Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Subversive Secretaries

There was a revolution in our office last week. I felt like a proper suffragette, it was quite a radical thing to do given the current economic gloom! But it started very innocently, with a few secretaries in my department deciding to boycott the firm's 'celebrate-the-new-refurbishment' drink as (1) a lot of staff have recently been made redundant and (2) the secretaries are not getting bonuses this year. For the first time ever. We didn't see there was anything to celebrate given our bonus money and pay rise money was spent on giving the offices trendy purple carpet, phallic shaped lights and green faux suede chairs. Let's just say we don't think the partners' pockets have been affected one iota.

An email went around to the secretaries on our floor and we all agreed to go out together to a local pub to avoid the celebration drinks. Somehow word spread to the other floors/departments in the firm, then across the road to our other snazzy building which has been hit the worst by redundancies.

Our lead secretary just happened to have a meeting with HR that morning and told HR how the secretaries felt and about the unofficial boycott. Well, all hell broke loose. HR immediately informed the managing partner, who called up the lead secretary for an explanation. She explained. The managing partner obviously had a word with our departmental manager (as our department was the source of the organisation of the boycott) who sent around a hastily drafted attempt at emotional blackmail with phrases like 'hard for everybody' and 'let's move forward'. This made the girls even madder and even those who had been toying with the idea of attending the drinks (just to get some free champers) decided not to. Our backs were up.

None of the secretaries attended, despite the emails from management. We sat upstairs carrying on with our work while a red-faced managing partner made the 'its difficult times, but look at our swanky office' speech. He was obviously shocked that between his power and our manager's power we still refused to attend. Not much power over us at all, then! The non-management professionals we work with thought it was great and were surprised at the strength of our stance and the impact it made. I think even they were encouraged that it is possible to impact the establishment if the workers stick together!

We have been 'invited' to a meeting with HR early next month to 'discuss any issues we may have...'

We'll see how that goes! Round 2 of redundancies perhaps!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

The Mad New Yorker - Oct 08

When in Rome, I didn't really do what the Romans do, unless they visit the Coliseum, get caught in a thunderstorm and buy those plastic sheet-sized blue raincoats off the hawkers and walk down the fashionable streets wearing said raincoats looking like a blue teletubby. Only Uncle Paul had sensibly brought a parker along with him and a broad brimmed hat, but me, Mum, Dad and Robyn wore the sheets with hoods. Dad is quite short and stocky anyway, so he looked virtually ball-shaped in the sheet, sporting the hood up with his cap jammed over the top. He loved looking so ...erm... unique! I was traumatised - I could see people chuckling at us - but preferred that to being cold and wet.

That afternoon, Dad and I set out to find a bar that sold pints of Guinness. Around the corner from our lodgings and a stone's throw from Vatican City we found, of all things, the Scottish Bar. And the Scottish Bar sold Guinness. Winner!

We were sitting at the bar and enjoying our quiet drink after a hard day's sightseeing, when into the bar blew John from Long Island, New York. I don't think I've ever met a born-and-bred New York native before, the accent was fantastic and so was the attitude - un-PC and didn't care who knew it! Similar to Dad - who likes straight-talkers (although in my opinion there is a fine line between 'saying-it-how-it-is' and being a rude redneck).

I'll admit, when John first approached us, I groaned inwardly - oh no, a loud American. But that was the cynical me. I admit I pre-judged the guy and for that I am ashamed. I used to be happy to chat with anyone. I wonder when I stop being like that - giving people a go before deciding yeah, they’re okay or no, I'm going over here now please don't follow me. Its probably my innate lack of ability to read people and their motives - I've found it better not to trust at first and let someone prove themselves than just letting them in, then finding out they are a psycho/user/letch etc.

John ordered his Bud from the bemused Italian bar maid and after a few minutes turned to us with his opening line "Ah, some people who speak my language!" I said, "Mate, we don't speak your language. You're American." Ignoring my cool tones, he said "Yes you do, you speak English! Everyone around here's speaking Italian!" Dad and I looked at one another - was this guy for real? Did he really just say that?

He introduced himself and I introduced myself and Dad and he says, I presume this is your husband? Dad laughed, but I was appalled and set him straight immediately. But I had to forgive him that because, the thing with John was, he was virtually blind. Perhaps he had 10-15% vision - his eyes were all floaty and squinty and crossed. He never said anything about it and nor did we, but when he wanted to shows me his train ticket to Civitavecchia Port for the following day, he ended up showing me: his entrance ticket to the Coliseum, his flight boarding pass, his metro ticket, before he pulled out the train ticket. He held each ticket right up to his nose to see it but still couldn't read it properly and asked me what each one was. But he could definitely see something, or else how do you get around Rome on your own (especially when everyone is speaking Italian) and accost virtual strangers in bars?

We chatted to John initially because we had no choice, he cornered us. But then a strange thing happened - we warmed to him. He was a fun, enthusiastic and slightly mad guy. At one stage he said to me I was lucky to still have my Dad around, as he'd lost his less than a year before. I told him I was sorry and that yes, I was lucky. That was the only time his voice lowered to a normal pitch and the animation in his face stilled.

He did hilarious impressions of the annoying woman at his work place (Camilla, I think) and told us about an Irish bar with great music in Manhattan that he loves, as I'd asked him about the Blues/Jazz scene in New York. We chatted and laughed until Dad and I had to go back to the apartment for dinner with Mum, Robyn and Paul, with instructions to pick up some milk on the way (we picked up some Italian wine too, being the opportunists that we are).

We bade farewell to John with handshakes and he grabbed us in a hug. We wished him a fabulous time on the cruise on which he was embarking the following day on his own. But someone like him will never be on his own - his friendliness, warmth and honest humanity will draw people to him. I bet he had a marvellous time and made an impression on everyone on board.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Mooching around Malta

My parents (Chrisso & Scotty) and my Aunt & Uncle (Robyn & Paul) are hardcore aussie sightseers, given that 3 out of the 4 of them are 60 or over (my mother being the exception at mid-50s) they saw and did HEAPS In their 4 week holiday in the UK/Europe that the time I spent with them - the first week and the last week of their epic journey - I was bloody knackered.

Dad would sometimes sit a day out - with back and knee complaints (he's the oldest and unfittest), or else Dad and I would slope off to the pub for a sit down and a pint if it all got too much - almost every afternoon of their final week of touring which we spent in Malta with Dad's little brother Jim. Us three would leave the other three to it.

Malta was a most interesting island. There is a lot of history to take in given it's small size; it contains ruins from 5000 years ago right up to the present day. It is overcrowded, chaotic and the roads are appalling. We loved it. The people are friendly and chilled out, you don't have to worry about your wallet getting nicked or other irritations that occur on mainland Europe. It seems to be in a bubble - almost a time warp. They even - get this - LIKE the English!! Again, very different to mainland Europe.

I arrived in Malta a day before the quartet of intrepid travellers. It was cloudy, but still warm, so Uncle Jim and I went for a wander around the local area. We stopped for coffee at a restaurant near Espinola Bay when it started to pour with rain. An old Maltese man who was fishing nearby came to shelter under our table's umbrella. He lit up a smoke and started up a conversation, explaining he had to keep fishing as he'd only caught one little fish for his dinner. He said he really had to go back and catch another one for his wife.

He told us about the big storm that came through the island a few years previous where all the boats moored in the bay came loose and battered against each other and/or sank in the rough waters. The old fisherman said that his boat ended up in one of the restaurants around the bay - a wave sent it smashing through the glass and it sat proudly in the middle of the dining area! He explained that the waves are worse nowadays because the natural rocks that used to surround the bay broke up the waves, but they are gone now, and the smooth cement man-made sea walls create no buffer at all so the waves smash into the walls at full force, creating havoc in the little bay and spraying mightily up onto the street.

But that day the rain stopped and the colourful wooden fishing boats bobbed happily in the deep blue water, and the old man went back to catch a fish for his wife's supper. Because he sure wasn't sharing his.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

On my feet again

I finally landed a 6 month contract for secretarial work. Only took me 5 months! I got by through temping/working at my cousin's law firm in the meantime.
The new firm is pretty good - in depth training program, modern attitudes, offices in the west end ... very good for shopping but bad if you are on the breadline like me. I managed to avoid shopping whilst temping as I knew I couldn't afford it but now I have regular income for 6 months, what a different story! And doesn't a girl deserve a little bit of a shop after a 5 month hiatus? I didn't even shop online during that time! (well not for clothes/shoes/bags. Only essentials like wine. Oh and food).

There's an eccentric lawyer here with crazy curly hair, a booming voice and loud suits. The days he is not here it is like a morgue. That is the problem with open plan - people are very quiet so they don't disturb others. Except the lady who sits opposite me, who calls out to her bosses like an east end fishwife. She also moans about everything under the sun. Fortunatley my nearest neighbour is lovey - mellow, sweet, helpful lady. Landed on my feet there.

But 2 weeks in the new job and I'm off on a week's holiday with my parents - to Malta and Italy. Now that should be an experience!

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Cuba # 2 - The Resort & Wedding

We checked into the Paradiso Resort, Varadero, 2 days early due to our less-than-relaxing time in Havana. No Cubans except for resort employees are even allowed onto the peninsula so you are tucked away in a little trouble-free bubble.

The resort was abouty 2 hours drive from Havana, on a peninsula and it was pure luxury. The entrance alone was breathtaking with wooden walkways over massive fish ponds, palm trees, marble floors, statues ... very zen. It was 5 star, all inclusive - more than we could ever usually afford but because we were with the wedding party of Katie & Wayne we got a good deal.

It had 5 different restaurants plus a buffet restaurant - one was Teppanyaki! The Cuban chefs dressed up in blue silk outfits and did the cook-in-front-of-you thing. Very entertaining. There was also an Italian, a Caribbean, a steak house and a 'romantic' restaurant. All drinks, including cocktails and champers were included too, amazing. I am now a pina colada addict.

The music at the resort was wonderful, different bands played at meal times and in the lobby bar in the evening. They put on a different cabaret show (singing/dancing) every evening at 10pm then we'd adjourn to the nightclub. There were salsa lessons on the beach and by the pool every day, also percussion lessons, spanish lessons, yoga, beach volleyball, soccer, kayaking, pedallos, sailing.... not all just lazing around!

Usually after the buffet breakfast we went down to the beach, to sunbake (in the shade in my case - you can take the girl out of Australia but you can't take Australia out of the girl...) and swim. After a relaxing lunch at one of the restaurantss - either the beach grill or the caribbean restaurant by the pool (my personal fave) we'd adjourn to the pool bar for a swim and a drink. By that time the pool bar was in the shade so I could sit there without fear of sunburn.

The first couple of days we were very quiet as it was just us and Wayne & Katie (the couple who got married), then, suddenly about 20 Canadians arrived.. all Katie's family from Vancouver! They were great and we really enjoyed getting to know them. Such nice people with all the quirky characters that come with big families. The wedding was a few days after that and by then we all knew each other so it was quite a party. (Next summer - Vancouver here we come!)

The wedding itself was spectacular - in a white gazebo overlooking the ocean. It was windy but it was clear and the ceremony was short and sweet. There was a string quartet playing (Pacobel's Cannon; Ave Maria which gets me every time) and champagne and nibblies after while the sun went down.

The gorgeous bride and handsome groom then went for photos and the guests hit the lobby bar (open 24 hours - always a good fall back) .

The evening reception was in a private function room with a long table laid out and a delicious 4 course meal with wine and of course more champange (moet for the toasts)! One of the resort's bands were playingand it was, basically, perfect. For the wedding favours the men got cigars and the girls a Cuba keyring, plus bags of personalised M&Ms!!!! Tied in little chiffon bags finished with a strawberry and a moon charm. (Wayne & Katie met in a club called Strawberry Moons in London.)

Oh and yes, there were some tears during the speeches, especially Waynes... it was so heartfelt and loving.

We hit the dancefloor later - they'd even brought some CDs they made themselves so the music was excellent and everyone got up to shake their stuff.

They were so organised and put so much thought into everything, it was truly a wonderful and memorable day and when I remember Cuba, that is what I will remember.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Cuba # 1 - Havana (Feb08)

My first visit to the Caribbean (last month) was to the west's only communist country... Cuba.

I've always wanted to go there after seeing a doco on it years ago where people partied in the streets, dancing and laughing and seeming so warm and friendly and passionate...

The reality is very different. Socialism is no longer working for the country and hasn't been since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 90s. That's when Cuba's economy went tits-up, as without the support of the large and fellow anti-American commy country, the practicalities of socialism didn't survive. And now its a broken country, still living in the heyday of the Revolution some 50 odd years ago.

Havana was where we landed and were supposed to spend 3 days exploring. This is what we encountered: run down old buildings, crappy roads and lots of loitering people who befriend you and then ask for money. We lasted 2 days and 1 night there. The other half was entirely adamant about leaving - he didn't feel comfortable at all, at least in his home country of Africa he knows what to expect and what to look out for, but not knowing the language or the layout was a bit much for him.

The interesting stuff was the amount of political propaganda on signs, no other advertising, just the government bigging itself up and talking about the revolution and likening Bush to Hitler.

There was also no beach to speak of in Havana, just a sea wall where we were accosted by people asking for money. We had trouble also finding any cafes or bars to refresh in. Ended up having drinks/food in hotels. All very odd - they need to clean up that city. The old buildings are beautiful but you wouldn't set foot in most of them for fear of them falling down around your ears.

The only good thing about it is all the old cars - they have loads of buicks, cadillacs, chevvys, any big old american car from the 40s, 50s and 60s. Its like a living car museum. Hardly any of them look road worthy but hey, they are colorful and give the place character!

Also the B&B or casa particular we stayed at was lovely, clean and friendly. We felt very guilty about checking out early as the landlady was great. She had warned us about Havana's downside and understood that we didn't want to hang around. Her daughter lives in Norway and said basically her entire generation had left Cuba - there was nothing there for them as the economy is in such bad shape and there is no way to make money. Its such a shame as it could be a wonderful place with its location, its culture, the warm people and the history. They don't have to lose their sense of identity, they just have to move forward as everything has to.

BTW - Fidel stepped down the day after we arrived back in London. But his brother took over so no real change there, then.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Bit bleary

My head feels dizzy, my mouth feels dry, stomach is flipping and I just want to go back to bed... yes I have the hangover from hell. But I managed to drag my sorry self into work (albeit an hour late) to continue my 100% success rate of pitching up to the office even with a crippling hangover. I've never had a sick day for a hangover, ever! Not that I'm being very productive, but its the principle of the thing.

Fortunately I don't sit near the queen bee (QB) of my team so wasn't spotted sloping in late ... although she did pop by just after I got here and my computer was suspiciously booting up still. My actual bosses didn't mind, they sent me out to get some proper food! Actually I might have the other half of that bacon-egg sandwich now, if I can keep it down. I feel another alka seltzer coming on too...