I’m sorry, I’m British

The second round of the Yeah Write Super Challenge occurred a couple of weeks ago.  I was given 48 hours to write a persuasive essay about what makes a good apology.

The results were released a few days ago. Unfortunately I was defeated this time and didn’t make it through to the final round. The feedback from the judges was, however, really positive and I think that my biggest downfall was that I didn’t spend enough time answering the question.

Between you and me, I have to confess that the reason for this was that I spent quite a lot of my allotted 48  hours drinking with my friends rather than adding more substance to my essay and I’m okay with that; the cocktails were bloody awesome.

My entry is below. For those who are interested, the feedback follows.

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I am British. Apologising is our thing. It has been bred into us for generations, we are relentlessly and defiantly apologetic.

If you inadvertently bump into a British person; they will say sorry for being in your way. In fact, if a British person bumps into anything, they will apologise; person, small dog, lamppost, door frame. They don’t discriminate, the “Oh gosh, I’m so sorry” will be blurted out regardless.

If you serve a British person a margarita when they asked for a mojito they will say “My bad, I should have been clearer when I ordered” and then they will drink the margarita, even if they hate the stuff.

If you call a British person by the wrong name, they will apologise for not being called the name that you used, as this would have saved you from the embarrassment of being incorrect. My name is Jo and I once apologised when, due to a terrible administrative error, my name was recorded as Ho.

We just can’t help ourselves; apologising comes as naturally as obsessing about the weather. In fact, what we really like to do is to apologise for our weather. Upon arrival at any British airport there should be a big sign that says “Welcome to the UK. It’s probably raining; we’re terribly sorry about that.”

This is all well and good but it could be argued that the volume of ‘sorrys’ uttered in the British Isles is so excessive that the sentiment behind the word has become diluted.

Research by the New York Bakery Co. in 2011 found that the average Brit says sorry at least eight times a day. This equates to nearly 3,000 times a year.

Now I don’t claim to be the most divine being in the world, but in my 39 years of life, I’m pretty sure that I’ve not managed to make 117,000 apology justifying mistakes.

So, have my ‘sorrys’ lost perspective? Are they ‘good’ apologies or is saying sorry just a habit?

In the UK, we use the word ‘sorry’ in the same way that other countries would say ‘Excuse me’. For example, if I’m in a bar and I’m hunting around for chairs (What? I’m old now, I like to sit down on a night out. Don’t judge me) and I spy what looks like an empty seat that has the potential to be relocated for my friends and I to sit on, I might say “Sorry, is this seat taken?” instead of “Excuse me, is this seat taken?”.

In this situation, my ‘sorry’ is a token gesture to apologise for my interruption. Which is nonsense because I’m not usually sorry to disturb these chair hoggers at all. I’m generally trying to understand why said chair hoggers are sitting at a table set for eight when there is only three of them and I’m judging them for sitting down when they can’t be more than about 21 years old.

To be honest, I’m also thinking that they should be making the most of the days when they can stand up all night. Soon they’ll be nearing 40 and the only way they’ll be able to stand up all night is if they have a nap before they go out, start the night with a Red Bull and wear flat comfortable shoes. But I can’t say this, so instead, I smile politely and say “Sorry, is this seat taken?”.

On reflection, I can see that this is not a good apology. I’m apologising for no reason with completely false sentiment; I’m not really sorry, I just want to plonk my weary body down in a chair.

So, how do experts define a good apology? According to Guy Winch from Psychology Today in an article titled ‘The five ingredients of an effective apology’ “…for apologies to be effective, they have to be focused on the other person’s needs and feelings, not your own.”

He goes on to say “…so many of our efforts [to apologise] are ineffective because we’re not trying to make the other person feel better, we’re trying to make ourselves feel better.”

Yesterday, I accidentally dropped my husband’s iPhone and smashed the corner of the screen. I said sorry lots of times, pulled my cutest sad face and fluttered my eyelashes at him…. and then, focussing very much on his needs and feelings, I bought him a bottle of Jack Daniels.

He was delighted with this method of apology. In fact, he was torn between two different bottles of bourbon in the shop and I’m quite certain that he’s trying to get me to smash the opposite corner of the phone screen so I’ll buy him the other bottle.

I’m pretty sure that guilt induced gift purchases is not the ingredient of an effective apology that Guy Winch had in mind. It is very clear to me that despite my British heritage causing my overwhelming desire to incessantly apologise, I am no good at it.

For that, I am truly sorry.

***

What the judges really liked about I’m Sorry I’m British:

The essay was charming and engaging. Voice is clear and approachable, and the anecdotes are well-told and relatable.

I liked the way you injected humour into this essay, drawing the reader in with a casual and easy voice. Contextualising your perspective as British was a nice way to establish early that apologies are a regular and frequent part of your interactions with the world. You did a good job of referencing an outside source with regard to what makes a good apology.

Where the judges found room for improvement:

The essay neatly dodged the question, including only a sort of throwaway paragraph about the elements of a real apology which it then immediately diverted into a different anecdote. While elements of persuasion and anecdote were balanced, it would have been nice if the reader had used the spare 150 words or so to explore the thesis set up late in the game.

Though you went into some depth on how frequently the British apologize in daily life, the essay didn’t tackle the question what makes a good apology until the last third. When the essay did deal with the question, it was done well, with supporting information and a reflection on your application of advice.

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In Memory of Before

I love writing; blathering away about my life, my thoughts, my views on the world and hoping that someone might want to read what I’ve got to say. However, sometimes I put off writing because it’s my own little indulgence, something naughty that I shouldn’t be doing, I should be working or washing up or working hard in the gym. I get the same feeling about writing as I do when I greedily eat the last biscuit from the packet, hoping that Brad’s not going to notice that there are only crumbs left. NB: This never happens, I’m just using it as an example of the sort of thing that a person might feel guilty about…

So, in 2018 my mission is to try to feel less guilt about writing and to encourage this, I once again signed up for the Yeah Write Super Challenge.

I’m very excited to report back that I have made it through the first stage of the competition and I’m through to the second round. This is quite a big deal, only 50% of entries progress to the second stage of the competition so I’m feeling suitably proud of myself.  My prompt was to write a personal essay, the subject: ‘Memorising something’ and in a wonderful touch of fate, this also links into one of my List 34 challenges.

Not only was I really pleased to progress to the next round, I was also chuffed with the feedback that I received. The essay is below. The feedback follows afterwards, and for the record, as much as I wouldn’t dream of disputing anything that the judges say, and I don’t want to sound like a diva but I don’t think there is a missing ‘oh’… see what you think:

In Memory of Before

I don’t know how it became our song but the moment I hear the “shake shake shake shake” of the maracas at the introduction, I’m filled with joy and I start channelling my inner Cleopatra; waving my arms around and bobbing my head from side to side.

Every party, every time we get together, the song is played. It doesn’t matter if we’re in the middle of a conversation, the middle of pouring a drink or the middle of having a wee, we stop what we are doing immediately, gather together on whatever makeshift dance floor is available (garden patio, church hall, bit of carpet… we don’t discriminate) and we walk like Egyptians.

We met when we all worked together, colleagues who became dear friends. It would be good to say that we were connected in a highbrow manner by shared intellectual interests, but really, we were just united by booze; the joy of getting drunk, partying and laughing together.

It would have been one of these well-oiled nights where dancing to ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ by The Bangles became our thing. I can’t remember the details; I was probably drunk at the time.

None of us really knew the lyrics, every time we heard the song, we were pissed. The maracas would start, we would squeal, get together and murmur random occasional lyrics under our breath whilst tapping our feet from side to side until the chorus. When the chorus kicked in we would burst loudly, enthusiastically and no doubt tunelessly into “Way oh, way oh, oh way-hey hey, way oh…. WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN”.

Then something changed.

One of our squad died, very suddenly, at the age of 34; the silly song developed new meaning.

We did not give up the song because she would not have wanted that, but somehow not knowing the lyrics seemed oddly disrespectful. I decided to memorise the words of the song; my own small personal tribute.

Even though I consider myself to have a pretty good memory, I found this song remarkably difficult to remember. I know all 870 words to Don McLean’s epic, eight minute long ‘American Pie’, I remember my best friends telephone number from 1987 and I can recite ‘Desiderata’ by Max Ehrmann which had been pasted on the back of my Aunt’s bathroom door when I was a child. Yet, somehow the mere 260 lyrics to ‘Walk like an Egyptian’ was extremely challenging.

In order to memorise the song, I did exactly what I would have done as a teenager; listen to the bloody thing over and over again, singing along with the lyrics in front of me. Luckily technology has evolved since I was a teenager back in 1991 so I didn’t have the added stress of having to rewind a tape player to repeat the song or hand write the lyrics, hoping I’d deciphered them correctly. We’re now in the 21st Century; we have Spotify and Metrolyrics.com. All the hard work has been done. All I had to do was remember.

I played that damn song about 98 times; in the car, in the shower, through headphones whilst out running. Much to my husband’s annoyance, I would even play it before bed in the hope that the words would brand themselves into my brain as I slept.

I think Spotify was concerned that I had developed some sort of psychological disorder. It would send me little notes “We know you love The Bangles but please listen to one of the following alternatives before your family sue us for enabling your addiction” and “You don’t want ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ again. This must be a typo. Shall I play ‘Walk this way’ by Run DMC and then ‘Walking in Memphis’ instead? Fear not, loyal consumer, I am referencing the Marc Cohn original version of ‘Walking in Memphis’ and not the terrible Cher cover version. You see? Spotify cares for you.”

Eventually the lyrics stuck but they are never going to come easily to me. They don’t flow out of my mouth as effortlessly as Jack sitting on a candlestick while Satan laughs with delight on the day that the music died.

However, the words are finally fixed in my mind and now, in memory of before, I can sing about blonde waitresses spinning across the floor and cops in doughnut shops just as excitedly and passionately as we all used to sing together: “Way oh, way oh, oh way-hey hey, way oh…. WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN”.

***

Feedback

What the judges really liked about In Memory of Before:

  • The line “somehow not knowing the lyrics seemed oddly disrespectful” is one of the ones that will stick with a reader. Details like writing down the words to a taped song, the way friends get together, and the new process of memorization all felt integrated into a realistic and relatable whole. Giving Spotify a persona lent a much-needed leavening touch to the middle of the essay.
  • The way you juxtaposed your friend’s death, with the humor of your memorization technique worked well to evoke emotions in the reader, and draw them into the narrative. Separating each of your memorization methods into separate paragraphs was a good way to detail both your determination, and the variety of approaches you took

Where the judges found room for improvement:

  • There’s an “oh” missing in the chorus, which is frustrating every time one runs across it (ay oh way oh, way-hey-OH way oh).
  • This essay could have used another round of edits to pick up on minor errors like the sudden shifts in tense; “I did exactly what I would have done as a teenager; listen to the bloody thing over and over again, singing along with the lyrics in front of me”. Varying your phrasing a little, for example, rephrasing the second repetition of the song’s title helps to add interest to the narrative flow.

Write here, write now

Instead of writing wedding invitations, I thought a better use of my time would be to enter a writing competition…because giving myself something else to do at this busy time isn’t foolish at all (read: It is utterly foolish. I am a knob).

I got a prompt, in my case the prompt was ‘Pets’, and I had 48 hours in which to write a personal essay for the Yeah Write Super Challenge. How hard can that be? Flash Gordon only had 14 hours to save the earth and he managed it.

This is a three stage competition and I’m very excited to report that I’m successfully through to the second stage!

Part of my reason for entering the competition was because I was procrastinating, those damn wedding invitations won’t write themselves because the judges provide feedback that I can use to help to make me a better writer.

The judges give feedback on what they like about the piece of writing and where there is room for improvement. Regarding my work, the judges liked the “compelling and humorous ending scene” but felt that “the essay could have used another round of proofreading for commas and dangling participles”.

A dangling participle does sound like a painful affliction but I can assure you that it is a grammatical term meaning ‘a participle intended to modify a noun which is not actually present in the text’ (I totally googled that and still can’t work out where the dangling participles are in my essay. Feel free to let me know when you spot them!).

***

I ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT I WAS A DOG PERSON

I always thought that I was a dog person, until I got a cat. Now I KNOW that I am a dog person.

Nine years ago I decided that I wanted a cat. Not just any old cat, I was very particular about the make, model and colour that my heart desired: Short haired; Kitten; Most definitely ginger. The colour was not negotiable.

We found a local breeder who had two kittens left from a large litter; one ginger, one tortoiseshell. When we arrived the little ginger madam was nowhere to be seen so whilst the breeder played hide and seek with a baby cat, I innocently picked up tortoiseshell to give her a cuddle.

It transpires that tortoiseshell was cunning. She had been turned down by other families and she realised that she needed to up her game and close the deal. She had a pretty little face with a white patch of fur above one eye that made her look permanently surprised and baby pink pads on the bottom of her feet. She looked up at me affectionately with her big blue eyes and snuggled into me, then she let out a tiny little sigh, closed her eyes and started purring contentedly.

Of course, I fell for it. Ginger who? I took tortoiseshell home with me that very day.

And that was the most affection I’ve ever had from her. Turns out, tortoiseshell is actually quite a bitch. It was a ruse, I was swindled by a twelve week old kitten. The wily minx.

Tortoiseshell’s hobbies include the popular ‘This will make her death look like an accident’ where she sneaks herself directly in front of me when I’m walking in the hope that I will trip and break my neck. The classic ‘This will probably get her fired’ where unbeknown to me she sits on my work laptop keyboard typing random letters in the middle of an important document that I only ever spot after I’ve sent it to my boss, and finally the unusual ‘I’m crazy obsessed with potatoes and don’t care who knows about it’ where if you so much as open a bag of crisps within 5 miles of her she’ll hurl herself at your head trying to reach the bag. God forbid you peel a potato in her presence, she propels herself full speed into the kitchen and up to the kitchen sink, trying to rub her face against the half naked potato. So desperate her desire for potato skins that she will plunge her paws into a water filled sink just to reach one.

She does not understand that her tail belongs her. Every time I have a bath she sits on the edge, her tail absent-mindedly trailing in the bubbles. When she jumps down from the bath I see her scowl, absolutely enraged because her tail is wet. She glares at me as if I were responsible, then starts waving it about madly from left to right, drenching half the bathroom before chasing it round in circles and finally licking it dry in disgust.

She loves all food and certainly does not discriminate between ‘cat’ food and ‘people’ food. If she is not eating she considers that there is something wrong with the world. A few years ago she became unwell, she kept being sick, lost a lot of weight and looked awful. As she really likes her food, I was worried. Eventually I took her to the vets.

The vet was concerned because she was dehydrated, they admitted her to the clinic, put her on a drip and started running tests. After she’d been in the clinic for 36 hours I had a phone call from my vet. “We’ve managed to examine tortoiseshell, her belly was pretty large.”

‘Oh gosh, this is it, she’s got a tumour or something awful’ I thought to myself. I held my breath, anxiously waiting to see what the vet would say next.

“Whilst we were examining her, she emitted a large amount of foul smelling gas.”

“Okay….”

“And now she seems absolutely fine”

£430 that cost me. £430 for the vet to make my cat fart.

My next cat will be a dog.

This is tortoiseshell, also known as Tabitha

Don’t trust this cute face, I’m a furry assassin.

No muse is good news

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I haven’t had time to write for a while because the irritating realities of life have been getting in the way; employment, household chores, battles with my ex-husband, the usual. I mean figurative battles through polite conversations and emails with my solicitor, not actual combat. I’m not She-Ra, princess of power.

For anyone who was not a seven year old girl in 1985, She-Ra is He-Man’s twin sister. She had her very own television series aimed at girls which was fabulous and entertaining and *whispers* cancelled after one season.

Every day I intend to write and every day something dull gets in the way and stops me, but today I am determined to put pen to paper, well, fingers to keyboard at least.

I went to a party last weekend, which I should point out was absolutely not “something dull getting in the way” of my writing. It was great fun with lovely people, even taking into account the fact that I drove and had to drive home with a tipsy Brad passed out snoring on the back seat. As he’s nearly 6ft and my car is 5ft 3in wide, he did have to contort him himself ‘man origami’ style into a folded up version of himself in order to fall asleep, but annoyingly he managed it.

At the party I was telling my friends about my new lodger, having given washer woman Wanda the boot a few weeks ago. Someone made a comment about the fact that giving my previous lodger the heave-ho, seemed to have coincided with my blog writing dry spell and that perhaps she had been my muse. This has played on my mind all week and I desperately need to write something in order to prove that my ex-lodger was not Samson’s hair in tenant form.

Because I’m feeling under considerable pressure to come up with the goods, admittedly it’s pressure that I’ve put on myself but nevertheless, it’s still pressure, I have looked again to the daily prompt for inspiration. Today’s topic is “Community Service: Your entire community — however you define that; your hometown, your neighbourhood, your family, your colleagues — is guaranteed to read your blog tomorrow. Write the post you’d like them all to see.”

The post I should write is about helping your neighbours, forgiving people and being kind to each other and other fluffy and unrealistic goals. I’m not going to write about this because everyone knows what they should be doing. It’s not achievable. It would be like telling my cat not to catch an insect aperitif before her dinner, crunching loudly as she devours it. She’s a cat, that’s what they do.

I think it’s better to highlight something positive instead, if only to get the image of my cat chomping on a cricket out of your head.

I feel slightly uncomfortable with the term “community”. When you live in a City with 273,399 other people, it’s hard to feel like you are part of a traditional community. However, many of the other 273,399 people living in Brighton who aren’t me, are quirky and vibrant and ever so slightly odd and that’s what makes me smile about them.

After work this evening, I popped to the supermarket around the corner from where I live and there was a man walking along the road towards me eating one of those individual tiramisu pots with a plastic spoon. He had the cardboard container and the second tiramisu pot clasped tightly in one hand and a look of profound concentration on his face, possibly because of the challenge of walking and eating with a spoon at the same time. Surely it’s got to be a bit like patting your head and rubbing your belly? I struggle to eat anything out of a pot without spilling it down me, eating as well as walking is quite literally a step too far. The first thing that struck me was to think ‘wow, he must really need pudding’. The second thing that occurred to me was the fact that it was peculiar that I didn’t find it strange that tiramisu man was walking along the road in the middle of the evening eating a tasty, sponge fingery, Italian desert and no one else seemed to notice or care either.

In my community, pretty much anything goes. I once went to a fancy dress party dressed as Cleopatra with flowing robes, over the top make up, a wig and a decorative hair piece. I was driving to the party which was in Horsham and I picked up a couple of fancy dressed friends en route when suddenly my petrol light flashed on. I knew I couldn’t make it all the way to Horsham, so had to stop at the garage and fill up, in full pharaoh finery, at 7pm on a Saturday night. What I remember most about this is that no-one said a word to me, no one laughed, no-one raised an eyebrow, no-one questioned me. On another occasion a group of us dressed as Mother Christmas, Hawaiian Barbie and Pocahontas stopped at Sainsbury’s to buy alcohol and again, not an eyelid was batted. In Brighton we have a naked bike ride, a museum filled with more than half a million stuffed dead animals and an annual chocolate festival just as a starter for ten; Cleopatra filling her fiesta up at a Shell Garage and Pocahontas buying vodka is decidedly unremarkable.(For the record, I was unaware of the existence of this chocolate festival until today when I researched it and now I’m bloody furious. How do I not know about this marvellous event? Do they also have a beautiful shoe festival and a great big cake festival that they have been hiding from me?)

*****

Every cake has a silver lining

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In order to attempt for this blog to not just be a place for me to talk about the joy of cake or to get cross about random things. I have signed up to receive a daily prompt; a subject or topic to blog about.  I haven’t tried it until today but I really wanted to write and I was struggling for inspiration so thought I’d attempt the prompt. Today’s title is “No Fair” http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/daily-prompt-fair/.

It would be tempting to start by saying that today was not fair because of the lack of cake. However, that would be a complete lie because I accidentally fell into the Bakery earlier and bought a cake.

When I say accidentally, I mean completely deliberately and with the absolute intention of buying some cheese straws. And when I say fell, I mean walked in confidently and with purpose whilst simultaneously barging an old lady out of the way in a pastry panic because I mistakenly believed that she was intending to buy up the last of the cheese straws, leaving me with a soggy looking Cornish pasty.

As I was paying for my cheese straws, I caught sight of a solitary iced bun out of the corner of my eye, threw caution to the wind and bought that too. I do love an iced bun. I have an American friend who just does not get them. I can picture her now screwing up her face in that ‘you English people are just odd’ way that she does, exclaiming “I don’t understand, it’s just bread with some icing on top”.

As far as I am concerned, a day that contains cake of any description, even if it is just bread with a bit of icing on top, is always going to be a better day than one without cake.

This cake anecdote sort of sums me up. I am a looking on the bright side sort of a girl and I try to not feel sorry for myself or think that life is unfair. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always manage it. If I ever buy a lottery ticket it is always not fair when I have not won the jackpot because I absolutely deserve it. That said, if I did win, chances are I would buy an awful lot of cake and would have to buy bigger and bigger trousers to accommodate my jumbo jam doughnut shaped bottom so maybe it’s better that the money goes to someone else.  Other things that are a teeny weeny bit unfair are the fact that I have not yet appeared on Strictly Come Dancing. Yes, I know I’m not a celebrity but I’d be really, really, really excited to do it which will more than make up for my lack of fame. It is also not fair that I do not like celery as much as I like cake because that would make dieting a whole lot less of a challenge.

So there we have it, the daily prompt has helped me to expand my horizons, to write about new ideas and different subjects.

I am not a one cake trick pony.

Dammit.