Amsterdam Calling

Some people wake up after a heavy night on the tiles unable to remember what they did the evening before. Not me though, no, no, no. In my kooky world I send letters to people and completely forget that I’d even written them, let alone what I’d written. That’s normal to me.

Take this recent letter for example sent to none other than the Amsterdam Tourist Board shortly after returning back to the UK post city break in the Dutch capital.

Dear Sir or Madam,

At any given time there are three things you need to know about me: 1) I do not have any fingerprints, 2) it is not a proper cup of coffee until I have spilt it everywhere 3) I used to share a house with a mermaid.

Curious? I would be.

It is a funny old situation when one chooses to travel alone. In this day and age you would have thought ‘fem power’ would have made it perfectly acceptable to exclaim to the world “I am a single female and happy to travel in my own company!” Instead of getting the weird looks I did at 08:00 at Kings Cross station. But then again I used to think it was normal to request a cake that just fallen to the floor if it meant I got a 50% discount (turns out there is this thing called ‘Food Standards’ that prevents that sort of thing happening, sigh).

I am probably setting myself out on the wrong foot, so let me backtrack a little. Less than a month ago I decided I was done with Brexit but also desperate to explore somewhere before the border gates went onto lockdown. Having also visited Bruges the November before I made the decision to hop onto the Eurostar once more and enjoy a four-day retreat in the Dutch capital. There was no strong reasoning behind the location, it was close to hand and I heard you guys had some awesome cultural shizz going on over there. I booked my tickets and excitedly looked forward to my arrival in the centre of Amsterdam.

I do not know how but five minutes after arriving I think I got high. In hindsight this does not surprise me much, given the only thing I have ever attempted to smoke was a cigarette in the beer garden of a nightclub in 2015 and that ended disastrously. At the time however I did not know what to make of all the smokers and the loud British people (by the way I am sorry all our men are loud, if I could stop them I would), so that by the time I found my hotel I was quite exhausted and wondering what on earth I had signed myself up for. Ever been to Bruges in Belgium? Amsterdam is probably the complete opposite as cities go (I would advise not pairing your tourist offices).

However, that being said over the course of my time in Amsterdam I had such a wonderful stay and the weather was glorious. I took great smugness as showing off my sun tan to my English friends on my return, especially when I heard they had experienced a lot of rain in my absence (in the UK it is common courtesy to discuss and compare the weather at length – true fact). I went to so many places and almost on every occasion the locals made me feel incredibly welcomed and wanted, despite being I suppose out of sorts with the groups of drunk men, loved up couples and stoned gap year students. I went to far too many places to list in this letter however I have created several light-hearted videos for my blog page, My Housemate’s a Mermaid, which I would encourage you to watch (I would attach them here, but unfortunately technology has not quite caught up yet to let me print off videos – still waiting for Apple and Google to pitch that idea to investors).

Yours Faithfully,

Alice E. Bennett

Now I’d completely forgotten I’d sent that on 23/04/19 until last week my inbox lit up with the following message.

Dear Alice,

Thank you for your letter. I read it with great pleasure, as it is a rare phenomenon these days. That is probably why it only reached me yesterday. It was, however, a bit of a disappointment that when I get the odd physical letter, it is not hand written 😉

What you ask or offer is not entirely clear to me, but I have watched your travel vlog. I enjoyed it, but it’s a too personal perspective for us to share. But I invite you to follow our social media channels and share what you feel like sharing with us. Who knows we’ll be a match in the future.

Thanks for your letter, keep up the writing and blogging and enjoy it. And of course we hope to see you in our beautiful city in the future. Just give me a heads up – preferably hand written with a fountain pen on parchment paper – and I’ll make sure we’ll have a little welcome gift ready for you in our store.

Regards/Vriendelijke groet,

Bas Timmermans, Editor in Chief Online

So there you go, one step closer to becoming a global brand and coincidentally one step closer to visiting Amsterdam again just for a mystery gift.

Seven Little Books

“29/04/18. My arms are aching, my legs are covered in bruises and I’m completely shattered. I must be in London.”

It has been a week since I vacated my flat in central London and returned once more to Swindon. It almost feels like the past year has all been but a dream, vape steam in the breeze. Invisible, abstract and only memorable by the faint smell it leaves behind.

On 2nd May I left London Paddington station for the last time packed like a loaded Buckaroo: an overfilled holdall case, a heavy rucksack, an additional handbag, a canvas tote filled with redundant bedlinen and a heavy laptop across the body for good measure. I learnt from my mistakes moving out and managed the travel back relatively bruise free, however my body has ached for days from strain. The day before I fully moved I’d completed a separate trip to Swindon with a similar amount of goods and wondered why I couldn’t stop violently shaking. I spilt coffee everywhere at the formal work function, of course. At the time I put it down to the amount of rushing around but now I see it as the culmination of mental and muscular stress.

Other than the short term pains it would be easy to pass off what I’d been through and achieved in just over twelve months living and working in the English capital as nothing more than normal. ‘Business as usual’ as my colleagues would say. But it isn’t. And it’s not just the big things that make me say that, like moving into the flat and travelling solo in Europe for the first time, but it is the little things as well. The events I put myself out of my comfort zone to attend, the weird obsession with finding the cheapest eggs, the men (goodness the men). And as I stood in Brompton cemetery one Sunday afternoon while a random man called Nicolas tried to chat me up I thought only one thing.

Thank God I’m writing this all down.

Seven separate notebooks, all documenting the experience of spending a year in London. Seven books with unique but different personalities as I went through a deeply personal and professional journey. Just glancing over extracts from book one and comparing it to book seven the transformation is really quite something (excluding coffee spilling and egg hunting, those two are deeply trademarked parts of me). Admittedly I haven’t read any of the books in depth since writing, I want to let some water trickle under bridges first. But I remember so clearly picking the first notebook off a shelf in a stationery store and telling myself I would make every effort to record the upcoming eight months in London (as it was then supposed to be) so that I should not forget the experience when I returned once more to Wiltshire. To ensure that I never let this fantastic opportunity turn into little more than a faded dream. And maybe, just maybe, one day I will do something more with my scribbles, that people will know about the time I ended up at a celebrity wedding, when the artist Grayson Perry became a fan of my writing, the time I got screen tested for a dating show. And again, the men.

If two things show how much I’ve changed over the past year then look no further than these separate quotes.

“11/05/18…Let’s make this work.”

“06/04/19…Because I can.”

 

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Because I Can: Solo Travels in Amsterdam

“But why are you going to Amsterdam on your own? Is it because of an event?”

“Nope.”

“…a guy?”

“Christ no!!”

“Haha ok. So why are you going?”

“Because I can.”

 

Part I

 

Part II

“Giant Hamster or Tiny Rhino?” The Time I Interviewed a Senior Finance Executive

For my second of two articles I had to produce for the internal monthly newsletter I decided to do an interview with a senior bod in the organisation. However this is me and while I’m still clinging onto the famous ‘graduate’ gold pass (I’m not a graduate, but there has to be some perks to people forever calling me that), well, it seemed perfectly reasonable to take a different stance on the traditional dry corporate interview the Executive Committee usually answer via email. Even though you won’t know the guy directly I hope you get what I was trying to do here, I certainly got the feeling he did.

Jeremy Paxman got nothing on me.

 

Closed Conversations with JS, Head of Digital

 

JS: So why are we doing this?

AB: I thought it would jazz up the newsletter interview if we got to know the man behind the face. Don’t get me wrong, I love Digital strategy…

JS: *Chuckles*

AB: …but we don’t really get to know you. Shouldn’t take long but before we start I should say you’re allowed to decline questions or terminate the interview should you feel uncomfortable

JS: What are you going to ask me?!

AB: I’m just covering my back J

JS: *Chuckles* okay, go on.

 

AB: What’s your favourite chocolate bar?

JS: Galaxy

 

AB: Biggest strength?

JS: Resilience

 

AB: Football or Rugby?

JS: Rugby

AB: Favourite team?

JS: Bath Spa

 

AB: Playground nickname?

JS: Ginge

 

AB: Would you rather be a giant hamster or a tiny rhino?

JS: Tiny rhino

 

AB: Bath Spa or Swindon?

JS: As in the city?

AB: Well, yeah, I wouldn’t make you compare Swindon to basic hygiene.

JS: *Laughs* fair enough, Bath Spa

 

AB: What’s your Zodiac sign?

JS: Cancer

 

AB: Morning lark or night owl?

JS: Morning lark

 

AB: Tea or coffee?

JS: Coffee

 

AB: Would you rather meet an alien visitor of travel into space?

JS: *Pause* travel into space

 

Favourite band/artist?

JS: Anything before 1998

AB: What happened after 1998?

JS: It all went downhill

 

Describe yourself in one word.

JS: *Long pause*

AB: Just anything

JS: It’s a tough one

AB: Have you never had to answer that at an interview?

JS: I haven’t been interviewed in ten years! *long pause* Determined

 

AB: Digital or analogue?

JS: Analogue…joking! Of course it’s Digital.

AB: God, you had me worried there for your job. As if an analogue fan could head up digital, I’d have to get you escorted of the building out on principle!

JS: *Laughs*

Why Can’t Men be More Like Snack Bars?

I was recently sat in a bar with a glass of wine and my new portable laptop (best investment of the year so far) when I had a flashback to all those Jordans’ Frusli snack/cereal bars I bought before London. Remember those?

So I decided, quite randomly, to send a letter to the lovely people at Jordans to make them aware. Of course this is me so naturally it wasn’t a standard letter. I took a sip on my rapidly depleting glass of red and wrote the following:

Dear Sir or Madam,

RE: Why can’t men be more like Jordans Frusli bars?

My name is Alice and I’m a finance professional and freelance blogger/kooky lady living in the centre of London. Now I’m pretty sure you’ve taken one look at the RE there and thought “hmm, this complaint may involve the assistance of a therapist, or a year seven biology guide”. But before you fear on that front, don’t worry, I know men can’t actually be like your Frusli bars. Everyone knows men are made out of used socks, cheese puffs and that weird smell no one can ever quite place. I think it’s a mutation of Lynx. Anyway, I’m not stupid but hear me out on this.

I relocated to London in May last year, a pretty stressful process as moves go. I was leaving Swindon with not a clue in the world what to do. I assumed that everything in London was expensive and topped with some kind of skinny foam, so I thought it wise to stock pile on what I knew to be good, wholesome and something I could pretend was 3 of my five a day. In my keen to stockpile for an event that you may have thought was a new Cold War I may have bought enough boxes to reach my hip… [picture insert]

You can imagine the fun I had transporting those from Paddington to E1. With everything else my bags weighed a ruddy tonne. However, unlike the many, many men who walked on by, the energy I got from a blueberry Frusli bar helped give the me energy to lug those bags on/off tube lines and up a flighty number of stairs. The power of the Frusli!

Once in the flat I managed to locate a drawer to put my various bars in to which I was quite satisfied. The drawer has since become a mini shrine to the many snack bars I have and, unlike men, I find the content of the drawer provide much enlightenment. Do I eat chocolate? Do I go out food shopping? When I open my Frusli drawer it always shows me the way. And I tell you what, they never ask me to make them a sandwich as a solution to my query.

Frusli bars offer variety, they have a fruity content and are even eco-friendly without rubbing it in your face (I see what you did with the packaging). They don’t take up space, they can accompany any meal or make time for you any point of the day and my parents love them. In fact, in many ways they’re the perfect partner. Wait a moment, maybe they’re too good…

Ok scratch the above, this is now a complaint letter. Congratulations on making something awesome that keeps me going and kept me strong when I didn’t know where to buy eggs in this crazy city. But you’ve made something too good so now I’m unable to find a living male who is as adaptable as an apple and cranberry cereal bar. Disgusted.

I look forward to hearing how you’re going to resolve this matter ASAP.

Yours Faithfully

I wrote that and sent it without re-reading it (until now, golly gosh that Merlot). I genuinely thought I’d never get a response. Another crazy lady from London. Well I was very firmly proved wrong when today I received a large parcel from the customer service team at Jordans. Inside the cardboard box was a letter.

Dear Alice,

Well what can I say? Other than, yes! Our Frusli bars are pretty awesome and they do offer the standard when it comes to offering variety and honest goodness. I am certain however, that there is a guy out there with equal qualities who can make time for you at any point and, most importantly, help you find eggs in the crazy city. In the meantime, here are some more Frusili bars along with some of our breakfast cereals – who knows, maybe once you’ve found Mr Right you’ll be able to enjoy our Granola together for breakfast.

All the very best,

Emma Morris, Customer Experience Advisor

And under the letter was this!

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How awesome is that! Completely unexpected as well. The luxury of Jordans cereal! I’m used to handling own brand Wheat Biscuits so this really is a massive step up. And given when I had to reschedule the missed delivery Mumma Bennett was convinced that I’d be getting her quilt cover this is very much a surprise to everyone. Mumma B said I must have written a very good letter to get such a response from the company…well, now you’ve seen it I’ll leave that final call with you.

(Ps – Jordans/Emma, I’m still hunting for the best reasonably priced eggs in London and a man, in that order.)

Chipping Campden meets Camden Market: A Parental Visit to London

Collecting my parents from Paddington station reminded me of my early outings to the English capital, back when I had depended on friends coming to meet me at the station and hold my hand as we navigated around the big smoke. So when I saw my parents approaching from the far end of platform ten I knew exactly how to make them feel at ease in the unfamiliar surroundings.

I stretched my arms wide, as if I was waiting with a banner at Heathrow arrivals, and exclaimed a little too loudly, “welcome to Paddington!”

“We’ve been here before.” Dad grunted.

“Oh yes, of course.”

“Good to see you!” Mum beamed as she grasped me in a tight hug. “We’ve missed you!”

“Mum, its been two weeks.”

“That’s a good point, when are you next coming home?”

“You’ve just got here Dad.”

“I didn’t go to the loo on the train, how long will it take us to get to Camden?”

I pulled out City Mapper on my phone. “Thirty minutes.”

“Is that to a coffee shop?”

“Well, no, it’s from Paddington to Camden station. I couldn’t guess on the coffee shop front.”

“Then I need to find the loos.”

“But they cost 30p here.”

“Yes but I’m not stupid with money like you.”

It’s always a weird feeling when your own Mother refers their child’s habit of super-saving as ‘stupid with money’, as if she’s never once mourned the closure of high street department stores on account of their free-to-use toilets.

Because of Mum’s firm stance on this matter we spent the first five minutes of my parents’ visit to the world famous London trekking up and down the length of the station to locate women’s facilities. Not sure where that features in Lonely Planet’s ‘Things to Do’.

When we finally found the toilets (meters away from where we’d first started) Dad dipped in and then swiftly came out.

“What is it?”

“I didn’t realise you had to pay.”

“I told you both before that they’re 30p to use.”

“I just thought that for men’s…never mind.”

Somewhere I could hear a dormant feminist awakening from a forty-year slumber. I rolled my eyes and changed the subject to that of the very average train journey they’d been on to get to Paddington.

Welcome to my very Cotswold parents. A Dad who thinks everything in London is a five-minute walk away, a Mum who would happily spend two days in the Paddington branch of Costa Coffee. Within the first ten minutes of their arrival I felt exhausted and ready for bed or a strong drink.

At that point Mum reappeared from the loos and, sensing that somewhere a feminist was setting up a GPS locator on my Father, I guided both parents down to the depths of the Bakerloo line. Unfortunately for us all it wasn’t just any Sunday in September, it was quite possibly be the last sunny Sunday of the year. In my planning I had not foreseen packed Tubes just as much as I hadn’t planned for the escalators to be broken at Euston and Campden stations.

“On behalf of Sadik Khan [Mayor of London], I apologise for the service on the Underground today” I said as we trudged up flight after flight of stairs.

Since moving to London some months beforehand I’d yet to visit Camden. I was raised in the small Cotswold town of Chipping Campden (which we all called Campden), near to Stratford-Upon-Avon (which we all called Stratford) so you can imagine how commonplace it was for Education Officers to assume our school was in the South East. Confusion was the most frequent reaction, on account of us being very white and middle class for the parts of London we were supposedly from. But right here and now in 2018 I was looking forward to trying something new at the suggestion of Dad. What harm could there be at trying something new and different?

Camden was bloody crazy. Absolutely insane. Music, people, street vendors, the atmosphere was stifling and unpleasant even for me. Thanking capitalism for the first time in a long while, we located a Caffé Nero and hid there for over an hour until Dad and I managed to coax Mum out. Taking a route that avoided the main strip, the three of us ventured to Primrose Hill to take in the view. Alongside the dozens of others chatting and selfie-ing at the top I absorbed the panoramic as Mum called out “is it worth it?” from behind. Once she and Dad had joined me and made their pleasing comments I gestured to the area I work in and pointed out a couple of the main sights along the cityscape. We took a couple of selfies and made our way back down the slope.

“It’s nice. But I don’t think you’ll come again, will you?” Mum asked of me.

I glanced at the pasty topless Brits lying on the dusty grass. “No, probably not. Besides, there’s a better view of London from the twelfth floor of my flats and that’s free.” I then remembered that the twelfth floor was also prone to what I called ‘decorative urban debris’ so swiftly changed the subject before thoughts were planted.

We ambled around the quieter streets for a bit, popped into a pricey hipster charity shop, popped just as quickly out, before eventfully admitting defeat and getting the Tube to Wapping, East London (i.e. my kingdom).

To prove nothing in my family ever runs 100% smoothly we suffered from a dramatic mini-incident on the Underground which chiefly stemmed from my foolishness, i.e. I forgot my parents weren’t me. At Euston station (where we’d changed trained) I rushed ahead and hopped onto the carriage with ease. The announcement on the coach was halfway through the familiar “train is ready to depart, mind the doors” when I suddenly remembered I wasn’t travelling alone, my parents were further down the platform, scrambling to catch up to my coach. I realised with horror that my parents weren’t going to make the train. I did the closest thing I could muster to screaming at Dad as beeps warned of doors closing. Dad got on just in time, yanking poor Mum in tow as the doors shut firmly on her right arm. When the automatic response released her from entrapment they revealed a few torn layers of skin but significantly more traumatic pain. As she fumbled around to put some anti-bacterial gel on the sore patch I felt awful. There may have been no physical damage but my impatience to wait two minutes had caused unnecessary stress and pain to the entire trio of us. At that point I decided that the rest of my parent’s visit would have to be drama free.

Seeking calm from the storm of the morning, on arrival at Wapping we went to my local pub and perched by the waterside with two bowls of chips. Thankfully Wapping lived up to the standards I’d set out to my parents and we all enjoyed a very relaxed afternoon. I took them on a walking tour down the old warehouses and cobbled streets before stopping at a place of personal significance. A spot on the north side stretch of the Thames where the river is wide and open and between oneself and the imposing Canary Wharf on the South is nothing but sparkling blue and passing boats.

“I happened upon this view and I just knew I had to do it. I had to move to London and I had to be here.”

As the evening came upon us each hour went by as swiftly as the Docklands Light Railway trains that passed by the window of my parent’s hotel room. Cider was consumed and food was dined on in the pleasurable surroundings of St Katherine’s Docks, but with our feet and bodies feeling the wear of the gummed-up streets and the oily tracks all three of us decided to call it a night at ten o’clock.

 

To be continued…

Why I Should be on Love Island (and other Discoveries this Week)

We all have those moments when someone makes a comment and it comes as such a surprise or so random that all you can think (or my case say) is “ha-ha, no seriously” because a suitable response fails you.

Well I’ve had a couple of those recently.

 

Why I’m a Corporate Celebrity

About a week ago I met with some members of senior management. About three quarters into the meeting we’d covered most of the agenda I’d set out originally and conversations turned into more laid back topics. When asked broadly about career development I gave a simple answer, that I’m there to be challenged but also to challenge. At this one of the attendees smiled and quipped “you don’t need to remind us, we know about your email to Joe.”

(For anyone not sure of the reference click here.)

Boom, corporate celebrity.

 

Why I Should be on Love Island

Good friend: “You’re so thin! You could be on Love Island!”

Me: “Bless you but no.”

Two weeks later…

Mumma Bennett: “You’re thinner nowadays.”

Me: “Thanks, I think it’s all the walking.”

Mumma Bennett: “It’s not a good thing.”

Friend approval and parental disapproval. Given personality doesn’t come into it I’d say that was a glowing reason to be on Love Island.

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Although this woman…

I take it back, keep me as far away from these people as possible.

 

Why I’m a Pillar of the Community and Getting an MBE Award (Member of the British Empire)

I manage an 18-30 group in Swindon for which I’m frequently doing poster drops for as part of its promotion. I’d put a few up around the main offices in Swindon, including my own organisations, but you can imagine my surprise when in the middle of a live webcast being broadcast to thousands of people I noticed something in the background.

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So I’m sat there in the London office mildly losing my marbles because one of my 18-30 posters has somehow appeared behind the head of one of our directors and the deputy CEO. Meanwhile my colleagues are thinking that they work with a mad woman or someone who is far too excited over the prospect of organisation restructuring.

Either way I’m getting an MBE from the Queen.

 

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Swindon 18-30 Poster

 

Why I’m a Trend Setter

I eat tomatoes on trains and if I need to give you a reason why then you’ve missed the point. Trend setter 101.

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Why I’m Addictive to be Around (but no one knows why)

…because you’re still reading this.