Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Job Interview

Suddenly it had gone from a hot summer's day in Prague to a cold dark winter's night in Cardiff. Cars ploughed though the driving rain, their headlights glistening in the gloom like fairy lights. Those caught unawares were sent scurrying for cover as rivers ran in what once were roads. Summer dresses clung to bodies, sandals proved inadequate protection while soaked shirts revealed hairy and not so hairy chests.
I was sheltering under a bus stop watching my counterparts on the other side of the road being splashed by careless drivers cruising too fast down the river. The poor things had thought they were safe under the shelter, they hadn’t figured on the cars drenching them.
I had a decision to make, and finally I knew how The Clash felt; should I stay or should I go? If I stayed, I would be late and that would not make a good impression but if I go, I'd get soaked to the skin also not the best look for a job interview. I looked at the sky for a clue to the weather, the majority was dark grey slate but one corner was a glimpse of light; enough to take a risk? Maybe. But then again the wind was whipping in from the west and the brightness was away to the east and moving further away from me; escape was impossible.
Why hadn't I brought my brolly I mused, not that those with umbrellas were faring much better; the combination of wind and rain was making resistance futile.
Time was ticking, I had to make a decision. It was now or never. I decided to go for it. I hopped across the puddles on the road and already I was regretting my decision. I could feel my shirt sticking to my skin as it was immediately drenched in water, my hair clung to my face and my socks were already sopping wet in my waterlogged shoes. But it was too late now, no turning back, I was wet I may as well get wetter. It was only a five-minute walk but it felt like 5 hours. I tried to avoid the puddles but it became clear that there were no puddles, just one expanse of water. This was a foolish escapade but I had to get to that interview.  

I squelched into the posh building looking like a failed contestant on Total Wipeout. Rain was running down my face, running down my legs, there wasn’t one part of me that was dry. The receptionist looked at me askance when I told him why I was there. What did he expect? Had he never seen anyone wet before? Could he not see it was Armageddon outside? I was shown to a waiting room and managed to nip into the toilet and dry my face on a paper towel before being called into the interview room. I apologised for my look and they said they quite understood but I could tell by the tone of their voices they didn’t.

The interview was awful, the aircon was on full blast and I sat shivering in my wet clothes trying to answer questions while trying to control my breathing. Eventually it was over and I wrote it off as a soggy waste of time. And so it proved to be, by the time I’d walked home, drying off in the now beautiful sunshine, they’d already managed to send me a rejection message, I’d half expected to get it in a bottle.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Tokenism - A Steve Rant

‘Why,’ said Steve as he settled his pint down on the table, Johnny could tell by his voice that he was going to ask a question of little importance in a tone that made it sound like it was a matter of life or death.
‘do they insist on doing announcements in both Welsh and English on Cardiff train station? Only about ten percent of the population speak Welsh, I just don’t see the point.’
Johnny was right, it was the type of thing that only Steve could even think was important.
‘Um cos its the language of Wales I suppose and more and more people are speaking it. It seems utterly sensible to me, it does no harm.’ Johnny was hoping logic would ward off the impending rant.
‘Okay that's fair enough but I don't think there are any Welsh speakers who don't speak English, so why do they do the Welsh announcement second, after the English one? By the time the Welsh comes on everyone has understood the English anyway, making it completely pointless.’
Johnny nodded as Steve took a mouthful.
‘It smacks of an afterthought, like someone just tagged it on. Surely that is more insulting than not having it at all.’
Johnny took a long swig on his pint mulling over what his friend had said, he had to admit Steve had a point even if it was a pointless point.
‘I could understand it if they did Welsh first then the English, then Welsh speakers would have an advantage, maybe encouraging more people to learn Welsh, but as it stands it’s nonsense.’ Steve was on a roll now. ‘They do the same in Boots - to call you for the counter, “cashier number 7 please” then whatever that is in Welsh. I’ve never seen one person look confused at the English and then have a moment of realisation when the Welsh comes. It’s just tokenism, I’d be up in arms if I was one of those Welsh language campaigners.’  
‘But you’re not,’ said Johnny, ‘ so why do you care? You don’t even speak Welsh.’
‘It’s the principle though isn’t it?’ said Steve.
‘And the principle now is that it is your round.’ Johnny smiled.

‘Same again?’ Steve said and then added  ‘un fath eto*?’ with a cheeky smile  as he got up to get the beers. 

*Google translate assures me this is Welsh for Same Again 

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Missed Connections

The thing about self-check-in is that you have no one to blame but yourself. If someone else has allocated you a seat and you end up in amongst 25, 16 year old Italian kids, then you can curse the bastard who checked you in. That offers you some comforting catharsis while the throng are talking excitedly and loudly around you. But if you've chosen that seat yourself then there's nothing to comfort you when kids are passing sweets back and forth across your body and over your head like you just didn't exist. 25 Italians would have been bad enough if we were on time and I was likely to make my tight connection but seeing as we were running 45 minutes late and were still sat on the Heathrow runway going nowhere, I was ticking like a time bomb - it might only have taken one dropped Haribo for me to have a “Falling Down” moment. But of course I was far too British to say anything, so I just sent a load of passive aggressive stares in the offenders’ directions and managed to keep a lid on my own personal volcano. But I arrived in Frankfurt with a banging headache and a long old wait ahead of me. 

I wonder when I started wearing my rose-tinted spectacles, I wonder when I started thinking things were better in the old days, and I wonder if they really were. I seem to remember when flights were delayed in the good old days the airline staff could not apologise enough. But companies certainly never say sorry these days, not real apologies anyway. They mumble their apologies in a half-hearted fashion like a child being forced to apologise to his brother when he is convinced of his innocence. So that's what I got from Lufthansa - they may as well have said.
'It's so unfair why do I have to say sorry, Sorry, there I said it can I have the TV back on now.' But on the bright side they gave me a 10 euro token to spend on food and at least I would be on the same flight as my luggage this time - or so I hoped.

Now anyone who has ever travelled anywhere in the past 10 years will know that airports are now places that think it is reasonable to charge 3 pounds for a bottle of water. So the ten euro token was about as useful as a frog with a trombone. Anyway I was hungry and had time to kill so I went to the restaurant that looked the most promising just so I could be the most disappointed and true to form I was. I ate a wooden burger half paid for by Lufthansa while being patronised by over-attentive waitresses who seem to be auditioning for a role in “TGI Friday the movie”. It was the kind of place where they ask you repeatedly if everything is okay, but really don’t expect to hear the word no. This was my conversation with some poor, unsuspecting waitress.
‘Is everything okay?’
‘Do you mean the food or life?’
‘Um,’ she looked uncertain now, a little confused. ‘the food?’
‘It was okay?’
I think she now thought that out of politeness she should now enquire about life.
‘It stinks’ I said with a grumpy snarl.
They left me alone after that.

Prague airport, home. I’d eventually arrived some 16 hours after I departed from Newport, South Wales, but had my luggage? As is well documented elsewhere my luggage and I are not on the best of terms. My suitcase is a maverick, a free spirit who loves to explore foreign climes; recently spending extra time in Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Istanbul.  So how about this time? Was it tired and achy and longing for its home like its owner, or was it off in search of adventure? The conveyor belt sprang into life and almost immediately bags started to appear, I watched with a mixture of hope that the impossible had happened and resigned acceptance that my suitcase would not have made it to Prague. Quite a throng had formed around the conveyor belt now and bags were coming two a penny. Why do people wrap their luggage in cling film? It costs a near fortune and I always wonder how you get it off when you reach your destination. Scissors I hear you say, well you aren’t allowed scissors in your hand luggage, so what then? Anyway as I was thinking that I noticed the throng was thinning out and there was still no sign of my bag. There were just four of us left now, all bleary eyed, all desperate to go home or to our hotels. There hadn’t been a new case on the conveyor for a good two minutes, surely not.  Then the carousel gave one last shudder, one last cough and threw up 4 more bags amongst them my tired, battered, black suitcase I’d never been so pleased to see an inanimate object in all my life. I gave it a little pat and a smile and wandered off to find myself a taxi.  

Monday, 28 July 2014

View from a night out in Cardiff

The train was full of anticipation, the promise of a night out. Everyone had different ideas of what the fun would entail. - For the boys drinking bottles of Bud it was the hope that the condoms in their pockets would not be coming back with them. For the wild group of women sharing a bottle of wine it was the hope a of dance, a flirt and maybe a quick snog before heading back to their husbands for safety and security. For others it was the thought of a skinful, or the chance to get away from family for a few hours that was appealing. Whatever it was you could almost touch the expectancy in the air.

You don't expect to see a young man on his knees when you go into a pub's toilets. Well I suppose there are some pubs where that is acceptable but not a town centre bar on a Friday evening. He was kneeling on the floor with one arm up over his head and the hand dryer blowing. I have to admit I did a double take and the look on my face told the fella he had some explaining to do.
‘Bit warm, innit’, he said in a strong Welsh accent. ‘Just drying my pits like.’ I smiled at the explanation and left him to it, thinking only in Cardiff. 

Maybe he was trying to dry his pits to impress the girl in the red high heels. They were the highest heels of the evening. Not that the girl particularly needed them being the owner of the longest pair of legs of the evening leading up to the shortest pair of shorts possible. Any longer and the legs would have been unnatural and any shorter and the shorts would have seen her arrested for indecent exposure. But she was having the desired effect, decent exposure - attracting admiring looks from the men and jealous looks from the women. 

The man in the blue shirt thought he was god's gift to women. He didn’t really have the looks to justify his claim but to be fair he had the patter. He’d clocked the long legs in the red shoes but was busy chatting to two sisters and had his eyes on the one in the lime green, summer, knitted  jump suit thing. But she seemed less than impressed with him letting her Goth sister do the laughing, joking and flirting back. Lime green girl was all about the withering put down and the rolling of the eyes. She was making like she wasn't interested at all but that didn't perturb him; he was persistently ignoring the Goth's advances creating a strange three-way conversation. I might have been wrong but I suspected that Lime Green was just playing hard to get, giving her sister a chance, but it would be her that ended up in his bed later that night. 

The woman in the blue dress also hoped to end up in someone else's bed that night, how did I know? Because I’d watched her ease of her wedding ring off and slip it into her handbag.
‘Fuck him,’ she whispered to her mate, ‘I'm gonna have myself some fun tonight.’ Her friend smiled a little uneasily; maybe disapproving of her friend's plans, maybe worried that she'd have to keep a secret or maybe just well aware of the mess that would need cleaning up come the morning.

As the door closed he looked resigned to his fate, like a man about to start a 20-year stretch behind bars. He leant against the door longing to get out, longing to regain his freedom, wondering how he’d got here. But he couldn’t dwell on that now he had a job to do. He pushed the button signalling to the driver that the last train to Ebbw Vale was ready to depart and then looked up and down the train, noting that the air of expectation from earlier in the evening had been replaced by one of mild disappointment as the evening had not quite panned out as planned.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Scenes from the Hayes Island Cafe.

It was a perfect example of the Cardiff strut; top off, showing off a flat chest and flat stomach, all skin and bones my gran would say. His jeans were low slung with ‘Calvin Kein’ boxers peaking over the top - the typo revealing the fraud. He had tattoos up his arms and a bluebird on his chest. The look on his face that said don’t mess with me. His walk was an arrogant bounce, a cocksure swagger, he owned these streets and people gave him a wide birth. He thought he was unique but he was one of 6, 7 or 8 similar types that passed the café that hour.  

He snarled at the studenty couple on the bench, probably his age but a lifetime away in outlook. The male was in touch with his feminine side with his dyed yellow hair, converse boots and make up, while the female was in touch with her male side with her heavy army boots, laddered tights and wild, jet black hair that a floral band struggled to maintain. Their middle class accents and pretentious thoughts formed their words as they laughed and joked and, in their own way, thought they owned the streets too.

The students watched the old man shuffle passed dragging his shopping trolley along behind him as he went. His grey moustache drooped like his back, his heavy deerstalker hat and long trench coat were at odds with the sunny weather and temperatures nudging 28. He looked tired, down-trodded but somehow proud. At first he looked like he was talking to himself but as he neared them they heard the melody of the song he was gently singing.

The chuggers ignored the old man, he was not their demographic, instead they weaved intricate patterns with their feet; approaching and being ignored by the people they thought would have compassion or would be gullible enough to agree to a monthly donation to some charity or other. Despite the bait of good-looking youngsters with winning smiles, the chuggers were fighting a losing battle with people immune to their pleas for help.

Another battle raged, the battle for our ears, a three way battle between the overheating baby with precocious lungs, the busking boys with their jangly guitars and vaguely tuneful voices and the three brightly coloured head scarfs talking animatedly in a language I didn't recognise. But I could recognise facial expressions and it was clear the news was good and the future bright as the three women laughed and smiled at the stories being told.

Cardiff bustled and Cardiff hustled, Cardiff carried a bit too much weight and swore a bit too much, but in the sun shine it oozed with colour, teemed with characters and brimmed with curiosity.