Ghetto fabulous – one laptop in Tesco bag please

 

Felt like a real chav today coming home from work. Well you would if you had to carry your laptop in a Tesco grocery bag!

Desperately trying to avoid the IT chaps at work, I ducked and weaved my way out of the building. You see I have loads to do and needed to do it somewhere quite i.e. home. I write best in quiet not noise aka work.

My biggest fear was not the shame of looking totally ghetto carrying a laptop around in a plastic bag. Oh no, I was oblivious to curious stares from passer-bys, unless I thought they were looks of thievery for which they got The Eye.  I was mostly concerned about not dropping the blasted thing.  In my last job, I would be in direct violation of the stringent Health, Safety, Environment and Security (HSSE) rules in case I dropped it on my foot because that’s naturally what happens when you don’t carry a laptop in a case or cover apparently. The same applied for not hold the handrail going up and down the stairs – you will automatically trip and fall flat on your face.

However, a rainy, chilly day is perfect for slipping, tripping and sliding along the uneven roads and pavements.  Especially for an accident prone person like me. I clung to that Tesco bag, held it tightly against my chest and dashed for the free seats on the tube, being mindful of course that I didn’t slip in my attempts to reach said seat. Walking down the stairs was trickier. First my handbag slowly slipping, then my feet being too big for the steps and finally the mad rush of passengers behind me, all determined to knock me over.

This adventure finally reached its close when I got to my building, unlocked my flat and gingerly laid the laptop down. Then of course I had to bang my knee against the bed and spend five minutes hopping around and swearing incessantly. At least the laptop is safe! And luckily I do have a laptop bag here at home to safely make the return journey to work tomorrow.

Salmon fishing in the Yemen – a communications lesson

I recently went to a free screening of the movie, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It’s directed by Lasse Hallstrom and stars Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristen Scott Thomas (she was particularly funny in this!).

I don’t mean to reveal the plot in this post but rather to look at the important communications aspect of it. In a nutshell – a visionary and very wealthy sheik (from Yemen of course) wants to bring his hobby of salmon fishing to the deserts of Yemen, believing it will enrich his people’s lives. Such a crazy idea is met with opposition from the UK government initially before being viewed as potentially successful PR initiative. However, the people in the Yemeni desert are very opposed to these radical ideas which are meant to bring prosperity, a new food source and water to their lives.

Long story cut short, the main characters basically ramrod their way into Yemen, built the facilities to contain the fish, the rivers to keep them alive and the dam to manage the water flow. They did this with no money spared, everything you could ask for with the best engineers in the world and materials at hand.

Yet in spite of the best laid plan that had millions of pounds tossed at it, the best possible people who could help plan and build such a facility, and the best sources supplied aka salmon provided, the leaders of this project forgot one very important thing. Communications. In this case communicating with the affected parties who were overall not happy and tried to pull the plug permanently on the project. A good corporate social responsibility plan would have done wonders for this project in getting the local people onboard and fully supportive of this initiative.  Not only would the local people see and reap the benefits the project would provide, getting them involved would have engendered a sense of pride and better relations with the foreigners of radical ideas.  Something that Ewan McGregor’s character realised at the end.

Other than that it was a good movie – subtly funny with an interesting storyline.

Awkward! What happens when you run into the boss outside of work

So I’ve been a bit remiss about posting lately. And yes I’m still trying to meet my goal of one post per week (though currently I am two posts behind). My excuse – the absolutely amazing weather we’ve been having here in the UK! I rather be outside than on my laptop 🙂

That aside, I had a sort of awkward moment on the way back home today. I’m the type of person who likes to keep my work life separate from my home life. It doesn’t always happen but I try to stick to that rule as much as possible. While I do like to go out for after work drinks with colleagues, I really hate discussing work. After all we’re not being paid overtime at the pub to discuss work, plus who’s going to remember to write up any actions after a piss up??

In my last job as a consultant, I really treasured the time I had on the train on my way to work. So much so that I would take to hiding from work colleagues with a bent head or a book if ever I spotted one on the train. I didn’t so much mind speaking to them on the journey back but I really savoured the moments I had to myself before I started the working day.

In my current job at a broadcasting house, I get along with most of my colleagues. However, we’re all so fairly new to the programme, that everyone is still in that stage of not yet being able to hold a conversation that doesn’t revolve around work. I’m also not the type of person who wants to be friends with the boss in a social setting unlike some people. I mean talk about disappointment if you’re ever made redundant after you kissed ass or made serious  effort to keep abreast about your boss’ personal and social life. You’re the boss – stay the boss and never the twain shall meet! Well that’s worked well for me so far, other people probably have much better experiences.

Then, this evening, to my aghast, I ran into our programme director on the tube (aka underground or subway in North America). Just not on. It was made even more awkward as we both realised we live in the same area and therefore were headed in the same direction. It was the first this has ever happened. What made it worse for me was that I was the numpty who in my surprise at running into The Boss called out to him in shock horror. Only because I had left the office before him and couldn’t understand how he was on the same tube as me. Poor guy, he probably just wanted to read his newspaper in peace and also didn’t need the office reminder.  However with both of us being the polite people that we are (it is England after all folks), we made the effort to keep up a steady stream of conversation all the way to our mutual tube stop.

And guess what the said conversation revolved around? That’s right…work!

Introducing change management … to the gym and other places near you.

 

 

Today I attended a change management course with a few of my work colleagues. Needless to say it was a bit of a long day with lots of information thrown at us but a useful day all the same.

We learnt more on what motivates people and how this is related to introducing change into the workplace. Change at work comes in all forms, whether it’s to the organisational structure, way in which people work, or even policies such as health and safety or clean desks.

What motivates people to do anything? Everyone is motivated, you just have to find what it is and use that to help you bring about change. Sounds a bit manipulative? It probably is seeing that we are dealing with psychology here. Getting people to do what you want is a widely debated topic. There are tons of books about this, which implies that everyday life is filled with examples of introducing change to someone else.

For instance, one such example in everyday life happened to the boy recently. He was recounting the absurdity of a conversation he had with the receptionists at a gym and then subsequently their manager. I’ve paraphrased the conversation below as I haven’t quite got the hang of writing in Scottish.

Boy arrives at gym and proceeds to reception.

“Can I have two towels please?”

“Sorry we don’t give two towels. You can have only one,” responds the receptionist.

“But I need two towels. One to use while I work out and the other for when I have a shower.”

“We’re not allowed to give two towels, only one.”

“They give me two towels at all the other branches.”

“Well we don’t here.”

Boy fumes, decides to do his workout and then deal with this problem later.

After a particularly sweaty session, boy returns to see another receptionist sat at the desk.

“Can I have a towel please?”

“No you can only have one. We can’t give you two,” receptionist gives boy an evil look. Clearly the other receptionist had relayed the earlier conversation.

“Is that your manager there?”

“Yes,” receptionist replies with a smirk. Not a good sign.

Boy ventures over to the rather large and beefy manager, wondering if this will end in fisticuffs. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained. In this case gaining a measly towel that’s desperately needed to aid the after shower experience before returning to work.

“Hi, I’d like to have another towel to use with my shower. As you can see this one is quite wet already.”

Manager replies,”Well we have a certain quota of towels that arrive from head office which only allows us to give one towel per person.”

“But I can’t use this towel for after my shower. It’s full of sweat.”

“It’s the head office policy. If we gave everyone two towels, we won’t have enough to go around.”

“Maybe you should tell head office to provide you with more towels. I get two towels at all the other branches of this gym and there has been no problem. You clearly don’t have enough towels for everyone. I’m sure everyone who comes to the gym would like to have two towels,” boy shaking his head at the irrationality of the conversation.

“You’re right. I’ll drop them an email about it. In the meantime, I’ll make sure the receptionists know to give you two towels,” responds the manager, now apparently tired of the conversation.

Boy gets towel and somewhat triumphantly has shower before returning to work.

So how does this related to my change management course? One word. Power.

Power is what motivated the receptionists to respond in the manner they did. With next to no authority available at their level, they sought to wield it wherever they could. In this case, an absolute refusal to be accommodating over what in the grand scheme of things is quite trivial.

Other factors that motivate people are social status, achievements, recognition, money and the list continues. All of which can be found in everyday situations outside the office. Knowing what motivates people can be very useful in helping you introduce change. Whether or not you can cater to the motivations of each individual is another thing entirely.

So what could the boy have done in this situation? Very little really. The change in the attitudes of the staff lie within the culture of their organisation. Perhaps by understanding what motivated their workforce and using that to incentivise their staff would help the gym in improving their overall level of customer service and satisfaction. Who knows maybe this could help them to retain their customers rather than seeing them trotting off to the competition.

Of course you may decide that there is no rationale explanation, motivation or otherwise for this story but rather it’s just another great example of the poor level and high handed manner of customer service in London. Particularly with overpriced gyms!

Trishna – an Indian Tess of d’Ubervilles

I’ve never liked Tess of d’Ubervilles. Thomas Hardy was always a difficult author for me to read – the long, near-forgotten words that peppers throughout his books annoyed me greatly when I was younger. I haven’t attempted Hardy since secondary school, perhaps the older me will have more patience now. Still I never liked Tess – she was too passive and spineless a character, which I guess shows how excellent a writer Hardy was in making his characters come to life.

So what possessed me to watch the film, Trishna which is loosely based on Tess of d’Ubervilles? Firstly it is set in India and I love Indian flicks. That said though Trishna is a far cry from typical Bollywood films. Secondly it starred Frieda Pinto, of Slumdog Millionaire fame – a movie I adore. Thirdly, I was near the cinema anyway so why not?

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot so here’s a short summary in  Bollywood style. Rich boy meets and falls in love with poor girl. Boy’s family will not approve, so they meet clandestinely. In a ‘shocking’ twist, the two move in together and everything is great. Until, girl confesses her secret which drives the boy away. Boy eventually returns, girl unduly forgives him and goes with him as he is to manage his father’s hotel. As they cannot be together publicly, girl has to work in hotel as the maid to boy. Boy who is no longer loving and instead now a sexual deviant takes full advantage of the situation and abuses girl. How it ends…well let’s just say there is none of the usual song and dance of Bollywood. It’s quite a sombre actually.

The movie beautifully encapsulates Hardy’s two leading male characters – Angel and Alec to form Jay, the wealthy young British businessman. Trishna, herself is a lot like the young Tess, compliant, willing and a pushover. Yet for some reason, you end up feeling sorry for her with only a slight annoyance throughout the film. Annoyance because you wonder, why can she never say no? Why does she always say yes to everyone and everything. This is explained in a scene with her mother, when Trishna was told she had to go work in her uncle’s factory. Despite saying at least three times that she did not want to leave home, her mother repeated, “Dad says you have to go.”

For myself growing up in a rather traditional East Indian household in the West Indies, I know what that means and can empathise. You don’t argue with your father, you just do as he says. You actually have no choice because really, where would you go and what would you do? It’s different from the Western world where teenagers are able to get jobs and go about their business safely. You don’t really need to depend on your parents to the extent of you have no other options but to stay in their home and abide by their strict rules.

Trishna’s naivety and trust leads her to make bad decisions. You could also argue that it’s not her but rather one man’s obsession that leads a young girl astray. An Alec/Angel combination is pretty hard to resist as too a means of helping your poverty-stricken family.

Trishna struggles to mould old-fashioned values with modern thinking, traditions with education and duty with responsibilities. Yet in the movie as in life,  there were choices, harder though they may have been, that she could have taken which would have made for a very different story. Yet her dutiful, compliant self would not allow it to be so. The ending, however, will have you asking, why did she not run away like she did previously? Why did she choose the path that she did? Surely she could have done something different.

Perhaps the humiliation and struggle between the two worlds she found herself in became too overwhelming.

How to walk the street or in this case the pavement

Growing up, road safety campaigns were really pushed at the local primary schools. The ‘look left, then right, then left again before you cross the road’ became the mantra each day. So much so that we made a silly game of it.

We’d go to a fairly unused road and exaggeratedly turn our heads in a group while shouting the road mantra. Woe to the unfortunate driver who happened upon us as we played.

Linking arms and crossing the street back and forth until our parents came
to collect us.

Another road safety rule was that you walked on the pavement facing the oncoming traffic and older children must walk on the outside closer to the road while the young ones walked on the inside. The logic being that facing oncoming traffic allowed you to be more aware of the cars and where they were headed i.e in case on suddenly swerved off the road and onto the pavement. The logic with the older kids on the outside was that they should technically be more street savvy whereas a young child may take an inopportune moment to dash on to the road.

In London I often walk down the street and am a bit surprised that the same rules don’t apply here. In fact I see the opposite. People walk with their backs to oncoming traffic and kids often run to the sides of the roads while their parents take the inside lane.

Overprotective, stupidity or bravery – how do you traverse busy pavements and streets?

What does it mean to be British?

The Union Flag or is it the Union Jack?

Last night watching tv as you do, we saw an ad for a new Channel 4 programme ‘Making Bradford British’. This led to a conversation about what is meant to be British.

As a non-native to Britain, I looked at my preconceptions of the country prior to my moving here. Here are some of the things that I thought were quintessentially British growing up in a former British colony, in my case Trinidad & Tobago:

1. The Monarchy. Being British meant you had a Queen and the Royal Family who lived in palaces and castles, and who could trace their ancestry back for hundreds and hundreds of years.

2. The Union Flag. It’s the picture of being British. Flown everywhere there is or was a British colony.

3. Enid Blyton. My personal favourite. I loved Enid Blyton so much that I thought many children in the UK led picture-perfect lives where they had picnics in the woods, beach huts and ice-cream on the beach and young teenagers could go off on their own in caravans and have adventures (read The Famous Five, The Secret Seven and The Five Find-Outers). So much so that a friend in the Dales was slightly worried that her village would not live up to my starry-eyed expectations when I came to visit.

4. The Slave Trade and the British Empire. Inevitably the once mighty and vast  British Empire and its role in the plantation trade, slavery, abolition and indentureship comes to mind. It was a key topic in our history and social studies classes in both primary and secondary schools. Sad and unfortunate as it is, it remains part of our history.

5. British universities. Typically Oxford and Cambridge were a big deal, guaranteed to get you a ‘big wuk’ (important job) as we say in Trinidad.

6. Mr Bean. I thought him hilarious. It was the only British comedy we had growing up and his antics had the entire country talking. After moving here, I quickly realised how annoying Mr Bean is compared to the other great British comedies available.

7. Cricket. A favourite West Indian sport. I loved cricket and really enjoyed it when visiting countries came down to my part of the world for the Test series and One Day Internationals (ODIs). I wanted to visit the home of cricket – Lord’s, more than anything but was always confused about how quiet and civilized it looked whenever they broadcasted a match live. By contrast, we have a party atmosphere back in the West Indies.

8. King Henry VIII. So King Henry isn’t strictly British rather English but he was a fascinating king along too with other old royalty like Richard the Lionheart and the Black Prince. Interesting reads.

Did they drink anything else?

9. Tea.The only drink you seemed to hear the British drink was tea. I used to wonder how anyone could drink copious amounts of tea each day. This of course led to the stereotype that the British all had horrible yellow teeth, stained through their daily tea drinking. 

10. The accent. The British accent always sounded so cultured and cute on the television programmes we received. Hello Hugh Grant 😉

These are just some of the things that I thought it meant to be British growing up. However, looking back, most of my ideas of Britain centred around England. I hardly ever heard of Scotland except through Braveheart and Rob Roy; Northern Ireland meant potatoes, leprechauns and shamrock; while Wales…well I didn’t know much about Wales other than they formed part of the England and Wales cricket team.

Nowadays living here, my views on being British have vastly changed. Not everyone has a wood to go exploring in, beach huts are becoming prime seaside property, and the cricket is abysmal! I know a lot more about Scotland and Wales though I still don’t know much about Northern Island other than I want to visit the Giant’s Causeway sometime this year. And also that my views on being British are now mainly from that of a Londoner. London being my favourite city in the world is pretty diverse, fast-paced, historical and modern, and so much more.

My mum who grew up when Trinidad was still a British colony and the Boy who hails from Scotland of course have much different views from mine on what it means to be British. More on that another time.

A Trini conversation in London

Living away from Trinidad for so long naturally can be a bit difficult from time to time.  You can lose your accent, be homesick and crave to see another Trinidadian just to reminisce about the hot weather, the multicultural food, the coconut strewn beaches and of course people you know.  Due to the size of the island with it’s 1.3m population, you must know someone who knows someone who you know. Three degrees of separation.

Anyway once a Trinidadian meets another Trinidadian or Trini in London, the talk always and I mean ALWAYS turns to who you know and where you lived. Being a rather friendly and inquisitive community, Trinis see nothing wrong in asking blunt questions about your life.The best place to meet a Trini in London is in a Trini roti shop and as they’re few and far between, Trinidadians will travel a long way for their local food.

Here’s a short story of what can happen when you run into another Trini who you never met before:

Girl walks into a Trinidadian shop and rambles off her order to the cashier.

“1 pholourie

2 doubles

And ah shrimp roti please”

A man from the kitchen suddenly appears. He seems to the owner of the establishment and has obviously heard the Trinidadian accent coming through loud and clear.

“You from Trinidad?”

“Yes,” she replies with a smile.

“How long you leave there now?”

“About 10 years, you?”

“I here now about 18 years. So which part you from?” he asks in the colloquial slang Trnis so comfortably use wherever they go.

“Couva.”

Both the man and another patron ask at the same time ,“You from Couva?”

“Yes,” she replies a bit surprised by the response, “You from there too?

“Nah I from Diego,” replies the fellow patron. The girl dismisses him as someone she may know of – Diego Martin was in the North, too far removed from her circle of family and friends.

“But I from Couva, which you part of Couva you from?” the owner asks. Couva being a small town in the centre of the island.

“Balmain”

“Oh I know Balmain. You know Perseverance?”

Girl nods but the man continues anyway, ” It near Carli Bay, you just turn down the road and go straight and then you reach Persevarance.”

“Yeah I know where it is. Ah have a friend who live there. She have a shop.”

“Oh okay, so you must know the market opposite the police station in Couva?” the man asks.

“Yeah yeah I know there too,” she says, wondering where this was leading to.

“Well then you must know the rasta boy there who selling the doubles in front the market. He have some gold teeth in de front of his mouth.”

“Yes,” she lies, knowing fully well what will happen if she told the truth.

The man smiles broadly, “That’s my family.”

“Oh dats your family. Yes yes I see him around the place.”

The man smiled and went back to the kitchen.

Two minutes later he returns, “ So you know the Cedenos and dem?

“No,” this time she replies truthfully, guessing that she may not get away as easily with a lie.

The man looks disappointed.

“But how yuh mean yuh don’t know them? Ent you say you from Couva?  Dey living right behind the gas station. You know where you turn off the junction?”

Girl is confused but the man still persists.

“Yes you must know them. Everybody in Couva knows them. They own the pharmacy in KK plaza”

“Oh,” the girl looks relieved, “Yes  I know the pharmacy but ah didn’t go there often so ah didn’t know dey name. Is that your family too?”

“Nah nah they is not my family. They is just some friends I know from way back. We uses to go to school together, yuh see.”

“Right, right I see.”

“No 183 – a shrimp roti? “, calls the cashier. Girl grabs roti and dashes to door before the inquisition continued.

The reason for the lie? It can be a long drawn out conversation if you don’t know someone from the area you grew up. Your ignorance will only lead to the other party’s disbelief that you’re  from that area or even Trinidad. After all how could you not know such prominent members of the community??

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