Becky says things about … a letter to my creative self (aka ‘Bertha’)

Dearest and most glorious Listeners: I have said things on the wonderful River Ram Press blog this week.

If you’d just like to follow Stickman’s directions and click on the link below, the most marvellous things will happen.*

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YES, HERE

*You will be directed to River Ram Press where I have said things. If this isn’t marvellous, I don’t know what is.

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Filed under The Beauty of Life, Thoughts and Musings

Becky says things about … commuting

A multiple choice question for you, lovely Listener.

Would you rather:

a) Peel off your own cheek, rub salt into the bloody gaping hole, then staple the skin back to your now irreversibly deformed face;

b) Attempt to crawl inside the anus of an elephant who has just suffered from what his keeper calls ‘a wobbly tummy’; or

c) Stand in a confined space with your face inside the armpit of a stranger, and breathe in not only his gasses and vapours, but the gasses and vapours of a million other people in the same confined space for an indeterminate amount of time, twice a day?

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If you have opted for a) or b), you are most likely a commuter. Hello, fellow commuters. My name is Becky, and I am a commuter.

Twice a day, I stand in a train carriage along with approximately 2,450,957 other people. There is nothing pleasant about this.

I am short, Listener. I am 5 foot 4 inches. I therefore spend a great deal of my time standing below the faces of people taller than me, and when I am trying to read my book it is difficult to concentrate when I am caught in the violent torrent of a tall man’s nose breath.

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I board the morning train looking like this:

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and disembark looking like this:

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This is displeasing. It has also taught me that tall men breathe A LOT. More than is probably necessary.

I try to use the commuting time to read a book, in order to edify my mind. However, due to the fact that I am crammed into a small box with those 2,450,957 other people, this doesn’t always work out.

Example of failed reading #1:

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Example of failed reading #2:

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Oh, the intimate proximity of others, Listener. Faces everywhere. I turn my head to the right and my eyeball brushes against the eyeball of the man next to me. I turn my head to the left, and the girl chewing gum over my shoulder accidentally bites off my nose. I am so trapped I can only stare directly at whatever is straight ahead of me. On a recent journey, this happened to be an old, faded streak of bird poo on the back of a man’s jacket. By the end of the journey I was livid. JUST GET IT DRY CLEANED YOU FILTHY MONSTER. A whole journey staring into the face of another human’s evil disregard for cleanliness. Hellish.

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As a commuter, you learn to perform everyday actions at a minute fraction of their normal spatial requirements: sliding an object out of your bag with a movement invisible to the naked eye; holding your phone against your retina in order to text. This doesn’t always work out: last week my headphone wire got caught in the spokes of my umbrella as I was trying to fold it away into my bag, and my head ended up being sucked into my own handbag.

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And what if a song that you don’t like comes on your iPod? Or if the volume is UNBELIEVABLY LOUD AND IS LITERALLY RIPPING YOUR EAR DRUMS TO SHREDS AND WILL CAUSE YOU UNTOLD AURAL PROBLEMS FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE??? There is nothing you can do about it. One of your arms is wedged against the testicles of an overweight businessman, and the other is pinned to your side by the force of 594 school children. You must spend the journey either being musically abused by the song you don’t like, or being deafened to the point of tears. The only thing you can do is just be brave, Listener. Brave.

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I entered a train carriage the other week to be faced with a man’s backpack. It was preventing me from getting my whole body inside the carriage, which is often necessary for a safe journey. I politely asked the man to take off his backpack so there was more room for me.

The man answered me with a cold, hard stare that said ‘When you die, I will not only give an incorrect church address to all your mourners, but I will visit your lonely grave and write in marker-pen on the gravestone: ‘I’ll wear my backpack wherever the f*ck I like”.

I was thus forced to hope that my body was mostly inside the train carriage, and as the doors closed, I was relieved to discover that I had not lost a crucial appendage – until I realised that my hair had become trapped in the door. I realised this because it forced my head to slowly lift towards the ceiling, so I had to spend the entire journey gazing quizzically aloft and pretending I was thinking deeply about something, with this bastard’s backpack wedged against my chin.

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Commuting is like being thrown into a Room 101 filled with all the horrendous things about human beings that you already hate. Incessant clearing of throats. Loud breathing. Snorting. Sniffing. Swallowing. Loud chewing. Random and inexplicable grunting. Loud private conversations about Sebastian’s unreliable cornet tutor or Roger’s worsening hernia, or loud business conversations filled with buzzwords and acronyms that make you want to vomit into your own sleeve.

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Commuting is the Devil’s journey. Commuting is our penance for all the bad things we have done in our lives. And our reward for our morning’s worth of psychological and physical abuse?

Work.

Brilliant.

 

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Filed under Life eh?, People, Rants, Thoughts and Musings

Becky says things about … being lost in translation

Greetings to you all, most splendid listeners! I have acquired a few more of you since my last post on being cheerful had the glorious fortune to be Freshly Pressed; and, as the majority of you are either from my own humble Englandland or from across the pond in Americaland, I shall say hello in both languages:

English: Good day to you, my old chums! Salutations and hello there!

American: Yo, bud! Waassuuuuuuup??? Hey y’all, how YOU doin’???

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If you excellent Americans have gleaned from the above that we English think you actually talk like that all the time and that you are a nation of  Budweiser-swigging, gangsta-Paula Deen-Joey-from-Friends incarnations, then you are sadly correct.

You see, we in Englandland just can’t grasp your language. Yes we know it’s essentially the same language as ours, but there are such monumental differences, my American pals, such crucial and paramount disparities that we just can’t cope with.  

For example.

You have no idea how a simple greeting from you can throw us English into blind panic.

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We have literally no idea how to answer this question. Do you even mean it as a question? Is it rhetorical?

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If it’s rhetorical, you need to tell us. We are a great nation, but we cannot handle a question so early into a conversation.

This language barrier has also prevented potentially millions of English people from getting jobs in America. Ever wondered why there are so few English people working in your office? This is due to a simple yet crucial difference in the language of architecture: your buildings start on the first floor and move up to the second. Our buildings start on the ground floor and move up to the first. Do you know how many job interviews have been missed, how many hopes and dreams have been slashed, due to this massively important difference?

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But sometimes, America, you’re not just content with moving floors around, you take a word that we can cope with, that we think we understand and you make it mean something else! At school I read the entire To Kill A Mockingbird weeping at the injustice of inequality, rejoicing at the vigour of the human spirit, revelling in the beauty of the writing, and wondering incessantly what the hell Scout was talking about when she mentioned her bangs. 

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Listener, I did not learn what bangs were until about a year ago. For those of my fellow Englishmen who still have no notion: bangs means fringe. As in, the hair that covers our foreheads.

Yes.

I know.

No, I have no idea how they came up with bangs, either.

But bangs is nothing. Nothing, I tell you.

NOTHING compared to the brilliantly astounding lost-in-translation moment that accompanies an American talking about their fanny.

**Pause to allow my English listeners to smirk quietly to themselves.**

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You see, America, we English find the fact that you use the word ‘fanny’ to mean ‘bottom’, unfathomably amusing. I recently told the lovely Lizzy from Big Body Beautiful that I had finally come to like my rather rotund bottom. Lizzy beautifully replied that she was delighted that I was ‘sending pleasing thoughts to my fanny’. This amused me tremendously. 

Oh, America. You wear fanny packs. You sit on your fanny. You want your fanny to be bigger / smaller / thinner / plumper / wider / juicier (enjoying this, England?) – and we English at first gape open-mouthed, and then laugh and laugh and laugh.

Why?

Because here in England, fanny does not mean bottom. Here in England, fanny means

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THAT is why we find a nice American girl saying she’s been working on her fanny to try and tone it up insanely amusing. It is also why I was tormented for years by the aching, unanswerable question of why the hell anyone would invent a fanny pack. 

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And as for the biscuit debacle. Well. How do you think we feel when we see American breakfast menus advertising biscuits and gravy? It throws us into turmoil. A nice, sweet digestive biscuit covered in gravy??? Are they demented??? Our biscuits are your cookies. Would you want your cookies smothered in gravy? Of course you wouldn’t. That is why the concept both startles and repels us. And what about the Great Chips / Fries palaver? We go to America and order steak and chips expecting this:

Courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Courtesy of bbc.co.uk

And instead get this:

Courtesy of @alz

Courtesy of @alz

Displeasing.

But perhaps the greatest example of a potentially fatal translation problem comes from a friend who had the following conversation with a policeman (or police officer, if you will) in Manhattan, New York, at around midnight. In the late ’80s.

Behold.

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True story, Listener. True story.

So, my lovely American buddies, the next time an English person chortles manically when you say you’ve got an itchy fanny, or gapes bemusedly when you say you need to straighten your bangs, or whispers ‘Sss’ when you say ‘Do the Math’ (it’s Maths, America, Maths), you know why. We’re not being rude, we’re just confused.

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Filed under Adventures of Stickman, Life eh?, Mishaps, People, The Beauty of Life, Thoughts and Musings

Becky says things about … reasons to be cheerful

Oh, brave Listener. We’ve all had a bit of a rough time recently.

There are several reasons why we are all feeling a bit peeved, irked, and somewhat vexed:

1) It is February. February is an obnoxiously depressing month, it knows it, and it doesn’t care. February is insufferable.

2) We are still paying off our Christmas credit card bills. This is intolerable.

3) Our New Year’s resolution diet and exercise regimes have failed miserably and we are eating more doughnuts, peanut butter, and full fat milk than ever before to cope with the depression of February and Christmas credit card bills.

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4) The couples amongst us have had a relationship-busting argument on Valentine’s Day, and the singletons amongst us have just been reminded that they are SINGLE and ALONE and destined to remain that way for the rest of their sorry lives.

5) There is nothing to look forward to. Sorry, Easter, no one looks forward to you. You are not exciting. You are a legitimate reason to consume biologically harmful amounts of chocolate, and therefore you are a beastly contribution to our self-loathing about our failed diet and exercise regime, and also the reason we are alone.

6). THE WEATHER. Oh, the weather, Listener. We in Englandland have had the shit beaten out of us by the weather. For the last 3 months, this has happened on a daily basis:

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Some of us are underwater. Some of us have no roofs. Some of us have lost everything. The print journalists amongst us are fed up with trying to find synonyms for ‘wet’ and ‘flooded’ and ‘catastrophic’, and never want to see or write the word ‘deluged’ again. Several of our politicians have spent a considerable amount of time in Wellington boots pointing at floods. 

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And over in the US of A, you have had a POLAR VORTEX.

A POLAR VORTEX.

A POLAR VORTEX, Listener??? What is this, The Day After Tomorrow??? Polar vortexes happen in disaster films, in comics, and in the dark nubs of my brain when someone asks me to do Maths, but SURELY NOT IN ACTUAL REAL LIFE???

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Unfortunately, the only explanation for this deluge of catastrophic shitness is that we are finally entering the Apocalypse and will very soon all be dead, and because of this irrefutable fact, I would like to try and cheer you all up. I can’t make it stop raining, or thaw out Lake Michigan, but I can give you some reasons to be cheerful.

Becky’s Reasons to be Cheerful

1) You weren’t presented with this cake for your birthday:

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My mum was. She was presented with this cake for her birthday this weekend. My cake-baking skills are normally phenomenal. This time they weren’t. I failed. My mum had a failed cake, presented to her by a failed daughter.

Fortunately, once we stuck a candle in it, it looked MUCH better.

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2) Life is full of small joys that make you realise how ridiculous it all is; the brief and unexpected moments of such tom-foolery and slapstickery that happen to everyone: that little trip up the kerb that you have to turn into a jog, or the poorly-judged lunge of your foot into your knickers that gets your toe caught in the elastic and sends you hopping across the room and eventually colliding with the wall, or the premature opening of the dishwasher while it’s still on.

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Yes these moments initially make us want to kill ourselves, but next time they happen just imagine you’re the person next to you watching the whole ridiculous scene unfold, and remember that your idiocy is extremely amusing.

3) This joke exists in the world:

What’s grey and can’t climb trees?

A car park.

Thanks to my cousin’s 4 year-old son Oscar for the greatest contribution to the world of comedy EVER.

4) You did not arrive at work this morning and realise that your securely-fastened Tupperware box had spilt a lot of homemade soup into the bottom of your recently-purchased bag, and consequently your worldly goods, including your make-up, phone, and wallet, were smothered in pureed beans, spinach, and peas.

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5)  If you just had a relationship-busting argument on Valentine’s Day, or are a lonely singleton, or are generally friendless, isolated and alone, and have no one to talk to but the voices in your head that tell you to make questionable advances towards badgers, HAVE NO FEAR!! Talk to yourself! Talking to yourself, out loud, is one of the many joys of life. I have spent most of this evening talking to myself in a Northern Irish accent. No reason. I just fancied it. I made a beef stew whilst enjoying the lyrical twang of my verbal commentary. I once had an entire conversation with myself in a supermarket that went thus:

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See? How fun is that? Talk away! Ignore the strange looks and harsh judgement of society, and cheer yourself up with the wittiest, most intelligent banter around!*

*Actual attempts at talking to oneself may not be as successful, profound, or as imaginative as mine. I accept no liability for attempts at talking to oneself that result in boredom, anger, sexual arousal, or mental illness. 

6) There is dancing in the world. And there is plenty of space to do it in. Do you think a crowded station platform prevents me from performing an incredibly small jig that is invisible to the naked eye, yet gives me insurmountable glee? NO!

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There is no reason to be peeved, irked, or vexed when there is dancing in the world.

And finally…

7) There is love.

Yes, there is love. There are people in the world who will give you a huge, enormous, squashy hug when you feel a bit low, when you are depressed about your credit card bills and your lack of exercise and your heinous doughnut consumption and the fact that your house is underwater or your local supermarket it totally out of beans because people are panic-buying due to the impending Apocalypse, but throughout all that, there is LOVE. And yes, I may be saying this predominantly for my American listeners, because you LOVE a bit of mushy talk about love and emotion and whatnot, and my English listeners will be sitting in front of their computers thinking ‘Blimey, Becky’s gone a bit overboard with the slushy love stuff. I feel a trifle nauseous’ – but, Listeners of all nations and values, there is a whole heap of love in this world, and no one loves you more than my friend Stickman.

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So cheer up, my courageous listeners. The weather cannot continue to be this crap, your credit card bill will eventually be paid off, you will make up with your other half after your horrendous Valentine’s Day bust-up (unless it was over food, in which case that will take a lot of healing), and you can tell the excellent car park joke to all your friends and family and spread the general glee and merriment.

Hurrah!

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Filed under Health and Exercise, Life eh?, People, The Beauty of Life, Thoughts and Musings

Becky says things about … YouTube

Sweet Listener, we are in the presence of the most powerful threat to mankind ever conceived.

Apparently innocuous, seemingly good and true and wholesome, ostensibly gratifying, this beast is possibly more evil and more destructive than an elephant with a digestive complaint.

And what is this force of savagery and doom that places the entire human race under threat?

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YouTube??? you cry. That fantastic platform on which you can view every facet of the world, for free, in the comfort of your own home???? 

Oh, innocent Listener. They’ve got to you too.

Therein lies my point. You have every single facet of our world at your fingertips. Want to learn how to be a heart surgeon? Done. Need an idea for what to buy your guinea pig for Christmas? Check. Want to find twenty seconds of commentary from the second half of a football match between Swindon and Port Vale in 1988 that you remember watching with your dad and the commentator made a funny noise in the 73rd minute that you’ve always remembered and want to relive? No ruddy problem.

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There. Is. Nothing. You. Cannot. Watch. On. YouTube.

I have never ever not been able to find what I’ve been looking for on YouTube. Obscure TV programmes from my childhood that I’d feared I’d imagined, how to correctly apply bronzer (thank God for you, YouTube), hilarious compilations of people being knocked over by large pets. It’s all there for our viewing pleasure.

Where once we were forced to spend hours of our most successful procrastination time playing Spider Solitaire, or Minesweeper, or trying to work out how in the name of humanity you play Freecell, we now have millions of hours of people on magic mushrooms to enjoy.

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But, naive Listener, this apparent enjoyment has a dark side.

Picture this: you arrive at the gates of Heaven expecting to be handed a certificate of all the super things you have done in your life, like been continually empathetic towards the elderly, shown tremendous kindness towards tortoises, made at least two people very happy, and eaten all your fruit and vegetables. Instead, you are presented with this:

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Oh, the novels you could have written! The songs you could have composed! The dinners you could have cooked from scratch instead of scraping glutinous artificial matter from the base of plastic containers! The sex you could have had! The money you could have made!

ALL FOR THE SAKE OF SOMEONE DOING THIS:

YouTube could have been single-handedly responsible for destroying humanity before humanity had even had a chance to get itself going:

In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth , and animals, and a Man and a Woman, and YouTube, and thence forth everything ground to a halt, for the Man and the Woman consumed their days watching videos of cats being sick and badgers falling over rocks and lightning bolts hitting the bare dusty ground, and the Man and the Woman thanked God for creating seven whole days that they could dedicate to this most pleasurable of pastimes and this went on and on until the Man and the Woman and the animals became very old and died and then there was just the Heavens and the Earth and YouTube, and God wondered why he’d bothered.

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YouTube has created needs for us that we didn’t think we had: we now need to see what happens when someone eats the hottest pepper in the world; we now need to remember the theme tune to Blockbusters; we now need to know the absolute, categorical and unequivocally effective method of preparing vegetables. HOW DID WE EVER MANAGE BEFORE?

Ohhh, the lost hours, Listener. Just the other night I snuck in a bit of YouTube action before going to sleep (why? BECAUSE THERE WERE VIDEOS OF BABIES LAUGHING AT PAPER TO BE WATCHED), and I found myself staring at a compilation of people falling down stairs. Had I sunk low enough? No. I sunk lower when I realised

I HAD SEEN THE RUDDY VIDEO BEFORE.

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Oh YouTube. You undoubtedly do some good. Some of your videos are very inspiring and beautiful and emotional, but please – WHY ARE YOU MAKING ME WATCH THIS???

Stop it, YouTube.

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Filed under Embarrassing Revelations, Life eh?, People, Rants, Thoughts and Musings

Becky says things about … getting old

If you look very carefully in most dictionaries, darling Listener, you shall see that the definition of ‘annoying’ is thus:

annoying
adj
someone younger than you complaining that they are getting old

I would like to test this definition with the following announcement:
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It will be interesting to see whether that has annoyed my listeners who are older than 29 or if

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Oh ruddy heck, that was harsh. You could have just asked me to be quiet, Listeners-older-than-29. That would have sufficed.

It remains a fact that being 29 brings with it a plethora of factors that work together to result in us 29 year-olds feeling OLD. These factors are, in no particular order:

  • Telling someone how old you are and receiving the following response accompanied by a playful shoulder nudge:

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There is only one suitable reaction to this, and on behalf of all 29 year-olds the world over, I would like to apologise for it. But my God you asked for it.

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  • The undeniable presence of wrinkles. Not just those threadlike sweeps of character under our eyes, or the cute flicks of smile lines at the corners of our mouths, but deep, cavernous gorges. Frownlines like daggers that scream ‘I HAVE BEEN WORRYING ABOUT TURNING 29 FOR 29 YEARS’; that terrible moment we walk past a shop window, glance at our reflection and see the dark shadow of AGE sweeping from the inner corner of our eye and into our cheek like an unstoppable reminder of our impending and horrible death.
  • The realisation that 29 years is a long time for our bones to be holding our body together, and, as a consequence, they don’t work quite so well.

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  • Being asked ‘What did you do last week?’ and, after a lengthy silence, during which we plough further depth into those frownlines, responding with ‘I have literally no idea.’
  • Where once we could spend happy hours perusing photos of our Facebook chums lying unconscious in club toilets or cartwheeling naked in the mud at Glastonbury, we are now faced with a daily barrage of engagement announcements, wedding albums, baby photos, blurry black and white photographs that make us think ‘Why would someone post a picture of the inside of a plughole?’ and then realise that it is a foetus and that, at the age of 29, it is perfectly acceptable, nay, expected, to own a foetus. Or, worst still, seeing photos of your old school chums with their four children. Because, at the age of 29, we have had more than enough time to have had four children.

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  • Never ever ever ever being asked for ID when buying alcohol. And, on the rare, wonderful occasion we are asked for ID, it is quickly followed by ‘Actually, don’t worry about it.’ Why? Because they have spied our wrinkles, smelt the Deep Heat on our lower backs, and told our four children to get their hands out of the confectionery.
  • Congratulating yourself and your fellow 29-year-old chums on arranging a night out at a club where you can dance and get stupidly drunk on cheerfully-coloured shots with an indeterminate alcohol content, and then sheepishly calling each other the day of the event and making excuses like ‘I’ve just had such a knackering week at work’ or ‘I’ve got to get up early tomorrow to help my friend move house’ or ‘I just don’t have the money at the moment, the new washing machine wiped me out’ or ‘London is such a long way on the train and it’s just so busy and crowded and the club will just be so loud and we won’t be able to talk properly’, and you all end up going to the local pub for a nice comfortable chat and a sit down.

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  • Sitting in said pub and observing the antics of a group of people in their early 20s whom you cannot help but label in your aged mind as youths, and becoming irritated by their noise levels, their irresponsible drinking (three shots of Sambuca each?? Who needs that?), their loud declarations of recent sexual and alcoholic conquests, and their carefree, worry-free, and wrinkle-free faces, which inspires a grumbling outburst of bitterness from your table of over-the-hill curmudgeons.

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  • Realising you not only understand, but agree with, the phrase, ‘With age comes wisdom.’

It is perhaps the wisdom that makes us feel the most old; realising that we are ancient enough to not only give advice to those younger than us, but to have that advice listened to and accepted, because the youths realise that we’ve had loads of time in our 29 years to make mistakes and have experiences and must thus know exactly what we are talking about.

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And at the age of 29, we are faced with the most startling piece of wisdom of all:

NO ONE KNOWS ANYTHING.

We have spent our lives looking up to grown-ups and thinking how wise they are and how all-knowing, and we’ve been keenly awaiting the day that the grown-up switch flicks on, when we’ll suddenly understand mortgages, or what a dividend is, or how to programme a boiler or do a cryptic crossword, and become a proper, qualified ADULT. But, our 29 years of experience of the complex and often ridiculous world of human beings have finally taught us that 99.999% of grown-up humans are simply fumbling their way through life, trying to make enormous decisions, behave responsibly and look like they know what they’re doing – when in fact they still stub their toes on bedposts, fall over whilst putting on their underwear, get nervous talking to their boss, fret over everything, and struggle with supermarket trolleys.

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So, there is really only one thing for us 29 year-olds to do.

Just carry on.

Embrace our wisdom, learn how to cover up our wrinkles, accept that we can no longer sit cross-legged for an extended period of time, keep making mistakes, ignore the Facebook foetuses, persevere with the cryptic crosswords, and realise that we may just be better people than we were.

And if we’re not, then there’s still plenty of time.

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Filed under Life eh?, People, The Beauty of Life, Thoughts and Musings

Becky says things about … the first day of a new job

Let me tell you a story, Listener. A story of fear.

Yesterday I walked into my local coffee shop. I glanced at the menu board and made my decision. There was a young girl standing behind the counter. We looked at each other.

I realised I was looking into the face of fear.

The girl had TRAINEE BARISTA emblazoned on her shirt.

Ordering coffee from her felt a bit like this:

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She handled the milk jug like it contained a human heart, poured the milk into my cup as though it were the pureed remains of Christ himself, and when she spilt the tiniest globule onto the counter, looked at me as though I was going to club her to death with a raisin whirl and whispered ‘I’m so sorry – it’s my first day’, I wanted to hug her.

Because, most adored Listener, is there any fear like the first day of a new job?

My first ever day of work was at a telesales company that sold double glazing. I was 15 years old. I was presented with a sticky phone, a soiled phonebook, a chewed pencil, a grimy script, and a deep sense of everything in the world being black and wretched.

I was told to call members of the public and sell them double glazing. I stared at my besmeared equipment and suddenly realised that I had an insurmountable phobia of phones, people, talking, and life. If I had been given the choice of phoning a stranger and trying to sell them double glazing, or sandpapering my own corneas, my decision would have been swift.

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After 20 minutes of trying to devise a cunning and elaborate escape, I pulled myself together, dialled the first number and had a brief conversation with a member of the English public that went something along the lines of:

‘Hi, my name’s Becky, I’m not trying to sell you anything but – ‘

‘If you call me again I will hunt you down and I will kill you.’

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On my first day of working in a gift shop when I was 16, I realised I had a terrible fear of greetings cards. Oh, Listener, they all look perfectly harmless when they’re neatly stacked in their displays, but when you’re the poor chump who has to get them out of their box, find the right slots, price them, and stock-check them against a mystifying coding system that was devised by an evil genius in a distant subterranean lair, it is alarming.

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After emerging from the emotional persecution of greetings cards, I was handed a duster and told to dust the shelves. As a result, I discovered a snippet of wisdom that is invaluable for your first day in a new job: find a task you can do and do it very slowly and very thoroughly, thereby keeping well out of that shark-infested deep water and remaining safely in your comfort zone.

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I dusted for about four hours, bristling with terror every time a customer came near me, until the worst fear of anyone on their first day in retail was realised: SOMEONE ASKED ME SOMETHING. 

Everything went into slow motion. The customer’s words morphed out of his mouth, slowly cutting into my soul like demonic blades.

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Fortunately, there was an incredibly simple answer, and I learnt my second piece of wisdom: PEOPLE ARE GENERALLY STUPID.

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What about your first day in an office, Becky? I hear you ask. Behold, sweet Listener.

If you are unfortunate enough to be taking over someone’s job, starting work in an office is like bursting in on a recently-bereaved family, grabbing the urn off the mantelpiece, and shitting in it.

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Your desk is not your own – it is the desk of Val, or Beryl, or Graham, or whichever adorable and much-loved colleague sat there before you. On that first day, and for a fair time thereafter, you are The Person Who Took Over Val’s Job. You are using Val’s pencil. You are using Val’s stapler. You open Val’s desk drawer to find a festering, tea-encrusted mug, and you innocently hold it up and say ‘Er – is this anyone’s?’ and the office sinks into a stony, grieving silence, and before long your new colleagues have grown enormous ginger beards, are wearing horned helmets, and are telling you you are not welcome in their village.

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But there is no fear, no abject terror comparable to your first day working behind a bar.

I was 20. I walked behind the bar on my first shift to be confronted with the blank staring faces of eight men behind a gauze of smoke. I couldn’t have felt more exposed if I had removed all my clothes and straddled the beer pumps.

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The landlord then proceeded to place me two feet away from the group of customers, wrap his arms around me, put his hand over mine on the beer pump, and pull it down, all the while murmuring ‘Theeeeeeeeere we go, pull it hhhaaaarrd, don’t be afraid of it, give it a good tug now’, while the men viewed me in solemnly judging silence. I will give 50 English pounds to the 20 year-old girl who claims she would be comfortable in this situation.

I spent my first shift staring numbly at the ludicrous amount of bottles, the baffling multitude of glasses, and wondering whether I could make it through my entire barmaiding career without ever having to serve anyone a drink.

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The most unnerving thing about that first day was the exposure. In Space no one can hear you scream, right? Well, behind a bar everyone can hear you scream, and everyone can hear when you drop a glass and everyone can see when your skirt’s tucked into your knickers and everyone can see when you’re staring desperately at the bottle shelves trying desperately to see the Pernod and pretending desperately that you’re not trying desperately to see the Pernod, and there is no escape. Space is easy. 

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So I felt for that girl in the coffee shop. The only advice I can give her is that it will get easier. She will become more confident, more assured, until she will wonder what she ever worried about. She will also develop a profound abhorrence for the human race and everything it stands for, but that’s just the beauty of life.

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