Could I be a villain?

Villians

I did a writing course recently that had a profound effect on me. It did little to improve my writing skills but it did force me into a startling revelation – could I be a villain? The lecturer listed a number of traits of villains and while I failed a few (my best friend is not called Igor, and I do not live in a haunted castle / lair / cave / extinct volcano) a few of them were surprisingly close to home.

I invite you to review the list below – and really think about your everyday actions – in truth if you were a character in a book, could you be the villain?

  1. Able to logically explain why they are in the right.
  • Ever been involved in a car crash? Was it ever your fault?
  • Ever yelled at someone in the service industry? Did they totally have it coming?
  • Ever have a fight with your Partner/ Mom / Sibling? Even if the fight wasn’t 100% their fault – did they provoke your reaction in some way?

Unless you have been in one of these situations or similar, and had the maturity to stand back and think – do you know what, I did not

  • check my blind spot
  • remember that I actually ordered the steak medium and not rare like I intended
  • overreact to good natured ribbing about the three stone I have gained

then you too may be a villain

  1. Are efficient, organised, determined. Has follow-through.

If you have ever organised a large party, created a filling system, said you were going to do something and then did it, you too have the skills required for world domination.

  1. Ambitious

Are you swimming at the bottom of the barrel, a no-hoper or dropout? Have you achieved something with your life? Do you strive to make your living situation better? Are you willing to work to get what you want? Better be careful …

  1. Is an active agent in their own lives

Moriarty acted, Sherlock reacted. The Joker acted, Batman reacted. The villain acts. They do not sit around and wait for things to change or magically get better, they stand up and are counted. They do something to improve their lives.

  1. Always reacts when provoked

Hotheads beware, that temper is going to get you into trouble.

  1. Always defends their honour or reputation

Don’t like it when people talk trash behind your back? Are you totally cool if somebody tries to imply you are bad at your job and besmirches your professional reputation, and therefore threatens your livelihood? Really?

  1. Has double standards

Normally this takes the form where it is acceptable for the villain to steal, but never ok for others to steal from them. However in real life this might look more like screaming at the kids for eating in the sitting room in case they spill on the new couch and then later that night, when the kids are in bed, sitting on that same couch with a glass of wine and bar of chocolate, seeing no hypocrisy.

  1. Holds a grudge and believes in the healing power of revenge.

Ever uttered the words “serves them right”? Ever thought “oh I’ll remember this when …”? Ever gloated internally when karma kicked someone else in the ass?

  1. Has a strict moral code, but morals are not aligned to society’s morals

Killing people is wrong, but I do believe in the death penalty for certain crimes.

Stealing is wrong, but borrowing your sister’s new jumper when she wasn’t looking with no intention of returning it is not really stealing.

  1. Excellent recruitment and people/henchmen-management skills

Have you been on a recruitment course as part of your professional progression? Do you supervise others’ work? Do you know the sneaky questions to ask during an interview?

 

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Tipping: To Whom and For What?

Tipping

As New York begins to reconsider its position on minimum wage for service workers and the influence that the tipping culture which prevails has on the levels of poverty among these workers, I thought it might be interesting to open the debate on this very controversial topic.

In America the tipping culture dominates – go to a restaurant and not leave a tip is the equivalent to clicking your fingers and calling the waiter garcon in a horribly fake French accent, it’s rude and obnoxious. In Japan – tipping is considered insulting – the price is the price, why would you be paying more? In Europe, the issue is a little more clouded and many petit faux-pas lie in wait for the innocent traveller who could easily follow the Will-o’-the-wisp and stray from the safe path.

What’s the problem?

On the face of it, it seems quite straight-forward, who could be possibly be insulted by handing them money? We would all love if somebody wandered through our offices sprinkling €5 notes like fairy dust. However if you scratch beneath the surface some of the issues begin to surface.

In America, and increasingly in other countries, it is being argued that service industry employees are paid a slightly lower wage than other workers ($5 rather than $9 min wage) to encourage them to work for tips and provide a better service. Fair enough, one might think, but actually it implies that if service workers were not penalised by being paid lower wages they would provide a rubbish service, which is simply not true. In fact, it has been shown time and again that the prospect of tipping does not increase the level of service. I am sure everyone has been to a restaurant where the service was terrible, and similarly, has received good service from other workers, such as those in call-centres, offices and so on, without any tipping involved. Tipping has little influence on the outcome of the service as it occurs after that service has been provided and ‘good’ service remains a subjective opinion on behalf of both parties involved.

Insidious insinuations

There are status implications in tipping. The first is that the client has more money than the person they are tipping, which is why the proprietor of an establishment is never tipped. But how the hell do you know how much a head-waiter in a high-end restaurant makes? A pretty packet I assume. And unless you can compare wage slips at the end of the meal, who knows who gets paid more? And similarly, if the proprietor is not to be tipped, how do you ensure you avoid this? How do you know who technically owns the place, or who is simply a hired manager?

There is also a power play at work within the tipping culture, that somehow the tipper has control over the server’s actions because they have control over the tip; as though somebody will jump through hoops over the prospect of a ten quid tip, when they have the potential to make upwards of €100 an hour at the base price.

You must also decide who to tip. In Ireland, because we are always oh-so-polite, particularly in restaurants, unless the service was really incredibly terrible (as in the waiter cursed at a small child at the table and everyone’s food was cold or gone off) we tip. But do you tip all waiters or just the waiters in some establishments? Do you tip at McDonalds? Why not, they are waiters – you order food from them, they go get it and bring it to you to eat.

This becomes more complicated if more than one person provides a service. In a Hair Salon for instance, it is usually the most junior member of staff who is tipped. But how are you supposed to know the pecking order in that industry. If one person washes your hair and does a treatment, another cuts, another does the colour and another dries – who do you decide is the most junior? You could decide that it must be between the person who either washed or dried the hair, although you have no way of knowing that the boss was not just helping out on either task, to speed up the process. And at what level of professionalism do you stop tipping? I mean it might be alright to tip the girl that cuts your hair in the local salon, but do you need to slip Dylan Bradshaw a little something after he finishes the styling, or would that seem a little awkward?

There is a lovely local restaurant here where the waiters are all part owners of the restaurant in which they work, they are certainly not junior staff, so tipping them feels a bit funny because they are the proprietors of a very profitable business and it feels very presumptuous to assume you make more than somebody who owns and runs their own restaurant, and yet to not tip implies there was something wrong.

And herein lies the problem; tipping is no longer evidence of a good service, but rather the lack of tip is evidence of bad service. It has become part of the assumed price. This makes it difficult if you go somewhere regularly, build up a rapport with the owner, refer business to them and thus get ‘mates rates’ or a free coffee with your breakfast or some other little bonus which is their way of rewarding your loyalty – if you then tip are you actually throwing that back in their face, as though you are too good to accept their gesture?

Reality

The reality of the situation in Ireland is that the level of tip does not reflect how happy a customer was with the service, their repeat custom does. Here we vote with our feet. An establishment with rude staff providing a poor service won’t see a reduction in the tip jar, they will see the takings of the business as a whole reduce.

This is what highlights the flaw in the initial argument from New York that service industry employees are paid a slightly lower wage than other workers to encourage them to work for tips and provide a better service. This is not what happens in practice. Instead it is an argument which merely allows very profitable organisations pay workers less than the minimum wage. It’s a dangerous precedent, and one I would not like Ireland to follow. A lot of emotion, insinuation and social queues are tied up in the tipping culture, but underneath this, it is imperative that workers receive at minimum a wage which is enough to live on and they should not have to prostitute themselves for tips to make ends meet.

So next time you are handing over a tip for an as-expected service or you are popping €5 in the hand of someone you think is a struggling college student, ask yourself if you are really doing them a favour, or are you actually enabling their employer pay them less money to do a physically tying job, just so you can get a self-satisfied feeling of generosity?

Cocktail Cupcake: Pina Colada

 Happy Friday everyone – I thought a little indulgence is just what this dull Friday needs – roll on the weekend! 

Cocktail Cupcake: Pina Colada
Cocktail Cupcake: Pina Colada

Topic: Cupcake, Alcoholic, Cocktail, Hens, Bachelorette, Baking, Party

If I am honest I would say that this is a coconut flavoured cupcake, where instead of using coconut essence I have used Malibu, but I’ve been taught to never let the truth get in the way of a good story, so instead I tell people that these are the ultimate in cocktail goodness.

The result from these cupcakes is so delicious, it feels almost like cheating, because they are so simple and quick to make. But again, I tell people it takes me hours in the kitchen, making sure I get the exact mix perfect for each individual cake. Some people will believe anything.

Cocktail Cupcake: Pina Colada
Cocktail Cupcake: Pina Colada

Ingredients

Batter

  • 55g unsalted butter
  • 140g sugar
  • 120ml coconut milk (later add the rest of the can to a soup – yummy!)
  • 2 eggs
  • 140g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 can pineapple rings drained and chopped

Icing

  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 110g cream cheese
  • 450g icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp Malibu

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/Gas4. Line baking tin with paper cases
  2. In a large mixer cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Mix cocnut milk and eggs together. Add to butter & sugar
  4. Sift in flour and baking powder. Mix well
  5. Add pineapple. Mix again
  6. Pour mixture into paper cases. Bake for 20 min
  7. For the icing: in a large mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese until creamy. The longer you beat it, the whiter it becomes.
  8. Mix in icing sugar and Malibu
  9. Spread over cupcakes & decorate

As you can see, these ones went straight to a Hen Party where they went down a storm teamed with a glass of champers!

Cocktail Cupcake: Pina Colada
Cocktail Cupcake: Pina Colada

What to Wear When…

Going to a Job Interview

It’s the new year! A time for change, and for many people that can mean re-evaluating your job, and maybe looking for a new one (If any of my bosses are reading this, I am not one of these people. I’m very happy! And writing this in my own time!)

I have, thankfully, not had to go on TOO many interviews in my life (so far…) but I have been on my fair share. I’ve also been on the other end of the table, interviewing potential candidates. There are probably a million sites (actually, Google says 55,300,000 results for this title) that talk about this topic. I’ve visited a lot of them in my day. Most are good, but some miss some key things, which we’ll touch on below.

Many will emphasise the need to look professional. They’ll urge you to buy a suit, not to wear anything to flashy or revealing or distracting (or fun…). It’s not that this advice is bad, per se. It just doesn’t take into account certain conditions.

Do some sleuthing and find out what the other people in the office (and in your desired role or similar) wear, and then up it a notch. If it’s a jeans and t-shirt kind of place, maybe go for nice jeans with a sweater or plain t-shirt with a blazer or the like. If it’s a business casual sort of place, look a touch more elegant than your average work wear. Show that you’ve done your research, and put some thought into your apparel. If everyone in the office is wearing jeans and you show up in heels, stockings, and a suit, they might wonder how you’re going to fit in. It’s a cliche for a reason – first impressions matter.

Along those lines, know your profession. If you’re interviewing for a charity working to prevent the exploitation of workers, maybe make sure your clothes are ethically sourced (which we should do anyway, but I don’t always practice that so I won’t preach). Maybe they won’t notice – but if they do, it’s another easy point for you. If you’re interviewing to be a bartender in a heavy metal bar you should dress differently than if you were interviewing to be a bartender in five star hotel bar. If you’re trying to get a job in a clothing shop, wear their items.

Another thing to consider – wear your glasses. We may not want to admit it, but apparently most of us think that people who wear glasses are smarter. I can’t bring myself to suggest getting fake ones (unless you like the look, then go for it, I guess) but if you, like me, alternate between glasses and contacts, make your interview day a glasses day.

Smarter? Maybe?
Smarter? Maybe?

Don’t wear something brand new. Maybe that dress looks smart and sophisticated in the changing room – but then you realise when you sit in it it rides all the way up. Maybe those shoes are just the perfect height and colour, but they have a horrible squeak once you start walking in them. Give the outfit a test run (this is actually something you should do when travelling as well).

Finally, when in doubt, go neutral. I don’t necessarily mean black and grey – colour is good (though I would argue against neon or anything too loud, unless of course, that’s the sort of place you’re trying to work in). I mean neutral cuts – shift dress, well cut trousers, blazer and shirt, etc. Again, a lot of places advise against anything too flashy, but I think one statement piece is worth doing. Conversation starter, etc.

The most important thing is too look well put-together and to be comfortable and happy with how you look. Let your clothes give you confidence, and let that confidence exude in your interview. If you never wear a suit, and will never have to wear a suit in the job, why wear one in the interview? You won’t be comfortable. They won’t be comfortable. It’ll be a disaster. But find the perfect balance of looking your best AND feeling comfortable, and you’ll be that much closer to nailing it.

*Bonus, non-sartorial advice –

  • Don’t show up too early, unless you’re specifically asked to (for filling out forms, etc.). 5 minutes is a good rule of thumb. Not every place has a reception area, and if you show up 20 minutes early they have to figure out what to do with you, taking time out of their day. This is especially true if you’re interviewing with someone senior – as someone who worked as a PA for many years, I can tell you that their schedules tend to be VERY regimented.
  • Ask questions. Just search “What questions to ask” at an interview if you’re stuck. Even if you think they’ve told you everything you want to know, show your interest by asking more. Always ask why the last person left.
  • Research, research research. Know the company, their competitors, their reputation.
  • If it’s not within walking distance, and you don’t drive, take a cab. It’s worth the extra money. Even if you think you’re too broke, figure out a way. It takes the stress of public transportation and allows you to keep your composure. And even though you shouldn’t show up to the actual interview too early, make sure you allow plenty of time and go to a nearby cafe or just take a stroll.

I run because …

i run because

 

I run because … I love food. I must be the only person who fantasies about take-away as they are pounding the pavement. I picture Sweet & Sour Chicken with Egg-fried rice. I picture McDonalds Chicken Burger with large chips. I picture prawn cocktails, steaks, lasagne, bun-burgers and cheese fries. I put one foot in front of the other and think of what I am going to eat as soon as I get home.

 

I run because … I have a very expensive wardrobe I want to get back into. I can’t wear my temporary pennies wardrobe forever.

 

I run because … I want to get back home. I intentionally run in a circular circuit, at a time when there is nobody else home, with a dog that gets travel sick in cars. There is only one way home and that is to keep going. I can’t call a taxi as the dog will puke and I’ll have to pay for cleaning. I can’t ring home because there is nobody there. There is no point in turning back half way through my work-out as it is the same distance to the end. There is only one way out. If I want to get home I need to keep on going. Or else sit by the roadside for the rest of my life.

 

I run because … I’m a little vain.

 

I run because … I need to exercise the dog. I was conned into purchasing a dog bred for farm work, and then I put it in a garden the size of a postage stamp. Poor chap will go barmy if he is not exercised. Or worse bark all night and chew my new couches.

 

I run because … I don’t want to be the fat one anymore.

 

I run because … Doctors tell me that a cardio-workout will give me a healthy heart and prolong my life. Although I come from a family with a tradition of long life, so I am not sure how much past 102 I really want to live.

 

I run because … I like to dance, and I look better when there is less junk in my trunk.

 

I run because … It gives me head space and time alone to think my thoughts, listen to my music, be my own self for a little bit.

 

I run at night because … every family has one member people would prefer would exercise under the shroud of darkness. Red faced, sweat pumping, hair askew (and that is just when I am leaving the house), tethered to the worlds most excited dog on the way out, dragging the lazy mutt behind me on the way back. Darkness is my friend here.

 

I run because … I wasn’t born this way.

 

 

Long Read – Women against Pregnant Women

women against pregnant women

 

This post was conceived as an impassioned plea on behalf of new fathers to receive more assistance from society (via the government) to allow them the time to bond with their children. But after an incident in a local hair salon* it has become a rant against women.

(*As a side note – any politician who wants to know what the pressing issues are for their female constituents needs to get their arse into a hair dressers or beautician’s chair. I don’t care if your hair is only an inch long and in perfect condition, this is where women talk to women, and where women chatter, issues are aired.)

Let me take a step back and set the scene. I was sitting in a hairdressers chair flicking thought the latest OK Magazine, gossiping about Kate Middleton’s maternity style (ok, sometimes when women chatter nothing meaningful is discussed, but stick with me) when the girl dying my hair told me she was pregnant. I was so excited for her I think I may have squealed aloud. I don’t know what it is about pregnancies and engagements – they just excite and delight everyone even if they are random strangers – or so I thought. However the girl (perhaps a little overwhelmed by my excitement wondering if I thought I was going to be made godmother or something) informed me that no, in fact not everyone was excited about pregnancies, and proceeded to tell me that she had told several of her regular clients that she was pregnant, and far from congratulating her, they were actually very put out. The manners their Mamma taught them made them grind out an ‘Oh how wonderful for you’ through gritted teeth and then straight away ask ‘when will you be gone and more importantly when will you be back’ – words which if said in an office would evoke the same sort of shocked silence a racist slur would arouse, so absolutely known is it that that is not the correct response to happy news.

But not here. Everyone surrounding waits for this young girls reply. She hesitantly admits (admits!) that she is due December 23rd, so she is finishing up December 8th, two weeks before her due date as set out in the legislation, (bearing in mind that her profession requires her to stand all day long, when I know that at 8 months it was a problem for me to sit all day long, so as far as I’m concerned she is cutting it fine, but there you have it.) ‘So you will be gone for Christmas? So I’ll need to find someone else to do my hair?’ is spat back at her with a scowl that could sour milk ‘Can you not work until Christmas, surely that would be better, a little cash for you going into Christmas.’

At this point I would like to interject with a little context. This is a conversation between two women, two women who know each other, albeit casually, for more than five years. One is an older lady with children, the client, and the other is a younger first time mother who relies on repeat regular clients for her livelihood. In essence this is a conversation between an employer and employee.

And I would like to take this one step further. Let’s take the words of the client and put them into a balding, sweating, middle-aged male business owner and replay the situation; girl tells boss that she is pregnant – boss aggressively questions her plans for leave during the busy season and implies there will be no job for her when she returns to work …. And let it percolate… And now let’s speculate how long (and I mean in terms of minutes) do you think it would take that girl to find a solicitor ready to sue that boss for unfair dismissal on grounds of pregnancy. Not only would the case not take long, and her success guaranteed, but so protected are pregnant women in employment law that I assume she would win big. Even if only a supervisor or colleague had said it I assume that there would be more than pregnancy weight filling out her back pocket.

Now let’s step back into the salon. Is the hairdresser able to sue? No, she is self-employed talking to a customer whose business she needs. Is she able to say she is unhappy with the client’s reaction and that it is upsetting to her? Again, no, because she is self-employed talking to a customer whose business she needs, who knows that she is about to lose a lot of regular customers because she dared have a personal life and a family life. So instead she has to try and laugh it off, pray that she doesn’t go into labour early and try to imply without committing that actually she will probably be only gone for a short period of time, and will probably be back to work on Saturdays really quickly, probably within the month.

The double standard at play here is mind boggling to me. How some women safe in regulated office jobs are treated so completely different to those who dared branch out on their own to be self-employed, not by the law, but by the women that surround them.

When I sat down to write this post I was thinking about the Dads. I was thinking how unfair it is that women get several months paid maternity leave and Dads are not even entitled to one day. I was looking to the Danish and Swedish models and thinking why can’t we be more like them? But actually, after the above incident, I have realised that we are actually much further apart than I could have realised. Far from supporting fathers (who are important and I’ll cover that again) we need to start supporting mothers.

Pregnancy, particularly unexpected pregnancies, can cause huge dramatic changes in a person’s life. We as a society need to be assuring young women that of all the things that will change, one thing that will remain secure is their employment. This is not something that a government can change or a law can change, we need to change. We need to stop being so selfish and self-centred and look beyond a minor inconvenience to see the bigger picture, a miracle growing before your eyes. There is going to be a new life, a new person in the world, who will fundamentally change all those around them. And although you might be only witnessing this as a stranger on the outside, the very least you can do is cause no harm. Don’t stress a young mother unnecessarily. Don’t be nasty and let her hear the branch creak below her. Support her. Say honestly and openly ‘Oh how wonderful for you’ – no strings attached. When she is gone, make other arrangements and when she is ready, and her child is ready, and her family are ready, for her to return to work, let her do so, in the same way as is afforded every other woman in the state.

What bothered me most about this incident is that it was woman to woman; mother to mother. As a society we have already decided that it is in our combined interest to protect women and allow them to have children and then return to the workplace. That is why we have such strong laws in the area. But as individuals we have somehow forgotten why our predecessors fought so hard for those laws. It’s not the male dominated culture of the board room, or the non-family-friendly policies of faceless big business, or any of the other excuses that are trotted out by HR journals, at work here. It’s just plain stupidity, ignorance and selfishness. Sometimes that’s more toxic.

 

Please note the details of this post have been altered to protect the identities of those involved.

Cocktail Cupcakes: Margarita

 

Cocktail Cupcakes: Margarita
Cocktail Cupcakes: Margarita

Topic: Cupcake, Alcoholic, Hens, Bachelorette, Baking, Party

 

 

“Can I have two shots of tequila, I’m baking.”

“You don’t need to make an excuse, if you want tequila at two in the afternoon you can have it.”

“No, you misunderstand. I would like two shots of tequila, which I will not drink, but instead put into this flask, so I can bring it home and bake with.”

The barman glanced at the three other punters in the place, who were sitting behind half empty pints watching the horse racing, to make sure he was not missing a joke of some sort here. They looked away from the telly in the corner to return his confused stare. He turned back to me.

“Tequila in a cake? That’s gonna be muck. What you want is brandy. Like at Christmas. I’ll get ya brandy.”

 

 

So before you even start these, let me tell you, there is no need to go out and buy an expensive bottle of tequila, but it might be quicker and raise less suspicion. By the time I left the bar, with two tequila shots safely in my pretty Cath Kidston flask, the barman had the feeling that I can only assume hardware owners have after selling rope, shovel and balaclava to known criminals who say they want to do a bit of gardening in the cold. He didn’t know what I was up to, but he was pretty sure it was not baking, and it probably wasn’t legal. I toyed with the idea of bringing him back one of these cupcakes to show that my intentions were pure, but I doubted if he would eat something he suspected had criminal intent.

 

 

The recipe I am using is an adaptation of Cookie Girl’s Margarita cupcakes. And by adaptation, I mean I’ve discovered a few short-cuts!

 

Cocktail Cupcakes: Margarita
Cocktail Cupcakes: Margarita

Ingredients

Batter

  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 110g sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 110g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp lemon essence

 

Filing

  • 85g butter
  • Juice & zest of 2 limes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yokes
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp of tequila

OR (as I found out later) you can instead use

  • 1 jar of lemon curd
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 2 tbsp of tequila

 

Icing

  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 110g cream cheese
  • 450g icing sugar
  • 1 lime – juice & grated zest
  • 1 tsp Triple Sec
  • Green food colouring

 

 

Method

  1. Preheat oven 180C/Gas 4 and line baking tin with paper cases
  2. In a large mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, sift in flour, baking powder and lemon essence. Mix until smooth.
  4. Fill paper cases 2/3 full to allow rise.
  5. Bake in oven for 15-20 min
  6. Filling: take three or four large spoon of lemon curd and mix in lime juice and tequila to taste
  7. Once cupcakes are cooled, core and fill with filling
  8. Icing: in a large mixer mix butter and cream cheese. Add icing sugar and mix. Add lime juice, zest, Triple Sec and colouring. Mix well.
  9. Spread icing over cupcakes & decorate

 

Cocktail Cupcakes: Margarita
Cocktail Cupcakes: Margarita