On Being Happy: Music

I’ve been writing music reviews for a while now, and started off writing for a not-so-great online magazine that ended up changing what I’d said. I now write for The London Economic and, if you’re interested in what I do, you can always check out my online portfolio here.

Now that I’ve shoved in what I think is a well-placed plug, I want to go back to what this is all about – music. I love music, just like most people do, but I’ve discovered that there isn’t a lot of music that I don’t like. I’m not too great with heavy metal, but when it’s done well even I can’t say it’s not good. Then I thought a definite turn off for me is ‘screamer’ music, which still holds true, but every now and then it will crop up in a fantastic song and I’ll love it. Music knows no bounds.

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I’m sure everyone has their own personal connection to music, ranging with everything from saving their life to their teenage awakening to boys or girls or just wearing lots of wristbands. For me, music has always been a part of my life what with my Mum being a professional flutist. My normal was hearing her run scales at warp speed or breeze through complicated pieces with what sounded like ease. It wasn’t until friends came over to my house and gaped when they heard her playing that I realised not everyone had that. When I was younger, I didn’t really know what music I liked – my Mum introduced me to Take That with her obsession with Gary (and if you diss them, you’ll face my wrath as I passive aggressively scream the lyrics to Shine), then she let me listen to her Maroon 5 CD Songs About Jane and I’ve loved them ever since. I went through a Britney Spears phase, then listened to nothing outside of Taylor Swift. After that a few of my friends started ‘educating’ my music taste, and soon enough I was listening to You Me At Six and Mayday Parade and Panic At the Disco.

Since then, my tastes have changed and some of them have even lingered. It’s safe to say that my go-to these days vary from whatever musical I fancy to Hozier to old school Maroon 5 to a really catchy remix. Years & Years, Sam Smith, James Bay – so many artists are crammed onto my now very old ipod. For me, music is another escape, much like a book can open you to another world – music opens you up to new sound. There’s nothing better, in my opinion, than blasting some music as you try to belt along whilst you also try and cook/clean/procrastinate. Music brings me to another happy place – and nothing sends shivers up my spine more than a beautiful harmony does.

It’s a happy place for me, which is exactly why it deserved it’s own spot on this odd but, hopefully bright, series. That’s all I aim to do – bring a bit of light and sunshine to a world that sometimes seems a bit grey. Or maybe that’s just because there seems to be clouds constantly crowding over London. Either way, keep smiling because surely those clouds will pass over soon.

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Revelations at the bookshop

I’ve had a mix of jobs, three paid ones to be exact and several unpaid. I’ve already discussed my joyous time at the pub (if you haven’t read it and are interested, click here), have briefly commented on the horror that was working as a hostess, but for today I want to talk about working in a bookshop and about retail in general. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the strange world of weekend jobs.

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I’m pretty lucky in the sense that I actually enjoy my job. Despite the fact that I lose every weekend, it’s a great environment to work in with great colleagues and, every now and then, some nice customers. However, there are a few things that become very apparent about people in society today just from the interactions between a customer and employee. What some people fail to understand, is that just because someone is an employee does not make you, the customer, their boss. In fact it does not put you in a superior position whatsoever. Most people will nod and say ‘yes, yes, I know’, but those same people do not then act like they know it. For example, I had a man bark at me the other day whilst I was in the middle of speaking to another customer, “You, get on the till, I need to pay”. Yes, I know, frightfully rude, but you’d be surprised at how many times I have this interaction daily. Some people treat staff as if they are there to serve them personally, and so they can treat them how they wish. From insulting someone’s drink they’ve made you to muttering how incompetent you think they are, already you’re assuming and placing yourself in a supposed position of authority which you do not have.

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Now it’s not all doom and gloom – I did have a customer last week recite me one of him poems because I had run all over the shop with him to find a book and then gift wrap it for him. It’s customers like that which brighten your day, because who doesn’t like it when people are nice? If only everyone thought this way.

There are stereotypes all around us, as we well know, but one of them that is always present in my mind is that opinion that the older generation seem to have in thinking that the younger generation, particularly teenagers, are all rude and disrespectful. Working in a bookshop, I can of course only comment on the individuals that frequent my particular store, but it’s still interesting to see. You may well be surprised to hear that my favourite customers are those that are usually under 25, especially the teenagers. If you have a long line of customers, it won’t be the teenager huffing and puffing and pushing their way to the front to yell at you because of course it is your fault that there are a lot of people shopping on that day. It isn’t teenagers who get angry when you make a mistake – more often than not, they’re the ones who laugh it off and say ‘don’t worry, I make the same mistake at my work all the time’. Now don’t get me wrong, of course there are a few bad seeds, but in my experience the vast majority of the younger demographic is that they’re understanding and perfectly nice. The older generation? It varies much more. That lady in her seventies approaching the till could easily be about to tell you that she likes your shirt and just wants to chat for the next ten minutes about her grandchildren, but she could also be about to snap about how long she’s had to wait and how unacceptable it is that I’m the only one on my till as my colleague is on their break (how dare they). I’ve often found older people to be generally ruder when they talk to me, as if I am clearly beneath them due to the fact that I work in retail. My favourite interaction has to be with an older gentleman who used a word and then went, ‘oh, I’m sure you don’t know what that means’ and began to explain it. I stopped him, informed him that I knew perfectly well what that word meant. He then apologised insincerely and said something along the lines of ‘you must read a lot on your days off work then’. He was very surprised to hear that I’m at one of the leading universities in the country studying Classics with English. He tried to dig himself out of his neat hole that he’d made by saying he assumed that I worked at the shop full-time, as if that said something about my intellect.

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I feel the need to insert another funny customer story here to ease the tension, so I’m going to go with a personal favourite. It was a normal Saturday and a rather attractive guy strolled into the store with some friends and began looking around the notebooks. I, like the great employee that I am, went over to offer some help to see what he was looking for. ‘A present for my friend who likes writing’ was the answer and, boom, I’ve got this in the bag – was the first, naive thought that passed through my brain. I skip over to a display of fun books, one of them being a great book called ‘642 things to write about’ which has, literally, 642 different things to write about. They range from asking what you’ve inherited from your mum to describing your ideal partner – it’s a great book. Anyway, as I’m pitching this product, I say ‘let me show you an example’ and open the book to a random page. I point down to one of the ideas and we both look down as I start to read it out loud, only to discover that it said ‘Describe I time when you tried to orgasm, but couldn’t’. I was mortified, he was mortified, and I ran away with a ‘well, they’re not all like that, but I’ll leave you to browse’. Ah well, he still bought the book so it’s a success in my mind.

Back to the bad stories. The last ‘revelation’ if you will that I want to discuss is that I’ve found how far we are from equality. I’m bloody lucky that I am a white girl from a family that isn’t struggling and grew up in a really lovely area. I’m bloody lucky that I got into a good primary school that had great teachers which helped me get into a good secondary school which forced me to work my arse off to then get into a good university. I don’t encounter much discrimination directed towards me, especially as I went to an all girls school, but I do of course experience what most girls do: catcalling, wolf whistles, derogatory comments, disgusting individuals on public transport, misogyny – all that good stuff. Your typical issues of an everyday white girl, and the usual issues that some people call ‘white feminism’ typically deals with as we don’t also have to worry about whether the colour of our skin affects this as well.

I’m going to stop myself here from getting too into this discussion and get back to the bookshop interaction.

Sexism still exists, clearly, but it has never been so apparent as it has been since I’ve worked in retail. There have been several times when a customer, 9 times out of 10 a male customer, has approached the till and, despite me being the closest and saying hello, they’ll move further along to address my male colleague. There have been times when I’m dealing with a customer – again, the usual is a middle-aged or older man, typically middle or upper class – and when I answer one of their questions, they’ll usually ask me to check with someone else. For example:

“Do you stock Filofax?”

“Sorry sir, I’m afraid we don’t.”

Customer spots male colleague, “Well, can you check with him?”

Goes up to colleague, earns a frown because we’ve never and never will stock Filofax and I’ve known this from day one, return to customer and say, “No, we don’t.”

Every. Damn. Day.

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I really wish the world were a better place sometimes. I truly do. For now though, I’ll have to keep dealing with people that have authority issues and problems with women saying no. Till next time.

I’m Average

We have an obsession with being ‘special’, whatever that means. We go to great lengths to avoid being ‘normal’, whatever that means. When we think of being ‘normal’, I assume most people instantly think ‘boring’ – at least that’s where my mind takes me.

There are influences left, right, and centre for making you think that you want to be the to stand out. No, as far as I’m aware, we’re not encouraged by our culture to just fit in and be like everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, this is good – incredibly good, in fact. The goal of this encouragement is so that people just try and be themselves, which I love, but it does also go a bit beyond that. We’re urged into this mindset that there are certain people who are special, ‘chosen ones’ if you will. Most of us grew up reading books like Harry Potter and watching shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer that feature the trope of there being a ‘chosen one’. Hell, I’ve wanted to be Buffy for a long, long, long time, and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.

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There are certain people we think of as ‘special’ – that beautiful one you see in class, the extremely athletic one who got a scholarship, that one that got the part in the play, and so on. I’m sure most of us think of celebrities as a whole as special people – generally anyone in the spotlight in media will have that tagline in my head. That’s why we want to be these people; we want to be special, we want to be extraordinary. Damn, even that word: extra ordinary. We don’t want plain ol’ ordinary, we want that extra.

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I consider myself to be an average sort of person, and it’s bloody difficult to be happy with that and, more importantly, be proud of that. I live in a nice flat in London, I have a part-time job, I get to go to higher education and, one day, I’ll be able to have a job which (hopefully) is one that I’m happy in. There aren’t many people who can say that they have all of that, which is why I have to remind myself daily to be happy with my life and what I have. I’m lucky to live where I do, to have the family that I have, and have the drive to work hard for what I want. So I’m not a celebrity for my incredible talents. So I didn’t get that part in the play I really wanted. So I’m not doing anything incredibly exciting or going on adventures or holidays that I see others going on. I may well get average marks despite working my arse off, but I need to stop thinking that that isn’t a good thing. So I’m not top of the class – that doesn’t mean I’m at the bottom.

Earlier this year, I gave myself this tagline: average. I was pretty bummed about it, until I realised that just because I’m not off bungee jumping a mountain abroad or featuring as a debut actress in a movie doesn’t mean that I’m an average person overall. What does ‘average’ even mean? Is there really a ‘normal’ that we’re all trying not to be? Just because you’re not in the spotlight doesn’t mean you’re any ‘less’ of a person than those who are in it. Maybe you’re the cheerleader screaming on the sidelines, supporting everyone around you and holding them all up. I’m happy with that.

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Man, I love Buffy. For more of my random thoughts and musings, be sure to follow this blog and leave a comment on how you feel about this. Or even a comment about how much you love Buffy. All are welcome.

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