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
If you have too much time on your hands it could even mean this…
But for my sister and I the spirit of Halloween is more than just over the top costumes and expensive decorations. We see beyond the sugar coated antics of our peers, looking much further ahead, past the day itself. For after every Halloween comes the bit that really gets me excited – reduced pumpkins.
Ok, granted I wasn’t posing in that exact same fashion when my ankle went, but when it started to ache during a shopping trip I decided to ignore the pain and carry on walking on it. I’d decided to venture to the fair Welsh capital of Cardiff and I didn’t want to turn back before I’d even got properly stuck into my needed dose of retail therapy.
As well as the blinking obvious (walking on a duff ankle) there were other things I didn’t fully factor in whilst hobbling around the city centre on a Sunday in mid-late October. These ‘things’ feel into three categories:
The impact of a particularly bad cold virus.
Excitable children on school holidays, pumped up on sugar and in want of Halloween ‘stuff’.
Super eager women, pumped up on caffeine and hell-bent on obtaining Christmas wares before anyone else.
The result was pure shopping chaos, particularly when I became caught up in the shopping centre at peak time. Quickly I found myself bent and morphed into shapes usually reserved only for the most brutal of Twister games. Grunting the pain away like a reindeer on Christmas Eve, I kept my eyes straight and aimed my cold-filled, Rudolf Red, nose towards the nearest exit.
Out of nowhere they came. Turning out of a shop and charging toward me at speed came a group of teenage girls. Dressed in clothes that liberated their pre-pubescent figures, the young women clutched their semi-empty milkshakes in one hand with a firmness that was nearly as strong as their grip on the pre-ripped, bloodied, shirts that were slung over their backs.
“We’ve got the dead look covered this year girls!” One of the party exclaimed triumphantly, as she pored over a small bag of purchased make up. The others nodded in mild agreement, slupping on their milkshakes and scrolling through void blocks of information. At the command of their leader, the group circulated around a black screen to appease the tiny dot before them. The first snap failing to satisfy, they posed for another photo, and another. The look of death had a time and a place, and as far as the camera holder was concerned Snapchat wasn’t one of them.
Upon realising that my collision with the party was both inevitable and likely to write off my foot (for which I felt quite sure the girls lacked any sympathetic insurance), I decided to change my path. Like a Shakespearian character my persona as flipped into a Hellish beast as I gritted my teeth and turned on the sore ankle to walk around the female cluster.
As I hobbled on, dragging my bad leg behind me, I saw bitter sweet irony reflected in the eyes of all the ghoul clad staff who regarded me with confusion and unease. Coffee stands decorated with bloodied bandages and skulls, shops festooned with beaming figurines and tinsel, each environment looked down at me with a soulless attitude that clung onto those who dwelled beneath. Of all the shopper types it was only the husbands and boyfriends that took the crown for being more out of place than I. Loaded like a Biblical Donkey, acting like a Hollywood Zombie, the men of the city took pity and avoided my half dead shape, whilst their respective partners walked in window-display bedazzlement across my path. I gave a half smile of encouragement to these brave men and pressed onwards.
It was a circular pattern of discomfort and disinterest that punctuated the day. The simple pleasures; the reading of a book undisturbed, discovering a nicely styled boot, these glimmers of joy were hard won and so easily lost. A noisy patron in the neighbouring seat, a swollen foot rebelling against a test environment. A reminder perhaps that no one can be a God in the world of the Godless. This thought whispered around my brain in mockery as I slowly staggered towards the bus station. A hissing that ended with the slamming of doors and screeching of the brakes as I departed the capital once again for English soil.
Life, sore ankles and seasonal shoppers; nothing lasts forever.
“Ah.” “What?” “I don’t think I’ve packed the extra pair of long trousers.” “I left everyone in charge of their own packing, if you’ve forgotten anything you’ll have to buy it out there.” “Can I pull over and check?” “We can’t turn back now.” “Please, it’s starting to play on my mind. I’m not sure if I packed them or not.” “No.” “Mum, just let him pull over. I can’t take the suspense at 2am.” “I’m pulling over.” “Fine.”
The Bennett holiday had begun.
This time the choice location was the Greek Island of Zante, located in the Ionian Sea (fun fact – in Greek the island is actually called Zakynthos. Who’d have thought, another culture manipulating foreign words just to suit themselves?)
Ah Greece, the land of fine olives, ancient culture, traditional music and, most importantly, free alcohol:
(Greece were robbed of their victory in the 2013 Eurovision, robbed.)
Because we were staying at an all inclusive the alcohol actually was free, free by the bottles of gallons (I wasn’t in the slightest bit smug about this). I was literally drinking wine by the pint.
In fact I wondered if Greece had the whole drinking culture nailed more than us Brits. I mean, why have one glass bottle of 750ml when you could have plastic bottles of 1.5 litres for half the price?
It might also explain the tombstone craftsmanship.
Anyway, back to the hotel. It had an awesome infinity pool, WITH NO CHILDREN!
And some stunning sunrise and sunset views.
Don’t ask me to explain the yellow dot on the left. Just tell yourself it’s God. And yeah, that silhouette is mainland Greece.
The hotel’s entertainment was funny but not in the intended way. The Bennett clan being very British and dry in humourous outlook, we found the various failed attempts of the hotel’s animation team hilarious. One example was ‘botched Bingo’. Having done it outside for an entire season, two members of the team struggled to set up the Bingo projector inside, constantly trying and failing to prop up the canvas on a table, followed by difficulties putting a projector into focus. It was the apparent simplicity of the task which made it comic gold. Having sat down after a 18 hour day travelling and fuelled by a couple of cocktails we were howling at the two men. Later in the week the Greek Gods would reap their revenge on us via the kids club.
“The clown and donkey are heading towards us.”
But, saying that, the place wasn’t too shabby as a whole. I had muchos Greek yoghurt and hummus every day. Even the ants wanted in on the local cuisine.
The resort’s local town was a short walk away (but then holiday reps call anything under an hour ‘short’). It contained a suitable amount of tourist tat shops, bars, restaurants and had a lovely coastal strip. It passed the ‘makes Alice look sophisticated’ qualification so all was good there.
Particular highlights of the holiday included a visit to the island’s capital town which funnily enough was called Zakynthos. There we learnt you could purchase a range of goods including turd toys and spend money in a store called Euro Shop where nothing is a Euro.
(Brexit strikes again if you ask me.)
It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that Zakynthos is NOT the place to go if you have a phobia of Turtles. It’s basically the island’s spirit animal. There are frequent excursion trips to a see them swimming about so the only logical argument we could devise is that the turtle toy reps invaded sometime around five years ago.
No turtle is too weird or creepy looking to be on a shop rack somewhere.
If you don’t buy a piece of turtle merchandise you’re basically damaging the local economy and may be arrested on the plane. I luckily purchased a pair of tasteful turtle earrings thereby avoiding a fate of becoming turtle food.
Jokes aside (and I won’t dwell on it too much), but outside of the shiny streets and away from the club strips and bars that get featured on all those awful 18-30 Channel Four documentaries, behind all that is actually a tourist island that is barely surviving on their limited tourist season. For every one nicely done-up street there are at least ten falling apart in the local resident districts. It makes you wonder, if this island can only just hold it together then how is the mainland coping? These people were hardly living a life of luxury. But, like I said, that is a debate for politicians and scholars to have. When they pay me to impart my pearls of wisdom I’ll spend more time writing, less time taking random photos.
The island as a whole still remembers and suffers from the massive damage caused by an earthquake that hit the island in 1953. As well as the loss of most of the island’s historic buildings, the long term damage included mass emigration, with a high proportion of residents emigrating to the USA, UK and Canada following on from the natural disaster. This royally buggered up the economies of Zakynthos and neighbouring island Kefalonia.
In an attempt to remind people of what existed in the past and preserve it for the future, Zakynthos’ art gallery holds a collection of religious art and frescos taken from ruined churches and monasteries across the island.
That said, Mary doesn’t half look scary when she covers for God on his holidays:
And I’m sorry if this is a stupid question, but why is there a cow here?
Another highlight of the holiday was a general trip around the island which took in all the cultural highlights Zakynthos had to offer. This included visiting the monastery of the island’s Saint, taking in some breath taking views out to sea (i.e. of a tourist-ified ship wreck) and a tour around the famous blue caves
We choose to not dwell on the boat only having a couple of foam noodles in case of a emergency and the bus parking strategy.
India and I may have also had a few too many of the free sweets and samples of the commonplace unbranded liqueur…
Which, combined with a hot bus, resulted in this:
You may well laugh, but we’re presently being considered to represent Greece at the 2018 Eurovision.
I used this holiday and trip out as a chance to get a selfie of the whole family – something which had only been done in the past with limited success. The difficulty was convincing Mumma Bennett round to the idea. To her the selfie stick resembled the work of dark magic.
Other than that, not a lot to report. A week of predictable sun (there’s something to be said about walking along the beach in a thin dress on October 1st), bottomless food/cocktails and the odd random conversation along the way (“do they prevent all male and female parties at Centre Parcs because they’re worried they’ll get murdered in the woods?” “…What?”)
I suppose a good gage of how well a holiday went is linked to how Papa Bennett adapts to the environment. As a comparison, he looks at lot better in Zakynthos than he did waiting for a plane at Birmingham International Airport.
And if that’s not the sign of a good holiday I don’t know what is. Well it helps if you don’t contract Swine Flu…
…And it’s also nice to get, after 500 million attempts, a decent family selfie by the sea. That too.
Because I get a lot of “what inspired you to start writing?” and “what motivates you to be creative after a long day’s work?”, here are some of the reasons I started writing and why I write now. In short, I’m fed up of answering the same questions and I’m now too lazy to respond to them. Read this instead.
Q. What Made You Start Writing?
A. I was debating which multipack of loo roll to buy one evening and I decided to start a blog. (FYI I bought the larger pack which was on offer – I had more toilet paper than sense, but I was the smuggest housemate that Winter.)
Q. How Did You Come Up With The Title?
A. I was walking back from the supermarket and thought it up. It also helps that it is/was a true statement and I’d been using “I live with a mermaid” as an ice breaker for months before.
Q. Had You Ever Written Before?
A. Other than for educational purposes, no, not really. I mean there was one time in university when I tried to start a blog about the adventures of a Pineapple in a party hat…
…But then I quickly realised that Pineapples go off and are relatively expensive to replace (as fruits go). I also don’t like Pineapple so the fact we shared a room together naturally got a little awkward, especially towards the end when it started to rot. Also Instagram happened.
In all seriousness though, I think because I was doing so much essay writing and constant research it completely drained any creativity I had in me, the thought of returning to a keyboard for pleasure seemed crazy, if not impossible, at the time. Now that I’m not writing 10,000 word dissertations it’s easier to make the time for type work in my free time.
Q. Where Do You Think Your Writing Style Comes From?
A. No idea, I think I’ve always been a bit kooky (see Pineapple example above), but then before I started blogging I never had an output for it. Turns out when I started doing that I realised I wasn’t as bad as I thought.
Q. Why Do You Write?
A. It may be a shocker for some, but often I writing as a form of procrastination. One night it could be that I don’t want to wash my hair, another time it could be linked to an email I’m putting off. Right now I’m completely starving, I haven’t eaten since 4pm, but I’m typing away because I’m putting off making dinner. It’s very typical for me to type and type and be completely unaware how late it is or how hungry I am. I’ll only discover it when I stop typing and hit the Publish button. In short, I write because I’m too lazy to do anything else.
Q. How Much Time Do You Spend Per Piece?
A. Varies. The maximum I’ll spend is two hours, but those are bigger posts which feature a lot of imagery or video links. Less than that is the goal, with most pieces getting the bare minimum amount of editing (unless it’s a particularly creative piece). In my mind’s eye it used to take me about two hours to write a first draft of a 2000 word History essay, so I apply the same approach to my writing. If I was paid I’d obviously invest more time in it, but in the wonderful, sparkly, world of WordPress no one gets paid for setting up a free account.
Q. What Do You Listen To When You Write?
A. Classical or I type in silence. Anything else is a distraction.
Q. Would You Write For Someone if They Paid You?
A. I’m currently working full-time but if it was on a freelance basis, sure. I’ll consider anything.
Q. Are You Planning On Writing a Book or Something more Substantial?
A. I keep doing dribs and drabs for books but I want to get more invested into them. The truth is I find it easier to blast out a blog post in a couple of hours and get the immediate feedback as opposed to spending months/years working on something which may take longer to gain gratification from (if at all!) Basically me writing this is distracting me for being a famous author. Gee, thanks guys!
Q. Anything Else To Add?
A. No, not really. I’m sure people will comment below if I’ve missed anything off.
I’m looking at an apple crumble made by Mum, complete with a dollop of clotted cream on the side. Because it’s homemade I have no idea when it’s use by is or, indeed, was. Because it’s me I don’t really care. It’s sweet and sugary and has fruit somewhere deep inside and in my world that’s all that matters. (Well, that and not being poisoned by it, of course.)
I debated whether to take a snapshot of the squidgy, crumbly, goo but then opted against. “The world will not judge my diet today!” I triumphantly thought, before typing up my eating habits for the world to read online.
I momentarily stop in creative passion to return my attention to more pressing matters. The beast calls for what it cannot grab from its imprisonment within. Like a puppet dancing on strings my hands respond to the master’s call. Ten twitching digits grab the faded bowl which had been lain on crumb-covered sheets, the dirtied spoon lifted from a used yoghurt pot beside.
“They cannot judge what they can’t see” I uttered to myself once again. A scoop of dessert piled high with cream onto the small tea spoon, the perfect combination of dry and moist. Each component would be lost without the other, and yet under the strain of such a mass the teaspoon could almost be heard squeaking for mercy. I happily donate my charity to the plea as I inserted the mixture into my mouth, eyes closed in anticipation.
Suddenly the relaxed, drawn, eye lids sprung open to reveal a very different emotion.
“The cream’s gone off.”
(Written in response to the prompt of the day: Crumb )
Disclaimer: names of individuals/financial institutions marked with * have been changed.
Same bank, same branch, same waiting room with the same generic music. The only difference was the day. Yet another meeting with BankUK* and advisor Katie*, yet another week in mortgage limbo.
“I should be in work now.” I thought.
At this point it’s worth noting how lucky I was to still even have sniff of the house I’d set my hopes on. The offer had been accepted by the seller in November, yet here I was in January with nothing more than a Chamberlain scrap of paper to suggest the funds were in place to buy the property. Since then there had been no requests for updates from either my solicitor or the agent which suited me to the ground. To tell the truth would be buyer suicide.
I walked into a different meeting room, this one blander than the others. The other rooms had photography with inspirational sayings on, this one had a single thank you card in the small, square, window which faced onto next door’s brickwork. The only ounce of personality in a white-washed cube. I half wondered if I was living in the Truman Show, that the same utilitarian chairs, desk and room was also used by dentists, consultants and middling management. As if at any moment a forklift truck would lift up the confined box and move it to different location, to film another character in an ongoing Soap which I was part of.
Such ponderings were brief, Katie walked through the door swiftly with all the relevant paperwork for signing.
“Before we sign the formal documentation for your mortgage, I’d like to sort out this business with your complaint.” Katie opened with.
“Ok,” I replied, “what’s the situation with that then?”
Katie went on to explain in detail the nature of my complaint, that the comments in the subsequent letter sent to head office had been fed back to her. She understood my frustration but told me it was something none of them could have predicted or prevented against, that their policy was underpinned by UK law. In other words, “our hands were tied, what could we do?”
In equally “I don’t give a stuff fashion” I nodded through her comments until she got to the bit we all cared about, what BankUK were going to do to shut me up. It was clear that I wasn’t going to let this drop easily, I’d already threatened further action on the phone and in my letters. I was looking forward to a big settlement.
“So, in light of all this, we’d be prepared to offer you a cash amount to the value of the administration fee on this mortgage. Given your original application was for a different mortgage at the same interest but fee-free, we believe this settlement to be fair. We are prepared to offer you £99 today. If you accept this now, we can close the complaint and move on with your application.”
Kate slid a prewritten cheque across the desk, signed by an unknown individual, presumably the branch manager.
Silence. I looked at the cheque and then up to Katie, then down to the cheque, then to Mum who was sat beside me for support. Her face was a mirror of mine.
“And the rest?”
“Sorry?” Katie blinked twice.
“Well, this can’t be the entire settlement. Given I’m not getting the full mortgage amount I was promised and after how much I’ve been messed about. I’m meant to be at work right now, not here. Besides, I should have got the fee-free mortgage in the first place. Thank you for this opening offer, but I reject.”
I handed the cheque back to my advisor. My response to what Katie, her manager and BankUK had assumed to be a fair offer stunned the former who once again returned to the same nervous state witnessed in our first meeting.
“Urm, can you give me a moment? I need to talk to my manager.” Katie requested.
“Sure,” I said, leaning back in my seat. “Take all the time you need. I’ve got all day.”
She returned a short while later to after apparently speaking to the invisible bank manager which we weren’t allowed to meet.
“My manager wants me to ask you if you had a settlement figure in mind.”
“Yes, something for us to work with. What would it take for all this to go away?”
“Can we meet the manager?” Mum chipped in. “I believe my daughter requested this on a previous email which you agreed to.”
“I would, but she’s in meetings all day today, but if you feedback to me I can pass any messages onto her.”
That was it, I decided. I’m officially banking with the mafia.
“Well I’d have to go away and carefully put a figure together. There’s money owed for transport, time off, stress of a house sale almost falling through and so forth. I think it’s best you tell your manager that I can’t be expected to pull out a random figure out of the air without some thought and analysis. It wouldn’t be very professional or fair to BankUK.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“But that said I would like to get this sorted today. So, in light of that, I propose that I take the £99 today (as this is money you owe me anyway) and I sign the mortgage documentation so I can get the ball rolling on my house purchase. Meanwhile, I want to keep that complaint open for me to take this further with your regional managers.”
In my head all I could hear was Aretha Franklin singing Respect. Part of me wanted to flick my hair storm out of the cube room right there and then.
“Let me speak to my manager.”
Those six words marked the end of face-to-face negotiations with the white collar mafia. They accepted this temporary deal (more than anything to get rid of me). I signed the paperwork and finally secured a mortgage. Not the mortgage I’d originally wanted, but a mortgage nonetheless.
After another month of further discussion via letter and email a more reasonable settlement was agreed. In digging about to prove they were in the right, BankUK discovered that Jack*, my first advisor, had actually been in the office for several days prior to his accident. Several working days where he’d forgotten/put off contacting me about my failed mortgage application. Coupled with the birthday card and Katie’s admittance that they’d failed me, BankUK had little to use in their defence. They’d have to give out more than £99, either through the imposing financial regulators or one woman and her persistent emails. They went for the logical option, firstly by offering the higher mortgage value I’d originally applied for, followed by a request for a final figure to close the complaint for good.
I collected all my receipts and carefully justified every penny of compensation but in the end no hard evidence was required. To say they handed me a blank cheque would be over selling it, but to say they cared deeply would be false. At the end of the day they’re a bank who would be taking interest payments from me and millions others in the years to come. They weren’t short of money then and they aren’t short now. The figure on the cheque wouldn’t make the slightest difference to them, but it would to me. Was it the greatest victory in the world of small claim settlements? Nah, of course not, but it was a victory nonetheless. I’d taken on the banks and won.
The icing on the cake was my demand to sign the settlement paperwork in no other location but Swindon. Previously an unthinkable request, BankUK shoved Katie in a car with a cheque and sent her packing to Wiltshire.
I signed the documentation, took the cheque and wished her well in life. It was the closest thing to a thank you card she or BankUK were ever going to get from me. After all the stress and frustration, I finally had a mortgage and could start formal proceedings on my house purchase.
This post is part of The First Time Buyer Diaries. To view the full series (so far) click here.