be as hyped up as the main Olympics; they are just as important and I have loved watching them.

I want to make sure that I never forget the respect I have for these people because watching them makes me ask myself what is normal, what is a disability? These folks are doing things that I could never do and have proven to me that whatever problems they have/are facing, be it mental or physical, they have pushed through and continue to push through so many barriers to be where they are today.

However, I don’t want my respect to be reserved just for these athletes. I need to continue to remember the many, many people out there with the same health problems, the same barriers to break, because I will pass them in the street, be on public transport with them, stand in a queue behind them in the shops and work with them in the office environment. I need to remember patience, if they are not as quick as I am at something, or can’t get on or off a bus quickly, because I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and I have no more rights than they have.

I hope these games will have given hope to anyone who has any kind of disability who think they have no future, because look at what this lot have achieved! That could be you in four years time! And even if you don’t take up any kind of sport, know that you can still do so much, you should not think you are invisible or useless, because if you think you are, then so am I.

London 2012

So, we did it.

We pulled it off.

Many said we couldn’t.

Many said we wouldn’t

They were silenced.

Those who know me well, know of my love affair with London. There is no rhyme or reason and I can’t explain it. London has held a fascination for me since I was a child and was the shining place we would visit from time to time when I was growing up in the country.

There were lots of people who were against us hosting the Olympics. They said it would not work, our infrastructure would not be able to cope and it would be a disaster. After Beijing 2008, I read a lot of comments from overseas people who said they would boycott London 2012 because they hate the English, our weather would be foul, we would be rude and unhelpful, London was a horrible city etc.

Well, we proved them wrong didn’t we folks? Even the weather behaved for the most part!

London rises up and dusts herself off after whatever has been thrown at her. Even the next day after it was announced we had been selected to host the games, we had the atrocities of 7th July. Did that stop us? No it did not. We picked ourselves up and carried on. We always have done and always will do.

This time last year, we were reeling from the August riots and again, people worried about how we would cope with the Olympics. Did that or the threat of a possible terrorist attack stop us? Again, no, it did not.

This great, beast of a city organised a party, and what a magnificent party! The opening and closing ceremonies were eclectic, eccentric and truly British. Some of you won’t have liked them, and that is fine! I loved them. The city was shown off in all her glory with iconic venues being used and London shone.

We were treated to some magnificent performances by the athletes, both from home and abroad. We connected with and supported TeamGB when they won a medal or even if they were unlucky, we felt they were like our own family in some cases because we cried when they cried and cheered when they did. In fact, we cheered and supported EVERYBODY from everywhere and if there had been a roof on the stadium, then it would have surely been lifted by the cheers.

I can’t begin to imagine the hard work, dedication and sacrifices that these athletes go through to reach the ultimate goal of appearing at an Olympic Games and hopefully winning a medal; it is the pinnacle of their career. Let us not forget though, that whilst we admire these people, we must also cheer and support those that are going to compete in a couple of weeks time in the Paralympics. Their achievements are just as important, more so in many cases.

I won’t go into the security fiasco that happened right before the start, because quite frankly, that company has had enough publicity already thank you and was a bloody embarrassment. Suffice to say, that the armed forces stepped in and performed magnificently. They and the police had an important job to do, but they did it with a smile on their faces. The infrastructure managed, much more than anyone said it would and the few times I went into central London, there were no problems on any of the forms of public transport I used.

And of course, our wonderful army of Volunteers! Without them, it wouldn’t have happened. They, the Games Makers did it and they all deserve gold medals for the sheer amount of dedication, long hours and bloody hard work each and everyone of them put into their experience. I salute you!

And how wonderful it was to snatch the flag back from the those groups that would seek to destroy us? Ha! How we waved the Union Flag and it felt good to see so many people walking around, wearing it in every way shape and form and know they are not a member those of dark, diseased groups. You don’t belong in 21st Century London/Britain. Please know that, once and for all.

So, world, what do you say? Did we manage it, was it a success, do you see us in a new or different light? It is a simple answer so say it: YES!

Think this is too stupidly patriotic? Jingoistic? Maybe, but I make no apology to you if you feel that; my blog, my rules.

Despite another city holding a very special place in my heart, I have to say this:

London, you truly are #thegreatestcityintheworld.