The Joy of Teddy Bears

The Teddy Bear was named after President Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the USA, who was a keen hunter. He was out on a hunting trip one day when he came across a bear who would have been an easy target for shooting. The president took pity on the animal and refused to harm him. This resulted in a cartoon being drawn showing this event and, consequently, a toymaker took the initiative to produce a soft toy to mark the occasion, and called it Teddy’s Bear (Teddy being the nickname for President Roosevelt). The toy soon became so popular that everyone wanted to have a teddy bear of their own.

What would childhood memories be without a favourite teddy bear. Years ago we lived in Italy when our eldest son was 2 years old. He had left behind all that was familiar to him including grandparents, most of his toys and not least of all, his spaniel, Suzie. It must have been a very confusing time for the poor little boy who was only just starting to speak English. Suddenly he was in an environment where children were revered and a lot of attention was lavished on him, but practically every word spoken was in Italian. We didn’t realise initially just how much living in a foreign country was affecting him.

One Saturday afternoon we were in the toy department of one of Milan’s largest departmental store where there was an entire wall dedicated to teddy bears of every conceivable size and form ranging from the tiniest to almost adult human dimensions. We told our little boy to pick a teddy for himself. He toddled over to the bears and picked up one which was almost the same size as himself and started chatting non-stop to this newfound toy. At last there was someone who listened and seemed to understand his baby talk. The bear was purchased and named Arturo, as he was, after all, an Italian bear.

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Arturo and friends

Now, many years after the arrival of dear old Arturo, he has become part and parcel of our family history. He is still around, although not quite as sprightly as in his heyday, but still wears a very snazzy knitted Italian outfit.

It is customary in South Africa, and possibly in other parts of the world as well, that where there is childhood trauma, teddy bears are given to the affected children to help ease the pain that they are currently enduring. The fact that teddies are usually fairly soft and chubby makes them easy to cuddle and research has shown that when children are given a choice of dolls, they will usually choose ones which are rounded and cuddly looking. Having a favourite teddy to take to bed at night has been a comforting factor in the lives of many children in various parts of the world for a long time.

Teddy Bears come in many styles and varied price tags. If they were made a long time ago and are jointed (arms and legs and head which can be moved into different positions), and especially if they were made by a respected toymaker, they could fetch a very high price on auction. A hand made and jointed bear made from mohair, would be far more valuable than a bear which is not jointed and was mass produced in a factory using a manmade material such as nylon. By the same token, if a bear was owned by a famous person, then it could also have a high selling price attached to it regardless of the kind of bear it might be.

Let us not forget some of the bears who, over the years, have become household names. Among these are Winnie the Pooh, made famous by A.A. Milne,  Rupert the Bear (still going strong and appearing in cartoon form in certain newspapers, after decades of wearing the same yellow check trousers and red jacket) and the delightful Peruvian bear who was found lost and bewildered at Paddington station in London.  He has even become a renowned movie star in his own right!

For most of us, the value of the teddy bears which we remember from our childhood days has far more to do with the memories connected to them than their potential re-sale value. One of the first bears that grandparents gave to one of our children was named Growly Bear. Not only was he jointed, but when turned onto his tummy he growled quite fiercely.  Somehow, he disappeared over time, and sadly he might have proved to be valuable by now, if only we knew where he has been hiding all these years! Perhaps he attended a Teddy Bear’s picnic and forgot how to find his way home!

Fortunately, despite today’s children being techno savvy from an early age, some things just don’t change and a love of teddy bears seems to be one of them. May the humble teddy remain as popular  with future generations of children as has been the case since President Theodore Roosevelt saved the life of that fortunate brown bear so many years ago.

 

Family Dynamics

No matter how one likes to believe that every child within a family is treated in exactly the same way by its parents, this is often not the case. The actual position of the child within the group of siblings as well as parental influence can be a determining factor in the way in which that child is going to develop. Much research has been done by those who claim to be professionals in their field regarding the only child, the first-born child, the middle child, the youngest child etc. etc. There are those who maintain that the first-born child is going to achieve more and be more independent than his siblings. The fact that the first born has to make his way out there in the big bad world without the help of an older sibling, is quite possibly a factor which could account for these findings.

The first born is the child who often has the undivided attention of doting parents who take loads of photographs, keep copious notes regarding his milestones, and lavish an enormous amount of attention on him. (I am using him as opposed to him/her, purely to prevent the reading of this article becoming tedious and not as a gender-based preference).  He might also be the child who is often the first grandchild in the family, and therefore may also receive a great deal of spoiling from grandparents as well as aunts and uncles.

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By the time baby number two makes his appearance, the parents have already made sure that his arrival is not going to interfere with the well being of child number one. Therefore, the second baby is expected to slot into the family with as little disruption as a new baby is capable of. Ha ha ha, this is where the fairy tale may have a slightly different ending! Sometimes the only reason that families have a second child is due to the first child having been an easy one to raise, with no major hiccups along the way. This may be the universe doing its best to ensure the survival of the human race! Very often parents have been quoted as saying that if baby number two had been baby number one, then the reproduction factory would have closed down immediately.

From the above observations, we already have an inkling of what the future might hold. The second child may be treated differently from the first due to either the parents’ frustration at having to cope with a more challenging individual, who differs entirely from their first born, or even from a feeling of failure or despair by not knowing how to handle the challenges presented by this newcomer to the family circle. Whatever the reason, life will never be the same again.

The amount of photographs taken of baby number two and the notes on his developmental stages might be far fewer than his older sibling, and this in itself could potentially pose a problem regarding feelings of inferiority in later life. I have recently been told by two separate families, who each have two girls, that the second daughter in both cases has never forgiven the parents for the fact that they were not the first born! This resentment towards their older sister has continued into their thirties.

To complicate matters even further, there is also that scenario where a third child arrives on the scene, sometimes because the first two are the same sex and the parents hoped that they might be able to change the recipe. If they succeed, then very often this third child becomes something of a celebrity, and one or other of the parents makes it obvious to all and sundry just how delightful it is to have pink baby clothes instead of blue, and dolls instead of motor cars in the house or vice versa. (I am not touching on the current trend of some children being treated as sexless by their parents until perceived to be old enough to make their own decision on whether to be a boy or a girl!)

Now, we see the middle child syndrome raising its ugly head. I actually knew of a Swiss woman whose brother and his family lived in South Africa, who was the middle child in their family. When she came here to visit them, she refused to sit in the middle seat on the aeroplane as she complained that she had always been the “sandwich child” and wasn’t prepared to allow this to happen anymore. Makes one wonder just when the reality kicks in of being sandwiched between an older and a younger sibling. What happens when a pregnancy results in triplets? Now that could be an interesting subject to pursue.

At a later stage I would like to go into more detail regarding the dynamics within families and recount some scenarios which I have personally come across over the years, as well as mentioning some well documented cases which might be of interest to you, my reader. Meantime, you might enjoy starting to look around you at families that you know and find the position of the children within them to be quite enlightening if not altogether entertaining.

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Behind Closed Doors

It is quite common for potential buyers to ask an estate agent the reason for the property being on the market. If an agent knows certain information which could cause a potential buyer to change their mind about putting in an offer, then it would be a case of ethics as to whether or not anything negative was disclosed.

On this particular day, the agent, Matthew, was delighted to find a young couple who raved about all the unusual features of the property, which had been on the market for several months and needed quite a lot of fixing up. It had belonged to an old man who had failed to maintain it due to his age as well as failing health. The agent had heard some very disturbing rumours from colleagues as well as from some of the neighbours, who had nosily come over to see the inside of the house when it was on show one Sunday afternoon.

The young couple were having a second viewing of the home after having visited the previous Sunday’s Show house. They had gone home after the first visit to do some sums to find out whether they could afford the transfer costs, even though they knew that they qualified for a mortgage for almost the full asking price of the property. The agent felt very confident that he would have a signed offer very soon due to the enthusiastic comments which both the husband and wife had been making whilst taking their time to wander from room to room. They could see the potential for doing some minor alterations and were able to visualise the house once it had been given a fresh coat of paint and the tiles in the kitchen and both bathrooms replaced. They were not worried about the olde worlde look of some of the features as they were keen on collecting antiques and this house would suit them and their taste in décor very well.

Then the moment the agent always dreaded arrived and Liz, the wife asked, “We love it, but is there anything we should know about the house’s history?” The agent looked down at the notes on his clipboard and silently debated as to just how much of the gossip he had heard could safely be revealed without jeopardising a possible sale. He was not willing to say more than was absolutely  necessary. “The house has been in the same family since it was built just after the Second World War. The current owner is the son of the original owner and the only reason he is selling is so that he could move closer to his son and his wife. His health is poor and they were worried that something might happen to him if he carried on living here on his own. His own wife died about 20 years ago and he should perhaps have considered moving before he became ill. Unfortunately people often try to hang on as long as possible before they admit to the fact that they are slowing down as they get older.”

After the agent had finished talking to both Liz and her husband Greg, they wandered outside again to have another look at the garden which, in its heyday had been the pride and joy of the owner’s late wife. Sadly, it now looked rather overgrown and neglected, but the upside was the many and varied trees, bushes and flower beds which, once neatened up, would save a new buyer a fortune.

Just as Matthew had predicted, the couple were very keen to put in an offer on the house, and even though it was quite a lot lower than the asking price, he knew that with a bit of negotiation on his part, the seller would accept it. Being very experienced in his field, he had asked all the relevant questions and was satisfied that there was an excellent chance of this couple being able to afford the house, as well as having savings to cover all the legal costs. Once the paperwork was completed, he shook hands with both the husband and his wife, and promised to present the offer before the end of the day. He would phone them as soon as he had an answer for them and would try to encourage the seller to accept their offer, due to the length of time that the house had been on the market and currently standing empty.  He shook hands with them and promised to give them the best possible service until the house was transferred into their names.

As the couple drove away Matthew felt a slight discomfort when he thought about the rumours which he had overheard from the neighbours, regarding the present owner’s wife having been found hanging by her dressing gown cord from one of the cross beams in the lounge. Apparently no foul play had been suspected but, there were those who believed that she had been driven to taking her own life due to her husband having forced her to make extra money by having to entertain a variety of male visitors in the back bedroom every evening for many years whilst the children were away at boarding school, and later at university.  It was all rumours, but the neighbours had been rather quick to mention all the different cars which arrived at the house every evening on the hour every hour, Monday to Friday, from 7pm to midnight all those years ago.

No-one ever  proved that any of the above was in fact true after the poor woman committed suicide, but it was said that she was extremely quiet, never chatted to any of the neighbours, and always looked physically exhausted despite being made up to the nines whenever anyone caught a glimpse of her. Oh well, some rumours are exactly that – just rumours.

Matthew shrugged off any feelings of guilt that he might have harboured for not having disclosed the suicide to the couple. None of the neighbours had actually repeated any of the gossip to him personally.  He had just happened to overhear a few of them chatting amongst themselves when they had been nosey enough to pop in when the house had been on show. So, nothing having been discussed with him, he could say in all honesty that he had no knowledge about this at all. Now, off to the local pub to have that well-earned pint. Oh, hang on – not a clever idea at all! He took out his mobile phone and immediately made the call to tell the seller’s son that he would like to come over straight away as he finally had a very good offer on his father’s house. The celebratory pint in the pub would have to wait until the deal was signed and sealed!

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
– Theodore Roosevelt (American President)

Update and Comments: 29 October 2019

Could someone possibly tell me what has caused this year to be only half as long as previous years? It seems just the other day that I was decorating my Christmas tree in time for the 2018 festive season, and now it’s almost that time yet again. I am beginning to think that there is an invisible and very devious time thief lurking out there, conniving and scheming to steal that very precious commodity from those of us who really could use a few extra months each year just to catch up on ourselves!

When a year begins with huge amounts of heavy rain resulting in a lounge having its own version of Niagara Falls, then I suppose it stands to reason that the rest of the year could be somewhat challenging. Roof and ceiling repairs, replacing a door, then small appliances deciding to give up the ghost, all played their part this year. Then last week my faithful laptop just made up its mind to go AWOL. No indication that it was suffering from stress, was overworked and under paid, and generally feeling frustrated and needing a long holiday. It just bit the dust, so to speak. It might have been a sign of loyalty if I had been given some kind of warning – but, no! Just a blank, non- responding screen.

Unfortunately, when one is totally dependent upon one’s computer, a quick decision needs to be made, and time is of the essence. Therefore, I am now getting my head around a new laptop with a more up to date version of Windows, and I hope that I haven’t lost too much of my writing due to the changeover. From now on, I think that the Cloud needs to become my new best friend. Cannot bear the thought of hours of work disappearing into thin air ever again!

All the above chit chat is just a way of letting you know that I am still here, in body if not always in mind, and back to bashing away on my brand new keyboard.

Until next time, it’s my hope that none of you are spooked out this Halloween!

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

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A Secret Admirer

Working on the 9th floor of a very modern, 12 storey office block in the centre of the city, it’s not unusual to know very few of the people who actually work in the same building. I have been a PA for one of the directors of my marketing company for the past 5 years. I am single (by choice, mind you!), live alone with a cat for company, am an avid crime story reader, gym 3 times a week and love to travel. Nothing unusual about that I would say!

Anyway at the beginning of this year a strange event occurred which, at the time, was puzzling although not altogether unpleasant. It began when I arrived at work, went into the kitchen to make my morning cup of coffee and, when I took it back to my desk I found a delicious looking chocolate cupcake on a paper plate in front of my computer. I had absolutely no idea where it had come from or who had put it there. I always get into work earlier than most of my colleagues, and that day there was only a junior clerk, Janine, as well as Portia who worked for the MD (and her office was right at the end of the corridor from my office) already at their desks. Janine was shy and spent any free moment checking her messages on her mobile phone, and had never spoken more than the odd word with me since she had started at the company 6 months previously.

Anyway, I asked both Janine and Portia whether they had given me the cupcake and neither of them had, and also denied seeing anyone else on our floor, while I was making my coffee. Well, the cupcake looked very enticing and I couldn’t resist eating it immediately. It was as moist and delicious as it looked and somehow it made me feel happy and relaxed about the day ahead. I was incredibly busy and totally forgot about the cake once I was immersed in the day to day correspondence, booking hotels and flights for my boss for his forthcoming trip to Argentina as well as trying to sort out a problem with our internet provider. I normally am a typical A type personality and get very up tight if things are overly stressful, but this day I felt very relaxed. A nice change, I must admit.

The following day, having quite forgotten about my freebie of the previous day, I was once again surprised when I brought my coffee cup back to my desk. This time it was a choc chip cookie that was left in front of my computer. I really was sure that it must have been placed by either Portia or Janine, as I hadn’t seen any other staff members when I came down the passage from the lift. They denied knowing anything about the cookie and, somewhat perplexed, I still decided that the best thing to do (as I had missed breakfast once again) was to eat it. Whoever was baking these sweet delights was doing a very good job of it. The chocolate chips just melted in my mouth and also resulted in a feeling of total relaxation!

This strange ritual carried on for at least another 2 months with an amazing variety of cupcakes,  muffins and biscuits of varying shapes and sizes appearing on my desk each morning.  Although I kept on mentioning it to all my colleagues, everyone denied any knowledge of the cookies  although several of them mentioned the fact that I definitely seemed to be very much more relaxed these days than in the past . Did I have a new man in my life? Certainly not, but I did admit to feeling more in control of my emotions than I had done for quite a while.

One morning, about 8 or 9 weeks since the first cookie had appeared on my desk, I arrived at work to find a small package wrapped in brown paper together with a typed note attached – no cookie today. I was rather hesitant to read the note as now I would surely have some idea as to the person who had been leaving the treats for me over the past few months.  Before I read it, I ripped off the wrapping on the parcel and found a thin, paperback book entitled “The joys of marijuana – 30 tried and tested baking treats”. I nearly collapsed, and then looked at the note which had been attached to the parcel. “You have been an absolute pleasure to work with these past few months – glad you liked the cookies” and it was signed “Your secret admirer!”  To this day I have never been able to find out who was responsible for me being as high as a kite every day at work for all those months. I have never bothered to try out any of the recipes and, for better or worse, have decided that to take a few drops of Rescue homeopathic medication daily is possibly a more acceptable way of coping with work related stress.

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Too Late for Regrets

It was probably the most memorable Valentine’s Day in my life and, thinking back now after all those years, I feel quite embarrassed by my behaviour that day. In hindsight one always knows just what should have been said or done, but that doesn’t change things once they have occurred.

Valentine’s Day that year just happened to fall on a Saturday and I had a full agenda which included taking my 4 year old twins to a birthday party in the afternoon. The morning was taken up with grocery shopping as well as choosing a gift for the birthday boy. In fact, as I was taking two children to the party, it was only right that I purchased two gifts for the child. I left my two terrors at home with their father, and headed for the local shopping mall. It was a battle to find a parking spot, but finally I succeeded and made my way, first of all to the supermarket.

It took me ages to get all the items on my shopping list and then it was a case of packing them in the boot of my car before aiming for the toy shop.  I had a good idea of what I was going to buy for  Chad, who was having the party. He loved Lego, so I had already decided to buy two smallish, but very acceptable Lego models for him. I was, and still am, always on a budget so I felt that these toys would fit the bill very well indeed and wouldn’t make me look mean.

I found the items I was looking for and looked around to see where I could pay. I froze. In front of me and staring straight at me was a face I had hoped never to see again. I felt my cheeks burn in embarrassment and didn’t know which way to turn. “Fancy seeing you here, Shelley!”  I looked at the man who I had believed would be my husband one day and mumbled, “Hi John”.  I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me as I had a flashback of our last meeting, 8 years before.

Before I could recover, my ex-lover decided to start a conversation with me. “What are you doing in a toy shop, Shelley? You, who always swore that you couldn’t stand children and wanted nothing to do with them.  Perhaps you are shopping on behalf of your sister?” I was mortified. John knew just how maternal my sister, Lily, had always been and obviously assumed that she had the brood of children that she had always wanted.  I didn’t know what to say to him, and then blurted out, “No, they are for my twins to take to a party this afternoon”.

The look of shock which I got from John is one which I will never forget. We had dated for years and he was longing to settle down and start a family, but I had other plans in those days.  My job as a journalist with a large newspaper was taking off in a big way, and children were certainly not part of my long term plan at all. I will never forget the day he gave me the ultimatum. If I refused to get engaged and to set a date for our wedding, with the proviso that we would think of having children within two years of the wedding, then he was calling an end to our relationship. I had been shattered, but not enough to change my mind about putting my career first.

How foolish can one be when it comes to losing perspective. If only one could see into the future then the decisions one made would be quite different. John was devastated by our breakup, but that didn’t stop him finding a gorgeous blonde architect and getting married within a year of leaving me. I saw the wedding photo in the social section of the newspaper where I worked, and felt very sad at my loss. It was a wake-up call and forced me to look at my life, especially as my job suddenly was no longer as appealing as it had seemed when I had lost John.

 

I managed to pull myself together and forced myself to ask him about his life. He told me that he and his wife were in the process of moving overseas as he had a very good job offer and his wife would have no problem getting a good position as well. They had been unable to have children, sadly, due to his wife having had an infertility problem, but they enjoyed a comfortable life doing a great deal of travelling, a lot of scuba diving as well as hiking.

He asked me who I had married, and was surprised to hear that it was an ex -colleague at the newspaper where I had worked– a man quite a lot older than me, who had been married previously but had no children.  The paper had retrenched many of the staff members before closing down totally, so we were forced to pull in our belts.  Martin had taken a job with a lower salary and I was writing some part-time articles for a women’s magazine, which didn’t pay too generously but we were happy.

I didn’t take up John’s offer to join him for a cup of coffee as I was already later than I had hoped and needed to get home to prepare the twins for the birthday party. I really felt very uncomfortable seeing John again and remembering the way I had treated him. Would things have been more exciting if I had made a different decision at the time, and he had not become the one I always referred as “The One That Got Away”? I would never know and it was better not to dwell on what might have been. I was sad that he had never been able to have the pleasure of being a father, and this in itself made me feel very guilty.

I wished him all the best for the future, and never did find out why he was in the toyshop.  I knew he had always been very generous with his friend’s children and maybe he was buying for nephews and nieces. I have since regretted not even bothering to find out.  His parting comment was to wish me a Happy Valentine’s Day! What a way to make me feel even worse than before.

I paid for the Lego and was relieved when I arrived at my car and was able to try my best to focus on getting home safely and with time to spare.

 

A Slip of the Finger

I will never forget, if I live to be a hundred, one of the most mortifying experiences of my life. It took place on the morning when I turned 40. The day had started as a normal Tuesday work day; although I had already received a number of phone calls from close friends as well as the usual bundle of Facebook messages, which I had checked during a tea break. What no-one knew, and not even my long-term fiancé, Jake, was that I had also received a call from my gynaecologist whom I had seen the previous day. It was this call which resulted in my extremely embarrassing experience – even thinking about it several years later, I feel quite sick to my stomach!

By nature I am a very private person, and although I do have friends at work, none of them are so close that I would discuss my personal life with them. Some facts are only ever disclosed to one or two friends whom I have had since school and university days.  Jake is the total opposite to me and is very social and has a huge amount of friends. We used to work for the same company, and the only reason that he was still a fiancé and not a husband at that time was due to the fact that his hard- nosed ex-wife was still making it financially impossible for him to finalise their divorce.  We were struggling to get her to understand that, as there were no children in the marriage, she had no right to demand all the things she felt entitled to after 10 years of being with Jake. Well, that was something we were trying to sort out, but in the meantime, to all intents and purposes, Jake and I were committed to being a lifelong couple.

To get back to my 40th birthday and the phone call which caused me such embarrassment. Jake and I were keen to start a family when we first met and, although we were both very fit and healthy nothing had happened. We were not prepared to undergo any fertility treatments and run the risk of a multiple birth. We had already decided that if we were not going to be able to have children then we would concentrate on the two of us and do as much travelling as possible and enjoy being parents to our four legged fur babies.

Anyway, I am waffling and I need to get back to the day in question when I had received the call from my doctor.  I had been feeling really down for the past few weeks and always tired and my cycle was all upside down and seemed to have disappeared altogether. I was very worried that, Iike my mother, I was already starting early menopause. I had both blood and urine samples taken but before he could give me any information, the doctor’s mobile phone rang and he had to race to the local hospital where one of his patients was in labour.

When I heard his voice on the end of the phone the following day, I was very nervous as I just did not know what I was going to hear. “Hello Kate, this is Dr Jacobs. Firstly, I must apologise for having to rush away yesterday, but babies have a way of making their own arrangements. Anyway, I hope you are sitting down as I have some news which might be rather unexpected.  You are in fact pregnant and that’s why you have been feeling the way you have. From what you told me yesterday, you are probably around 8 weeks already. Congratulations, and I remember you saying that today is your 40th birthday, so double congratulations are in order.  You need to make another appointment for us to do a scan and then we will be able to see if all is progressing the way it should.  I am sure that, with your usual level of good health, there is nothing to worry about at all.”

When the call was concluded I felt totally shocked! I had almost given up the idea of our ever having our own child and, now being 40, had felt that it was highly unlikely that it would ever happen. Once I had recovered I decided that, rather than phoning Jake who I knew had a very busy schedule that day, I would just write him an e-mail and send it directly to his desk. I quickly wrote him a note saying that I had just received the best possible 40th birthday present and started it off with  “Congratulations you Sexy Hunk – your sperm has done the job” and added a grinning emoji and a picture of two clinking champagne glasses, just for good measure. Then I pressed the send button.

It was just a few minutes later that my boss, George Jones, popped his head around my office door waving a piece of paper in his hand with a huge grin on his face. “I think you sent this to the wrong sperm donor Kate!”  I nearly died when I realised what had happened! I had sent it to George instead of Jake and now I was sure that the entire office would hear the news even before my poor fiancé.  What on earth could I do to rectify this most embarrassing of situations! Just bite the bullet, pretend to see the funny side of things and go straight over to Jake’s office to tell him the news in person instead of touching the wretched computer again! Technology? Only good when the person using it concentrates at all times- even when they are suffering from emotional challenges!

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Resignation

Dear Michael and Jane

It is with a great deal of regret and sadness that I am sending you this letter. We have been housemates now for roughly 4 years and I have got to the stage where, to coin a much used phrase, enough is enough. I am quitting as from today.

For all these years I have had your safety and needs at the forefront of my mind. I have never been able to do all the things that I really wanted to do, but only what you allowed. So many rules to obey and when I disobeyed them I was made to feel like an absolute loser, and you often threatened to get rid of me. Do you have any idea at all how that made me feel? You often made the comment that I looked upset, and maybe a bit guilty? Well, I actually did often feel hurt by your words and rough treatment of me, but all I was able to do was convey my feelings with my body language without saying a single word in my own defence.

You have been able to go out for expensive meals and have trips to the theatre whenever you felt like it, knowing that I was looking after your fancy house with all its precious antiques. I never ever broke a single item, and everything was always in perfect condition when you got home. You rarely even bothered thanking me for my loyalty, let alone having to stay awake until late at night until you both stumbled in, often reeking of alcohol. I must say that I was very glad when, several months ago, after your last run in with the traffic police, that you started using Uber to go out in the evenings. I used to worry as to what would happen to me should you be involved in a serious accident and not come home. I know it sounds very selfish, but we have been very much dependent on each other these past 4 years or so.

Anyway, as I said just now, enough is enough and I am leaving. At this stage I have not made up my mind exactly how I am going to move on with my life, but running away seems to be the best option. I am going to wait until I have had my breakfast tomorrow and, when you open the gate to bring in the rubbish bin, I am going to make a dash for it. I have made good friends with the woman who runs the local doggy grooming parlour, and she and her workers are very fond of me. I know that they will help me to find another job. They are sure to be prepared to give me a good recommendation, should it be required. They have always been suspicious of the way you two have treated me – almost like a poor, mentally deficient relative.

So, come what may, this letter is to tell you that you both need to look at your selfish behaviour and, before it is too late, make serious changes. Even at this stage things could be improved, but it’s all up to you. I have done my best to be hard working and honest, and I have never attacked you or made a mess in the house. I have been faithful, loving and courteous to your ghastly relatives with their ill-bred brats. I so often wanted to nip their overweight backsides, and really had to force myself to be well controlled when they visited you. You can be very grateful that I didn’t savage either of you two either, and believe me there have been many times when I would willingly have taken a big chunk out of you both. Especially when you sit on the couch, watching a rugby match, drinking beer and munching away on delicious biltong and offering me not a single solitary piece. Greedy devils that you are!

Well, you will find this letter once I have left, and hopefully you will come to your senses, see just what you have lost, and perhaps we can come to some or other amicable arrangement for the future. However, this is all up to you – the ball is totally in your court! Maybe you could consider buying me a couple of new ones if I do agree to any new terms and conditions which I feel may improve my life should I return to your home.

Anyway, you may find me at the parlour, unless I have already found a new home.

Regards

Mickey the Mutt

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Caramel Sticky Buns

These buns are fantastic accompanied by an espresso.

Ingredients

  • 310 ml buttermilk
  • 55 g sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 640 g all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 170 g unsalted butter, softened

Caramel

  • 165 g lightly packed brown sugar
  • 55 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 60 ml light corn syrup
  • 30 ml water
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Filling

  • 105 g lightly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • Buttermilk, for brushing

Preparation

  1. In a bowl, combine the buttermilk, sugar, yeast and salt. Set aside.
  2. Combine the flour, eggs and buttermilk mixture in a stand mixer using the dough hook or in a bowl using a wooden spoon, until a dough begins to form.
  3. Add the softened butter.
  4. Knead the dough for 5 minutes. It will be soft and slightly sticky. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, humid place for 1 hour.

Caramel

  1. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients with a whisk until smooth.
  2. Pour into a buttered 33 x 23 cm glass baking dish. Set aside.

Filling

  1. In a bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
  2. On a generously floured surface, roll out the dough into a 50 x 35 cm rectangle. Brush with the melted butter and cover with the brown sugar mixture. Roll the dough into a log 50 cm long. Cut into 12 slices.
  3. Place the dough slices onto the caramel. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, humid place for 1 hour.
  4. With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
  5. Brush the buns with buttermilk. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown and cooked all the way through.
  6. Let rest for 10 minutes.
  7. Place a large serving platter over the baking dish. Turn out the sticky buns onto the platter.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Nice! and Tasty – Chris

Direct Sales – Chapter 5

How to project a professional image to your customers.
Your Appearance does matter !

Now that you have embarked upon your new career, you need to feel confident and in control. This may take quite a bit of time and practice, especially if your background has not necessitated your meeting new people on a regular basis. It can be rather daunting to wake up in the morning knowing that you are going to have to make a serious effort to generate some business in order to start making money.

One of the most important tips which I was given very early in my sales career was to make sure that you are dressed and ready for the day before you start getting in touch with anyone in connection with your job. You cannot focus on projecting a business-like manner on the phone if you are still dressed in last night’s pyjamas.

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Dress for Success is the motto you should try to keep in your mind at all times. Get up, get showered, have a bite to eat and then dress in a presentable manner, especially if you are going out to meet clients. Even if you are planning on spending the day at your desk doing phone calling, it is not a good idea to wear scruffy old gardening clothes. Obviously you don’t dress in the same way as when you go out, but you still need to feel business-like.

Whenever you leave the home, remember that you never know whom you are going to bump into whether at the shops, outside your children’s school or in the doctor’s waiting room etc. Try to get into the habit of always looking neat and presentable, and wear that identifying badge of yours at all times. You will be surprised at how often people will ask you about your line of business, purely because they have seen your name badge.

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Can you imagine how embarrassing it could be if you rushed out to buy a loaf of bread at lunchtime, wearing a scruffy, paint splattered tee shirt and shabby shorts, only to bump into a new customer of yours who has just spent a large amount of money purchasing some of your products? Not a good image to project at all! I am not saying that you have to wear business clothes when you are at the coast on a family vacation, but in the normal scheme of things, think before you leave home and ask yourself whether you are looking  neat enough for any eventuality.

Another tip which I found useful was to make a note of the clothes which you wear when you go to a customer’s home, either for a product demonstration for her friends, or a one on one advice session.   Even on a rather limited budget, you should be able to mix and match just a few attractive items of clothing, so you don’t appear to be wearing a monotonous uniform.  Of course, it could well be that the company you represent has a designated dress code in a specific style and colour which you are expected to wear.  Otherwise, it’s wise to try to look as though you have a varied selection of business clothes.

Personal hygiene is critical, and one should always be aware of the fact that last night’s garlic loaded dinner is not conducive to comfortable interactions with anyone the following day, let alone customers.  If you happen to be a smoker then this can also become a problem when dealing with the public. Nothing is worse for a non-smoker than to have the smell of tobacco wafting into your space from either a cigarette or a smoker’s clothing. Being vigilant regarding one’s total appearance as well as one’s breath are all part and parcel of being able to feel confident in one’s job. Having breath fresheners, deodorant as well as touch up make-up products with you at all times, especially when you are expecting to be away from home for several hours, all help you to feel more relaxed and confident in your dealings with the public.

Communication

You may not be very comfortable with using your telephone to conduct your business but, practice can make perfect!  There is nothing more irritating than phoning someone and that person answers with “hello”. The correct manner for answering a call should be to identify either yourself or the company for which you work.  “Jane Smith speaking. How can I help you” or “Brown’s Engineering, Jane speaking”, is so much more professional and the caller then knows they have contacted the right person or company. Working for yourself in direct sales, it will be your name which you use when phoning out or answering a call.

Never assume that the person you are calling will remember you. It is far better to identify yourself to the person on the other end of the phone, for example in this way: “hello Mary, this is Jane Smith, your representative for …….”. They will in time recognise your voice, but it is presumptuous to expect people to instantly know who you are especially if it is some time since you last spoke to them.

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Another good tip is to “put a smile in your voice” when either dialling out or answering an incoming call. Nothing is more off-putting than a gruff or decidedly unfriendly voice on the other end of the line. I personally have known a woman for many years and, if I didn’t know her as well as I do, I would immediately put down the phone without speaking to her. She answers with a very rude and unfriendly “hello!” and only mellows once she knows who she is speaking to. She is most definitely not a candidate for dealing with the public in general!

If you are unsure of how you sound on the phone, then record yourself speaking and play it back. This way you can change your tone and, if it helps, look in a mirror while you smile and talk on the phone. The way in which you are able to communicate comfortably with your customers is also a reflection of your professionalism.  Once again, old adage applies: Practice makes perfect!

Remember to record a voice message on your telephones, the landline as well as your mobile and regularly check your messages. It is so bad mannered to ignore a message and people never cease to be surprised when you actually call them back! This world we are living in has forgotten what it is to be polite and if your break the mould by being courteous it will pay dividends in the long run. You will be known as being reliable and polite and, above all, professional.

We all need to feel special

I may have mentioned in a previous chapter the importance of keeping notes regarding your customers. Either by using the old style index filing system or utilising your smart phone, you can have many snippets of information about people who buy from you which is sure to impress them when you refer to them. Things such as birthdays, anniversaries, a child’s illness, a husband having some sort of crisis – all these facts can be mentioned in a caring way when next you speak to the customer. They will often be amazed that you have bothered to remember what they told you, and that you  are not only interested in them buying more products from you but that you value them as people and not just customers.

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A small gift at Christmas with a note thanking a customer for their loyalty during the year will not only be well received but will usually cement the relationship with them, and they are likely to recommend you to their friends and relatives in the future. Sometimes it helps to actually use an old style desk diary each year in order to jot down memory joggers such as the customer’s birthday and also to remind you at Christmastime of the small gift you gave them the previous year. You don’t want to be perceived as the kind of salesperson who gives a gift as an afterthought with no memory of having given the identical item the previous year! Suddenly your professionalism could take a nasty knock!

Punctuality is also critical in making people feel that they are valued. If you make an appointment with a customer make sure that you are organized and get to your destination on time. If you are delayed by a crisis, then it is critical that you let the other person know that you have a problem and how you plan to remedy it. Time is important to everyone and when someone makes a habit of arriving late, it is a sign of disrespect and shows that you are not professional in your field.  Curved balls are a part of everyday life, and no-one will be angry with you if you get your car out of the garage and realise that you have a flat tyre. As long as you contact the person you are scheduled to see, then you have done the right thing. If you just arrive an hour late without any indication that you have been delayed, and expect to be well received, the truth is that you will have burnt your bridges as far as building trust and being perceived as a reliable sales representative.

One last thing in this chapter which I would like to mention is the importance of keeping your word. Nothing is worse than insincerity and making false promises. Think before you commit and make sure that you have noted down (in your desk diary or on your phone) what it is you have promised to do – and do it! There is just way too much insincerity in the world today, and when people go back on their word it is very easy for the person who was promised something to feel rejected and unworthy.  After all, these tips are all about remembering that we all like to feel special.

“What I adore is supreme professionalism. I’m bored
by writers who can write only when it’s raining.

– Noel Coward