Sunday, 28 June 2015

Friendly reminder.

I know this post may stir a few pots.
Some pots may bubble over with a sickly yet bitter spitting stew, which will only burn throats and leave ugly smelling smoke. Other pots may finally fill with that perfect blend, a light and lively lift that gets things going, wakes us up and starts things fresh.
Yes, I started this post with cooking pot metaphors. It can only get better.

For years now (and I do mean actual years; a couple of cold Christmases, uneventful Easter times and unsuccessful summers) I have been constructing this post in my constantly baffled, technically damaged yet forever optimistic little mind. 

Effort. I could be utterly arsy and post the dictionary definition of the word 'effort' right here, but I'm not that blogger. I'm not that guy. I mean, I did just sit down in a very action-stations manner and I did just sweep my hair up into a businesslike bun before flipping my laptop open and breathing out sharply when pulling it onto my lap, but that's just how I do, okay? Okay. Now. Let's break it all down.
Effort is something I seem to be forever searching for. I'm not talking love-wise, I've done my fair share of bitching and moaning over the years about not being called back or being left in bed alone the morning after (you'll notice no complaining in that respect has happened over the past eighteen months, yippee for me!), no this is about friendship. Making the required effort in a friendship.
Once again, no terribly cliché blogger moves here. No online definitions. Maybe just a few classic examples of making an effort in a friendship. A guide maybe, to those wondering what I mean by 'effort'. Here are some Effort Examples...

I blogged delightedly about this little outpouring of effort when it happened, unfortunately but not unintentionally sending a message to my lazy alleged lady-besties at the time; one of my main mates from uni who I met in my first year, while drunk obviously, had come all the way from Poole to super-South Sussex on the train to see little old me for a few days. That's four hours on the train, and nearly fifty quid for the ticket. To sleep on a camp bed on my bedroom floor and just hang out with me around the shops and in pubs for a few days. That's effort. 

A perfect example occurred just as I reached my peak while writing this post - as in, just as I collapsed after writing the fifth paragraph, copying and pasting a little, and refreshing the preview page... My darling colleague (the one called Misty for no reason whatsoever) suddenly lights up my phone with a FaceTime call. We then chat for an hour or so, and I realise how much I needed this nice little impromptu giggly love-sharing session. 

One of my dearest friends who I may mention far too much -- but c'mon, she rocks and we have the best story about how we met -- she came to my Grandma's funeral (and the gathering afterwards, with the very chatty older gents and questionable buffet dinner) for Heaven's sake! Literally, for Heaven's sake. My Grandma would have hugged her and got two lines of coral lippy on her cheek (my friend's angelic mama, too!) for always being there for me at the worst times. For sitting with me and drinking orange juice out of wine glasses at our little table and cheerfully chatting with the aforementioned chatty folk. 

Last year when I was staggering through my first bout of post-op recovery (thinking foolishly that it would also be the last) one of my favourite humans from uni, who must be the sassiest and most down-to-earth yet purely angelic individual, decided to visit me at home, as in home-home, home town home, y'know? Which was a big deal, as she drove to us all the way from the Reading area. She sat with my mama and I in the garden, we all tucked into a picnic lunch, and she painted my nails the happiest yellow. I couldn't help but feel we should be taking her out and seeing the sights of the town (the park, the Abbey and maybe one not-too-appalling pub) if she drove all this way -- but no, we were all happy to just sit in the sunshine and have a chat about this and that. 

Okay, I've done enough terribly specific praising and butt-kissing now, so I'll add in some easy tips to be a top notch friend. At least, by my standards -- which are actually rather tame, I mean I once embraced a boy as a bestie when he sent me semi-reliable links to watch the latest series of Scandal online, this of course being before I embraced Netflix... 
Right, here we go. Handy hints for tip-top friendships. Friend Tips! 

1. If you live right near a friend, maybe take some time to knock on the door as you go past. Not every day maybe, don't be a nuisance -- but every now and again maybe, if you think they'll be in and up for a natter. This may only be the case at uni for some; when living in the halls or when we'd all moved to the ex-council estate which may as well have been renamed 'Student Estate', I'd always knock on a friend's door or have others meet me as they walked past mine when we were all on our way to lectures in the morning or training in the evening. The thing was, we'd just about work out our friends' schedules and when the best times were to knock, then the semester would end and timings would change for everyone... 
My grandparents would wave to their neighbours from the garden, or stop in next door for a cuppa now and again. I have two lovely friends across the road and round the corner from me, and we've knocked for one another a few times over the past twenty years. Well, maybe at the beginning of these two decades our mums would knock as we were too short to reach even the letterbox, but still. 

2. Texting back. Or even sometimes, and I am so sorry this can be the case at times, texting me first. Recently I haven't been texting much, or blogging, because text on a bright screen hurts my eyes in my damaged head a little too much. Normally I am a texting and social-networking freak and fiend. Just ask any boss I've ever had who cannot get me to put my phone away while on shift...
Texting is, I'm afraid to say, a very important part of maintaining a friendship. I can tell who my nearest and dearest are simply by looking back over my iMessage inbox, my Facey B conversations, or my latest Whatsapps. They're all there. And for the first time maybe ever, I'm actually not holding out for the ones who never message until the madness in their day-to-day life has 'blown over' and they're 'able' to talk to me again. A text takes two minutes. Looking at my inbox, in fact, on average I write four texts within the same minute (*blows smoke off fingers*). I get that not many people are as quick on the touch screen as I am, but there's almost always time to send a text. You can send a text while on the toilet, for goodness' sake. Don't you shake your head, everyone does it... 

3. Snapchat -- wait, stay with me! I was doubtful at first, too. However, I have a huge group of friends who are scattered all across the country, some of whom I haven't seen since I graduation. These friends are all living their lives; travelling here there and everywhere, diving into the professional world, having lazy days off or hitting the gym, etc... I get to see all this, even if only for a few seconds while my thumb is pressed on my phone screen. I get a view out to sea from the sandy shore, I see the office and the many cups of coffee required to make deadlines for the boss, I almost taste the pre-workout snacks or creative concoctions behind the bar (the latest being well-seasoned super-snappers L&D, who made whiskey ice lollies and now they are all I can think about). I see what my friends are up to and I'm still kept in their loops! I get to converse with them via silly selfies, so we're basically sitting next to each other right?!

4. Coffee dates are miraculous. These days when we don't pop round one another's houses for a play-date as we once did, or we're not pre-drinking and doing make-up for one another before venturing out to that one bar/club type place, coffee dates are a perfect safe option. Even before I drank coffee I'd go out to Costa (before I knew better, obviously) to meet with friends and we'd both have a large hot choc and I'd refer to it as a 'coffee date'. I learned early. These days I help out with hundreds of coffee dates per day, and they always make me so happy. I see friends catching up or the odd casual date occurring, and it's perfect. I cannot recommend coffee dates enough -- in fact I adore them so, I wrote a blog post about them for the lovely 'Oh No, Not Another Blogger' *puts plugs away*. 

5. Offer to drive. This is the pettiest pickiest problem, but it is so relevant in some cases. Since passing my driving test at seventeen, I find that my popularity sky-rockets when I offer to drive. If a few of us are sitting around feeling a bit lethargic (and more often hungover), we might decide we need a specific snack from the supermarket up the road. We'll all discuss this snack or beverage we are after oh-so longingly for some time, before I finally say 'well, I can drive us up the road...'
For a couple of years while at college I'd go out on the town with friends, happily have just the one Jacky D and then five hours later drive everyone home, dropping people off en route. I'd go to pick friends up 'just for a drive'. I'd even pick those friends up and bring them back to my house just to hang out. I'd also drive friends home from college when their home was a good twenty minutes out of the way. Also, I've never accepted petrol money donations, and I say that when I've only had it offered to me once by a friend's boyf.
Admittedly, some of these friends could not drive and only a few were learning, but then there were some who just wouldn't offer up their cars for supermarket runs or aimless adventures. I found last year when I had surrendered my licence due to my operation, a few friends faded away because I was of no use to them, and some just could not get the bus to meet up although I never minded getting a lift or a train to them. 

6. Send parcels of love. I am so guilty of this one; I hardly ever actually post a card or package for a friend's special occasion, in fact recently I'm forgetting even to pop a card through a door because I live right near a friend who's celebrating a birthday! I always was on top form posting those tiny Christmas cards you get for everyone when at school, because I'd carry them in my school bag -- they took up more room than my textbooks -- and give them out to each recipient as I saw them. I'd then apologise when I gave one to a friend and forgot the friend standing right next to them, so I'd then go home and add a card for that person to the pile for the following day. It was a full-time occupation. But now, with friends scattered every which way and only Snapchat able to bridge the distance, I just have no motivation to send things in the mail. That changes now! I've realised how much I love receiving cute cards and thoughtful parcels, and would love to make those happy feelings happen for others. *throws envelopes in the air and twirls* 

So actually on that last little tip I found something I need to work on when it comes to putting in the effort -- nobody is perfect, I'm afraid. No friend will tick every box all the time and make more effort than you ever expected possible every single day.
In actuality, it's the friends who tick zero boxes that you'll pick up on after a long while -- and unless by some miracle they read this post, it hits them smack between the eyes and they sit back in their chairs and make a solemn vow to the universe that they will change their ways... Then you have to let them go. Don't make excuses for them; don't keep on hoping for the coffee date that they'll suggest and arrange with you by text, or the care package they'll send to your house 'just because', or the time any day now when they'll drive by in their own vehicle and knock on your door. Those things 
won't happen any time soon, and it's time to, well, stop spending time on them. Make room for your more mutually dedicated friendships! The relief of letting the less bothered ones go is so unexpectedly massive and magical. 
Or, okay, if you're less cynical and fed up as me, give the lazy absent friends one more chance. One date they have to arrange themselves maybe, or if you have a family occasion coming up, see if they come along for support or to wish everyone well. See if they bring you a card. As for me, I'll be sharing this blog post on social media and seeing if the friends I'm referring to actually read it. I know I know, I'm just wicked sometimes. Best of luck - and I genuinely hope your friends prove me wrong!


Hi, my name's Gracie. I have a cafetiere, I'm on S3 E7 of OITNB, my bed is my nest, I'm selling all my old nearly-new clothes, I'm so thankful for Netflix, I'm at my worst in the mornings, I'm pondering vegan-ism, I love cheese, I'm getting more and more forgetful, redoing my bedroom is a fun yet exhausting project, I really miss studying, I'm starting to get busier and better, the cat can always sense how I'm feeling, I've tried to vlog, I have five tattoos, my bookshelves are colour-coordinated, I have cabin fever, Clipper Sleepy Time tea works a treat, I want some of my friends to make more effort, positivity is key, it's been a while, I suddenly feel vain writing these posts, because I hate things being all about me.

I do one of these posts every month whenever I remember. 

Friday, 12 June 2015

For the love of coffee.

A lot of sacrifices have had to happen recently; everything in my newly-forged life was thrown up in the air not long after it had finally all been settled nicely. I had to give back my independence that came with the ability to drive once more, I effectively surrendered my decision making to my 'rents, and worst of all... I've been signed off work.

I'm signed off for the foreseeable future, the professionals at the hospital have said it should be three months. Now I may have agreed to this time limit, when in reality I know that if last year is anything to go by, it'll be barely eight weeks. I loved my job last year, and I hated leaving that one too of course, but this year I am being dragged kicking and screaming - if I had it my way, I'd probably stay at work until the day I needed to be admitted to hospital. I'd do an opening shift that day and drive myself straight to the hospital after, swanning in with an iced latte in hand. 
I've written (and spoken/gushed) about it enough, surely, but I'm never done it seems - I adore my job. I roll my eyes when people claim they hate Mondays, because nowadays I am definitely of the belief that you don't hate Mondays at all. You hate your 9-5. Alright, you can wake up on a Monday morning and reminisce for a minute about your lazy weekend lie ins and Sunday afternoon drinks in the garden, but if it gets to 4:32pm and you're sitting at your desk biting down on a pen lid and seriously debating risking the death stares and bitchy comments you'll get if you pack up and leave a quarter of an hour early, then honey you have a problem.
Maybe I'm being unfair, or maybe I have no experience of that Monday morning feeling as for my whole working life I have not known the boundless joy a weekend can bring. I'd pack up and head home from uni on the occasional weekend, but that was when I skipped a lecture on a Friday and swapped a shift on Sunday. 
My dad has been waking up at 5:50am and getting the 6:58am train to London with all the other suit types Monday-Friday every week for the last twenty years. I like to think you wouldn't do that if you didn't have a substantial amount of passion for your profession. Also we both chatted recently about being able to confidently and happily say 'I am good at my job'; you cannot underestimate the importance of that satisfaction and self-worth. Then again, sometimes you have to be reminded that you're good, that you're doing well and keeping things up to standard if not beyond. My ex-manager would always throw us a fist-bump if we were clocking out or if we took over from him, and then add a 'good job today' at the very least. Positive reinforcement and general 'taking care of staff' is such a major factor in my job, and I could tell this was the case from day one. 

Now, rather than gush-write about my journey with this lovely company and perfect little store/branch/cafe/haven, which in all honesty I could pour onto a page in the time it takes milk to bubble and burn, I'll try and condense it into a series of highlights. Cream in the coffee moments.

Regulars. Some regulars we may detest just a tiny bit - the lads who order three large cappuccinos at 7am, the Soya Girl (her own teabag, obviously no hot water whatsoever for the teabag, a shot of sugar-free caramel syrup and topped up with soya froth, then chocolate sprinkles, all this for just 70p which she will pay by card), the skinny wet large extra-hot single shot drink-in but takeaway cup latte lady, the black Americano plus a cup of ice gent (again, drink in but a takeaway cup - I think people are cottoning on that you get just a spoonful more milk or hot water in a takeaway cup, or maybe they just think they'll pay 10p less...), and anyone who wants a wet cappuccino (I sometimes put 'latte' through on the till so they can see it and feel ashamed)... Yes, some regulars can be very specific nightmares. However, for the most part, regular customers can really make me smile. After being signed off, before my op, I visited several times and hung out at the end of the bar - like some of us will do after we finish an early shift anyway, just because it's fun to hang out and we're in no rush to go home! - and I'd always see at least three of our regulars come in and make their usual orders, and they'd always chat with me. The thing is, customers might love being called 'sir' or 'madam', but if they're such frequent visitors that you feel the need to ask their name and then they learn yours too, that's a bit lovely. I could list names here, but that might be weird...
I will mention this little girl though, she is probably about five years old, who delights in the fact that we are both called Grace. I always get a 'hi Grace!' from her when she comes in with her parents. 
I also really enjoy working with 'other Grace' (better known as 'Misty', for obvious reasons unbeknownst to her) because if we get asked what our names are we can both respond together and freak 'em out.

Barista of the Year. The company-wide annual competition that I somehow stumbled blindly into... I won the mini-contest we had between ourselves in our store, somehow beating two Maestros by a couple of points, and I'd never wanted to even take part in that tiny first phase of the competition. I was trying to bribe my colleagues to do the area competition for me. 
I won Area. I somehow became the Area Champ; I competed against the other barista reps from the branches in our area, there were twelve of us total, and just getting into the Final Two was enough for me, but then the super-amazing girl (another Maestro!) I was in the Final Two with was too late putting one drink down (that was how close it was!), and I won. I was delighted when they called my name for all of three seconds - then I remembered that this meant I'd be competing in the Regionals competition in a month or so. More competing, more stress, more time limits for making cappuccinos... I was all kinds of nervous, more than I'd been for Area or for anything ever for that matter. If that wasn't bad enough, I'd also been booked in for a last-minute brain scan the day after Regionals, due to certain symptoms popping up at this point (I hadn't got The News yet, luckily). 
Anyway, as we got in the car with our lovely Area Manager, headed for Crawley again, I confided in her and my colleagues that all I wanted was to get down to the Final Two again. I knew I could never ever win - Final Two. That's all I wanted. I was actually lucky that it was Crawley again, the place where I'd competed before, I had a slight advantage. Now, I'll spare you readers a blow-by-blow account, but here are some highlights (within this very long highlight): the girl who I was 'up against' (although everyone was up against everyone, she was just who I was paired with) knocked my arm when I went to put a cappuccino down on the tray, there was a gasp and an apology but I thought I was doomed. Luckily it was let go as they could still see my foam level was on point... My team; the Area Manager, my ex-manager, the bestest colleagues including one who'd just left, my sorta soulmate who managed another store, all of them sang my songs and chanted their very imaginative creations ('get that milky nice and silky!' 'All about that Grace, 'bout that Grace, no bubble!') which weirdly gave me more confidence rather than distracting me, which seemed to concern the other competitors. The best and most helpful shout-out though was my Maestro simply yelling 'You've got this!' as I battled away in the Final Two. Oh yes, I made it to the Final Two again. I was announced second, which was hellish, and in a creative way: 'I believe her name fits perfectly into a song or two...' Then my team and I scream as we catch on, then suddenly form a massive screaming group hug, my fab Area Manager is holding me by the shoulders and saying 'you did it! You wanted to be in the Final Two!', my boyfriend (who only just missed out on being Champion in his Area) is texting saying 'You've already f---ing smashed it!', then before I know it I'm having to head back behind the bar and wash my shaking hands again.

Whenever I feel a little low, I can just cast my tired broken mind back to Crawley when everyone was drinking cider, hugging and chanting witty rhymes or singing 'my songs' as I bossed it behind the bar. Suddenly 'Amazing Grace' was played over the speakers and my team were singing along - I wanted to go back in time and tell myself that this would happen, back when several popular/idiot boys would follow me home from school singing this song at me as an act of aggressive bullying. 

Nights. I was going to sub-head this section as 'drinking', then realised it may give a bad impression. But yes, basically this highlight is meeting up with work friends for drinks. This lovely chain I work for seem to work so hard to ensure that all colleagues are taken care of and get along; pizza nights happen every now and again, often coinciding with team meetings which are pretty nice and sociable anyway, CN Club is when all of the stores in the area (or most of them, at least) get together and 'socialise'/drink up and dance. My first CN Club social shindig was just two weeks after I started working at my particular cafe, which was perfect as it meant I could meet everyone early on and never get confused again when my manager or colleagues mentioned a manager or shift leader from another store - it also meant that I was included in some of the post-night out stories later on, which was a major plus. I was so happy I was able to attend the next one (they're not very frequent which is sad but makes them more special, surely) before my op. We were out until 3 am and then didn't sleep until maybe 5 am, then I worked the next day with my fellow puking sleep-deprived friends - but at no point during the shift, not even when I had to run outside and breathe/dry heave, did I regret the night before. I may have wavered at one point and debated getting the 00:40 train home, but luckily the Area Manager talked me out of it - and made me well up happily as she did. (Now, I'm aware that I keep referring to people as 'colleagues' or 'managers' of some kind, which is weird but I have to stick to my no-names rule! Sorry.)
The night of Regionals was also one of the best nights ever. I went into hospital the next day for my CT scan and had to apologise to the nurses for my moaning as they pushed me back and forth through the machine - I explained myself with the words 'tequila hangover'. For some reason, at my place of work we keep tequila close by and drink it after hours from the takeaway single-shot paper cups. 
We also then decided we had to attend the actual Company Finals of BOTY, to see the guy who beat me (by one point) take on the other finalists. I said jokingly that I'd forgive him if he reached the Final Two. He did, but alas did not win overall. He didn't care, and why should he? He did good. He had free drinks all night! I had a few freebies too - in fact the one time I put my card on the bar to pay for a round at the after-party, my two best girls practically threw themselves on the bar screaming that I mustn't pay... That night was so special to me, even after we left the club and were settling into our rented flat for the night, making full English breakfasts at 2:51am and watching 'Don't Tell the Bride', I was buzzing with the happy feels. 
Confession time: I usually enjoy nights out, but always have a sense in the back of my mind not to stay too long, not to hang it out; to cut things off when they're good and usually make an Irish exit (Irish goodbye? Leaving without saying goodbye, basically). I don't want to outstay my welcome or provide more opportunities for me to say something idiotic or make a misled move... However, whether it's a night out in London or Crawley or just after-work or post-deep-clean drinks at the pub next door, I'm never in a rush to leave. I think in London I genuinely had a moment when my fuddled boozy brain was saying 'I never want this night to end'.

Friends. Just in general. My workmates have become so important to me; such good hard-working people to have around me as I'm washing up or serving a queue, a constantly supportive team when times are tough, and totally awesome friends. Making friends at work is so important to me anyway, and the team dynamic is crucial - my last job, the one I had for six weeks last year who still owe me my hard-earned money, they were never a team. Everyone was out for themselves, and there was never any flow or decent communication behind the bar, you were given one task to do rather than taking complete care of each customer and you'd do it for hours and never connect with customers... Whereas at this lovely place, not only is there a good clear way to serve customers and generally get by behind the bar, there's always something to do and we are actually a team. We talk happily between ourselves and with the customers, we share out the less appealing jobs - and actually most of the time everyone volunteers to do those jobs OR the best ones (not me, basically) will do them without being asked. Anyway, enough comparing my terrible old job with my perfect current job. There's no comparison. 

I recently visited work, it was the last time I visited before I went into hospital, and as I drove there I received a Snapchat from one colleague taken behind the bar with the caption 'when u coming to visit?' then a message from the other colleague working that day asking when I was next visiting... I was five minutes away in the car and hadn't told them; I had the stupidest self-satisfied smile on my face. I parked my car in the staff car park, I bumped into a regular whose name and entire family story I know as I got to the door, I let her in ahead of me and saw my friends grinning when they realised I'd come in. One of my other favourites came in half an hour before her shift started to see me. It was just lovely. Even now, as I sit on the sofa recovering slowly and painfully, I'm receiving texts and Snaps asking how I am doing and keeping me updated on everything as it goes down. One of my biggest fears is, as regular readers may well know, being left out and being left behind. That was one of my worries when I was signed off; so many stories come from work, be it ludicrous exchanges between lovely or lewd customers, or hilarious pranks played on one another behind the bar, or drunk anecdotes. There are a lot of 'you had to be there' moments. I even had a moment of self-pity when I saw our beloved newbies had graduated from their maroon shirts to the coveted black, and I wasn't there to witness the moment when they aced their mini practical exams or had their first shift not as a trainee. I knew it would be tricky, I knew I'd miss a fair bit, but what's so great is that for the most part I'm being kept in the loop. I'm missed too, apparently. I just cannot wait until I can leave my house and make journeys - I know where my first outing, maybe even my first train trip, will be... 
Okay, the cheese train stops here. Now all you patient readers who made it this far through all my lovesick rambling will know (hopefully) just how much I enjoy my job, and how badly I want to be working again. I need my fix of coffee ASAP. The home-made brews from the parents' teeny too-cutesy Gaggia machine can only keep me going for so long...

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