Seven Little Books

“29/04/18. My arms are aching, my legs are covered in bruises and I’m completely shattered. I must be in London.”

It has been a week since I vacated my flat in central London and returned once more to Swindon. It almost feels like the past year has all been but a dream, vape steam in the breeze. Invisible, abstract and only memorable by the faint smell it leaves behind.

On 2nd May I left London Paddington station for the last time packed like a loaded Buckaroo: an overfilled holdall case, a heavy rucksack, an additional handbag, a canvas tote filled with redundant bedlinen and a heavy laptop across the body for good measure. I learnt from my mistakes moving out and managed the travel back relatively bruise free, however my body has ached for days from strain. The day before I fully moved I’d completed a separate trip to Swindon with a similar amount of goods and wondered why I couldn’t stop violently shaking. I spilt coffee everywhere at the formal work function, of course. At the time I put it down to the amount of rushing around but now I see it as the culmination of mental and muscular stress.

Other than the short term pains it would be easy to pass off what I’d been through and achieved in just over twelve months living and working in the English capital as nothing more than normal. ‘Business as usual’ as my colleagues would say. But it isn’t. And it’s not just the big things that make me say that, like moving into the flat and travelling solo in Europe for the first time, but it is the little things as well. The events I put myself out of my comfort zone to attend, the weird obsession with finding the cheapest eggs, the men (goodness the men). And as I stood in Brompton cemetery one Sunday afternoon while a random man called Nicolas tried to chat me up I thought only one thing.

Thank God I’m writing this all down.

Seven separate notebooks, all documenting the experience of spending a year in London. Seven books with unique but different personalities as I went through a deeply personal and professional journey. Just glancing over extracts from book one and comparing it to book seven the transformation is really quite something (excluding coffee spilling and egg hunting, those two are deeply trademarked parts of me). Admittedly I haven’t read any of the books in depth since writing, I want to let some water trickle under bridges first. But I remember so clearly picking the first notebook off a shelf in a stationery store and telling myself I would make every effort to record the upcoming eight months in London (as it was then supposed to be) so that I should not forget the experience when I returned once more to Wiltshire. To ensure that I never let this fantastic opportunity turn into little more than a faded dream. And maybe, just maybe, one day I will do something more with my scribbles, that people will know about the time I ended up at a celebrity wedding, when the artist Grayson Perry became a fan of my writing, the time I got screen tested for a dating show. And again, the men.

If two things show how much I’ve changed over the past year then look no further than these separate quotes.

“11/05/18…Let’s make this work.”

“06/04/19…Because I can.”

 

notebooks

Because I Can: Solo Travels in Amsterdam

“But why are you going to Amsterdam on your own? Is it because of an event?”

“Nope.”

“…a guy?”

“Christ no!!”

“Haha ok. So why are you going?”

“Because I can.”

 

Part I

 

Part II

Alice Bennett and the Mystery of the Three Eggs

Alice Bennett and the Mystery of the Three Eggs

By Alice Bennett, aged 26 (& 1/4)

 

It was Tuesday evening and Alice was relaxing in her room with a healthy dose of catch up TV.

‘Hmm,’ she thought, ‘by choosing to watch American reality show “The Bachelorette” I severely risk damaging my IQ and the Feminist cause, however I have already listened to two hours of Classic FM today and learnt about the benefits of a Public Council on Radio Four. I think I can treat myself.’

Just as Alice leaned forward to reach the play button her phone buzzed awake. The surprise caused an elbow-jerk reaction, knocking the stained mug’s overfilled tea contents all over the dark mock-wood next to the bed.

‘Fudge!’ She actually said.

The text has come from Alexandre, a delightful young flatmate who had many wonderful qualities including, notably, being of the French persuasion. Alice had learnt this one evening when she muttered ‘c’est mort’ as a farewell greeting to her younger sister on the phone and ended the call with Alex thinking she was the French Godfather. After the initial encounter the poor European was left quite perplexed with English culture.

Alex had put a message in the flat’s social media group chat to enquire as to the ownership of the three eggs in the kitchen. Alice knew exactly what Alex was referring to, there had been three medium sized hen eggs in a saucepan of water all day. When she’d originally seen the eggs sat in water on the cold hob her first reaction was balanced, educated and above all very cosmopolitan in outlook.

‘Eh, must be a French thing.’

Now Alice would never want to be labelled as culturally insensitive or stupid, but now she had to admit she was both. She felt like a muppet, a right muppet indeed. Slouched in Gap jogging bottoms and a strap vest top of brown, Alice pointed a finger at season thirteen’s first African-American bachelorette.

‘You did this’ she hissed.

Alice realised then that getting out of her room may be a good idea. She picked up her phone (because she’s a millennial) and ventured into the dark hallway. Halfway down the stairs she saw Alex stood at the sink with a hoody on. While she could not see his face Alice had to make the assumption that it was Alex and not some random intruder, after all if Crimewatch had taught her anything gang members do not tend to carefully stack Tupperware boxes on the counter, they steal them.

‘They aren’t my eggs!’ Alice called out, piercing the silence with her brash statement that entered the world more cockney than either party expected. The loud noise in the nearly quiet flat made Alex jump in sudden panic. No one in the establishment makes conversation, let alone that of the light hearted, small-talk kind.

‘Oh right,’ Alex responded. ‘I am not sure why they are there.’

‘Beats me. I saw them there before but didn’t know what it was all about. I assumed they were yours.’

‘Why?’

‘Because you’re French!’ The words burst out of Alice’s lips like Brian Blessed storming towards a voiceover contract.

‘Great, now he’ll think I’m a racist. An egg soaking racist’ Alice thought.

Alex laughed. ‘No, not mine. I do not cook eggs like that!’

‘Well who do the three eggs belong to then? Why would anyone do that?’

‘Maybe it is preparation for a meal.’

‘Don’t be daft, English people aren’t as exotic as that. And Daniel doesn’t cook anyway, lucky sod who gets free food from work while some of us live on scrambled eggs every night.’

‘What did you say?’

‘I said they cannot be Daniel’s. The three eggs must belong to someone else.’

Alice and Alex laughed some more over the matter. Alex stood firmly in the kitchen, Alice crouching on the stairs, the two had quite the chin wag. In the end Alice raised herself and started ascending the staircase once more.

‘See what the others say, but this is the most British thing I’ve been in debate over in the long while!’

Two minutes later Daniel entered his response into the group chat ‘not me! I don’t cook! Laziness < cooking’ before taking his turn to enter the small kitchen and see the spectacle for himself. Alice who was busy preparing herself for the pub (if chav wear wasn’t acceptable in Swindon it probably wouldn’t be suitable in trendy London) took it upon herself to pause her preparations re-join her flatmate’s debate, this time sporting a pair of cheap leggings and a long top.

Three grown adults, staring at three pale eggs in a pan of water. As real life mysteries go it was enough to top any mid series episode of Midsummer Murders and even Alice acknowledged that seeing the eggs gently bump into each other was probably witnessing more action than in the whole duration series thirteen of The Bachelorette.

‘Talk about a love triangle! Left egg is such a player’ she thought.

‘So who’s eggs are they?’ Daniel asked.

‘Quelle mystoire.’

‘Please stop speaking bad French.’
‘Sorry.’

‘But they are not our eggs?’ Alex continued.

Alice pointed her thumb in an upward direction. ‘They must be Lily’s. But all the same it’s quite the English mystery don’t you think?’

Both boys shrugged, it seemed Alice was more invested in trying to ship this as some kind of scandalous tale than her roommates. In many ways it was to be expected, back in the Cotswolds she could see great appeal in “The Mystery of the Three Eggs”, she need only open with a description of the semi-clean environment and she could have housewives fainting. But in the here and now all three fleshy compositions decided that little nor much interest in doing something with the shelled eggs while they sat unclaimed in a black pan, chilling in a pool of odourless water.

‘I’m going to the pub’ Alice stated on the way back to her room.

About five minutes later a blunt message came through from the final flatmate. ‘Not mine’ it stated.

‘Curiouser and curiouser! Who on Earth is the owner of the three eggs in a flat in Wapping?’

For Alice the mystery simply did not make any sense. Was there an egg bugler, an egglerer on the loose? Was it the egg God bestowing medium price range goods on Alice in return for long months of searching for value? Why did the faith of Dale’s Dad on The Bachelorette mean Rachel had to send him home at the rose ceremony? For poor Alice this whole situation really was quite a conundrum and she hadn’t consumed enough wine to be processing words like conundrum. Wanting a break from it all she tugged on a lightweight jacket and some pearls (obviously) and with a flash was out of the front door and on her way to a large glass of wine. A place where closest thing served to an egg was some kind of hipster named beer.

Alice was about half way to the pub when she felt the phone vibrate in her rucksack.
‘Wow, I’m like Chaka Khan after a ten-year media break,’ she thought to herself.

Given it was dark and she was listening to a banging tune by Genesis (who FYI are still a cool and acceptable band to appreciate in the 21st Century), well she decided to simply not give the buzz any attention until she was in the safety of a local boozer.
Sat at a high table amongst the warmth and safety of a large number of semi-drunk regulars she pulled out the little iPhone to view the message that had come through minutes before.

‘So mine, but I don’t remember’ was the short but self-explanatory message from the fingers of Alice’s French friend. She sighed and took a slight sip of her 150ml house wine (Alice being, as ever, somewhat of a tight wad). ‘Of course the eggs were Alex’s all along! Classic Agatha Christie plot, the Frenchman did it! It’s always the Frenchman! Or is it always the butler? Did French people exist in 1920s Britain when Christie was writing? Maybe I should look it up.’ But before Alice could sink herself into an even deeper, potentially borderline insulting, hole another thought popped into her mind.

‘Why don’t I sit here in this pub and write out this whole account? Yes, that would be a good idea. It’s so classically middle-England! Creating a soap-opera drama over something so trivial as three eggs. People will instantly get it and find it charmingly hilarious.’

But then sat in the crowded Wapping pub, immersed in a great deal of other fascinating conversations in all manner of tongues, another thought popped into the head of the young professional.

‘But what if people read the tale and feel let down? What if they read the whole account expecting some hilarious punchline or deeper meaning, but instead get only three grown adults staring at a pan of eggs? Wouldn’t they be really disappointed? I would be if it were me.’

At that very moment the twentieth spam message of the day came into her email account, this one being from Groupon with the promise of ‘mega discounts on cheese’. Alice opened her laptop and smiled to herself. For if there’s one thing spam emails and novels like Fifty Shades of Grey have taught society anything is that people are a sucker for a catchy headline.

She started to type.

Why Can’t Men be More Like Snack Bars?

I was recently sat in a bar with a glass of wine and my new portable laptop (best investment of the year so far) when I had a flashback to all those Jordans’ Frusli snack/cereal bars I bought before London. Remember those?

So I decided, quite randomly, to send a letter to the lovely people at Jordans to make them aware. Of course this is me so naturally it wasn’t a standard letter. I took a sip on my rapidly depleting glass of red and wrote the following:

Dear Sir or Madam,

RE: Why can’t men be more like Jordans Frusli bars?

My name is Alice and I’m a finance professional and freelance blogger/kooky lady living in the centre of London. Now I’m pretty sure you’ve taken one look at the RE there and thought “hmm, this complaint may involve the assistance of a therapist, or a year seven biology guide”. But before you fear on that front, don’t worry, I know men can’t actually be like your Frusli bars. Everyone knows men are made out of used socks, cheese puffs and that weird smell no one can ever quite place. I think it’s a mutation of Lynx. Anyway, I’m not stupid but hear me out on this.

I relocated to London in May last year, a pretty stressful process as moves go. I was leaving Swindon with not a clue in the world what to do. I assumed that everything in London was expensive and topped with some kind of skinny foam, so I thought it wise to stock pile on what I knew to be good, wholesome and something I could pretend was 3 of my five a day. In my keen to stockpile for an event that you may have thought was a new Cold War I may have bought enough boxes to reach my hip… [picture insert]

You can imagine the fun I had transporting those from Paddington to E1. With everything else my bags weighed a ruddy tonne. However, unlike the many, many men who walked on by, the energy I got from a blueberry Frusli bar helped give the me energy to lug those bags on/off tube lines and up a flighty number of stairs. The power of the Frusli!

Once in the flat I managed to locate a drawer to put my various bars in to which I was quite satisfied. The drawer has since become a mini shrine to the many snack bars I have and, unlike men, I find the content of the drawer provide much enlightenment. Do I eat chocolate? Do I go out food shopping? When I open my Frusli drawer it always shows me the way. And I tell you what, they never ask me to make them a sandwich as a solution to my query.

Frusli bars offer variety, they have a fruity content and are even eco-friendly without rubbing it in your face (I see what you did with the packaging). They don’t take up space, they can accompany any meal or make time for you any point of the day and my parents love them. In fact, in many ways they’re the perfect partner. Wait a moment, maybe they’re too good…

Ok scratch the above, this is now a complaint letter. Congratulations on making something awesome that keeps me going and kept me strong when I didn’t know where to buy eggs in this crazy city. But you’ve made something too good so now I’m unable to find a living male who is as adaptable as an apple and cranberry cereal bar. Disgusted.

I look forward to hearing how you’re going to resolve this matter ASAP.

Yours Faithfully

I wrote that and sent it without re-reading it (until now, golly gosh that Merlot). I genuinely thought I’d never get a response. Another crazy lady from London. Well I was very firmly proved wrong when today I received a large parcel from the customer service team at Jordans. Inside the cardboard box was a letter.

Dear Alice,

Well what can I say? Other than, yes! Our Frusli bars are pretty awesome and they do offer the standard when it comes to offering variety and honest goodness. I am certain however, that there is a guy out there with equal qualities who can make time for you at any point and, most importantly, help you find eggs in the crazy city. In the meantime, here are some more Frusili bars along with some of our breakfast cereals – who knows, maybe once you’ve found Mr Right you’ll be able to enjoy our Granola together for breakfast.

All the very best,

Emma Morris, Customer Experience Advisor

And under the letter was this!

Boxthumbnail

How awesome is that! Completely unexpected as well. The luxury of Jordans cereal! I’m used to handling own brand Wheat Biscuits so this really is a massive step up. And given when I had to reschedule the missed delivery Mumma Bennett was convinced that I’d be getting her quilt cover this is very much a surprise to everyone. Mumma B said I must have written a very good letter to get such a response from the company…well, now you’ve seen it I’ll leave that final call with you.

(Ps – Jordans/Emma, I’m still hunting for the best reasonably priced eggs in London and a man, in that order.)

Working With The Salvation Army: Three Months on

From July to October 2018 a small team of us from my organisation worked with Booth House, Salvation Army Centre in Swindon (Wiltshire, UK) to help increase revenue and awareness of one of their social enterprises called The Sandwich People. As part of our activities I spent time volunteering with the charity and even wrote an article off the back of my experiences.

Below is a video summarising what Booth House do, specifically the two enterprises Recycles and The Sandwich People:

Three months after we delivered our final report and presentation to staff and volunteers, myself and the team are so pleased to see how the social enterprise has implemented some of our recommendations and come on leaps and bounds in such a short space of time. Three things in particular which stand out for me:

  1. The Sandwich People have set up an Instagram account and are more effectively using social media to get their message across.
  2. As per our suggestions, the management have refined the menu based on the cost of production versus sales.
  3. Starting this week, the centre manager has informed me that The Round (the daily sandwich delivery around offices) now have the equipment to take contactless payment. This is a big deal as before sales were entirely dependant on office workers carrying cash (which often they didn’t).

 

The social enterprise is also seeking collaborative groups and communities to help spread the word and foster a supportive environment for a number of local charities. I was recently asked to help contribute towards a case study article, the results of which you can find on the Swindon Social Enterprises website

It was great working with the guys at Booth House, as stakeholders they were infinitely helpful and useful, as human beings trying to make a difference they were complete saints. The residents and volunteers certainly taught me a thing or two (including how to make a chicken salad wrap) and it was an experience I will not forget in a hurry.

Here’s to the next three months, years, decades!

 

To find out more about Booth House visit their website

Learn more about The Sandwich People

New Year’s Eve Parties, Classical Art Style

You may think your planned NYE party is off the chain but trust me, its got nothing on how these guys used to live it up. And as we all know, classical paintings and depictions are 100% factual (as true to life as Kim Kardashian’s derriere).

 

New Year’s Eve Parties, Classical Art Style

As per any night out, the evening’s events begin six hours beforehand when guests start getting ready in preparation for the night ahead.
img_0785.jpg

It’s the kind of party that you know is going to be a-maze-ing. After all, name a party headlined by DJ Maz-donna that wasn’t historic?

IMG_0333
Feel the bass

 

Before you know it everyone is having a blast. Jesus isn’t looking too great, but then that guy always ends up boasting he’s the son of God at parties so maybe he’s having one of those kinds of night.

IMG_0350.jpg

Just smile and walk on by.

But then the vibe suddenly changes. It all starts when a request is put in for the live band to play Ariana Grande.

IMG_3826

Then someone beckons the Virgin Mary over…

IMG_3820

…only to give her two fingers.

IMG_3819

Next thing you know, the New Year’s Eve party turns into pure chaos. You’re with individuals you’ve never met before in your life and unable to understand a single word they’re saying.

IMG_0860.JPG

Finding an excuse to get away, you turn a corner and find your mates surrounding Jesus, who by now is not looking great. No one has a clue what’s going on and the only friend that can string a sentence together keeps repeating “swear down he was like that when I got here”.

IMG_3795

Then things get very blurry. Somewhere in the chaos there’s the sound of cheering as people welcome in the New Year but otherwise it all becomes a nightmarish mix of Heaven and Hell.

The next morning you visualise the night before as being like this:
IMG_3822

However your friends later inform you that your antics were more like:
IMG_3825

Still, it was a crazy night and a good one at that. A News Year’s Eve that’ll definitely make the top five. You may even choose to get a scene or two from the evening painted and framed to remember forever. Before you head off to take in the fresh air of the New Year you have only one more question to ask your mates.

“How is Jesus fairing?”

IMG_0859.jpg

 

Happy New Year 2019!

The Season Alcoholism Became Trendy: The High Street at Christmas 2018

Hey, guess what? It’s only blinking Christmas.

(Wait, you’re telling me this wasn’t top of your playlist?)

As we enter into the final furlough of Christmas shopping it felt only right I put fingers to keyboard and compose a seasonal post of what the UK consumer markets are trying to flog this year. And boy, has the High Street really invested a lot this year into our well-being.

Kicking off with that point, designers and retail buyers across the land have made a sterling effort to make us more aware of our health this season. It’s good to see decision makers moving away from chocolate and fast food related puns and products. That’s because this year there’s a new fad in town; alcoholism.

IMG_3845

IMG_3775

IMG_3855.jpg

IMG_3842

IMG_3875

IMG_3895

(You get the idea.)

Course, if gin isn’t your bag there are still a scattering of animal puns to be found in shops, however they haven’t charted so well so have found themselves relegated to the tea towel isles of TK Maxx.

And if tea towels or traditional animal puns aren’t your bag then there’s always toilet paper that features a rabid rabbit that looks like an extra from Watership Down.

IMG_3873.jpg

(All I’m saying is that it’s a couple of Bright Eyes plays from…)

woundwort.jpg

And that’s available all year round folks! (The loo roll, not Woundwart.)

Marketers struggling for new and original way to market often take a step back and return to the basic principles. Red is good, bells are better or if either aren’t possible from a branding perspective just stick a hat on it.

IMG_3860
“Yep Jimmy, that’ll do the trick”

Even better though, you could always put a hat to something that’s already a symbol of Christmas. Because if you stuff up the colouring of a traditionally seasonal bird in the factory, chances are a comical hat (that said bird would never wear), well that will entirely baffle and charm consumers into a needless purchase.

IMG_3874.jpg

I’ll take ten.

Now although a number of High Street stores have been making an active effort to advert public attention from certain political disruption (chiefly a UK event beginning with “Brex” and ending with “It”), unfortunately some shops just couldn’t overlook it. I found one bargain outlet stocking what I can only assume to be the retailer’s prediction of what a Post-Brexit banana will look like.

IMG_3857
I think it’s supplier’s decision to put it in a “Jokes and Gags” box that really does it for me. Brexit will impact you too China!

Speaking of China, I don’t find this assumption that British people only wear one sock funny either.

IMG_3894.jpg

What are we paying our taxes for if not to have Foreign Ministers dispel these ridiculous rumours?

You know what, come to think of it I think Europe and the wider world want done with us. I mean, even Denmark (Denmark!) are flooding our stores with what look like neck crackers.

IMG_3896
This is a very different take the the traditional Nutcracker tale I remember as a kid

 

Ok, ok, enough political stuff. Lets get back to the high quality gift giving, such as these fish slippers.

IMG_3818
You know you’re onto a winner when I don’t have to add any dry wit

 

Or an overpriced toothbrush?

IMG_3897.jpg
Getting that unique taste twice a day? That’s the flavour of bulls**t

Course, many people struggle to buy presents who those who may have been somewhat challenging throughout the year. When it comes to particularly ‘difficult’ presentees then I’d always recommend purchasing something that seeks to improve relations between the two parties. Something to subtly tell the recipient to lighten up or shut up.

IMG_3898

Just be prepared for backlash from the recipient and their crew.

IMG_3844
Why do I feel like I’ve had a dream like this?

You know what, this year I think I’m going to revert back to the basics. It’ll be chocolate gift giving all the way with me. At least with festive chocolates everyone knows where they stand.

IMG_3853.jpg
Is that Father Christmas or a slightly squidgy Christmas pudding?

I’m going to stay in, have a glass of wine and watch a festive classic on TV.

thumbnail.jpg

For Christ’s sake!

Merry Christmas Everyone! With love from Jesus.

IMG_3819