I love London. I can’t get enough of the place. Except when I’ve had enough of the place. That’s usually when I’ve walked around so much that my feet are killing me. So here are a few things that I like to do when visiting London and I get to that point.

- Hop on a boat. There are tourist cruises and river buses that go up and down the Thames or along the canals all day. They move at a leisurely pace and give you plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. It’s also a great spot to cool off on the* summer’s day.

- Hop on a bus. If you don’t fancy the tourist hop-on-hop-off rides (although I have to admit they are a great way to get a good first view of the city and work out where you want to go next), you could try randomly picking one of the double deckers that travel around the city centre and just get off when you see something you like. This works best with a 3 or 7 day Travelcard.

- Hop on the DLR or the overground for a train ride with a view. Once again, having a Travelcard will make this really worth it! For example, the DLR trip down to Cutty Sark is a nice one, winding through the buildings of Canary Wharf and the area around the Cutty Sark station (zone 2) is full of spots to shop, eat, snack or stroll.

- Go for a ride on the cable cars that go from the O2 (North Greenwhich tube, in zones 2 and 3) to the Excel Marina. There is plenty to do and see on either end, but the ride itself is the main attraction, giving you a (sitting down) view of the whole London skyline, from the Thames barrier to the Olympic stadium. Here again, having an Oyster card will get you a nice discount on your single or return journey.

- Stop for a cuppa. London is just full of places to sit and have a drink (hot, cold, or alcoholic) and a bun of some description. Take a break, sit back and take in the Londonness. One of my all time favourites is the delightful Secret Tea Rooms in Soho, just behind the Palace theatre off Shaftesbury avenue. Booking is recommended, but you can always try your luck: just walk into the Coach and Horses pub and ask them if there’s room upstairs. Upstairs, the hidden tea rooms have a lovely 1940s vibe to them and the high tea is to die for!

20140423-183833.jpg
A table at the Soho Secret Tea Room

*That’s not a typo. This year British summer was a Tuesday.


Over the last few years, I have moved from a French keyboard at work and at home to an Irish/UK keyboard at work and later at home, then back to a French one. Now I have an old net book at home with an Irish keyboard, a slightly more recent computer with a French keyboard and at work, I use a laptop with a Luxembourgish keyboard.

I used to be able to touch type. It was one of the most useful things that I learned at uni. When I moved to Ireland it got tricky, but in the end, switching from AZERTY to QWERTY and back became a minor annoyance. After all I do it on my phone every few minutes, to prevent the autocorrect from making me talk roubles. Rubbish. Whatever.

Over the last month, I have probably spent more time looking for one of the long list characters on my work keyboard, and even at home, than I have spent typing.

I had been warned, but as I sat there on my first day, already taking in the vast amount of new information that comes with the beginning of a new job, I couldn’t work out the logic behind the QWERTZWTF keyboard. It’s like all the worst bits of the QWERTY and the AZERTY had been mixed together. How on earth could anyone make sense of it?

20140411-205707.jpg

Gradually a theory began to form. Here is how I think it happened.

Once upon a time, the very first computer in Luxembourg was installed in the Grand Duke’s office. He had probably badgered the Grand Duchess about getting one until she gave in, making him promise that he would not only use it but take proper care of it. But before he could use it, his beloved Dachshund/Great Dane/Alsatian (no idea what kind of dog he has) decided to maul the keyboard, chew it up and then proceeded to throw up dribble-coated keys all over the Persian carpet.

The poor Grand Duke then had to rush around with sheets of kitchen roll picking up and cleaning off the keys, ramming them randomly back into the keyboard before the Grand Duchess came back from getting her hair done.

Of course, to ensure that HRH his wife would never find out that he had messed up his prized possession, and being the Grand Duke and all, he then had all the other keyboards in the Grand Duchy changed to look like his.

I can’t think of any other logical explanation.

(I know it’s a Swiss/German keyboard and all that, but facts just aren’t as much fun as making stuff up. Just ask any licensed homeopath.)


Dear everyone,

The next time you feel like sending me one of those chains about posting enigmatic stuff on your status to “raise awareness about breast cancer” please leave me out. Even better, please stop and think for a second. Seriously, if everyone did that, chain messages would never have been a thing in the first place.

Let’s just get this straight: breast cancer – or any  kind of cancer, come to that – sucks. We’ve all been touched by it to some extent, ourselves, our family, our friends and colleagues. I don’t need to tell you how much it sucks, you already know.

But here’s what bugs me about those chains :

“Raise awareness by sharing something with a secret meaning.”

Ok, that doesn’t even remotely make sense. Posting hearts, or the colour of your knickers, or “three months in Mexico” on your facebook status does not raise awareness. The people who know what it means already know, and those who don’t won’t know anything more. Do I really need to explain this point ? It makes you wonder if this wasn’t just started by someone who wanted to know about their friends’ underwear choices.

“And don’t tell the guys”

Seriously ? Ok, big scoop here, people: men have breasts (albeit usually rather smaller than ours), and they can get breast cancer too. In fact, the lack of awareness about this means that male breast cancer is often not detected as early as it is in women, and is therefore more often fatal. That sounds like a pretty good reason to include the guys to me !

And you know what, even those who don’t actually get breast cancer are affected by it. Spouses, fathers, sons, brothers – they are among the closest ones there to support those who are battling the crab, holding on with them through the bad times, celebrating with those who are victorious and mourning those who don’t make it. Please tell me how leaving them out is in any way a good thing?

I know these chains will keep going, and I know that many of my facebook friends will join in or send them on with the very best of intentions. Let’s get this straight too: I don’t think any less of you for joining in. My friends are kind, smart and lovely and I love them all dearly. I won’t be joining in that kind of chain for the reasons above, and now you know why.

But if you do a fun run, or a bake sale, or post an article to raise awareness and/or funds for breast cancer research, I’ll join in, I’ll share, I’ll sponsor you and most of all I will DEFINITELY eat those cakes. And I’ll also be there for you if you need support for yourself or a loved one, but let’s hope you never do.

 


Remember the old (possibly biblical) chestnut “treat others as you would want them to treat you” ? I have the feeling that it needs a corollary: “but don’t actually expect anyone to treat you anyway near as well as you would like to be treated”.

I’m beginning to realise that one of the main reasons that I often feel so let down, even hurt by other people behaving like dicks is because I hold other people to the same standards of behaviour I set for myself. When I have someone’s back, I expect them to reciprocate, not stick a knife in mine. Even if it’s someone I don’t actually know, I expect basic human decency. I should know better by now, but letting go of my great expectations is harder than you’d think.

Then again, occasionally, I’m on the receiving end of a random act of kindness and that makes it even harder.

The path to disillusionment is paved with good intentions. And piles of dicks.

Edited to add: Damn, that will teach me the wisdom of the saying “don’t blog angry”! After a few comments both on and offline varying from “you okay?” to “you’re not suicidal are you?”. So before anyone else gets freaked out about it: yes I’m fine. At the time I finished and posted I was in a bad mood, mainly brought on by Thursday. But I started this post on Monday, which, believe it or not, was actually a good day. Well, a good day for a Monday.

Monday began with someone doing something purely gratuitously nice for me. Someone who knew that Mondays had been particularly sucky lately and just left me a surprise in my desk drawer that made me smile. And then it made me nom nom nom because it contained marshmallows. And once I got over the initial LOL-OMG-AWESUM of it, the first thought that popped into my mind was “oh, right, so that’s what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a random act of kindness!”.

It’s not like I’ve never been there, I’m lucky to have had plenty of experiences of the spontaneous kindness of others, but to be honest, for something that random, it’s been a while. But performing random acts of kindness are a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, even when the recipient if them will never know who did the deed. Suddenly the ratio of giving and receiving just hit home a little and triggered a bit of a realisation. That’s all there is behind this post, that and a rather trying Thursday.


Today it’s stay-off-Twitter-to-protest-against-rapey-bastards day. There may be a shorter catchier name for it, but you get the drift. It all started when a lady got rape threats for saying that a woman should be on banknote.

Controversial stuff, right?

Yeah, right.

So I figured that maybe I could help contribute to world peace on the interwebs with a few thoughts on how to not be a total douche on and offline.

  1. Don’t ever make rape threats, or any other threat of violence against anyone. Even if they say something that you, like, really don’t agree with.
  2. Seriously. Just don’t.
  3. Defending an opinion is never a reason for acting like a dick.
  4. Defending a cause isn’t either.
  5. No, really, any cause. Not even that one.
  6. A dick defending a cause only hurts that cause and everyone else who supports it.
  7. Seriously, it doesn’t matter if you’re fighting against sexism, racism, LGBT-phobia, religion, politics, or defending your right to be curvy, a vegetarian, in an open relationship, or any of a million other things. Nothing gives you the right to insult anyone that you perceive to be “on the other side”. Supporting your cause does not mean that all men, white people, straight people, religious people, skinny people, omnivores, people in monogamous relationships or any other group is less worthy of respect than you. Some of those things are life choices, others are just how they were born. None of them are wrong. None of them are a cause for insult.
  8. Insulting online strangers you will never meet doesn’t make it any less of an insult.
  9. Insulting anyone says more about you than the person you’re insulting.
  10. Try working on being able to respectfully disagree with other people.
  11. Learn to listen. You know, those words produced by other people? They might help you to understand what they actually mean. Just saying.
  12. You’ve been/are going through stuff. We get it. Thing is, so have/are other people. Just because someone puts on a socially acceptable face in public doesn’t mean they don’t know what it’s like. Lashing out because you’re hurting is forgivable, but it’s still pretty damn dickish.
  13. Keeping an open mind doesn’t mean only ever defending one side of every debate. It means respecting all sides and trying to understand them.
  14. If you don’t agree with any of these thoughts, feel free to move on and get over it.

You’re welcome.

P.S. Russia, seriously, we still love you, but you’ve gotta stop being such a dick. It’s starting to show.


I want to believe that people are not dicks.

I want to believe that a promise is worth something.

I want to believe that everyone else cares about doing things right as much as I do.

I want to believe in human decency.

I want to believe that the people I care about also care about me.

I want to believe that respect and trust are always mutual.

I want to believe that when I speak, people will actually listen to me.

I want to believe that doctors know what they’re doing.

I want to believe that hard work and effort will eventually lead to the desired result.

I want to believe that if I have your back, you’ll have mine.

I want to believe in Karma, that doing good will do you good.

Turns out I’m a bloody idiot.


189007_384835394969386_951332277_n

This is my godmother Penny, and she passed away a few days ago. This picture was taken back in 1985, so I would have been about 7 years old.

I have so many memories of playing with her younger sons Chris and Will, running around the house, playing games indoors or swinging from ropes in the garden if the weather was up to it. I remember silly things like how bouncy the dark green carpet was on the stairs, or finding hidden pebbles wrapped in aluminium foil in the bushes during a treasure hunt. I remember her and my mum sitting in the kitchen, drinking tea and talking about boring grown-up stuff. I remember how the doors were never shut in that house, there was always someone popping in to buy eggs or chat about one of the many village and church activities she was involved in.

A few years later, she had a terrible car accident and suffered severe brain damage. For days if not weeks she was in the intensive care unit and we were told that she may not survive. At that time my family no longer lived in the village but we travelled back from nearby Swindon to attend the evening prayer meetings organised for her in the church.

I remember that it wasn’t a structured event, it was just people gathering together in a difficult time. People would stand up when they felt like it and speak about their hopes, their prayers, their feelings, their wishes for the family… There were so many of them, I remember the church being so full of people.

Up until then, in my little 10 year-old brain, she had been my godmother Penny, and obviously mum and wife to her family, and one of my mum’s closest friends. She belonged to us. But sitting there in the church, feeling a little lost and confused at what exactly was happening, I realised just how many people’s lives she had touched, how many people loved her. She was their Penny too.

The mathematics of love are simple. One person’s love cannot be divided or subtracted from, it can only be multiplied and added to.

Just as a parent finds more love for each of their children, and for their partner, and for each member of their family, the same is true for every person we reach out and give our love to, be it a friend, a colleague, a stranger, whether we know them for a lifetime or for a few minutes. When love is given, it does not leave the giver, it is a link, an extension of ourselves to another person (and yes, animals count as persons too).

Penny at our wedding in 2003

Penny at our wedding in 2003

Penny survived her accident, although severely brain damaged and physically handicapped. Her family, and especially her amazing husband Raymond, cared for her every day, through some incredibly difficult times. Eventually she became able to speak a little and perform some actions like eating and drinking with a little help. I can’t even put into words how much I admire the way they never let go, kept going even though her progress was achingly slow and they had no guarantees of what she would or wouldn’t be able to do.

Raymond took her on holiday with him, despite the heavy and cumbersome wheelchairs and the constant need for attention. For over 20 years she remained a part of her family’s everyday life. She got to meet her grandchildren, be at birthday parties, see her kids grow and get married.

Ten years ago now – and I can hardly believe it was that long ago – Raymond and Penny came to my wedding. Raymond plays the organ for his local church and kindly accepted to play the music during the ceremony. Having them both there on that special day was so incredibly important to me. I’m not even sure I ever told them how happy it made me.

Weddings are curious things. They are one of the few occasions in life to have all the people you love in one place, and yet, when you are the ones getting married, you have virtually no time at all to spend with each one of them. That was the last time I saw Penny, and I barely spent a handful of minutes with her and Raymond.

The mathematics of time are simple. Your time cannot be added to or multiplied. It can only be divided, and it can also be subtracted from.

Use yours wisely.


Due to unforeseen circumstances I have been handling customer service on top of my own full-time job for the last 18 months. (Seriously, who could possibly have predicted that opening an English-language e-commerce site would lead to a need for an English-speaking customer service???)

This means dealing with a lot of irate customers for a fair chunk of my day, every day.

 

The worst part of it* is that in most of the cases (aside from the odd client from hell), I completely agree with them! We deliver to customers worldwide, and most of the queries are about parcel delivery. Some people are just a little impatient, or don’t realise that the parcel is coming from overseas and therefore takes a little longer, and that’s ok. But in most cases, there is actually something wrong with the delivery or the parcel.

 

Dear parcel companies (Dear as in expensive, I don’t mean that I like you),

I get that you want to reduce costs, and that therefore you are giving twice or three times the amount of work to the same number of delivery people to be done in the same time. I get that that means that they no longer have time to handle the parcels like they actually matter. That they drop them at a random nearby drop point without leaving a slip for the customer, and that that place could be the post office, or a shop down the road, or under that tree down a muddy lane just past the third rock, the one that looks like Elvis. It’s so much more fun for the customer to guess anyway.

I get that in the rare cases they actually reach the customer’s home, they have to shoehorn the parcel into the post box rather than knock on the door, even when it’s 3 times the size, and that sometimes, to soften the parcel enough to do that, they need to drop it in a puddle and stamp on it a bit.

I don’t blame the delivery people, the guys on the front line. I really don’t. Hell, if I was being ridiculously overworked and underpaid, there would come a point when I’d get angry and stop caring too.

But here’s the thing, parcel companies, you’re damaging our business. When people get a parcel in this state, or don’t get it at all, they don’t blame you, they blame us. In their mind, they order from us, and our company is one person. Therefore, that one person takes the order, puts the stuff in a box, travels to their door and drops it there. That’s how we all think. I work in a mail-order company and even I get annoyed when I order something and it’s late or the parcel is damaged, and I know how it works, so imagine how Average Josephine feels!

So the thing is, they will end up going back to the shops and off the Interwebs. And that means less business for you. And for us.

Stop being dicks and hire enough people to do the job properly. You’ll get more customers and fewer complaints. It’s just basic business sense.

Even a complete moron would understand that.

Rant over.

 

*The worst part, apart from my total lack of training, having none of the basic tools required to actually do anything about their queries and the fact that something I hate doing is taking up about half the time I have to do a job I like and am qualified for. Apart from that, totally the worst part.


At last, I have the answer to the eternal question “why is it always rainy and grey in England?”

Forget gulf streams and atmospheric pressure fronts, the real reason is that if it was sunny in England more often, it would be so totally awesomely wonderful that the rest of the world wouldn’t be able to bear it and the planet would explode from awesomeness. It’s what happened to Alderaan you know.

Okay, maybe I’m seeing things with the fuchsia-tinted glasses of 23 years of homesick nostalgia, but on our recent trip back to England, I have to admit I fell in love with my home country all over again.

I blame the cream teas. Who could resist warm scones, thick clotted cream and rich fruity jam?

Seriously, wave this at any invading force and they'll calm right down...

Seriously, wave this at any invading force and they’ll calm right down…

On a bright and sunny Monday, we stopped off for lunch in Canterbury. I can’t remember if I have ever visited the city before, and I was certain Husband hadn’t, so we went off on a little detour on our way from the Tunnel to London. Have I mentioned before that I love that tunnel? I wish I could go everywhere by Channel Tunnel. It is the best.

Canterbury was a concentrated dose of lovely, with buskers on the streets, half-timbered houses and cobbled streets. A proper picture postcard of a place. And that’s just the thing: when the sun comes out, the postcards come to life!

Once we arrived in London the sun was still beaming down and we had several days of fair weather, allowing us to wander and muse through the streets of the big smoke, instead of the usual umbrella-dodging hurried head-down walk. On one occasion, I think we may have even sauntered.

So England is wonderful and beautiful and charming and lovely. You all knew that already, right? For sure. But what I love the most are Londoners. Well, Brits in general I guess. The banter is mighty. From market stall holders to Tube station attendants, Museum staff to bus drivers, everyone has a little something to say, a joke to share. The French don’t have a word for banter. It’s not a thing. I miss banter more than I miss sausages, and that’s saying something.

Ok, random lovey rant over. Keep calm, carry on and all that.


Can someone please tell me why smoothie salesplaces insist on selling their smoothies with those stupid spoonstraws?

You can’t scoop anything up with them, and the spoon end stops you from sucking up the last dregs of your smoothie.

Seriously, just stop it!

banstraws

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 592 other followers

%d bloggers like this: