Sunday, September 14, 2014

Going Out of Your Way, Not Getting Out of The Way


There used to be a guy who ran my local municipal tip – that’s garbage dump in American – where I’d go if I wanted to dispose of items too large to fit into the standard-issue blue bin bag and put out for collection every week. Now, landfill is a universal problem, but the council are enlightened enough to have separate skips – OK, dumpsters – for garden waste, wood, metal, electrical appliances, as well as the usual recycling bins for glass, tin foil, paper, plastic, batteries and glass.

Can you spot the cat in this pic? Took me a little while (my eyes aren't what they were) but I got there in the end.

Nevertheless, there’s an awful lot of stuff that gets thrown away for no good reason other than its owners don’t want it any more. Working stuff. Stuff that, if they could be arsed, could be given away with a postcard in the local newsagents’ window, or put on a swap site like FreeCycle, or taken to a car boot sale at the weekend. One man’s rubbish, after all, is another’s treasure.

The guy who used to run the local tip understood this. He also understood that people often don’t have a lot of spare cash, and children eat up a goodly proportion of it. So, if someone came in with an outgrown child’s bicycle in good order, he wouldn’t just sling it into a skip, he’d put it to one side against the fence, and let that person choose a slightly larger bicycle from the stock already there to take away with them.

That’s my kind of recycling.

He made going to the tip an adventure. He would come bouncing out of his little hut and beckon you over to show you the latest treasure he’d unearthed. One time, he showed me a beautifully made wooden rack with loops cut out of it and marbles secured into the loops with wire. I couldn’t guess what it was for. An old-fashioned printer’s drying rack, he told me. The marbles slid up and gripped the paper gently enough for the ink to dry without smudging.



Of course, such free-thinking is not part of today’s bureaucratic make-up. The council soon knocked that on the head, no doubt citing some Health and Safety/insurance/liability issue as the reason. The guys who run the tip now are friendly enough, but the fun’s gone out of it.

They are not really people people.

Some people find fun in everything they do, no matter how mundane it might seem to the rest of us. They make a trip through the supermarket checkout a real giggle, or something as tiresome as a late-night short-hop plane ride an experience to remember.

When I was touring in the States back in 2007, I took a LOT of Southwest flights. They were cheap, yes, but cheerful, too. I still recall getting on one flight in Phoenix. It was late, the plane was full, everyone was tired and grouchy, and when the standard safety briefing began, nobody was paying much attention to the cabin crew.

“We’re not anticipating any problems with our flight tonight,” said the woman on the address system, briskly, “otherwise I would have called in sick …”

Heads started to come up all the way along the rows of seats ahead of me.

“… but in the event of a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask with drop down from the overhead compartment in front of you. Place the mask over your nose and mouth and tighten the straps around your head. Always adjust your own mask before helping others. If you’re travelling with children – we’re sorry. Pick the one you like best. If you don’t like either of them, pick the one with the most potential. If neither of them have much potential, nyah.”

By the time she finished, she got a round of applause from everyone on the aircraft.

A people person.

And no, before all you gents rush out and book with Southwest, they don't dress the cabin crew like this any more!

Of course, some people cultivate this, like the yeoman warders at the Tower of London. I confess that I don’t often watch video clips sent to me – mainly because our internet speed is horribly, horribly slow, but this particular guy is absolutely fantastic at his job. He imparts history with humour. If only I’d had a history teacher at school who’d made ingesting historical facts this much fun, I might even have continued going past my twelfth birthday.



Of course, not everyone sets out to be pleasant to those they come across, or even rude in an amusing way. A few years ago when our car insurance was due for renewal we thought that, rather than just do it online, we’d go into the local insurance broker and ask them for a quote, so if we ever had cause to make a claim, we’d have someone we could deal with on a personal level. The guy we ended up speaking with seemed to have a bit of a problem with the female of the species.



He not only wouldn’t look at me, he wouldn’t speak to me directly either. Instead, he asked my husband for my driving history, despite the fact that we were both sitting on the opposite side of the desk from him. Eventually, I started patting myself, checking I was in fact still there and hadn’t somehow become invisible. I also edged my chair round so that the guy couldn’t possibly avoid making some kind of eye-contact. The final straw was, when he gave us a quote that was way off the mark, he hinted that the only way we could possibly have obtained such a good renewal quote was not to have given our current insurer all the relevant details of the cover we needed.

We voted with our feet. Not only that, but we also transferred an existing home policy to another broker.

What about you, folks? Any nice examples of people you’ve come across who turn an everyday task into an event? Equally, anybody who springs to mind who takes what should have been a fun experience and made it deathly dull or that you walked away from with steam coming out of your ears?

This week’s Word of the Week is sophomore, which means a second-year student. I’m sure most of you have come across the word, although it’s used far more in the States and in the UK, but did you know it comes from sophos, meaning wise, and moros meaning foolish? I’m saying nuffink …

I'm travelling this week and don't know if I'll have internet connection, but if/when I do, I'll respond to any comments!

20 comments:

  1. Nice post, Zoë! Absolutely true, people people make live a lot more worth living, and not-people people just make me want to drop my drawers right there and leave a tidy little present on their shoes. Fortunately, both of these seem to be somewhat contagious, so which you experience the most is, somewhat, up to you. For example, take Jeff. Please.

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  2. Where would you like me to take Jeff?

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  3. Zoe, in NYC, we put usable things at the curb--no trash bags--for people top take away if they can use them. We do this with furniture, small appliances, household stuff. Sometimes the gadgets carry a message--"It works." This system always works. Things disappear, often in minutes.

    At any given moment there are about 13 million people with NYC's boundaries. About 69.9% of them a people people. Another 16.7% are having a frustrating time and are in a cranky mood. Half of the rest are terminally cranky and the remainder are absolutely nuts.

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    1. I don't know, how confident are you of those percentages? They seem to me to be off by a few tenths of a percent.

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    2. In answer to your questions: EvKa.

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    3. I know that was obvious, but I'm only typing with one finger...and you can guess which one that was. ;)

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    4. Wait a minute... I straddle that remark!

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    5. LOL Annamaria. Mate of mine said that on his estate if you put out anything like that nobody would touch it, because they'd assume it didn't work. But if he put a sign on it saying 'For sale. £50' it would have been pinched by the next morning...

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    6. Which finger would that be then Jeff? :)

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    7. The one I use least, my ring finger.

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  4. we had an anatomy lecturer who used to 'act out' organs. He used to sing I'm a little uterus to the tune of I'm a little teapot. His kidney was a real toe tapper and his small intestine worthy of an Oscar!

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    1. Hi Caro. That would certainly make the lessons stick in your mind!

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  5. Sorry my replies are short and sweet. I'm in the Greek islands and sending my email etc from Fani's Bar on Paxos.

    And no, Jeff — before you ask — I have not yet come across Fani ...

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  6. Butt, butt, butt...

    Enjoy Fani .... And beyond.

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    1. Fani's was delightful, Jeff.

      No but(t)s involved :)

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  7. An example of a "computer says no" office is the Icelandic passport issuing agency. There was an interview in today's paper about some lady that had gone down there to pick up her new passport and the woman who was assigned to help her went and found it, held it it front of her but refused to give it to her as she was supposed to mail it. Then she put it in an envelope and the passport owner had to go home and sit by the letterbox. I hate beaurocracy - not only because I cannot spell it.

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    1. How wonderful to know Little Britain made it to Iceland, Yrsa! Unbelievable that they would be s cruel to the poor woman. Still, at least she didn't try to collect it on her way to the airport. Or did she ...? Zxx

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  8. Zoe, it seems you had a bad experience with your insurance broker. However, if you want to know how Vannessa dealt with a used car salesman in Arizona when she was buying her first truck, you could take a look at my blog post, 'The Walkers Go West (2)' at my website at: http://www.tonywalkerbooks.com/?p=329

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