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1,2, have a breakdown…and breathe

L'immagine può contenere: persone sedute, pianta e spazio all'aperto

A coffee break in Stavanger, Norway

Cough, sneeze, sip, curl up and…breathe.

The past few months have been more than a little hectic.

Since January I’ve completed my journalism diploma, got a tattoo, spent weekends in Norway, Rome and Exeter and started a job as a newspaper reporter.

I’ve moved my life from Manchester to Cumbria, swapping the buzz of the city for the cackle of seagulls and am lucky enough to have the Lake District on my doorstep.

There’s so much in my life to be thankful for and I wouldn’t change a thing.

But amidst all of this glorious chaos and change I’ve forgotten to relax and my non-stop lifestyle has worn me down.

Some familiar demons have also tried to rear their ugly heads.

So here I am, tucked up in bed having been off sick all week with a virus.

There’s nothing like immobilising fatigue and mind numbing daytime TV to make you take stock of things.

So here goes.

It’s official. I’m a journalist. No longer a student, or just a blogger, and no need for the “aspiring” prefix.

I’m finally doing a job that I really love and now instead of just eliciting groans from my friends, I actually get paid to come up with puns. (case and point)

Every day is different, my colleagues are lovely and I get to chat to lots of interesting people.

So what could possibly be wrong?

Well I’m not always the confident person I try to portray.

On the inside I’m still plagued with crippling self-doubt and worry.

That’s when the anxiety bubbles over.

In previous jobs I’ve experienced stress, whether I was slogging it in retail or working in an icecream parlour.

But now instead of literally crying over spilt milk, my bathroom breakdowns are more likely to be the result of an interviewee cancelling or a constantly engaged phone line.

Being the perfectionist that I am, I can’t help putting unnecessary pressure on myself.

Mistakes happen and we learn from them.

But on a day when anxiety is tapping me on the shoulder my mind can take the following negative spiral:

“My shorthand isn’t quick enough.” “I should have practiced more.” “I’m useless.” “I bet they regret giving me the job.” “I’m hopeless.” “I’ll never get back up to speed.” “I’ve let my tutors down.” “I’ve let myself down.” “I’m a shit journalist.” “Maybe I should just quit.” “I’m not good enough.” “I can’t do this.” “I’m going to get the sack.”

Then there’s depression – my other nemesis.

I imagine it as monster which greedily feeds off the nervous energy of my anxiety.

Lots of change, even when it’s positive, can be hard to cope with.

In situations like this I would usually turn to drink but since I’ve ditched the booze for good that’s no longer an option.

So for the first time I’ve been totally sober through the difficult adjustment period of moving to a new place where I don’t know anyone.

The old me would have gone out to bars alone, drunk all night, chatted to anyone, had a one-night stand, gone into work hungover, drunk more to numb the anxiety, and repeat.

It’s not so bad now that I have housemates and a fixed abode.

But for the first few weeks I was staying in a B&B and lots of evenings spent alone in a small room with only a TV for company gave me too much time to dwell on things, feeding the monster.

I didn’t realise how bad my mental health was until  I was back in Manchester for a weekend and plans to meet some friends fell through.

Whilst on a bus into town, I got a message from one of my old course mates to say they couldn’t make it.

In the end it turned out no-one was free.

I burst into tears.

It was nothing personal, everyone had their own things going on but in that moment the monster munched a big black hole in my heart.

I spent the rest of the bus journey in a snotty mess with black rivulets of mascara running down my face.

I’d been unhealthily relying on that single event to cheer me up.

It wasn’t a big deal, and if I’d been in a better frame of mind it wouldn’t have mattered.

But right then I felt as though I’d fallen into a chasm of loneliness in which no one cared, everyone hated me, and life seemed pointless.

The allure of the bars seemed more tempting than ever.

But after quick walk around the city centre and a phone call to my dad, I felt marginally better and went home to watch a film.

Now I’m on the road back to better physical and mental health.

No matter where I am or what I’m doing I’ve realised that I can never take my mental health for granted.

It can be fragile but all it needs is a little water and sunlight every now and then.

Getting back into a routine of yoga and meditation, finding time to relax and eating right will all help.

And the little things which go wrong, be they mistakes or disappointments, don’t have to spell the end of the world.

But for now I think I’ll just close my eyes, count to three…and breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Year, new me, same old clichés

Now that I’ve eaten my weight in chocolate, binge-watched a few box sets and argued over the rules of Scrabble, Christmas has come to a close and it’s time to bid adieu to 2016.

And what a year it’s been.

We’ve seen war and conflict, the wrath of ISIS,the triumph of a tangerine-faced tycoon and the fall of Harambe.

From David Bowie to Princess Leia, stars have dropped like the value of the pound and Brexit meant Brexit which meant nothing at all.

Oh, and for some reason people started running around dressed as killer clowns.

So yeah, it’s been a pretty bizarre year.

On a personal level however 2016 hasn’t been too shabby.

I climbed the highest mountain in North Africa, got a degree, sampled veganism, met Basil Brush, rode in a hot air balloon, reached 100wpm at shorthand and quit alcohol for good.

I made new friends, travelled, laughed, cried, sang and danced.

I saw the sunrise in the Sahara and Elton John in concert.

I had my heart broken and I made mistakes.

But in the end, through all of these ups and downs, I’ve grown as a person and inched one fumbling step closer to finding my place in this crazy world.

Then again, it’s New Year’s Eve so really I should forget all of this, focus on my faults, draft some resolutions and set about making 2017 my “best year yet.”

I’m not usually cynical about New Year’s resolutions.

After all I’m the kind of person who actually writes down life goals and approaches tidying with colour-coded post-it notes.

But as the saying goes “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”, Hell in this case being the sofa which most return to one month into an annual gym membership.

So this year I’m not going to go for the same old “new year, new me” spiel.

As Gloria Gaynor sang “I am what I am”, so even though I maybe would like to have the body of a supermodel, the motivation of an Olympic athlete and the grace and beauty of a film star, I realise that such goals are unattainable.

So instead of making my New Year’s resolutions things which I would like to change about myself, I’m going to propose three things.

One thing I want to achieve, one thing I want to try and one philosophy I want to live my life by:

1.) Learn how to drive – not because all my friends are doing it or because someone told me to, but because it’s pretty essential for journalists and I’d like to have fewer public transport nightmares.

2.) Try dance classes – not because I want to get fit, or lose weight, or meet a sexy dance partner, but because it should be a laugh (if only for the other people in the class.)

3.) Embrace being single – not because I’m uber confident and don’t need anyone or because I want to have a Sex and the City-esque lifestyle but because I’m wasting too much time wishing that I was in a relationship (or pretending that I’m not) when I should just be enjoying life as it is.

So that’s it.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye 2016.

May 2017 bring you all that your heart desires.

Live long and prosper 🙂

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Treats and Tribulations: Part 3

Image result for crepes

I quit my job.

It’s all over.

I’ve blended my last milkshake, wiped my last table and made my last waffle.

Well for now at least.

I can’t say I’ll miss Treats.

My last shift was a hellish 10 hours long (3pm – 1am) without a single break.

We’d just started doing home delivery via Just Eat but Yasser had given Lucia the day off and Mohammed was sick so we had twice the workload with half the staff.

Talk about a sticky situation.

At one point I thought I was going to faint so I just sat on the toilet for ten minutes and had a micro nap.

The whole thing was a shambles really.

Since old Mohammed had gone home we had no chef to make hot food so I had to run next door to buy a chicken burger to send for delivery and when the waffle mix ran out I had to do likewise and sprint to neighbouring Delight’s (their poor use of apostrophe not mine).

As I walked home that night I felt absolutely knackered but also elated at the thought I’d never have to go back.

I made sure to say a final farewell to the cockroach that lives inside the microwave but I wasn’t able to tell Yasser to his face that I quit and rather took the coward’s way out by sending him a text the next day.

He’s since tried to offer me a better deal and has been ringing me but I’ve just ignored it.

He told me before I left that the owner has decided to go with Sprinkles for the new name so I suppose that’ll be my “legacy.”

In the end though, as bad as this job has been it’s taught me something about the value of hard work, the multicultural web of Manchester’s Muslim community and the art of making a perfect crepe.

But I deserve something better

As the French chef Jacques Torres once said,

-“Life is short. Eat dessert first.

 

 

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Treats and Tribulations: Part 2

 

“Work is the meat of life, pleasure the dessert” – B.C. Forbes 

But what happens when dessert is your work?

Even though my job often leaves me feeling like a sunken soufflé it still has its perks, ie. FREE CAKE!

Since I’m allowed this one pleasure I usually find myself planning what cake I’m going to sample on my break before I’ve even arrived for my shift.

To date my favourite is still the homemade red velvet but the fruit cake with vanilla icing comes in at a close second.

So yeah it’s not all that bad.

Since my first installment there’s been a bit of a change up to our staff at Treats.

We’re now a fully multicultural team since we’ve been joined by Senna who’s from Eritrea and a Slovakian girl called Lucia.

Sadly Luis has quit for reasons unknown.

Lucia thinks he had an argument with Yasser but he’s since been in to visit and even though I can’t understand Arabic, the laughter and manly handshakes would suggest no lingering animosity.

I imagine he just got fed up of working for a pittance.

Coincidentally Lucia, a stunning blonde of supermodel proportions, also has a degree in Business and is just trying to improve her English for a year.

I wonder how long it will be before young Mohammed tries to propose to her.

There was a French girl called Mailys who worked with us for a couple of weeks but she left, not only because the pay is a bit shit but also because Mohammed kept trying to arrange a date with her and asked her when she’d like to get married.

Senna  has an education from her home country and is frustrated by the fact that she has had to start from the bottom and re-do college since moving to the UK – somewhere she will stay for the foreseeable future since she recently married a guy from here. (at least she doesn’t have to worry about Mohammed’s advances.)

Other interesting developments are that I’ve actually been given the responsibility of renaming the business!

Since I’m the only native English speaker who works at Treats, Yasser decided to consult me on my ideas for new names.

So far I’ve suggested Temptations, Sugar Stop, Sweet Shack and Sprinkles.

Yasser liked Temptations although questioned whether it had any double entendre, i.e could infer desire for a woman.

I said “not really” but he didn’t seem convinced.

I’ve also had the pleasant task of writing the names of the ice creams in pretty fonts on wipe clean labels which was a nice change from unclogging the sink and picking stray hairs out of the custard.

The other day I actually tried to tell Yasser that I wanted to leave and find a better paid job but he practically begged me to stay, telling me that I was “very precious” to him and that “he’d kill me” if I left.

He was joking of course…I hope.

Anyway, since I seem to be stuck in this job for the foreseeable future I’ve devised a little game to make each six or nine hour shift more bearable.

From now on I’ll award myself points for certain things and see how high I can score – maybe I’ll even let Senna and Lucia in on the game….

Points are awarded as follows: 

Kill a cockroach                                                50pts

Kill a fly                                                              100pts (notably more difficult)

Receive a customer complaint                      30pts (though not on purpose)

Yasser says “tables, please”                         20pts

A fly dies in the Insectaflash                        40pts (a horrible sizzling sound)

Find a hair in the ice cream                           200pts

Find a hair in the custard                               80pts

Make a perfect crêpe                                      60pts

 

The list could go on.

Other recent events of interest are that a guy came in and randomly stole one of the fake roses from a display in the front window.

Mohammed chased him down the road where he quickly got into a getaway car with his girlfriend and bolted the door – all Mohammed could do was give him the finger and a few choice expletives.

I was confused since I mistook him for one of the people who randomly sell flowers up and down the curry mile like the Chinese woman who always comes in to harass the customers and offer them three roses for a fiver.

They’ve also installed security cameras so the owner can watch our every move from Saudi Arabia and report our wrongdoings to Yasser like some sort of Middle Eastern Big Brother.

Other than that there’s not much to report.

Each time I go to work I quickly fall into the rhythm of making milkshakes, cleaning the dishes, wiping the tables and repeating the process again and again in almost contented resignation.

The work could definitely be worse and I enjoy the simple things like seeing a child smile as they pick out an ice cream flavour or watching the cookie dough rise and expand in the microwave.

For now this job is the meat of my life, the cake that I eat there, the dessert.

 

 

 

 

 

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Treats and Tribulations: Part 1

Image result for waffle

I’ve just started working in a dessert parlour called Treats on Manchester’s Curry Mile.

It’s not the worst job in the world but right now I’ve just come home from a 9hr shift and the thought of doing it all again tomorrow is bringing me out in a rash.

Still, a job’s a job and I really am in desperate need of the dollar.

My career development loan is taking so long to come through I’m beginning to wonder if all of the Co-op bank’s admin is done by carrier pigeons (at least it would be 0% emissions.)

Anyway, the author Philip Roth once said “Nothing bad can happen to a writer; It’s all material” so here is the first installment in a series where I shall chronicle the trials and tribulations of working at Treats.

First of all you should know that The Curry Mile is basically the hub of the Asian community in Manchester; a long strip of curry houses, shisha bars and the odd dessert place.

Treats is one of these and is positioned next to Afghan Cuisine and opposite our fierce rivals Gelato Passion.

One day I channelled my inner Bond-Bon girl as I was sent on a spy mission to buy a waffle from Gelato Passion so we could compare and contrast.

All I needed to disguise myself was to remove the plastic gloves and apron.

It was the perfect ruse.

My boss concluded that ours is better value but I decided not to point out that since we charge extra for strawberries and ice cream it works out at the same price.

Sorry, I’m waffling.

My manager Yasser is Syrian, as are my co-workers Luis,Mohammed, Einad and the younger Mohammed (who we call Moha) is half Syrian half Lebanese.

With the exception of Yasser and the older Mohammed, my co-workers aren’t very good at English and only ever speak Arabic to each other which often leaves me trying to figure out what’s being said from context and hand gestures.

I’ve also learnt to just smile and nod when they’re all laughing about something which I don’t understand.

Still, being a native English speaker does have its advantages since I’m able to advise on the spelling of labels for the cakes and other items. Eg. You can get a “shot” from the chocolate fountain not a “chocolate shut.”

We sell a wide range of cakes ice-cream, milkshakes, waffles and crepes as well as some things I’d never come across before like a pink Pakistani tea called Kashmiri chai and a dessert called Falooda (rose syrup, ice cream, vermicelli, milk and basil seeds) which is popular on the Indian sub-continent.

I’m paid below minimum wage at £5/hr when at 22 years old I should be earning at least £6.70.

When I tried to broach the subject with Yasser he just said “£5 is good for Curry Mile” and explained that the other guys get paid even less!

I know it’s not ideal but I’ve found it hard to find any other job and I know it’s not forever.

I also know that some of the others are in a much worse position.

Luis, for example has a degree in Financial Analysis which he completed in Jordan before he came to the UK.

He needed to improve his English in order to do a Masters but due to the conflict which broke out in Syria he has been unable to return home to visit his family and misses them a lot.

When he told me this it helped me to put things in perspective a little and made me grateful for the fact that even though I’ve moved away from home, I always know that my family are safe and well.

As a wise man once said:

“Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.” Forrest Gump

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My unofficial guide to learning shorthand

Image result for shorthand

Shorthand; a necessary evil if you want to be a journalist.

It’s also the reason why I haven’t posted in forever since I’m expected to do two hours of practice every night.

That’s two hours of drilling special symbols, dictations and generally losing the will to live.

This level of dedication is however necessary since in order to pass my exam I’ll have to be at a speed of 100 words per minute.

FML

It’s not all bad though.

Our shorthand tutor Ed is young, good looking and laid-back and constantly tells us to not lose heart.

For anyone else who is embarking on this perilous journey to here is my guide to learning Teeline shorthand.

1.) Practice, practice, practice 

Shorthand is a skill and like many skills it comes easier to some. That said the best way to improve when you’re starting out is just to practice as much as possible. Once you’ve got the alphabet down and know some basic theory the best thing to do is keep going over and over your notes. Practice on the bus or the train. Make up sentences in your head and write them out in shorthand. Try to eavesdrop on conversations and transcribe them back. Use every spare second to spruce up your shorthand. It all makes a difference.

2.) Specials are your friend

Shorthand specials exist to make your life easier so every time you learn a new one make sure to commit it to memory. Make a little dictionary of specials and copy them over and over again until they become an automatic reflex. They’ll make your life easier in the long run. With Teeline there is also the possibility of making up your own specials in some cases so try out what works best for you. For example I use three ‘O’ indicators for over and over again. There’s also a girl on my course who uses the shorthand for the letter ‘Y’ when she wants to write ‘why.’  Whatever you do though just make sure you’re consistent.

3.) Size matters

If you’re shorthand isn’t as small as it can possibly be then you’re never going to improve on your speed. It’s as simple as that. Just make sure that you can discern between your bigger and larger letters. For example a small ‘w’ needs to be smaller than a ‘wr’ blend and likewise with the ‘mr’ and ‘lr’ blends.

4.) Use all the resources you can 

It’s best to use a range of resources. I would recommend  Shorthand Games for a funner way to practice the basics and Teeline Online for some free dictations.

5.) Get a grip

A pen with a rubber grip is a must, especially when you get up to higher speeds. If you don’t have one a rubber band works just as well to stop your pen from slipping.

6.) And finally….