Part 2: How I was nearly kidnapped. Twice

RECAP: If you haven’t read Part 1 and would like to, click here

If you’re 11 or above, I’m sure you’ll remember your transition to big school. No longer homed by your protective primary school, you were plunged prematurely into the depths of an alien planet. Bemused, you faced the inevitable task of making new friends. So it was almost convenient for Mini Me when my classmate, Lily, fell victim of a nosebleed just as the school day ended.

“What an opportunity!” I thought. Still new and relatively low on the popularity scale, I played Good Samaritan and stayed a while to offer moral support to my new friend, Lily.

Twenty minutes later I was ready to head home. But twenty minutes was long enough for dusk to start drawing the covers. The mad rush had ended. No cars. No people. The birds seemed to have retreated to their nests, too. The only sound was the eerie scratching of leaves against the pavement. But being alone didn’t bother me. Strapped to a humungous rucksack, I marched down the road towards the High Street.

It wasn’t long, however, until I noticed two young lads a short distance behind me. Surely it was nothing sinister though, just two young lads. After all I was at the High Street now with cars and people and street lamps. But to err on the side of caution, I crossed the road. And as I did so, one of the lads ran ahead of me, leaving his mate on the other side. Weird.

I was now walking behind one and parallel with the other. Why would two guys who were 30 seconds ago laughing together now be walking in the same direction on opposite sides of the street? With a quickening pulse, I decided to cross back and take refuge in the library.

Pretending to be confused I awkwardly entered the library, waited a few seconds, turned around and exited. But they were still there. Lingering. Both of them. Together. Waiting against the wall on the other side of the road. That was it. I returned to the library and started to ball my eyes out.

“P-p-please can I… use the phone… to call my m-mum” I sniffled to the librarian. Taken aback, she looked at me and nodded, pushing the phone towards me. I dialled home and was greeted by my mum’s cheery voice. Crying , I demanded that she come to pick me up from the library.

“What? The school library?” I could hear the confusion in her voice.

“No, Southgate Library.”

“Why are you there? Start walking towards the station and I’ll drive up to meet you, okay?”

“NO! Come in and get me!” There was no way I was leaving this library alone. But I could hardly explain the situation over the phone; I could barely comprehend it myself…

Mum sighed, telling me she would have to pay for a parking ticket and that it would come out of my pocket money. Still crying, I hung up the phone and hid amongst the bookshelves until my mum’s arrival. I dared a peak out of the window and, to my terror, the two men had crept nearer. Now at the gates of the library, their presence made me feel faint. It was like a scene from the Weeping Angels episode of Doctor Who; turning away had only made them come ever-closer.

Two minutes passed. Three, four, five minutes. That agonising wait in the library felt like one hundred life times but eventually my mum swooped in. Upon seeing my hysterical crying, Mum’s face turned pitiful and she embraced me in one of those curative hugs only a mother can give. I was even treated to a Waggon Wheel (the marshmallowy, chocolatey, biscuity delicacy).  I still got my £5 pocket money that week, so I assume the threat to deduct the car park toll was forgotten.

Joking aside, this experience really hurt me. Maybe they were mucking around and thought it would be funny to terrify a twelve year old. Maybe they really were planning to kidnap me, murder me and chuck my body in a skip. Or maybe they weren’t targeting me at all. But I doubt it: all my instincts told me I was a victim of whatever game they were playing. In the following months, I fretted about it everyday. It took at least a year, I would say, for the return of my confidence to walk alone. 

Year 7 should have been care free but for me it was filled with anxiety. I hated school and struggled profoundly to leave the house every morning. I wonder if my scary ordeal was the cause… I don’t know and I never will. I just hope that one day the perpetrators have families and settle down. And when they look at their kids, maybe they will remember me.

Part 1: How I was nearly kidnapped. Twice.

If any of you’ve had an inordinate amount of time and found yourselves mindlessly scrolling through my ‘About Me’ page of the blog, you may be a bit confused that I was apparently ‘nearly kidnapped twice’. Yup, it’s true. But I endeavour to both apprise you and make light of my misfortune!

If you were to predict my family’s whereabouts on a sticky-hot summer Sunday afternoon back in 2004, you’d be correct to say at Grovelands, the local park. It was a ritualistic trip two minutes down the road to ‘walk off the Sunday roast’ Mum had spent the morning preparing. And upon such a Sunday was when my first encounter with a kidnapper took place.

Imaginary reins kept me and my little sister Amy within range of the supposedly watchful eyes of my parents, but being speedy little girls whizzing ahead on our pink Barbie bikes, we enjoyed to maximise our distance. So when my parents bumped into Caroline and Tim and obviously stopped to immerse in deep conversation, youthful oblivion powered our pedalling anyway. And that’s when he stopped us.

“Hello,” he greeted, grinning gaudily to show off his yellow teeth. “Would you like to come and feed the ducks with me? I have plenty of bread”. He nodded towards the white carrier bag in his hand.

“No.” My firm rejection cued him to turn back to the gates and exit. Before I could scream ‘KIDNAPPER’, I steered myself and three-year old Amy back around and we cycled back to my parents who were still at a halt with Caroline and Tim.

“Oh! Haven’t the kids grown!” I had not grown since you saw me last week, Caroline.

“Isn’t it such beautiful weather!” I was starting to grow impatient.

“I heard it’s going to rain tomorrow though. How awful.” I was about to climb past my impatience threshold.

It was an agonising wait for the convo to cease. Eventually I commenced to confide in Mummy, detailing the slimy black hair stuck to his head and those nightmarish gnashers. But her response didn’t seem to resonate my avid fear, suggesting Mummy’s attention was planted elsewhere (probably on the parakeets that she hasn’t bored of to this day!). It wasn’t until bath time three hours later that I managed – with hair covered in shampoo – to successfully explain.

Maybe he genuinely did want to feed the ducks with Amy and I. And he would subsequently let us return home when the mallard and moorhens’ tummies were full. Regardless, I am still happy – very happy – with my hasty decision of no. I hope the lonely man someone else of his own size to accompany him to feed the ducks. And only to feed the ducks.

Evidently since this incident I have continued to dodge the lurking clutches of child catchers and their enticing sweeties or, in my case, bread. But only just about.

To be continued…

Camp Dad

The time of the year has arrived again. The coolest dads and their eager kids loaded the boots with an excessive number of clothes-filled bags; cool boxes brimming with sugary treats and neatly-cut sarnies lovingly prepped my mum; DVD players, PSPs and iPads to tide over the wearily dull journey and, if there’s any room, a tent. You’ve guessed it. ‘Camp Dad’ has begun again.

Except, this year, and similarly for the last two years, I have out-grown this ritualistic trip. I watched in vain as Dad and Conor rolled down the road, disappearing as they head for the North Circular and onwards to Kent.

As far as I know, Camp Dad was founded by some genius belonging to the Roberts family, who revolutionised camping by dispelling the mothers -much to their delight- and sending the fathers to an isolated indentation of the UK for the weekend. With 10/20 families packed tent-by-tent in a field, we sure made a lot of noise, although it is still unclear to this day who made the most noise; the screaming kids or the drinking dads. In the early days, there was a failed attempt to rename Camp Dad to ‘Dad’s Camp’ to emphasise that ‘camp’ was a noun and not an adjective to describe the dads. But ‘Camp Dad’ had stuck. I partook in the rave every year, bar uno, so have been left to reminisce on 10 year of sweet, absurd memories…

Since 2003, only two children have been lost to Camp Dad.

Just kidding, no one’s died… yet.

But we do have stories of dead animals: on one occasion, our tents were conveniently pitched beside a pigeon shooting forest and, like the rebels we were, we entered the restricted area, a bit like the forbidden forest from Harry Potter. And what greeted us was the skull of a deer, which Sam brought back on a stick and planted outside his tent. I think it was a status sign. We also came across its legs hanging from the pelvis, but those were too heavy for us to carry back.

That was not the only terror event. Undoubtedly, Imogen’s brief moment of imminent death will never be forgotten. Running through a forest, a sharp scream caused the group to halt and revolve to see the poor girl slowly descending into the depths of swamp. But luckily our heroic Sam came to the rescue, but not before my little sister Amy was balling her eyes out in fear of her best buddy’s life. Sam kindly put a comforting arm round her shoulder after he diffused the situation but this caused Amy to cry even more hysterically.

But Camp Dad was not all doom and gloom. Romance was much closer than on the horizon for Naomi and Lorcan. At the unblemished age of 8, they both dispelled such innocence by embracing in an intimate smooch. If you don’t believe me, picture evidence can be provided. And there was never a dull moment when Josh was around to keep us entertained. With his ukulele en garde, that was enough to occupy the 20 plus kids for the whole weekend.

Bickering was definitely the inevitable result, however, of a weekend cooped up in a camp site together. For the kids, I mean, although I highly expect some bickering took place between the dads too. When Marnie’s guest (who will remain nameless as I am a kind person) had a hissy fit and threatened to abscond, I recall consoling Marnie whilst she fretted her Dad would go to prison as he was guardian to the nameless guest. Of course nameless guest did not run off and subsequently Marnie’s dad avoided prison… And there were always ‘heated discussions’ over who would sleep in who’s tent. It would have been much simpler to have just stuck to our own tents, but the novelty of being with friends for 48 hours never ran dry, so we were always determined to wangle a sleepover, much to the Dad’s reluctance.

The dads, including my own, really were (and still are!) good sports to spend the weekend camping every year, but I haven’t always shown such appreciation. Being the highly-strung six year old I was, my dad’s snoring seriously embarrassed me…

‘What if the other kids hear Daddy’s snoring?’ I fretted beforehand. ‘What if I am associated with Daddy’s monstrous roaring?’ At least that was my biggest fear of Camp Dad…

The final memory is in fact is a contribution from my dad. His most memorable moments seem to be when the kids had supposedly been tucked up in their sleeping bags for the night. All the dads would unload the remaining beers from the cool boxes, although the majority had been consumed during the day. Finally they can flop into the camping chairs -as if they hadn’t been their all day- without being disturbed by their screeching kids or shot at with nerf guns. But then…

“Daaddddyyyyyyyy!” And they all respond.

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A not-very-reassuring thought

What has just happened?! Core 1 Maths is meant to be the ‘easiest’ and I might as well have vomited on the exam paper… And question 7… *shudders*. That’s it; my dreams of a decent career are over.

Maybe it didn’t go as terribly as I’m imagining… And question 7 was only one of eight, right? And the others seemed okay. Maybe I’m over-reacting…

But I didn’t even have time to check it…

[speaking to self] Ruth, I’m sure you’ve done fine.

No. You really didn’t.

* * *

You’ve guessed it; Maths did not go well. I am bitterly disappointed and have spent the last 48 hours desperately reassuring myself that it wasn’t that bad. I’ve been fiercely batting away the negative uprising of maths misery and doubt with a more optimistic outlook. Just looking on the ‘bright side of life’, following the wise words of Monty Python back in ’79. Can’t be anything wrong with that, right?

Wrong. I have decided that this so-called ‘positive approach’ is the most counter-productive way to spend your waking and sleeping hours, like I have done since emerging emotionally lost from the exam hall. Although the positive approach appears innocent, it is actually a false path that steals your sanity. Negativity is like an amazingly energetic bouncy ball that will simply continue to jump right back in your face the more you hit it away. Or one of those annoying crocodiles at the arcade; its ugly head will just keep popping up to suck any positivity left. Basically the more you convince yourself that it is not the end of the world and things are not as bad you envisage, the more convinced you become that it is the end of the world and things are worse than you are envisaging. So you retaliate with the positive approach and Mr. Negative has a brutal comeback. And the cycle continues to spiral downhill…

Not only does the positive approach not work; it also wastes time. Learn from my mistake; spending a day and a half worrying about the past when I really ought to be revising for the fast-approaching Unit 2 Geography tomorrow is not the best idea. Neither is writing a blog post, but we’ll ignore that…

It applies to all walks of life, I think. It may be the best option to accept things as they are, rather than trying to fool yourself with the positive approach. The best way to prepare is to face things head-on. Take a cheating husband: upon suspicion, faithful wife should confront her partner abruptly, rather than convince herself there is no lady-on-the-side!

So, those are my thoughts, which I hope will serve as a cautionary tale for all. Hopefully, you’ll hear from me shortly, but if not, it’s probably because I haven’t survived exam season…

Ruthie’s take on BANANA NICE CREAM!

I cannot claim I invented this myself, although I wish I could. But I thought I’d show you my take on…BANANA NICE CREAM! It’s creamy, cool, utterly delicious, but also vegan, super healthy, one of your five a day and ‘potassium’ified!

Ingredients:

  • 2 bananas, frozen
  • Any type of milk (I like almond milk, my sister likes dairy, maybe you like soya…!)
  • Toppings

The method is detailed below (I have kindly included pictures for all you hipster ‘visual’ learners out there!)

The best bit is the toppings. Its almost as fun as the ice cream parlour at Pizza Hut (do you remember that?!). I have listed some suggestions, but encourage you to let loose your creativity and share any awesome ideas in the comments!!

  •  cinnamon
  • dates
  • nakd bar
  • dried strawberries
  • smarties
  • or some more banana!

I sincerely wish you enjoy your banana nice cream and am eternally grateful to the incredible inventor of this beautiful banana bonanza!!

 

Om Shanti to you too!

Once again, my trusty Time Out Magazine succeeded in occupying my tube journey with content far more funny than the repetitive signage around me telling me about Heathrow or something. And this week’s article ‘Top Five Yoga Types’ had me reminiscing on my treasured yoga class memories, so much so that I sought to record these valuable memories in a little blog post…!

IMG_1178Yes, I was once the first ‘yoga type’: the Beginner. Upon entering the studio, I casually copied the ladies, who seemed to know the routine, collect their mats, bolsters and little blocks, found a small space on the floor, reclined in the corner of the room and stuffed the bolster awkwardly under my back. Closed my eyes and pretended to be relaxed. I was not. I sneakily opened my eyes to check the others were still there (if the excessively loud breathing didn’t give it away) and saw the instructor entering to start the class. Phew! Some instructions rather than desperately peering at the person on an adjacent mat and copying their everymovement!!

IMG_1175Yes, I also remember the second yoga type: the Farter (I hasten to add that wasn’t me!). It was all silent and calm in the studio on one Saturday session I attended, but obviously too much so for one lady, who broke the silence with a loud rasp of wind.

And how could I have forgotten the ‘Headstander’, the really keen middle-aged woman who was obviously jealous of my ability to do the splits. It would have given me great pleasure to pat her on the back and say, “Soz, Clem. Ruthie’s evidently more stretchy than you”, but I chose to be mindful of her feelings.

I still recall the powerful stench of the penultimate IMG_1179yoga type: the Sweater. To describe his red face as a beetroot would be an offensive understatement. Regardless, I admire his sheer effort and endurance, but doubt I’ll ever forgive him for forcing the rest of us to endure that awful smell

In all honesty I cannot think of the Yogi, the ‘Lazybones’. The bulk of the ladies (and the one man aka the Sweater) were pretty competitive and daren’t drop out of downward dog into child pose. Therefore I’ll add a couple of my own yoga types…

I must start with my absolute favourite lady, called Bridget, a lady in her late 60s (?), but my God could she yoga*!! She is what I miss the most about the yoga classes. Such a sweet lady, she could slide at ease into the splits and those arms of hers had no problem with the killer sun salutation. Despite being the oldest, she was also the envy of the group!

Secondly I would like to mention the rather two ladies who I will call the Misfortunate Yogis. After a restorative 90 minute session, I was in the lobby, lacing up my trainers when I was disturbed by scream and screeching of tyres. Stunned, we all ran to see what was going on and lying in the road was one of the other yoga ladies, Janet. And inside the looming car was another Yogi looking slightly gobsmacked. Thank God, the victim was okay and escaped lightly with a rather feisty bruise on her face and stiff back. But the driver was not so lucky and her damaged conscience didn’t let her return again. Understandably.

And finally there was the Young one. She was about 30 years younger than the mean age of the class attendees and looked completely out of place. She was nearly always late and sat quietly whilst the other ladies chatted about adult issues and their lazy hubbies. She tried to make conversation and sometimes succeeded when the others started to feel sorry for her and asked her about school. The yoga trousers she wore were amateur and definitely too baggy so she’s spend half the session holding them up. And it was super awks on one occasion when she left WITHOUT paying, only phoning up in a panic an hour later in a bid to apologise for the mistake. She no longer attends the classes because apparently she got a Saturday job at Waitrose… I think her name was ‘Ruth’…?

Your body, your consent?

The word ‘pathology’ tends to be associated with macabre images of a sociopathic professor hunched over a decomposing cadaver in a windowless dingy basement of a research institute. But today my view of pathology was totally transformed and it was revealed to me the effervescent and constantly evolving nature of the deeply intriguing branch of medicine.

With the aspirations to study medicine, a group of school friends and myself were lucky enough to attain places at a two-hour course that encapsulated some of the many ethical issues that surround organ donations, research and consent. It took place at the Hunterian Museum in Holborn, a fascinating venue that showcases historic specimens and preparations from surgeon John Hunter’s original collections, as well as other specimens acquired after his death. According to the curator, Hunter managed to obtain the majority of his specimens illegally from ‘corpse thieves’ who exhumed bodies and sold them to people with an enthusiasm for that sort of gift…

Apart from the morbid opening that only confirmed my preconceived ideas of pathology, I soon discovered the other, less gruesome aspects. Facilitated by pathologists, we were able to meet ‘real-life’ pathologists rather than the fictional characters depicted in BBC crime dramas. The presenter of the talk told us about the four major disciplines of pathology: chemical pathology, haematology, histopathology and microbiology. The majority of pathologists’ time is not spent hunched over a decomposing cadaver in a windowless dingy basement of a research institute. Most of work is related to diagnosing disease of people. Did you know 70% of diagnoses made involve pathology? I didn’t. Pathologic diagnosis involves not only post-mortems, but also any examination of human tissue including from blood tests, urine samples and biopsies. So virtually everyone has to some extent been examined by a pathologists… and we haven’t even died yet…

So we had an ice breaker of true and false questions and the winner got Malteasers. We were introduced to the Human Trust Authority which was established in 1961. They initially assumed consent of human tissue unless explicit objection was given from the patient or family. However this was revised in 2004. This revision was prompted after court cases were brought against pathologists when it was unveiled that thousands of human tissues were being stored and ultimately forgotten about. This seemed disrespectful to the deceased and their families, although not illegal. The new legislation states that human tissue can only be used with informed consent from patients or families.

We then split into seven small groups along with pathologists or another professional with experience in the sector. Presented with a fictitious scenario of ‘John and Jane’ whose baby may or may not have a the gene for Huntington’s disease, we discussed within our groups whether anyone in the family should be tested and, if so, who. Also we considered the implications on other family member, such as the grandmother who didn’t want to know if she had inherited Huntington’s. The possible scenarios and questions that arose were never-ending, but extremely thought-provoking. Without concluding, we moved onto the next questions that were broader rather than make-believe situations.

What is human tissue?

At first glance it seems like a straightforward question; consult Google and you’ve found your answer. But what the question was really prompting was discussion as to whether all human tissue was ‘equal’. Does urine have same value as the heart? Or the face? And should human tissue be donated or tested with anonymity so the person is untraceable? But what if a disease or faulty gene is identified? Do you notify the individual or respect their possible wish of ignorance? Once again our group came to no formal conclusion because of the prolific questions that caused our conversation to diverge immensely from the initial question, ‘What is human tissue?’

What are your views on organ donation?

Possibly more widely debated, this was an equally thought-provoking question. The general consensus was that consent should be solely the donor’s, not the family’s. We did contemplate exceptional circumstances, such as if your family member’s face was being donated for a face transplant. Would that be a bit weird for the family to have their loved one’s face ‘reused’? A little insensitive? But on the other hand a face is fundamentally the same as a kidney, liver or lung, right? It is only an intangible emotional attachment to a face that makes it supposedly different, so should it be treated as an exceptional circumstance?

And then we came to the opt-in or opt-out dispute. Wales have recently adopted the opt-out system whereby organ donations are taken unless you specify otherwise. On the whole we agreed this was a smart method to make organ donation more accepted and normal. If an individual hasn’t really thought about organ donation or is unsure, we thought it is more likely they will eventually donate their organs with an opt-out system in place. Also the system still respects individuals’ right to consent.

Since 2011, those applying for a drivers license are obliged to answer a question about joining the organ donation register. It is part of attempts to increase opportunities to sign up. Once again we agreed that this is a great way to make people think as soon as possible. It also offers the option to state specific body parts you wish to donate, increasing the flexibility of organ donation and thus the number of people willing to sign up.

After an hour in small groups, we reassembled as a whole and summarised our opinions. Like our group, most questions proved to be inconclusive, with too many ethical questions arising to offer solutions to everything. Personally I think we get transfixed on finding solutions and ideal responses to dilemmas that will never we resolved. Maybe my response is pessimistic, but I feel it is impossible to make all parties happy and every ‘solution’ will have flaws. Making exceptions is tricky and subjective so would it be better to agree to disagree sometimes? I genuinely don’t know…

We proved to be a rather harsh audience as a unanimous vote at the end of the talk voted that those who refuse to donate their organs should be exempt from the replacement list. Well, that’s a whole other minefield… I’m going to bed.

What should we do with the drunken Mummy?? 

It’s weird to think some details that completely phase you-seemingly insignificant, barely memorable- can completely transfix someone else. Or something might utterly astonish you but not even be glanced at twice by the next person. It’s all about perspective, culture, past experiences and ultimately your preference.

That former paragraph may sound completely gobbledygook but let me explain. I was babysitting two adorable girls just before christmas and was showing them a few photos from my laptop, which I had brought with me. Whilst I was flicking through pictures, pointing out members of my family, I must have shown them an image of my mum and mentioned how she had possibly been ‘slightly tipsy’ (these were photos from her 50th so we’ll let her off!). I carried on flicking through the pictures, showing them snaps from my holiday, of my naughty dog and anything else that caught their attention. We watched a movie. They taught me a game called ‘Party party!’. I put them to bed.
At least a month later, I saw the younger sister again with her friend. She asked me when I was going to babysit again and then continued, excitedly telling her friend how I show them photos of my drunken mum?!?!
Hang on!! How on earth did she remember that? Was that the most memorable moment of her evening a month ago? And more worryingly, is that what the girls told Mummy and Daddy the next day when they asked if the babysitter was nice!?
“Yes! She was great! She showed us photos of her drunk mum!!” Both started giggling and then carried on with whatever they were doing.
I’ll be surprised if I get another babysitting job anytime soon…
This got me thinking: one story, one sentence, one word can be said in exactly the same manner to a group of people and each mind listening could translate it differently. It makes me feel completely helpless because although I have ultimate control over what I say, I really have no control whatsoever of what people hear. However careful and articulate I am with what comes out of my mouth, after that, the words are free to morph themselves into languages only the receiver can determine. These misinterpretations can be hilarious. But pretty shameful too, at times. Especially when the little rascals go and tell their friends, teachers and, God forbid, their parents that the babysitter and her family are a great load of drunken loonies.

From the other side

It seems strange that only since July 2015 have I been able to empathise with retail staff. I have been in daily contact with them since 1998. They directed me towards the carrots in Asda; solved my ‘pink or blue top dilemma’ in Topshop (the fab sales girl told me to buy both which I did, unwittingly boosting her sales records); gave me too much change- which I obviously didn’t notice until I had left! We’ve had some discrepancies in the past, such as the time when I was scalded by the Starbucks barista *cries*, but hot coffee aside, my modest 17 years have several splendid memories involving shops and their teams.

However life on the other side of the counter is far more complicated than I ever fathomed. With one job at Vue under my belt, I will never EVER leave my popcorn under the seat again. I will never EVER complain about a queue at the checkout. And I will be exceptionally understanding if the 17 year old serving me doesn’t quite know how print up tickets… Or puts cheese ON TOP of the nachos rather than on the side… Or accidentally locks the till rather than giving me my change… Please note none of those RIDICULOUS scenarios ever happened to me as a cinema assistant… Okay, maybe they did…

But my two months there were well spent. I earned my first wages; I kept my parents sane by keeping myself busy; I met some funny, clever, genuinely lovely individuals and learnt how to deal with the not so great aspects of life. Like picking up popcorn, cleaning toilets and handling impatient managers that seemingly forgot that their staff had break entitlement. I also received free movie tickets and discounted Fanta frozen; what more could one dream of?!

And now I have a new supermarket job, as a food service gal, which I love. The other staff, (most of) the customers and the sprightly 6:30 Saturday morning starts are as brilliant as the divine aroma of buttery butter croissants that tempts me throughout my shift. I do, however, have sympathy for the customers I serve sometimes, when I fail to give good information. I frequently feel extremely unprofessional when I am asked a question or a request that completely confounds me. For example, a customer asked for a ‘minute steak’ last week.

“Minute steak?! What does that mean?!” My head panics as I begin to slice a nice hefty hunk of steak for the lady.

“‘Minute steak. That means thin.” She kindly prompts me and I pretend I knew it all along…

I blame the fact I am relatively new to the job and calm my embarrassment knowing that I will learn more as I progress.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I love my job, especially on the deli because there are always things to do. But the cheese. It haunts me. When I first began training on the deli counter, I was astounded by how little I knew about cheese. As a moderate fan of the cows’ gift to us, I thought I was relatively competent with the cheese world. I knew there was cheddar, goats cheese, Parmesan, ricotta, the blue stuff… But I now know there are about a billion different types of cheddar, cheeses with incomprehensible names, ‘ewes’ cheese and million types of those, French bries, English bries…. Apparently I will get the hang of the cheeses soon. Fingers crossed.

So what have I learnt from my working life so far? Well, firstly I will no longer assume that customer assistants know absolutely everything about the shop. Because if they’re new or just anything like me, they will be as clueless as the next person. I have developed an empathy for other customer assistants, particularly the newbies. But I have also learnt that we do not learn from a single mistake; we have to repeat it at least three times before we can get any better! That’s my theory anyway.

Being Big Sis

It’s taken me almost 17 years to realise this but, as the oldest child of three, I was the ‘experiment’. Confused, first-time parents, my mum and dad greeted me with obligatory cuddles and kisses, amid curious prodding and testing of their new-found parental skills. One and a half years later, after the realisation that they were just about capable of the whole mummy-and-daddy thing, it was time for a second child. Some may call it a ‘friend’ for the me; more like a ‘second chance’!
I’ll hold my hands up and admit that the former paragraph may have been a slight exaggeration, caused by my frustration at being the oldest. Undoubtedly, I am not alone with this feeling of dejection as a first-born. The pain, the struggles, the endless battles -fought not only for me but for my baby sis and bro- will eventually swallow me whole, I’m sure. But in the meantime I will endeavour to preach the ugly truth of being big sis…

1. The aforementioned ‘battles’ are real. I have fought for everything and consequently enabled the two younger ones (Amy and Conor) free access to my triumphs. Nintendo DS, Heelies, Facebook, MSN… After a few months of persistent begging for the latter and whining the phrase ‘But ALL my friends have it’, it tended to work… eventually. If it wasn’t for my top-notch persuasion skills, the eyes of my siblings and I would have ventured no further than CBBC and the infamous Bill and Ben jigsaw puzzle.

2. The second most famous quote of mine is, ‘But I get the blame for EVERYTHING!’ According to my parents (and presumably the millions of other parents around the world who have more than one child), younger siblings are exempt from punishments. They are littler, less experienced, oozing with innocence, completely confused and ultimately too cute to hold any responsibility for anything. So, being the resilient big sis I am, I bare the blame and say nothing (if my outrage succeeds in staying hidden, that is). When Conor was 5 and I was 10, he was ‘five years younger’ so I ‘should know better’. Fair enough. However, as the years passed, I noted that he was always five years younger, so when he was 10, poor me still suffered the blame. And now he is 11. And I continue to carry the blame that deserves to be shared equally.

3. The whole secondary school transfer experience has left me permanently scarred. At age 9 I could barely reach the bookshelf in my bedroom, but there I was, marching off to Barbara-the-tutor’s house, keenly carrying my special tutor folder as my worried mum watched with wishful eyes, praying that I would pass all those bloody entrance exams. If I could only do that, then the next 10 years would be sorted; Conor, Amy and I would all be educationally-homed until we turned 18. Woopee. But note the ‘if’. The onus was slowly squashing mini me… Despite failing all but one entrance exam (sorry Mum and Dad), I managed to squeeze into Ashmole by tooting my flute. (Literally. I got a music place #lifesgreatestachievement)

4. Since the tender age of two when my little (although she’s taller than me now…) sister appeared, I have been withheld from winning a game. Maybe not so much with Amy, as she she is 14-nearly15- and seems to be able to stifle the streams of tears when I thrash her at Bananagrams. Conor, on the other hand, is another story. Whether it’s Monopoly, Logo Billionaire, scrabble or cards, my overbearing mother gives me the ‘let him win, Ruth’ eyes. ‘He is younger than you!’ I hear in reply to any complaints I make regarding the matter. Like they need to remind me…

5. One final thing which seriously hacks me off about being the oldest is how I have lost my right to freedom of speech. Amy and Conor’s ears must be shielded from any derogatory words about anything. For example, I was forced by my parents, against my will, to sing joyously of the utter brilliance of the secondary school Conor would be joining me at. “Yes, Conor. You will love PE; the PE teachers are simply delightful,” I blatantly lied. “And science lessons are great, so many mind-blowing wondrous experiments.” Yeah right?! The best experiment I ever did in science was experimenting how patient I could be with Miss Abdulmalik, who was apparently qualified to teach chemistry…

It is more than crystal clear that the lives of older siblings are the toughest in the family. But wait till you hear the worst part: there is no reward. Being the oldest child will mean I’ll need to start dying my hair earliest to hide the grey strands. I will have to invest in botox first. And if I choose to grow old naturally, I will just have to bear the grey hair and wrinkles alone… I will grow too old to join my little siblings when they go out partying. I’ll enjoy lonely nights in front of Take Me Out whilst they dance late into the night at the bar down the road.

It’s a sad life. *cries*