Cupcakes

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I had no plans for today. I get freaked out when that happens – no structure and too much time to think…  the negative inner voice tends to scream at me on days like this. So I decided to get up and make a list of everything I needed / wanted to do today. The list became surprisingly long but I managed to achieve a few things on it – the most time consuming of which was baking cupcakes!

I’ve realised that baking isn’t a hellova lot of fun when your kitchen is the size of a thimble.  I managed to get flour and red food colouring on every single surface imaginable (including every item of clothing I was wearing) and then my whisk decided to give up the ghost just before I started mixing the icing stuff. The result is very sore arms from manual whisking and slightly lumpy icing sugar, but dang it still tastes good! A few of the cupcakes commited hari kari on their exit from the oven by mystifyingly launching themselves from the oven rack onto the floor. Disloyal little b@stards. I adopted the 5 second rule and I’m pretty sure that given sufficient icing no one will know the difference! I also used the over ripe bananas that were stinking out my thimble kitchen to make banana bread. So – I live alone and I now have 16 cupcakes and a whole loaf of banana bread looking longingly at me. Dangerous.

Luckily I’m off to Britt and Mark’s tomorrow and I’ll be taking my bounty with me – we’ll be meeting my Mom’s new man. Ooooh.

Best First Date Ever!

NOT!! I’ve been meaning to write about the worst date in history. It may not be an uplifting post but it does make for a good story.

Lateish one night a couple of weeks ago, my sister arrived at my flat to spend the night after an evening at some new restaurant / bar opening. Enthusiastically tipsy, she announced that she’d set me up on a date. With a 26 year old Spaniard who was tall dark and handsome-enough and seemed “very nice.” I protested. She insisted. By the end of the evening the Spaniard had my details.

The next day I received an email from said suitor – let’s call him Gustav. Very definitely not Spanish then. This made me worry about Britt’s observational skills on that fated night (Note to self: always trust your instincts). Gustav proved to be very chatty. I had never met the dude, but he found stuff to email me about all bloody day. Given the email banter, I expected G to be friendly and confident. But as we met outside the tube station a few days later he looked like a deer in the headlights. Super awkward / glued to the spot. I couldn’t figure out if he was a) extremely disappointed by what he saw, or b) had the social skills of an ape. To be fair I thought I looked pretty decent that night and he owned a nose the size of Madagascar so I’m assuming it was the latter.

We went to a bar in Notting Hill – he sat there fidgeting and looking quite pained while I tried to make conversation about abso-bloody-lutely anything!!…  he managed to comment that it “felt like an interview.”  I wanted to slap him but instead I pronounced that I would stop trying to make conversation with him forthwith.  He apologised and stated that he didn’t mean it like that, he just needed to “up his game” and started glugging the wine at a rapid pace. I have no idea WHY (politeness?? / charity??) but when he suggested dinner at a nearby French restaurant I agreed. MISTAKE!!!

The waitresses at the restaurant were beautiful – we’re talking supermodel potential. One caught G’s eye in a big way, and he gawked at her non-stop with all the subtlety of a bull in a China shop. Predictably, his conversational skills didn’t improve one bit and he even got his phone out and started checking messages / texting his friends. I suffered through dinner, actually chuckling to myself at the bizarreness of it all and making a mental note to kidney-slap my sister. As dinner finished I decided that the young ‘un could do with a few home truths. “Gustav, here are a few tips: 1) Next time you take a girl for dinner, attempt a conversation with her. Trying to talk to you is like trying to draw blood out of a stone. 2) It’s RUDE to pull your phone out and start texting and scrolling through messages when you’re having a meal with someone new. 3) If you’re going to gawk at the waitress all night, you’ll need to work on your subtlety skills. He looked (briefly) aghast and stated that he was actually having a very nice evening and was not, in fact, gawking at the waitress, but rather at the very elaborate window. When the bill came I told him that I would usually offer to split it, but on this occasion it was all his. He happily paid the bill, and even suggested going back to his place. Do you think being THAT detached from reality is a kind of a skill?

On the very expensive cab ride back home I resolved to become a nun.

A Different Angle: Ask Why

I’ve been walking past this letter display on the South Bank for weeks, and it was only when I looked at it from a different angle that it made sense.

Following on from the last post, the first main part of the Catalyst programme was a 2 day leadership course run by consultants from a very cool place in Covent garden – think lots of open spaces, free food, beverages and sweeties at every corner!

Problem 1: I arrived in work gear… everyone else (literally every other person) arrived in jeans. Oops, didn’t read the brief properly (an indication of my dedication perhaps?)

Problem 2: Despite the fact that I stuck out like a sore thumb in my work clothes, I was the last person to be chosen to do the introducy-answer-random-questions thing. You know – when you have to stand up, say who you are, what you do etc – each candidate then had to choose who they wanted to speak next. No one chose me. At the end when the dude leading the course (Bruce) asked if anyone still had to speak… I had to raise my hand. I felt like the kid who got chosen last for a team in P.E. So I said that – people laughed good-naturedly, and I wish I could say I felt better but childishly – I still felt a little upset. Inner thoughts going on during the whole introducy thingy were as follows: “Someone please choose me so I can get this public speaking thing over and done with.” “Oh god no one is choosing me!” “This would never happen to Britt! Why don’t people like me?? What’s WRONG with me?” “Oh god everyone else has spoken. I’m going to have to fess up and then I’m going to go the colour of a tomato and I might stutter because I’m in such a state now! I HATE this stupid course!” Bottom line: I spoke and even though I was upset it was fine… I doubt anyone noticed and absolutely no one else besides me would have given it a second thought.

Problem 3: Straight after the introducy thing we had a coffee break and I checked my blackberry to discover an email from Britt to say that they had accepted an offer on their house and could be moving back to S.A. as early as September. I tried to call Britt and congratulate her on the fantastic news but instead I ended up crying. And I made her cry too. Like a big selfish baby. I felt awful for being such an unsupportive sister, so I went into the loo to cry some more. I texted Niamh (best friend in Hong Kong) from the throne to relay my trauma – smart move. The girl is always on hand to talk sense into me. A couple of  Niamh pep-texts later I was dry eyed just in time for the next session. Thank god for good friends. I may not have an army of them, but it’s quality over quantity right?

Problem 4: Before starting the next session we had to write our names on envelopes which were then stuck on the wall – our “cookie jars.” Vomit. The premise was that when we noticed something nice about another person in the group we had to write it on a post-it and stick it in their cookie jar. (Sounds kinda rude). I looked forlornly at the cookie jar wall.  The inner voice was in over-drive: “No one is going to put anything in your cookie jar! It’s a pathetic concept anyway, get over it.” That bloody cookie jar wall caused me much angst.

Eureka moment 1: No one besides me cared about problem 1 or problem 2.

Eureka moment 2: I’m lucky to have problem 3.

Eureka moment 3: I was paired up with Nasty Lady from the previous post (the one who I found loud, crude and attention seeking) for an exercise on coaching. I found out that NL used to have such a fear of having a heart attack that she would often induce the symptoms and collapse in random places. She had to undergo all sorts of therapy to deal with it. Unsurprisingly, I also noticed more than a hint of insecurity underneath that brash exterior. It made me wonder about how quick I was to judge her. I didn’t like what I saw so I branded her a bitch. Sometimes we need to Ask Why more often. Why is that person the way they are? Put yourself in another man’s shoes and all that. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll never be friends with her, but she made me ponder the deeper issues in the world, and how so many wars and conflicts and racial / cultural intolerances stem from ignorance. Just because someone isn’t the way you’d like them to be doesn’t mean that you have them sussed.

Eureka moment 4: We spoke a lot about our inner voices. Sounds like a support session for the mentally disturbed, right? “We see dead people.” But actually it was an example of how something so simple can be massively helpful. To sum it up: Most of us in the group had a negative inner voice that was stronger than the positive inner voice. Think “No one is choosing me for introducy thing therefore no one likes me! I SUCK!” Just being more aware of that eager stream of negativity helped me. I’m trying to start talking back to it now: “Duuuude, I think I’m pretty cool in a lot of ways, and if they happen not to like me, does it really matter?” Try it before you roll your eyes.

Eureka moment 5: We were paired up with different people on an exercise about first impressions. Apparently I initially come across as quite stern and serious. (Moi??) But before too long I’m smiley and friendly and quietly confident. Say whaaaat? Oh – and this one killed me “You’re very articulate and when you speak you’re so poised and you say exactly the right thing without wafflling.” So I’m not a gibbering nervous wreck then? Wow. Best news ever (seriously).

Eureka moment 6: During all the various pair-up exercises I realised that every single person there had strengths and weaknesses and some fairly impressive insecurities. The more I understood about each person, the more tolerant I was of them, and the less quick to judge.

Final eureka: The 2 days ended with everyone being handed their cookie jar envelope and being told to go find a quiet space, read the notes, and reflect on the 2 days. I took my rather light envelope  and headed off – silently cursing overflowing envelopes I had seen earlier. I sighed and took a peek… 7 cookies!! I’m pretty sure my smile wattage would have fueled the building for a day or two. The positive comments were so unexpected, and even though I really do believe that we shouldn’t be trying to gain praise or make sure that everyone likes us, it was a relief to know that I hadn’t come across nearly as badly as I thought I did. I’m grateful for every single one of those encouraging bloody cookies (still working through the angst), but I think the one I’ll cherish and try to live up to the most was the one that commented how honest I was and how great that was for building relationships with people. The relationship building thing is a struggle for me, so as silly as it may sound I loved  that little sentence.

Yup – so I’m not sure I’ll be the next president or anything, but it was very cool (and a little uncomfortable) to make the effort to see things from a different angle.

Kicking a Gift Horse

Last year, a member of the Board at work who was also the Director  of our department, nominated me to participate in a “Catalyst” programme run by our Company. The one-year-long programme aims to develop the inner potential and business acumen of young(ish) men and women who show signs of being future leaders in the business. (I can’t help but guffaw at that sentence). I will always be puzzled by the nomination given that the Director is possibly the most awkward man I have ever met and behaved as though I didn’t exist. It wasn’t personal – he did that to most people. But all the same, he avoided eye contact and never indulged in conversation with me unless it was strictly necessary. I also doubt he had much of a clue about what I did from day-to-day, and he’d walked past plenty of times while I was surfing the net. To be clear – I have very little motivation in my current job. I do what’s necessary but I don’t stretch myself, which is a horrible thing to admit but it’s true. I know without doubt that I could have achieved a lot more in my career if I was actually interested in what I do (I believe that we have to have a certain passion for a job to be really good at it) – but concentrating for longer than 5 seconds on a work issue is a struggle for me. More on the moral dilemma of that another time.

Back to Catalyst. I turned down the nomination last year. I was studying for a very tough set of exams at the time which I used as an excuse, but the main reason was because I hate these sorts of things. I abhor business jargon, cheesy pep talks and “networking”. Some people have an amazing ability to have a corporate face – the professional career-focussed achievers who can talk the talk. I don’t, never have, never will. As a natural introvert who works in a role where I can do almost everything on my own, the thought of spending regular time with 15 other people from the business to “develop our inner potential and business relationships” makes me very uncomfortable. Plus then I would have to speak about my role and pretend I enjoyed it and that it was really IMPORTANT to me. Motivation ZERO. Problem: The Director nominated me again this year.  A few weeks before he retired! WTF? My boss told me in no uncertain terms that turning it down a second time would be like kicking a gift horse in the mouth and would look “very bad”. Not much choice in the matter then.

I was conveniently able to miss the launch because I was on study leave. HR and the Catalyst chosen few all met and introduced themselves, had various motivation lectures, discussed the plan for the rest of the year and so forth. My first meeting with everyone was a group exercise where we discussed the results of an online test that we all had to do – the Myers Briggs personality indicator. My results were INTJ (Introvert, Intuitive, Thinker, Judge) as opposed to the polar opposite: ESFP (Extrovert, Sensor, Feeler, Perceptive). I’m not sure whether or not to be concerned that the person that I immediately liked the most was an ESFP – a lighthearted (and potentially frivolous) Pakistani-American lady who spoke her mind in melodically whimsical tones.

All in all – I can’t say I was comfortable, but it wasn’t a bad first group meeting and no-one seemed particularly awful. Apart from one woman who seemed loud, crude and attention seeking. I wanted to smack her a lot, and hard. Which makes me think of the “inner voice” dynamic that we discussed a lot the next time we all met – which happens to have been at a 2 day leadership seminar at a funky place in Covent Garden on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. It was exhausting, and hard. I was NOT in my comfort zone at all (I even cried) but I got a hellova lot more out of it than I expected to. More of that next time!

Rise of the Cougar

I went out with a friend of mine on Saturday night – let’s call her Abi. The aim was to have a couple of glasses of wine and a catch up natter before heading over to a bar / club to flex the old dancing skills. It started off happily enough at a trendy bar in Battersea, but went downhill shortly afterwards at a nearby pub. Abi was dressed in a gorgeous little dress, and I was a bit more conservative in my jeans and floaty top… on the whole I thought we were looking pretty good! We were soon approached by a group of young men dressed in various shades of pink. Mr Offender was wearing fuchsia hot pants, a purple-ish cowboy hat and a bright pink feather boa. He approached Abi with all the confidence of a freshly inebriated youth, and out of his mouth came the following two words: “Oooh, cougars!” There are no words to describe the abject mortification on Abi’s face. “EXCUSE ME! JUST HOW OLD DO YOU THINK WE ARE???” Mr Offender: “Err… 33 / 34?!” Mr Offender was therefore correct, for both of us are 33. But actually guessing a woman’s age correctly – and on the upper side of it… well that’s grounds for a bar fight isn’t it! I wasn’t nearly as offended as Abi (who is now seriously debating the pros and cons of being seeing in a bar after dark) but I do have to wonder if we have crossed some sort of line into mature ladyhood? It’s alright for Abi – she’s engaged! But jeez louise, I’m as single as they get! I will note 5 things:

* I have recently been asked for my ID twice in as many weeks, buying wine. Just saying..

* Mr Offender and his gang were not exactly babies either – I think they were on a stag?!

* At the following club I was asked for my number by a (cute, tall, owner-of-a-6-pack) 27 year old. Score!

* I am facing up to the sad reality that I dance waaaaay better in my head than reality would seem to indicate.

* My sister is trying to set me up with a 26 year old. Go the Cougars!

Picnicgate

Everyone has been going on and oooonnn about Liborgate for the past few days – and rightly so! A proper scandal. At work I dared to comment that perhaps Bob, while certainly culpable, was being used as a scapegoat – “the unacceptable face of banking” – really? – The English do love to burn a witch. Case in point – Wimbledon is on at the moment. Andy Murray is a British HERO today, but god help him if he loses in the semi-finals tomorrow. Then he will be persona non grata and well and truly Scottish. My (Australian) boss wishes he was English and plays the part well – “Bob was the CEO – he DESERVES it! He’s GUILTY GUILTY GUILTY! Of course he should have resigned!!” Um… angry much? I take issue with the blame game. Things are rarely so cut and dry…

… apart from the case of picnicgate. Cut maybe, but not dry.
I love my brother-in-law. He’s one of my favourite people actually. He’s laid back, funny, smart, a worthy husband to my wonderful sister and a great Dad to my amazing little nieces. But the dude is too English. It’s not his fault – he IS English.

Setting the scene:
I spent most of the past weekend at Mark and Britt’s house, babysitting the two beauties on Saturday evening while their parents had a date night. It was far less traumatic than I envisioned thankfully! Both kiddies played, ate and bathed with no fuss – bath and reading time was fun, and sleep time… was a little more complicated but very entertaining (Aeryn just grinned at me from her cot – even half an hour later when I checked on her – the bubby was grinning from ear to ear. It took epic strength not to giggle and hold her hands while doing a happy dance. Anais! She’s a ridiculously bright four and a half year old and tells the most incredible stories to delay bed time. I’m savvy, but I’m transfixed by her tales. She’s an artist. I think it was I who held up lights-out by listening to the madam and wondering at the beauty of her imagination).

Cue Sunday.
I am woken up by a giggling blonde cherub, and almost immediately a spring-clean ensues to get the house ready for a viewing.  M & B are selling their house as a precursor to moving back to SA (silent anguished scream). I have the lucky task of playing with the kiddies while M & B clean, which mainly involves jumping on the trampoline. Did that all rhyme? So far so good.

Then the great British Summer set in. Our plan was to go for a picnic while the viewings ensued. The problem – the heavens opened as the car pulled up to Virginia Water (a gorgeous rustic woodland area near Windsor, perfect for long walks and picnics alike… when the sky is dry).  Britt – a bona fide child of the sun, curled her lip and pronounced that a visit to Spur (burger type restaurant) was the ideal solution. Anais and I wholeheartedly agreed, Aeryn grinned (I may have made that up) but Mark shook his head. “GIRLS!” He said. “Can’t you see the patches of blue?” “Um… no.” “They’re THERE! It’s a perfect day for a picnic!” Oh really.

Long story short(ish):
After two attempts of walking towards our picnic spot, being rained on and returning to the car, Mark managed to procure a last chance go at the picnic. Not sure how though– I think it might have been the persuasive grin and never ending optimism. So we walked into the woods, and it was beautiful! But wet. Very wet. Nonetheless, we spread our blankets, ate yummy picnic food, shivered a bit, and laughed a lot. It rained. My resourceful niece opened the umbrella to shelter what she could. At one stage a rather large dog bounded over to check out the snacks (my heart rate increased 100%, had my arms hovering over the beauties, glare fully directed at irresponsible dog… while Britt was the picture of control – knowing full well that the pooch didn’t pose a threat to the girls. Hmph – Mothers!). The dog owner came over to apologise, and remarked how odd it was to see people “having a picnic in this weather”. Quite. On the way back to the car, I had a lovely chance to explain to Aeryn that the Gruffalo couldn’t be found because he was having his afternoon nap.

I told Mark that a little bit of my love for him died that day – making us have a picnic in that weather!
But I lied. It was fabulous. Everyone should have a picnic in the rain.


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The Throbbing Eyeball and Process X

I woke up this morning with a throbbing right eyeball. Punching myself in my sleep? Wearing goggles for the first time in eons? Who knows.. But if ever there was a day to test my new resolve of putting issues in perspective, today was it.

My throbbing eyeball and I entered work armed with our skinny cappuccino, braced for what was going to be a hectic day. Once a month I have to spend most of the day running a process at work which I have about as much affection for as Jen has for Ange. Boss: “So – I need you to check on A, B and C for me, it’s pretty important.” Me: “It’s X day.” Boss: “Ohhh. Yes of course, forget what I said. Do you want another cup of coffee?” It is on this day that my team steers well out of my way for fear of incurring The Wrath – which – while directed at the computer screen, could easily re-route to some poor unsuspecting soul. Team junior: “Morning! How was your evening?” Me: “It’s X day.” TJ: “Oooerrr… speak to you this afternoon.”

Today though, I decided to try and be a more reasonable person and swear less at the computer. This worked well for an hour or so, so I tested out behaving amiably and engaging in conversation with Boss and TJ – I even smiled. Risky. It seems both had hidden depths of pent up monologue-type conversation just itching to get out. An hour later process X had fallen over, and I was envisioning duct tape across their mouths while inwardly cursing like a stressed out Tourette’s sufferer. The *%$!$*! process took 2 hours longer than usual today – partly due to *!%$%! system issues and partly due to this conversation malarky. My eyeball throbbed the entire time.

I don’t have a moral to my story – but I THINK on the whole, I swore less at the computer than usual.