Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Price of Nice ~ Payment in Kind

Ever slipped down the stairs? Or down an escalator? Well, today, I tripped up one and had it not been for my umbrella and a little dexterity, I would have probably ended up flat on my face as the escalator carried my hunk'a'junk, embarrassingly so, to the top of the tube station. Standing only a couple of steps behind me however, was a man who didn’t even bother to ask me if I was okay. Granted, I was fine. The toes on my right foot were a little sore, but whenever something like this happens, I get up, dust myself off and get on with it. I didn’t look back however. I was thoroughly embarrassed – temporarily reminded of my school days when such a feat would have caused my peers to burst out laughing. But even as I crossed the barriers and carefully climbed the stairs into the street, I realise that had I been that man, I probably would have said nothing as well.

Fifty years ago, Britain was a very different place and there was a stronger sense of community spirit. In a single neighbourhood, everybody knew everybody else; people would exchange words at the garden fence or even ask a neighbour if he could borrow a hammer because he’d misplaced his. Grannies would look after children that weren’t their own for nothing more than the company and when a family went on holiday, the neighbourhood watch would be on standby just in case any unsuspecting opportunists would take it upon themselves to break in. Of course, even now in the twenty-first century, I’ve heard of cases like this still happening – even in London where the people are colder than a fridge freezer – but any community spirit is no more. There are wars happening between rich and poor, old and young, borough against borough – and as the divide gets wider, can we honestly hope to find kindness in our fellow man or woman.

A fine example would be the postman that delivers the mail to my workplace. We have a Solicitors above us but we share the same entrance point. But rather than hand-deliver the mail into our offices, this postman would prefer to drop the mail at the front entrance instead where anyone and everyone can just walk in – claim said precious documents and walk off with them. Another example happened a few years ago when it was snowing really badly. The bus had pulled up to the bus stop and a lady was running for it. The poor woman slipped and fell within metres of the door and what did the bus driver do? He drove off – leaving the poor woman wet, embarrassed and her dignity in tatters. I’m a strong believer in karma nonetheless and I’m pretty sure he got his, but rarely do people seem to spare a thought for others and it seems to be on the rise.

Granted, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not guilty. We all do it. We all have our thoughtless moments. I was bobbing in and out of sleep on the train once and saw a guy drop his scarf. Too focused was I on catching a few Z’s before work that I kept schtum, assuming he’d notice it and pick it up. He didn’t notice however and it took the woman sitting opposite me to point it out to him. It also, isn’t uncommon for me to walk past a homeless person begging on the street. And while I know that every situation is different and that some people are genuinely unfortunate, I continue to walk by them because of my preconceptions that if I give them money, they’re gonna fund their drug problem or drinking habit.

And maybe it’s that lack of trust that makes us as a society unwilling to spare a thought for another citizen. Maybe it’s because there are so many people out there who will take, take, take and give nothing back. After all, it’s a known problem in the UK that there are people out there that are content to live off of state benefits. There are people out there that purposely have children because they know it’ll increase that benefit. And there are people out there who evade tax and claim disability allowances even though there’s absolutely nothing physically wrong with them. So when we see that homeless person taking a puff or drinking a beer, we start to wonder if they’re genuine. And when we question a persons’ sincerity, we hesitate until hesitation turn into full blown apathy.

Heck, it seems like the only kindness that we’re exposed to nowadays comes in the form of hospitality or customer service. These chipper individuals will greet you at the door with a smile and try to make all your problems melt away for the hour or two that you’re in their company. But again, is this kindness even genuine? That broad smile; that “may I help you?”; that “please come again”. Is it real – or is it just scripted? Because I too, have been there. I’ve worked in retail and customer service for over five years now and I know that even though I regularly wish to disappear behind my desk so that my clientele can’t see me, when that client walks in with a query or intention, I’m gonna put on my brightest smile because I’m getting paid for it.

Customer service isn’t free like it might have been several decades ago. It’s bought. And even bad customer service is bought too. Not everyone knows how to disguise their attitude. Take the Nando’s cashier who became very impatient with my friend because he wanted to order one fino side and one regular side instead of two regular sides. Poor guy only speaks little English so I had to interject but I couldn’t help but think: so what if he didn’t get the discount; he wanted what he wanted and he was paying for it. Give it to him!

But this isn’t to say that London is a completely heartless city. There are people out there that will get up out of their seat for an elderly person or someone heavily pregnant. When I was hit by a car, a man asked about my well-being. If someone’s been waiting at the bus stop longer than me, I’ll let them get on first. A middle-aged man exiting a Debenhams even hung back a bit and held the door open for a lady exiting with her pram. So it’s there in smaller quantities. Just don’t expect me to knock on my neighbour’s door to borrow some milk.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Desperate Times ~ Desperate Measures

I’ve probably said it a few times now, but I work for a training and employment company. And even though we’ve got the training side of things down pat, we haven’t really grasped the employment side of things. Nevertheless, we do have ties to agencies and companies that we refer clients to, but we often get people through the door looking for jobs. And I mean any job. In the UK, there has been a serious clamp down on state benefits meaning that all those people that purposely sit on their asses at home doing nothing, are now being forced out to earn their keep. And they come into the office in their numbers virtually begging for work and some of them, I do feel sorry for, because if they haven’t any experience in the areas that we help into employment, unless they train – and folk over £200 – they’re pretty much on their own.

Despite the cry out for employment, however, jobs are not the only thing that people are desperate for these days. And even though, as a society in west, we are blessed, we can’t help but want for more.


I can’t tell you enough how badly I fit into this category. Because we’re all in the same situation and for those of us with bills to pay or dreams for the new year, money is something that we can’t get enough of. According to statistics, 32 million of us play the lottery every week in hopes that by some grace of God, our numbers will come up and we’ll be thousands of pounds richer. When that tax rebate comes in after so many years, our day is instantaneously brightened and we blow the whole thing on some manner of material or item. When pay day rolls around, we exhale as our bank accounts expand only to watch them simultaneously deplete seconds later as the rent, the council tax, utilities, insurance and everything else comes tumbling back out again. And even though deep down we know that we’re better off than some, we’ll always complain that we never ever have enough money.


Christmas started early this year. The lights in West London went up earlier this month and I can’t help but roll my eyes a little because I was under the impression that Christmas was in December. But to the informed individual, we all know that this is just a simple ploy to get consumers to put their hands in their pocket. And considering that there was a decline in expenditure last year, I think that store owners and big-name brands are just a little bit concerned. But some of us simply can’t afford to buy our spouse that extra Christmas gift this year. And that large bird we usually consume at Christmas dinner will probably have to be reduced to a medium instead – maybe even a small. Every year, I usually buy three presents for the same people but this year, with my mind heavily on saving for a new life in the land of the rising sun, I’m starting to think that something’s going to have to give. So unless I can find a bargain, I’ll probably have to say that I genuinely can’t afford it this year.


I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine the other day. He was talking about a friend of his and how he dislikes talking to him because he’s a self-centred – my words, not his. He also, mentioned that said friend is constantly looking for a girlfriend, but he always fails and as a result constantly asks for advice. I couldn’t help but snigger a little. You see, I’ve come across a selection of people who seem to be in keen pursuit of a one on one intimacy – whether it’s dancing that horizontal tango or something real that completely knocks you off your feet. And while I agree that it’s not nice to be alone a Christmas, I can’t help but think that some people come on a little too strong. 

Take today, for example. I was standing on the escalator heading towards the exit and some guy was walking up the stairs and stopped in the gap directly behind me. I didn’t think much of it. We were approaching the top of the escalator and it’s not uncommon to want to catch your breath if your heart can’t take it. But then I heard the most eerie of words ever:

“I miss you.”

I turned my head and there he was, smiling in my face as if I knew him. I vomited a little in my mouth and then hurriedly climbed the rest of the escalator keen to escape. This kind of desperation always carries with it a foul smell. Bathe daily utilising some self-respect and let love wash over your naturally.


Remember I mentioned earlier that people regularly flood my workplace looking for work because benefits have been chopped. Well, this doesn’t necessarily stop them from asking for handouts. Many a time have I had people come into the office asking if they need to pay to do a course. In my mind that’s a big WTF right there. For one of the courses we run, we offer an opportunity to do a short placement as a means of gaining practical experience. You will not believe the amount of times someone has asked me “during the placement, will I be paid?”. WTF part two. And lastly, my company also, possesses funding meaning that people can do some courses for free at Level’s 2 and above only as long as they meet the criteria. When people here ‘free’ – they flock, but in hearing the magic word, it seems that their ability to count suddenly flies out the window. Because unless you’ve done Level 1 or something to that standard, how can anyone possibly expect to jump ship and survive a course greater than ones capability. That’s like me starting an intermediate Japanese course.


Human beings are social butterflies. Even those of us who like our own company – myself included – will eventually desire some human contact whether it’s heading out into the big band world for a day out of a night on the town. But while some of us are quite comfortable in our skin, others of us aren’t comfortable letting the world see us as we are naturally. It’s known that we are socialised to behave in a certain manner depending on the environment and for some of, behaving in any other way other than what’s expected of us, means rocking the boat and making ourselves look less than flattering. Imagine the simple act that is slouching while having an interview with a big corporate company or not having a beer while watching a football match with the lads. And sometimes, we’re content to stand out and stick to our principles, but in all honesty, human beings are like sheep – and for the most part, the majority nearly always wins.


Even now, I’m searching for ways in order to do what I think will make my life easier for myself. I’m trying to tutor on the side for money, all the while seeking a new job oversees. I even desire bargains to keep my expenditure low, but ultimately, I think I scrapped this search some time ago and decided that I was simply going to make do with what I have already.

Ultimately, we really should be satisfied with what we do have because we have a lot more than other across the planet do. However, we’re a western country – we’re an individualistic society. We’re selfish, and we’ll always be a little desperate when something happens that shifts our perception of what we deem is the ideal.

Friday, 2 November 2012

The Angry Workout ~ Under Pressure

Everyone talks about going to the gym to let off steam. Whether you’ve had a stressful day at work or something has really gotten under your skin, a brisk jog or a couple of rounds with a punching bag is said to do the trick. I understand that via working out, you work yourself hard so that in focusing on 'gymming it up', you take your mind off your aggravation. Similarly, you gear your frustrations via a healthy medium; you get your heart rate up thus pumping blood around your body in a good way as oppose to letting things smoulder under your skin so that they may potentially become detrimental enough for you to develop high blood pressure. So I see the benefits – I really do – but at the same time, I wonder if letting off steam at the gym is generally such a good thing.

As you know, I’m in the process of applying for the position of Assistant Language Teacher with the JET Programme. I’ve also, just legally changed my name and my new passport arrived this morning. I’ve gathered all of the documents I require for the application. All I need to do is write up my Statement of Purpose (a bit like a cover letter), photocopy my new passport and get my doctor to verify that I’m fit and able to work overseas. As today was my day off, I decided to go to my doctor’s surgery. I figured that it would be as simple as it was the last time I applied to the JET Programme. I dropped it off with the receptionist and about a week later, I received a signature and a stamp indicating I had a clean bill of health.

How wrong was I.

Long story short, I explained my situation to the receptionist and she stated that I’d need to put my request in writing and fork over £30.

£30 for a stamp and a signature?


I paid anyway even though I’m not exactly flushed right now and then I went to the gym. All of this took up time, however, because I then had to visit an internet cafĂ©, type and print a letter, print off some additional information and then go back to the surgery. I was also against the clock because I had to return home in order to be present for a package, but all I could think about was letting off steam so as soon as I arrived, I jumped on the bike with intentions of warming up for 5 minutes and instead, doubled my time on it.

My usual workout is roughly ninety minutes – forty on weights, forty on cardio, five to ten minutes to warm down. I warm up on the bike, follow it with leg weights, do some arms, do some abs and finish on the treadmill.

Today, I had to cut this in half, but I was unusually energetic. I raised the weight of the weights I was lifting, upped the speed I ran on the treadmill and significantly decreased the amount of rest time I gave myself. As soon as I was done with one machine, I’d move onto the next without really stretching my legs in between. I had a water bottle but drank significantly less than I usually do. I was almost violent with myself on the abs machine, but discovered that the Tricep Extension isn’t as rubbish as I thought it was. I felt the brunt of the effects on the treadmill, however, because I could actually feel the blood pumping around my body and lastly, I forgot to stretch afterward meaning that right now as I type this, I’m most definitely in some kind of pain.

What I find strange is that my back is actually hurting me and yet I didn’t particularly lift any weights that might impact on my back…or at least I think I didn’t. But I basically overdid it today and even though I stretched when I got in the door, I think the damage has already been done. Fortunately, I don’t think it’s permanent, but there’s definitely a lesson in this.

Do you recall my earlier entry – when I was hit by a car? Well, it seems that I unlearnt that lesson all in the space of fifty minutes. So I deliver it to you again as a reminder. Take care of yourself. Seriously.

Also, a few helpful tips:

Always stretch/warm up before exercise~

I have a very bad habit of skipping this part altogether, but warming up physically prepares your body for your workout and reduces the amounts of aches and pains you receive afterwards.

When lifting weights, take a small break in between reps~

There’s a saying that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing and in this case, I think it applies. If you don’t give yourself a bit of rest, especially while working on weights, you’ll tire out the muscle you’re working on. You might even damage it.

Don’t lift more than your fitness level will allow~

I think this goes without saying really and like I mentioned above, if you try to run before you can walk, you’re likely to fall on your face. Start moderately and then increase weight or speed gradually. You’ll build up a better resistance that way.

Try to break things up a bit~

I’ve heard it said that sometimes it’s good to mix things up at the gym. So, on one visit, you might wish to focus on cardio, while on another, you might choose to focus solely on weights. I think this is up to personal preference, however, as sometimes I stick rigidly to my routine and other occasions, I might reduce things or cut them out altogether.

Always warm down/stretch after exercising~

I’m not sure if this is the case, but I contracted a case of Runner’s Knee back in my university days and I strongly feel that it was attributable to this. I never used to stretch after I exercised, and even though I failed to do so directly after working out today, I usually make it a habit to do this because I find that if I don’t, I become very stiff – similarly to how I feel now.

My last piece of advice is simple. If you’re like me, where angry or under pressure ~ don’t go to the gym.