Tag: favourite stories

Who is more disabled?

When I was almost eight months pregnant, I went to Brisbane for a training course. On the way back, I took the Skybus back to the city.

I had been sitting in the ‘special needs’ section of the bus for about five minutes, waiting for the bus to leave the terminal, when a Skybus official got on the bus and said to me, ‘You’ll have to move, we have a person in a wheelchair that needs this space.’

I leapt up to change seats. It took two seconds for the man’s expression to change. ‘Oh no! You’re pregnant!’

I mumbled reassurance. I think a person in a wheelchair is more disabled than a healthy pregnant woman.

The time

As a fun prize for being ‘best supporting actress’ in my Business Economics class, our course director Tom awarded me this watch-bangle, which he bought from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

V&A watch bangle
V&A watch bangle

I wore it on the final day of our course, when we presented our projects to the Directors in our London office. We had a lovely lunch afterward, with tasty food and good conversation.

All good things come to an end, though. I needed to meet up with Damjan in the afternoon.

‘What’s the time?’ I asked one of my colleagues.

‘It’s 10 to 2,’ he said.

‘Oh,’ I laughed. ‘It’s not a real watch!’ I lifted my arm to show him.

He looked serious ‘No. Really. It’s 10 to 2.’

I looked at his watch. So it was!

Man Test

Damjan, Joel and I were celebrating Pancake Tuesday. Damjan was at the stove in an apron and after a couple of false starts, was back to his finest pancake-flipping form.

He demonstrated. ‘See? Now that the pan’s warmed up and oiled properly, it’s easy.’

‘How about one-and-a-half flips?’ Joel said.

Damjan raised his eyebrows. ‘ No problem.’ He paused, then flicked the pan a little harder then usual.

Sure enough, the pancake turned gracefully in the air, then another half turn, before landing neatly on the waiting pan.

‘Ha!’ Joel said. ‘Bet you can’t do two-and-a-half flips.’

‘Bet I can,’ Damjan grinned. He knew his tools by now. He paused again, then flicked the pan extra hard.

The pancake flew even higher, crested after two-and-a-half turns, then plopped straight down.

‘AAAAWWW!’ we all cheered.

‘Three-and-a-half!’ Joel urged. ‘Three-and-a-half!!’

‘No way,’ Damjan laughed. ‘Uh-uh.’

‘Come on!’ Joel rejoined. ‘Man Test!’

‘What?’ we said.

‘Man Test!’

Damjan couldn’t refuse a Man Test.

‘Okay, okay…’

‘No!’ I gasped. But it was too late. The Man Test challenge had been made.

Damjan held a look of intense concentration for five seconds. Then he launched a mighty pancake flip… and the pan base flew over his head, along with the pancake, and it all came down with a metallic crash and pancake splatter on the kitchen floor.

Damjan was left shocked, holding just the handle in his right hand.

‘Oops,’ Joel said.

I just called to say

I came home with something on my mind to ask Damjan. Picking up the phone, I dialled the familiar sequence of numbers and waited.

Beep beep… beep beep… beep beep…

‘I hope Damjan’s home,’ I thought. ‘He should be back by now.’

Suddenly, a girl picked up the phone.

‘Hello, this is Joan’s voicemail. If you leave a message…’


Oh… When I dialled the phone number I know best, I had called myself at work.

Pow! Pow!

Last weekend, I went to Dublin with Damjan and a friendly group of volleyball players.

After all the formalities of the volleyball were done, we went out on the town to celebrate. I had a bit of Guinness, a bit of Baileys. In short, it was a good time.

It was 1 AM and we were walking back to our hostel when something strange happened. A man came at Damjan and barked, ‘Stab!’, jabbing a cigarette towards Damjan’s face.

The stranger continued passed us. When I shook off my surprise, I realised he was too far away to be reprimanded.

So I whipped my hands out of my pockets, made pistols out of them and shouted, ‘Pow! Pow! Bangbangbangbangbangbang!’

The stabber turned around, looking confused.

Fancy that. As if I were the freak.

Joan in Dublin

Here I am in Dublin. Like my new glasses?

The keys to my love are on a mountain

When I was at Mount E’mei in my visit to China in September, I was drawn to the locks attached to the railings.

Mount E'mei lovers locks

Lovers come to Mount E’mei, place a lock on the a chain (or another lock, as all chain links are now well and truly colonised).

Mount E'mei lovers locks

They then throw the key off the side of the mountain.

Mount E'mei lovers locks

There really are thousands and thousands of locks. They climbed with us up the steps to the top of the mountain.

Mount E'mei lovers locks


Mount E'mei lovers locks

My love is made eternal with extra top security.

Mount E'mei lovers locks

I thought the locks were beautiful.

Every little helps

I was proud of myself. Even though I was late for work, I still managed to make my own lunch by throwing together tuna, sweetcorn and yoghurt. I had this mixture for the first time last week and it was very tasty.

Only as I closed the door to my flat behind me did I realise I had forgotten a vital ingredient. Without lemon juice, my lunch would taste pretty uninspiring.

So at 12:30 , I went to the local Tesco. Of course, there was a long lunch time queue. Finally, I reached the check out to hand over my lone lemon.

The check out lady scanned the lemon and said, ‘That’s 32 pence, please.’

I looked in my purse. ‘Oh no!’ I exclaimed. ‘I’ve only got 30 pence.’ Indeed, in the coin compartment there was a small heptagonal 20 pence coin and the larger round 10 pence coin.

‘Oh well…’ I began, pulling out a £10 note.

The check out lady held up her hand to stop me. ‘Why don’t you bring the 2 pence next time,’ she said slowly. I could almost see her mentally winking at me.

‘Oh…! Okay. Yes,’ I stuttered.

She smiled as she took my coins. ‘I’m not allowed to do this,’ she confided softly.

Back in the office, I told my colleagues about my 2 pence windfall. They laughed and said, ‘Well, you shouldn’t feel bad about taking advantage of Tesco. Did you see the news today?’

Tesco achieves £3bn annual profit

Supermarket chain Tesco has reported underlying annual pre-tax profits of £3.13bn, an improvement of 10% on the previous year… The profits are the highest on record for a UK retailer.

I said, ‘Yes, well, you know what they say. Every little helps.’

If the only tool you have is a hammer…

I was being shown around one of my project sites. This one was near Cambridge. A developer wanted to build a luxury hotel here.

My tour guide was the project’s arborist. For weeks, he and his assistant had been painstakingly mapping and tagging the hundreds (thousands?) of trees on this woodland site.

‘That’s a field maple tree,’ he enthused. ‘Squirrels love them. That tree’s been chewed to the core so it’ll have to come down.’

As we hiked to the back of the site, he pointed out the trees of interest.

‘What’s that?’ I asked. There was a long, squat black fence bisecting an open grassy glad.

‘The newt fence,’ the arborist said. ‘The ecologist set that up. It’s part of the newt strategy, to help relocate the great crested newts to the new ponds out back.’

The great crested newt is famous for holding up development all over the English countryside. Although a highly protected species, in the eyes of developers, it is exasperatingly common.

‘And here are the ponds,’ the arborist announced. ‘Oh look! There are some newts now.’

‘I see. It looks like the ponds have worked, then,’ I suggested.

‘Yes, they’ve been very successful.’ The arborist grimaced. ‘The ecologist was so pleased with himself when these ponds got put in. The day after they were constructed, I showed up on site. “Look!” the ecologist said when he saw me. I was aghast. When they dug up the pond, they had ripped out all the roots of those lovely beech trees you see there! I was furious. I wanted to grab some newts and nail them to a tree! How would he like that? Eh?’


Here, then, is a reminder about the blinkers we wear as professional specialists. I am the same — to me, everything is always about sustainability.

If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.


Janice let the couple progress through the hallway, the study and the living room. Soon enough, they had reached the kitchen, the heart of every house. The woman glided her hand over the granite bench top, nodding approvingly. The man gazed up the skylight, then pulled open the German-engineered oven.

‘Good morning,’ Janice said. ‘My name’s Janice. How do you like the house?’

‘It’s nice,’ the man noncommittally. ‘A new paint job in the hallway, I see.’

‘Yes,’ Janice replied. She was glad he had noticed. She had told the Cranfields it was an easy way to add £1500 to the asking price so they had it done three weeks ago. The paint smell was gone in time for house inspections. The Cranfields had also taken their agent’s advice and removed personal photos so that prospective buyers could more easily imagine themselves living here. There were fresh flowers in the house, too. Janice was a good agent. She knew what the punters wanted.

‘I like the natural light,’ the woman buyer said.

‘The skylight really does open up the space, doesn’t it?’ Janice enthused. ‘The owners also installed dimmable halogens. This really is a great lifestyle house. There’s a heated conservatory, and the media room, of course. And it’s close to shops.’ Janice recited this all with the perfect illusion of spontaneity.

‘I’m not sure about the halogens, Dean,’ the woman said, turning to the man. ‘Or the other lights. Halogens use up a lot of energy.’

Dean nodded. ‘Janice, are the lights the energy efficient types? What’s the SAP rating on the house?’

‘SAP rating…’ Janice felt her control of the situation begin to fray at the edges.

‘Yes, the energy rating of the house? The insulation are in the walls? What are the owners spending on energy? Is there a heat recovery system?’

‘Erm.’ Janice started shuffling through the promotional material, scanning for something about the ‘SAP rating’ or heat recovery.

‘Dean, can you ask about the heating controls too? We’ll want to keep the kids’ rooms warmer at night but turn down the temp in the study and guest room.’

Janice was rifling through the brochures a second time. ‘Ah, I’m sorry sir, madam. I don’t seem to have the information here but I’ll call the office now and see if I can get it. Could you hold on?’

The agent darted into the study to use her mobile phone.

‘Troy, what on earth is a SAP rating?… Build regs? You mean people care about that? … Sheesh, I can’t believe it. I’m sure Cass and Jim got asked the same thing last weekend… No, the lifestyle angle isn’t working, you’ll have to send the energy info… That’s three days away! …Oh, fine! Nothing we can do about it now. Bloody marketing. Gotta sell houses like cars these days.’

When Janice returned to the kitchen, the couple had opened up the boiler.

‘Forty kilowatts is a bit excessive for this size house but at least it’s a condensing boiler. More efficient than the electrics. I know this manufacturer, had some warranty issues five years ago but they seem to have sorted it out…’

‘Sorry for making you wait,’ said Janice. ‘We do have the energy information at head office. It’ll be here on Friday. Ah, if you leave me your details, I can post it to you or you could come back…’

The couple exchanged looks. ‘All right. Maybe we come back in a bit. We’ll look around a bit more, see a couple of houses.’

In the face of failure, Janice put on her most genuine smile. ‘Of course! And here’s my card. Give me a call if you think of anything.’

Diamonds are forever

Anna was telling me about the clever Tiffany’s campaign, which singlehandedly spread the idea that the right amount to spend on a diamond engagement ring was three month’s of the man’s income.

‘They even put a calculator on their website so that the man could work out how much he should spend,’ she said. ‘Although, any man who needs that calculator probably isn’t worth it…’

‘I read somewhere that the original reason for the diamond engagement ring was because once people got engaged, well, it was kind of like they could start sleeping together,’ I said.

Anna looked puzzled. ‘Was it to prove that they really were engaged?’

‘No. It was in case the woman got pregnant and then got dumped. She would at least still get some money to survive on by selling the ring.’

Anna considered this briefly. ‘So the ring’s like a deposit?’

I started laughing. ‘Exactly!’