Thursday, 27 September 2012


See a penny, pick it up and all day long you'll have good luck.” I recited scooping a penny from the pavement. I held it aloft and rolled it between my thumb and index finger. Caught in the light, the Queen's copper head glinted, her thin lips look pursed, but she could be smiling. Is a shiny new penny luckier I wondered? If you picked up a penny that's old and brown, would your luck too be tarnished? A bad penny, layered with dirt, discoloured by other people's misfortune. Could this be why brown pennies are mostly used for making wishes? Flung in a fountain or down a well? Fingerprints washed away, cleansed by water. Brown penny, make a wish and get rid; shiny penny, pick up for a full day's good luck. Someone should investigate this, conduct a study to find out.
Personally I don't recall any instances of luckiness on 'I-saw-a-penny-day'. It would make no difference even if I had for I was intent on saving. Browns and coppers stashed in my purse for a rainy day. Tempted to dip my fingers in fountains and wishing wells, save the coins from drowning. Rescue them from a watery grave. Hands held tightly behind my back; resist, resist, resist... “Money doesn't grow on trees”, my dad told me. I never thought it did nor did I trust the money-spider. Why does he always tell me this? Money doesn't grow, it's made by Snow White's seven dwarves tunnelling underground in caves. Really, adults are so stupid! I thought as I rolled my five-year old eyes. But I liked being a money-saver; listening for the clunk as I pushed bronze coins into money-box tins, rattling the container. Emptying them out on my bedroom floor, counting one, two, three.... two, four, six... Separating the pennies from the pences. Inhaling their stale, musty-brown odour, which left a residue on my fingers. Penny fragrance, an Autumn perfume: the mulch of dead leaves and bonfires.
The bank was important. Men in suits and women that sat behind huge glass screens. My head just reached above the counter, money-bags clutched in one hand and my savings book in the other. My fists prised, coins and book swiped from the customer's side to the banker's. My pennies scrutinised, patiently counted; the sum calculated. A proud smile touching my lips as my pocketbook is transferred back: I did this! These frugal lessons have stayed with me. Penny-pinching gives my heart that same leap of satisfaction, along with receiving a payslip or cheque for services rendered. Managing my funds, creating a cushion.
The way banks operate has altered; it's harder to access your money or talk to someone about your finances. Nobody is on familiar terms with their bank manager. Telephone and Internet banking is a web of security passwords. All of us duped by their assurances. The economic climate we find ourselves in was a sudden boom, a crash, but was it? Somewhere there was a gradual shift away from saving. A switch to spending, hemorrhaging. A subtle tide to have what you want when you want it: credit. The account entries in red, unbalanced.
There's a wise Japanese saying: 'A fortune begins with a penny.' The colour red may not be considered lucky by us, but a penny should be. Seeing a penny and picking it up could change your luck: begin with bronze, follow with silver, then go for gold!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Yes Or No?

Do you ever regret lost opportunities? The jobs, people, or invitations you said 'no' to? Do you regret the ones you accepted? The ones where you said 'yes' without hesitating? Impulsively consenting. Have you ever considered what kind of person you are: a yes or a no?
We've all used yes or no in response to closed questions, but predominantly which one are you? Do you generally accept or decline? I'm a decliner. What some people describe as 'no fun'. The 'no' popping out of my mouth like bubblegum, even at times when I don't mean it. I wonder 'what if?' but still give a shake of my head, mouth no. That's not to say I always refuse, but nine times out of ten I do. Extremely lucky if yours is the tenth invitation: Yes! Yes! Yes! She said yes? She accepted? People have fainted at my feet before. From shock? Most probably, but it could have been due to fright: how would they cope with an enigma in company? Would I be polite or hostile? Sit in steely silence or be talkative? An unknown quantity, they'd need to keep an eye on me.
I said yes until my late-20s, but it was still a word I uttered less than my peers. Yes was said to discos, then clubs and holidays, but other things I always said no to. No to anything out-of-the-blue, sprung on me. Unprepared. No to people I didn't want to date, an occasional yes creeping in. Mistakes. No to people I liked. No to finding out, or if I did I couldn't handle it. It was too much. No comes out of my mouth more than it used to, yes is too complicated. Yes is in danger of becoming extinct, disappearing from my vocabulary.
What makes a person say no more than yes and vice versa? Is it nature or conditioned behaviour? Both? If the following was put to you, what would be your answer? A prince or princess knocks on your door and offers you a different life. Do you take it? I don't know that I would. I'm more likely to reply, “Thank you, but no. Goodbye Prince Charming.” The fairy book character that brushes Prince Charming away, exclaiming “'ere git off!” Or takes hold of a broom and bars him from entering. He's not crossing my threshold! Programmed to resist, unbending. No to fairy tale endings, but yes to opportunities knocking.
Choice. The two options neatly summed up in one phrase. Do we know how lucky we are to have it? Free will to choose, even if it may not always seem it. The point when to pronounce yes or no is left up to you; only you can change it.

Thursday, 13 September 2012


I fish out my key, unlock my mail box, a red and white card greets me. Royal Mail. 'Something For You' branded at the top. The time, today's date, my name and address. Damn! Now I'll have to go to the sorting office or rearrange delivery. I check my watch, it's a little after midday. I've just missed him. I shouldn't have walked my mum to the bus stop. Hang on, my block is usually first, there are three separate entrances. The postman must still be around somewhere. I'll hunt him down, claim my 'too large' packet. I was right! There he is! In the courtyard, in uniform and wheeling his trolley in front of him. I race across, shopping bags banging against my legs, and intercept him, “Sorry to trouble you, I think you have something of mine.” Waving the card in front of him. “No trouble.” He smiles, handing my prize: a white jiffy bag over.

I've always had a special relationship with the 'postman'. No, not the 'milkman' variety. As a girl, I'd learnt the game of 'Fetch!' Played it with the dogs. The rattle of the letter box, the sprint to collect. The door's mouth opening, a narrow slit, envelopes falling through. Sealed rectangles or squares picked up from the mat by my hands, not my teeth. My ponytail flicked: was there anything for me? Bouncing up and down if there was. Excited: who could it be? Who's writing was that? My name and address scribbled or printed carefully. Was it recognisable to me? Different scripts, calligraphy. Someone cared to put pen to paper, to write to me.

Postman Pat is to blame for this, him and his cat, Jess. On his rounds, bringing news to the villagers. Motoring along the lanes in his red van and plodding up their driveways. A whistle, a hum; pushing letters through the flap or a rat-a-tat-tat on the door. I'd watch, listen for Mr. Postie. He would come before school, rain or shine. A regular time, an identifiable gait. A race down the stairs, wait... The same game played even during the holidays, in another house.

Mail structured the world, forged new connections, before the Internet superseded it. Emails are not the equivalent. I grant you, the response is quicker, but is that better? Seeing 'New Mail' in bold, is not the same as receiving a stamped addressed envelope. Unsealing it with your fingers, not a click to open it. Holding a handwritten letter, not reading it typed off a screen. Correspondence like this is an occasional treat and will always be, for me, first class.

Thursday, 6 September 2012


Can I have some service please?!” I ring the bell. Ding! Nothing. No cough or 'Coming! Be right with you Madam.' from the room beyond. “Service! Service!” I holler, jamming the bell with my finger, ding-ding-ding-ding-ding...I let out a deep sigh of indignation. “Thank you. Have a nice day.” I mutter, as I read the sign taped to the counter: If at first you don't succeed, try again. I guffaw sarcastically. The small print underneath says: We can also be contacted by phone and email. Er, when??? I've tried and received the standard response: 'All our operators are busy at the moment. Please try later.' Email replies have been the same: auto-generated. Arrggghhh, this is driving me insane!

Rational people give up sooner, think 'oh well, forget it. I'll go elsewhere.' Those half-crazed from failing to get a response get madder. They think, 'If I try this, maybe I'll get through.' Write. Redial, hold the line. Countless times. Complain. A game of persistence. The foreign voice reading the script can't comprehend your deviations. You speak louder, faster. Not slower. Lose your patience and wring the phone. Cut yourself off, slam the phone down in its cradle. The matter is not resolved. Shops fare a little better, except you get that stare if you, god forbid, ask where something is. Interrupt their shelf-stacking or a cosy chat. A huff, a frown, that look of can't-you-see-I'm-busy. Sometimes you get the other look, the duh-I-don't-understand-you. Face blank, I can't help you. The tired old line, 'We don't stock that.' Then you spy it, do a dance on-the-spot. Eureka, you found it!

Where has service-with-a-smile gone? What has happened to our attitude? When I say 'our', I refer to us - all of us- as we all use the service industry. At some point we've been the employee and/or customer. Played each role. How do you act? Did you still continue to treat others as you would like to be treated? Do you get frustrated? Do you assume different attitudes? Become more demanding or surly? As customers, are you unreasonable? As employees, are you bothered? I have an example I'll like to share which happened in a branch of Wilkinson. I was standing in line, the next one but one in the queue. In front, a 40-something man, was about to be served. We'll call him Nutter 'cos that's what it said on his t-shirt. Nutter was rude to the middle-aged female cashier, expecting her to unload his brimming basket, pack his items in plastic bags and be quick about it. The request to empty his basket went down like a lead balloon. He has to do that as well? His language brittle, jaw clenched. Eyes shifty. The cashier scanned and packed, Nutter grudgingly handed a note over. Exited. My turn, I had to comment: remarked on her patience, wished her a better day. Said she was relieved to be clocking off. I understood. I emphathised.

Where has being human gone? Where is the service in dealing with 'real' people?