I’m Still Alive!

Real life got in the way somewhat over these past few months, but look! Once more, I exist on the internet! Hooray!

Since May, a few things have happened.

  • I graduated with a 2:1 in mathematics; I ‘m now the proud owner of a slightly curry-stained degree certificate.
  • Three days in to my planned week of idleness, I emailed my boss to ask whether I could just start working for her full time now, please? Much to my delight, she not only agreed, but managed to consistently find enough money to pay me each month.
  • Three months after my graduation, I finally moved out of the tiniest flat in the world, and away from Flatmate.

I’ve had all sorts of plans for my evenings since I started working full-time – I flirted briefly with the idea of researching knitting in late Medieval England, for instance, and of course, I never forgot that I technically still have this blog – but mostly I’ve just been… living. My work is now mostly computer based (we’re an internet-based company, and I do an awful lot of admin), which means that I tend to avoid screens like the plague once I get home. But I recently discovered that my eyes have deteriorated again – it shouldn’t be such a surprise; I’m short-sighted and it’s been at least 6 years since I’ve had them tested. If I can get a decent pair of glasses (perhaps even a pair that isn’t all wonky from all the times I’ve wrenched them off my face), I suspect my tolerance for screens might improve. And clearly the internet has missed my ramblings, so I might start off by telling the tale of the house-move.


Customer Service skillz: I has them

Something about me which has slightly bewildered my parents is the seemingly effortless way I manage to find the truly bizarre jobs in life. That time I was a kitchen porter on a boat was quite a good one, but for the last year I’ve been having even more fun working in a lingerie warehouse. Like you do.

Only I could find a job in which having pictures of a scantily clad woman on the walls is actually a requirement. Only I could find a job in which that scantily clad woman is in fact a one-woman talent show: she’s her own photographer, make-up artist and graphic designer. And only I could find a job which exists because a lovely woman one day couldn’t find a decent suspender belt, and decided that she’d bloody well make her own.

Anyway, because I’m a rare beastie that can read, write and count to quite an alarming standard, I’ve been doing a lot of customer service. Mainly, that’s writing emails to people about their returns and exchanges, which is frankly not very interesting, but the other day I had an email that I really, really wanted to help with.

It was from a woman who was short and fat, and despairing of ever finding stockings to fit. I can sympathise. She was only a little shorter and a little fatter than me. And she, like me, has what I affectionately refer to as “thighs of doom”. She called them “thunder thighs”, to be fair, but I knew what she meant. So, in the interests of science, and customer service, I did some things that I’d never expected to do at work.

  1. I measured my waist, my hips, my inner leg and around the top of my thigh using the tape measure that we usually use to work out how much the postage will cost for oddly-shaped packages (an occupational hazard).
  2. I weighed myself.
  3. I went to try on our sample stockings.

This was all decidedly weird. For one thing, because the fashion industry has all but eradicated the use of actual measurements for womens’ clothing, I looked at the tape-measure numbers and they meant nothing. The weighing-scale number, on the other hand… Well, at this point I’m going to go on a detour and explain that, when I was last weighed a month or so ago, the nurse made a point of pointing out that I’d got heavier again. I was right up at the top end of my normal range, 75 kg – or nearly 12 stone if you’re old school, like me. If you’re from the US and use pounds, what I want to know is, why? Why do you use pounds? Who needs to be that accurate?

Anyway, anyway. So I did what I usually do, which is to wait until the nurse has finished before explaining sweetly that I don’t own a set of scales, so I can’t keep an eye on my weight. As long as my trousers fit, or can be tied on, I’m all good.

Between then and now, I’ve been working at the warehouse a lot. Really, a lot. To the extent that my arm muscles have visibly grown, and I now can’t fit into a really nice shirt I own that has tight sleeves. But when I weighed myself that day, I was 69 kg. That’s 10 stone 10, so I’ve lost nearly a stone in weight from somewhere. But where? It’s inexplicable, and I don’t like it. My vote is that the medical scales are evil, and should be punished. I’m pretty sure the warehouse scales are ok, because if they weren’t, we’d owe a lot of people a lot of money in unpaid postage, and you’d think they’d’ve figured it out by now.

And for another thing, it was weird because I wear my mankiest clothes and heaviest boots to work, which is perfectly acceptable when it’s a dusty warehouse. So I had to warn my colleague and friend (nicknamed Baron Von Pickles by me one drunken evening) that I was disrobing, so that he could avoid being surprised by my naked legs. And then I had to hide in the back room, trying on stockings and making notes.

The nice thing is that despite all of the multifaceted weirdness involved, this story has a happy ending. I did find some stockings that are made of awesome, I put my trousers back on, I emailed the customer back and hopefully, everybody will be happy. The moral of this story is that sometimes it’s ok to weigh yourself in the pursuit of knowledge. And also that stockings for fat women exist. Yay!

If Only All Temp Work Could Be Like This

Yesterday and today, I have been working for a library, moving books around.

I get a fifteen-minute break in 3.5 hours, a cheerful and entertaining third-year zoologist to work with, and work that keeps me busy. Although it also covers me in dust. Whoever would have thought that books could be so mucky?!

I’ll be working with the Library and the entertaining zoologist every morning this week and next week, because I was an idiot and didn’t realise that that’s what the advert had said. I had thought that I was only working for one morning, and made plans which I’ve now had to cancel – I was not pleased.

On the other hand, there are any number of sensible reasons to do the work (mainly concerning money, and me having to be up and working every morning, but also being able to do my own thing after 1 in the afternoon every day, which technically gives me no excuse not to do that university work I was trying not to think about) and also a very silly reason, which is that I have never met anybody other than Kirsten with such a talent for turning up dead baby jokes.

For instance, when we were sorting a shelf of books about injuries to children (it’s a hospital library, it does make sense), we found one entitled “the battered baby”. She looked at it for a moment, poker-faced, before turning to me and saying “do you think it’s a serving suggestion?”

If At First…

I expect most of us know the saying: “if at first you don’t suceed, try again”.

Admirable in its way; not so clever if a six year-old girl, attempting to climb her bunk-bed with a scarf (as “rope”), falls, breaks her teeth, but instead of being put off by the experience, tries again in exactly the same way.

However, unhelpful as it was to my six year-old self, I believe it’s now starting to pay off. Not because I’ve now learned how to climb bunk-beds (it turns out that the ladder is the most sensible way after all), although that’s also true, but because for the last month, maybe two, I’ve been jobhunting with more effort than I’ve ever put in before.

Of course, it needs more effort than I’ve ever put in before, because, unlike previous experiences, I’m not flexible – I can’t do full time, I can’t do a single full weekday, I can’t even do most afternoons, because of my lecture timetable.

A couple of weeks ago, I was coming close to despairing of the whole thing, which is the inevitable result of paraphrasing your CV more times than you can wave a stick at, with no results save a blinding headache.

But now, things are looking up. Or at least, more up than they were. I’ve got some temp work tomorrow, and it’s the kind of temp work that can be fairly regular, if you’re lucky. I can at least hope to be working once a fortnight, assuming I don’t do anything wrong tomorrow. I’ve had an interview for a different kind of temp work, which will, if I get it, guarantee me one long day’s work (11 hours, with possibly 4 hours travel time) with the possibility of a few more days over the summer. And seriously, a full day’s work is nothing to sniff at. Not even at minimum wage. It’s more than two week’s worth of food paid for.

Obviously, I need more than I’ve got. Temping, I need to be working at least one shift per week to break even just with food bills. But this is a start. It’s a start that brings me closer to the point of having money than I’ve been in some time. I am feeling hopeful – and long may it continue!

ETA: Haha! I’ve just got another 3.5 hours’ work over the Easter holidays!

Reposting: Creepy Guy, V 2.0

This was another post I originally wrote on my I-Ate-Toast blog, back in the days when I was still working in Big Posh Department Store.  April 2007, to be precise, so nearly two years ago now. It doesn’t seem any less creepy now. So to all men looking for a relationship, I say this: don’t do what this guy did.

You know what’s creepy about this?
Aside from the fact that it’s at work.
And totally unwanted attention.
And he’s 14 years older than me.
And I don’t really know him.
And I don’t really like him.
And he’s slow and stupid and irritating.
And I know he’s being overly friendly to other women in the food halls as well.

The really, really creepy thing is, he’s my manager.

There are so many levels of wrongness there I’m not sure I know where to start. But hey, I’ll try!

So he joined a few weeks ago, maybe just over a month. I’m not quite sure about time anymore, it all tends to blur into one long day in the end. And, you know, we thought, ok, give him the benefit of the doubt, give him time to make his mistakes and all the rest of it, just be nice.
Rachel. Don’t be so sarcastic! Jackie. Stop being so damn northern and brusque! Fulvio. For God’s sake stop muttering Italian profanities! And stop saying what you want to do to that woman on the other side of the counter. The last one understood you perfectly and you’re lucky she laughed at you instead of complaining to your manager!
Anyway, you get the idea. Because it’s pretty bloody obvious if someone’s slow and irritating, even if you are going to give them a bit of time to settle in. But I tried. Honestly I did, I didn’t take the piss or try to take advantage of the fact he didn’t know what he was doing, because that isn’t fair and tends to make managers resent you once they’ve worked out what you’re doing. Despite the fact that he never even introduced himself to me. Something I really hate.

Even from day one, he spent more time talking to the women than the men.
Fair enough, we thought, maybe he feels less threatened by the women. (This isn’t necessarily a sexist thing, we had a female manager who seemed to feel threatened by anybody over 5’6″!)
Or maybe he just prefers the company of women, like I prefer the company of men. Who knows?
But it’s carried on. And really, if you’re a manager, you need to speak to everyone, even if it’s just a little bit. But I’m sure he doesn’t speak to some of the men at all.

More to the point, he is always talking to the women. And not even just the ones that he manages, but others too, women that just happen to be in the office, like the one from Tea&Coffee who’s always in and out. And not just chatting, either. Asking people to have lunch with him, have their breaks with him…. stuff. Thing is, you can’t really get him for that, but it’s just not the done thing. If you’ve worked with those people, fair enough. If you happen to be passing, fair enough. But you don’t make an arrangement. It just doesn’t work. And it isn’t quite right.
He tried that with me. Bloody idiot.
Him — “Will you take your lunch with me?”
Me (impatiently) — “Are you on your lunch now?” [I was about to take my lunch break at the time and wanted to get away from the counter before anybody tried to get me to serve them]
Him (slowly) — “… No.”
Me (incredulous at such stupidity) — “Then no. I’m going now.” (To the counter monkeys in general) “I’ll be back in an hour” (under my breath) *incoherent grumbles*

But like I say, irritating though it is, you can’t really say anything about that.

On the other hand…….

5:30ish pm. The counter is quiet. Vince (fellow counter monkey) and I are standing talking and trying to look like we’re discussing work.
Manager walks over.
Him — “Rachel.”
Me — “Yes.”
Him — “So, we’re going to see a movie tonight.”
Me — “No. I’m going home. To bed. To sleep.”

There followed a few comments about the lateness of the hour, the lateness of the shift, the time a “movie” would most likely finish… all from him. I stayed mostly silent and can’t remember it word for word. I must have reiterated the fact that I was going to go home and sleep, because the next comment I remember was

Him (to Vince) — “Ah, she’d prefer her bed to my company”
Me (very, very sarcastically) — “Hmmm, my bed, you…. tough call….” (flatly, cruelly and accurately) “Bed wins”
Vince (to me, teasing, half-joking) — “you could at least say “no, not tonight”… or “no, I’ve made plans”… it might be nicer”
Me (mainly to Vince, unconcernedly) — “yes, but it would be less accurate… excuse me…”

At this point, probably luckily for me, I was able to walk away and serve a customer.
After serving her, I found that I was still so angry about the incident, small as it might seem, that I wasn’t in a fit state to serve anybody. Cue me walking off the counter to the till. Explaining to Fulvio that the manager has made me so angry I really need to just sit quietly, and would he mind serving. Of course not, because he gets very very bored on the tills, and thinks that I am doing him a favour.
So I sit, and I scan food and I pack it into carrier bags and I give people their change and I translate into tourist French or Spanish or American (yes, some Americans need things translating… like “lift”) and in the lull where I’m not serving anyone, I work out that the main reasons that I’m upset are:

He is my manager. What a bloody cliche, apart from anything else. At least I’m not a secretary, I suppose. There are many other reasons why that’s bad, but I think they’re fairly obvious.
He did it in front of Vince. To be honest, I found that embarrassing. And I felt that I couldn’t challenge him on it. Because (aren’t I nice?!) I reckon if you’re going to say something that could make somebody feel awkward, you ought to do it in a way that means they don’t have to display that awkwardness to other people.

Of course, the other thing is, I like to keep my professional life and my private life separate. That’s why my private life is, well, private! And because of the way he made me feel, all I wanted was to hide in J’s shoulder and wait for the world to disappear. And I was at work. And so I felt terrible, because I couldn’t.

Anyway, after an hour and a half on tills, I was back on the counter and feeling slightly less homicidal. Slightly. Enough so that when I was next able to speak to my manager alone, after some work-related exchange of information – who would be closing which counter and so on….

Me — “…… And…. Please don’t do that again.”
Him (confused) — “Talk to you about the pies?”
Me — “No. Don’t ask me out again.”
Him — “…….”
Me — “It made me very uncomfortable. Especially in front of Vince. Don’t do it.”
Him — “It was only a joke…. that’s why it was in front of Vince…”
Me — “Well I didn’t like it. Even if it was a joke.”
Him (as though lecturing me!) — “Yes. You do need to be careful because sometimes what you think of as a joke other people don’t take it that way….”
Me (interrupting) — “Right. And I didn’t like it. And I’m telling you now so that it doesn’t happen again. I don’t want this to be a problem.”
Him — “…. ok…..”
Me. “Good. Thank you.”

And I ended the conversation again, by walking off and serving.

But I’m still uncomfortable. The thing is, if it was only me, as a one off, I’d have left it there, no question. Because you’d have to be really, really stupid to try that with me more than once. Especially after the reactions I gave. Which weren’t exactly kind or polite.
But because there may be other women, nicer than me, who he does it to, I’m still worried. ‘Tis difficult. I only wanted to do my job. Grrrrrrr.

Reposting: This Might Be Why Your Server Didn’t Smile

Reposted from my now-deleted blog, because I think it does us all good to remember what a shitty, shitty life can be yours if you work in retail…

I woke up at 6.30AM, travelled for over an hour and a half, briefly saw the sun as I got a hurried breakfast of two chocolate croissants, got into work at 9.45, ready to start at 10, worked, had an hour for my lunch at 12.20 (roasted vegetable and feta baguette, salt and vinegar crisps and a cup of tea), worked some more, bought another two chocolate croissants and tea at 3.20 for my tea break, worked some more, had the remains of them and yet another cup of tea at 6.30 for my second tea break, and finished my working day at 9.10PM.
By the time I got out of the shop it was 9.30, at which point I had been awake for a full fifteen hours and was faint from hunger. I got home at 11.15, as the tubes decided not to run. I fell asleep on the bus, missed my stop, and could barely move because my legs, having ached solidly since between tea breaks, had decided to seize up. In a long summers’ day, I have seen the sun for all of about half an hour. And I’ve now been awake for 20 hours. Because Big Posh Department Store has fucked with my body clock.

In fact, the only real good thing about my day today was resigning.

Revision, and a Story

Yesterday, I finished writing up the Killer Module of Doom. This is a good thing because out of the 5 chapters, 3 made me want to cry, one was painfully boring and the last one (perhaps to give me some courage) turned out to be work that I did three years ago when I was taking Further Maths A-Level. Anyway, it’s done now, and before I start doing other things – I have many, many other write-ups to do, plus problems sheets – I thought I’d share a post I found via Diary of A Freak Magnet.

There’s a woman who writes a blog callled Snark Scribe, who has possibly the most bizarre, drama-filled life of anybody I’ve read about. And she retold a story of her cousin, who works in customer services.

A customer asked, “How much is that wine?”

When my cousin gave him the price, he said, “What? That’s too much.”

She said, “There’s a cheaper kind over there.”

The customer decided to take that as a personal insult. “Are you calling me cheap? You don’t think I can afford this wine or something?”

When she didn’t correct him, he yelled, “Look at you! You must be some kind of uneducated person to work such a degrading job!”

My cousin retorted, “Look at you! You look like you have venereal disease!”

This reminds me of life working for a Posh Department Store. But perhaps it shows the differences between English and American English.

We had a till that was positioned in front of a glass cabinet full of Champagne. One day, as I was serving, a customer came up to me and said, “now, be honest with me. Which do you think is better, the £20 bottle or the £30 bottle?”

“Madam,” I said, bemused, “to be honest with you, I work at [Posh Department Store]. I can’t afford to shop at [Posh Department Store], and I don’t buy Champagne, so I’m afraid I can’t give you an opinion.”

For some reason, she took this as an insult, and spent the next ten minutes harranguing first me, and then my supervisor.

The moral of this story is that customers are peculiar, no matter which country they’re in. And also, honesty really doesn’t pay. I should’ve just told her the cheaper bottle was better, and then we’d both have been happy.

Interview Fun

I went for a “christmas casual recruitment event” – better known as a group interview – today, with the Post Office. And it was all cool and groovy – I didn’t get observably lost, and I was finished in under an hour.

What struck me, though, was the way that other people seemed to have treated the interview.

Call me old-fashioned, but when I go to an interview, I wear something roughly approximating to a suit. Meaning clean black shoes (not my beloved steel-toed kitchen boots!), black trousers and some kind of shirt. It’s usually not a white shirt because I don’t like wearing clothes with the potential to go see-through in the rain. But it will have a collar, and I will look smart. I even – and this is shocking, for me – change my bag, so that instead of my battered, cord, everyday bag that’s covered in badges, I actually have one that’s neat. Boring, but neat.

Anyway, so that was me today, all dolled up. Most of the rest? Um, not so much.

There were probably 30-odd people. I could count on one hand the number of people wearing suit-like outfits. Which by my reckoning is less than 20%. And the others were actually quite shocking.

Scruffy trainers, ripped jeans, t-shirts… things that I’d wear to sword-fight in, not present myself as a prospective employee! And a couple of poor unfortunates who smelt. Not in an I’ve-covered-myself-in-aftershave smell either, this was an all out I’ve-been-for-a-strenuous-workout-for-three-days-solid-and-haven’t-washed-in-that-time kind of a smell.

Thinking about it, there weren’t very many women in the room. Not to be interviewed, anyway. The post office staff were a fairly even split. I don’t know whether that would have made a difference to the overall smartness of the group, but I can speculate.

The thing is, we don’t live in a vacuum. I honestly couldn’t tell you whether I always wear an almost-suit because I’m a woman, or because I’ve been taught that it’s the “done thing”, or because I have a need to make a good impression, or because I treat every interview seriously, or (more likely) a combination of those things.

Which means that I can’t tell whether the (mainly men) that dressed down did so because they were men, or because they weren’t taught that it’s the “done thing”, or because they don’t feel the need to make a good impression, or because they didn’t treat the interview seriously. Or some other reasons that I haven’t thought of. Most of us, men and women, were students. Perhaps, then, a fair amount of the people there had not seriously looked for work before, and simply weren’t aware of the conventions. Perhaps they’d been at uni and had forgotten, or couldn’t be bothered, to change their outfits.

I don’t even know if it makes a difference, my almost-suit. It could be that the post office interviewers were sitting there wondering why on earth I’d dressed so smartly. It could have been me who was dressing inappropriately.

But I have a feeling that I did the right thing. I also have a feeling that if there had been more women there, it’s likely that they would have also dressed smartly. I might be wrong, of course. But when you live your life being used to people looking at you, and judging you, for your appearance, and when you know it really does make a real difference to your career, I think you’re more likely to err on the side of caution. And I think that this mindset is a disproportionately feminine mindset.


To help the unitiated on their merry way, go and read The Beauty Myth. Either that, or go and read what Kirsten had to say about it, or the quote up now at Hell On Hairy Legs. And watch this, which seems to be the only real clip still left of the video that Kirsten watched:

On Joining the Massed Ranks of the Unemployed

Today is my second day of freedom (I’m not counting the weekend, which is a freedom of another kind). The second day in a row that I haven’t had to set my alarm, drag myself out of bed in the wee pre-dawn hours and sleep on the bus on the way to work.

It is also the fourth day in a row that I have woken up spontaneously and, it would appear, of my own free will, in the wee pre-dawn hours. Frustratingly enough, I’m waking earlier now that I don’t have to get to work than I ever did when I was working.

On the other hand, things have happened, and the morning has only just finished, so maybe it’s no bad thing. In all my other holidays, I haven’t even seen the morning.

My colleagues were very lovely when I left, and gave me a rather tasteful card – no baby pink or bunnies or stupid teddies anywhere in sight, just bright red, purple and silver. And balloons. Which was nice.

Of course, some people can’t resist having the last laugh, and when I eventually got around to reading the whole thing, I found this little gem:
“Rachel! All be best for the future. Remember what I said: Jesus is the way! Love & God bless…”

I forgive him, of course, because he meant well.
And because, funnily enough, Christians don’t hold the monopoly on turning the other cheek.

But I have to say, I did find it frustrating.

Not once, not even a little bit, did I suggest that he would be better off without his religion. Not at all, not ever. Oh, we had discussions on religion from time to time, but I was very careful not to cause offence. Besides, it’s always better to err on the side of caution – just because I don’t think that God exists doesn’t mean that God feels the same way, after all!

But seriously – theres this certain breed of person that truly and charitably believes that it’s their duty to bring me to the light.
Personally, I like the dark side


But silliness aside, I find it insulting when people of one faith try to persuade people of another to change. My worship, or lack of, is no business of anybody but me and whichever deity I choose to involve. And if it turns out that Jesus was behind the sofa the whole time, no doubt I shall apologise. In the meantime, I wish to be left to my rather unsociable position of disbelief, and I will leave anybody who wants a weekly party to their religion. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of tolerance!

*I can’t make the picture larger; the slogan reads “come to the dark side, we have cookies!”

Look – A Stereotype!!!

Sometimes I start doubting myself. Not often, because as we all know, I am a genius and entirely modest with it, but sometimes, when I haven’t had enough tea, or food, or outlets for my prattling mind.
Sometimes I start to wonder whether I’m right, believing what I do. Whether my particular brand of voluble feminism is accurate. Whether I’m just being a bit paranoid, after all.

And then I get conversations in which the following conclusions are reached by my all-seeing, all-knowing colleagues:

I hate men. Because I am no longer pleasant to Creepy Guys. Duh.
Therefore, I am frigid, and incapable of passion.
And they’re not quite sure why my boyfriend would want to be with me, due to the aforementioned hating of Teh Sex.
Because he is a man, and that is all he wants. (Sorry, J)
And I am frustrated, sexually, because even though I think I don’t want sex, I do really, and this spills over into my entire mindset.
Which is why I do things like point at the head of the bank of England when he’s interviewed on the news and say “I want his job!”
Therefore, feminism is evil.
And it wants to take over the world.*

I remember this when the “hahaha you’re craaaaazy” thoughts rear their ugly heads. And this teaches me that I will fucking well be paranoid if I want to be, because I’m quite often right. And modest, too.

Also, on a related note, whilst having a slightly bemused conversation with a couple of other women about the pros and cons of letting relative strangers rip your eyebrows out, one hair at a time, and debating whether letting a relative stranger near your eyebrows with a razor blade is any better (it isnt; apparently, you bleed if they do it wrong**)…. well, I had to add to the debate in my own special way.
“Oh, but my way’s so much easier – I just run around, free and hairy!”

And I refused to feel ashamed when the head chef made it clear he’d heard every word.
Well, fuck you, funny man***, because I don’t think you would have let us know you’d been evesdropping if we’d stuck to knowing our feminine places in the world. Obviously, looking like a child to gain points in the fuckable category is our calling.

But that is a post for a different time, because it’s just a whole different breed of sick, twisted and wrong.

Happy, happy, happy – that’s your resident genius’s state of mind!

*This line is the only one that has been exaggerated
**A shocker brought to you by the University of the Bleeding Obvious
***My thanks to Dan for this expletive, which amuses me greatly