Month: February 2017

Odds and Ends

Trying to get into the 30 minute a day walking habit again.  The ongoing rain has made it difficult, but the past few days have been brighter and more cheerful.  Yesterday I set off at 5 pm.  My usual walking time is about mid-morning but, due to the late arrival of a courier, 5 pm was my new slot, and I didn’t realise what I’ve been missing.  It was still daylight, but about half way round it was suddenly dusk and the sky was just as suddenly filled with birds circling around and around, making the most awful racket.  Just the kind of unholy racket you’d want to hear if you were directing a re-make of Hitchcock’s The Birds.  Swarming above my head they seemed to follow me, until I got near the local castle, when the entire flock swooped down towards a couple of impressively tall trees, silhouetted against the sky, and covered every branch, so it looked like each tree had spawned a new variety of evil black leaf.  Behind the trees the sky changed to a sort of impossible purple, streaked with white, orange and red.  Ah, silly me, thought I, to have been missing all this natural twilight radiance in favour of four walls and a set of drawn curtains.

Also, about half way round, I decided to do a sort of ‘face the fear and do it anyway’ type of exercise.  I promised myself that if I came across anyone I vaguely recognised, I would accost them and try to initiate some sort of conversation, in order to practice stammering at people without feeling like a lesser species of human.  This was an easy decision to make, since the odds of coming across anyone I knew (I know an embarrassingly small amount of people) was guaranteed to be nil; except that the God of Chance Encounters seemed to have got it in for me.

I saw three people I sort of knew.  The first was my hairdresser, who I had only ever previously spent time with via the curious medium of hairdresser mirror world, every 6 weeks, where it seems perfectly natural to engage with someone in a sort of Alice through the Looking Glass kind of way.  She was cycling down the pavement on an old fashioned bike, with a large wicker basket at the front, wearing a long woollen scarf.  She looked just like a prettier version of Miss Almira Gulch, before she transforms into the Wicked Witch of the West.  In fact, I had a clear vision of my hairdresser and her bike suddenly taking off, pedalling madly into the centre of that Kansas tornado.  Now, my hairdresser is voluble, funny and far more socially adept than I could ever be but I accosted her just the same.  It turns out she recently moved into one of the grade II listed buildings near the castle.

Lesson number 1:  forget further education; leave school at 16 and go into hairdressing.

Person number two was a friend of my next door neighbour, a lovely 70+ lady I had been fleetingly introduced to twice over the garden fence, a few years ago; but I have a good memory for faces.  As she came towards me I hovered and then moved in for the kill.  ‘Hello,’ I said (none of the obligatory Hi! for me.)  She took about four paces backwards, a look of abject terror on her face and managed to gasp ‘do I know you?’  ‘I’m M’s neighbour,’ I said, with a big smile on my stupid face.  ‘Oh yes, I’m surprised you recognised me with my grey hair’ – like me she must have stopped dying her hair.  Surprisingly, grey hair doesn’t turn you into an entirely different person.  I showed her my crop of white hair (I’m about half and half now in the non-dyeing process) and she asked ‘how are you?’  Uncharacteristically I resisted the urge to regale her with every one of my current ailments and said I was fine.  She said she’d had a terrible cold for 2 weeks but thought she was getting over it, and hadn’t it been a lovely day but it was now turning cold.  We chattered for about a minute more about absolutely nothing, then cheerily waved goodbye.

Lesson number 2:  Take special care when accosting ‘old’ people, lest you give them a stroke.

As I hit the home stretch, person number three appeared, as a vision from the past.  A woman I have not spoken to for close on 15 years.  We both peered intently as we got closer. I said ‘hello,’ and she cried: ‘Haven’t seen you in ages.’  Person number three was the mother of a child son No.2 used to know, whose husband owns the garage where we’ve had our cars repaired for donkeys years.  How opportune, thought I, being that my car is currently in said garage for the 4th time in 2 weeks, having developed further troubles due to the fixing of the troubles it was put in for.  I rapidly gave her the lowdown, asking if it was likely we’d have to pay, when a faulty part had been installed by the garage.  (Later that night the husband admonished me severely for this barefaced cheek.)  However, the lovely lady (she had been one of the nicest young mothers I ever met) said she’d quit her desk job at the garage ages and ages ago and couldn’t tell me anything.  She then said I’d met her coming off the train, as she was now studying for a degree in x and x at x university.  ‘Wow,’ I said, ‘did you have to study for A levels too, to get in, and how old are you?’  I realised later that the A level bit could have been insulting (as was the age bit) – as how did I know that she didn’t already have masses of A levels, but no, she’d gone to evening classes for 3 years and got the necessary qualification to get in.  And she was 49.  ‘You don’t look it at all,’ said I, which she didn’t, she looked about 35.  There was then rapid talk about the sons and that she’d had some difficult years, which she was about to explain, when I suddenly remembered that son No.3 was walking home from work and I had the door key.  ‘I’m sorry, the son will be locked out and I have to go,’ I said, really wanting to stay and hear more about her brave new life.

Lesson number 3:   People are full of surprises, and it’s never too late for anything, really.

Knitting-wise I’ve started a tearoom bear from mary jane’s tearoom, using the most lovely wool.  It’s by Debbie Bliss and is like knitting with butter, if there was such a thing.  The texture is so smooth and silky and so easy to knit, therefore the knitted pieces are flying off the needles.  Here are a couple of bear legs with boots.

bear-legs

Sylvanian-wise, I’m renovating the log cabin in a very slap-dash, haphazard way.  I painted the walls cream, the windows red, hand stitched some curtains (which are really terrible) and am painting the furniture.  It’s all done in lurid primary colours, which doesn’t really suit a log cabin in the woods.  I’ve also wall papered the ceiling and partly re-upholstered the Sylvanian chairs, using felt and cheap off cuts of material available at the shop around the corner.

log-cabin-2

 

log-cabin-1

 

Blog writing-wise, I’ve noticed that the ‘reader’ page I’m linked to gives a daily one word prompt, with which to inspire the writing of a post.  Current words have been ‘juicy’ and ‘squat.’   No thanks, thought I.  Writing something around just one word might be a good idea though.  The word ‘sometimes’ came to mind and, as the word ‘sometimes’ seems quite poetic to me, I decided to inflict readers with a poem.  This exercise might be repeated.

The art of poetry is dead, as we all know, I mean who actually reads the classic poets, except those engaged in an English degree.  And you’re never going to make shed loads of money being a poet.  But then it dawned on me that a more ‘ordinary’ poetic type is out there, one that doesn’t go in for strict iambic pentameter or convoluted words, for which you require a dictionary.  It’s a ‘poetry’ present in those awful Facebook quotes, that I wish people would just keep to themselves; in those new Nationwide adverts; in Eminem’s ‘rap’sodies; in the lyrics of any pop song.

I don’t write poetry, except once for a school competition when I was 12.  I’ve italicised my poem to make it look like a proper poem and not something I knocked up last night. I showed the poetic effort below to the husband and he said, ‘I don’t get it,’ which is the highest sort of praise for a poem, don’t you think?

SOMETIMES

Sometimes, when the sky is velvet black,
and the stars are diamond bright,
and the faithful moon is full,
I wonder if there might be something more.

Sometimes, when the sky is cobalt blue,
and the clouds porcelain white,
and sunlight glints on a songbird’s wing,
I wonder if there might be something more.

Sometimes, when time is standing still,
and I walk upon a distant sea shore,
as the foaming waves come rippling in,
I wonder if there might be something more.

Sometimes, when I walk among the trees,
and hear the earth breathe,
while unseen creatures move under leaves,
I wonder if there might be something more.

But then I remember that long, long ago,
your tiny life’s spark momentarily glimmered, then disappeared,
and the cold, cold heart, at the centre of this unknown universe,
didn’t   miss   a   beat

 

 

The Trials of being Twenty-Something (and some other stuff)

Son no.3 is currently learning about real, adult life.  Little gems like: the people who you thought were your ‘friends,’ ‘muckers,’ ‘mates,’ were just there for the interim; that that Friends theme tune mostly errs on the side of misplaced optimism.   That the workplace has a lot in common with Limbo, one of those nine circles of Hell; the one where you’re not actually in Hell but pretty close to it; except you also appear to be in Dante’s little known tenth circle of Hell, the one filled with Excel spreadsheets and mind numbing boredom.

I’ve experienced one-sided friendships.  The kind where you put in all the effort, where you make the phone calls (no texts or messaging back then), where you turn up on their doorsteps, until you realise that none of it’s reciprocated.  That if you stopped making the effort, you’d never see or hear from them again.  And the old clichés don’t work.  ‘It’s their loss,’ the lovely husband will tell you (as I will tell the son) but it’s so clearly not their loss, or they’d still be your friend.

And you wonder if you’re at fault.  And, if you don’t give yourself a break, it can sap the confidence.  These days I’m done with Good Friendship Hunting – the husband is, after all, my BFF.  But the son is at a difficult crossroads.  School and college friends have drifted away.  Ditto the uni friends, who are all miles apart.  And the scary world of Meetup.com, and the joining (alone) of various clubs and societies is coming into play.

Here’s a twenty-something tale I’m not proud of.  I was 24, married and working at the Council as a typist.  Halloween came around and my then new neighbour, 16 years older and therefore ancient, asked the husband and I round for a get together.  I accepted, which meant she would have catered for, and organised, to include us, but that thought never crossed my mind.  Then the boss at the council decided to throw a Halloween party and the typists got an invite.  Based on nothing more than the fact that the boss was considered ‘cool,’ and that I might be seen to be in  with the ‘in crowd’,  I went to his party instead, telling the neighbour (on the day) that something unexpected had come up.  That moment has oddly played on my mind ever since, now that said neighbour is a very good neighbour indeed.  Because the boss’s party had been an exercise in how to aimlessly stand about, wine glass in hand, watching various married staff members engage in extra-marital shenanigans, whilst concentrating on keeping up the pretence that you were having a good time.  I quickly realised that ‘cool’ social gatherings would never be my kind of thing.

I and the husband scarpered after about an hour.  And the next day I discovered that the old and uncool neighbours had spent their evening apple bobbing and scoffing hot dogs and generally having a much better time.  I learned that lesson well and never again snubbed invitations for the prospect of something ‘better.’

I don’t like to rant and rave on the blog that no one reads, being that my personal bugbears are only of interest to me – but why not, I’ll occasionally ask myself; why not make use of the internet’s cloak of invisibility.   I mean, what better place to spill your metaphorical guts and dissatisfaction with the way things are.

Because sometimes, as an overprotective, over anxious, housewifely mother, I feel the need to vent re: the rotten vagaries of Life (capital L) and, in this case, how impossibly difficult and stressful the life of a reserved twenty-something can be.  Some famous author, or other, really knew what he was on about, I can authoritatively tell you, when he very nearly said:  Youth is wasted on the young.  Because, just at the time when you’re at your supposed physical and mental peak; just at the time when all those botoxed middle-aged actors envy you your effortless youth; just at the time when you should be carefree and full of joie de vivre, you instead find yourself beset by self-doubts, fear, loneliness and the demands of a society which sort of values all the wrong things.

At the tender age of 21 (and it is tender, like a little stick of fluffy baby celery, which is one of the husband’s favourite snacks) you find yourself having to get a job (well, your parents say you have to get a job.)  Suddenly you have to magically know what career route to take (unless you’re one of those rare focused individuals who already know) and you have to instantly readjust to being back home after three years away.   And, because you have a degree, your parents will scour the internet for graduate jobs, and they’ll force you to scour the internet for graduate jobs, so that hopefully you’ll end up in a ‘career,’ and not in a bog standard job, or else that degree was well and truly wasted wasn’t it?  (No – Ars Gratia Artis)   It’s enough to make you want to regress back to childhood, curl up in front of the TV and watch endless re-runs of (insert favourite kids’ show.)

You may also find yourself bereft of an SO (internet speak for significant other) whilst Facebook tells you that everyone else is hooked up.  And this will cause your mother to focus her obsessive thoughts on the possibility of an SO.  This is because she knows that the right life partner acts as a shock absorber against all those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  Oh, and you should also be surrounded by an entourage of cool and faithful friends.  That’s a big ASK, of anyone, at any age.

The son has already been through three graduate scheme interviews in search of the elusive holy grail, in job speaking terms.  The graduate scheme interview…..now there’s a nightmare for the sensitive; for those just this side of shy, for those not used to putting themselves out there.   And all three times the son didn’t make the grade, with no recognition of the fact that he deserved some kind of medal of bravery, just for turning up.  Do I care (a little bit) that three interview panels and an assortment of HR representatives rejected the son……..but hang on, let’s focus on the minefield that is HR and Recruitment.

A MAJOR employer decided that son no.3 didn’t make the grade a couple of months ago.  The road to rejection had been a time consuming and rocky one.

Step 1:  Write a cover letter.  This cover letter would then allow you to reach step 2 (or not.)

Step 2:  Fill out an online application form, including a personal statement and CV.  Should these pass muster then you’re on to step 3.

Step 3:  A fiendishly timed online psychometric test (maths and probability), for which you spend roughly 2 weeks swotting,  it takes over an hour to complete, and then you check your email, daily, praying that you passed.

Step 4:  A phone interview, should you pass step 3.

Major digression here, as I ask the internet ether, how on earth do people who stammer (I stammer, as I’ve whinged on about before) or with any other non-socially acceptable handicap, EVER get a decent job, when the dreaded phone interview is nowadays par for the course, taking away any chance of winning them over via body language, eye contact and a winning smile?

If you manage to stumble out a few coherent sentences in the phone interview, this is followed by a marathon interview process, taking in role play and group activities.  e.g. HR person chucks a biro at you and yells: ‘SELL ME THAT PEN! and a little bit of your soul’ (yes, even for science jobs the sales pitch is considered de rigueur) before demanding that you build a working model of the International space station; using paper clips and a couple of sheets of A4.  This is because HR want to analyse your performance in all kinds of psychometric-type settings; whilst they sit there at the sidelines, calmly making notes, like scientists watching lab rats run through a maze (I’ve gone all 1984’ish.)

Ah…. the psychometric test.  The husband; who is courageous, loyal, hardworking; has never missed a working day, despite suffering from a severe degenerative illness, once had an application instantly rejected on the basis of his first ever online psychometric personality test – for a job he was already doing.  That’s what HR and recruitment do; condense the sum of a human being down to a computerised form.  And you’re hardly going to tell the truth, are you, when your psychometric personality test asks: do you trust people, or are you a misanthropic old git/are you a leader, or a namby-pamby follower/can you work under pressure, or are you to be found crying in a corner of the office loo, sticking pins into a knitted effigy of your boss; the one you made when it suddenly dawned on you that you’re stuck in Limbo, one of the nine circles of Hell.

Oh, and a recruitment agent unusually called the husband into his office, about a year ago, for an assessment, as the husband was doing a spot of job hunting at the time. The agent’s considered opinion was that the husband lacked animation (this couldn’t be further from the truth) and needed to improve his interview technique.  The husband has only failed one interview in his entire 32 year career, has never been out of a job and doesn’t have an interview technique.  It was the husband’s considered opinion that said agent was a w****r, but you’ve got to play the game haven’t you?

Back to the son.  I get that there will be personality types out there who thrive in graduate assessment type settings.  I get that some people possess all the forceful attributes so valued in the workplace.  And society needs driven, ambitious, self-confident people, but it makes the recruitment process so much more difficult for the ‘wallflowers,’ who have a hard time standing out, but who are intelligent nonetheless, with qualities that will surface over time – the Clark Kents; waiting for somebody to give them a shot at being Superman.

The son passed all the nightmarish stages in the lunatic graduate recruitment game and then endured four hours of further hell, at the MAJOR company’s graduate assessment centre.  He turned up on time, he looked smart, he gave what he thought was a good interview (in fact came home on a bit of a high) and what I thought was an heroic interview, considering the son’s natural disposition but no, a few days later an (automated) email arrived from recruitment to say thanks, but no thanks.

An automated email (three lines) telling him that, after perusing his CV, it didn’t fit the job’s criteria; and which made no mention at all of the mad graduate assessment caucus race.

Pause.  Takes a deep breath.  WHHAAATTT?!!!!

If you remember, the son had uploaded his CV in step 2 of the application process.  Back then HR and Recruitment had deemed his CV worthy of passage onto step 3 but now the son’s CV was considered useless.  Why hadn’t they told him that at step 2, before putting him through the absurd circus hoops of the graduate scheme assessment?

Let’s talk about workplace skills, more specifically the skills on show within the MAJOR company’s HR department who, I assume, have all been employed based on their stunning CV’s and winning personality psychometric tests.  Son no.3 had received an email at step 4, requesting a phone interview on x day at x time.  He rehearsed for this interview, he spent further time researching the company.  On the day, he sat in his room waiting for the call, on edge; the time came and nothing happened.  But he waited a further hour, in case the caller had been held up, in fact he wouldn’t move from his seat – nothing, NADDA.

The next day he waited for the call again, in case they’d got the dates wrong (because, unlike HR, he gives people the benefit of the doubt.)  Silence.  Three days later he called the HR contact to be told she’d completely forgotten about the call, and also the fact she’d ever emailed him; they’d all been so busy, you see, with graduate interviews, it had slipped her mind (ha ha ha.)  So, right there, we’re  lacking time management skills, organisational skills, communication skills and basic commitment to the job – because ongoing graduate recruitment IS her job.

But there are thousands of applicants for each of these coveted graduate roles, so what does it matter to HR that they forgot you even exist.  It doesn’t matter to ‘them’ that all you get is an AUTOMATED email, in exchange for weeks of preparation, practice, and the filling in of gigantic forms.

I would have made HR and recruitment aware of my feelings, re: the missed call, in a curt and to the point email but, sadly, the sons are past the age when it is deemed socially acceptable for their mother to intervene.  So I’ve vented it here on the CMB instead and does it feel as good as if I’d emailed the MAJOR company?  Yes, as it happens, it does.

So, forget grad schemes (they’re probably not at all what they’re cracked up to be).   Forget short-term friends.  Get yourself an ‘ordinary’ job (the son now has one and even they demand a degree) and hope to occasionally, magically, come across like-minded friends,  because that kind of thing is mostly down to luck.

This mind-numbingly long post ends with another Audacity song.  My weedy-voiced, folksy, middle-aged version of Avril Lavigne’s Alice.

One thing Lewis Carroll did know:  we’re all down the rabbit hole, trying to make sense of a mad, mad world.

alice-in-hole