A survivors guide to public transport.

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I have a friend who loves the bus. There are a multitude of things in this world that I will never quite understand, and this strange infatuation with public transport is one that really tops my list. (On the off chance that you are curious what else is on the list, number two is people who eat kiwi skins.)

We’re all busy, and we need to get from A to B. I’ve exhausted many a mode of transport in my time, including several scrapes, bruises hysterical tears involving roller-blades and a scooter (best not to ask). I’ve been trampled on the train, comfortable in the car and breathless on a bicycle – but more often than I would like, I find myself baffled on the bus.

I have a car, and I like to zip about in it like nobody’s business. It’s blue and it is the nicest thing I have ever owned. In fact, in the first week of owning it i genuinely just drove around my house in constant circles inwardly squealing with glee.

Sadly I can’t drive everywhere, partially because parking prices are astronomical, and also because there are rivers, oceans and swamps in the way sometimes. In situations such as these, I resign myself with a heavy heart to public transport.

Please don’t mistake this as me being snobby, I used to love the bus. I loved it so much I would pay for a day long ticket and just sit on it all day for the sheer thrill. (The last part is a lie, sorry.)

The relationship between the bus and I took a swerve for the worse when I started to notice the increasing amount of unusual incidents and people I happened across whilst on one, near one or even thinking about one. If I were Harry Potter (the dream) then I would have a scar in the shape of the First Bus Logo on my forehead and clutch at it, wincing in pain whenever I roamed too near a bus terminal.

Lets briefly examine some of the reasons that the bus is a little bit beastly:

1) They are never on time. You have a meeting at half past two? Well you’d be best leaving two weeks in advance, riding a camel. The bus you hope to be on will probably catch up with you at some point on your journey, if you’re lucky. Unfortunately it’s still unlikely that you will be on time for your meeting.

2) Bus drivers have gone mad with power. I’m not going to lie, if I were a bus driver I would be 102% likely to become delirious with power, and wreak havoc with bus routes and customer sanity alike.

Some of my funniest childhood memories are trying to coordinate catching the bus to school with my friend, Kirsty. We lived in streets right next to each other, with a bus stop considerably closer to mine than hers. Every morning I would wait at the stop for Kirsty to arrive, with the anticipation of the buses arrival in my stomach. Every day was the same. I would hear the distant choking of the engine just as I caught a glimpse of Kirsty emerging from her street, her eyes darting in the direction of the approaching bus. She would start to scurry forward, arms flailing at her sides in an attempt to arrive at the stop in time to hop on.

I knew it was futile, Kirsty knew it was futile and the bus driver who pulled up every day with a wicked glint in his laughing eyes, certainly knew there was no point in Kirsty running. Sometimes I’d offer:”Oh, my friend, she’s just coming, she’s running – can we wait?” I won’t even tell you what the driver’s response was as we hurtled towards school, him inwardly cackling, poor Kirsty left panting somewhere on the pavement and me toying with the guilt of leaving her behind, mingled with the hilarity of the whole thing.

3) They are the oddest shapes. Somewhere at Bus HQ, there are people brainstorming up the great ideas such as: “Lets stick another bus on top, or how about on the end with a spring in between?” I don’t know about you but frankly I’m concerned as to what could possibly come next. The notorious bendy-bus gives me the FEAR every time it risks a dodgy corner, and still everyone is astonished when it gets stuck.

4) I got stuck in the doors once. I feel this traumatic incident needs no further explanation.

5) Probably the most irritating of all the issues, are the people who frequent these vessels. I consider this an open letter to you all, where ever you may be:

To the lady in the rainbow feathered coat, standing in the middle of the road trying to flag down the bus. Please stop it, that is not how the bus works. You are disregarding every bus stop in the land by trying to flag us down, as well as risking getting flattened and resembling a squashed parrot,. (At least more than you already do.)

To the youth at the back of the bus who is blasting old tunes by DJ Sammy from his Samsung at the back of the bus. I banish thee back to 2006, where it was still not socially acceptable to act this way, but at least with more of your kind you could hopefully clump together elsewhere.

To the person who smells. (Why is there always someone who smells?!) If my nostrils could talk they would be howling.

To the man who insists on selecting the seat beside me, instead of the dozens of vacant ones surrounding me. Your motives are questionable sir.

To the person who comes on the bus ready for a fight. Usually recognisable by the manner in which they barge on to the bus, anorak clad with their chest puffed out like an angry Robin. They greet the driver with an “I’ve been waiting for 20 minutes” style rant, before turning to their fellow bus goers in an attempt to rally some support. I’ve seen this a few times and the results can range from a feeble cheer somewhere at the back, to sheer mutiny. Personally, I’m just trying to get to work, please keep this citizen rage to yourself.

To the sneaky individual who suddenly feigns a lack of hearing when we start to approach my stop. I have alerted you to it’s proximity through the usual techniques: collecting and rustling my bags, moving in my seat in preparation to stand, dinging the bell once, twice – even thrice. You ignored my polite: “well, this is me” and you are pointedly staring at a stranger at the other side of the bus. Please let me off, I in no way intend to extend this journey we have taken together.

To the poor individual who has fallen asleep. Where is your home? I’m concerned for your welfare and inwardly hope you didn’t mean to hop off the bus in Shetland.

To the person that I don’t know very well that defies societies guidelines and sits down beside me. First of all, points for being friendly, however you have now committed both of us to either half an hour of conversation, or a period of awkward silences and eye catching. Just say hello when you’re walking past to avoid us both babbling about the weather and what we had for lunch three days ago.

To the person on the phone who has just invited every fellow passenger into the finer details of their private life. We don’t know Brian, and we are sorry that you two are having trouble but we really didn’t need to know the gory details.

– I’m going to halt my tangent here, because I’m starting to worry that I may never stop this petrol fueled rant. In any case – bring a book, friend, or patience of a saint when encountering a bus because bless you kind sir, you’re going to need it.

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Moan free – since yesterday at half past three.

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We’re only human – we come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and wacky personalities. Some of us love the colour brown, some are weird about knitting and some eat far too much cheese. There is however one common denominator. (Obviously besides the basics like two eyes and a nose.) This constant in our lives is that we all have beef.

Now before we get off on the wrong foot – or hoof, I’d like to make it clear that I am not referring to the meat of a cow and I certainly am not accusing any fellow humans of carrying this on their person on a daily basis. If however you do like to fill your pockets with mince, I recommend stopping this immediately.

Moooooving on…

By beef, I refer to the qualms, quibbles, grouches, grumps, complaints and sigh inducing moans that we regularly like to share with the rest of the world. Our problems, the inducers of the eye roll and the source of many an impatient glare.

On average, a person will complain 72 times a week. That’s around 10 per day. (Probably with the straggling two falling on a gloomy Monday.) The main contenders for these moans are the weather, internet connection, other drivers, relatives and something the other half has done.

We moan because we are human. It makes us feel better to know we have a team of supporters rallying around us, ready at the shortest notice to pick up their pitch forks. Moans fit into two main categories, that I will try my best to explain by setting the scene.

I’m having lunch with my friend Matthew, we’re both tucking into sandwiches that have been eagerly anticipated after a stressful morning spent knitting a jumper for a three legged man. I’m feeling enormously disappointed by my own choice, an underwhelming tuna salad and I look up to see Matthew very much enjoying what looks like a BLT. I may say “Oh what a terrible life, this sandwich is disgusting. Why me?” My reasoning for moaning about my sandwich will be 90% spoken in the hope that Matthew will give me his sandwich.

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Alternatively, I may be finishing off the remnants of Matthew’s BLT, and drop it in a puddle. There is no more of his lunch to rob him of, so when I now turn to Matthew, feeling altogether defeated I will moan because it will make me feel better. Sometimes all we need to marginally improve a situation is someone to listen and nod along, even if they are daydreaming about tangerines the whole time.

What I began to wonder is – does this actually make us feel any better, or does dwelling on all those many less fantastic aspects of daily life simply make us want to go and sit in a very dark cupboard for a while? Personally, I think the latter. Forgive my ‘always look on the bright side’ rationale, but sometimes a hearty rant is not going to fix things.

It was somewhere along this thought process that I decided to experiment this ideamyself. I donned my lab coat, goggles and slippers (for comfort more than practicality) and ran forth with a ready mind into the flames of curiosity! *This has been exaggerated slightly for dramatic effect.*

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“The best way to cheer yourself up, is to cheer somebody else up.” – Mark Twain

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So thus I began 24 hours without moaning. Not a peep, not a whine not a whimper. (Mostly.)

In all honesty, I had a bit of a stinker of a day. It was windy, it was cold, my hair was a disaster and I lost my eyeliner. My new shoes gave me blisters and someone coughed and I actually saw the germs and chunks of their mysterious lunch fly towards my face at alarming speed. I humphed home feeling a bit like Quasimodo looks in Hunchback of Notre Dame. Just as I switched on the TV to enjoy a whopping three episodes of Neighbours that I had recorded as a treat (I love it more than life) – a family member who will not be identified
decided to chat through the whole thing. I retired upstairs and spontaneously decided to dye my hair and accidentally turned it a strange shade of orange at the bottom. WHAT A DAY.

Each time something slightly disheartening occurred, I became so aware that my mouth opened instinctively to moan about it. Upon shutting my mouth and keeping this thought to myself, I discovered that I felt no differently. There was no crippling weight upon my shoulders, there was no excruciating urge to cry my troubles from the nearest hilltop, hell did not freeze over and life carried on as normal.

After a while, I stopped feeling this unnecessary need to share my problems with people who are probably much happier not listening.

24 hours didn’t feel like so long after all, not even when I was woken up at 5.15am by a series of persistent calls from a number I do not know. (Thank you nocturnal stranger.)

So was my experiment a success? Maybe. I discovered that moaning doesn’t actually improve your situation, and sometimes a problem shared is not a problem halved at all – it’s like cleaning up mud with dirt.

So next time you’re stuck in rush hour traffic, or stood in dog poo, or maybe you’re Madonna and you’ve fallen off the stage at the Brits – hesitate before you holler. Chances are, your day could be a lot worse, unless of course you are Madonna. Look on the bright side, smile at a stranger or just suck it up and get on with it.

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If you liked it, you should have put a (Dough)ring on it.

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Now I love to don my baking hat more often perhaps than your average pasty pete, but it can be tricky trying to find the time and the energy to make something fandabydosy during a busy week when all you want to do is sit and watch Neighbours.(At least I do anyway.)

Last night I thought I’d cheer up my Thursday and dabble with the world of donuts. This recipe for mini donuts is easy peasy, produces loads and gives you free rein to go mad with decorations to your hearts content.

Not being the best decision maker, I decided – why choose? I made Salted Caramel with Shaved Chocolate, Eton Mess, Lemon Drizzle and of course your old school iced with sprinkles. (you can’t beat the classics.)

Here’s what you’ll need:

500g Self Raising Flour

90g unrefined golden caster sugar

1teaspoon of baking power

2teaspoons of sunflower oil

2 free range eggs (happy chickens, happy happy donuts)

120ml of whole milk

Vegetable oil (for frying)

(This should make around 30 depending on the size you cut.)

Method:

Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, sifting together the flour and baking powder before adding sugar and giving a good old mix.

In a separate bowl, beat your eggs before adding sunflower oil and milk.

Slowly add to the dry mix and beat until you have a lovely fluffy, big ol’ ball o dough. (Work those guns!)

Prepare a floured surface and using a rolling pin, roll the dough flat to roughly 1cm thickness.

At this point, you will need to use a circular cutter and cut your rings from the dough. Use a smaller cutter to make the small hole in the middle.

Now in a deep saucepan, heat vegetable oil to around 170 degrees and cook 2-3 rings at a time. Add them slowly and cook on each side until a light golden colour before flipping and cooking the other side. It should only take a few minutes.

– be careful as oil can heat very quickly. If your first donut looks like it is quickly turning brown then briefly remove the oil from the heat before cooking your next batch.-

Leave the cooked donuts to cool on some kitchen roll and allow to drop in temperature slightly before decorating.

At this point, this is where you can go mental with toppings!

Here are some of my ideas and suggestions:

Lemon drizzle – poke small holes in your donut while still hot and pre-prepare a batch of icing sugar to make a ziiiiiingy glaze. Pour over and allow it to soak up. It’s lovely if you finish this with either a dusting of icing sugar, or grated lemon zest.

Eton mess- with this one you have the option to go totally homemade, or cheat a bit (I won’t tell if you cheat..) You can make buttercream using a small amount of butter and icing sugar with just a dash of vanilla extract. Lightly brush this over the top of the ring. This is to act as a glue more than anything so don’t worry about being neat (mess is a given, it’s in the name). Next, bash up 2 meringues and mix together with a fruit compote. (you can buy this in a supermarket, or make your own using red berries, icing sugar and boiling water in a pan, reducing down until thick and then cooling before use.) Add the fruity meringue mix on top of the buttercream layer and voila.

Salted Caramel (sugar, butter, cream and salt) drizzled over the top. This works with loads of toppings, the best ones are shaved chocolate, crushed crunchy bar or malteasers OR my personal favourite – broken pieces of salted popcorn.

The classic – Old school icing sugar, go wild and add a bit of food colouring if you are feeling particularly adventurous. cover your ring in this before rolling in hundreds and thousands (or any similar variation). This one is always a crowd-pleaser.

These are great as a last minute bake, because they really take hardly any time at all to make. (Just a wee while to clean up depending on how carried away you get with the icing.) These are perfect to bring along to parties, to make mini goodie bags with or as a nice Christmas present when you don’t want to break the bank.

The final and most important part of the whole shebang? Pop the kettle on make yourself a cuppa.

Enjoy!

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This week got me thinking.

Last week was a bit of a funny one. I completed by second week of placement at my local TV station which was pretty neato. It’s hard work being thrown into the grown up world, but so far I’m really loving it. I feel like I’m running all over the place so I thought I’d post a nice simple post with some of my observations from the last week.

1) I have decided that anyone in a long coat should not be trusted. You know exactly who I mean; that guy that you see parting the crowds, billowing down the street with a long coat flying out behind him. Your eyes dart over it suspiciously, or at least mine do. I can only assume that in such a lengthy coat, there must be compartments where they are selling watches/ sandwiches from on street corners. Unless you suffer from very cold knees or have a role in a matrix remake, there is no requirement for such a monstrosity.

2) There is no evening better spent that one crafting away, though, I must admit that many of my attempts may be questionable. (I revert back to the occasion I tried to make my own lampshade and created the single most flammable object I have ever seen). Just now I am trying to decorate a globe. So far painting it has been quite simple, once I stopped being surprised every time the bloody thing moved. Right now I am trying to figure out ways to stab a small hole in it without shattering it entirely. If anyone has any previous experience with stabbing a globe, please let me know.

3) Valentines day is weird. I work in a restaurant, and I had really never given much thought to this particular day before I had to suffer through vomit inducing couples in their hundreds. I know it’s nothing more than something fueled by card companies and people making money out of it, but the people that come crawling out of the woodwork to eat food together on this day are astounding! A top tip I will give to all gents is don’t propose in a public place unless you know she is going to say yes. There is little more awkward than watching a woman turn down the poor guy across from her, then both in turn stare awkwardly at the bowl of pasta before them. Please spare us all.

4) Milk is so weird! Why are you all drinking it? Stop drinking it! Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww. 

5) Breakfast food always tastes better when consumed outwith traditional breakfast hours. Why is this? I think we all love a bit of rebellion, and nothing is more ‘off the rails’ than tucking in to a bowl of cereal at 10pm at night, I’m honestly amazed that the police haven’t tracked me down yet for this sort of behaviour. I’ll wait. They’ll come.

6) Small acts of kindness really do go a long way. This isn’t me telling you to buy the next person you see an apple, don’t worry. However what’s wrong with telling someone that their hair looks proper cool or their new shoes really bring out their knees? Nothing. I dare you to pay someone a genuine compliment and make their day. It goes a long way and really costs you nothing.

7) Salmon are the chickens of the sea. Think about it, they absolutely are. Weird.  

My comfortable throne of lies and I.

Yesterday I bought a bar of Chocolate.

*Yes, this thrilling start is the envy of many a great novel.

This wasn’t just any bar of chocolate. This was a pure-dead-swanky, three pounds worth of chocolate. But who am I to deny myself such treats on what is otherwise a glum Wednesday?

The perfectly polite cashier asked me: “Is this a treat for you, or a present?”

Nothing outrageous there, I’m not opposed to some friendly conversation. However what happened next is something that has begun to trouble me.

I would consider myself an honest person, usually this is involuntary and I surrender to the truth that I am a poor liar and generally don’t bother trying. Recently, I have turned over a new leaf. From exaggerated truths, I have tripped and stumbled down the slippery slope of a serial fabricator. I am not alone in my actions, on average 60% of us will lie during a ten minute conversation.

If recent behaviours are any indication of what is to come, I will have such a Pinocchio style nose that I may begin to use it as a coat peg.

To halt my own tangent, I will resume my riveting tale of chocolate buying because, I know you are dying to hear more.

I found myself frozen, quickly replying: “Oh no, this is for a friend. She’s having a bad day!” before galloping out of the shop, chocolate in hand. I thought I had successfully evaded a self-inflicted awkward scenario, but I was sadly mistaken.

A few moments later with a mouth half full of chocolate, I glanced up from the bench I was seated on, only to slowly realise that I had selected the only bench directly outside the shop. As this realisation struck, I caught the eye of the now amused looking sales worker, who was very much enjoying the sight of me eating my ‘friends’ chocolate, alone on a bench.

For such a small and insignificant lie, the embarrassment was of course not worth it. Regardless of this, my deceit does not cease.

On Saturday I ordered myself to a taxi to work. (My hummer was getting repainted so I had to slum it.)

Once I had exhausted the usual forms of taxi driver chat (“got any holiday’s planned this year, mate?”) I found myself spinning yet another tangled web.

“I’m just off to work you know. I work in Marks and Spencer’s.” I cheerily babbled. To clarify: I do not work in Marks and Spencer’s, I work in a nice Italian restaurant and have done for the past 2 years.

The remainder of the twelve minute journey consisted of me knitting together more bizarre strings of conversation regarding my non existent career at the local M&S. Before I knew it, I was a dedicated member of staff in the foods department; working part time and until 6 pm that very evening. I found myself half alarmed, and half hysterical at my strange new life.

The situation drew to a close as the driver neared the store and pulled up short outside a small side door. With a slightly smug look he said: “This is the staff door, Isn’t it?”

The poor taxi man was obviously very pleased with himself, taking me all the way to the staff door believing truly to have done me a favour. I stepped out the car with a feeble smile, lingering momentarily outside the staff door to the building I did not work in, and considered my next move. I had no choice: I adopted my lie-gallop once again and clip clopped down the street and away from Marks and Spencer’s, as my unsuspecting taxi driver friend watched on.

Now both these scenario’s are hardly extreme as far as the lie chart measures, however they are without a doubt ridiculous and entirely self-inflicted.

We are most likely to lie about our achievements, finances and health according to surveys. Generally, humans tell lies to make themselves look better, or in situations where their self confidence feels threatened. As for myself, I’m not entirely sure about my motives, and it is entirely possible that I have been hit over the head with a tin of beans and suffered a strange personality change.

Regardless, I will offer some pearls of wisdom and advice, since I am now a professional liar extraordinaire:

1) Flee the scene immediately. Don’t sit on a bench mere metres away, it’s embarrassing.

2) Never lie with your mouth full, you may choke and die.

3) When telling a lie about your life, you may as well go all the way. Change your name, call yourself Betty and say you have a cat called Simon.

4) Adopt a warning cry to alert nearby friends of any mishaps, so that they can rescue you from a lie gone awry. For situations such as these, a bird cry works very well.

5) Have an interesting piece of trivia on standby for awkward silences. Eg. ‘Did you know that nobody has died in a lift-related accident since before 1950?’

6) Wear comfortable shoes, you may have to flee in a variety of weather conditions.

7) Perfect the gallop. If your galloping skills need work, find some horses in a nearby field and mimic their movements. It is best to bring some carrots and a sandwich to pacify unfriendly horses/ farmers that you may encounter.

Or, try not to lie. Honesty is the best policy after all. It also helps you avoid situations where you have to pretend to be a horse.

Forget me not

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We’re all doomed – to put it simply.

The depressing statistics are falling like cats and dogs, and just now it feels as though one only has to leave their front garden to become struck down with a terrible illness.

With the loom of the Big C, among the countless other life changing illnesses, it is easy to overlook those that do not seem immediately threatening.

In just ten years time however, 1 million people in the United Kingdom will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. This illness is not exclusive to granny’s and bus pass bandits alike – and this silent, formidable condition is not one to overlook your lovely mum, or heaven forbid – even you.

I’ll admit that I was guilty of the assumption that old age came to us all, and with it – a certain dwindle in memory. Often this seemed mildly humorous, brushed off as something insignificant and inevitable.

Not one for dramatics, I will not subject you to an emotional post on my own personal experiences with the illness besides the fact that this is something directly affecting my family, and most certainly will be a fate for myself without further research.

Life is relatively fleeting, one minute you’re skipping down the street eating a bag of crisps, the next – you have fallen down a drain and its all over. Yes, I do realise this is one of the less likely outcomes, even for someone as eternally clumsy as myself but the point remains – things can change very quickly.

The ‘you only life once’ mantra of the current generation is more relevant to Alzheimer’s disease than they may think. Because dependending on your individual religious beliefs – yes, you do. You’ll go to school, eat many a turkey at Christmas time, you might get married (and divorced) and the chances are that you will share many a memory with some very special people. Life is all about moments, and importantly, with whom these moments are shared. Of all diseases, I find the prospect of being robbed of these outrageously cruel.

Picture this: you’re on the beach. It’s probably cold, because this is the UK and beaches are unlikely to be even remotely warm – at least where I live. To set the scene a bit, lets’s make it 12 O’Clock. You’re wearing your favourite trainers and inwardly cursing that you’ve now got them covered in sand. Not even nice sand, the annoying kind that goes all clumpy and makes it look like you’ve walked through some sort of bog. It’s windy too, you wish you brought a warmer coat. In fact – you wish you hadn’t bothered to come to this windy, clumpy sand filled beach in the first place. But this isn’t about you, this is about my nice scenario, so stop being so selfish.

You pick up a handful of sand, and slowly loosen the cap between your fingers, allowing grains to slowly trickle through. It’s quite nice for a minute, but if you were to change your mind and suddenly decide that you want all that sand back, exactly where it was. You can’t – it’s slipping through your fingers and it’s lost.

You can always close the gap between your fingers and think “what a terribly silly idea”, and move on with your life. But imagine this isn’t possible: your fingers are frozen as they are. You’re loosing all this sand that you care about so much and to be honest: you’re getting pretty stressed about this bloody trip to the beach.

I suppose that’s my analogy of Alzheimer’s. The involuntary slipping away of memory and the lack of control that the sufferer has. It’s so frustrating, it’s so unfair, and it currently costs 26 billion pounds to society every year.

Just because this disease isn’t immediately apparent to they eye; don’t forget about it. Smile at the kind faced lady on the bus that seems a bit dottled, be more patient with the stressed out man furrowing his brow, and look closer to home: understanding that this illness can strike at any time, and it is likely to effect you in some way, shape or form.

This may seem a bit depressing, but the reality is, that this condition needs to be acknowledged and dealt with. Dementia costs over £30,000 per person with dementia each year, yet only £90 per person is spent on research. In order to change this, awareness needs to be raised just as well as fundraising money.

You can do your bit by talking about this issue, donating to causes, and if you’re feeling extremely daring – jump put a plane and harass your friends for money (I can vouch that this works quite well).

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Whatever you decide, remember the next time you’re feeling snap happy with your pals, screeching ‘YOLO!’ on a night out, those words are truer than you think.

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