Archive for March, 2012

The life I almost had

Over a cup of tea with friends last night, we got on to the subject of what we had wanted to be when we were younger. Predictably, most of the girls there had wanted to be pop stars.

One friend, we’ll call her Emma to preserve her anonymity (and dignity) was discovered, and filmed, in the front room, warbling away into one of those toy microphones which had an applause button on the base. For some unknown reason what she was singing was, “Lucy, Luuuucy, Lucyyyy, Lucy,” and then pressing the applause button and saying in earnest to the imaginary crowd of adoring fans, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” The mystery of who “Lucy” is has never been solved.

Another friend made more solid steps towards stardom. Her and three friends made their own instruments and rehearsed songs they’d written. This friend, let’s call her Kate, had five empty glass bottles which she filled to different levels with water and tapped with a stick to make ‘music’. One of the other girls in her group had a cardboard box with elastic bands around it which she pinged. The song they sang went something along the lines of “if I wasn’t a pop star, I would be a…” And each of them would sing a verse in which they revealed what they would be if they weren’t otherwise engaged in their really successful pop careers.

What about you? I hear you asking. Didn’t you have any pop star plans?
Well, my road to fame is different because obviously theirs are pipe dreams, whereas mine had real potential. I was in a group called Delana. It was an amalgamation of our stage names. That’s right, we had stage names. We were pretty serious about it.

My main contribution was as ‘songwriter.’ Obviously. As a big fan of PJ and Duncan, I was well versed in the world of the ‘mid-song rap’. And I spent long hours at home, practising my lyrics in a deep voice. I got pretty good at the deep voiced rap, I must say.

I was obviously coveted by many record companies, who had heard about me through reputation. They were clambering to get at me. But I had to tell them, you know? I had to say, listen, I need to finish my schooling first. Becoming a worldwide sensation will affect my education and that’s what comes first.

And that’s the story of why my pop star dreams didn’t happen. Honest.

“Just a reg”

Another story from work today. (Yes, yes, I know you want to hear about this week’s Chat magazine again but you’ll just have to hold your horses. I’ll get a copy today and give you some highlights soon, ok?)

I’m in work and a customer is paying for something, when in walks a certain someone from a certain programme where you all compete for a job with Lord someone.
There he is, hair swept back, slight tan giving the impression that he possibly leads quite a charmed existence, full of holidays and women. He strolls in, casually, in the knowledge that he is the picture of suave. He’s quite tall and carries it well. His funny little moustachey thing could go, but overall he gives the impression of being very self-assured and ‘cool’.
I pretend not to recognise him. “How can I help you?”
“Can I get a mocha please?” (There it is again, “Can I get?” Anyway….)
“Sure. What size would you like? Regular or large?”

And then it happens. The suaveness disappears. Mr. Cool is rapidly replaced by Mr. Dickhead. What he said next is a direct quote. It is burned into my memory with a branding iron.

“Just a reg.”

A reg. That’s honestly what he said. A reg. What on earth is a reg? I wanted to say, “I’m sorry, I’ll ask again, regular or large? Because what you just said was nonsense. I need an answer to the question if you want this mocha.” A reg. I was extremely close to just sending him out of the deli, empty handed, to think about what he’d done. If there was a naughty step, I would have sent him to it.

What actually happened was that I pretended to just double-check what he’d said by saying innocently, “Regular, you said?” He said yes, I pottered off to make it.

Another thing that people say, which I think they’re doing to give the impression that they’re regular coffee drinkers and, therefore, know the lingo, is “cap”.

“I’d like a skinny cap, please,” they say. The thing is, I’ve been making coffee for a living for more years than I care to count, and I have never, and I mean NEVER, said “cap” instead of cappuccino. The word cappuccino is not so long that it’s really saving any time to say “cap” instead. What I really want to say is, “Actually, no, you can’t get a cap here. I think you’ve come to the wrong place if that’s what you need. This is a deli, we quite clearly don’t sell headgear, do we? Pop into town, maybe you want to visit a sportswear shop instead?”

As a follow up from yesterday’s blog, a friend told me that she’s seen BNS written in recipes before. Have a guess what it might mean? Ready for the answer?
Butternut squash. Again, ridiculous.

“P. S. B.”

Imagine the scene.

It’s lunchtime. You’re in a restaurant with a friend, chatting happily. The waitress brings you a menu. It’s exciting, what to have, what to have? The choice is immense. The steak? The chicken? The fish? O no!
Finally, you settle on something which looks quite nice. A goat’s cheese salad. Mmm. You read the list of ingredients, getting exciting. “A goat’s cheese salad,” it says, “with beetroot, roasted red pepper, “P.S.B”, toasted seeds and baby gem.”
And your world falls apart. “P.S.B.”? What can this mean? You like to think of yourself as a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to food. You eat out quite a bit, enjoy cooking. What is this “P.S.B.” of which they speak?
It’s written like that too. With quotation marks around it and full stops inbetween each letter. And in capitals. Like it’s screaming at you. “P”! “S”! “B”! It becomes a chant in your mind, “P. S. B! P. S. B! P. S. B! P. S. B!”
What is it? Per Spoon and Bowl? Per Serving Bitesize? Passed Sell By? Pre Supper Binge? Please Stop Biting? Please Start Biting?

In your panic, you don’t notice the arrival of the waitress to take your order. Your friend has already ordered and they are both looking at you, the silence grows and it’s clear something is wrong.
Quietly you ask the waitress, as there’s nothing else you can do, “Erm, what’s P. S. B.?”
She looks at you as though speaking to an old deranged person who can’t understand where ‘outside’ is.
“Purple sprouting broccoli,” and it’s clear she’s also saying silently, “Obviously.”
“O, I’ll just have that then, yeh, the goat’s cheese salad please,” you say hurriedly and she departs.

“P. S. B.”! Has the world gone insane? Since when did purple sprouting broccoli have it’s own acronym? As though it’s so universally recognised that it’s ok to put it on menus now because it won’t need explaining. As if it’s up there with FIFA and OPEC in being letters that most people are familiar with.
“P. S. B.”…. Ridiculous.

The little boy with the big voice

Today, as it’s Mother’s Day, I’m going to tell you a story about a little boy and his mum.

I am in work, cleaning something or making a coffee usually, perhaps engaging in a bit of small talk with the customer waiting for the coffee, when….
CRASH! goes the beautiful, ornate (and quite delicate) door as the little boy throws it open and announces his arrival, “HOLA!” he shouts (he’s Spanish) and ascends the stairs, chatting loudly. As I just used up all the Spanish I know, I’m going to write the things in English that I imagine he’s probably saying.
“A CHAIR, MAMA! LOOK, A CHAIR, I’M GOING TO CLIMB ON IT, ARE YOU WATCHING ME, MAMA! LOOK! I’M STANDING UP ON THE CHAIR AND JUMPING. LOOK! LOOK AT ME!”
Mother joins child and parks up the pram. As she leaves the table to come and order something, it starts.
“MAMA!” the boy yells. She shushes him, to no effect. “MAAAMA!”
“Hiya, what can I get for you?” I ask.
“Yes, I’d like a…”
“MAMAAAAA!”
“…a ham and chee…
“MAMA! MAMA! MAMA!”
“Sorry, I didn’t catch that…” I say.
“MAMA!
“…what sandwich was it?”
“MAAAAAMAAAAA!”
Mum is distracted, she’s trying to shush him and her thoughts have become jumbled.
“Erm, a sandwich with…
“MAMA!” he demands, loudly. “MAMA!”
I wonder if it’s ever going to stop.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” she tells him.
“MAAAAAAAAMA!”
“Ham and cheese, please,” she gets out eventually before joining him at the table.
It continues at the same volume for their entire visit.
“MAMA, I LIKE COLOURING IN. LOOK AT ME COLOURING IN! NOW I’M JUMPING ON THE WINDOWSILL. OO! WHAT ARE THESE? PACKETS OF SUGAR. THEY LOOK SO GREAT OUT OF THE LITTLE BOWL AND ON THE FLOOR INSTEAD, LOOK MAMA, LOOK, I PUT THEM THERE! WHAT’S THIS? A SANDWICH? CAN I HAVE SOME? ME! ME! ME! MM, IT’S TASTY. I’M GOING TO COLOUR IN AGAIN. WHAT’S THIS? SOME SALT AND PEPPER GRINDERS? WOW, CAN I GRIND SALT AND PEPPER ALL OVER THE FLOOR? CAN I HAVE A DRINK NOW MAMA? LOOK I’M JUMPING ON MY CHAIR AGAIN. OOPS, NEARLY FELL. I’M GOING TO USE THE ORANGE PENCIL TO DO MY COLOURING NOW. I’M BORED OF COLOURING. WHAT CAN I PLAY WITH? O! A BOOK! READ IT TO ME! NO, I’LL READ IT. O IT’S DORA THE EXPLORER, I LOVE DORA. O LOOK, THEY’RE ON THE BEACH. I’M BORED OF THAT NOW. IS THERE ANYMORE SANDWICH?”
And the little boy’s large voice goes on… and on…. and on… chattering at the highest volume he can reach, until they leave twenty minutes later. And everyone else’s conversations resume where they left off.

I still haven’t figured out whether it’s cute or not. I’m intrigued. Why doesn’t he have a sore throat yet? And when does he find time to eat? He barely takes a breath between sentences. And does he also talk in his sleep? Does he sleep? Or does he stay awake all the time, shouting everything that enters his mind?

“I’m afraid”

I say it all the time at work. “Sorry, I’m afraid we’re out of skimmed milk.” “I’m afraid there’s no more carrot cake left.” “I’m afraid we’re closed now, sorry.”
Why am I saying this? I’m not afraid, quite clearly I’m not. It’s a bit flippant to use an expression which is about a strong emotion that I obviously don’t feel. Where has it come from? When people first started saying it, were they afraid? And if they were, it’s surely not a good idea to give it away to people so easily. If you were being confronted by a big burly tattoo-covered man, who was annoyed because you’d looked at his girlfriend, and you told him “I’m afraid I don’t want to have a fight with you,” then you’ve given the game away. You’re scared, he’s in charge, he’s going to beat you to a pulp. Sometimes, it’s best to play your cards a little closer to your chest.

I scoured Google for an explanation of why we use the word ‘afraid’ when we’re not, so as to present a well informed discussion, but I couldn’t find anything.

“Do you know what I mean?”
I say this a lot too. I’m not sure why as I can see all the things wrong with it. Let’s say a neuro-physicist is explaining the intricacies of… wait a minute, what do they work with? Physics? Yeh, ok so they’re explaining something complicated about physics to me and they say “Do you know what I mean?” There’s a strong chance I need them to check as I probably don’t know what they mean. If, however, someone says to me, “I just had an argument with my boyfriend. I’m really annoyed now. He’s so unreasonable, do you know what I mean?”
Hm. Let me think. Do I know what you mean? I’m not sure, it sounds like a complex situation for me to understand… Your boyfriend?.. An argument?… He’s unreasonable?… No, sorry, run that by me again because I don’t think I know what you mean.
When I think about how I use it, I always attach it to the simplest of sentences, ones that it’s impossible the other person doesn’t ‘know what I mean’ unless they actually don’t speak the same language as me.
“It was hectic in work today,” I say to a friend, “Every time we thought it was quietening down, twenty more people came in. It was just constant, do you know I mean?”
Ridiculous.

“Can I get…”
I’m in work. A customer comes in. “Can I help you?” I ask. “Yeh, can I just get a latte please?”
Stop here! Can YOU get a latte? No, you can’t actually. You can ask me for one and I’ll make it for you but it’s not self-service. The kitchen can’t take more than two people at a time, you can’t just go parading in there and helping yourself to all the sandwich ingredients and coffee. Besides, it’s my job to make it. I’d be out of work if that’s how you bought coffee.
“Can I get?” No!

In other news, Danda would like to say in his defence that the word ‘can’t’ defeats my theory on elongating vowels unnecessarily (Post called ‘In conversation with Danda’). I say that that’s different because of the ‘n’ after the ‘a’. So there.

Lucky? Really?

Lucky? Really?

Ok, so I can’t promise that my blogs are going to be especially high brow. My excuse is that my degree is full of serious things so I should be allowed time off for frivolity. Today’s thoughts are very much frivolous.
I often imagine what I’d say to people I read about, I imagine the conversation which may arise. This happened today as I was nonchalantly flicking through this week’s Chat magazine (right, don’t mock, there’s some real gems in there, as you will see). I was in the ‘spiritual’ section, and there is a photo of a key and a small caption, instructing me to put my finger on the key. As evidence that this is a good thing to do, there are little stories about what has happened to previous people who’ve touched the key. One woman says she tripped while running and almost broke her ankle, fortunately it was just a sprain. ‘Phew!’ says the woman.
I’m sorry! Phew? She said ‘Phew’? She touched the key then fell over and sprained her ankle and said ‘Phew’? And this is considered good evidence that I should follow suit? “What are you talking about?” I imagine myself saying to her. “What are you actuallytalking about? One of two things is going on here. Either, the key is a load of bollocks and you just fell over. No connection. In other words, it’s just a picture of a key. Or, the key works and once you touched it, you sustained a relatively serious injury. You probably couldn’t walk on it for a few days? Or maybe you just had to wear a big bandage and hobble? As you were hobbling onto the bus, say, to get to work, there’s no seats so you have to stand on the painful ankle, you’re wincing, everything hurts, you just want to sit down… did you then think, I’m so glad I touched that key because what luck I’ve had!”
The ‘lucky’ label, that’s another thing I puzzle over. “O, that was lucky” people say, when avoiding potential disaster. Was it? Was almost dying ‘lucky’? Maybe my standards are set too high, but ‘luck’ in my world is something a bit different, winning the lottery might be lucky, or a great job opportunity that you’ve happened upon by accident, or all the lights being on green when you’re in a rush.
Deciding to go by bike instead of the tube for once, and then the tube being blown up by terrorists, is not ‘lucky’ as such, is it? If someone read your life story and saw that one day the tube you took was blown up by terrorists and you had decided not to take it that day, they’d think you’d had a narrow escape, surely? Not that you were ‘lucky’?
Maybe I need to look up the dictionary definition of lucky? Or maybe I need to take figures of speech as they come, not think about why we say things that aren’t really the case.
Another day I’ll share my thoughts on the expression “I’m afraid….” as in “I’m afraid I don’t have any change for a £20.” (The main arguments in this case are that I feel no fear at all, and why should I? I’m just telling a customer I don’t have any pound coins left?)

Yes, it’s decaf, alright?

Woman: “Can I have a decaf cappuccino please?” Me: “Yes, I’ll bring it out to you.” Me, arriving with the drink: “Here’s your drink.” Woman: “Is it decaf?” Me: “Yes.” Woman, narrowing her eyes: “Is it definitely decaf?” Me: “Yep.”

Ok, what on earth was that about? What did she expect my response to her last question to be? “O I’m sorry, you’re asking if it’s DEFINITELY decaf? Well then no, it’s not.” After the first time you’ve asked, if I haven’t checked back with you what it was, it means I’ve got it, just the one time is fine. You may be desperately allergic to caffeinated coffee, fair enough, but the severity of your allergy does not mean the level of my ability to retain information has gone down.

So, what have I started this blog for? To rant about the public? Surprisingly, no. I like more people than I dislike. The reason at the moment is that I’m not sure. A few things are different and new at the moment so this is one of those things I’ve thought about so have decided I’m going to give it a try. And there’s no time like the present, which is why I’m doing it on my phone at 11.40pm at a friend’s house. Who are Danda and Yaya? My friend’s granddaughter calls him Danda and her older brother Yaya. But like Laszlo from the book Grace, Tamar and Laszlo The Beautiful, they will not be the main features. The main feature will probably include food, coffee, and any good books I’m reading, although don’t hold me to that. Tomorrow I may ruminate on the welfare state, so watch out (!).

No, Danda and Yaya sound fun, they sound different, foreign, exciting. Their adventures could involve pirates, deadly snakes, a fight for a beautiful princess. Yet coffee, textbooks and a cooking obsession sound quite ordinary. And who wants ordinary? Danda and Yaya are my inspiration for at least making this corner of my life, this blog, something adventurous and new, a way to explore a new world in my head, to explore more possibilities.

This blog could be a non starter or it could be really great fun. An adventure. I’m intrigued to see what will happen. Here goes!

What are you singing about?!

Now I don’t mean to be disrespectful toward whoever sang this song but something has been puzzling me for years. It is the lyrics “Silence is golden, but my eyes still see.” I feel it is finally time to give it some proper examination.
“Hello, songwriters,” I say, in my imagination, “What is this nonsense about still seeing?”
“Hi Laura.” (They love it when I pop over for a chat.) “Well, you know, it’s from that saying, speech is silver, silence is golden.”
“Ok, so it means sometimes silence is better. I’m on board with that. That’s alright. And then the bit about your eyes still seeing?”
“Well, yeh, obviously it’s because even if people aren’t saying something, it can still be seen.”
“Right, so are we presuming that where there is no silence, people are blind? How are the two linked? It seems like you’re saying, ‘when I don’t speak I see, but when I’m speaking my vision is impaired.’ That’s not how senses work, you know,” I tell them, “It’s not one or the other. You usually have access to all of them at once.”
“Alright, Laura, no need to pick holes in everything,” they say, grumpily herding me towards the door.
“Just saying,” I tell them, huffily, like a teenager, before slamming the door behind me.

A more recent song now. Cheryl Cole. Good old Cheryl. Fight For This Love. I won’t mention the part where she says ‘love ain’t no walk in the paaAAaark,’ as it’s too silly for words. No. I want to skip to later when she says, “We just need to slow down, And just rooOOOOoooolll.”
She needs to what? Roll? She needs to roll? I fail to see how a relationship in crisis could benefit from ‘rolling’. In my mind, there are two people, having an argument, they’re getting really frustrated as the other person won’t listen, they don’t know whether they should be together anymore, and then one of them says, “Wait, darling! Let’s stop all this arguing. Don’t you remember what Cheryl told us to do in moments like this?” “Yes, I do,” says the man, we’ll call him Bob. “Quick, Sue, help me move the furniture!” Puffing and panting, they push all the furniture to the outer edges of the room and clear a large space on the floor. They look at each other, eyes gleaming, they have figured out a solution, they love each other, it will all be ok. They get down on the floor, lying in a straight line, holding hands and they roll the full length of the room. And back again. There is a quiet moment, where they look into each other’s eyes and realise that love is all you need. “Thanks Chezza,” they whisper under their breaths. “You’ve saved us.”

And now, for some lyrical comedy gold from a group of schoolgirls. Either playground ditties have got a bit mental since I was a kid, or they’ve always been mental and I didn’t realise it cause I was a kid myself, but yesterday, to the tune of We Will Rock You, I heard some girls singing “I’m a! Li-ttle! TEAPOT!!” and clapping their hands in time. Then something like, Coca Cola went to town, Pepsi shot him down, Dr Pepper fixed him up, now we’re all drinking 7up. And back to I’m a! Li-ttle! TEAPOT! I didn’t stop laughing for about half an hour. Another adapted tune was ‘O Tom the Toad, O Tom the Toad! Why are you lying in the road?’ to the tune of O Christmas Tree! (As the song progresses, it turns out that Tom is lying in the road because he got hit by a car and is dead.)

In conversation with Yaya

Yaya: “Excuse me Auwa.”
(Now I’ve always believed that the correct response to ‘Excuse me’ is ‘You are excused,’ or even ‘What do I need to excuse you for? Have you broken wind?’ but despite my best efforts it hasn’t caught on. As Yaya is a three year old boy, I resist the temptation to have this discussion with him. So I revert to the traditional – but incorrect – response.)
Me: “Yes?”
Yaya: “Have you been at your job today?”
Me: “Yes I have, Yaya. Since very early this morning, I’m quite tired now.”
Yaya: “At your cafe?”
(Again, it’s a deli, I would like to say to him, which is infinitely cooler. And makes me sound a bit more refined. But again, I decide not to press the finer points of this distinction with a toddler.)
Me: “Yes.”
Yaya: “I been there once, Auwa.”
Me: “Yes you have, I remember. It was a nice surprise. And then we went to your house, didn’t we? And….”
Yaya, impatiently: “No, Auwa. Talk about your cafe.”
Me: “Erm, ok then. Well, at my… cafe… there’s lots of things, there’s chocolate cake and there’s sandwiches and broccoli (he loves green food at the moment) and ice cream. Lots of things!”
Yaya: “Excuse me, Auwa. Do you have mont in your cafe?”
Translation = “milk”
Me, really getting into it: “Yes we have lots of mont. And do you know what else we have?….
Yaya, cutting me short: “Ok Auwa can I play on your phone now? The running jumping game?”
Me: “Yeh sure. Let me just set it up for you.”
Yaya, entranced by the running jumping game: “Auwa?”
Me: “Yes?”
Yaya: “Are you botching me? I’m good at this one. Are you botching? Botch!”
Translation = “watch”
Me: “Oo, good one! You are good at this game. Remember to watch out for the…”
Yaya: “Shh, Auwa. I’m trying to con-chen-trate.”
(At this point I obediently quieten down so he doesn’t lose concentration and get eaten by the baddy. He discreetly slips his hand into mine and leans his head on my shoulder. Today’s interaction has pleased him, I presume.)

In conversation with Danda

Me: “Look, the weather is getting a bit warmer, the grass is growing again.”
Danda: “Grass? You don’t pronounce it like that. You say graarss.”
Me: “But that doesn’t make sense. If the language inventors had wanted us to say grass with a long ‘a’ they would have added another ‘r’ in after the ‘a’.”
Danda: “No, no, no. That’s how it’s pronounced. Trust me.”
Me: “Wait a minute, you say ‘fat’ with a short ‘a’, yes?”
Danda: “Yes….”
Me: “But then ‘fast’ as though it has an ‘r’ in it. Farst. That’s illogical, why one and not the other?”
Danda: “It’s erm, well it’s because, obviously, it’s because there’s an ‘s’ after the ‘a’, so you say it differently.”
Me: “There’s not always an ‘s’ though. What about ‘handbag’, why isn’t it ‘harndbarg’? But then it is ‘arfternoon’?”
Danda, floundering slightly: “That’s different. That’s because of the, erm, the ‘n’ and the ‘g’ in ‘handbag’.”
Me: “It doesn’t make a lot of sense really does it, when you think about it?”
Danda: “Yeh, it does. Marybe you just don’t arppreciate the finer quarlities of the English larnguarge.”
Me: “Thart’s probably it. I’ll marke more of arn effort to speak properly from now on.”