Friday, 6 April 2012

China to Italy and back again.

Bereft of funds, I've taken a weeks holiday and decided to immerse myself in a few creative projects, making the best use of my imagination to picture that my kitchen in North London is actually somewhere blissful, like a yoga retreat in Spain, or a remote island in Fiji.

I was sure that if I stretched my creative limits far enough, I could feel the warm sun on my back and the cool breeze in my hair, and that the pizza I bought from Budgens would taste as though it had been freshly baked in a wood-fired oven in, oo, Verona.

Not all great plans come to fruition. For a start, last weeks blazing sunshine and midsummer temperatures have faded in to grey skies and freezing cold winds. Added to this, my flatmate not only works from home, but this week has been struck down with flu and on her own admission is transforming the atmosphere of the flat in to that of an old people's home. An old people's home for the very elderly. And the very sick.

So what better action to take than to get out of the house, abandon my creative projects, and head in to town for a relaxing massage? What could be better than an hour of having my knots gently eased out whilst dozing face down on a plump treatment couch, surrounded by candles, low lights, soft towels and gentle music, with the scent of aromatic oils teasing me in to a stupor?

I found a deal through KGBDeals, offering the choice of an hour's reflexology session with a ten minute foot bath, or an hour's relaxing aromatherapy massage followed by a ten minute hot cupping session. I booked the appointment. Game On.

Half an hour before I was due to leave the house, I searched for the exact location on Google maps. And I found a single solitary review of the salon. Let's just say that it wasn't a very positive review. Something about finding a pubic hair on the towel, and the place being very grotty. And the massage being rubbish. I read the name of the salon again. It was a Chinese Medicine shop.

And all of a sudden I knew exactly what I was letting myself in for. This wasn't going to be the relaxing experience I had in my mind when I bought the deal.

Then again..... as an exercise reminiscent of my travelling days, it might just be perfect. I caught the train.

I arrived 20 minutes early and decided to take a look around. Next door I discovered an Italian Gelato shop called Scoop. They also did coffee, so I ordered a latte and sat down to drink it, jokingly chastising a guy sitting at the table next to me with his laptop, who wasn't drinking any coffee or eating any ice cream.

"I make the ice cream" he said.

Now this sounds like my kind of man. Not only did he make the ice cream, he also owned three shops full of ice cream. And the latte I was drinking was so incredibly creamy - was there ice cream in this too? Surely this was a million calorie latte?

We chatted for a while. I promised to return for ice cream. If it tasted anything like the latte (he assured me that his Gelato would hold its own in Italy) then I would be a fool not to.

I went next door for my appointment. I filled out the registration form, hesitating at the question "What symptoms do you have that has brought you here?"

I only wanted a relaxing massage.

I decided to tell them that I had a bit of back pain. Well, who doesn't.

"You need a treatment massage. It cost £10 extra."
"Thanks, but that's okay. I only want the relaxing massage today"
"Okay, but with treatment massage, you feel better"

Well, actually, sunshine, I've had numerous treatment massages and they leave bruises. Instantly I was transported back to my trip in South East Asia, where the masseurs spoke very little English and didn't seem to be able to either hear or understand the word "OWWWWWW!" no matter how loudly you said it. One young woman carried out Reflexology on my foot using a wooden dowel, and when I cried in pain she said "Yes, hurt now, feel better later!"

Well how about I feel better now, and don't hurt at all for the rest of the week?

When the form was completed and I had agreed on a Relaxing Massage Thank You, a very small Chinese woman took me downstairs and using her hands and raised eyebrows only, gestured that I should remove my clothes whilst she was out of the room. She spoke no English.

The room was a very bare treatment room. I was back in Laos. Except colder.

She returned when I had gingerly clambered on to the treatment couch. I say 'treatment couch' - it was actually more of a fortified pasting table, with an oval cut in one end for my face. Fearing that the damn thing might collapse at any minute, I tried not to neither breathe nor move.

And it turned out, she did speak a little English.

"You need treatment massage. You pay ten pound. Relaxing massage no good for you. You pay ten pound, you get treatment massage, you feel better".


After 5 minutes of holding my ground without making any sudden movements lest I end up on the floor (and required a whole different type of treatment), she relented and started to massage my back with Johnson's Baby Oil, using firm thumb strokes to pick out every knot along my back, and sighing as she twanged each one.

It wasn't the most relaxing of massages, it has to be said. At some point I realised that she thought that my spine ought to be located in the front of my body. But I comforted myself with the prospect of Italian Gelato and tried not to panic when she needlessly knelt on the side of the pasting table, making it creak and groan rather loudly. I also tried to ignore it when she sneezed.

After the massage I was lucky enough to receive a free consultation where I was told which vertebrae were out of alignment, and which of the treatments would fix them. They were trying to help. I wasn't asking for help. I was asking for a relaxing massage.

An hour and twenty minutes after entering Laos, I returned to Italy, and bought a waffle cone filled with the best tasting ice cream I have ever had.

If any of you were around Covent Garden yesterday afternoon, and saw a white woman with a sore back eating ice cream and making sex noises all the way to Leicester Square.. that was me.

Thank heavens I was on holiday - I would never do this in my own country....

Friday, 25 November 2011

I know, I know...

... Wait months for one blog post and then two come along at once.

Today at the office, the problem of me not being able to see my network drive was finally resolved by the IT systems manager. (you see I told you I was crap at computers).

He asked to have access to my computer for all of 10 minutes, and then disappeared back to his office. Five minutes later he returned, and asked me to shut down all my applications. Imagine my surprise when I closed down the last window expecting to see a serene image of the Chinese Kast mountains and found a full screen version of this staring back at me...

Got to love working in IT.

Why bother typing?

There are two things that I've had on my big long list of things to do, that I've finally got done.

The first being to set up my free view and TiVo box, and the second being to install Windows 7 on my computer and dictate into my machine using Dragon NaturallySpeaking software.

Setting up the free view box took next to no time and now the TV has a perfect picture. The TiVo box however, has never been much of a godsend. It is about to join the list of things that I have been wishing to sell on eBay which are now sitting in the kitchen and under the threat of being taken straight round to the charity shop.

Despite my fears, it didn't take long to plug the box in (show me a person who loves fiddling about with the wires behind the TV and I will report them to the authorities) however once the box was switched on and running through the guided setup I hit a minor snag.

The phone wouldn't dial.
Without the phone dialling I can't access any channels.
If I can't access any channels, I can't record every episode of "DIY SOS: The Big Build"
I'm screwed.

I fiddled with the Micro filter.
I fiddled with the cables.
I even fiddled with the remote.
I tested that the phone still worked.
And then I had to resort to Google.

The first thing I found on Google, were a few different phone numbers to try which offered a small ray of hope. The second thing I found on Google was the news that my box was now so old that it had been discontinued from service. Oh. Maybe not so encouraging.

I thought I would be heartbroken, but instead I'm slightly numb. Perhaps the shock hasn't yet set in. Or perhaps it has been so long since it worked that I've gone past the point of really caring.

I bought the box in 2005, and three months into using it my house was struck by lightning. And I still had 12 episodes of Roobarb and Custard Two left to watch. It is hard to recover from such a blow.

After finding a replacement box, a friend took both of them to perform the quick task of swapping out the hard drive. Fifteen months later after he had finished renovating his loft, he gave the box back to me. When I finally had the courage to tackle the wires, I discovered that the remote control had stopped working. When I finally located another remote control, it was time to leave my house and the TiVo had to go back in its box and into storage.

Some might say it just wasn't meant to be. Perhaps this is God's way of telling me that I watch way too much TV. Perhaps he doesn't approve of DIY SOS, big build or not.

The installation of Windows 7 onto my computer, however, has been slightly more successful. Probably, mainly due to the fact that it wasn't me that did it. And I work in IT. Shameful.

My Techie friend, Big Alv, came round last night and did the whole lot for me. And all for the price of a turkey casserole. Bargainwill stop

The other thing that he did was to help me install Dragon NaturallySpeaking. After testing out this software, I imagine that it's probably best not to train voice recognition software whilst suffering from a grumbling head cold with a croaky throat.

The other thing that I've discovered, if that even though I have a lot of things to say rattling around my head all the time, when it comes to actually dictating into the machine, the words just simply dry up and disappear.

This cannot be! How can I not be able to speak?

I think the issue lies in actually sitting and dictating rather than wandering round rambling away to myself as I normally do. Because that's when the best ideas come - when I'm off in another world doing something else.

However, apart from a few minor corrections, I've actually managed to dictate this entire blog post barely touching the keyboard. And that's with a croaky throat. Impressed, huh?

and just in time for winter too. If I really get the hang of this I can type up my blog post while sitting on my hands keeping my fingers nice and warm. Result.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Bert the Not-So-Silent Assassin

I hate cats. I really do. Cats make me itch. Cats make me sneeze. Cats make my eyes swell up so hideously that I have to hide in the house for days. And worst of all, Cats know all this and they seek me out.

Last week I went round to my sisters house whilst she was away, to pick up my printer. It was meant to be a quick trip: open front door, place printer in jumbo Ikea bag, leave house and struggle up to the high street to catch a bus.

Not the case. Bert was home. And he was hungry. And he was lonely. And he made a bee-line for my ankles, so I took pity on him and gave him a bit of fuss, at which point in the space of five minutes he had managed to writhe over just about every square inch of my clothing, sucked on my sleeves, chewed my watch strap, climbed on to the top of my head, chew my ear lobe for comfort (his way of saying Thank You - touching, but very itchy) and ground half a body's worth of cat hair through two layers of clothing.

Poor little Bert. So very cute. Such a tiny little cat. And so lonely whilst Mummy was away for the week. Clearly the neighbour coming round to make a fuss and feed him every day simply wasn't enough, and knowing that my sister would be away for just over three weeks with the same arrangement, I decided to step in.

More. Fool. Me.

The journey to bring him over wasn't too difficult, save for the fact that Bertie turned himself in to a starfish when it came to jamming him in to his pet carrier, and then yowled and mewed all the way up the road and throughout the entire bus journey (which thankfully wasn't very long).

He had a good look round the flat when we arrived, had a bit of a sniff round, had a bit of food, had a scratch on his scratching board, and then alternated between purring on my lap and having another foray in to the kitchen.

When I went to bed he was quite happy, curled up on the couch, no doubt subconsciously growing extra fine cat hairs to shed especially for me.

All was going well. Until 5:30 this morning.

yowl. me-yowl. yowl. meowl. meowl. yowl. yowl. yowl. yowl. yowl.

I buried my head under my pillow and thought "Oh sod off, Bert", grateful that the bedroom door was closed, grateful that I was pretty good at sleeping through anything at 5:30 in the morning.

yowl. yowl. yowl. meyowl. me yowl. yowl. yowl. meow. meow. yowl. yowl.


Crunch? I raised my head from the pillow.

Panic in the streets! Fire in the hole! Bedroom security breached!!

The little git had only shoulder-barged the door. I leaped out of bed, scooping Bert up under his belly and in a single movement catapulted him out of the bedroom door and halfway down the hall like a sinus hand grenade.

You may think this mean, but somehow little Bertie didn't get the hint. Two minutes later: meyowl. yowl. yowl. yowl. yowl.. yowl. yowl. Crunch.

You little f**ker.

Some might argue this point with me, but 5:30 in the morning is absolutely no time to be spiritual. Not with a cat. I jammed the door shut from the inside and ignored his cries for another two hours.

Not that this helped in keeping my bedroom cat hair free. He'd barged his way in to my room when I went out this morning and when I came home was snuggled cosily on one of my pillows. And as I type this from the safety of my blockaded bedroom, he is sitting outside waiting for me. And guess how I know this? Yep, you guessed right.

youwl. yowl. yowl. yowl. meowl. meow. ow. yowl.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Still Chewing That Frog

Yes, yes, I've been away 'forever'. I've been dying to blog but never finding the right moment. I've been away from the Kabbalah Centre but never truly away from the Kabbalah Centre. Kabbalah has never left me. Sometimes I wish it would.

Sometimes I wish that I didn't know that Cause = Effect, that every action has an equal reaction. Sometimes I wish that in the moment where I am struck down with fear at work, that I don't feel as though an invisible being is scribbling my response in a notebook and shaking his head. Tut, tut, failed once again. Sometimes I wish that I could walk past beggars on the street and not feel truly guilty when I don't put my hand in my purse and find them some change.

As you can see, I am still working on being a little bit easier on myself. All the same, sometimes I have my head in the clouds so much that it begs belief.

I saw a blind person on the platform of the tube the other day and I watched them in wonder. "How amazing they are" I thought. "How admirable that they can find their way around without being able to see. I would never be able to cope in the way that they do, and Beezrat Hashem, I hope I never have to prove that statement"

Whilst I am watching in silent respect, a woman approaches the blind man from the other side and says "Excuse me, would you like some help getting on the train?"
The blind man turns towards her and says "Thank you so much, that's so kind of you to offer help"

And I am left standing there feeling like a right selfish muppet. I just didn't think to ask.

Last night brought a short-lived redemption when I was asked by a woman in a car the direction to Muswell Hill. I gave her directions, remotely proud that I was able to assist. Until she pulled away from the lights and I realised that going straight on instead of turning right would have been a much quicker and more direct route. *sigh*

Anyhow, my latest challenge is my tax return. No, not my tax return for 2010-2011, but the one for the year before.

Being self employed whilst having no real fixed address and no real business to speak of was a bit of a mistake, so it seems. Add crippling depression to that list and you have a recipe for disaster. But somehow I thought that if I stuck my head firmly in the sand, that the tax office would somehow overlook me and I would slide under the radar.

Hmm. How wrong can I be? They caught up with me.

There is something about tax returns and everything financial that makes me a) feel totally sick and b) act completely irresponsibly. With my lack of financial prowess, Long Live P.A.Y.E., I say.

But I couldn't put it off any longer, so I took the day off work to sort out my tax return once and for all, having received the form for the last year and having printed off the one for the year before.

I am going to get this done early in the day, so that it is out of the way, I said to myself, after which I am going to feel a wonderful sense of liberation and relief!!

Yeah, right.

I woke up late and started procrastinating. I had a lazy breakfast. I watched a little bit of TV (because it was a day booked as Holiday, after all). And then I started to go through my email, and came across an article on Procrastination. Touché, Light I said. I read the email. s-l-o-w-l-y... (not that I am in the habit of dragging anything out, of course).

The email contained a link to this rather fabulous little video:

Eat That Frog! Movie: "There's an old saying that says... "If the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is eat a live frog, then nothing worse can happen for the rest of the day!" Do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, whether you want to or not."

Even though it was nearly 2pm, I decided that better late than never, and I started eating that frog. Gingerly. I started nibbling its toes by digging out my paperwork, and gave its rump a good lick calculating all of my income and the dates for the past two years.

And it is nearly 7pm and I have only just completed the self-assessment portion of my first tax return. What a nightmare. This frog tastes like shit. I am reading the handy notes as I go through:
20% writing down allowance
Where you have spent more than £50,000 in a year on equipment, or (on or after 6 April 2009) you have purchased a car with CO2 emissions of 160g/km or less, add all the expenditure together to make a ‘main pool’ of costs. Deduct:
• any Annual Investment Allowance (AIA) up to £50,000 (excluding any cars) that you are including in box 22
• any equipment that qualifies for 10% or 100% allowances
• any items which go into a separate pool.
Add the value of any main pool from the previous year, less the value of any disposals you have made during the year.
You can then claim a writing down allowance (WDA) of 20% of the remaining pool value. For example, if you have spent £70,000 on equipment and have claimed £50,000 of this as AIA, the balance of £20,000 qualifies for a 20% annual allowance of £4,000, which should be included in box 24. The amount remaining in the main pool after the 20% allowance has been deducted should be carried forward to the following year.

Excuse me, but WTF?? Is it possible to get these notes in English? If this is Tax Return 101, then give me The Dummies' Guide instead.

Anyhow, I'm not going to bed until it's done and until I have completed my second bugbear task of changing all of my addresses. It's going to be a late night.

I imagine I shall feel ever so slightly sick from eating too much frog in one day, but who knows, perhaps the after-taste will be worth it.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Virgin on the ridiculous... again

So here I am blogging about my Internet service when I was going to blog all about my interview from Friday.

I was going to tell you all about the amazing struggle I had preparing a presentation in PowerPoint even though I had over a week’s notice to prepare and two clear days to write. I was going to mention how at one point I feared for my sanity when, as expected, my head went in to such a mad scramble on the morning of the interview that I was virtually in tears through the inability to think straight.

I could have told you all about how a very good friend of mine watched me plummet from confidence on the subject to an uncontrollable panic attack when the slides wouldn’t come together. And how he smiled when returning to the house on the day of the interview to find a half eaten bread roll sitting on the table, which, he said, put how my stomach was feeling in to a nutshell.

And I was going to mention my outfit nightmares – from the dress that was way too tight (partly because the flap on the skirt was still sown shut at the back and partly because it was a size too small but the only smart thing I had in my wardrobe), to the heels that were too high, and combined with the tight skirt made the journey to the train station feel like I was on some kind of bad trip where the pavements were getting longer.

I might have even mentioned how, just before leaving the house and already running slightly late, I got the loop of my jacket caught in the top of my dress, and nearly passed out trying to free it.

Or how I was in such a desperate state that I begged the Angels to help me to think straight. And how oddly enough, on the train it seemed to work (with adverts for Aussie hair products reminding me of LIGHT-headedness)

And at some point I might have mentioned that on several occasions before the interview I had been visualising sitting with my sister having a drink afterwards, and receiving a call to say that I had got the job. And how, even though I interviewed on the closing date for applications, that is exactly what happened.

It was going to be the show stopper at the end of my piece.

Except that my bloody internet is down.

So after a lot of turning things off and on, rebooting the computer, unplugging the router, I gave Virgin a call and went through their automated menu.

I was initially impressed, because the automated menu does everything to confirm who you are, check your account details and record exactly what part of their service you are having an issue with. I pressed various buttons to confirm that, yes, it was a problem accessing wireless internet, and that yes, I had already unplugged the hub and rebooted my computer. I even pressed numbers on the phone corresponding to my password to confirm my authenticity.

So at this point I kind of expected to go straight through to someone who a) knew who I was and b) was aware of what problem I was experiencing with their service.

Yeah, right.

Hello can I help you?”

“Yes, I have problems connecting to my Internet”

Is this a wireless or wired connection, ma’am?”

“Errm…. Wireless, like the button I just pressed in your menu system”

And what is your account number?”

WTF?? “I would give you my account number if I had access to the Internet, but I don’t. And your menu system has just spent ten minutes confirming who I am, so I was hoping that you would have some information there?”

Can you then give me your phone number, ma’am?”


The call took a long time. The analyst insisted that I switch off the hub all over again, and reboot my computer (which took forever).

Then he deduced it must be a problem with the hub and asked me if this was the first time I had used the service.

Do they not give their Help Desk staff any information to work with???

Eventually after a series of long pauses which told me that he was completely out of his depth in resolving the issue, he deduced that there was an outage in the area.

No, really? I swear, watching the little globe on my network flash on and off like a f**king Christmas tree light had never given me that impression.

It will be fixed by 8pm tonight” he said confidently. I will give you a call to confirm when the service is fixed”. It was ten to eight. First rule of thumb when working on a help desk: don’t make promises that you cannot keep. I thought that it was more likely that he was knocking off work at eight and that therefore he wouldn’t have to deal with the aftermath.

Anyhow, at this time of writing (8am), the internet is still down and after another call to Virgin it is confirmed that it will be out for the rest of the day.

I can’t wait for the service to be back up again so that I can start responding to all of my emails – specifically that one from Virgin, entitled “We’d love to hear from you!!”

Oh no you wouldn’t. Truly. But you’re going to anyway.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A little bit of history repeating...

Oo, I've never liked interviews.

Don't get me wrong - I fully understand the purpose of interviews. The company wants to find the right person for the job. I get that. But can't we all just be a little more friendly about it? I mean, do I have to prove that I am capable as well as funny, chatty and friendly?

It doesn't matter how much I prepare, I never get asked the darned competency-based questions that I was prepared for, and for the life of me I cannot think on the spot. Instead of pausing for a second to find the right answer, or stalling for time by saying "I'm sorry, could you clarify what you mean?" (at which point they say "Yes, Ms Rookie, are you thirsty and would you like some water?") I go completely blank and start talking at the same time. I open my mouth at the start of what I think might be a really good example, and then I keep talking until I make my point or can see the whites of their eyes. Whichever comes sooner.

Anyhow. A few months ago I was contacted - nay - Head Hunted - by a chapI had interviewed with six months before. "It's a much higher level role" he said, "I think it's far more suited to your skills - no technical requirements this time"

I felt excited. And very flattered. "We want to fill the role very quickly" he said, "Can you call me asap for a chat?" I rang. We chatted. It was all very relaxed.
"I haven't "managed" people before" I said, "but I've lead a team"
"Well, we all have to start somewhere" he replied. It all sounded rather promising. And the salary was to die for. I started to daydream about the flat I would rent and the clothes I would buy. And having a fully paid off credit card.

The interview was arranged for the following Monday. "Less of an interview, more of a chat, probably" was the promise "And you haven't met Mark either, and he might have a couple of questions"

I turned up at 5:30 after a full day at work, feeling very ropey. I'd been trying to shake off a rather nasty bug for a couple of weeks and had spent most of the day wanting to sleep under my desk. But that's okay, because this is going to be more of a chat. They've met me already, and I am being Head Hunted. I was relaxed.

Too relaxed, as it turned out. It was the most gruelling interview of my entire life. Mark didn't want to ask a couple of questions. Oh no. Mark wanted to put me through the wringer. After half an hour I wanted the ground to swallow me up as I clawed my way through each unprepared rambling answer. After an hour I wanted to stop the questions and say "You know what, guys, I think that you and I both know that I'm not who you are looking for".

Perhaps they were just giving me 'another chance' to demonstrate my skills. And instead I just dug myself deeper and deeper, finally nailing the lid on the coffin with the answer that I could be available within a week. Like, hello? Yes, they were looking for the role to be filled very soon, but were expecting people to provide at least one month's notice...


I consoled myself with the knowledge that there has to be a reason for this event in my life. Nothing happens without a reason.

The reason has just arrived.

A few weeks ago I was kind of Head Hunted for a role with a company I interviewed for last summer. This role is much more aligned to your skills, my former interviewer said, no technical stuff this time. If you're interested we'd love to see you again.

Yeah, yeah. Thought you would catch me all relaxed, did you?