The college type

Yesterday I applied for another job. Yes, I am still on the hunt. I still have the boring task of seeking salaried employment, with slightly less desperation but equal amounts of post-application stress disorder.

For yesterday’s application, one of the items on the person specification was “keyboard skills”. I wanted to adopt a Will Ferrell pose, hand on hip and one eyebrow raised, and say, “Yeah, I tinkle a few ivories, in my own classical, yet syncopated, infantile way.” And then I thought that would be super-lame. (And that’s different from everything else I say, how?)

I then realised that I do have some mean keyboard skills. I have worked on PCs, Macs, laptops, word processors, electronic typewriters, electric typewriters and, way back, I learnt to type on an ancient, massively heavy manual typewriter.

Working on those machines, I developed muscles in my fingers in places where I didn’t know I had places. When we made mistakes, we had to use typewriter erasers and backspace the heavy machinery before retyping the letter. When we typed to the end of a line, we would grab the return lever and push the carriage way to the left to start a new line. We had to take out indemnity insurance in case the machine fell and crushed us to powder. It would.

And all of that took me back to my year at commercial college after I finished my first undergraduate degree. I went, kicking and screaming, into that college year at the insistence of my parents. I honestly felt it was beneath me to do a course that taught me typing and bookkeeping when I had a university degree. How embarrassingly arrogant was I? My parents thought it would be a good and practical idea. I hate to say it, but they were right.

Not only did I have fun there, but I learnt skills that I have used in every job I’ve had. I learnt shorthand, which I still use today when I interview people. I learnt touch-typing, which has been useful regardless what machine I have been typing on. And I met two characters who will stay with me forever. Let’s call them Mr M and Mrs P.

Mr M was our book-keeping lecturer. He arrived at college every day in his smart three-piece suit and hair neatly parted. He had a gap between his front teeth that caused him to whistle every ‘s’ through the lecture room. He would close his eyes, nod his head slightly and say, “Ladiessssss, ladiesssssss, ladiessssss!” (We were only females in the class – it was the 80s and it was Zimbabwe).

He would explain everything to us in precise detail, and we would practise and practise until we got it right. In bookkeeping there is no room for error, so being kind of right was never an option.

We had no Excel spreadsheets or any other programme that would work things out for us. We had no calculators or adding machines. We had to work with ledgers and journals, make credit and debit entries, and make the columns balance. All by ourselves. In our heads. I know the accountants and bean-counters out there will be tapping and trilling the tips of their fingers together in delight, but really – it wasn’t as much fun as it sounds.

Mr M would get exasperated with us “ladiesssss”. And he would be delighted when we got things right. Then he would say, “That is execkle what I am tokking about!”

One of my classmates would get equally exasperated with Mr M. She would battle with the concepts and try and make her columns balance. And then she would yell out, “Yussussss, Mr M! I can’t do this!”

Our office practice lecturer was Mrs P. She wore faded cotton frocks that were tightly belted with full round skirts. She wore her hair in a bun and wore pointy spectacles. Seriously. She had stumbled across a fashion style in the 1950s and heck, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? She stuck with that fashion forever.

Her hair was so tightly squeezed into a bun, I was sure sometimes she had grabbed some scalp along with her hair and tied it right in with the bun. That usually explained the raised eyebrows and ears that moved round the back of her head. And a constant, scary grin.

She would totter around in her sling-back heels, occasionally tottering over, and tell us about what good office practice entailed. She would also regale us with tales of her and her husband’s other life in Spain, but that’s material for another day.

She would always start the day with, “A-kay, ladies! Today we’re going to talk about how to watch paint dry. A-kay? Any questions? Good,” and she would then ramble on and on. None of us really listened. We just watched. I think the tight bun prevented her from forming the letter ‘o’.

I left college that year with a diploma in hand, a bunch of valuable skills and a plate full of humble pie. I hated it when my parents were right.

Sunshine signing off for today.

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Movies and other moving moments

Yesterday I took a tube into central London, and then took a walk into a small, dusty town in the north of South Africa. I witnessed a whole lot of life, South African and international, learnt a lesson about myself and ended my day with a dance and a funny movie.

My new blogging friend, Lisa at Notes from Africa, asked me the other day if I’d followed the London Film Festival, sent me a link to the website and mentioned the South African movie, “Life, Above All”. I checked out the website, wondered how we could have let the Festival go by unnoticed, and booked myself a ticket for the final screening of the South African offering. I also signed us up for a newsletter for next year’s Festival. Thanks, Lisa!

It was an amazing movie, telling the story of Chanda, a young South African girl living in small rural town in the north of the country. The central theme is her relationship with her ailing mother, following the death of her infant sister. It deals, poignantly and thoughtfully, with issues such as child-headed households, AIDS orphans, infant mortality and the stigma of AIDS. I can see that the movie would be an Oscar contender, it is beautifully made and the acting is outstanding. I had hoped South Africa had moved beyond the extreme stigma as portrayed in the movie, but I don’t know what life is like in rural South Africa. The movie made me feel sad, on so many levels, but I’m glad I saw it. And I would recommend it in a heartbeat.

On the way in to Leicester Square, I had to change tubes at Waterloo. Walking through the endless underground walkways, I heard the most amazing music in the distance. When I realised I was walking away from it, I turned back to see where the sounds were coming from. Upbeat, fabulous sounds of an electric guitar – it sounded like Eric Clapton on a caffeine buzz. I even considered throwing caution and inhibition to the wind and dancing like no-one was watching.

When I got close to the source of the music, I saw the guitarist was a really scruffy looking guy. I took one look at him and turned away. I felt so ashamed. I had been drawn to his music and then turned off by how he looked. I turned around again and stood and listened to him. His music was brilliant. I threw some money into his guitar box, and he flashed me a toothless grin and thanked me. I walked away, humbled and shamed.

When I got to Leicester Square, I walked to the Square to sit in the park and write in my notebook. The park was filled with carnival rides – oh, the disappointment! I wondered what Charlie Chaplin would think. I walked around for a while and then went to collect my ticket for the movie. As I stood in the queue, a creepy man came up to me and said, “Are you here for Essential Killing?” I said, “No,” and he said he had a spare ticket. I wished I’d said, “No, I’m here to watch a movie. I left my weapons at home,” but I was too slow.

After the movie, I walked back towards the tube station. The Square was filled with people and as I walked I saw face-face-face-face-face-face-face. So many faces blurred into each other and I felt overwhelmed by the crowds and the people and the faces. Soon as I could I headed down the stairs to the tube. There were more faces coming up the stairs and, in the midst of all of them, I spotted Francesca Annis. I don’t know how I spotted her among the millions, but there she was. If you don’t know her, she is a beautiful , accomplished English actress, whom I first saw playing the role of Lillie Langtry in a mini-series called Edward the Seventh.

And then back to my flat and off to a Zumba class. Our instructor’s been away for a few weeks but last night she was back, the music was cracking, she was smiling and we danced.

I do wish the worst dancers wouldn’t stand at the front. Then I wouldn’t notice them. And I wouldn’t blog about them. But they did. And I did. And now I just have to. I can’t help it. It’s not they weren’t coordinated or anything – their clothes were a perfect match with their shoes – it’s just that, well, they couldn’t dance. (Anyone know Allan Sherman’s I Can’t Dance? Cue the music.) Maybe that’s why our instructor was smiling so much.

One had attitude – her facial expression was all sneezes and whistling – and the other did exactly the opposite of everyone else. Every time. We went right, she went left. We lifted our hands and brought them down. She did the opposite. We went forwards, she went backwards. Bless her for trying, but I’m not sure she’ll do an Arnie and be back.

And then my day ended with watching a mindless and very funny DVD. My husband and I snuggled on the sofa to watch Date Night – what a funny movie! Steve Carell trying to out-badmouth a gangster was just hilarious. We laughed so much.

Tears, laughter, a little bit of dance, a whole lot of life and one blog. In the words of Will Ferrell in Anchorman, “It’s boring but it’s my life.”

Sunshine signing off for today.