Monthly Archives: September 2012

Goodbye, Summer

This week I learnt that summer is over. I learnt this when about four thousand gallons of water spewed out of the sky and onto my head. I believe this was a personal attack by the rain gods as, looking at the satellite projections across three days, I could see that there was a band of rain swivelling on an axis which seemed to be just off junction 23 of the M6. Which is where I live now.

Summer started in similarly damp conditions, the weather forecasters reassuring us that this was just because the gulf stream had gone off kilter and it would be back to normal by the end of August.

My summer started with me deciding not to give a toss about the Euros, because I’ve gotten a bit old for it really. It turned out to be the biggest sporting disappointment of the summer. I can’t remember where it was, how far we got in the competition or if I cared when we went out. I expect I saw it as something of an inevitability.

I then became briefly and uncontrollably bored, which, looking back, I’m not sure how I managed. I crocheted a mouse for my cat, which was probably as convincing to him as it would be if I crocheted you a bacon sandwich. I also discovered a pattern for that adorable orange thing off the EDF adverts, which I will eventually get around to making. My projects for the Autumn include building a nativity scene in time for Christmas, finishing my flat and crocheting some Canimals. If you don’t know what Canimals are, my word. You definitely need to find out. A random person retweeted my outburst on Canimals the other day. They are incredible.

Feeding off my boredom, I then came up with some excellent ideas. Remarkably, I have not yet had a phonecall from Theo Paphitis, but I expect it is only a matter of time.

In July, I found myself, as I do, in Paddington station waiting for a train. I do this a lot, because trains from Paddington station are so expensive before half six at night that I will happily wait for four hours just to get a cheaper ticket. I was scribbling away in my Filofax about me being about to head off to the Olympics but not being able to publish anything on social media when I met a writer who I follow on Twitter and is helpful. This taught me that loitering in train stations is an excellent networking opportunity.

I then spent many nights in a tent in Walthamstow, because of some communtiy sports event called the Olympic Games. I had a brilliant time, and eventually I will publish my scrapbook, when I find it. Whilst I was there, however, I had absolutely no idea what was going on at the actual Olympics, because I had no internet, and so, as this is 2012, I may as well have been sealed in a lead-lined container. I whinged a bit.

In mid-August, in a fit of fury, I left Blogger after it deleted a very long and emotional blog about a lifethreatening injury sustained by my dad in May. I’m still not sure about WordPress but the scheduling has been a tremendous help.

I hoped to spend my first blog post on WordPress casually explaining myself, but instead was knocked out of my stride by the appearance of Prince Harry’s bum on the internet. No, I’ve not seen it, and no, I don’t want to.

In September, I talked about my new job as ambassador, and how I feared that I may not be able to deal with the sheer number of Ferrero Rocher parties I will be expected to host. Of course, this will not be a problem. There is no end to the number of Ferrero Rocher parties I could host- the limiting factor would be the number of parties people are willing to go to whose central theme is a stonking great pile of Ferrero Rocher.

I also spent time at the BBC’s Focus magazine, and wrote lots of articles for them. I even managed to work in my second favourite animals, crows. Unfortunately, the conspicuous lack of any evidence for unicorns makes scientific research on the subject hard to come by, so no, didn’t write anything about my favourite animals. I did, however, blog about the joys of commuting¬†and finished off the summer by interviewing myself about what work experience was like.

Summer is over. I might have time for things now. Ha!

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Work Experience

Obviously, I can’t say anything about the top-secret magic that goes on at any of the places I went to on work experience this year. What I can do, however, is interview myself about how it went. So, a guide to journalism work experience, from someone who’s done it.

So, Sacha, was it everything you ever hoped and dreamed and more?

It’s work. The clue is in the name. This isn’t like work experience when you’re fourteen, it’s proper. You’re a proper adult doing a proper adult’s work. It’s just like office work to be honest, a lot of sitting in front of a computer, fiddling with bits of paper and having meetings.

If it’s just like work, does that mean you listened to Test Match Special the whole time?

No, that level of indifference can only arise when you have the safety of being paid. It didn’t help that we didn’t have cubicles, which I think bosses are now cottoning on to. If nobody can see you, nobody can stop you. TMS wasn’t even on- also, why does the internet need to know I spend every working day in summer plugged into Test Match Special? It hardly boosts my professional image.

Sorry. Perhaps you’d like to redeem yourself by explaining why Test Match Special is necessary to foster an excellent working mentality?

Of course. TMS is, first and foremost, a radio broadcast, and therefore be widely ignored. However, when the brain begins to stagnate from overwork, it is soothed by the lazy cake-and-cricket centric show until ready to begin operating at full capacity. I would strongly suggest that PhD students take on this idea as their thesis. I will give you a tenner in exchange for an acknowledgement.

How is this any use to anyone thinking about work experience?

If it allows them to listen to TMS with the backing of the scientific community, I’m sure it would make work experience candidates’ lives a lot easier.

Why was it hard?

The commute is awkward, which you might have guessed from last week’s blog. That puts you off balance for the rest of the day. Also, though, you’re very conscious about being the only person there who doesn’t know the ropes. They’ll assume you know things too, such as finding out who owns a photograph. This is a pitfall- everyone owns their photographs, and you have to ask nicely to use them.

Did you enjoy it, though?

Of course I did. When I first spoke to someone about doing work experience, he had a word of warning for me. It wasn’t going to be like I expected. I’m not delusional, though. I knew I was going to have to rise to it, and I’m glad I did. Seeing my name next to a published article, even just on the web, was amazing. Very much looking forward to seeing it in print.

Did you learn anything?

Plenty. Ask for things to do- they’re not used to having you. Receive praise humbly, but note it and be glad of it. Also, I write like somebody who doesn’t want to be read, with a touch of verbomania which is both alienating and insulting. Sorry, but that’s not likely to change too soon. I will try, though.

What was the hardest thing?

Being edited. There were some words inserted, some stylistic tweaks that were made that I wouldn’t have done in a million years. I’m disinclined to accept they were right, because when I wrote it, I wrote, to my mind, the best I could. When someone makes a change that I think detracts from it, of course I’m not going to like it. Still, you have to move on from it. It’s a difference of opinion, but not one that matters. If the editor makes the same type of stylistic changes on all articles, that’s what the audience are going to be used to and what they’re going to like.

So you’ll get your blog edited again?

Fat chance. Here, I’m judge, jury and executioner.

What would you do differently next time?

Try and be a bit more confident. It helps to speak up and remind them you’re still there.

How to commute

Going anywhere at rush hour is a painful experience for anyone not accustomed to the practised dance that is commuting. Yet, it needn’t be as difficult as it looks. Inspired by my recent stints in London and Bristol, I present this Sachtastic top ten of things to remember whilst commuting.

#10 – Smartphones are excellent

They truly are. The biggest problem with commuting is how long everything takes, particularly if you travel with First.

In the olden days, people used to buy books from the strategically placed WHSmith’s at the station. Non-idiots can no longer do this, due to every single piece of fiction being burdened with a sticker declaring, ‘If you loved Fifty Shades of Grey, you’ll love this hastily written moron porn’.

Smartphones are the answer, then. They let you play with your imaginary fish whilst looking busy and important. They let you tweet about your delays. They let you call someone to let them know you’ll be late.

#9 – The world is divided into good and evil

This is clear at railway stations, and clearer still at Tube stations. If you go down the side of the stairs you’re told to, you’re good. Go down the other side, thus causing chaos, you’re evil. I saw three little old ladies doing this. One cackled, ‘We just don’t care. We just don’t care!’ Point proven.

At tube stations, if you stand on the left on the escalators, you’re evil. There is no other conceivable reason for doing this. Having made the decision to arrive at your destination slowly, you then decide to force a lot of other, busier, more late, people to do the same. I imagine this is the same mentality that leads people to become suicide bombers.

#8 – Early mornings and moving vehicles make a bad combination

And by bad, I mean vomity. Trust me on this one- breakfast is best served crumbled into nanogram portions to be consumed at twenty minute intervals.

#7 – Routine makes you complacent

Don’t let yourself think you’ve sussed it. You’ll do something horrendous. You’ll end up lolloping instead of power-walking, and end up being late. Or you’ll take down only seven digits of the eight-digit booking reference you got when you booked your tickets and end up having to go to a woman in a booth, who will inform you that ‘it’s a customer reference, dear, not a booking reference.’ You might even let yourself be momentarily distracted on a night bus, and look out of the window to discover you’re not on the route you thought you were.

I have more stories, but I think I’ve warned you sufficiently: SEMPER VIGILANS.

#6 – Aisle seats are for tourists

Window seats give you something to stare at whilst you ignore the person beside you. You also ignore the awkward situation where someone is forced to clamber over you.

Note: if someone is sat in the aisle seat next to your booked window seat, you stand for the rest of your journey, or until they move. Whether or not you do this whilst staring at them is a matter of personal choice.

#5 – Tourists should die

They walk slowly, ruining your power-walk. They talk to one another, distracting you from your smartphone. They appear carefree, so as to rub in the fact that you volunteered to spend two weeks of your life sleeping in a tent, getting up at 4am and eating food that tastes like the fuel it was cooked with.

Actually, I loved the Olympic tourists- just don’t tell anyone.

#4 – You are going to die

Really, you don’t need me to tell you this, as you will feel it the second you and hundreds of other commuters move towards your platform. The trick is just to accept it.

#3 – The train people think you’re stupid

And by the train people, I of course mean First. They will tell you that the 0827 to Penzance is on time, when you know that it’s delayed, because the clock says 0833 and in the universe where you live, time runs linearly. They will also tell you that a loose roof panel is a reasonable reason to cancel a train, when you strongly suspect it could be fixed with a spanner. They will then top that one off by telling you another train will be along in half an hour, when in reality you will be stranded at Bath Spa station for an hour.

100,000 signatures say we’re not stupid.

#2 – Show no fear

Hardened commuters feed on fear. Hesitate for a second and they’ll overtake you on the stairs, dislodge your bag from the overhead rack or steal that bit of wifi you were thinking of using.

It’s like when Amy gets an Angel in her eye on Doctor Who: you’re going to have to walk like you can see.

#1 – This is the hardest thing you’re going to have to do all day

In all seriousness, if there’s a job you end up doing that’s worse than the stress of the three hours there and back, it’s not for you. Commuting is a hideous and dehumanising experience. If you don’t believe me, consider how many times commuter trains are delayed by an instance of the carefully-worded “fatality” on the line. I hate to be grim, but these people have picked their moment.

It’s all there, and it’s not pretty. I only did five weeks of commuting this year. I put up with snowdrifts, heavy luggage, early mornings, drunken abuse, delays, cancellations, blisters, travel sickness and a whole lot more besides. In work, the worst I had to deal with was a journalist who didn’t know her place. Curiously, not on either of my journalism placements.

Go out into the world, my pretties, and good luck to you. Let yourself harden to the endless silent procession of suited figures. Let yourself do work on the train rather than read mummy porn or face your own thoughts.

Whoops, ended on a bit of a low. Let me tell you though- if you ever have to commute, don’t do it like the rest of them. Do it in civvies, not suits. Loiter at the station. Mingle with the other traipsers. Read the paper over people’s shoulders. Bother. Wave your cricket book around in the hope of starting up a conversation. Do not go gentle into that good night.

Ambassador, you are really spoiling us!

For the second time in recent months, I have become an ambassador. You may come and visit me sometime at the embassy, and I will lavish you with Ferrero Rocher. I may even, if you ask nicely, offer you political asylum.

As far as I can work out, the word “ambassador” has come to describe all the jobs that the word “rep” can’t do any more. This is because rep is a dirty word, and these are not necessarily dirty jobs.

My first ambassadorial post was as Liverpool Ambassador. If they had called it Liverpool Rep, it would have conjured up images of day-glo tans and fake lashes, two things the city of Liverpool is keen to distance itself from. Despite being Liverpool Ambassador however, I was not posted in far-flung cities, providing shelter and assistance for scousers far from home. No, instead, my first duty as ambassador was to man a headset in a call centre.

Note I used “man” there. Not “person”. Not “woman”. I used “man”, and I used it because it is a verb. If the others become verbs, I shall insist on using “independently minded unicorn lover and sports fan” as a verb.

In any case, independently minded unicorn lover and sports fanning a hotline is hardly within the typical duties of an ambassador. In fact, it’s a bit of an odd job.

Luckily, I like odd jobs. Which is why, not satisfied with my call centre, tour guide and Ferrero Rocher distribution duties, I took a second job as an ambassador.

From Monday, I will be an ambassador for Windows, providing I haven’t breached some as-yet-unsigned contract in publicising it. Windows the operating system that is, not the transparent things you open when you want to feel the wind in your eyelashes.

Apart that it involves being nice to people, engaged with social media and having a working knowledge of Windows products, I don’t really know what it is.

The same could be said for Samsung “ambassadors” from India who were flown all expenses paid to Berlin and then told that, despite being successful bloggers, they were really here to stick Samsung t-shirts on and plug Samsung gear. One refused, so Samsung told him to pay for his own trip back to India.

I will not fall into the same trap. Firstly, I will accept any trips to Berlin, or even Nokia Lumias (hint hint) that come into my path, because wearing a Windows t-shirt and raving about Windows is my job. I would do it anyway- you know I would. Secondly, I know something important: that Windows are eager to see my creative side. Translated into Sacha-ese, I understand that means I’m free to do whatever it is I want.

Eccelente. Bring me the Rocher.