Memory Lane Game

This is a super way to mark a special anniversary or birthday. It’s all about remembering moments important to the individual or couple in the context of events in the rest of the world.

For my parents’ Golden Anniversary I got a large piece of white wood (40cm x 80cm) and marked 50 squares (10 across and 5 down) in silver pen. Then in the middle of each square I wrote a year, starting with 1962 and going on to 2011 and 2012 (they shared the last year). Each square was the same size as a post-it note and there was a thin border at one end to write a message. At their special dinner in the Compass Room at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club we cleared a space in the middle of the table and put the board there. Next to each guest (handily there were 10 people) I put 5 post-it notes on which I had written a family factoid and a world factoid.  For example “Viv and Dave get chickenpox” on one side and ”Man first walks on the moon” on the other. Once everyone had worked out the year in question was 1969 the post-it note was stuck in the square for 1969.

Memory Lane Game with people

At my brother-in-law’s birthday they used big sheets of black paper with factoids on gold stars – they also used lots of photographs of him through the years to match up.  To the amazement of the fabulous trattoria in Venice the 7 of them laid the sheets out before dinner and had a great time.

It takes a bit of work to come up with enough information, but the family factoid only has to mean something to the family and world history facts are easy to find on the internet. The best bit was sharing family memories, however I did hear of a melancholy note struck by the frequently absent father who said he simply hadn’t realised how much he had missed.  At the end of the game there is a tangible reminder of your family’s story – it could be framed or photographed as a keepsake.

Instructions:

  1. Create a time line – either as a grid, or a line
  2. Write a year in each space
  3. Using separate pieces of paper (post it note, luggage label, stars etc….) write a personal fact on one side and a general fact on the other from the same year
  4. Divide the factoids between guests and ask them to stick / tie / glue the factoid to the right year.

Memory Lane Game board

Handy Hint: keep a note of which year the factoid writer has allocated to which fact so you can arbitrate if disputes break out.

Alternatives might be to use a long washing line with wooden pegs marked with the year – facts written on piece of paper and hung up. Another idea would be to have a “Advent Calendar” approach where opening a window marked with a year reveals a factoid – that wouldn’t be such fun as a game but would make a lovely keepsake. I think this game could also be played for clubs or companies.

Let’s get in a stew about this…

At the weekend I chanced upon a Saturday newspaper article that assured me that once I had made my own pasta from scratch I would never look back. “Phaw!” I thought; in the words of Shirley Conran, “Life is too short to stuff a mushroom” (or crimp your own farfelle). This thought doesn’t mean, for a second, that I think we should buy everything ready-made. Quite the contrary. It means that you probably should find the time to stuff your own mushroom if that’s what you fancy eating, but that dried pasta is a perfectly acceptable ingredient.

My Charlie was home from university for a reading week and muttered something about having a go at “the kind of cooking you can’t do in halls…”  Charlie is notorious for getting through six eggs the first time he tried to fry one (I hadn’t realised so many things could go wrong in a frying pan). Being a student on a budget and doing lots of sport has created a virtue of necessity. Now he has the standard range of pasta and sauce, noodles and stir fry etc at his fingertips.  These are all great student dishes because they are quick to cook, but some things take a little longer like a ragout, casserole or stew.

I assembled the ingredients and gave him some direction on what to do, but no more recipe than as follows. Opening the packet of British braising steak, with the Red Tractor logo on the label, he could see the membranes, muscle fibre and fat of the animal. It smelt faintly metallic, but otherwise odourless. This is as it should be. Cut into cubes – coated in seasoned flour – browned with a couple of rashers of chopped streaky bacon – popped in a casserole dish – a chopped onion gently cooked with a little oil in the frying pan – a couple of finely chopped carrots, a bay leaf – about 1 pint of beef stock made with a teaspoon of Borvil sloshed around the frying pan – then all added to the casserole dish and put into a medium-ish oven for 1 ½ – 2 hours.  Hey presto! he had made a stew – or created the opportunity for magnificent alchemy as ingredients turn into a meal fit for a king.

Being able to cook is a real life skill that sees you through hunger and loneliness, poverty and friendship, family and festivals. And it tastes good. You will not want to eat mechanically recovered animal related material with additives after you have made your own hamburgers.

A good news story that briefly surfaced during the week was the announcement that Mr Gove, Secretary of State for Education, agrees with a report compiled by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent of the Leon chain of restaurants. The report recommends that cooking be taught to all 7 – 14 year olds as part of the national curriculum. They say that everyone should have at least 20 savoury dishes they can make. Absolutely right. Fingers crossed this great idea won’t now perish under challenges of curriculum time; not enough trained teachers; cost; no access to school kitchens… drone, drone, drone.

It’s simple: everyone should be able to make a stew and if you have never tried, or never urged a novice to give it a go, now is the moment. Home-made cocoa and partridge ravioli served with demi-glace, beurre noisette and parmesan may well follow.

How to get the job you really want…

This is the story of a young graduate who got the job he wanted. It’s fair to say that rowing, debating and partying played a larger role in his time at Edinburgh University studying chemical engineering than the rigorous pursuit of academic excellence. Still, graduating with a 3rd and loads of exuberance, he secured a job at a paper mill in Aberdeenshire. While it was good to have a job, this wasn’t the job he wanted. It was a production role that was repetitive and static and Aberdeen was bloomin’ freezing. However one of the sales reps that came regularly to the plant did have the kind of job the young man thought would be perfect for him. It involved travel, a company car, new places and new people. And it involved selling – all that time talking in debates and chatting at parties had given the young man lots of chances to practice communicating his ideas and enthusiasms, and selling – though he hadn’t done it before – seem to be a natural extension of his skills.  He started talking to the rep and learnt a lot about the company.

One day, in passing, the rep mentioned that head office were recruiting. Very excited the young man wrote to the sales manager, who was based in Gloucester. The day after he posted his letter a 3 day postal strike was called. Panicked that his letter was lost, he rang the sales manager. After the sound of scrabbling paper they found his application and then, after a pause, invited him south for an interview.

The young man had very little money and really had to beg and borrow enough from family and friends to afford the train ticket, making it a bit of a gamble for all of them. But when he got to the interview he soon started to recognise all the characters he had heard about from the rep. The place was buzzing compared to Aberdeen and he knew he really wanted to work there.  Sitting opposite the sales manager, however, his heart dropped, “You’ve not got great grades or a particularly good degree have you? We wanted someone with good research experience and strong chemical knowledge really”.  “Well”, replied the young man, “I thought it was a selling job…” and he went on to talk about how much he had learnt about the company; how he understood about people in the paper industry that bought products, how he enjoyed connecting with people, and how much he wanted to travel. “Blimey”, said the sales manager, “we only gave you an interview because you bothered to phone during the postal strike and sounded so concerned… but you’ve certainly sold yourself to me – you’ve got the job it you want it.”  Of course the young man accepted then and there.

As he left he had to have a quiet word with the sales manager, “Don’t suppose I could have a small advance for the train fare home, please?”. The manager said yes – but wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t got the job.  “I knew I would” replied the young man. And he went on to become a very successful sales man.  I like this story because even though it uses the strategies job seekers use now, it all took place almost 50 years ago in 1964; and because the young man is my dad, John Tait.

Trusting the customer care experience – Berber style

Just back from a fabulous trekking trip to the Atlas mountains and musing on the nature of customer care in Morocco. The people we met were very kind and friendly and polite, “Where are you from? Ah, England – lovely jubbley”, they kept saying. And in the shops “You look, you buy, you don’t buy, is no matter – you leave us a smile”. The challenge from our British perspective was about what my travelling friend called “trusting the customer care experience”.  The reasons for the doubt seemed to come down to two features: the need to barter and an expectation of tipping.

Our problem with bartering is the sense of dissatisfaction following each transaction in the souk.  The trader has shown you his choicest wares; he has found (hidden in a special place) the exact colour you want; he has assured you it is antique, Berber and genuinely handmade by artisanal crafts people. Now he whips out a pad of paper and draws a line down the middle of the sheet. He writes your name (in Arabic) on one side and his on the other. “This is my house”, he points under his name, “this is your house”, under yours. “Now, what price you give me for this.. no, no, I show you first what price I want”. He writes 300 dirham on his side of the sheet and hands you the pad. You write 50 – then Ping-Pong it goes until you’ve been forced up and he – with much regret and reference to the fabulous qualities of the goods you’re buying – has come down in price (I ended at 100 dirham for a pair of fuchsia pink sequinned leather slippers). You walk round the corner and hear someone end up at 80 dirhams for identical goods. So annoying: you feel slightly disappointed in yourself for not having made a better deal and let down, cheated even, by the trader who had made you believe that he cared for you and wanted you to benefit from coming to his shop and being in Marrakesh. You have spent not just money, but invested emotion and time. But the next stall you go to you’ve hardened up a little and walk away a little sooner – knowing that if there was any more meat in the deal the trader will come running after you.

Our second challenge, tipping, caused endless discussion. How much? was the first concern. In a country that didn’t seem to be overwhelmingly wealthy the tip must be an important proportion of a person’s income. So the guy with the mule who carried our bags is surely worth a tip – but as the amount to give starts being considered it gets tricky – the man already has a salary from the travel company – a tip the equivalent of £5 per group per day was suggested, but when the man implies that should be per head per day the maths starts looking less reasonable – “£50 quid for  prodding a donkey up a hill which took him all of 4 hours – and the donkey didn’t look very well cared for…” So the talk turns to what any of the tips are for and the calibre of customer service. “There was no eye contact, no smile, the guy was late, his hands didn’t look clean, he didn’t listen, he didn’t know anything about where we were going…” and doubt about the authenticity of the kindness and friendliness lodges in one’s mind.

My group of travelling ladies concluded that while trained customer service may sometimes be shallow, at least it offers parameters we understood. At various stages in our collective work experience we had all worked with customer service skills, which may have made us particularly critical and analytic in our approach – though it also means we know what good customer service is about. There is a confidence from knowing a person is doing what their job is simply because that is what they are paid to do.  We also concluded that having a fixed price for things gave us a better chance at budgeting and understanding the value of what we were buying. The thought of taking the Tesco shopping trolley and facing up to the cashier with a pad of paper and saying “Here is my house and this is the price I am prepared to pay…” didn’t appeal.

Next time I’m back in Marrakesh, however, I bet I can get those slippers for 75 dirhams….and I’m going the tip the donkey in carrots!

Donkey