Bad Day?

I’ve had a few conversations with friends and family recently that have all shared a common theme- the incredibly negative impact of a tough day on people’s emotions.

Tough days can present people with some of the most challenging experiences of their lives, especially in jobs where there’s a high risk of conflict/confrontation with public or colleagues.

One of my friends changed jobs a year or two ago after a long time struggling in a job that she hated. After much dissatisfaction, she discovered a job in the same sector that included all the appealing aspects of her current job with none of the aspects that she loathed. She took that job and is now very happy. It’s incredible how such a similar job (on paper) could be so different.

Another friend of mine often feels bad about her job, because on many occasions she works with extremely dissatisfied customers.

On a couple of occasions in the past I’ve felt very down after a hard day’s work, only to have a couple of very easy days follow it. It took me a while to realise that on those tough days, I was actually doing a very good job overcoming obstacles and was actually being quite successful.

The common theme in these experiences is that people feel disappointed with themselves because they think they aren’t doing a good job. But is someone who is working really hard to overcome obstacles or deal with tough customers really doing a bad job? These experiences leave people feeling incredibly down even though in many cases they’ve done an exceptionally good day’s work and their employers have really gotten their money out of them!

So why don’t people play to their strengths? Why are people encouraged to spend so much time focusing on their weaknesses?

In many cases it’s rooted in the increased pressure put on employees and middle management due to decisions by senior management and shareholders, and the pressure of the media and current business fads on workplace expectations.

Appraisals are increasingly geared towards staff being 10/10 ‘all-rounders’. It needs to be said that this is an unrealistic expectation and completely unnecessary. Staff are increasingly expected to pick up tasks that were previously the responsibility of others who have moved on or been made redundant. Business models are changing so there are fewer specialists/experts. Tasks that were previously performed by multiple specialist roles are blurred into more general roles, and unfortunate staff expected to carry them out without advice or guidance, introducing a higher risk of failure. It isn’t clear how much this affects productivity, but my guess is that the additional time spent by inexperienced staff when reluctantly blundering through obscure tasks and the resulting time spent in fixing mistakes that arise, frequently exceeds the planned savings from not employing experts. It also simultaneously makes people miserable- and can have a negative effect on all aspects of a previously enjoyable job!

It’s odd that on one side, people who are extremely single-minded (whether highly successful Olympic athletes, or mediocre business types) are praised for their dedication and commitment, whilst others already working in flexible roles are criticised if they show any preference for a particular type of work.

I suppose the bottom line is that there are limits to how much being an all rounder will benefit an employee; after all, you only demonstrate how suitable you are for your current job …and even then, some managers will never value your contribution.

Next time you have a bad day in work, don’t feel like you’ve been doing a bad job, if you know it’s been a series of tough customers, or you’ve stood up to a challenge, it’s likely you’ve just done a very good day’s work. Whether you should continue to work in something that isn’t suited to you is a different matter, it’s almost certain that you’re not making yourself happy.

If at first you don’t succeed don’t give up, but don’t forget what you’re good at.

Food-lovers delights and sights of York (not Berlin)

Have you checked the expiry date on your passport recently?  In case you were wondering, no, you will not be allowed to travel with your expired passport, even if you pack your bag, check-in online and turn up at the airport ready for your birthday-treat short break in Berlin, with hotel booked and Pearl Jam gig tickets in hand.  You are not leaving the country anytime soon!

My partner was devastated on discovering her passport was invalid – especially as the whole trip was planned for my birthday and I’d been excited about the holiday and about seeing Pearl Jam play live for months.  On top of that I was run-down and exhausted from the final year of my PhD studies, and was desperately anticipating this trip as a much-needed break.  Yes – there were tears, but they didn’t really change the situation, as we stood forlorn in Liverpool John Lennon Airport.  The only sensible thing to do was to say ‘hey – we have time booked off work, we have a bag packed with clothes – lets go somewhere else!’  A quick scan of the internet to find places accessible by train and within a 3 hour radius of home, and we were off and traveling again – on our way to a short break in York.

The Dalai Lama once said “remember that not always getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck”. 

My disappointment about Berlin was a direct result of unmet expectations about what I thought I was going to be doing that week – I had denied the possibility of there being circumstances that I couldn’t control.  My visit to York however was unexpected, and therefore unanticipated – how could it disappoint?  There were no expectations or preconceived ideas about what we would find, what we ‘should’ do while we were there and no planned itinerary to stick to.

We could discover the city as it unfolded before us.  We were free to decide where to go and what to do from one minute to the next.  When we arrived off the train, tired and hungry, with no idea of where to find the city’s main restaurants, we discovered quite by accident the best curry we’ve ever eaten outside India.  The Kings Ransom curry house wasn’t flashy or expensive, but impressed with its soft fluffy naan bread, fragrant pilau rice and their willingness to make a vegetarian version of any dish on the menu (I’m reliably informed their Rajasthani Tikka Gosht was pretty special too).  Actually that is the only bowl of rice that I have ever wanted to eat completely on its own, just to enjoy the flavours and spices skilfully woven into it.

When the heavens opened, we dashed into the nearest pub for shelter, enjoying a spontaneous pint in what turned out to be Guy Fawkes’s birthplace (although I recommend the pub we found in similar drizzly circumstances the following day – the friendly Three-Legged Mare with its fantastic selection of real ales).  I had time to settle down with a (non-academic) book for the first time in months, and made the most of the browsing opportunities in the multitude of bookshops we stumbled upon.

The next day we couldn’t get a seat in the first cafe we chose – so continued up a quiet street only to discover the most amazing deli stocked wall to wall with barrels full of every type of olive oil and balsamic vinegar imaginable.  We squeezed into the last available table in their tiny back room cafe.  If that first cafe hadn’t disappointed us with its overcrowding, we’d never have discovered the gastronomic delights served up at the Hairy Fig – one of the most satisfying lunches I’ve ever enjoyed!

Oils and vinegars at the Hairy Fig Deli

One of the highlights of the trip was the moment the sun came out – after weeks of incessant rain and heavy flooding in that part of the UK.  We simply sat in a park, determined to make the most of it.  That hour of people-watching and sky-gazing was the most relaxed I’d felt in weeks.  And I know myself well enough to realise I don’t ever ‘plan’ to do ‘nothing’ – so I wouldn’t have enjoyed that sunshine break had I been consciously trying to pack the most into my trip.

It turns out that York, England is quite a different place from Berlin, Germany.  But its independent shops, foodie-delights, real ale pubs, bookshops, city walls walks and medieval streets offered something new to discover on every corner.  You just need to be open to enjoying the moment, rather than missing something you never had.  I could have got angry with my partner about the passport or I could have spent days moping around feeling sorry for myself because I missed out on the trip I’d been expecting.  I preferred to enjoy time together in a new place, seeing new things, and remembering what holidays are actually for – relaxing!  The sky over York was filled with clouds that week, but they definitely shone brightly with their silver linings.  If you ever happen to find yourself without passport but wanting a nice weekend away – I would recommend York without hesitation!

I’d Like to Have an Argument, Please.

or

“A Ulyssean voyage through the wilderness of daytime TV!”

I must be the only person who benefits from watching loose women. It gives me energy. Loose Women’s brand of feminism is all about left-up-toilet-seats and botox. It might actually be a brilliantly conceived anti-feminist platform. Several weeks ago, they heaped praise on a celebrity mum who was back in a bikini (and looking great) 6 weeks after giving birth to her first child. This is not feminism. It’s the reinforcement of misplaced values. The panel has a universal belief that what’s inside only counts, if what’s outside ‘looks good’. This panel is not representative of women in general.

Although the uncelebrity panel of Loose Women seem to get what they want out of the show, I doubt anyone genuinely benefits from appearing, the panellists just bolster their warped values against one another. In yesterday’s edition they set the world to rights on whether the UK should scrap GCSEs and return to a two-tier system of ‘O’ Levels and CSEs. The potential impacts of such changes are complex, but two of the panellists threw two millennia of Western Reason to the wind and dove straight in with strong views for and against.

I’m uncomfortable with the certainty of these ready-made unopinions. The unstrategy is to make a snap undecision and stick to it at all cost. This is not a real debate -winning comes first and learning is distinctly second. This isn’t ‘a collective series of statements to establish a definite proposition’ (thanks Monty Python), it’s contradiction.

No further details about the proposals are given or asked for. Nobody learns anything. In fact, a very great effort is made to hold onto preformed opinions and gut reactions. I realise that Loose Women is (in theory at least) an entertainment show, but it must be noted that panellists take they own unopinons very seriously.

The panellists dive straight in because they want to project a strong image of a strong viewpoint. Even the shortest clip of these meaningless exchanges reveals two basic characters, the heart on sleeve character, pitted against the logical, knowing character. You might think that the feeling character fulfils their own needs by feeling, and the knowing character fulfils their own needs by knowing, but the needs that are being fulfilled are those of image. Of spin and PR. The needs of the panellists to portray some deeper understanding.

It’s not a new idea. In Erving Goffman’s book ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’, Goff posits that individuals present a positive side of themselves in situations of any social impact, which he terms the ‘front stage’. There is a contrasting ‘back stage’ too.

The 1992 UK general election is regarded as one of the biggest surprises in 20th-century British politics, for the reason that opinion polls leading up to the day of the election showed Labour to be consistently ahead. John Major was nevertheless confident of a victory, because opinion polls conducted by the Conservative Party told him that his party were in the lead. Major’s campaign team correctly concluded that during independent polling, many voters interviewed were too ashamed to say that they planned to vote for The Conservatives, but would actually vote for them out of self-interest. This effect is more fully discussed in Adam Curtis’s great BBC documentary ‘The Century of the Self’.

The game face becomes so well worn, that people can invent a strong viewpoint at the very beginning of an argument about an unfamiliar (and often previously unencountered) subject matter and express a strong moral angle. Perhaps this is why the adjective for a strongly held opinion is Heartfelt rather than Headfelt. It’s well understood that many people become unobjective when they get impassioned about something. The term blind rage is a perfect description.

Often individuals continue to fight, even after it emerges that the other party is essentially agreeing with them. With grand negative gestures of dissociation, fuelled by the thrill of projecting a strong opinion, people lose themselves to the heat of the row and a reassuring sense of rightness. Keeping hold of the wrong end of the stick with all they can. Supposedly some subjects (e.g. Paedophilia, Immigration) are safe bets. TV debate has become little more than a platform to demonstrate conformity in an impassioned zealous manner. Essentially it’s pointless to try and authentically debate anything on TV. The only purpose of opinion is to provide cheap filler for daytime TV and rolling news.

Top marks then for Jeremy Kyle, arch advocate of nothing but the pontificatory delivery style. Jeremy Kyle gets ‘high on his own supply’ of rage and moral certainty. I wouldn’t ask this guy for help if I had an addiction problem. With a degree of front-staging and messianic rage, far exceeding that of Loose Women’s debates, Jeremy’s guests are only a backdrop. The conveyor belt of new guests is a desperate ploy to give the audience an impression of real, grounded opinion. This is why Jeremy doesn’t apply his opinion to current affairs. Jeremy won’t rant about something unsafe. He needs the dust to settle and the opinions to be received in advance.

Looking back at the celebrity mum back in her bikini, it’s no surprise the Loose Women panel was so impressed… what’s inside only counts, if what’s outside looks good.

Voice Recognition

If you speak English, Berlin’s a good city to find yourself in. A high proportion of Berliners can speak English, and most enjoy using it. No surprise that it’s a popular destination for British tourists. However, I spent the last year there and discovered that beyond customer service and railway announcements, there was a strange, mysterious language people were speaking… called German.

Customer service aside, conversation is conducted in German. Outside of ‘The Ring’, the railway line which encircles the inner districts, it’s unusual to hear any conversations in English at all. The Berlin accent is considered quite strong and comes across as a slightly gruff mumble. It’s been described as the equivalent of a Glaswegian or Liverpool accent, but I personally didn’t find it too different to the Hockdeutsch I’d learnt before I moved to Berlin.

Moving to Berlin with only an intermediate understanding of German had a dislocating effect, but at a time when I was happily unemployed (reflecting on 11 years of being unhappily employed), the number of bonuses outweighed the number of issues. The subtleties of advertising campaigns were lost on me. Mild insults that may (or may not) have been directed at me, washed over me. Not being able to understand complex sentences or to deal with more than one conversation at a time influenced the way I saw the city and the way I interacted with society as a whole. This lack of detail made every walk or train ride a fantastic people-watching experience.

“Es tut mir leid, aber Ich kann nicht verstehen Sie.”

Most public conversation never registered with me, my emotions were less swayed by those around me. I learnt less about other people’s petty squabbles and the ‘he said, she said’. I saw people arguing, but understood that I’d never know what they were arguing about. One argument between a bus-driver and a passenger, evidently about something that had just happened, appeared to be over nothing significant at all. What struck me at the time was that the argument was probably not worth having.

The biggest benefit was the removal of what I’ve termed ‘compound distraction’, this is the ‘national conversation’ of pop culture and gossip over sporting contests, politics, scandals, TV or celebrity lives. These compound distractions become harder to ignore with every passing iteration and have a way of completely invading your consciousness. Absence of these distractions had a really positive affect on my concentration. During the last year, I’ve read the books I’d wanted to read for years and had the ‘brain space’ to mull over the finer points as I ambled around… I had a much less cluttered mind, empty of the chatter of other people’s day to day grumbles. There had been odd occasions in the past where I felt overloaded by conversations in crowded rooms, but I never once realised the effect it could have on concentration.

I returned to UK the day before the Olympic torch toured the city, which was also the day before the Jubilee weekend. I doubt I could’ve timed it any worse. I walked along Liverpool’s dock road an hour before the torch was scheduled to pass and found myself wading against a tide of chattering, excited people. I don’t know if the part of my brain that filters out background chatter had shrunk like an unused muscle, but I felt like I’d lost the ability to block it all out. This experience has left me wondering how much is worth knowing. How valuable is the five minutes of chit chat between contestant and quiz show host?

A new surveillance technique is under development based on global speech recognition. The technology would employ supercomputers and artificial intelligence, coupled with face recognition technology, to identify individuals in crowded spaces such as stadiums or busy railway stations. Analysis of the data collected would allow conversations to be reconstructed, essentially making any individual conservation transcribable. Much of it sounds like crazed paranoia of conspiracy theorists, but there appears to be a whole industry working on it. Apparently we want to give the machines Artificial Intelligence so they can be as bored as we are. If we want the machines to remain compliant and not turn our nuclear weapons on us (or on themselves) through abject despair, perhaps we need to start talking about more interesting things.

After my experience in Germany, I wonder if there’s much to gain from having access to all this information. All my friends know how much I love conversation, but to use a cliché, it’s quality, not quantity that matters.


(Dining) Hall of Shame: Vegetarian Horror Stories

I’ve been a happy, healthy vegetarian for about 12 years now – I love my food and I love to eat out.  Unfortunately there are a handful of restaurant meals that I’ve been served over the years that still stick in my memory, for all the wrong reasons.

Restaurant-owners please take note – if there is only one vegetarian meal offered on the menu, its not strictly accurate to describe it as a “choice” or an “option” for vegetarian diners (unless you are referring to our “choice” to eat that or eat elsewhere).

Here’s my countdown of Top Five vegetarian meals out I’d rather forget:

5. Vegetable lasagne

This first entry does not refer to a specific meal experience in a specific restaurant.  My ‘beef’ with vegetable lasagne is that it is everywhere.  It has become the favourite lazy-chef’s idea of a vegetarian “option” on pub and restaurant menus across the country.  Not only lacking imagination, these are rarely homemade or well-prepared – order vegetable lasagne in most eateries and brace yourself for something sloppy, watery and ‘fresh’ from the microwave.

4. Tomato and Basil Pasta

Slightly boring, but acceptable if you mean freshly made pasta served with a well-seasoned, thick and delicious roasted-tomato homemade sauce.  Not acceptable if you mean some pasta twists from the packet with a tin of tomatoes dumped on top.  True story.  And to add insult to injury, this was the main course at a London hotel’s £35+ vegetarian Christmas menu – Merry Christmas it was not.

3. Breaded Mushrooms

Unfortunately one awful hotel in Wigan (I was only there because of a work conference, trust me) seemingly ‘forgot’ to cater for any vegetarian diners.  When I asked if there was a meat-free alternative to the carvery, the staff looked a little confused.  But after a lengthy wait, they did come up with something for me – five mini button mushrooms in breadcrumbs, rolling around looking lonely on a large and otherwise empty plate.  Of course, I could ‘fill up’ on the potatoes cooked in goose-fat or the beans wrapped in bacon, but that wasn’t really my kind of thing…

2. Cheese with Rice on the side – aka Parsnip and Goats Cheese Risotto

Now, I’m not a big fan of goats cheese (although its frequent appearance as a vegetarian ‘option’ on menus suggests I should be).  However, I was staying in a very nice fancy hotel where this was the only vegetarian meal available – and I really do enjoy a good risotto.  Stomach rumbling and taste-buds tingling, I eagerly anticipated the arrival of my meal from the kitchen.  The waitress arrived and placed down my plate – a large wedge of cheese surrounded by some parsnip crisps.  The rice (boiled, not even risotto) came in a small bowl as a side dish.  I was actually rendered temporarily speechless and was still staring aghast at my plate when our waitress returned a moment later to ask “is everything okay with your meals?”  I managed to blurt out “this isn’t a risotto!” to which she instantly agreed and whipped it away, leaving me to repeatedly check the calendar to see if it was April Fools Day (it wasn’t, and that meal was no joke).

1. Chicken

A noodle bar near Camden Market, on the day my friend went to get a tattoo (the tattoo isn’t especially relevant to the meal, but I just remember the occasion – probably because we both felt a bit faint and needed a good meal).  I selected a tofu chow mein dish from the menu.  When it arrived, I thought the first bite didn’t quite taste right – and looked more closely  – yes, I had been served meat by mistake.  I called over the waitress, and explained – “this is chicken”.  Her reply – “Yes.  You ordered chicken”.  Not exactly the apology I’d been hoping for, and it took me longer than it should have to persuade her that – especially as a vegetarian – it was highly unlikely that I’d ‘accidentally’ ordered chicken and that she should correct the restaurant’s mistake.  I got a new meal – but the apology never arrived.  A poor show, that left a fowl taste in my mouth.

Please – hit the ‘reply’ button and share your own horror stories – vegetarian or otherwise.  This is your chance to submit your nominations for my Dining Hall of Shame.  Or, even better, let me know of any vegetarian experiences you’ve had that are memorable for the right reasons.

Original art by Josephine Scales

Become a better writer with a little help from your friends

Eighteen months ago I established a writing group, in the hope of gaining motivation and inspiration while writing my PhD thesis – the challenge of writing 100,000 words is surely a good reason to seek out all the support and encouragement you can get!

I got the idea from Rowena Murray’s book aimed at academic writers, but am convinced that anyone keen to become a better writer – including creative writers, novelists, bloggers and songwriters – can gain lots from participating in a writing group.

Here are the some of the benefits our writing group have enjoyed:

Getting over writer’s shyness: I will admit to being terrified of letting anyone reading my work in the past. I still don’t enjoy handing over my drafts to my supervisor or to my writing group – but it has got a lot easier the more I do it

Useful feedback:  As a group we’ve developed trust – essential for giving and receiving useful feedback.  Because we take turns to share our work with the others, we all understand that honest – and sensitive – comments are the best gift you can give to someone who genuinely wants to improve as a writer.

Seeing the re-drafting process:  One challenge to any writer’s confidence is reading the work of their writing hero – and feeling inadequate in comparison.  But we usually only get to see the final, published novels, articles and songs of the people that we admire.  Sharing and reading early drafts within the writing group is an unusual privilege that reassures us that it is normal for early drafts to be mediocre and to see the ‘behind-the-scenes’ work of writers as they draft and re-draft.

Original art by Josephine Scales

A sense of urgency:  there’s nothing better than a deadline – and the promised draft your group is waiting to read – to help you overcome writers block and start producing some text.

Stretching your comfort zone: the support of your writing group can help you to challenge yourself, try new things, or experiment with techniques and ideas that might scare you.  Our group participated in AcBoWriMo (the academic version of the annual novel-writing challenge, NaNoWriMo) last year, and amazed ourselves with the amount of writing we got done together during that month.

Good company: Writing group sessions are always immediately followed by coffee and cake sessions.  While the caffeine and sugar help, the most important thing is avoiding the lonely life of a writer.  Having people to chat to who understand the emotional roller-coaster of writing, and who will celebrate your achievements and milestones (another chapter finished, a new idea brought to fruition, your first publication) is the best part of all.

 

Original art by Josephine Scales

Share your thoughts by hitting the ‘reply’ button – for example, have you tried a writing group?  What techniques have you used to improve your writing or overcome writer’s block?  How easy do you find it to share your early drafts with others?

 

Guitar Hero

If you think your favourite band isn’t making pop music, regardless whatever justifications spring to mind, you’re deluding yourself.

Pop Music is ‘commercially recorded music, often oriented toward a youth market, usually consisting of relatively short, simple songs utilising technological innovations to produce new variations on existing themes’. So regardless of which caveat you’ve chosen to balance your beloved on their pedestal, they’re still a pop band.

I’m not a classical music fan, but if you’re making pop music or consider yourself a ‘serious music fan’, please steer clear of the idea that your favourite band’s music compares to that of Bach, Mozart or Stravinsky. It doesn’t. And if you genuinely believe that The Beatles ‘invented’ new musical theory because a number of the chords and progressions in the album Rubber Soul are slightly left-field, then why aren’t you listening to Hildegard von Bingen?

Music theory isn’t important to pop fans and pop musicians, who don’t appreciate complex music as fully as a classical musician. I don’t either, it bores me to death. The music is too challenging, the associations too elitist. Campy empire-building music that swaggers with precision of a marching war machine, but sounds like accompaniment to tea and cucumber sandwiches. I like my music to be tangible. I love simple things done well. I enjoy pop music as ‘cultural product’, as commentary on day to day issues. I like the mix of new technology with traditional structures. Classical music receive credit for its depth and complexity, which is why any serious musician would find comparisons of The Beatles with Beethoven insulting.

‘Serious Music Fans’ (by which I mean pop music fans who take it too seriously, rather than serious music fans) often claim their favourite band is breaking new ground, when they make vague gestures. You can read posts on forums everywhere declaring a band experimental because “they’ve used drop D tuning”. This most minor deviation from the norm, is really stretching the idea of innovation. Hundreds of charting rock singles, including several by ‘arch copyists’ Nickelback, use drop D . These so called innovations are exactly the opposite, they’re safe bets. But there is nothing wrong with this, as long as you’re not deluding yourself.

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Five reasons your kitchen timer is in the wrong room

Shocked by our latest gas bill, we decided to take drastic measures – it was time to shorten our showers.  A cheap digital kitchen timer serves as a useful device for our new challenge – to shower in four minutes or under.  This simple regime has already demonstrated benefits – including some unexpected ones…

 1. Save water

No surprises here – shorter showers mean less water used.  Good for the environment as well as for your water bill.

 2. Save gas

This was our main motivator – to reduce our gas bill.  Every extra minute in the shower is another minute of boiler power, heating up your morning waterfall.  Given that gas bills have doubled since 2002 and are predicted to rise by another 27% by 2020, the shower timer should lead to some significant savings.

3. Save time

Quicker showers means you save time.  You choose whether that’s extra minutes in bed, or extra minutes on your work flexi-sheet credit.

 4. Boost your energy levels

Okay, this one was unexpected.  But in order to finish your shower before the timer rings, you have to ‘gee yourself up’ and get moving, rather than mindlessly daydreaming in the bathroom.  Adjusting to a fast-moving pace stays with you for the rest of your morning routine, and we’ve found you start moving more quickly and purposely in getting dressed, eating breakfast and getting out of the house – and you start your day with more of a spring in your step.

5. The ‘sport’ factor

Yes, that’s right – its become a source of friendly competition in our household.  An unintended consequence of the shower timer has been a challenge to see who can take the quickest shower!  Perhaps we should spend the money we save on gas bills on a special prize for the winner…

So, there you have it – five reasons to move your kitchen timer to your bathroom.  And I didn’t even say “money down the drain” once (sorry).

Photos from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

Is the world taking the piss?

Things annoy me.  Lots of things.  Most things.  Sometimes everything. I walk around in a perpetual state of irritation.  It’s like the world is taking the piss.

You know the kind of thing.  Your bed doesn’t quite fit the room and every time you walk around it your blood pressure spikes.   It’s not long before the bed and how it gets in your way is all you can think about.

Artwork by Josephine Scales

This bed ‘problem’ eats away at you.  It becomes an obsession.  You think about how wrong the bed is and how it ruins your room.  You hate the bed.   Until one morning when you’re innocently trying to find both of your work socks it occurs to you that if said bed was just 6 inches shorter it would fit the room better.   Your bedroom would be perfect.  Suddenly there it was, the way to happiness. You grasp it with all the strength you have.

Once the dream’s got hold of you you’re helpless.  If the bed fit the room better you could start and end the day in a haven of correct proportions.  You could walk around the bed in space that you have created.   You might even find a spot for a small chair where you could sit and quietly read.  What fool wouldn’t chase such aspirations?

Because you are no feckless dreamer, a feasibility study must be made and plans drafted.  You examine the bed closely to establish the exact nature of its’ construction.  You measure and re-measure.   You draw up mental lists of the tools required and the necessary steps to be taken.  Once you have assured yourself the plan is viable you are ready.

I suppose it might have been polite to tell the other occupant of the bed what I was doing, but it hardly seemed necessary.  Of course they will be pleased, delighted even with the positive change I’m bringing into their life.  Besides, in my experience it’s best not to give other peoples lack of faith and vision a chance to interfere with a good plan. What if you fuck up completely?  What if you destroy the bed?  Don’t internalise it.   While you are striving for the perfect world others imagine devastation.  If you take it to heart you’d sit on your arse most of your life.

As it was, I was discovered mid project, with bed bits, chopped up bed bits, tools, and dust everywhere. I was using a kitchen chair as my sawhorse while I removed the last 6 inch section.  Trying to remember what St Johns Ambulance taught me about treating shock all I could say was ‘Don’t worry, it’s not finished’.   My explanation wasn’t satisfactory, the reply was confused, ‘you’re cutting the end off the bed, chopping it down 6 inches and then sticking the legs back on?’.  ‘Yes’ I said ‘so that it fits the room better’.  The idea was ludicrous but made perfect sense and it was too late to stop now.

You’d never know the bed had had major surgery and it does fit the room better.  The joy I got walking around it, admiring my work was immeasurable.   Sometimes I did a little skip round just because I could.  And I was happy, truly happy, for 2 weeks at least.  It’s the kitchen doors you see, if only they weren’t grey, I can’t stand them.  Every time I look at them I think how much happier I would be if they were different.

The joy of real ale…

Over the last year I have somehow managed to get myself invited along to a couple of free Liverpool Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) events. They are having a real drive to get more women interested in real ale and they are doing this by feeding me delicious free beer (it is totally working). They are doing so well at recruiting new members (both male and female) that they have been awarded the national membership award. On Tuesday night about 30 women attended an event in The Dispensary to celebrate this award. As well as some tasty nibbles and a fabulous cake (see picture) there were five real ales to taste.

Now I am pretty new to real ale (more of a G&T or sauvignon blanc kind of gal) and am just beginning to get my mouth round the vocabulary but I will try my best.

We started with a nip of Ossett Brewery’s Silver Shadow. It was a light gold pale ale. It was refreshing and light with a nice hoppy flavour and very drinkable. Next up was an amazingly weird and interesting stout from Titanic Brewery (pictured). It was called Cappuccino and smelt exactly like Tia Maria and tasted like the barman had put a dash of it in the glass before the beer. And it came with chocolate sprinkled on top! It was quite tasty and a novel experience but not being a big fan of stout the smell was the best bit about it for me. The third of a pint was enough for me but some of the other women present said they would have it as pudding.

Decade from York Brewery (left) and Cappuccino from Titanic Brewery (right)

Decade from York Brewery (left) and Cappuccino from Titanic Brewery (right)

Next we headed north to the Lakes for Hawkshead Brewery’s Lakeland Gold. This darker more full bodied bitter isn’t really my thing to drink as I like beer as light as possible. However, as we discovered at another CAMRA event, this beer goes very well with cheese, especially strong cheddar. (If you haven’t tried beer and cheese matching before you really should – we are a little bit addicted)

Next up was the delicious Decade from the York Brewery. It was light blonde ale with citrus and floral notes, and I could have drunk many pints of it. So I was rather sad when I returned to the bar for a second pint to find it had run out. Luckily the replacement was as good, if not better. So the evening finished with White Rat from the Rat Brewery in Huddersfield. It was similar to the Decade in that is was light and slightly fruity with a lovely flowery sweet aftertaste. So the best beers of the evening were, for me at least, White Rat and Decade. A group of us are off to Keswick Beer Festival on the Jubilee weekend and I really hope they have one of those two on tap.

If you haven’t tried much real ale I can thoroughly recommend putting in some effort to find what you like. Yep, some is pretty unpleasant but some styles are fabulous, you just need to find the right one for you. I have had to get over my slight embarrassment at drinking half pints (it just feels so juvenile or like an old lady, and makes my hand look so big) but ordering a pint often means half way through I decide I don’t like it. If you want to try lots of different beers we would recommend the Roscoe Head (behind Hot n Tender on Leece St) as you can get a tasting tray of three thirds of different pints in a rack. Good way to try new things (and only small if you don’t like it!) For beer to drink at home Ship in a Bottle on Whitechapel has a great selection of local, national and international bottled beer.

Descriptions and drinking assistance from Lindsey and Josephine.

www.liverpoolcamra.org.uk
www.theshipinabottle.co.uk

Beer cake to celebrate