It’s a wonderful life

During the week I questioned my six-year old on why he’s finding it difficult to settle these nights and he simply said “There’s so much wonder in life – how can you expect me to fall asleep”.  How indeed.

I’m guessing there’s a little girl from my son’s class heading to bed tonight wondering (“Where’s my puppy?”). Yesterday I was in their school helping on an arts project. The  6 and 7-year-old kids had to write prayers on a paper ‘feather’ that will be strung to the wings of a cardboard angel as tall as themselves. Myself and another mum were there to coax the words from the children. We were redundant. The boys and girls knew exactly what they wanted to say. We had prayers thanking God for butterflies (girls), Barbie  (satirical at 6), family and rainbows (girls again), children complementing God on creation, hoping God and the angels have a nice life in heaven (that’s my boy), Sam who wished he could make fire and Celine who asked for a dog. “Please bring me a puppy on Friday”.

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Paradise found in a Liberty’s scent

Milton - dense matter
Milton – dense matter

A marble bust on the window sill of the Poetry Cafe caught my attention during a writing exercise. From his perch, he headed our oblong table. Who was he and how did he end up here – a story begging to be written. I found out later that it’s the poet John Milton, the rest I might imagine some day.

My memories of studying Milton when I was at school would concur with the sentiments sellotaped to the sill “Please do not move Milton. He is awfully old and particularly heavy”.

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His poetry wasn’t mentioned or discussed on Saturday. We were gathered for therapeutic writing workshops. The first using somatic writing. Helen, our facilitator defines Somatic writing as “a technique of free-writing that links and integrates different levels of consciousness in a way that is therapeutic, creatively liberating and allows a deep exploration into our true sense of Self. It side-steps the rational mind to access a wisdom deep within, facilitating emotional, psychological and spiritual growth”.

I loved the exercises. One in particular netted us each three words/expressions that we distilled from lengthier text through a series of eliminations. I was left with Returned and At last as my two pillars with Play as my bridge word. I was very happy with my trio – they made perfect sense to me.

After lunch we went straight in to the “Feel the fear and write anyway” workshop. In a visualisation exercise we were encouraged to meet ourselves 10 years on and have a candid conversation. My older-self encounter went well. I was pleased to notice that I had scarcely aged a day. I was struck by how relaxed and together I’d become. And I was intoxicated by a wonderful scent the me-plus-10 was wearing which I instantly recognised as a perfume from Liberty’s. One of the exclusive Le Labo range (Vetiver), not cheap at £105 for 50ml. By 2024, I figure, I must have sorted out my finances because I was dripping in the celestial dew.

So what perils of wisdom did I pass on to me?  Well just like the little boy in the Polar Express movie I was handed “Believe”. In myself I suppose, in her, the woman with the expensive scent.

Thwarted (or how I didn’t become a mystery shopper)

” You could do this while still looking for your Purpose”.

I didn’t want to be a shirker and DH had been very patient with my recent explorations into the recesses of my mind. So together we filled out the online application for me to become a mystery shopper. I like to shop and I like a bit of mystery too and I needed to earn.

A week passed until I learnt by email that I was successful. Within moments my first ‘assignment’ landed in my inbox. There were lots of attachments.

In the initial application, I had to choose shops I like, labels I prefer. When they asked where do I shop I opted for Waitrose over  Lidl, Morrisons and Asda.  I chose Paperchase over Clintons. Pret over Greggs. I’d hoped my assignments would reflect these choices.  I was wrong.  I wouldn’t be riding escalators in Harvey Nicks.  There’d be no visit to a high-end boutique or perfumery. Instead I was to head to one of the largest british retailers of floor coverings in a shopping arcade in the suburbs.

A trade that's died out - who'd be a chimney sweep.
A trade that’s died out – who’d be a chimney sweep

I found out how they can keep things secret. The remuneration is so tiny you’d be embarrassed to talk about it.

I was told the date for the reconnaissance, just a couple of days on. I could choose the time. I’d go for a slot after school pick-up. Though I would have to shake off the kids first.

I called in a favour from a pal. She would bring my two to the park with her own in the afternoon while I headed to the shops. “For a little bit of retail therapy” I lied.  No-one could know.

I read through the paperwork. It was all very cloak and dagger with references to mystery shopper and assignments, briefs and cover stories. I read over ‘my brief’ – seven pages of instructions and FAQs. I was to stick to a story, “my script”. I was looking to replace carpet for my daughter’s bedroom. I could choose the colour/texture. They suggest I use my own home’s dimensions.  It would be more authentic that way.

On entering the store I was to note how busy it was on the shop floor, give descriptions of staff I saw and names for those I had any interaction with. Without names I wouldn’t receive payment. I must make note of how long I was in the shop before I was approached. Notice what they offered me and if they tried to close the sale. How could I get all that information from a casual encounter without logging it as the events unfolded? That’s what I was expected to do as soon as I exited the store. I wasn’t off the meter then either.

There were two parts to the assignment. The phone call must follow the visit. This time I would have to count the rings until my call was answered. Pick up any names I encountered along the way, bearing in mind that payment would be withheld if I didn’t get a name. Give a similar cover story with the same prompts and note what comes back in terms of suggestions and additional offerings.

Then before 8 hours lapsed (or else payment would be withheld) I was to file a web report and be prepared to answer all those questions once more.

Mission accomplished… £10 would find it’s way to my bank account.

On the night before the assignment, I could feel a knot of anxiety build in my tummy as I read over my brief and tried to remember all the details I needed, especially those that in forgetting would forfeit my fee.  My pal texted to confirm her plans to pick up my kids and she suggested I enjoy and extend my kid-free time. Go for a coffee as well as a browse, she urged. If only she knew. But true to my assignment she nor any others ever would.

I woke up next morning and the mystery of mystery shopping thrilled no more. Instead it seemed exploitive and mean. To me and the unsuspecting store assistants. How was this information going to be used? Maybe someone had been professional and courteous to previous customers but needed the loo and had been curt with me. Or was just having an off day or even an off afternoon. How could I capture those statistics? Could they get an unfavourable report and lose their jobs over something I noted?

I wasn’t comfortable about lying to my pal.  I suppose I could stretch the truth. Thanks for having my kids.  I had a lovely time, I went shopping.

When the alarm went, “mystery shopping” was evidently on both our minds but my husband was the first one to make the call. “They are taking the piss”. That’s all it took.  I hopped out of bed.  Fired off a quick email to my employer declining the assignment. It was the best £10 I ever lost. Worth every penny and more.  Much more. Just as I was too .

Drama in the Book Group

2014 is my year of learning. It follows 2013, my year of yearning (not a lot of action, but forming ideas of where I wanted to be), with 2015 earmarked as a year to (properly) start earning. Then I can drop the rhyming :)

Today the universe delivered me a lesson….when it all kicked off at the book club and I came up short.

I volunteer with a local library as a reading group facilitator and today we met for the third time. I made the volunteering gesture early last year when I had more time on my hands and it took until November to launch the “Memoirs and biographies reading group”. Nice people. Smart and well read with a couple of book group veterans among them. They sometimes refer to their other groups. M helpfully suggested that we do a marks out of 10, comme her other group, so we’ve incorporated that in to our meet. Though today S refused to give a ranking. He said the grading reminds him of being a teacher and he preferred to be free of that. He wasn’t in great form.

We were discussing “The Hare with the Amber eyes” (the month’s book)but conversation was hopping around and I didn’t reign it in. I was finding it hard to politely interject when I probably should have pulled rank. In the past people seemed happy with this organic pacing.

We discussed the book at length though we didn’t read excerpts. One minute we were on the book, the next we were chatting about celebrity autobiographies, first wives, John Lennon and Cynthia, then John and Yoko. Back to our book. Before veering on to Paul and Linda with insider insights courtesy of some roadie acquaintances.

Today S found the free form of the session frustrating and M’s “interruptions” very distracting. This wouldn’t happen at his “other” group. M had already disclosed that she’d had a personal loss over Christmas and was feeling particularly vulnerable. S seemed to dismiss this and said we all had issues. M apologised but seemed a little wounded. Contrite, she still interrupted. She’s not aware and means no offence.

I could feel eyes on me. Do something! I didn’t wade in when I should have. I froze. I find it difficult to come off the fence – a perch I take a lot in life. Instead I moved us on to next month’s book choice. In the house of the interpreter by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o.

I’m confident that they’ll all turn up for February’s meeting and I’ll get my chance then.  I plan on running a tighter session and introducing some sort of comfort agreement. Let’s hope I fare better with a bunch of school children tomorrow when we launch our creative writing club.

What have we got here # 2

The big hit in santa’s looty was our boy’s electric guitar which just pipped at the post the junior punch bag and boxing glove set.

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For a couple of weeks our boy sang of heartache (she left me and I’m sad) warbling with as much emotion as a 6 year old can muster. I couldn’t be sure he wasn’t talking about losing his iPad. He sang of revolution (we’re going to tear down the walls, the walls, the walls)as well as loss.

He even took it to bed with him one night. It lay on top of the covers by his side so it would be the first sight to greet him the next morning. Or maybe he could see that his dad had designs on it.

Can a guitar serve two master? When his son was asleep DH could be found tinkering with it himself. He looked up YouTube tutorials (“how difficult can it be”) talked to musos at work, and declared that he was going to get a guitar too. I helpfully suggested that he get another one of these which I know retail for £30 at JL.

Oh but no.DH did his research and found himself a very handsome – albeit diminutive – guitar. A parlor guitar he said.

Before he left for work on Friday DH was suspiciously interested in my plans for the day, specifically my movements between 10-1. I took delivery that morning.

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Father and son unpacked the parcel last night. And to see our little man’s disappointment as his dad revealed the handsome instrument. Crushing. He’d sized it up in an instant. This was the superior guitar. It looked and played better than his. He hasn’t picked up his own guitar since.  Though he can’t keep away from his dad’s.

So what have we here – Parlour guitar, a red Ferrari or the Grinch that stole Christmas

What have we got here # 1

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To most, this is simply a bottle of shower gel. Though maybe it’s not the bottle you’d buy when the one in your bathroom is low. Enriched with relaxing P.D.O (Protected Designation of Origin) lavender essential oil from Haute-Provence it cleanses the skin ever so gently while leaving behind a subtle pleasant scent.  Not a cheap procedure. I’m guessing it’s the “ever so gently” and “subtle” that shoots up the rrp to £13. Over 6 times what I’d pay for my regular gel (if it’s not on offer – 12 times when it is).

I was given it in the summer as a gift. Almost immediately I thought who can I gift it on to. Not because I didn’t like it. On the contrary. It was too good for me to use. Or just plain too good for me. I had plenty of beneficiaries in mind. So I put it away, still in its pretty L’occitane packaging. And every time there was an occasion when I could have parted with it, I didn’t. I’d reach for the bottle and feel a resistance.  A niggle.  That the gel was rightfully mine.

It did well to survive the Christmas gift-giving. Heading into 2014, with my word for the year being Abundance  (and funnily enough I picture that as a golden shower) as I was doing my daily ablutions on Monday I reached for it  – my little bottle of self-worth.