Friday, 31 August 2012

The Beast of Balham

So it is 2.17 in the morning and I am awake. I can't sleep, I am wearing a bathrobe, a pair of green ankle socks and eating a Krispy Kreme doughnut with a spoon. Life could not get more glamorous than this.

I just looked out of the window and saw one of the many neighbourhood cats. He is a big black beast that I like to call Beelzebub. I call him that because he shows no affection or even any interest in the humans that reside in his territory and I think a cat that big, that furry and that indifferent to creatures that so obviously try to pander to his every whim, must have a touch of the devil in him.

Of course he could just as easily not be Beelzebub and instead be the Beast of Balham (Balham being the area of London I am currently wide awake in). He could be a panther or maybe a puma. After all, the story that dominated the headlines this week was the Essex Lion. For those of you that did not follow this most exciting and dramatic news story and were perhaps doing more important things than reading news items about cats (you silly people), I will enlighten you. A couple while holidaying in Essex looked out of their caravan window at their lovely view of a field and spotted a big cat. Well, what they though was a big cat. They even took a photo. Then they decided what they were looking at was a lion. Then they called the police. Surprisingly the local police took this couple very seriously and launched a massive search for the supposed lion, which included armed police, two helicopters and even some zoologists, who had perhaps petted lions before.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the police were being gullible. I saw the couple interviewed on BBC news and I believe they genuinely thought they saw a lion, they seemed so convinced. I think they seemed so sure and their photo looked quite a bit like lion, so that the police probably thought that they could not take the chance of neglecting to organise a search, case the lion turned up in a local village somewhere and ate some school children..or a postman. Just in case you wanted to know the above photo is not the photo they took but it is what I imagine an Essex Lion would look like if it existed (complete with trendy haircut and dye job). Which of course, it doesn't!

The lion turned out to be a local domestic cat, who lived in the Essex area, called Teddy Bear. Teddy is a ginger Maine Coon (which traditionally is a very big breed of cat). He did not seem to relish his new found fame and had to be dragged out from under his owner's bed in order to be presented to the BBC reporter who had turned up to interview him. The end result is that the owner of Teddy is sure that the Essex Lion is him, the police are refusing to disclose how much their helicopter search cost the British taxpayer and the holidaying couple still maintain there is a lion on the loose in England.

So hey, for all I know Beelzebub could be the real deal. I better go get my camera.

A cat that definitely has a connection with me is Lulu. Lulu is a long-haired fluffy tabby with a desperate high pitched meow and cute little face. She has especially funny round paws that hide long and sharp claws that snag on everything. She also belongs to my downstairs neighbour. Through one way or another Lulu sometimes ends up stuck in the hallway of the building and cannot get back into her owner's flat. The first time she did this, my husband came home from work, startled Lulu and was met by a hissing furious ball of fur at the bottom of the stairs to our home.
'She's evil.' he stated to me the next time we came across Lulu in the hallway after coming home from the cinema one night.
But they don't call me The Cat Whisperer for nothing! I made friends with Lulu right there and then. She loves being stroked and I think perhaps she does not get much attention from her owner. Okay, I don't actually know that for sure. Lulu does love to follow me up and down the stairs and I suspect she is actually really an attention-whore and would never be satisfied. She is one of those pets that would wake you up at 5am with a carefully aimed claw to your nostril just to make sure you fed her some more really expensive cat food.

Then things escalated. Lulu started following me up the stairs and into our flat. Then she started clawing huge holes in our carpet. 'I TOLD YOU! She's evil!' cried my husband with exasperation. So I developed a system where I clapped my hands loudly every time she used our floor as a scratching post. That seemed to work and she lost interest in our carpet.

Then one day I found her rolling around ecstatically and scent marking my husband's swimming shorts. Then she climbed into our bed and licked one of our pillows. Then she climbed into our fridge and tried to eat my favourite cheese. Then she chewed one of my bath towels. Let's just say having Lulu around was fast beginning to lose its charm. And yet still I loved her little furry warm body sitting on my lap, her ridiculously sounding purr and the false innocent wide-eyed little looks she gave me. She is really a rather pretty kitty. I just wished she left my bed pillows alone.

The problem is that she does not belong to me and my neighbour does not know that she is in my flat. Every once in a while Lulu's owner calls into the hallway. 'Lulu? Lulu sweetie, where are you? Here pussy pussy...' I obviously freak out and desperately try to shove Lulu out my front door and into the communal hallway, lest I be suspected of cat kidnapping. Lulu, the little betrayer, the adulterer, the feline Jezebel, ignores her owner's call and purrs her way round my legs and back into my flat. The second problem is that Lulu's owner has never been that friendly to me. Even though we have lived in the same building for almost two years, she barely says a word to me and makes no attempt to clean up the junk mail that comes through the letter box every day. (I'm not sure what junk mail has to do with this situation but my neighbour's lazy attitude to it, rankles me)

So obviously I suspect my neighbour would not be happy to find out that Lulu has been hanging out with me.
'So what did you do?' asked my friend Roco, when I met her and our other friend, Lyns for dinner last week. I save all my best cat stories for Roco and Lyns as I feel that they can really appreciate them.

'Well, Lulu would not leave the flat and she scratches if she is picked up so....I enticed her out of our flat with pieces of cooked chicken.'
'Oh no. You didn't!? Now she will never leave!' Roco exclaims with both a conflicting mix of disapproval and admiration in her voice. I can tell Roco and Lyns are secretly impressed that I have turned to a life of crime and stealing other people's cats.
'And what if your neighbour sees you feeding chicken to HER cat. She won't like that!' Lyns reminds me wisely shaking her head.

Well you see my neighbour almost caught me the other day. I had got Lulu to the front door by feeding her chicken on every landing of the stairs and I was just about to lead the cat outside when Lulu's owner opened the door and exclaimed 'Lulu! There you are!' As usual the neighbour saw me and said 'Oh hey' with an unimpressed coldness. She tried to get Lulu to come into her flat, but of course I still had chicken hidden in my hand behind my back, so Lulu just sat at my feet, gazed at me adoringly and begged. That cat! She knows which side her bread is buttered on.

'I just don't understand her,' my neighbour said to me, 'She never comes when I call her.' She scooped up Lulu, who moaned in protest and slammed the door to her flat in my face.
I smiled guiltily and backed out the front door. On my way up the street I tossed the rest of the chicken in my hand to Beelzebub, who was lounging on the pavement like he owned the place. He looked at it and then turned, nose in the air and haughtily walked away.

Ungrateful furball.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Enticing overseas students with my British accent...

Today has been an action-filled today. Work is very busy at the moment as we are preparing for our new intake of students next week. There are literally not enough hours in the day for us to do all the work that needs to be done and to then additionally talk about the work that needs to be done (something that my workplace is very keen on). Why do the work, when you can just discuss it at length and then generate more work? And this is coming from me, ie. someone who loves to talk!

For those of you who are reading this blog (which probably numbers only 3 or so people) and who desperately want to know where I work (ah! Now I have you on the edge of your seats!), I will attempt to explain the inner workings of a....Higher Education Institution. Of course all names and places are changed to protect the innocent (mainly me) and so I don't get fired.

I work in a Higher Education Institution in a nice building, in a nice part of London with a nice team of women (and one man - yep, you should pity that man). Unfortunately that is as nice as it gets. Don't get me wrong, some days I love working where I do. After all I got to go to 5 separate work Christmas parties last year and it didn't cost me a penny (and I ate plenty of mini sausages wrapped in bacon at each party). But at the same time, like any institution or business, my workplace is steeped in bureaucracy, riddled with a 'culture of meetings' and strewn with the most magnificently large and difficult egos you will ever encounter outside of Banking or Politics.

Before I worked here, I had never been to so many meetings in my entire life. You could collect up all the hours I spend in meetings (normally asleep) and then add them together and it would probably equal up to a 1/4 of my life. Probably more time than I spend in the shower or eating doughnuts. How sad is that?! I do try to make the meetings more interesting. I don't mind the small meetings so much; the ones that are just between me and my team are usually quite genial and can be quite useful. Sometimes I even make people laugh. At least no one has actually cried yet. And sometimes we chat about fun stuff like going to the pub and gossip about our students.

But the big meetings! The ones that have 100 or more people in them and take place in an airless, windowless lecture theatre. I actually find myself ready to scream when I enter these meetings. Some member of staff I have never seen before and who I will not remember when I meet them at a drinks reception 6 months later, gets up and talks in a monotone voice for a good portion of an hour, while flicking slowly through a PowerPoint presentation that as far as I can tell has no bearing on my job whatsoever. I suspect I am slowly and regularly being sublimely hypnotised into pledging my soul to my workplace in these meetings. My eyes start to close and I fight to stay awake. I fight in various ways. I dig a pen into my thigh (always effective), I pinch the skin on the inside of elbows, I write a poem, I imagine everyone has transformed into root vegetables and often I try to perfect an interested and intrigued, but also extremely intellectual expression on my face. 

Except today my meeting was different! I had a meeting with 45 new students! Online! In a Webchat! My first team webchat! I logged on and spoke through a phone. It was ever so exciting. I sat there listening to my boss chatting away online thinking this is how people must have felt when they discovered the phone or  how to send a telegram or how to cook rice in a modern rice-cooker. It felt good to be able to give information to people who were avidly hanging on your every word across the other side of the world and whom you could hang up on whenever you felt like it.

JJ, one of my colleagues, a woman who was brought up in Sweden and educated at a drama school in London, suddenly developed a very posh, almost Royal, British accent while talking over the phone. Both my boss, Ash and I glanced at each other with raised eyebrows upon hearing JJ's plummy tones filter through our headsets. It is true that JJ normally speaks with an English accent. After all that acting training I guess it is just something she picked up. In fact I refused to believe she was actually Swedish until I heard her swear in her native language. But she had never sounded quite so posh and clipped before. It was like listening to a 1940s BBC newsreader over the airwaves.

Ash sounded strange too. Her speech became slower and she paused more often, elongating her words slightly and talked in a deliberate way that made her sound as if she was explaining particle physics to a bunch of seven year olds. This is unusual for Ash, who is a bubbly Californian and often punctuates her speech with bunch of expletives and words like Douchebag, while emphasising her point often with the raised volume of her voice. But then obviously you can't call a whole bunch of students Douchebags. Even when they don't attend their lectures and as much as we would like to.

And of course my speech changed as well. JJ said my voice sounded deep and husky. She even went as far as saying, perhaps I could consider a career as a sex phone operator if things got really bad with the job market in London. All I was aware of was how fast I spoke. Just the idea of 45 people listening to you speak even if it is over the internet and they can't see you, filled me with nervousness and I started talking in a rapid fire machine gun rhythm, that was even hard for me to understand, let alone a student in China with English as their second language.

Despite this strange mix of oratory styles, we had great feedback from the students on our first web chat. So the lesson learned is:
In a meeting, if you want someone to remember what you say and to not lose consciousness when you present to them, alternate the speed of your speech, emphasise certain words, keep your voice deep, sexy and alluring and most importantly speak in an English accent. Best of all, if the meeting is a Web Chat, there is no need for you to even wear any clothes...

Dream a little dream of….

I woke this morning with a feeling of extreme unease. It had nothing to do with the fact that I had only slept for 6 hours (any less than 8 hours and I feel a little icky) or that I had to actually get up and wash my long difficult hair and then leave the house for work in less than 35 minutes. My unease was due to being wakened suddenly by my distressing sounding alarm clock, having been deep asleep and in the middle of a very bizarre dream. It was an unhappy dream verging on being a nightmare wherein I was arguing with my mother in her bathroom while she took a shower. This is not something I would normally do while awake, so I can only assume it was one of those weird, slightly sinister dreams you have during a period of stress.

During the dream I was literally screaming and crying at my poor mother, who bizarrely seemed totally unaffected by my hysterics. Worse, I was actually complaining to her about my husband. ‘He’s so mean!’ I wailed. This is not only totally untrue but also a weird thing to complain to my mother about. Then my mother popped her head out of the shower and I was struck into silence by the sight of her head of long hair which appeared to be coloured bright blue. Clouds of steam billowed around us like some kind of malicious pollution and she smiled at me and said politely (in a French accent) ‘Could zee pass the soap si vous plait?’
Then my alarm went off and I woke up.

I moaned to my husband afterwards while he battled with his tie and suit in the bedroom. ‘I had a bad dream,’ I said pitifully. He gave me a hug and listened patiently to me relate my dream, in his usual gentle way. He must know he is married to a crazy person, but to his credit he never lets on how weirded-out he must be sometimes.
‘I had a bad dream too,’ he sighed as he was walking out the door to go to work.
‘Really? What was it about?’ I ask, thinking maybe we dreamed the same thing. Maybe we are psychically linked! How amazing would that be?! On second thoughts I don’t really want him dreaming about my mother in the shower…
‘It was awful!’ he exclaims looking nauseous, ‘I dreamed I married one of my best men!’

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Back from Outer Space AKA South London

So after 5 years of cyber-silence, I am back with a new blog. Blogging has changed since my days as a young blogger all those many years ago. There are many blogs out on the internet now. Some quite flashy ones run by very suave attractive stay-at-home mothers who seem to bake professional-looking cakes, while writing about the latest adorable thing their eloquent 2 year old has just done and sewing giant eclectic patchwork quilts that would not look out of place in a museum.

I don't believe it. I think these blogs are fake. Or at least dressing the truth up to look beautiful. I honestly don't think a 2 year old can be eloquent. And this is coming from someone who apparently, according to my mother, started talking at 7 months. Seriously what does a child at that age have to say? And all those cake pictures on the internet, does anyone actually believe those are baked by amateurs? I can tell the difference between a genuinely baked cake made at 2am (because you started baking at 11.00pm) by a harassed office worker and a 5 tier rainbow cake made by a professional pastry chef who has a spacious kitchen and several assistants to clean up the eggshell from the floor.

I promise, that in this blog, I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As I see it anyway. You have to allow me to have my opinion, as ridiculous as it may be. Before I begin on this journey of written self abuse, I just want to lay out the following points:

1. My kitchen is small. Yesterday while cooking dinner (pasta - the simplest dish known to man), I burnt myself, broke a saucepan lid and squirted tomato seeds into my eye. Far from baking well, I am just glad if whatever I take out of the oven has not turned black or on fire.

2. I don't have a two year old. And if I did, I am sure my child, although being very special and a miracle to me, would probably just look like a regular kid to the rest of the world.

3. My new sewing machine, if it could talk, would tell a long tale of woe about how it has sewed nothing but monstrosities for the last month, least of all a quilt.

Oh...and in London, it is currently raining...

Welcome to the Real World....