The below article (titled “Dear Joe”) was written for a work newsletter which is produced on a rotational basis by those on my finance development program. It’s a light hearted take on when I did something very crazy; telling the CEO of a top ten finance institution to improve his presentation skills.
‘You criticised the CEO? Are you crazy?!’
You know how in the movies the protagonist always has a life affirming moment on top of a mountain or in the pouring rain? Well mine took place in the West Swindon branch of Dominoes.
‘I didn’t criticise him, I just told him his presentation needed improvement.’
And that’s when it hit me.
It had all started so well-meaning. Joe Garner had delivered a presentation to the 2017 Emerging Talent cohort back in November. All eyes in the room were on Joe as he tested his microphone on stage, it felt like I was at some kind of corporate Ed Sheeran concert. And yet, by the time it was finished I felt mildly disappointed.
Because no digital communication in the history of mankind has ever been misinterpreted, I decided to email Joe my feedback. ‘Dear Joe,’ I started, ‘thanks for taking the time to present on Friday. At the risk of sounding critical…’
Fast forward eight hours and there I was in Dominoes having the above conversation with my housemate.
‘I’m stuffed, aren’t I?’
I received a prompt reply from Joe the next day. Thankfully he’d seen the well-meaning in my email and thanked me for the feedback, whilst also responding to one of my points. ‘How can we expect people to magically buy houses when we don’t educate on finance?’ I ever so delicately put. Well, Joe says, funnily enough it was a topic currently being looked into by ExCo and something that I might want to be more informed on if I so wished.
Next thing I know, I’m outside the office Graeme Hughes, Relationships and Distribution Lead and ExCo member. He and Hannah Faulkner, Joe’s Executive Assistant, sat with me for almost an hour discussing past, present and future ideas for finance education. Graeme explained the different approaches Nationwide had taken in the past and why they hadn’t been as successful as hoped. I took a powerful sip on my strong coffee and gave my response to these comments. Graeme’s eyebrow lifted as he leaned back in his chair.
‘Ok, so what do you propose?’
I came away from the meeting with a splitting headache but feeling as pumped as David Cameron. The firm handshake and broad smile of Graeme said what Hannah readily exclaimed. ‘I am so glad to have met you! We must meet again!’
All said and done I really need to stop emailing Joe Garner.
It has just dawned on me I never got round to doing a write up for 2017. Oh how you poor souls must have struggled to survive these past ten weeks. Well good news, it’s the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dog in fact (why do I say that like it’s that big a deal?) which automatically gives me an excuse to do the yearly review in February.
I’ll keep this short and sweet because I’m multitasking this between a conversation of Papa Bennett’s new Volvo and Mumma Bennett discussing ISAs and investments. There’s also a crumble in the oven which I need to keep an eye on (did I ever tell you how middle class my family is?)
Anyway, a quick update on 2017.
Important Stuff Kicking Off:
Trump / Brexit (use as headline news where appropriate)
Bruce Forsyth, Adam West, Peter Sallis, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and, most painfully, Keith Chegwin died this year. According to The Sun (look, it came top of the Google search) more men died than women. Not sure if this means more famous women are needed, more famous female deaths are impending, or The Sun is sexist (or all three)..
Meanwhile, in Ireland…
Meanwhile, in London…
Personal Stuff Kicking Off
In March 2017 – bought a house (no biggie) and started a mini-series on my website documenting the process of buying and doing it up. You can access the series via the link on the top bar or here: The First Time Buyer Diaries (TFTBD)
June – builders moved in for a week and took off the back of my house to increase the size of the downstairs bedroom. Given the back of the property was protected only by a sheet of plastic for several days sleeping didn’t come too easily on those nights. Spoiler – I survived. (I’ll write more about this as part of TFTBD at some point.)
August – went on a mini-break to Prague. (Why Prague? Because it’s the cheapest place a skint homeowner can visit within the EU, that’s why.) Booked a hotel room in the centre of the historic capital which meant easy access after all the tourist hoards had left (although FYI the bars close early!) Particular elements to call out were a Gerhard Richter exhibition and a classical music concert. Found both experiences very emotive.
August – Bought a car. Still recovering from the expense of buying a house and paying for a holiday, my lovely blue Fiat 500 (and all associated costs) quite literally broke me. For all of about two weeks I had hardly two pennies to rub together. That was fun…
In September I started a new job in the glamorously corporate world of finance, working in project governance (haven’t you seen 50 Shades? Control is sexy). This job is wonderful because a) it pays more b) all the men have to wear suits and c) the support, development and progression networks are vastly superior compared to where I was before. Oddly enough A and B were not articulated in my original job interview.
October – discovered my new job is nothing like Wolf of Wall Street.
Technically it happened in January 2018 but I’m going to tell you anyway. Long story short, I’m now single. I’m fine, that is unless you’re offering to buy me chocolate, wine or coffee. In which case I’m a mess.
In Other News
I created this masterpiece for my sister’s birthday, putting together my two all time loves: Windows Movie Maker and Phil Collins.
(Ridley Scott should be afraid is all I’m saying.)
Swindon 18-30 breeched 600 member mark.
Writing stuff stagnated somewhat, but looking to revitalise this for 2018.
So overall a busy year for the world (Trump, Brexit, need I say more?) And for me (house, car, job, at this rate I’m going to run out of things to spend my money on, hah-hah as if I just typed that!)
A room full of bits and pieces and accumulated knick-knacks gathered over the course of two years. All telling the story of Alice Bennett, the Alice Bennett Installation if you like. Small, full of rubbish and severely lacking in suitable storage. A room unable to decide whether it wanted to rival Tracey Emin or desperately try and avoid it.
As the house sale on the property next door started drawing to its intended close, I realised I was actually going to have to tidy up and clear all my stuff out. And this wasn’t something that a bottle of Windowlene and a couple of Peter Gabriel songs could solve, it was going to involve brutal woman power and an acceptance that, indeed, my room was full of shizz.
The timing for this wasn’t great, I was in the process of re-establishing my love of porridge and the supermarket had a sale on. Plus the shared kitchen gave me no space for storing foodstuffs (see – There’s Some Weird Shizz in My Cupboard) so I started the process of cleaning my room by with piling a load of oat sachets chocolate bars and varying alcohols and taking a photo of it for Instagram, obviously.
Then it all got too much and I wrote a blog article about something else.
Several days later, after consuming a sizeable amount of ‘the pile’, I remembered why I’d piled it in the first place. I got cracking with the tidy up.
It was a painful process. Because I’d achieve a mini-milestone of clearing one patch of floor space…
…to turn around and see this behind me:
That’s what hurt me most. Having to empty drawers and boxes that had previously hidden so much but now spewed everywhere. As you can probably tell, my room was tiny in the shared house, the double bed sandwiched into the small space the only way it possibly could.
The clean went on. Thanking the God’s for a decent metabolism and reasonably priced gym membership, one evening I wriggled under the low bed to pull out all the hidden ‘gems’ that had spent years in the shadows. Forget Blue Planet, my under-bed had some weirder things than the deepest depths of the Antarctic Ocean.
But it also had a couple of bottles of wine so I was prepared to overlook some of the other things I found under there.
I learnt a lot about myself when cleaning up that space. For example, I’m a closet hoarder who’s in denial. I had enough plastic bags to fill a tanker.
But then I realised I was British so quickly laid to rest my concerns. I wasn’t weird, just normal. In the same way I had been unable to throw away a handbag I like so mended it with a safety pin as a short term solution. Five million handbags later, I found it at the bottom of my wardrobe.
A week or so later (yes, that long) I was starting to see progress in the big tidy up.
I was quickly becoming numb to the difficulty of throwing stuff out. Either an item was literally falling apart or I was lazy and wanted future me in her massive house to store it. Clearing out items was as black and white as that.
When it came to my wardrobe door however I was forced to make more brutal decisions.
In rentals (or at least mine) blu tac is the substance of Satan, pretty much all landlords don’t want it anywhere near their magnolia walls. In place of that, the thin door was my only place to tac up things which meant something to me. A pin board-come-scrap-book of information and pictures that summed me up. New job cards, renters info from the Telegraph, a sassy postcard from M&S, it was, well, me. And now I had to take it all down and be a big girl for a change. Renters and school girls can do this sort of thing, homeowners with matching furniture sets and themed wallpapers couldn’t. The odd item got put to one side (sassy postcard, check!) but most of it ended up in the bin.
When the drawers were finally emptied and the shizz (well, most of) was in a black bin sack there remained little for me to do than slog over the worn down dirty mess that was the carpet. The landlord had bestowed on us a Henry hoover to enable us to keep the house tidy. Now, Alice, I hear you cry, what could possibly be wrong with that? Hurrah for landlords! Well, before you think my previous landlord was a saint…
Three storey townhouses with heavy, hose-based, Henry’s do not mix.
Never expect tenants to buy hoover bags, especially when most do not know what they are.
No hoover will revive a cheap, well trodden, carpet that hasn’t been replaced since the property was built fifteen years ago. None.
I spent hours on my hands and knees trying to suck up every bit of dirt the machine could just about manage. I knew at the time it was a joke, trying to remove a strand of hair from the dirty beige pile. At the end of it I was so exhausted that I think I lost it a bit. On a Saturday night, a Saturday night, I put this on my Instagram:
I mean seriously.
Once that was done all that was left was to wait. Until the house sale was completed a lot of items remained bagged up in assorted suitcases donated by family and random shopping bags. It looked like I was about to go to some far flung country, about to jet off somewhere new, but in the meantime I had to sit and wait it out while messages pinged in from solicitors and I scrabbled around the square of floor to complete important documents. Like I was waiting for my plane to depart.
After the sale had completed on my house I started moving items over, often taking a heavy case down to flights of stairs, across, up another two flights of stairs, then dumping the contents in a cold, empty bedroom. Then back down and up, fill up the case again and repeat. Then do the same with kitchenware and foodstuffs and you have the makings of a very drawn out, tiring, house move. My housemates would watch me carrying out the unorthodox house move in silence, whether they thought I was crazy or not mattered little to either of us.
On the last night I packed up my case with the last of the few items of clothing and put out what else remained on the bedside table.
The boiled down essentials of Alice Bennett, all laid out on one tiny rectangle. At first I was a little bit emotional, then I felt a bit let down by the basicness. Only I would rate the presence of Sudocrem and a lemon pip higher than books or make up. What scenario would cause me to urgently need Sudocrem and a lemon pip I do not know.
The duvet and bedding got carried round to the house bright and early the next day, alongside the final case of clothes which this time got left unopened in the bedroom. Into one of my many plastic bags I scooped up the bedside table contents and checked the tiny room for the millionth time. I knew that it would be clear and I also knew that living next door it would be a breeze to collect things should anything have been missed off, but it still didn’t stop me checking again.
Ironically, now the room was clear of junk and shizz it looked much bigger, I realised why I’d taken it on in the first place (well, cheap rent and location were the main reasons, but still).
I placed my bedroom door key on the bedside and with a final long look and a sigh, walked out with the latch off so that the newer housemates could peer in after I’d gone. I slipped out the front door and posted the key back through the brass-coloured letter box. Done.
There was a room.
A room full of bits and pieces and knick-knacks accumulated over the course of two years. A room which told the story of a kooky girl who hailed from Gloucestershire (or was it Hampshire or Warwickshire?) who worked in a solid job, with solid interests, yet always aspired to be more. She moved out of the busy house share and into her own home next door. Why? Because we all thought she was mental.
This post is part of The First Time Buyer Diaries. To view all articles in the series (so far) click here.
That’s how my days pan out nowadays. Nothing much in between.
Maybe come the weekend I’ll venture out and explore the world, find a hidden corner of this town that I’ve yet to discover. I’ve yet to try out that bar on Elm Street, heard good things about it. Might be worth a try. Oh, is that an email? Better give it a look…
There are streaks on the old coffee mug. Lines of paling foam which dribble down the tarnished china, coving all but the crackled logo of its home and owner.
The ceramic piece has been washed a lot over its five vintage years, too many times to count. Half a decade of rich coffee and change. The changing of customers, of staff, of interior, the coffee mug has seen it all. And yet the humble object has remained immutable throughout. Sat above in pristine whiteness, looking down at the clientele one minute, lowered to the table with a soiling of fouling brown the next. Wash, stack, use, wash, stack, use. No one expects more of it than that. But now the cracks in the logo are beginning to show, it’s white youth has become tanned by the pseudo Mediterranean paintings that hang on the walls.
“The roads, they lead to Roma” mutters the old Barista as she passes the aged ceramic to a colleague. She says that a lot nowadays, either out of habit or misinterpretation. The fresh-faced coffee within the old mug takes the Barista’s comment all too literally however as it makes a break for freedom. It suddenly pours itself over the edge and, within seconds, brown streaks are wandering the side of the mug like the great Egyptian Nile, starting as a mass of foam, splitting into separate lines of individuality. The unsuccessful delta columns stop mid way, the successful ones pool on the thin napkin at the base. Regards of how hard each strand has tried, the liquid’s efforts have resulted in nothing but a sticky trail across the mug.
“They really must put less sugar in these things,” a disgruntled consumer complains as they place the old mug on one of the newer tables. “Or at the very least stop over filling the cups.”
Another drop of brown stops short of the mug’s base.
“I agree,” her companion replies, “the staff here really do nothing to help themselves. I’ll go and ask for a fresh one, you shouldn’t get your hands sticky over something so trivial.”
The companion waves flamboyantly at the old Barista behind the bar, as if the employee were blind and he were crippled. In no particular hurry she lowers the box of protein bar refills and meanders to the small table.
The customer points at the offending object. “Deal with it.”
Without emotion or word (for the staff here either cannot or will not speak the customer tongue) the Barista scoops the streaked mug and swiftly empties its contents down the drain. As she stares down the plughole stands of greasy black hair fall out of her loose bun for the third time that day, perhaps the only thing that remains of the rebellious nature that characterised former youth and beauty. That disobedient streak which took her away from there to here. There, she was a smart and charming girl who had everything going for her, here she avoids the stares of her English masters and the attractive panini delivery man. Even he is too good for her here. A fresh personality ground down to little more than six characters. “I clean”, mumbled as she scuttles past the grumpy man in the tight shirt. She quickly twists the hair strands behind her ear as she dashes away. “I’ll cut it tonight” she thinks to herself.
Throughout all this the old mug hangs off the bony finger without comment. Of all the changes the ceramic has seen, hers has been the greatest and least unnoticed. The human glances down at the crackled lines and thinks the same of the object as they both dive into the back room.
In the dull light of a kitchen that scrapes hygienic regulation, the streaked mug is ceremonially dumped into a vat of industrial foam, alongside numerous others that are stacked on the side. Under gentle washing the streaks on the old mug slowly begin to disappear, revealing in their place dark tan lines and chips stained with pale lipstick (or that’s what the Barista hopes). Dirt and age that no amount of washing will remove. The manager’s instructions are clear though: There’s logo, there’s use.
At this moment the mug turns in the bowl and lifts its fading logo to peer up into the droopy eyes of the Barista, as if were trying to convey a message or a plea. Outside there continues the crashes and bangs, the shouts and grinds of the daily, but yet in the backroom of nowhere, for just one moment, these two objects share a unexplainable connection. The sentient being nods at the weary object in what she considers to be mutual understanding, and drives the mug hard under the murky water with pale, delicate, hands and a scouring pad.
The old mug has never been seen on the high shelf since.
What does one get a family member who has everything? More to the point, what does one get a family member when one has no money, no time and has a terrible habit of writing in the ‘one’ tense? That’s right, she makes a truly amazing video featuring Phil Collins (obviously).
It seemed such a good idea to make a video for lil bub Bennett’s birthday, but then in truth I think I may have really just wanted to pay tribute to Phil Collins and feed my middle age condition (the one where people are born liking The Archers and consider staying up to watch the BBC News at 10 to be a ‘crazy’ one. Yeah, that one.) Anyway, I thought the video would be a nice thing to do for her.
20 hours later…
Brain dead, caffeine overdosed and fed up of seeing my sister’s face more than my own, I finally created a masterpiece. “She better love this” I thought, before dashing into Lush the next day to buy a back up present. Safe thing too, when I first presented her with the gift she seemed less than amused at the offering.
“Right. Ok, well that’s a very nice memory stick Ali, thank you.”
“No you donut, it’s what’s on the stick.”
“Did you seriously think I’d give you a cheap USB stick for your birthday?”
“Just play the video.”
Luckily, she loved it. And now, for your viewing pleasure, I have added that same video here. Enjoy! (Well as much as you can given you know nothing of my family and it’s in-jokes…if nothing else watch it for Phil.)
Written in response to the WordPress prompt Dancing