Thursday, 20 October 2011

Airport Week - Landing Positions

And so we cap off a week of laziness with a small snifter of new material. Airport steward was definitely one of the more unusual temp jobs I had; one that was also equal parts amusing, tedious and infuriating. The repetitive nature of the shifts was unavoidable - you were there to ask people the same question over and over again and, by nature of that, to have the same arguments over and over again about what you could keep. That said, the arguments were the exception to the norm. The norm being a sort of mental resigned shrug that is oh so typically British.

It's a mindset that says a multitude of things:- resignation at the way things are; a weary acceptance that we don;t have the power to change the ways are in this sort of situation; a determination to just get through it so that the real part can begin and a mild shared irritation at the shuffling of the queue. If any job exposed me to the English at their most Englishy, it was frisking people for contraband before they joined a queue.

It also highlighted the way in our minds work with regards to authority. A bright yellow jacket combined with a walkie talkie and suddenly I went from Mouth-Breathing Temp to The Man Who Knew Things - even amongst the people who knew I was just another Mouth-Breathing like the rest of them. What was even weirder was that, the more that people deferred to me, the more I felt like maybe I did know stuff (even though I wasn't allowed to talk into the walkie talkie thus rendering it into just a walkie).

It was an interesting week of a different type of temping (paid well for temp work, too) but I'm glad it was only brief. Much longer and the sheen of novelty would have worn off and the tarnish of repetitive tedium would have set in.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Airport Week - Cruising At 30,000 Feet

Don't worry, this theme week's very nearly over...

And lo, it came to pass on the fifth day in the mighty Second Terminal of Heath Row, just west of the city of Lon-Don, that the humble boy's true inner purpose was revealed to him and he was entrusted with the holy talisman of great shamanic power.

They called it the W'Alkie T'Alkie and it was his to wield.

Truly were its powers great. The boy, humble no more and afforded the newfound deference of his peers, discovered a whole new world. He was kept informed by the mystical means of the W'Alkie T'Alkie as to the great Word of Law - the Check-In Desk Opening Times. For it is written in the worshipful Security Briefing that no "passenger" shall be allowed to "check-in" before the desk is open.

And so he roamed the halls and caverns of the Second Terminal, dispensing this wisdom to those who followed the Way of the Yellow Jerkin. And they looked upon their MayFly Sheets and saw that it was good.

That was not all the power that the lad received through the wonder of the W'Alkie T'Alkie. Also, was he able to determine the timing of the breaks and soon his arrival was muchly anticipated amongst the Yellow Jerkined Ones for he provided that elusive object known as "Break Cover". And there was much rejoicing.

However, all too soon, the lad's time as wielder of the otherwordly device drew to a close and he was forced to relinquish his magic talky box. Thus was the mantle passed to those who dwelt in the Shift of the Afternoon. But, the freshly re-humbled boy knew, that tomorrow when the Shift of the Morning came around again, his star would once again be on the ascendance.....

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Airport Week - Departure Lounge

Our week of reposts continues with this post from five years ago when I was airport stewarding single-type man...

Darkness. Outside, all is black. An alarm sounds. 4 a.m. It can mean only one thing:- it's time to get up for work. Regular ablutions are stumbled through in a sleepy stupor. Clothes are hastily assembled about the person, laces tied in a fumble-fingered fashion and, after an abortive trip to the door sans keys, finally, I emerge blinking into...more darkness.

5 a.m. Not yet light. The essential wrongness of leaving the house sober at 5 a.m. on a Sunday instead of returning with a head and bladder dented by alcohol leaves me wondering for a moment if I've somehow slipped sideways into a parallel universe. But then I realise that, in a parallel universe, I'd have long flowing locks and a nudey chin so the likelihood is slim.

The roads are quiet and the ammoniac tang of last night's urine hangs about the Actonian streets. No one about except me, the cats, a few Saturday night stragglers and the cab drivers. For a brief time, Acton is mine for the taking. I decide to give it back...

6 a.m. Work has begun. The fluttering of tickets, the squeak of airport trolley wheels, the checking of "MayFly" sheets, the squeezing of bags into security-approved sizes. This is Day Three in the Big Heathrow Terminal and none of the temp housemates have gone mad yet. It's becoming regular, routine, usual, humdrum, mundane.

In fact, the day begins to assume a rhythm and changes into... not work but a chant...

No lighters
No liquids
One bag per person

No make-up
No toiletries
Must fit that gauge

No fluids
No lipsticks
Mobiles are OK

No toothpaste
No lip balm
But iPods go through

No Coke cans
No matches
(Safety ones excepted)

No Zippos
No chapsticks
They will turn you back

I'm only saying this for your benefit, sir
You don't want to have to queue up twice

Monday, 17 October 2011

Airport Week - Check-In

A few weeks ago, I wrote about about jobs what I did have way back in the day. In a rare bout of laziness, I'm going to treat you* to a few days worth of reposts about the time I spent as an airport steward five years ago.

A bit of context:- At the time, I was between jobs and taking any temp jobs that I could find to bring in a bit of cash. Fortunately for me, the airports were drafting in as much manpower as they could due to the fact that someone had attempted to smuggle in a bomb in their shoe. It was in this time of heightened security that the following posts were written.

Let the trip back in time commence...

So yesterday** I had a new working experience. I reported to the Control Room at Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport, was issued with a high visibility jerkin that was yellow of colour and proceeded to be an ill-informed guide during this time of heightened security for around 8 hours. They didn't even search me on the way in. I told them I was here to work and they let me wander around the secure offices. I could have been anyone. In fact, I am anyone.

Ever wondered why people in those yellow waistcoats at airports seem to not only be uncertain but also pretty much know less about the airport than you? Well, that'll be because the likelihood is that they're a temp worker who's been drafted in for the day, given a relatively detail-free fifteen minute briefing on what they're supposed to be telling people and then plonked down at the nearest available access point. I'll be honest, I felt somewhat on the silly side at times. I mean, if you're standing around in a highly visible fluorescent item of clothing and people tend to (quite naturally) assume you have some knowledge of your surrounding environs. Imagine their dismay when their query is greeted by the opening gambit of "Erm..." closely followed by the closing move of "I have no idea".

Still, despite my ignorance of the basic structure and functions of Heathrow Terminal 2, it was a good laugh. I meet a fair few other people in the same boat as me (struggling unemployed types signed up to loads of agencies who've only been offered this as gainful work so far) and we did get paid for mostly standing and chatting to each other. It wasn't as busy as you'd have thought and most people have been watching the news over the last week so have got a reasonable idea what to expect.

So, as no other work has been forthcoming so far, I am venturing back there to don the Waistcoat of Doom once again for eight hours a day for the next three days. The only real downside is that my start time is 6 a.m. There's a 6 o'clock in the morning now? When did that get put in?***

* And by "treat", I of couse mean "spend some time building up new material by giving you rewarmed old toot in the meantime".

**Yesterday five years ago.

*** How little did I know that my current job would make me intimately familiar with 6 a.m. starts on some days and 11 p.m. finishes on others.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Intergalactic Tomato Rustlers

Tomatoes. The revolting and potentially deadly fruit which disguises itself as a vegetable*.I have a complex relationship with this particular foodstuff; as an ingredient in bolognese, chilli, pizza, etc., I'm fine with it (as long as it's purely a base and is suitably overpowered by other flavours) and I like ketchup and tomato soup (which, let's face it, don't really taste like actual tomatoes). It's just the pure unadulterated nude versions which turn my stomach so. With that in mind, when the homegrown ones began to disappear from my great aunt's garden when I was just a wee nipper, I wasn't overly upset.

Auntie Nora (sister to Nurse Gladys) lived a couple of roads over from Nana so we usually popped over to visit quite a bit when we were staying over at Nana's. She lived in a ground floor flat and had a garden out the back which was raised. I was never entirely sure why - it may have had something to do with the fact that she lived on quite a steep hill but that may be wrong. You had to walk up a little flight of steps in order to get to it - a fact which caused Nana (a natural born worrier) to regularly fear for our lives.

On one particular visit, Auntie Nora mentioned that some of her tomatoes, which were just ripening, had gone missing in the night. Now, the more down to earth and level headed among you would naturally suggest that some form of wildlife had engaged in some nocturnal pilfering.** However, being a youth of not very advanced age and possessing a mind of a science fictional nature, to me there could only be one plausible explanation:- aliens. It made perfect sense. Who would else would arrive undetected at night, commit fruit-based theft and leave no trace behind? It was the only explanation that fit the facts.

OK, so I never really got as far as to establish motive - I'm still a bit vague as to why anyone would travel the vast interstellar reaches of space just to half-inch a couple of tomatoes - but that was but a minor detail. Auntie Nora and Nana, keen to encourage youthful imagination, gamely played along, throwing in a few more details about odd lights in the sky and strange noises in the night (we'd exposed Nana to enough old sci fi films and episodes of Doctor Who by now; she knew the drill). Also, they probably also had an eye on the fact that this would provide them with "Remember the time that you thought aliens stole my tomatoes" style anecdotes. Which it did.

As much as I was excited at the prospect of aliens, the most important thing to me was that the tomatoes were gone. This meant I avoided having to turn down the chance to try the homegrown toms and causing any offence. Bullet dodged. Or should that be ray gun dodged?

In Other News:- This is my 400th post on this here blog. I toyed with the idea of of doing something needlessly celebratory and desperately attention seeking but couldn't be bothered so settled instead for a slight wisp of a post about some fruit. That probably sums up the blog quite succinctly right there.

* Statement based purely on personal opinion and may not be actual scientific fact.

** Hmm, maybe it was the squirrels again. At the moment, I wouldn't put anything past the little buggers.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


I thought I was done with the whole squirrel thing but it seems that I've opened a can of nuts (ah ha ha) and the little blighters won't quit. Not content with cropping up in a short story I was reading about a town in which phantoms are a fact of daily life* as a a background, scene-setting detail, they then proceeded to turn up in a podcast in the form of an allegorical story about the incompatibility of a squirrel dating a chipmunk (what can I say? I like an odd mix of reading and listening material). The final step was to be provided later that day...

My Grandad (he of the formerly truck-driving variety) turned 88** at the weekend so I'd bought him a present and was popping round to visit. He's notoriously difficult to buy presents for - he pretty much doesn't want anything anymore and responds with a standard "What did you bother getting me that for?" to any gift he's presented with. Feigning gratitude is not his strong point. All this has altered in the last few years, however, with the introduction of a present that he actually uses - Ma and Pa bought him a DVD player. Once he'd worked out how to get past the menu, he was away. Having strong and fond memories of watching many old comedies with him as a nipper, I've known precisely what to get for him and the Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields and Harold Lloyd DVDs have all been watched.

So armed with a selection of Tommy Cooper DVDs in hand, I approached Grandad's maisonette. Only to find, bold as brass on the path in front of me.... yep, a squirrel. Which stands there. And doesn't move. And fixes me with a beady squirrely eye. I stand, surprised at the sudden arrival of a bushy-tailed nut-botherer after having spent a couple of days writing about them. To the casual observer, this may well have appeared to be an odd sort of Mexican stand-off.

Eventually, I twitched and he bolted, the moment broken. The grandfather was presented with his prezzie and seemed pleased with it (well, he said that Tommy Cooper was one of the all time greats which is as close to "That's great, thanks" as you're gonna get) and, upon departing, I was presented with the reason for my rodenty confrontation. You see, Grandad has a bird table upon which he likes to leave out treats for the local avian types. The treats he currently had out on offer? Yep, it was the old traditional monkey nuts and the tree-bound furry fellas were unable to resist like the nut junkies that they are. As we stood outside discussing this, the squirrel beadily eyeballed us from the safety of a branch in a nearby tree.

So, hopefully, this brings to an end my week of squirrel-based association. Although you never can tell when the furry little thieves are lurking nearby, watching and twitching and twitching and watching...

* Phantoms by Steven Millhauser

** As he points out, that's Two Fat Ladies in old bingo calling terms...

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Clack Clack Clack Ding

It had its own hardshell case, the base of which it was permanently attached to, and a handle so that you could carry it around like a misshapen briefcase. It was a child-friendly size but still had serious heft and weight to it (which meant that you weren't going to carry it around very far). It sat in the bedroom and, despite being loved, it was infrequently used. It was my junior typewriter and the sound it made was music to my ears.

Of course, the digital age is a wonderful thing with its ability to instantly provide those wordy sentence type of things to an at least mildly curious audience. There was something, satisfying, however, about the force of effort needed to push the little letters towards the ink-filled ribbon and spear that little inky character down on to the unsuspecting paper. The machine had its little quirks too that were equal parts endearing and frustrating. When you pressed the "j" key, it would usually bring up the "k" as well and the two would then engage in a race to see who made it to the inky ribbon first. The "s" key was ever so slightly misaligned so always appeared on the page just a tiny fraction lower than the other letters. This was more than made up for by the noise of the thing.

The clack of the keys as the letters whizzed up and down, the ding of the bell as you reached the end of the line, the whir of the roller as you pulled a sheet of paper out. All these things made you feel like an old-fashioned reporter in an old-fashioned film who's just about to yell out "Stop the presses!"

As with many a childhood gift which is the result of much pestering on the child's part, it wasn't used anywhere as much as it should have been (which I'm sure drove the parents mad after they'd shelled out for the thing). In my slight defence, I suffered then from something which still affects me now - fear of a blank page. The will to write is strong but, when faced with the prospect of actually committing ink to page / screen, sometimes the blank page comes out on top.

Underused it may have been but my typewriter was still cherished. As much as my trusty and much-used pen and notebooks are these days.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

...Ain't Payin' Any Rent

There was a time when The Brother was living back at Chez Ma and Pa (this has happened from time to time over the years for both of us for varying reasons). Having gone out and lived in his own place under his own rules, he was finding it difficult to readjust to life back in the familial seat. At the time he was the bass player in a band called Motel Hero and this provided him with the ideal outlet to express how he felt about the family home.

If you go to this link* and press play, you will be rewarded with 49 seconds of musicy goodness with a squirrelly feel.

And so the squirrel in the loft lived on immortalised in song. Oddly enough, having decided to write about squirrels over the last day or so, I seem to have been followed by them everywhere...

Whilst listening to a podcast, I was surprised at the synchronicity of the host mentioning one of the contributor's books, "Squirrel Meets Chipmunk". The synchronicity wave continued to crest on the train as I got up to leave and overheard a man on the phone saying, "No, you have to open and close the door really quickly otherwise the squirrel will get in." Finally, the wave of squirrelly synchronicity crashed upon the beach when I was later shown this link.

Squirrels. They're everywhere. Mind your nuts.

*Hey, anyone remember that site? It used to be all the rage, back in the day.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Squirrel In The Loft...

Night. All is dark and quiet.* I am lying in bed and sleep is beckoning as I drift in that strange crossover country between memory and dream (did I really have a conversation about cannibalisitic penguins?). Suddenly, a noise. A skittering, scritching noise. Where? Above me. Scratching and rustling. Sleep has fled and in its place is a miraculous feeling towards the squirrel in the loft.

I don't remember exactly when he moved in. There was no formal invitation and there was certainly no contract. All I knew was that he was exactly the sort of housemate that nobody desired. "But how could you resent the cuddly, fluffy squirrel when you so desperately wanted a pet one as a youth," I hear you ask. All I can say is that I am a fickle creature and that if you take up residence above my bedroom with what appears to be the sole purpose of making scratching noises, don;t expect me to be your biggest fan.

This wasn't enough for our sciuridaen interloper, oh no. For, you see, the loft of the house that is ma and Pa's is a veritable treasure trove of stuff and things, toys and games, photos and mementos, books and magazines, nick nacks and gewgaws. There is somewhat of a tendency towards hoarding in the house (not in a crazy piles of newspapers or jars of urine way, mind you) and the loft is stocked to the rafters. All of which was the icing on the lofty cake for Mr Squirrel.

It was upon a routine "clear out the loft but actually keep pretty much all of it just move it around a bit" mission the we discovered the nibbled remains of many possessions. This necessitated the implementation of the Big Blue Plastic Boxes for storage and the squirrels epicurean vandalism was partly thwarted.

A few years back, the loft was redecorated and a new lining installed. After that, the lofty shenanigans pretty much ceased and the local squirrels took to perching on the edge of the roof and shouting angrily instead (oh well, you can't have everything). The legend of the squirrels would always live on in song, however...

* Some poetic licence is being used her as Ma and Pa's house is one street away from a train station so floodlights and night freight trains do not strictly speaking make dark and quiet.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Squirrel In The Park

They are small. They are furry. And they'll go for your nuts (warning - there's always a strong possibility that this could turn out to be the first in a series of genitalia-based "jokes"). I'm talking, of course, about squirrels. Twitchy of nose, fleet of foot and bushy of tail. As a child, I desperately wanted to own one as a pet. Fortunately, I had sensible parents who explained to me that squirrels were best left where they were. Equally fortunately, I had a member of the family on side who liked to get up close and personal with nature.

Grandad (Pop's Pop) has always been a nature lover. Handily lying about the kitchen could be spotted the odd old crust of bread ready to feed any local birds who stopped off in the front garden for a quick snack. Nowadays, he has the full bird table with special bird feed and everything so that he can observe the comings and goings of the neighbourhood feathered folks. I was never that much of a twitcher* myself. No, the important thing to me was the bag of monkey nuts that were kept on standby in the glove compartment of Grandad's car.

You see, we lived but a short ride away from Greenwich Park and, in amongst the section of the park where the deer could be found to roam, lived a large selection of squirrels. Yeah, not so unusual. I know. Park, trees, green spaces, squirrels. And there wasn't anything particularly exceptional about them. Except maybe for their superhuman levels of cheekiness.

Due to the regular stream of people style visitors, the furry little menaces had become so immune to the presence of people that the human form had become just another obstacle to hurdle in the acquisition of food. This was what The Brother and I loved. The game went like this:- retrieve monkey nut from Grandad. Stand next to tree. Hold said monkey nut betwixt thumb and forefinger. Wait for squirrel to climb you like a tree in order to acquire the nut. Try not to giggle or scream depending on level of squirrel claw tickling or accidental claw gouging. Repeat until either we or the squirrels got bored first (it was normally the squirrels).

To this day, the sight of a bag of monkey nuts causes a wave of squirrel-based nostalgia. At Chez Ma and Pa, however, relations with the squirrels were to take a decidedly frosty turn in later years...

*Bird watcher to you non-ornithological types.

Monday, 3 October 2011

(Not) Bigger On The Inside

The early Eighties. Star Wars was an acceptable form of worship, the acquisition of sweets was a prime motivator and attending primary school was all the rage amongst my friends and I. Being a small child person type of thing, I had straightforward ambitions. I wanted medical science to advance to the point that I could be safely transformed into a tyrannosaurus rex*, I wanted to write books** and I wanted the ability to travel throughout all of time and space***. Through the power of an extremely splendid playset and a healthy dollop of imagination, I came pretty close on the last one.

I must admit that I can't specifically remember when I got it - whether it was a birthday or a Christmas present - but what I do remember is that I loved it. It was blue, it was about four and a half feet tall, it was box-like and it had had a control panel painted underneath a scanner (plastic window) on the inside (which, unfortunately due to the way that the laws of physics currently work, was not bigger than the outside). It was a TARDIS playhouse and it was all mine.

It was a thing of elegant simplicity. You snapped together the plastic frame, inflated the mock light on the top of the cover, pulled said cover over the newly constructed frame and, once inside through the police box's tent-style doors, the whole of space and time was yours to explore.

It kept me amused for hours, did my TARDIS tent (well, what else would a young Doctor Who obsessive need?). It didn't even have to "go" anywhere; sometimes I'd be perfectly happy just sitting in it. Sadly, unlike the "real" thing, it was not immune pot the ravages of time and two factors ended its run. Firstly, I grew too big for it and secondly the outer cover ripped and some of the pieces of the frame went missing.

So, like may things at Ma and Pa's that were once cherished, it was consigned to the loft where it probably remains to this day. I wonder if I could fix the old girl up and take her out for a spin?

* Actually, that would still be pretty cool.

** This one still stands, obviously.

*** Maybe my wants aren't so radically different these days after all..

Friday, 30 September 2011

The Shape Of Things To Come

Nothingness. An endless, empty expanse which stretched out bare before his eyes. Dim shapes occasionally seemed to loom up into view, only to disappear again as soon as focus was trained upon them. He strained to try and make some shape or form out of the half-congealed masses which lurked in front of him but no order could he bring to the chaos. All of which is to say that I've got a nice long list of potential blog ideas which are all steadfastly refusing to be beaten into some sort of wordy narrative-ish form. The swines.

Quite some time ago, I gave a you a little teaser of things to come; most of which have been and passed and a couple of which are still percolating away and will emerge in the fullness of time (you didn't think I'd forgotten about "Bulgarian near-death experiences", did you?). In a similar way to before, here are some potential titles which may or may not come to pass as full-blown blogs (and which or may not remain as the titles - the author reserves the right to do whatever he bloody well likes at any time):-

- Clack Clack Clack Ding
- The Night Of The Fractured Nose
- Intergalactic Tomato Rustlers
- To Live And Die In Carlisle
- (Not) Bigger On The Inside

and a few more besides, including maybe a week or so devoted to the behind the scenes story of a low budget feature film...

Oh, also, I may well cheat a bit over the next few days and repost a set of blogs about my time as airport security at Heathrow (in keeping with the whole jobs vibe of the moment). What? They're from five years ago on a different site - you'll still be getting your money's worth (yes, free, that's right)...

Thursday, 29 September 2011

I Think Maybe They Do Sell Fridges - Part The Last

Occasionally, a father would bring the kids out on his own for the joy of bonding over the shoe shopping experience but their time with us was normally as mercifully brief as possible:- "Do you have anything that fits? We'll take it." (This wasn't necessarily a smart move on their part as more often than not they'd be back for a refund / exchange once the mother saw the hideous / wildly inappropriate / cheaply made footwear that had been purchased.) On the whole, though, the vast majority of our customers were women (when accompanied by partners, they seemed to be the ones in charge) and it was from this mostly pleasant majority that the troublesome minority would spring.

That minority had fixed in their mind exactly what they hoped to achieve and what they wanted was this - a mythical, durable, expanding shoe that would somehow last and fit for the child's entire school career and they weren't going to be leaving the shop until they'd tried on every possible shoe in the hopes of finding it. The phrase that would fill me with dread was "Can we just try it one size larger?" followed by repeated enquiries as to what I thought (with my actual opinion being ignored) and attempts to bully me into using the words "It's OK" so that they could buy an ill-fitting shoe and tell themselves their conscience was clear and "the bad man in the shop" told them to buy it while their poor child stumbled about with bleeding feet. Fortunately, this being children's shoes, we didn't get commission for sales (the fit was important, not the sale) so if they kept ignoring me, it was no skin off my nose if they went and bullied a shop assistant somewhere else.

I get that kids are an expensive business and you don't want to keep buying them expensive shoes every couple of months but a) kids do grow (no avoiding that bit) and b) don't ask for someone's advice then ignore it by bullishly trying to nag them into agreeing with you so you can save a couple of quid with a clean conscience. Also, if you really want to save a couple of quid, go to your local shoe shop and don't go shopping at an expensive Oxford Street store.

At least we had an endlessly looping video of The Lion King to keep the kids entertained while their mothers jammed every type of shoe into the shop onto their leaden feet. I did, however, become concerned when people started pointing out that I was unconsciously talking along with the script. And don't be alarmed if I suddenly start checking whether your shoes fit properly if "Hakuna Matata" starts to play....

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

I Think Maybe They Do Sell Fridges - Part The First

The first proper job I ever had (don't worry, this isn't going to go all Derek and Clive) was at a reasonably famous department store located towards the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street in That There London. This was way back in my gap year between school and university (before The Days Of The Temp) in which the intention was to build up a bit of cash for university. A friend who lived down the road was working in said shop and, being in need of help, drafted me and her sister (also a friend who'd been in my class a couple of times at school) to help out. So good was I in this role that I made the transition from part time to full time.

And this wondrous role in a reasonably famous department store, I hear you ask, what was it? It was the vital and important role of... children's shoe fitter. Yep, you read that right. I used to fit shoes for children as a living.

I had to be trained for it, you know. Oh yes, they don't just any Tom, Dick or Baldy wander in off the street and start crippling the young. No, they send you on one-day course to show you how to use the big machine with the moving bars that you put your foot into, how to use the manual gauges that you have to slide up and down yourself in case of technological failure and also how to tell you're not permanently injuring someone whose bones are still growing. They give you a cheap looking "Your Name Here" style certificate at the end of the day and everything. I'm a Start-Rite certified shoe fitter. That's not something you'll find on every CV, you know.

The one thing that most people say when I mention The Shoe Fitting Days is, "Oh, the children, I bet they were a nightmare." And, yes, I suppose the odd one or two were complete and utter shitbags (as is the way with children and the bigger people they later turn out to be) but, for the most part, they were OK. Generally, they were bored out of their tiny little minds and filled with a hatred for the shopping of the shoes; an attitude with which I can sympathise to this day. No, the kids were mostly alright. At the risk of alienating some of my audience, it was the mothers which caused the grief...

To Be Continued

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Dust, Noise And Grit

In the late Nineties, as the world teetered on the cusp of becoming a predominantly digital place, filing seemed to be a big thing for most companies. Paper was sprouting all over the place and no one knew what to do with it. Or, more accurately, no one wanted to spend time sorting it and shuffling it from one place to another. In this world of endless paperwork to be filed, only one person could help and that person was... The Temp.

I seemed to spend a lot of my temp-based involved in the marshaling of paper-based objects. And data inputting. Oh my yes, plenty but plenty of data inputting. I remember working for a governmental department and being one of two temps hired to sort through the many, many hundreds of applications for legal work experience then entering their details into the system if they met certain (extremely high) standards. So good was I at this menial work that I was kept on for longer to pass contracts around for signature, duplicate them and file them. A university education at work, there.

This was by no means my worst filing experience - on the contrary, it was a very pleasant office to work in. No, my least favourite filing experience was in a set of portacabins within a building site for a set of new offices near Bank.

My mission, which I had already foolishly accepted, was to file all the on-site architectural plans in order of revision. Pretty simple, you may think. Well, you may think wrong as these things were updated seemingly every hour in varying colours and codes. Not only that but they were also huge - it was like constantly filing posters. Except that they were really boring posters.

Added to this were two more elements - the dust and the noise. The dust was everywhere and coated everything. I spent the whole day feeling gritty. To top it off, at certain times of day, the whole place reverberated to the sound of pneumatic drills. It was a lot like working inside a tin can while someone banged it with a stick.

I lasted the best part of a week and a half before making my excuses and leaving. Apparently, there was a pretty high turnover on this assignment. I was more than happy to keep that high rate ticking over.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Hi, This Is Nick Speaking, How Can I Help You?

Call centres. Hate 'em or hate 'em, you can't escape 'em. They seem to be one of the many necessary evils of this modern world what we do live in. Well, maybe they're not that necessary but I doubt that they're going anywhere anytime soon. This was a fortunate thing for me in the late Nineties as, fresh out of university and still sporting a little bit of hair, I found myself donning the headset and taking the abuse that a call centre operative gets.

There's something uniquely dehumanising about working in a call centre. You put on the magic (and fetching) headset, you log into the phone system and you cease being that individual person and start being defined by statistics. The amount of time you're logged in, the times you take fro breaks, the calls you clear per hour, the number of sales leads you pass across. These are the things that define you - not your likes or abilities but whether you maintain the stats, keep the numbers up, don't let them drop. Add to that the fact that you're just supposed to absorb all the bile and vitriol that is poured your way (with a healthy soupcon of "regular crazy and demanding caller" thrown in for good measure) and you begin to feel less like a person and more like some call-processing human emotional sponge.

All of which is not to say that the people who work there are inhuman. Not at all. They were people all right - a fair number of them graduates like me who needed to get that cash coming in and start paying off those student overdrafts (and the call centre temp jobs paid good money - high burnout rate). We did our time, plowed through our calls and got very drunk whenever we could (frequently, as I recall).

I worked there for six months as a temp, kept my head down, did my job and was offered a permanent position. I said yes initially, thinking that this was my way on to the career path. Then one day, a moment of clarity - I looked around at the people who'd been on the phones for years or those who'd made their way into the sales team and then stayed there for years and thought, "No, this isn't the life for me."

So I made my excuses, left and launched myself back into the wonderful world of temporary employment...

Monday, 19 September 2011

The Time, The Place - Part The Last

It is about eight years after I was last in the Trafalgar Tavern. My friend Rich and his brother Rob have finished shooting their first (nearly) feature length film Eightball, in which I play the unintentionally camp villain (well, look, I was going for menacing but it;s a very fine line...). Having self-financed the film itself, they decided to hire out a venue for a screening which they will also be paying for. The nicest venue they can find in their price range? Yep, it's the Tavern.

This event I remember very clearly - it was a packed house (standing at the back even) and an appreciative audience. This may well have had something to do with the fact that pretty much everyone in the audience either knew or was related to someone in the film but still a good time was had by all.

Skip forward again to a couple of years ago. Bro and Soon-To-Be-Mrs-Bro were searching for venues for their upcoming nuptials. Yes, you know exactly where this is going so I'll just skip to the end - the Trafalgar was once again called into service as the venue for the ceremony, meal and reception (which saved a lot of faffing about). Due to your truly being on best man duties, however, the enforced sobriety that I went through prior to speech (which involved handouts of embarrassing pictures - always a winner) was counterbalanced by extreme drunkenness from the very instant the speech was concluded and thus my memories are once again befogged (although I am reliably informed that I was the life and soul of the party and did not leave the dance floor for the entire night which explains the extreme aching of the leg the next day).

One venue, showing up in three different capacities at various points in my life, completely unplanned on my part. Dance floor, cinema and registry office. I wonder what'll it be when it undoubtedly turns up again in five to six years time...

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Time, The Place - Part The First

There are familiar faces that crop up throughout your life - sometimes expectedly, oftentimes not so much - but sometimes there are places which seem to keep randomly recurring at key moments. One such place for me is the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich.

Being the home of the National Maritime Museum (as well as the place where they make time before shipping it out to the rest of the world), Greenwich is fairly well populated with pubs featuring words like Nelson, Trafalgar, Hardy, Cutty Sark, Gypsy Moth and so on in their names. The Trafalgar is one such old drinking establishment, a lovely old place situated on the river. It's a pleasant if unremarkable pub downstairs but it is upon venturing upstairs that you discover the huge and rather stately function rooms. It is to these rooms that I have been drawn at selected times in my life...

First on the list was my unofficial sixth form ball at the age of eighteen. The school had, naturally, organised an official leavers ball but no one really relishes the idea of school-approved and sanctioned fun so one of the boys in my year took it upon himself to go off and organise a ball of his won. This was my first time at the Trafalgar function rooms but, I have to admit, my actual memory of the event is somewhat hazy - mainly due to the fact that I would have been very, very drunk.

I didn't really think about the place much again but, around eight years later, I was to find myself once again standing in those rooms but for a very different reason...

To Be Concluded

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Wage Monkey - Part The Last

When I arrived at the Oval, the usual selection of current, former and future criminals were there to make up my friendly, neighbourhood co-workers. This bit wasn't much of a surprise, though, and I wasn't expecting a day of witty repartee and general jocularity so I can't really complain about that.

We were assigned our areas to watch and sent on our merry way. Our mission - to just sort of stand there and either stop people going were they weren't supposed to or point them in the direction they needed to go. I was given a section of the stands to watch over and told to go forth and watch.

It was pretty much at this point, when I'd got myself in my allocated standing position, that the worst thing possible for a cricket match happened - it started to rain. For those of you not in the know, cricket is one of those sports which is prevented by rain (don't worry, I won't be blinding you with cricket facts, sport and I are very much uneasy bedfellows). Splendid , I thought, rain stops play, we all go home and I get my flat fee of £30 for doing nothing. Oh ho ho, thought the universe, you not getting off that lightly, Sunny Jim.

You see if the rain is heavy enough to stop play but not heavy enough to give the ground a thorough soaking then everyone will just hang around on the off chance that it could all kick off. And lo and behold, it rained consistently but not too heavily throughout the day whilst showing occasional signs of clearing up without actually doing so and so the Powers That Be decided to hang around all day on the off chance that it could kick off. The upshot of this being that I had to stand outside all day. In the rain. Staring at empty stands. And empty grass. In case there was cricket. Which I find boring anyway.

It was the soggiest and most miserable of working days during my career asa a temp. The day dragged on interminably with no stimulation for my bored little brain and no respite from the glorious summer weather. They made us work the whole day and, by the end, I was cold, damp and downcast. This was the final nail in the coffin of my glittering career as a temp steward. Some of my fellow knuckle-draggers seemed to enjoy getting paid for standing around all day doing nothing but get rained on but the mind-popping tedium of it all wasn't for me. I handed in my high visibility jerkin and bade farewell to the stewarding world.

Little did I know that the future would hold such glittering temp roles as call centre operative, airport security and cinema receipt sorter....

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Wage Monkey - Part The Second

It quickly became clear that the majority of the blokes I was to be stewarding with (and they were all men at this particular event) were of a criminal persuasion. They'd either recently been released, were currently inside and seemed to be participating in some of community service programme or were yet to be apprehended for criminal activities that they were currently indulging in. Only a couple of people there seemed to be fellow students like myself. The rest were the sort of people who listed "beating up students" as one of their hobbies (which actually reminds me of a trip to Carlisle but that's a story for another time). To say that I felt a little bit of a fish out of water would be something of an understatement.

The day itself was fine - reasonably boring and with little in the way of banter with my agency colleagues - if a little on the low paid side. Still, I'd got through it, it hadn't taxed me and I'd made a fairly small amount of cash. I reckoned it was worth going back for more so I signed up for a day of stewarding the cricket at the Oval. This is where I went wrong.

From what I can remember, it was something like a ten hour shift and, for this, they played a flat rate of about £30. oh yes, a handsome wage for a handsome day's work. We had to be there for a briefing at about 8 in the morning - which meant that I couldn't get cheap travel and had to pay around £7 to get there. Having been mini-bussed previously, I had not realised this was the case and had not factored this in before signing up. Suddenly my earnings for the day were down to about £2.30 per hour. This did not bode well..

To Be Concluded

Monday, 12 September 2011

Wage Monkey - Part The First

Temp jobs have a special category of contempt reserved for them. Unless the temp job in question is covering someone on leave, the sort of work involved in the average piece of low paid contract work is generally a) so menial that it would be a positive affront to include those duties in a regular persons role and b) so mind- meltingly simple that you could shave a monkey and get said shaved simian to do it. I have, as have most of us at one point or another, been that monkey.

The most memorably depressing day of temping that I ever spent was as a cricket steward at the Oval. I won't name the company - admittedly mainly because their name is lost in the dim and distant haze of my alcohol-numbed student memory - but they specialised in staffing for events from a catering and security / stewarding point of view. It was in the twilight of my university days and I needed a bit of additional cash to see me through. My flatmates were working for the agency in question and doing silver service and bar work at events. I thought I'd get in on a bit of that action and signed myself up.

Sadly, my complete lack of catering experience meant that I wouldn't be landing any of those plum silver service gigs. No, I was only qualified for stewarding which was basically pointing at things that were further away and standing around in a high visibility jacket. My three years as a children's shoe fitter at Selfridges cut no ice here. Well, fair enough, I thought, a job's a job and money's money and various other tautologies.

I signed on for a day of stewarding at the races - can't remember which race course. It had horses at it, that's about the best I can do. We had to arrive early at the agency offices to be mini-bussed to the event and it was there that I met the people I was to be shackled with for the rest of the day. If hell is other people, I was in for a fiery day indeed...

To Be Continued

Sunday, 11 September 2011

She's A Boy

I was round at Chez Ma and Pa's the other night, working a late shift, when the phone rang. It was Gorgeous Girlfriend.

"Darth Vader's a boy!"

This statement left me completely surprised. As a self-confessed Star Wars fan (who has talked about the Wars extensively on this here blog), my reaction may well seem a little odd to you. As it happens, she was not referring to the character once known as Anakin Skywalker who grows up to become a Dark Lord of the Sith and slaughterer of Jedi. No. We're both well aware that he's a boy / hideously scarred cyborg-type thing.

No, she was in fact referring to our reasonably recently acquired black kitten who we had previously assumed to be a girl (and derived much amusement from then naming Darth Vader). Gorgeous Girlfriend had been sat with the kitten that day, happily tickling Vader's tummy when, Vader obviously being slightly happier with the tummy tickling than expected, out had popped Vader's old chap (well, we've all been there). Upon closer inspection, it was quite clear that there were a healthy pair of testicles located just underneath too. The knackers must have been a recently descended development as not only had we failed to notice them but the vet didn't notice them either when we took Vader for the standard set of injections.

So it turns out that she's a boy and I'm still getting used to describing her as him. I'm just hoping that he carries on being a cat and it doesn't turn out that we've got a bit of a funny-looking dog...

Friday, 9 September 2011

A Little Bit Off The Front - Part The Last

A short interval of time had passed. I was standing before the mirror with my hair-based masterwork revealed to me in all its glory. Except that glory was entirely the wrong word as my fringe was a diagonal, crenellated mess. It looked somewhat like someone had given me a fringe by cutting around a selection of seashells. I had utterly destroyed my hairstyle and made myself look like a mental patient. I was, in short, an idiot and the evidence of my idiocy was there for all to see. There was only one thing left to do:- some quick panicking followed by a dose of crying, ultimately culminating in slinking sheepishly downstairs to tell Ma and Pa what I'd done.

The folks mainly came down on the side of anger but there was also a healthy dose of amusement at the prize chump I'd made of myself. I did, after all, look like a right tit. It was shortly before bedtime so finding somewhere for an emergency haircut was out of the question. With a glint in his eye, my father stepped forward to solve the situation in his own inimitable way.

Dad is a D.I.Y. enthusiast and likes to have a specific tool, preferably power-driven, to provide a convenient solution to any potential household problem. The Problem Of His Eldest Son's Mangled Fringe was no exception. He'd sort this out, it would be all right and all he would need would be his trusty electric shaver with clipper attachment.

A short time later and Pops had finished his work. The angle of fringiness had been reduced from around 45 degrees to about 15 degrees and the amount of fringe was virtually non-existent. In short, I still looked like an idiot who had cut his own fringe as I now had a moptop haircut with a missing front piece.

There was a punishment for my stupid desecration of my own hair and that was to spend the following day at school with my mental patient barnet; a haircut was out of the question until after school had finished. The other children at school, being the kind generous souls that they were, teased me all day long. I spent as much time as possible with my hand clamped to my forehead and avoided every break time by skulking around in our upstairs classroom like some junior Quasimodo while my tormenters danced outside the windows. Suitable punishment indeed for I was never again tempted to cut my own hair with a pair of nail scissors. Or any scissors really.

There was one upside to the whole affair - my hair had to be cut so short that the moptop hairdo never returned. In retrospect, though, just asking Mum and Dad for a different haircut would probably have been less traumatic / moronic.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

A Little Bit Off The Front - Part The Second

The bathroom contained plenty of mirrors so I was all right on that front. Just the one vital ingredient missing then - some scissors. Cupboard doors were opened, shelves rooted through and only one pair of scissors was discovered - Ma's nail scissors. Fair enough, they would have to do.

Not too much of a problem, you may be thinking. Well, let me give you a bit more detail about them. Two blades and two loopy bits to put your fingers through in order to operate them - so far, so standard. However, these were those particular types of nail scissors with curved blades. Yes, you're probably getting an inkling where this is going. Run with that inkling. While you're at it, if you could also nip back and clue in my eight or nine year old self, that would be spiffing as that fella didn't see a single thing wrong with them.

Scissors grasped in hand and and hair secured between two fingers (like what the proper hair cutting people do), the first cut was made. And all I had done was manage to cut a noticeable semi-circular section out of fringe. At this point, I started to feel the creeping fear that something was going horribly wrong here as, one cut in, it didn't seem to be turning out the way that I had hoped. I had committed myself, though, and at this point if I'd just shown Mum and Dad the curved result of my cack-handed barber skills, the shouting would have begun. No, I could still fix this, it was only the first cut; if I just kept going, it was bound to all turn out alright, wasn't it? Wasn't it?

No, it wasn't.

To Be Continued

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A Little Bit Off The Front - Part The First

Today's ramblings concern an object of myth and legend; an item which some claim to have knowledge of but whose existence has faded into memory with the inevitable passage of time. Once it proudly displayed itself to the world but today, it is a thing of rumour. I am talking about my fringe.

As I sit before you (not literally, of course, I've no idea where you are... unless, that is, you happen to be reading this quite near to me, in which case, give us a wave), it is hard to imagine that that vast tractless expanse of gleaming forehead was once held at bay by a bordering fence of hair. That is very much the case, though, for I was not always shiny of pate.

As a youth, I had a full head of thick hair which, as it continued to grow at a reasonable rate, needed frequent cutting (from what I understand, this is still standard operating procedure for hair). Mother was, is and ever shall be a Beatles fan and so, as a consequence, the hairstyle of choice that the Brother and I were subjected to was a sort of bowlish, 60s-style, moptop-like affair (cheerfully provided by our neighbour Lin down the road). This being the 1980s, however, our haircuts were naturally around twenty years out of date and we were duly ridiculed for them by the kind and generous souls who were our schoolmates (school children being one of the most evil creatures to walk the earth).

After our umpteenth trim into this same old hairdo, I decided that I'd had enough. My hair was starting to get long again and I wanted something different, something new and I knew just the person to do it - me. I'd seen Lin cutting our hair and it looked pretty easy - she just sort of snipped at it a bit and hey presto, freshly cut hair. I was pretty sure that I could manage that. All I needed was a pair of scissors and a mirror. To the bathroom...

To Be Continued