Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Let's Go Round Again?

I’ve only ever attended two reunions and had a great time at both. The first was in 1999 -- The May ’79 Set Nurses’ Reunion. The other was on Saturday night -- High School leavers 1977/79.

On both occasions, it was wonderful to see people I hadn’t seen for years and reconnect with my past. It was surprising in the school reunion that although some of us had been out of touch with one another for up to some thirty plus years, most people hadn't changed that much with regard to personality or even appearance. It was a feel-good evening wrapped up with genuine warmth and affection.

Some people don’t like reunions and I wonder why? Is it because they don’t have any particular feeling for those people they spent a good chunk of their lives with? Or could it be it conjures up bad memories for them? Or even dare I say it...are they afraid of being judged on how they look and what they've achieved?

Although I thought long and hard beforehand what I'd wear, whether it was possible to lose a few pounds, etc; all of that superficial stuff flew out the window when I got there. Somehow appearances didn't seem to matter any more as the years melted away.

The 1999 nurses’ reunion was so inspiring. The women were a highly motivated bunch and I went away feeling good about life. So much so, I wrote a short story entitled, “The Reunion” based on the evening. It seemed to trigger something off inside me and there was no holding me back. I penned more stories, poems and non-fictional articles.

I went on to join a writing group in a local library and an online group of over 1000 writers called ‘Momwriters’, which still exists today. Momwriters is what it says on the tin, a group of mothers that write. Some of them are published. Some have even made the Best Seller list. A minority are men. One male ‘Momwriter’ was the former comedy editor of Playboy magazine, who co-wrote the movie, ‘The Blue Streak’.

Belonging to the group was highly motivating which led me to submit my work to magazines and websites. I got published. The icing on the cake was getting paid.

All because I went to my first reunion night and became inspired.

I wonder if Saturday’s reunion will lead on to anything as good?

Watch this space...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Secret Place

Everyone needs a secret place. A sanctuary where they can feel safe and reflective. I visited mine today. It's a hidden pond in amongst the trees. The walk around there is amazing. Today I took the dogs and really absorbed its aura. The sweet bird song, the sun filtering between the bowing branches of the trees, the swoop of a heron over the water, a carpet of bluebells covering the ground, nature at its finest.

It's a place that when I visit, is so peaceful. Sometimes it's as if it beckons me, asking me to come and stay for a while. It's best in summer, comforting in autumn, inspiring in spring and a frosty fairy tale in winter.

Alone with myself, my inner voice speaks to me, clarifying any questions I have. Sometimes the questions are every day ones, but other times they are big ones like: "What am I going to do next with my life?"

Nature is a great healer and better than any drug.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Summers of Yore

Why is it that summers seemed to last for ages when I was a child?

Maybe I'm donning rose-tinted specs, but as well as days stretching endlessly off into the horizon, the weather seemed so much better. Days of sunshine and playful laughter, nights of camping in the back garden and midnight feasts. Holidays taken in caravans, day trips to the seaside to ride the Big Dipper and get splashed from head to toe by the Water Chute. This was before places like Oakwood Park or Alton Towers.

Innocent times when a Mr. Whippy ice-cream embedded with a Cadbury's chocolate flake was a special treat. Times when sitting watching the tide come in whilst eating fish and chips was somehow so much nicer than sitting in a cafe.

Golden tans on equally golden sands. Deeply ingrained freckled faces in the days when we didn't worry about skin cancers and fried ourselves with lashings of Ambre Solaire sun oil, or if you weren't so lucky to acquire a tan, you applied the fake version, which at that time was very orange and streaky.

When we weren't on our holidays or on day trips often run by the Sunday school, we played outside on tyre swings, climbed trees or created dens to play house in. Often we spent all day outside, only going back home for lunch or supper, or when our mothers called us in as dusk descended.

We read The Bunty Summer Special or if you were a boy the Dandy or Beano versions.

School seemed a long way off and we thought we were living it up in a caravan in Porthcawl for factory fortnight.

Perhaps we were happy enough building sandcastles, paddling in the sea and asking our parents for handfuls of old pennies to spend in the arcade. Of course, there were no mobile phones back then [many of us didn't even own a landline], so if your mother wanted you back, she either called loud and hard or she came to look for you!

All too soon though, there'd be an announcement that you'd be going back to school next week and it was time to buy new shoes as your feet had grown!

I hope today's children still enjoy their summer holidays. Of course, these days they are more likely to head off to Florida or somewhere in the Med, somehow, I wonder if they have the freedom we did.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Last Night's Apprentice

Starting out as the Del Boy of his day in 1967, by selling aerials out of the back of his van with just £100 to his name, Lord Alan Sugar has gone on to amass a fortune of 730 million pounds. His story could be described as a rags-to-riches-council-estate-boy-made-good-fairy-tale; yet, appearance-wise he wouldn’t look out of place in a remake of Carry on Camping, playing the part of a raucous Sid James!

Last night, the first episode of the seventh season of The Apprentice aired on BBC 1:

“Sixteen potential business partners. Twelve tough weeks. One life-changing opportunity.”

At the beginning of the programme, Lord Sugar told the candidates that he wasn’t looking for ‘bloody sales people’. He was looking for someone with a brain who was going to start a business with him.

The Lord gave the teams £250 to purchase fruit and vegetables, expecting a reasonable profit from their efforts. Then he announced he was sick of what he calls the “moaning culture” of people saying you can’t do this and you can’t do that, because in the Lord’s world, you can! And he’s got the t-shirt and written the book to prove it!

He started off by telling the candidates they needed an idea, a concept. Okay, TV aerials might not go down so well these days, but they needed to come up with a product, they also needed determination and to put in hard work.

The candidates were divided into two teams, boys versus girls. The boys’ team was headed by former accountant, Edward Hunter who seemed to want to shrug off the ‘accountant label’. After rejecting the team name ‘ Ability’, suggested by self-confessed perfectionist and ladies’ man, Vincent Disneur, they chose the name ‘Logic’.

The girls’ team, headed by project manager, Melody Hossaini, came up with the name ‘Venture’.

Team Venture decided their game plan was to use as little of Lord Sugar's £250 as possible and to come up with a breakfast and a lunch product to feed London’s hungry workforce.

The girls hit on fruit salad pots for breakfast and vegetable pasta for lunch.

Edward suggested things that Team Logic could make efficiently, quickly and well. He went on to say that soup would be the best option ‘because you can’t get it wrong!”

At that point, Glenn kept trying to ask a question, but everyone seemed to be doing their best to ignore him.

Eventually, he queried, “Does anyone actually know how to make soup?”

After a moment of silence and shaking of heads, it became apparent that no one did and it was probably much quicker and more efficient to open a tin of Campbells’ Cream of Tomato!

The second product chosen was orange juice.

On the way to the New Convent Garden at 3.20 am, Edward made the confession that he had no intention of showing off he could work out margins, even though he was an accountant. He seemed more intent on spending Lord Alan’s money and selling to the public. Yet, what had the Boss of the Boardroom already warned candidates, “I’m not looking for bloody sales people!”

Team Venture seemed more focused and had the idea they needed to keep moving to catch the breakfast market.

The boys, after being unable to squeeze the price down on oranges, ended up with 140 boxes of them and a few boxes of tomatoes.

The girls, content with purchasing pineapples and grapes for breakfast salad pots, purchased peppers and courgettes, even managing to knock the prices down. Edna seemed unhappy that others were making the deals while she should have been taking control of the group’s finances.

Northern Irish, Jim, declared, “We are going to make soup like we’ve never made soup before!” Which was quite funny as none of them had.

After much chopping and slicing of fruit and veg, and the seemingly never-ending task of squeezing oranges, both teams were ready to meet their target – the hungry work force. Nick seemed dubious that the girls had bought enough of their product. Karen was convinced the boys wouldn’t just miss the breakfast trade but also the lunch trade if they didn’t pull their fingers out and get out there to sell.

Breakfast trade for the girls was brisk as they sold all their fruit pots, but the pasta was left a bit late. Melody got stroppy with Edna as she wanted the pasta at Canary Wharf by 1 pm for the lunch trade. The vegetable pasta arrived too late for the girls, so they had to push the pasta for people to take home for their evening meals.

Glenn was irritated about missing the breakfast trade and tried to take over by getting the boys out, Jim stepped in to diffuse the situation and eventually the boys were out selling.

The boys chose Liverpool Street as their permanent pitch to sell their soup and orange juice. Sales manager, Vincent did well selling around the offices by charming the ladies with the chat, reminding me of a younger, less posh, Nigel Havers.

At 4 pm trading ceased and it was off to the boardroom.

The boys questioned the randomness of Edward’s leadership as PM, whilst Edward continued to fudge the issues presented by Lord Sugar. It became apparent that Ed had no real business plan and tried to make out that he’d handpicked Jim to be the ‘soup man’.

Lord Sugar had no time for accountant Edward's ramblings in the boardroom. He wanted simple ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers, but Edward, who insisted in ‘rolling with the punches’ came out with the most awful verbal diahorrea, causing the baron of the boardroom to question whether he was speaking in semaphore.

“Cut the crap!” Lord Alan commanded.

The girls seemed happier with their team leader, Melody. Although they were pulled up by Lord Alan for not spending all of the £250.

The boys team took £432.00 which was surprising, and maybe at that point may have thought they were home and dry. Unfortunately for them, Team Venture took £592.00.

The girls were sent for a champagne reception back at the house, whereas the boys went back to the greasy spoon cafe to drown their sorrows with a cappaccino.

Edward chose to take juice presser Leon, and Gavin, who had challenged Edward about being PM, back in the boardroom for a showdown with Lord Sugar. When questioned why he had brought Gavin into the boardroom, Edward insisted it was because he wasn’t a ‘doer’. Yet, as Karen pointed out, Gavin had sold the second highest number of units that day.

Edward seemed to think it was a disadvantage to be the youngest and shortest in the team! Insisting he had got profit for Lord Sugar, the baron countered, “But you lost the task!”

Although Lord Sugar pushed the theory that a lot of people who became bosses of large companies started out as accountants, in Edward's case, was not impressed that he failed to use his accountancy skill during the task.

For Edward Hunter, his continual comments about ‘rolling with the punches’ became a self-fulfilling prophecy as eventually he was knocked out of the competiton all together as Lord Alan pointed the finger and declared: “You’re fired!”

“Fifteen potential business partners. Eleven tough weeks to go. One life-changing opportunity.”

Monday, May 09, 2011

When is a friend no longer a friend?

What's your measure for detecting when a friendship has come to an end? How can you tell, has it been staring you in the face for weeks, months or even years but you just haven't noticed?

Call me a cynic...

"All right, you're a Cynic!"

These days, I seem to be able to spot the signs a little earlier. I no longer hold on to a friendship that has passed its sell-by-date, now I look out for the 'Best before' signs. The signs that indicate that I'm the one putting in all the work and doing all the giving. I ditch the emotional vampires, the ones that drain the dregs out of me. I discard those who couldn't care whether I am in their life or not. I say farewell to the fanciful users who use me for their own ends, just when they fancy it!

One old friend [this was someone I'd previously thought of as a friend], who moved from our hometown circa 2000, is one person I realise is no longer a true friend. I'd searched for her on Facebook for a couple of years, just hoping to maintain a little contact. You know the kind of thing, to find out where she's now and what she's up to these days. With a view to the odd Christmas card passing between us and possibly one day meeting up for lunch.

I searched for years and never found her.

Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I bumped into her locally, assuming she was home to visit her family. I was so pleased to see her, she was friendly and chatty.

We exchanged mobile phone numbers.

Then I asked her why she was in Merthyr, and she said she'd been back living here for about three years.

I couldn't believe it. Not so much for the fact that we had never bumped into one another before but that there'd been no contact from her. She knew where I lived. I'd even been invited to her hen party and wedding day just before she moved away. So it wasn't as though I meant nothing to her, and as it was a small wedding, I felt I was one of the chosen few.

Getting over the surprise, I asked if she wanted to meet up the following week for lunch.

She seemed enthusiastic. Then she changed 'lunch' to 'coffee' as she explained her life was 'so busy'.

Okay, it was better than nothing and a chance to catch up with someone whose friendship I'd really valued.

Yet, as I walked away from that surprise encounter, a little voice in my head said, "She's not that keen to rekindle your friendship."

So, it was no surprise to me the evening before our proposed coffee date that she texted me, making an excuse as to why she couldn't meet me the following day. Her excuse sounded plausible and she even said we would definitely meet the following week.

I just texted back the words, 'No probs'. I didn't even bother trying to pin her down to the following week. I think I'd got the message.

I didn't really mean that much to her any more. Yet, I would have moved heaven and earth to have made that meeting.

Perhaps I was looking back on the past with rose-tinted glasses.

Maybe some friendships have a certain shelf-life.

That's why I choose to dust off my shelves and prioritise the friends who value my friendship and those that don't.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Guilty Pleasures

Here are my top ten guilty pleasures. What are yours?

10. Getting into a freshly made, clean bed.

9. Reading a Jackie Collins book in bed.

8. Drinking a glass of wine on a hot sunny day in the garden.

7. Listening/watching the storm outside when I'm cosy indoors.

6. Popping the bubbles in a sheet of plastic wrap.

5. Finding a handwritten letter or card on the doormat.

4. Listening to an uplifting song like: I Got You 'I Feel Good', James Brown.

3. My first cup of tea of the day, especially if it's made by someone else and brought to me in bed!

2. Finding out that something I've written has been published.

1. Surprise events that break me out of my comfort zone.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Job Interview

There seems to be a trend these days of organisations not getting back to interviewees following the interview process. I think this is very unprofessional and does not sit well with me for several reasons:

1. The interviewee may have applied for many posts and will likely have psyched themselves up for the interview.

2. They may have spent valuable time researching information for the position: finding out what the job entails, updating their CV, learning specifics relating to that particular post.

3. Most interviewees intend to look the part so may well have paid to have their suit, coat, dress or garment of choice dry cleaned, or even purchased a new outfit, which for ladies like myself may even entail purchasing new shoes and a bag to match said outfit.

4. The interviewee gives up valuable time thinking about the interview, travelling to the venue and engaging in the interview, which can sometimes be highly stressful. There's usually a panel of interviewers who often ask some tough questions, sometimes as many as ten in all.

During the past year, I've attended two interviews where the organisation did not respond . The first one was for a well-known drug charity. I was already shortlisted from 65 applicants to the final 5, so it wasn't as if they had many people to inform afterwards! A panel of 5 people interviewed me and I was in the room on what felt like the hottest day of the year. The interview went on for about 45 minutes and I travelled 25 miles there and back for the privilege of not being informed whether I had the job or not!

Shortly afterwards I got a job elsewhere, which I resigned from, but that's another story...

I had a interview for another job three weeks ago for a position which is fairly specialised, so I don't think there would have been that many applicants. Again, no reply even though they said they would let the successful applicant know by the end of the week and the others would receive letters.

Not a sausage since.

Surely, out of common decency these organisations could put us poor interviewees out of our misery. I wouldn't even mind if they said something like, "If you haven't heard anything within the next fourteen days, then you haven't got the position. We won't be sending out any notification letters."

Instead we are left in Limbo Land wondering until we get fed up of wondering and decide to move on from the thought of working for that particular organisation.

It seems that once they've bagged their successful applicant, it's s** off everyone else!

In any case, if an organisation is so unreliable that they can't let me know one way or the other, would I want to work for that organisation anyhow?

No, not a chance! From now on I'll be interviewing them!