We need to talk about the work fridge…

If you work in an office, school or any sort of institution where there are many staff members, you will know what I mean when I say with dread, “the work fridge”.

That hive of half-bottles of sour milk, lunches from last week forgotten when a last-minute invitation to eat out came along, plastic containers of mouldy left-overs put there by an employee who left three months ago…ugh!

I try to use the work fridge as little as possible. But yesterday, I had cause to store a sandwich there. 
I noticed a patch of spilt milk on one of the shelves. What did I do? Nothing. I probably should have, but I rarely use the tea- and coffee-making facilities, so decided to ignore it. 
But today, same bat-place, same bat-time, I had cause to open that fridge again. Da-dooooowwww! Same patch of spilt milk from yesterday. OK, it had to be me who cleaned it, but I wondered why no one else, including those who use the fridge three or four times every day, had considered wiping up that spilt milk.  

 

Now, about 50 people use this staff kitchen regularly, most of them opening the fridge to get milk for their tea or coffee. On the bench is a notice, “Clean up after yourself”. And the bench itself is pretty clean, though someone used and discarded a teaspoon in the sink this morning (like, rinse it and put it in the rack already, it takes 3 seconds!).
I guess technically, no one actually spilt the milk. It probably came out itself through a lid not on tightly enough.
Or am I being too picky? People do call me a hygiene freak, after all.
But I wonder what their fridges at home look like inside.
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Should you stand up for a pregnant woman in the train or bus?

I shouldn’t have to ask that question — it should go without saying that you would do so. But, sadly, I do have to ask it.

This is because twice this week I have seen instances where people appeared reluctant to stand for obviously pregnant women.
This morning, a woman got on the train and, after a few moments, I stood up for her, and she gratefully sat down, thanking me and giving me a lovely smile.
I say “after a few moments” because I was surrounded by young men and women, most of them 20 or perhaps even 30 years younger than me. I admit, I’d thought one of them would stand (is that wrong?). However, they remained in place, even in the seats opposite with notices that say the seats must be vacated if elderly, pregnant or disabled people need them.

 

 When I got up, none of the young men or women made a counter offer. They settled further into their seats, one making eye contact but quickly looking away.
A 35-ish man standing opposite me was shaking his head in disbelief. “I can’t believe that out of that whole group, you were the one who had to stand up,” he said. “Manners! Modern society, eh?” He said it loud enough for others to hear; they just sat there. Now, I’m not elderly or infirm or anything, but I do think that very young people should stand up before middle-aged people. There used to be a rule, too, that if you were on a student ticket, you were obliged to give up your seat to an adult. What annoyed me most was that more than one of us should have been prepared to give up his or her seat.
As I said, this was not the only incident this week (I catch a lot of public transport!). A few days ago, I got on to a crowded bus with no spare seats. After me, a woman got on who was pregnant. She stood for a while: no one got up for her, including people in seats right next to her.
Finally, a young woman standing on the other side of me courageoulsy tapped one of them on the shoulder and said, “I think you should stand up for her”, indicating the pregnant woman. The seated girl was genuinely surprised, and leapt up immediately. “Oh! I didn’t even notice,” she said.
I wondered if this was indicative of what had happened in both incidents. That people weren’t being rude, ill-mannered, or insensitive. They just didn’t notice.
Are we so embroiled in our personal worlds of music played via headphones or ear buds, texting, social media and even reading, or a combination of those things, that we fail to notice when fellow humans need our assistance?
It seems we need to get over ourselves, look around, and notice what’s happening in the world.

Reality bites: death and the blogosphere

I was shocked and saddened to read that the partner of one of my blogosphere friends had died suddenly this week.
I won’t link to her post about his death here, as it seems personal, something that is meant more for those who know and care about her, even if we “know” her only from her words online.
Of course, her blog is public and anyone could happen upon it, but even so, there are some posts that feel as if they shouldn’t be casually shared.
This is the strange thing about the blogosphere: it’s both private and public at the same time. Every blogger will know what I mean by that. Occasionally, someone’s post goes viral, and they’re not always pleased: it seemed, said one, like an invasion of privacy.
While there are many more silent readers than those who communicate with bloggers they follow, always reading but never commenting, each blogger also seems to have an inner circle.
Some are people you know in real life, others are friends of friends, still others you read because you connected on other social media, such as twitter or Facebook. But the majority of bloggers I follow are people I don’t actually know.
The friend who lost her partner this week is someone I’m never likely to meet – and even if we lived in the same country, we could walk past each other in the street and we wouldn’t recognise each other; we could be introduced at a party and I wouldn’t know it was her, because I don’t even know her real name.
But somehow, that doesn’t matter. Somehow, I feel more involved in and connected to her life events as she reveals them through her blog, than I do with the life events of, say, people on TV, even though I can see and hear the latter every day and know their names and usually way too much other information about them.
The strange thing is that when there’s a death in your blogosphere, it’s as difficult to know what to say as it is in person. “Sorry for your loss”, “sorry to hear your news”, “thinking of you”, or the formal “sincere condolences” don’t seem to be enough in the comments section, yet in the end, they’re all you have. And the “like” button seems so inappropriate, though many people now use it as a “read and noted” button rather than really meaning “like”. Because how could you like a post about someone’s true love dying, after all?
Since I started blogging in late 2012, this is the first post I’ve made without a photo. Somehow, a picture just didn’t seem appropriate.

A book to scare the living daylights out of you

OK, I know monsters don’t exist. There are no vampires, bogey men or Frankenstein’s creatures. These are monsters of fiction, and are not real.
There is no space monster as depicted in the films Alien and Aliens and it will not come crashing through the bathroom window at night to get me.
There is no longer a big bad wolf living under my bed, as there was when I was a child, with enormous teeth all the better to eat me.
Shape-changers cannot slip under the door and lurk in the shadows, waiting to spring.
Ghosts of poor unfortunates who died in a sinking ship in the 19th century are not haunting people and leaving icy footprints on the stairs.
Oh but they are, they are.
At least they are in the American writer Keith Donohue’s masterful horror novel The Boy Who Drew Monsters, and while by day it all seems like a bit of nonsense, by night, every creak and bump in the house announces that there could be a bit of truth in that fiction…
It is, of course, the power of an excellent and accomplished writer to make you believe the unbelievable.
There will be no spoilers here, but I can say that The Boy Who Drew Monsters focuses on two 10-year-old boys, friends whose lives changed when they are both nearly drowned in the sea three years before. Nick becomes a loner but manages to function fairly normally, while Jack Peter is diagnosed with autism and refuses to leave the house, spending almost all his time drawing pictures.
Then strange things start to happen. Jack Peter’s parents start seeing creepy apparitions and hearing noises as if something is trying to get into their house. The horror escalates, and then they discover their son has been drawing monsters…beings that somehow seem to be coming to life. Then they discover that a ship sank in the sea in front of their house in the 19th century, and the bodies of some of the drowned were never found.
There has been some criticism of the end of the novel but—again without any spoilers—I thought the ending was great. Why? Because I can’t stop thinking about it. Donohue makes you question your beliefs about what is real and what is not, the power of the imagination and the power of suggestion. Granted, there are holes in the plot and certain plot points that remain unresolved at the end—but this leaves the reader to make up her or his own mind.
While verdicts on The Good Read website of The Boy Who Drew Monsters  are mixed, acclaimed horror writer Peter Straub wrote a glowing review in The Washington Post. According to Straub, “This novel is beautifully carpentered, and its effects are perfectly timed. The sheer professionalism here, an achievement which should never be undervalued, is felt on one’s nerve ends.” You can read the full review on Donohue’s website here.

I’ve been a fan of Donohue’s writing since his masterful first novel, the magical reality story The Stolen Child (2006), inspired by the Yeats poem of the same name. The novel went on to become a NY Times bestseller.
Donohue lives in Maryland, and by profession is an archivist with a PhD in English—Irish literature, to be precise. He was 47 before his first novel was published and despite large success, he still has a day job as the Director of Communications for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission at the US National Archives.

Actually, horror is not usually my choice in novels. I prefer non-gory crime, historical romances and stories of everyday life, but Donohue’s compelling literary prose and ability to build tension in the narrative hook me every time.

Although I found the book terribly scary, I could not tear myself away from it, save to gingerly look up the stairs or behind the door to make sure there really wasn’t a monster hiding there. Thanks, Dr Donohue: with The Boy Who Drew Monsters, you have scared the living daylights out of me!