Summoned To Head Office (part one)

There is always a mythical feel to ‘head office’, the generic group of people who rule over every aspect of our working lives. Any mention that ‘head office’ are coming to visit leads to flurries of telephone calls, panicked messages and stressed duty managers. We are asked to hide away anything they won’t like, special lunches will need preparing and car parking spaces are blocked off in their honour.

Of course, the reality is either a) they are here for a meeting with the manager, leaving straight after so none of us actually see them or b) they are here for a free lunch (and free drink) so don’t care what any of us are doing. The risk of them finding any fault is remarkably low. Yet still we flap.

However, there is a whole new level of panic associated with having to go to head office. We imagine this is a magical Disneyland-style paradise but of course it is a dreary suburban office block with access to a major road and a large car park.

No matter what they do with it, an office will always look depressing
These buildings are almost designed to be depressing…

I was summoned to the head office of the rural pub when it was decided I should be enrolled on a two day ‘alcohol service’ course. Let me be honest, it was not a surprise that it was noticed I needed training. I couldn’t explain the difference between lager and ale, assumed cask and keg were two words for the same thing and my pint pulling was wildly varied (to the point my colleagues used to correct them without asking). However, two days? Head office?

My class mates were from a variety of locations around the country and (like me) seemed completely baffled by relatively simple things. The day started with a game of two facts and a lie where each person says three things about themselves and the rest of us guess which are correct. Many people were totally hopeless at this and said things like “I used to live in Massingham” a statement so specific/boring, that nobody knew/cared.

The classroom was essentially a large foyer between the call centre and staff canteen meaning there was a constant stream of people walking in front of the screen with cups of tea. It was also freezing cold.

The head of a beer should be the width of a human thumb (whose thumb remains unclear)
The head of a beer should be the width of a thumb. Whose thumb remains unclear.

We were taught beer and food pairings. My classmates struggled with this “do you eat the skin on the brie?”, “I don’t really like beer, do you have any blackcurrant squash?” and “can I drink their leftover pints?” (It was 9:30am).

Next came changing a barrel. We all got to have a go at this, one at a time, which involved standing outside in the cold for ages. Most people did fairly well, except me who was too slow and all the beer poured onto the ground as I fumbled around trying to plug the hole. Later, I spotted a caretaker with a hose grumpily clearing it up while muttering to himself. I don’t think I will get a Christmas card from him this year.

By then it was lunchtime. Rather than having us in the canteen with the ‘great and the good’ we had food brought in. This took the form of M & S sandwich platters, pork pies and plain crisps. I was very happy with this but my colleagues were less sure, suspiciously prodding the pork pies and scraping the egg out of sandwiches just eating the bread. Again, an enquiry was made about the leftover pints, the tutor had to explain they will all be warm and flat. My colleague looked crestfallen.

‘Only write in pencil’, ‘keep within the lines’

Then came a bombshell. We would be sitting an exam at the end of the day. Many of us had not realised that would be happening. We would be required to put our notes away (that didn’t really bother me as I hadn’t thought to make any in the first place). An intensive hour of preparation came where a variety of policies and laws were presented in a quickfire, scattergun technique as we all scrambled around trying to copy facts from the PowerPoint screen (that people were still walking in front of with their coffees).

As it happened the exam was multiple choice and we only needed 70%. We were all separated, and the tutor walked up and down with her heels clicking on the floor, sighing loudly at some of our answering. Sadly “can you eat the skin on a brie” wasn’t one of the questions.

I was the last to finish, I simply had no idea about 14 of the questions. So I just ticked A then B then C then D all the way down the page while the tutor continued the loud sighing.

That concluded day one.

To be continued…

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In The Midnight Hour

When I was a child, I had a recurring dream that my school was underwater and filled with fish. We had to swim between classrooms past coral reefs and friendly sharks. A dream dictionary says this meant I had repressed worry. Why don’t dream dictionaries ever say life is going well and there is nothing to worry about?

Many adults say they don’t remember their recent dreams, but I remember mine every night, not because they are terrifying or exciting but because they are always so tedious. I don’t know what it says about me, perhaps I lack imagination, but I have been afflicted by dull dreams for most of my adult life. Recent examples include;

  • Trying to load a new printer cartridge
  • Finding the right change in a shop
  • A biro running out
  • Choosing a toilet cleaner in the supermarket
  • Replacing the batteries in a remote control

Then when I do wake up, I wake up annoyed that, once again, my brain has failed to be more creative. I take it as a personal failing. I read that some people wake up angry, some wake up crying, some wake up laughing. I just wake up bored. I have found that Andrew Lloyd Webber is wrong. Any dream won’t do.

I frequently wake up in the night and find it tough to get back to sleep so I need to find something to occupy my brain, so it doesn’t start whirring on its own. I can check my emails once again (though, of course, nobody has emailed in the last 20 minutes, because it is 4:30am). It is because of this I discovered the wonders of overnight speech radio.

               On my wireless, pre-set one is 5Live. They have very long features overnight often including ‘What is your favourite song’ is one they seem to do almost every week complete with a very long discussion about the handful of inevitably obscure suggestions given.

                So I get up, turn off a dripping tap, open a window and go back to bed. It is at this point I am in danger of going over a conversation I had that went badly twenty years ago so perhaps I will try listening to LBC. The people who ring into LBC in the middle of the night are a very specific group of people. They very rarely seem to have a good grasp of the subject yet will never admit defeat when facts are presented and resort to shouting instead. The topic last night was disability inclusion which I imagined people would be in favour of, but no, the shouty people were back and bellowing. ‘Disabled people are so slow, they should move out of the way so the rest of us can move quicker’ one man yelled. I wonder if they sit by the phone trying to find things to be angry about, take it as a challenge. Perhaps they practise.

               All this shouting does not make me sleepy. I am up again, closing the window, refilling the water glass and I try switching to Talk Radio. Very few people ever call (particularly in the middle of the night) so the hapless host is forced to speak for 20 mins at a time uninterrupted, desperately hoping for a commercial break or a fire alarm. Saturday morning was a treat. A lady I hadn’t heard before was trying to get people to call in by asking ‘what is a corned beef hash?’ Clearly, she hadn’t got access to Google. She resorted to having a long conversation with ‘producer Olly’ but we couldn’t hear him, only her responses. Later, she asked us to ‘text in, if you have any thoughts about anything at all’ and most brilliantly ‘now we are joined by Julie from Darlington, what time is it there?’ Only to discover Julie wasn’t there and had actually just sent an email.

By this point the sun is rising, the dawn chorus has begun and my brain has given up with its spinning and I am falling asleep, ready to repeat the whole process and begin dreaming about fitting a new ironing board cover safe in the knowledge that I know about corned beef hash.

More Not So Secret Shoppers

In the spring of 2019, I wrote a blog about the stupidness of secret shoppers. In the following 30 months, I have had several more encounters…

               It seems the number of secret shoppers that operate has risen substantially. Coca Cola sends out their own inspectors. They want to check their products are being served correctly with the proper glasses and at the proper temperatures. Often the Coca Cola people will visit every pub in the town on the same morning, so we all know they are coming. They are so obvious.

  1. They ask for a coke and a gin (even though they are on their own and it’s 10:30am)
  2. The gin order will be with Schweppes tonic – no regular customer ever wants this
  3. They will want lemon in the coke – no regular customer ever wants this either
  4. A receipt will be requested (most people don’t ask bartenders for receipts for low-cost items)

Honestly, any bar tender that can’t spot these signs (particularly as they only seem to visit Mon-Fri, 9-5 when the pubs are quiet) deserves to fail.

               Secret shoppers have to follow a number of procedures. If their check lists haven’t been updated in a while, red flags are raised quickly. In the hotels, phoning for a quote (but not actually booking) is an obvious one. Normal guests will look this information up on the website. Detailed questions about Christmas in April will see the manager quickly notified.

Asking a number of very specific questions about allergies (despite them being clearly explained on the menus) is another sign. According to the secret shopper rules, front of house staff have to go to the kitchen and ask the chef about these questions even though they already know the answers – it is clearly explained on the menu. So, the waiter will take this opportunity for a cigarette break.

Due to decreasing budgets, secret shoppers now often only visit for a couple of hours, rather than a weekend break. Their policy dictates they need to sit in the main restaurant for lunch, despite the fact they will be the only person in there (everyone else eats in the lounges). So, we turn the lights on just for them. We are not allowed to leave them on their own, even though they are the only person in the room, we have to assign somebody to stay with them. It will need to be somebody local as another question they are duty bound to ask is about local attractions. We recommend lovely local walks even though it is cold and raining. By this point, they know, that we know, that they are a secret shopper. Yet if we mention secret shoppers, the inspection is cancelled and the whole thing will have to be repeated.

The secret shopper rules are oddly inflexible. “Roaring fires” need to be in evidence even in the height of summer. I know of a colleague who failed the test of checking out a secret shopper guest within the five-minute deadline because the fire bell was sounding, and the hotel was being evacuated.

Yet, I have never met a manager who is that bothered about these inspections. Every guest we have leaves reviews so why should the opinions of fake guests matter any more than the opinions of real guests? The answer is, they don’t. Perhaps we are reaching a point where things are hard enough for the hospitality sector without needing to worry about the opinions of people eating for free.

Or maybe, we will keep that one bottle of Schweppes tonic on standby….

Supermarket Sweeps

               The supermarket meal deal has kept me alive for many years now. I like the reliability of a sandwich cut into triangles, a drink and some kind of treat all for a bargain price. The sandwiches are all more fancy than I could be bothered making for myself. For the drink I get something that claims to have lots of vitamins, that way I don’t have to think about it for the rest of the day. I once heard that you only need an apple a month to prevent scurvy, that seems a realistic target. The snack treat goes into my bag before being forgotten. Then about twice a month, I find about five squashed biscuits, flapjacks or cake bars in there which is very exciting.

               Then I brake a long standing social rule, don’t eat on the street. I can never wait until I get home to tuck into my supermarket sandwich and always eat it while walking, in a rare act of successful multi-tasking. The packaging then goes into a public bin meaning I don’t have to take my own rubbish out so often (with the exception of the snacks I forgot about).

               To keep it interesting, I use different supermarkets and on my way to the chiller cabinets, I stop to look at the front covers of the newspapers and magazines. The magazines that catch my attention are generally either the celebrity gossip ones, which for some reason always focus on daytime TV presenters rather than A list movie stars. I find the most reliable way to decode these headlines is, if the headline ends with a question, the answer will be no.

               The other type of magazine cover that I enjoy are the ‘real life story’ ones. That’s Life magazine is my favourite “I jailed my daughter on her wedding day”, “my evil pal swapped her baby for a doll” or “my bum sent tots flying”. I am not sure the people involved in any of these stories would have said ‘oh well, that’s life’ making it an inaccurately named publication but it is a lot of fun to read the covers.

               Back to the chiller cabinets and a new game I have discovered, choosing the most expensive items included in the deal to try and save more than I spend. If the meal deal is £3.50, can I find £7 worth of items? Bottled smoothies, fancy crisps and premium sandwiches (particularly Christmas sandwiches) are great here and the pride I feel at finding a bargain is great.

Yes, of course, it would be cheaper to make my own sandwiches and on rainy days I do just that. But by eating at home, I would miss out on a lovely country walk and finding out about the tots who were sent flying by a bum.

What Do I Actually Do?

My probation period at the rural pub is over. I assume I have passed; this is because nobody (including me) has mentioned it and in this case, no news is good news. So, how has it been going?

It turns out I am a hopeless bartender, to the extent the regular customers wait for somebody else to be free rather than ask me for a pint. I never seem to be able to find the correct glasses for the correct beers and everything I pour is either completely flat or is almost entirely foam. Prava is a particular problem, sometimes I pour it fine, other times I have to scoop large amounts of foam into the sink (while trying to distract the customer).

I also live in complete terror that somebody will order cocktails. Wine is fine for me (as long as I don’t need to use a corkscrew), spirits are ok (assuming I can find them on the shelf) but cocktails are a nightmare. The boss bought me a ‘Cocktail Making 101’ book, then photocopied it so the type is larger but honestly, I usually find somebody else if cocktails are ordered. One day last week there was nobody else around, so I told a guest that cocktails were not available. Luckily the boss didn’t find out.

I was asked to concentrate on the restaurant instead. When it is quiet this is fine. I remember to take away the starter cutlery, give out steak knives and present the bills nicely. However, when it is busy, it all goes to pot. I have a (justifiably) bad reputation for putting orders through incorrectly, so the customers get a variety of things they didn’t want. Another problem is forgetting to put the order through so people wait ages for food that wasn’t cooked. My autistic brain doesn’t deal well with busy nights. Being unable to follow a process is very stressful and on one very busy Sunday I had a shutdown and had to go home.

One thing that has been amazing is the support from the manager. We have a very large number of staff who are neurodiverse or who have mental health problems and the manager really tries to find ways to get the best out of everyone. In my case, this has been moving me away from the busy Friday/Saturday nights and onto breakfast shifts. Perhaps ‘breakfast shift’ is a little misleading as it finishes at 4pm.

A typical day starts at 7am with me opening the pub. I am the only person in the building and there is something lovely about working under my own steam, turning on the machines, following the checklist and counting the floats.

Then at 8am, breakfast begins. Breakfast is great as people can only order cafetieres or tea in pots so I don’t need to battle with my sworn enemy (the coffee machine). At least 50% of the orders will involve combinations of things not on the menu but it is included in the price so I also don’t need to worry about putting it through the till. Why can’t everything be this easy?

Once breakfast is over, more staff arrive and I can get onto the admin. Inevitably there will be a whole load of answer phone messages that need responding to. Nobody else seems to get round to this so after a couple of days off there are so many to deal with. The highest number of unread messages I have seen is 48. The later ones were things like “I have been trying to call for days”, “does this phone work” and “have you shut down?”. Depending on what everyone wants (generally reservation enquiries or table bookings) it can take a couple of hours.

With any luck by the time I get back from the office, the staff will have set up for lunch although this depends how distracted they got my dogs/babies/leftover breakfast items/tik tok videos. The lunchtime service is completely dependant on the weather. If it is a nice day, it will be busy but if it is cold, wet or windy everyone stays away. Lunch is easier than dinner as people only have one course and that is mainly sandwiches meaning it is much harder for me to mess up the ordering (though not impossible).

By 2pm, I am on the home stretch and getting ready for check in. I program the keys, look through the packages and then chase up the housekeepers who are either on a go slow having been distracted by dogs/babies/leftover breakfast items/tik tok videos or in a rush to get home because a reality star I haven’t heard of is on Loose Women. This means the rooms can be in various states of cleanliness. It is not unusual for me to be recleaning toilets, changing stained pillowcases or removing lost underwear from wardrobes. Still, I would rather do this myself than have to apologise to customers later…

At 3pm,the next duty manager arrives and I handover all the drama of the day before going home for a nap and hoping my colleagues won’t have too many of my mistakes to sort out.

Either way… my probation has ended and they are stuck with me.

Is It A Wonderful Life?

I am aware it is a Christmas classic that people watch every year but it occurred to me that I have never actually seen It’s A Wonderful Life (or if I have I can’t remember the plot). So, on a whim I decided to buy a ticket.

The venue was a spectacular theatre that I had been to before, so I knew what to expect. I had half listened to something about it on the radio so knew it would be more than just a regular film screening, perhaps the orchestra would be playing along. Even better there was a special access performance at 11am. I was sold.

While I was buying my ticket, it was explained to me what an access performance was. The lights would stay on, the loud bangs would be toned down and the audience could make as much noise as they wanted, coming and going whenever they pleased. As an autistic person, this sounded brilliant. They also gave me a book of notes so I could follow what was going on.

There were a few things that I had not considered. Firstly, access performances are very good for children. School groups can run around, rustle sweets and chat as much as they wished. I sat away from them. Next, babies. So many babies. Although I much preferred the babies over the school groups.

I got to my seat and there were notes flashing across an LED screen. It seemed like people could send text messages and they would be displayed for all to see. The first one said something like “Helen, you are the best thing on the stage”. I looked in my program and there was nobody called Helen so I assumed that they must be old messages or examples to encourage people to join in. Maybe that is why I missed an obvious red flag in the following message “enjoy your first opera”.

Before it started, somebody came on stage to make a welcome speech, followed by the conductor telling us about the instruments. There was then a demonstration of a Polynesian dance, well to be precise, one move from a Polynesian dance essentially a slide, step together followed by a foot slap. We were asked to join in. Not easy from a seated position.

This all took upwards of 20 minutes, and I was getting restless. Flicking through my program, a piece of paper fell loose featuring information about a cast member not in the main program. This paper again mentioned opera. ‘Hang on’, I thought ‘I am at an opera with what feels like 4.6 billion babies, this could be a long morning’.

To be fair to the production, they tried really hard to make sure everyone knew what was going on. The words were projected onto the screen and the plot was spelt out in large text in my book of notes. The audience were well behaved, there was not as much noise or wandering around as I was expecting (apart from the infants) although that didn’t stop several people huffing and moving to other seats. Perhaps the regular opera goers were less sure what an access performance was.

Sitting near the back with the lights on meant I was constantly distracted by the various activities that audience members were up to. One man did a crossword, somebody else seemed to be writing Christmas cards. I kept having to go back to my notes and work out what happened during my concentration lapses. I completely missed that the leading lady was an angel. (Hopefully, nobody will tell me off for that plot spoiler from a story more than 75 years old).

The interval came, we got a chance to look at some costumes and afterwards somebody asked me if I had enjoyed the show… if I am honest… I had no idea. I had enjoyed all the commotion; the actual show mainly passed me by.

Thinking back, I have a number of reflections on the day

  • Access performances are very worthwhile and 11am theatre is very pleasurable
  • People who don’t regularly go to the theatre enjoy it much more than people who do
  • I need to pay more attention when making decisions to go to things
  • Babies are indifferent to opera

But did I enjoy it? Yes.

No More Wishy Washy

Eight weeks ago, the washing machine broke. An EO1 error. Incredibly, I managed to find the manual. It appeared to have had a run in with some coffee and possibly tomato ketchup but there it was amongst a pile of instruction booklets for other appliances which are no longer in the flat. I did the sensible thing and put them all back in the draw again.

An EO1 error means the door is not closed properly. I tried closing the door again, closing the door gently, slamming the door and finally turning it off at the wall. Still EO1. So, I call the landlord, no response. I email the landlord, no response. A week later, still EO1. Once again turning it on and off failed so I plucked up the courage to go and see him in his office.

The landlord explained to me that I could use the public launderette instead. “It is only £5 per wash, and they stay open until 8pm every night” he told me in the manner of an insurance salesman who knows their products are inferior to their competitors. On thinking about it, the fact he knew so much about the workings of the launderette was not a good sign.

Every week I sent messages asking for updates. Nothing until five weeks later when I was given an email address and told to contact the company myself. Not really the scenario I was expecting but at least it was progress. I explained in the email what the problem was and gave all my details. I then got an email back asking for the same information I had just given them. Days later, they wanted the model number. A week after that came a request for the serial number, then a photograph of the serial number.

Yet more emails followed ‘Date of Purchase, Retailer’ “No idea, it was here when I moved in” ‘Part Required’ “No idea, I am not a washing machine specialist, that is why I am contacting you”. These answers were not what they were looking for and I was told that without this information, they would be unable to arrange a site visit.

Back to the landlord I went. However, he was on holiday and I got somebody else who was entirely unaware of the situation. Perhaps this was the key as by the time I got home I had an email saying the problem has been logged and somebody would contact me for an appointment. Why this wasn’t possible several weeks earlier is unclear. The following day, an email came saying the site visit would be conducted today. So I waited in all day and guess what, no site visit.

Apparently, the reason for this was that there was no model number or serial number inputted on the form. So, I submitted those again. Then I got a message asking for a photograph of the serial number. Luckily, I already had one.

Five days later, I got a phone call at work saying the engineer was about to leave as nobody was at the flat to let him in. Off home I ran to find him sitting on my doorstep. We went upstairs and he staired at the machine “This is a Sharp”, “yes, it is” I replied, “I only do Ricoh, you should have told us the serial number so the right guy would have been here”. Instead of yelling at him that I did send in the serial number (twice) and took photos of the serial number (twice), I calmly asked if there was anything he could do. He took out his phone and went onto You Tube. ‘It says EO1 means the door isn’t closed properly’, he told me (something I already knew from reading the manual weeks ago).

Following the advice from the You Tube film, the engineer got out an electric screwdriver and tightened two screws taking a total of around five seconds. This fixed the problem, triggering a range of emotions in me from relief the problem is sorted to anger I didn’t just look up a You Tube clip myself. When this work was done, he sat down at my kitchen table and said “you don’t have any Jaffa Cakes do you?”. I didn’t.

That night, I washed pretty much everything I owned so pleased the machine was finally working. It also occurs to me that anyone with access to You Tube can be a washing machine engineer… Plus you get Jaffa Cakes…

Our Day Out

We had got up early that morning to go on a tour. These were put on for crew members at heavily discounted prices to get us all away from the ship and see some of the places the passengers go to rather than the normal crew member destinations of coffee shops, internet cafes and supermarkets.

             So it was unusual, that I was on a bus to see the crocodiles from the port of Darwin (which is on the north coast of Australia). Darwin is the biggest town for hundreds of miles although this is rather like saying a puddle is the biggest expanse of water in a desert and like the desert, Darwin is also hot and dusty.

             I guess the mix of the early morning and the warm weather was the reason that our driver missed the turning and our bus rolled down the bank and ended up on its side in the swamp. The thing I remember about this was the silence, nobody screamed or made any noise at all, we were all just stunned, confused, possibly dreaming. As luck would have it, nobody was badly injured but now there was the problem of how to get out of the bus since the door we arrived through was currently underwater.

We had safety drills on the ship every two weeks and because of this we were all actually fairly calm. The exception to this was the driver who seemed to be having a panic attack and yelling (in a Dad’s Army way) not to panic.

             We quickly found that the emergency escape window was now above us and since they were nearest, the casino dealers were tasked with breaking the window with the attached hammer. They hit it with a huge bang but unfortunately, on impact the window stayed intact, and the hammer broke. Fortunately (even though it was early morning) the casino team had brought bottles of beer with them, and it was one of these bottles that broke the window. At this point glass, and beer, cascaded downwards bouncing off everything and everyone. Then to add to the whole joy of our adventures, mosquitos filled the overturned bus.

As the bus slowly sunk into the swamp, we all climbed out of the window and had to jump into the water. It was a fair height and the process of climbing onto the seats, pulling ourselves through the broken window and jumping through, was a physical challenge most of us were not planning on doing in our tired early morning state.

Then we started to notice that we were not alone in the swamp, there must have been about a dozen crocodiles looking at us. Going into survival mode, there was no time to worry about the water, mosquitos, glass or any other swamp creatures. Instead, the challenge was how best to climb through the window, avoiding the obstacles and not cutting ourselves. The crocs were not in the least bit interested by all this commotion and carried on sun tanning.

We were picked up in groups of four by rescue vehicles but rather than going back to the ship instead we (surprisingly in hindsight) carried on with the tour which seemed very dull in comparison with the journey. It did, however, give us all a great excuse for being late back to work. Perhaps there is a reason we usually just went to the supermarket…

Market Day

The biggest occasion of the week in the rural town I find myself living, is the market day. From my little flat overlooking the town square I get to witness it all and due to a poorly fitting single glazed window, I get to hear it all too.

The preparations begin the night before as two grumpy middle-aged men in high vis jackets put cones out to stop people parking on the market square. That is the easy bit. The harder bit is finding out who has not read the signs and locating them to move their cars out of the way. Cue a lot of shouting from the high vis two at hapless tourists “can’t you read” “are you stupid” and last week “you shouldn’t be allowed out”. Charming.

Market day itself begins before sunrise as the stalls are set up and the traders arrive with their wares. There are around 15 stalls. One is a greengrocer; another is a fishmonger. The rest sell a variety of things nobody really wants including wooden duck figurines, copies of posters signed by celebrities from yesteryear and model train parts. Another stall is dedicated to CD sales (desperately hoping they will come back in fashion) and weirdly, there are two stalls specialising in gentleman’s slippers.

From my little flat, I can’t fail to notice that market day comes with its own musical accompaniment. This is provided by a group of well meaning (but terribly out of tune) singers from a local church singing the material from their services. I have never seen anyone stop to listen. I have to turn the radio up louder to drown them out.

It is fair to say that the patrons of the market fit a particular demographic group. The local cafes are aware of this so on market day a range of demographic appropriate offers appear, most of which offer tea, soup and other produce that doesn’t involve a lot of chewing.

By 3pm, it is all over. The high vis two have removed the cones, the fishmonger has tipped ice down all the drains, the terrible buskers are having tea & soup and the same number of wooden ducks that have been there since sunrise are back in their van.

I wonder how much money the market really makes. It never seems that busy, but it is the heart of the town, and it would be a shame to lose it. Perhaps next week I should buy slippers from both the rival stalls and some celebrity memorabilia just to support the traders. What to do about the terrible buskers from the local church is a whole other matter… Perhaps the two men in high vis jackets could get involved and move them along… to somewhere no one can hear them….

My ‘0’ Birthday

The thing with birthdays ending in a ‘0’ is that they are rare and unavoidable. We get plenty of notice that they are coming so can make plans for something special to celebrate, or we can do our best to completely ignore them. I chose the latter option.

My recent 0 birthday fell on a Sunday, I had booked the weekend off work and planned to spend it out of town, away from the risk of any kind of surprize. This plan was thwarted when (yet again) train strikes were announced so my plans were cancelled, and I decided just to spend the day at work instead. The gamble here was did anyone at work know about my 0 birthday…

Sunday lunch at the rural pub probably deserves its own blog such is the peculiarity of that weekly occasion but safe to say, that it didn’t disappoint…

Highlights of my 0 birthday included

  • Telling a customer that they couldn’t switch their parsnip from the Sunday roast for an ice cream sundae for free
  • A waiter falling over a dog and sending an entire tray of drinks over a customer in their 80s
  • Somebody phoning up to ask for the contact details of the pub round the corner
  • A child drawing on a wall in felt tip
  • Going to the Co-op as the kitchen had somehow managed to run out of chips by 2pm
  • Arguing with a delivery driver who was adamant that a five-foot Christmas tree is the same height as a five-meter Christmas tree
  • Cleaning up the results of when the felt tip bearing child went on to have explosive diarrhoea on a dining room chair

I thought I had got away with it until the end of shift debrief when the chef asked me when my birthday was. It was a heart stopping moment, I paused just long enough for the phone to ring again (‘Has somebody handed in a picture of Del Boy in a frame? My mother has left it somewhere’). By the time that was dealt with, the moment had passed, and conversation moved to something else.

I now have ten years to plan how to avoid my next birthday ending in a 0. In ten years’ time, the trains will probably still be on strike and I will probably still be working with the public. I just wish for less diarrhoea on the furniture…