Archive for the ‘Curious incidents’ Category

Truancy   Leave a comment

Today I ran away from work.

I am a middle-aged professional in a responsible job. I have my own office. I have people who work for me. I am extremely conscientious, arriving early and finishing late. I sometimes work weekends. I just don’t do slacking.

Then today, I was walking down Oxford Street on the way to a meeting in West London and I just got on the wrong tube and went to my favourite park. I skived off, committed truancy, mitched.

I switched off my mobile and listened to the daft conversations around me. People talking about how good the sausages were (they are!), drinking flasks of tea to keep themselves warm, talking about their dogs, gossiping about their absent friends.

It was a completely unconscious thing to do.

I experienced a brief moment of delight before the self-analysis about why I did it and guilt for the work not done kicked in. Damn my background/culture/heritage! I am still analysing myself about it now!

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Being foreign   Leave a comment

My friend is a rich girl from a nice town in the stockbroker belt just outside London. She is intelligent, pretty and has a professional job.

My friend is British and really loves her country. But (unlike me, a complete foreigner) she is second-generation and carries with her, the cultural and historical associations of her family. Most of the time she does this with pride, but sometimes, just sometimes it becomes a little much!*

She has just given birth to her first child. The baby was slightly premature. Her husband and mother were with her at hospital.

I asked her how it went. ‘Terrible’ she said. ‘But it was not the birth, it was the shame! I was lying there with my legs spread, telling my idiot husband to hold my hand, and then my mother suddenly started praying up against the wall, salaaming loudly, going through all the motions and wailing.  All the doctors and nurses in the West London hospital really tried to maintain a blank facade, frantically pretending that she was not there and the wailing was not happening, but were still trying to peek whilst pretending not to. They were having to manoeuver around her physically in order to do their job. I kept trying to tell her to stop but she wouldn’t. I nearly died of shame. It took all my attention away from the pain. She would not stop all the way through the birth! I was pushing hard just to make her stop.”

(*Zadie Smith in  White Teeth – explains the dilemma well)

Call centre blues   1 comment

Today I tried to get some help from an online helpdesk. I could not find the customer service link on the website. There was a weird avatar called Lucy with a notice saying ‘Ask Lucy’. So I put my question to Lucy. Lucy the avatar leered at me from the screen and raised an animated eyebrow. Then she replied. “I can only understand one sentence at a time. Please write your problem in one sentence.”  I won’t repeat my not very kind reply here. The avatar leered at me again. (I’m sure she stuck her tongue out!) Then she replied saying, “Perhaps next time, I will know the answer.” I asked for customer services. Lucy made some more nasty faces and a link for customer services appeared. This is what happened next:

Welcome to PHONE COMPANY. Someone will be with you soon.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

We’re really busy right now. Thanks for waiting.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

We’re really busy right now. Thanks for waiting.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

We’re really busy right now. Thanks for waiting.

During the above time: Got up, had shower, brushed teeth, got dressed, made bed, tidied room, took out trash while pressing enter passing computer.

You’re through to Mary.

Mshambainlondon: I received a text on 20/07/12 stating that I would be able to access £10 to spend in PHONE COMPANY stores to compensate for network disruption after 01/09 via Special Moments. I’ve tried to access this but can’t. Why?

Mary: Hi I’m Mary. How can I help?

Mshambainlondon: Hi Mary, My question is above. (Thinking Duh!)

Long, long silence – prepared breakfast.

Mshambainlondon: Hello?

Mary: Yes this discount will come off once your bill is generated on September.

Mary: And by then this will be active on your special account as well.

Mshambainlondon: I have a pay as you go phone. Not bill.

Mary: Okay.

Mary: Please stay connected while I transfer the chat to the concern team

Mshambainlondon: So I am now in my Special Account and trying to access the £10 but getting a message to say “Close Sorry, there appears to be a problem. Ooops, there’s a problem redeeming that offer. Please try again later.” (Honestly the message really did say Ooops!)

We’re putting you through to the right person, won’t be long.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

(During the above: Ate breakfast, did the washing up, cleaned the kitchen, put on a load of laundry)

You’re through to Tony.

Tony: Hi I’m Tony. How can I help?

Mshambainlondon: Hi Tony, I received a text on 20/07/12 stating that I would be able to access £10 to spend in PHONE COMPANY stores to compensate for network disruption after 01/09 via Special Moments. I’ve tried to access this but can’t. Message says: Sorry, there appears to be a problem. Ooops, there’s a problem redeeming that offer. Please try again later. Why? I am pay as you go customer so this will not be connected to a bill.

Tony: I’m sorry for the trouble you’re facing while redeeming the coupon on special moments.

Mshambainlondon: Thanks for your concern. But I really just need to know how to solve the problem. Can you fix this for me please? (Thinks: Honestly!)

Tony: Let me check this for you.

Mshambainlondon: Great.

Tony: Thanks for waiting.

Tony: Have you downloaded the voucher?

Mshambainlondon: Sorry – no -when I try to download I am getting the Ooops message I told you about. Should I try again now? (Thinks: Duh! Why do you think I am here?)

Tony: Please try to download the voucher again.

(Try to download)

Tony: Are you able to download now?

Mshambainlondon: No. Still getting this message

Tony: It seems that there’s some issue with the website at the moment. I’ve forwarded the report to the support team so that it can be investigated. Please try downloading the voucher after sometime and you’ll be able to do it.

Tony: I’m sorry for the inconvenience caused.

Mshambainlondon: OK. I will try again later. Thanks for trying. I will get back to you guys later if the problem continues. (Thinks: Oh Jesus!)

Tony: I appreciate your co-operation with this matter.

Tony: Is there anything else I can help you with?

Mshambainlondon: No Tony. Have a good one! (Thinks: Oh well, he is probably some hung over guy in a horrible call centre type place, and anyway I’ve lost the will to live)

Tony: It was great chatting with you.(Thinks: Oh god, poor guy, they probably make him say this on a script somewhere!)

Tony: Have a great weekend. Bye and take care.

Mshambainlondon: U2 (Oh well, what can you do? Think about karma)

Things that made me smile today   1 comment

Morning: A skinny and very tanned woman jogger in the park with a beautiful big shaggy dog. She looks very focussed, a power woman. They pass me by. The dog strains away from her and towards me. He looks me straight in the eye. I have never believed in ESP or anything like that, but this dog’s big eyes were screaming, “Help me!, Make this awful woman stop!” Doggie, this is for you! Owner, consider the doggie stroller.

Evening: A little old lady at the bus stop. Dressed as an Olympics Ambassador. The Olympics finished yesterday. She is like a lost soul standing alone, passers-by giving her curious glances. Maybe she enjoyed the Olympics so much, she got up this morning and thought she’d wear the uniform again, just for fun.

Court   Leave a comment

I am sitting outside the court. A thin barrister totters towards me. Wig askew. Three large bundles in pink ribbons in her arms. She stumbles on her high-heeled shoes. We make eye contact and I give her a sympathetic look. She dumps the bundles on the low wall beside me, pulls out a packet of cigarettes and a lighter from the depths of her black robe and lights up and lets out a big sigh. ‘Need my fix before the day begins!’ she says.

Around us are the bad, mad and sad. A middle-aged woman, overweight, dyed black hair with a haircut that is too young for her, and clothes that are too tight, stands with two young lads. The older boy has both ears pierced with ear plugs. His lobes will be permanently destroyed. He has a tattoo on his neck, a spider web. Incongruously he wears a suit, nervously, pulling at the tie. The younger is maybe 14 or 15 years old, with just one earring, slim and worried looking. The middle-aged woman hands them both cigarettes and they all light up. She is their mother.

A bit further away an older barrister sprawls on a metal bench. Her wig is disintegrating, just held together with a few fibres. She has a massive thatch of hair. Large clumps of her hair are sprouting through the tattered wig. She is oblivious, probably would not care in any event.

Large fat barrels of men with signet rings, accompanied by minions carrying Archbold and bundles begin to arrive. These people’s wigs are not askew. They stride through the dregs of humanity, not deviating in their trajectory. The mad, bad and sad jump out of their way. They peer through the doors of consulting rooms inside, attempting to intimidate those inside and get them out (that is if the minions have not already been sent early to stake out a room).

Inside, a massive Albanian family with several pretty young women in Primark fashion surround a dubious looking man with a heavy gold neck chain. They and their numerous screaming and crying children take up a large number of the few seats in the waiting area.

A man talks on his mobile about how his medication is running out, saying he is very nervous and that he needs his medication now.

Two young girls walk past. One looks too young to be here, maybe 14 years old. She wears tight clothes, has a massive hairdo and false eyelashes. She is walking with attitude. The eyes of waiting men follow her. Her friend is the opposite, a massive cardigan on a hot day, hanging off her shoulders, exhausted and scared looking. They find a place at the end of the corridor. Out comes a mobile phone and they begin to play music on it. A harried clerk tells them to switch it off. When the clerk is out of earshot, they switch it on again.

There are huddles of people everywhere with palpable tension in the air as the start time approaches. Every so often there is a break in one of the huddles, and a dash to the toilet. Fear is physical. Last minute instructions are taken and the clerks begin to call the cases.

We process these people through a system that is the only one we have, questionable in its effectiveness.

We emerge into the sunlight after warnings are given and plans for future activity made. More cigarettes. Relief. Sunshine.

Afterwards, because it is Friday,  I get on the train and go to the sea where it is green and quiet.

Posted July 28, 2012 by mshambainlondon in Curious incidents, Random, Summer in London

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Surprise   Leave a comment

Weather today was my favourite. Huge deluge of straight-down rain, massive drops, black almost thunderous clouds, flash floods, people running for shelter, then five minutes later a tiny patch of blue in the sky begins to spread and its raining through sunshine. The clouds disappear and it is scorching with steam rising from the vegetation making London very jungle-like. Half an hour later angry clouds and huge drops start it all over again.

It is on such a day that I resumed the Capital Ring, (after a few forays to North and South Downs when  the thought of wandering the streets of East London did not appeal).  But once again, my preconceived notions were shattered. When am I going to learn eh?

Highgate to Finsbury Park (Parkland Walk)  along a disused railway track, a long strip of mini-parkland through urban London, the trees blocking out everything. Mad graffiti. I am an old person and, other than clever stuff like Banksy, I have never had much time for it. But this was beautiful. The colours were vivid and the artwork was really stunning. I found myself gawping and turning my head sideways under the bridges and along the arches to appreciate it. I even saw a young guy working on a new piece, totally absorbed with what he was doing.

Then through Finsbury Park and onto the New River, which is neither new nor a river. An old canal dating from the early 1600s created to bring water from Hertfordshire to London, amazingly designed and still working today. Surprised at the two massive reservoirs full of wildlife (especially my favourite, mad, bad-tempered, noisy coots and their very vocal young), just at the back of Seven Sisters Road, places I never knew existed.

An area of Woodberry Down Estate that appears to be undergoing renewal had a very big and  fancy fountain with a waterfall feature and a huge silver globe.  I am happy to say a large chunk of the children of Woodberry Downs were crawling all over and in the water feature, having a whale of a time. It was like a scene from Little Rascals.

In Clissold Park there was Kurdish music festival. People of all shapes and sizes were there. Young beautiful people with flags, baggy trousers and Yasser Arafat scarves. Middle aged couples, she in her good shoes and black skirt, he with his moustache and black leather jacket, gaggles of teenage girls, young couples. Beautiful, sad, haunting music in the air. Then a massive downpour. The music stopped. I took shelter on the veranda of Clissold House and drank coffee and watched people trying hide from the rain under trees.  The small patch of blue sky got bigger, people emerged from the trees and drifted back to the festival in the late evening sunshine. Children were dancing on the pathway as the music started again. They twirled their umbrellas as they danced.

Then Abney Park cemetery. Sunlight was streaming through the trees and steam was rising from the undergrowth in the rays of sunlight.  The mucky pathways were lined with monuments to the dead, some toppling precariously, others eaten away by pollution and age.

In the middle of the cemetery I could hear haunting choral music. I assumed the old chapel must have been repaired and was being used by a choir. I struggled and slid down through the muck and puddles towards the old chapel.  There, hidden behind a van, were a group of new-age hippies, holding a dance event. They had erected some plastic awnings to keep out the rain, and a girl was performing, twisting and turning on the ground, surrounded by people in dreads and piercings. It was so bizarre, unexpected, stunning, unusual in the middle of an old cemetery. But strangely lovely. I stood and gawped again. (Did a lot of gawping today). Then trotted on with a big smile on my face to the main exit and Stoke Newington.

London, in one day, crazy weather, coots, a graffiti artist at work, a Kurdish music festival and a new-age dance event in a cemetery.

Little old lady 2   Leave a comment

  At the swimming pool today there was a little old lady. Very respectable looking. Very neat. Buttoned up cardigan.  Skirt past her knees.  Vaguely Spanish or Italian, or at least carrying that aura. She was there with her grandchildren. Sitting at the side of a West London council pool, very primly watching over them. Over her shoes were blue plastic shoe covers for hygiene. But what was truly beautiful was that she was wearing shoes with tassels and had deliberately pulled out the tassels from the covers and neatly arranged them fanned out on top of the blue plastic. I hope I am like that when I get old.