Tuesday, 18 June 2013


After two weeks of extensive research, this is Canada (specifically, Toronto) in a few points:

1.  I have just realised that ‘Canada’ is very difficult to type, so this post is going to be a ball-ache.  I wish it was called something easier, like ‘Canand.’  Do Canadians have trouble with this? 

2.   I like Poutine

3.   Canada made me a little fatter than I was (see point 2), and owing to extrapolation, this is what would happen if I lived there for a year:

4.  It is almost impossible to buy alcohol in Toronto, and when you do find it, it is obscenely expensive:

I ended up buying the most cost-effective thing when a went into a liquor store; a 1.14 litre bottle of whisky for $37, which I drank over a period of eight days while blogging, watching Netflix and hating myself.

5. In fact, everything is expensive.  The transport system especially, and they only take cash, which I saw very little of because as soon as I got any it vanished in a blur of poutine and Reece's peanut butter cups from the vending machine where we were staying. 

6. Speaking of the transport system, the announcements on the Toronto Subway, while very clear, sound as if the woman reading them is very depressed and has practically given up on life.

7.  People are very nice in Canada, especially my lovely friends, who had all sorts of crazy stories:

They also do pretty incredible things like taking me to the most delicious macaroon shop I've ever been to and buying me TWO CAKES.  

8. Air Canada used to have the best radio station I've ever heard in my life; not only did it have a song called the 'Name Game' which involved rhyming names thus:

Katie Katie Bo Batie
Banana Fana Fo Fatie,
Fi Fi Mo Matie...

But it had, also, this weird song that went something like this:

My Family is different from yours;
We eat breakfast, lunch and dinner
Sitting on our mothers' laps...

And a poem called "The Queen, the Bear and the Bumblebee" which pretty much explains itself.

9.   Canada is the perfect middle-ground between the UK and the USA: it has all the spirited fun of being in the USA but not, it seems, as much of the crazy patriotism and pushing of children.  (Pushing them with regards to education and skills, not pushing them into an on-coming train or something.) They share the British apathy and self-deprecation to an extent, but seem to possess it along with a delightfully positive attitude, eh?

In conclusion, Canada is a wonderful place, but living there would be very bad for me indeed, owing to the fact that I have no willpower and most of the little money I would earn would go on buying poutine and root beer.  My friends assured me that it was just Ontario that had the weird alcohol laws and just Toronto that was ridiculously expensive, so perhaps I would live in a different province, like Newfoundland, which has the best accents of anyone in the entire world.  Having said that, there are many, perfectly good reasons for me to live in the UK forever: 

1. Marmite.

2. Do I need a second reason?

3. No.


Friday, 14 June 2013

The Perils of Customer Service, PART III

These stories involve people actively insulting me for trying to do my job.  Typically, I was called a 'bitch'.  This makes me wonder- what on earth would a man in the same situation be called? 'Bitch' seemed to be everyone's default insult towards a female bartender, and that goes for the women as well.  On a side note, I realise that a lot of what I said in these conversations could have been read as sarcastic.  even though I do like to use sarcasm, I would always be very polite to customers and even when I was humouring them I would always do so with an utterly genuine tone and facial expression.  I felt like this got them angrier and angrier, which made me laugh (inside).

The boy who was too honest for his own good

This is one of the stupidest situations I was ever in behind a bar.  A young-looking boy came up and asked for a pint.

“Could I see some ID please?” I asked.
“Oh, sure.” The boy said nonchalantly.  He reached into his pocket and brought out his passport.  When I read his date of birth, he was revealed to be only 17; two weeks shy of his 18th birthday.

“Uh…this says you’re 17.” I said with a smile.  “I’m afraid I can’t serve you.”
“But…I’m almost 18.” The boy whined.
“I’m sorry.” I said sympathetically, “I know it’s ridiculous that two weeks should make a difference, but a line has to be drawn somewhere.”

At that point, a portly man in his forties chipped in.

“Go on, love,” He winked at me, “give him a pint.”
“I really can’t.” I smiled back.  “If he turned out to be an undercover policeman, I could be fined £800 and my boss might have to go to jail.”

There was a pause while the man considered his next argument.

“Have a heart.” He said, giving me another wink for good measure.

“I wish I could.” I shrugged, apologised, and moved onto my next customer.

“Don’t worry,” I heard the man say to the boy, “In two weeks you’ll be able to drink, but she’ll still be an uptight bitch.”

Not wanting to seem ‘uptight’, I flashed him a bright, genuine smile, then returned to work.  As much as I hated him, I rather admired his turn of phrase at the end there.

The boy who forgot his sporran.

Another age-related mishap took place when I was working at a free wedding bar.  Even though one may not expect this at a wedding, it was being held in a public building, so I still had to ask for IDs when I thought people were underage.  One particular boy looked as if he might be 18, but I had to be sure.

“Could I see some ID please?” I asked him politely.
“I don’t have it.” He replied, “I left it in my sporran.”

There was an awkward pause.

“I’m afraid until I see it I can’t serve you anything, but if you find it I’ll be happy to serve you.”

There was another pause, and his face contorted with rage.

“WHAT?!?” He yelled.  “This is FUCKING RIDICULOUS! I have to go back to the hotel for my ID? I’m FUCKING nineteen! NINETEEN!”

“I believe you, sir,” I said gently, “unfortunately it’s the law; I have to see some ID.”

“GOD!” He said, exasperated, and stormed off.  Twenty minutes later, he was back, and brandished his passport practically in my face.

I put on my best smile, and said:

“Great! Can I get you a drink?”

He put the passport back in his pocket and realised, sheepishly, that everyone in the bar area had been staring at him.

The girl who liked tonic

Girl: “Could I have a Bombay Sapphire please?”
Me: “Of course; would you like that just on ice?”
Girl- “Yes please.”

I make her drink in about eight seconds, and bring it back to her with the price.  Her previously polite façade dropped, leaving a very ugly expression.

“Uh- where’s the tonic?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you say you wanted tonic, I’ll just add that in for you.”

Another eight seconds later, I had her modified drink ready.

“I mean, it’s a gin,” the girl said rudely while handing over her money.  “Of course I wanted it with tonic.”
“Of course.” I smiled.

“Bitch.” She muttered, moving away. 

The man who hated waste

I misheard a boy’s drink order and he realised it was wrong when it arrived.  This was a loud bar and such things are very easily done.
“Oh I’m sorry,” I said, “Let me just get you another.”

About ten seconds later, I was back with his drink.

“Can I have the first one as well, seeing as you’re just going to throw it away?”
“If you’d like to pay for it.” I replied with a smile.
“No, but, if you’re just going to throw it away…”
“I know it seems stupid, but we’re forbidden from giving away free drinks, even if it was due to a mistake we made.”
“But…it’s stupid…you’re just going to throw it out.”
“I understand, but if I gave this to you, I could lose my job.”
“Why are you such a stupid bitch?”

There was a slight pause while I looked directly into his eyes.

“I don’t know," I said honestly, "I was just born this way.” 

The man who thought the mats were out to get him

The final story is the only one which made me snap and lose my patience.  I feel embarrassed about it now and would act very differently if such a thing happened again, but we're all young once.  Perhaps I did the right thing after all.  One evening I was working an incredibly busy, informal and trendy bar, and I’d just served a very sweet, polite man a pint of beer.  I was just about to move onto the next customer when he accidentally placed his beer half on and half off a rubber grill mat designed to catch excess liquid, and it overbalanced, spilling everywhere.

“Oh no!” He said, laughing at himself.
“Oh I’m sorry, that sucks.” I laughed with him.  “Would you like another one?”
“Only if it’s free.” He joked (well, I thought he was joking.)
“Sorry; I wish I could, but I’m not allowed to give away drinks for free.”
“But it was this mat’s fault, it shouldn’t have been there.”

He glared at the mat and kind of awkwardly flicked it in anger.  I was amused for a moment at the thought that the mat had somehow developed consciousness and wanted to inconvenience a stranger.

“Unless it was me who spilt it, I really can’t give you a new one.” I explained, still very politely.  “I really am sorry; I wish I could give you one for free, but I could be fired.”

The, previously polite, man was suddenly looking not quite so friendly.

“I just can’t understand why you won’t pour me one.” He said angrily.  “I didn’t even get to drink any of it.”
“As I said, I understand and I sympathise, but I can’t give you a free drink.”

There was another pause, and he looked at me with interest.

“You’re just an evil bitch, aren’t you?”

I tried to respond jovially, giving him the benefit of the doubt; he could have just had a very odd sense of humour.

“With respect, you getting one free beer is not worth me losing my job.”
“Well I think it is.”

When I was a bit younger, I suffered with such a severe stammer that I’d find it almost impossible to speak when I was nervous or under pressure.  I’d mostly grown out of it, but owing to the fact that I’d just been called an evil bitch, I became quite nervous and began to stammer again.

“Sh-sh-sh-should I… … …call my supervisor?”

The man was amused by my speech impediment, and, over the next few seconds, his face changed into an expression designed to imply that I was mentally handicapped somehow; he pushed his tongue against the inside of his chin, crossed his eyes, and mimicked my voice in a pretty disgustingly offensive way.


I narrowed my eyes for a moment, seeing in my peripheral vision the shocked and horrified faces of the customers standing on either side of him.  I then did something I never dreamed I would do in a customer service position:

I subsequently ignored him and moved onto the girl standing next to him, who was very polite to me, and gave me a pound as a tip (even though I never got tips.)  After serving all the people on the bar I told the manager what had happened, and she got him thrown out of the bar!  She was awesome.  

Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Perils of Customer Service, PART II

My next set of stories involve several strange incidents that happened while I was working, and my recording of them is largely inspired by the wonderful stories I see On this website, them all being pretty short and sweet.  

The man who hated Portugal

It was the 2006 World cup.  England was playing Portugal, and it had come down to penalties.  Now England are not very good at penalties, and my hopes were not high.  It was hardly a surprise when they lost.  For a moment, I thought- “everything will be fine; we lost, but at least we all enjoyed the game for what it was.”

It was at that point that I heard a smash, and turned around to see that a man, upset by England’s loss, had thrown his pint glass at the large window, which subsequently shattered, showering broken glass all over everyone in a three-metre radius.

Our manager looked calmly at the situation.  Honestly compels me to mention that it wasn't even close to being this bad, but anyway:

The man who wanted a scotch

This guy wasn’t rude, just really funny.  He was American, which made it funnier:

Him: (ordering from 10 metres away from the bar) Hey! Could I get a scotch?
Me: Sure! Were you after anything in particular? We’ve got some blends, which are cheaper, or some single malts.
Him: (reaching the bar) I just want a scotch.
Me: Well we’ve got about thirty different kinds.  Would you like me to recommend one for you?
Him: I want a scotch.
Me: Highland Park’s very popular; my favourite’s Dalwinnie…
Him: Could I just get a scotch?
There was a pause.
Me: I’ll get you a Famous Grouse. 

He then took it with a little jug of water (and on ice), and spent the next ten minutes explaining to me the correct way to drink scotch, and how he was in a scotch-tasting society back home.  Hmmm…

The man who didn’t like vomit

This one completely escaped me, and this time, my picture is in no way an exaggeration of the scene I was faced with:

Is it our fault the bride and groom paid us to serve mulled wine, champagne and white wine? Should we have denied them their dream wedding because one person chose to drink too much and ruin his own evening? Was anyone else throwing up and making a fool of themselves?

Obviously, I didn’t say this, but I was thinking it.  My brave colleagues cleaned up the mess and the boy was fine, apart from, I imagine, a deep sense of shame.  

The man who couldn’t see the Menus for the tables

So in a little café I worked in, people had to come to the bar to order.  However sometimes, because I like being helpful (and wanted to pretend I was a real waitress), I’d come over and do table service if we were quiet.  I approached a table of five, who had come into the almost empty café and, aside from a group I had just served, they were my only customers.

“Hello!” I said brightly.  “Could I get you all something to drink?”

The five people looked at me in what could only be described as utter disgust.  One man spoke for the lot of them, while looking around at his companions and laughing, as if my idiocy was so obvious it was funny.

“Uh…could we have a MENU, please?!?”

I looked carefully at him, and realised that they didn’t have a menu on their table.  I then looked around at the 12 other tables in very close proximity that also had menus on them.  Without having to walk anywhere, I simply reached to my right hand, picked up a menu from a different table and handed it to him.

“Here you are, sir!” I said brightly. 

I admit that I should have realised that a menu had been, apparently, stolen, leaving us one short but why would you (a) sit down on the only table without a menu, (b) not simply grab a menu yourself, seeing as this is an informal café and not a table-service restaurant, and (c) be really rude to somebody who went out of her way to give you good service? Honestly!

The man who didn't like glasses

I usually wear contact lenses, but I'd recently had an eye infection so I was giving my eyes a bit of a break for a few days.  A customer (who had apparently seen me before) came up to the bar:

"Why would someone like you wear glasses?" He said, "you had such a beautiful face before."

As the irony of this blatantly anti-feminist attack burned its way through my soul, I tried to think of a witty remark but unfortunately my brain didn't give me one.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Perils of Customer Service, PART I

Having worked in the customer service industry for several years, involving a student bar, a trendy bar/club, a classy hotel bar, a student café, a catering company for students, and a catering company for weddings, I have quite a few stories of stupidity, arrogance, entitlement, laziness, lecherousness, and rudeness, and that’s just from one evening.  Seriously, even though I’ve come across some terrible customer service providers in my time, nothing compares to being disrespected when you’re on the other side of the bar, and these customers just took the biscuit (sometimes literally.) I will publish this in three volumes due to the sheer amount of ridiculousness I have experienced in a relatively short customer service career.

The man who wanted a spritzer

I was working at a wedding serving tables food and pouring wine before and after each course; I’d done about 8 of these events already (my main job was to work behind the bar for a café owned by the same company, but I was often poached to work weddings during the evenings), and occasionally I’d get asked for drinks other than what we had, but I kindly explained that only wine (or water) was served during dinner (as that was what the Bride and Groom had paid for) and all the other drinks were locked away upstairs for later.  Now you have to understand that I always went the extra mile for my customers, and hated disappointing people.  Even if it caused me great inconvenience I got a huge rush from knowing I’d made a customer happy; however when you work a large wedding, it’s a little like a military operation and it relies on everyone doing the same thing, so spending more than a minute or so fulfilling the request of an individual customer was rarely possible.  This man wasn’t having any of it.  This is what he said when I came round with the wine, without turning his head 2 inches in order to look me in the eye:

I tried to ignore his inability to use the word ‘please’ and looked at him with a big smile.
“I’m so sorry sir,” I said, “I can certainly get you a spritzer later once I’ve served the starters, but all the lemonade and soda is locked away upstairs.”
He looked at me as if I was speaking Klingon.
“I’ll have a spritzer.” he repeated.  “Now.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but as you can appreciate, we serving staff are working on a very rigid schedule in getting food and drink out, and if I had to go upstairs for your drink, it might affect my service to the rest of the table.”
He looked at me again with cold, cold eyes.
“I’d APPRECIATE you getting me a spritzer.”
“Of course, sir.”

So I had to find a manager, explain the situation, upon which the manager (who seemed to blame me for this) went to get the keys for the upstairs room and the bar inside the room.  I then had to climb three flights of stairs, unlock a large door, unlock the bar, locate the lemonade, bring it down to the kitchen, find a spare wine glass, find a spare bottle of wine, (which was difficult as all the other servers were moving onto serving the starters and I was behind) open it, make the man a spritzer and bring it out to him.  On putting it down in front of him I thought, at the very least, I’d made him happy.

He didn’t say thank you.  Instead, he said-

I'm just pleased I managed not to throw the drink in his face.

The woman who didn’t listen

My second story follows directly on from the first, and hopefully both together will prove a testament to my patience.  (A good HUFFLEPUFF quality.)

So the Spritzer man had his wife sitting next to him.  When I brought out her starter (salmon) she said nothing.  That’s fine; even though I was brought up to say please and thank you whenever wait-staff passed food to me, other people are not so well-mannered.  Strangely, when I came to pick the plates up, hers was un-touched.  In fact, both her and spritzer man were gone.  Thinking they had gone to the bathroom, when I brought out the main course (lamb) I put their plates down ready for their return.  Even though she had returned by the time I was collecting the main course plates, her food was un-touched, again, but she silently moved to one side so that I could take her plate away.  I took the plates away (making two trips for the ten-seat table) and returned with a dessert.  Still no thank you, but that was fine.  When I came to take the desserts away, both hers and her husband’s were un-touched, yet again, (after 30 minutes of them being on the table) but I had to take them away.

It's worth mentioning here that we're not in the habit of asking people if everything was alright with their food (like in an ordinary restaurant) because if they didn't like it, there was nothing else available, it being a set menu.  Basically, the only choice was eating the food or not eating it.  Sometimes people would say if they didn't like something, and I'd do all I could to modify it (or give them the vegetarian option instead if there were any spare) but, as I've previously discussed, time was limited, and I'm not a chef.

On returning to deliver more wine, spritzer man beckoned me over.

“Excuse me?” He said.
“Yes, sir?” I replied.

He spoke in such a rude and disgusted way I thought for a moment that I’d done something awful, like put slightly the wrong amount of lemonade in his spritzer.

“Could you perhaps get my wife some biscuits or something?” He spat, “She wasn’t able to eat any of the food, and she was offended when it was put in front of her, being VEGETARIAN.  She's spent most of the meal throwing up in the bathroom.”

I was so dumbfounded I could hardly bring myself to speak.  (tautologous, I know.)

You see, all guests have to say in advance if they have any dietary requirements, but I was well aware that some slip through the net, which is why, at the beginning of every wedding meal, I would say (or a variation thereof):

“Good evening, my name is Singing Duck, and I will be serving you today.  May I confirm that we have no vegetarians on this table tonight?”

If the answer was no, I didn’t leave it there, because I also knew that a lot of people don’t listen when they should.  I’d always make doubly sure by adding:

“So everyone is happy with the salmon for the starter, and the lamb for the main?”

Then again, to be triply sure:

“Thank you very much, I’ll pass it along to the chef that nobody on this table is vegetarian.”

So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that, not only was this lady vegetarian and failed to tell me, but that she also failed to tell me on one of the eight subsequent visits I made to the table.  To be fair, she was in the bathroom for two of them, but surely somebody else could have passed along the message? As a pescatarian myself, I am well aware that certain desserts are not vegetarian, but these ones certainly were, and she’d not touched her’s.  Not knowing how to deal with the situation, I did the only thing I could.

And I walked away, deciding that I was never going to hire a catering company or have a sit-down meal for my wedding if it brought out this kind of entitled behaviour in people.

Come back tomorrow for some more tales of weird and stupid people!

Monday, 10 June 2013


Professor Richard Feynman once said that, to avoid needless decision-making in restaurants, he would always have a scoop of chocolate ice cream for dessert.  This may seem ridiculous when there are a whole world of delicious options available, but when I’m lying on my death bed, I will have, most likely, wasted a total of about 10 years worrying about such things. 

The ‘indecisiveness’ I want to focus on in this post isn’t about making huge, life-altering decisions…I’m fairly good at making those, unlike Foofy, who often has burning desires he doesn’t follow through.  Yesterday, in a lull in conversation, he said:

It’s not Foofy’s fault; he’s just got too many skills, and only one human life to explore them in.  I don’t really have that problem.  I have two humans lives, including the voice in my head.

Sometimes, I can be indecisive to the point of panic, like when I have to make a snap decision over whether to run home and drop off a pile of music scores and risk missing the bus with my friends or take 8 copies of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Patience, or, Bunthorne’s Bride’  clubbing with me in Dundee.  This potential decision caused me to have an anxiety attack in the middle of the street (ironically wasting time I COULD have used to run home) and it was only thanks to a passing friend saying he could look after the scores that the decision was made for me.  Usually, however, decisions that only affect me do not pose a problem; it is making decisions as part of a group I find almost impossible. 

There are several kinds of people that drive me up the wall in this domain:

Firstly, it’s those people who claim they ‘don’t mind’ what we do but then later complain that whoever decided made the wrong decision. 

Oh my GOSH this annoys me; over my years of university I was faced with many large-group situations where there was a choice, and people would actively shy away from making a decision, then, when I made one for the group, they would remain indecisive and even accuse me of being self-centred, or that, by trying to guide the group, I somehow breached some unspoken rule of etiquette.  Even worse is when I’m asked my individual opinion when the decision has already been made, and I inevitably make the wrong choice and make myself look incredibly selfish, like in this situation recently: 

As a result, I worry that I'll come across badly if I were to express my opinion on such a thing, which, subsequently, turns me into the very person I hate, i.e., somebody who doesn’t express their opinion despite having one.  I end up answering such questions in a stupidly nervous and indecisive way:

“Well, my vote is for the hotel, but honestly, either is fine.”

Which usually results in:

“If you want to do to the hotel, just say so; stop being so indecisive.”

Which leads me to another pet peeve; people who don’t believe that I genuinely ‘don’t mind’ what we do, and accuse me of being indecisive.

Sometimes, I am faced with a decision and I have utterly no preference whatever; perhaps because both choices are neutral, or both great, or perhaps because they both have good and bad points that balance out.  Sometimes I care about where we eat; if it’s a choice between Burger King and McDonalds I’d always go for the latter because Burger King don’t have a fish sandwich.  If, however, someone says to me: “Indian or Italian food?” And I’m just so starving hungry that I would quite happily eat my own head if it came to it, I honestly won’t care.  As a pescatarian, I can’t eat most things on restaurant menus (or my own head, come to that) and, as a result of the amount of Marmite and BBQ sauce I eat, most food tastes like nothing to me anyway, so it’s only fair that someone whose enjoyment will actually be affected by the choice should make the decision.  To pretend I had a preference would only be dishonest.

In such group decisions, there will always be one person (to be fair, this person is sometimes me) who will get angry and say- “Well if no one else is going to make a decision, Ill just make one for everybody.”  First of all; this is fine! If everyone has said they don’t mind what we do and you do mind, then make the decision for us: sorted! There’s no reason to get cross.  However, I totally sympathise and can see why this can be frustrating, especially as it can lead to situations like the first one, where suddenly everyone decides that they do have a preference after all and yours was the wrong one.

Crumbs, life is difficult sometimes, especially if you’re borderline Aspergers, like me.  It’s a constant to and fro of worrying about upsetting people and coming across too strongly, but, at the same time, not wanting to appear weak and flaky.  As a result, not only do I have to worry about whether I want to go to an Italian or Indian restaurant, but I have a meta concern at the same time regarding whether I express my opinion or don’t express it, and a further concern regarding how I go about doing (or not doing) that.  Simple questions about my preferences for incredibly minor things can make me so confused that most of the time I really don’t know what I think about anything because it’s all tangled in a web of fear and anxiety.  Sometimes I find myself pretending that I want to do something, or even outright lying about wanting to do something, but people read through this and get cross, so I tell the truth, but at that point I no longer know what the truth is and I end up telling more lies to cover myself.

What we need, I think, is some kind of electronic device attached to our heads that is programmed to read our brain-waves, and, when faced with a trivial choice, the device will show on a display what our decision is, without anyone having to say anything, then we can count up the votes and go with the majority.  No arguments or fuss.  I think this would save the world a lot of stress.

However, I do see that a machine that causes us all to automatically reveal our subconscious thoughts may be rife with problems.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Something that's been Confusing me since Childhood

I would like you to watch the above video and share your opinion on what on earth is going on here...I have no idea.

It seems like there is a weird Scottish man who wants to find a room to shriek out of and eventually he does but, strangely, it's a room on the bottom floor and his voice wouldn't carry as far as if he'd chosen a top room.  Why does he have to switch all the lights on and off even though it is quite clearly daytime? Why are the curtains drawn anyway? And if this is house number 4, where are numbers 1, 2 and 3? Seriously, any help on this one would be greatly appreciated.


Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Seagull that Pecked its Way into my Nightmares, Literally.

Seeing as my post yesterday was serious and ranty, I’m going to try my best to talk about something happy today, and there's nothing much better than a random story about a seagull that’s probably dead now.

There were many seagulls in St. Andrews when I went to university there, and I got to know some of them pretty well, including one that had half a stump instead of one of its legs and there were hairs coming out of the stump.  Here’s a picture:

I don’t know how much seagulls are aware of their surroundings and my good relationships with most of them were probably completely one-sided, but I didn’t waste too much time crying myself to sleep over it.  The important thing is, I seem to have a way with birds that other people don’t; there was one particularly vicious one in Helsinki that made about twenty or thirty separate attempts to steal my friend’s ice cream before he (my friend, not the seagull) was forced to curl up in a ball to defend himself.  Interestingly enough, a couple of other friends went to Helsinki and got their ice cream stolen in exactly the same place- THE GULLS ARE ORGANISED!

Of course, this picture is totally unrealistic.  That seagull would have written in Finnish instead of English.

ANYWAY, birds like me.  Partly because I don’t run at them and frighten them away, and partly because I often sit down in random places, like beaches or Whole Foods, scatter a bunch of birdseed around me and just see what happens.  Usually it ends in AMAZING.

 So when I was staying over at a friend’s house in his bed, (he wasn’t in the bed with me; I just want to make that clear from the start) I was hardly surprised when, at 4 in the morning (after going to sleep at 2), I woke up to hear a loud tapping sound, and to see a huge seagull perched outside on the windowsill.  How lovely!

In fact, at first it wasn’t at all lovely; I almost jumped out of my skin when I saw it.

But after greeting the bird and wishing it well, I settled down to get another four hours of sleep.  Unfortunately, the gull had different ideas, and began to peck on the window.

It continued to peck on the window for FOUR SOLID HOURS.

I began to get cross after the first hour, and, for the first time in my life, almost wished harm on a bird.

In the time that followed I was subjected to the torture of beak against glass and went into a weird delirious state where nothing was quite real anymore.  Sometimes it would stop for ten seconds or so, and the silence and hopefulness in the air was as delicious as a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.

Then it would start tapping again, crushing my dreams with a simple peck of its beak.

I felt, at one point, like there were multiple seagulls pecking their way into my brain and at a later point I felt like I was the seagull and I was on the other side of the window.   At an even later point, I was watching the gull as it was pecking the window and it actually pecked THROUGH the window, breaking the glass, and flew right up to me in bed, dive-bombing me with its beak…

And then I realised that I’d somehow dropped off to sleep and the gull itself was still pecking on the window.

It didn’t stop until after I’d got up and dressed at 8am, and I was so deliriously tired that day that I spent the whole of it walking around in a daze literally banging off the walls.

“There was a seagull keeping me up most of the night.” I said to my friend later, not expecting he’d believe me.  “From 4am to 8am he was pecking and pecking on the window.”

“Oh that’s just Boris.” My friend replied.  “He comes by every morning.”

There was no further explanation.  It may, however, have explained why, months later, my friend went on a massive killing spree and ended up in a mental institution.  Unfortunately, that part of the story isn’t true.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

That Bloody Shambles of a Gorilla

You may not have noticed, but this blog was started exactly a year ago today! I have marked this occasion with a new layout and header, and a rant about an animal playing a musical instrument.

While writing my post about America I mentioned my hatred for the stupid Dairy Milk ad with a gorilla in it.  Part of what makes me hate it is how people tend to react to it.

It’s not “genius!” Einstein was a genius! Thom Yorke is a genius! The person who invented cheese is a genius! Is this what society has come to? I’m not a snob; I can be entertained for literally hours watching videos of cats falling into baths.  I do, however, see things for what they are, and this is an advert.  Its sole purpose is to make money.  It annoys me that this particular ad is seen as a thoughtful and inspirational piece of art instead of a cleverly designed tool to sell hipsters more chocolate.

I’m not against adverts; in fact, I’ve been in quite a few internet ads myself and would quite happily throw my pescatarian principles out of the window if McDonalds paid me £20,000 to take a bite out of a hamburger.  Ads are fun, and there have been some great ones; my particular favourite is the Guinness ad where the fish rides the bicycle, and I have noticed the irony of both my favourite and least favourite adverts involving animals doing things that they have absolutely no business doing.  I was uncertain on beginning this paragraph exactly why it is that I hate one and love the other, but hopefully by the end of this sentence I will have figured it out; it seems to me to be to do with honesty.

Guinness’s adverts probably could be described as works of art, because they are incredibly detailed and well-thought out. The one about the fish is actually very mildly offensive to women- and probably fish- but it’s so funny I don’t really care.  I’m not sure exactly what a fish riding a bike has to do with ‘Guinness Extra Cold’ (the fish does seem pretty cold), in the same way that a gorilla drumming has nothing to do with Cadburys chocolate, but it seems like Guinness have worked hard to create something extremely light-hearted, silly and entertaining and, if I liked Guinness, (which I don’t,) I would definitely buy their beer.

When I watch the Gorilla ad, however, I don’t feel that same warmth I do when I watch Guinness ads; it’s partly because I see it as being very aware of itself and how inspirational its meant to be, coming across as incredibly pretentious and heavy-handed, and partly because it lacks the honesty of other adverts.  The screen at the beginning says “glass and a half full productions”, suggesting that they see themselves as an actual artistic film production company rather than people who make and sell chocolate.  It’s designed to be entertaining and to make people associate the Cadburys brand with happiness, but when I watch it I just feel a bit cheated.  All adverts are trying to sell me things, and that is fine.  However, Cadburys seems to be going out of its way to appear not to be selling me something, and I find this weirdly manipulative.

I am, admittedly, a trifle oversensitive and may be reading much more into Cadbury’s intentions than is necessary, but I don’t like feeling tricked or easily led.  I’d rather be fully aware of being manipulated; then at least everyone knows where they stand.  Cadbury seem to be declaring, with this campaign, that they are ‘different’ from other companies, when there is nothing remotely different about them when it comes to their desire to keep their business commercially viable.

Let me go a bit further:

Another reason why people think the ad’s wonderful is that it’s sparked so many comments from people wondering what the hell is going on, which starts a discussion, which spreads the video around further.  “It’s making people think,” says someone on the internet.

Think about what?


I’m confused.  I think it’s actually a downright dangerous idea to allow people to merely associate something randomly happy with your product; it’s easy and lazy.  It’s not genuine advertising; it’s propaganda; HAPPINESS = CADBURYS DAIRY MILK.  I’m not going to go as far as compare Cadburys to Hitler, but this quest to simply ‘make people smile’ without any context has a slightly disturbing edge to it.

What freaks me out is that this can be done with anything:


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Hufflepuff FTW

A good way of finding out what kind of person somebody is, is by asking them which Hogwarts house they would be in.

Which Hogwarts house would I be in?


You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart

This one is very easy.  I would definitely not end up in Gryffindor because I do not possess even the slightest shred of bravery or chivalry; my fears include wet clothes, unusual showers, and abandoned swimming pools.  Let’s just say that if you were in a group that required one person to make a noble sacrifice, that person would certainly not be me:

In any case, I have no desire to be in Gryffindor; many of the people in it seem to be a trifle ‘up themselves’ and are usually the ones who end up in awkward situations, like fighting Voldemort or getting detention.  There also seems to be, in this house, a strong disregard for the rules, and I am terrified of disobeying rules, often to the point of ridiculousness:

Gryffindor is not the house for me; that is for sure.


Or perhaps in Slytherin,
You’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means
To achieve their ends.

When I first read Harry Potter I went through a weird depressive phase of being a little misunderstood; laziness prevented me from going full emo but I did lust after the Slytherin house, wondering if that was where I belonged most of all.  Interestingly enough, THIS QUIZ agrees with me.

As a child I suffered with crippling guilt whenever I did anything wrong, both at home and at school.  Whenever I go into a vaguely negative space I think of all the things I did wrong as a child and eventually I feel as if I’m drowning in an ocean of guilt, which feels a lot like molasses in consistency.  As a result of growing up like this, I became extremely good at getting myself out of trouble; I don’t ever outright lie, but I can very easily manipulate myself out of trouble, and can burst into sympathy-inducing tears in moments if I need to.  Of course, I’m rarely in control of these tears, but I think, somewhere in my brain, there is a little ‘me’ who is doing them on purpose in an attempt to stop people shouting at me or blaming things on me that were absolutely my fault.  Perhaps, because of this, I would be put in Slytherin.  They are sly and seemingly emotionally intelligent individuals who can talk their way into opportunity and out of trouble. 

On the other hand, Slytherins are ambitious, and I, alas, am not.  I have a vague dream of acting and singing and getting my novels published, but if I was offered a job that involved me sitting around all day in my pyjamas and playing with puppies in exchange for a place to live and some money to buy sweets, I’d probably take it.

The people in Slytherin all seem to have this negative, even evil, edge to them, and that is not something I want to be around.  I have a manipulative side, but I want to grow out of it; I don’t want it nurtured and encouraged; absolutely not! Besides, their common room is dark and dingy and would send my seasonal affective disorder-ridden self into chaos and depression.  If I wanted to become more ambitious, I’d just go on the UK Apprentice instead; at least there you get a nice house.


Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you’ve a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning
Will always find their kind.

I don’t want to toot my own horn here, but I am pretty brainy when I want to be.  Although I can ask stupid questions sometimes (Why is it warm at night when the sun has gone down?) I do so because I have a very inquisitive mind and love learning and spouting facts at people.  I’m also a great fan of logic puzzles and can solve Rubik cubes in less than two minutes.  It seems quite likely that I’d end up in Ravenclaw, to be honest, and blue is most definitely my colour.

On the other hand, my brain often gets me in to trouble; I sometimes say things in a very cold academic way with the intent to explain myself afterwards, but if people only hear the first part and don’t listen to the second, it can come across as horribly offensive and gives them a very nasty impression of me.  I don’t need to be in a place where I’ll be encouraged to speak in an academic style and have to use flowery, useless language in order to explain anything.  I don’t need this part of myself brought out anymore.

The people of Ravenclaw don’t seem nearly as exuberant as people in the other houses and are, to be honest, a little boring.  I also know, from experiencing 'world-class' universities, that the worst thing for intelligent people is to bundle them together with other intelligent people for the sole reason that they are all terribly clever, and let them live that way for several years.  I feel this puts an enormous amount of pressure on the students and would create a needlessly competitive environment in Ravenclaw.  It also seems ridiculous to assign children of eleven to this house when their intellectual capabilities have not yet had time to develop.  I was a bit of a doofus until I was 16, when I discovered the subjects that interested me the most at school.  No; Ravenclaw is certainly not the house for me.


You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true,
And unafraid of toil

People inside and outside of the Harry Potter novels mock those who end up in Hufflepuff.  It’s seen as the ‘loser’ house, where you go if you don’t excel in bravery, ambition, or intelligence.  It also seems to be the house that least describes who I am: I am stubborn and strong, if a little shy, and can be bitchy and manipulative at times, and I can be too clever for my own good; I'd have to argue my case pretty hard not to be put in one of the other three:

Hufflepuff, however, with its simple values and kind heart, is exactly the environment I’d want to spend seven years in, and it would undoubtedly be very good for me.  I can practice sport, write my books and solve my Rubik cubes as much as I like, but when it comes to who I want to spend my time with, I want to be with the people I most want to be; loyal, kind, hard-working people, who, perhaps lack in ambition, but who make up for it with positivity and spirit.  That’s what I think of when I see the name ‘Hufflepuff’- a house lacking in many things, but rich when it comes to what really matters.  They're also right next to the school kitchens.

As Dumbledore says, it’s our choices that make us who we really are, and it matters not what I am, but who I want to be. Of all the houses in Hogwarts, Hufflepuff is the only one without any negativity attached to it; no Gryffindor pride, Ravenclaw coldness or Slytherin manipulativeness; just pure and utter sunshine.  And badgers.
Let's face it; If one of the Hogwarts houses was going to host a wicked party with killer food and games, it’d be Hufflepuff.  I'm THERE.