Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

Frosted rose bloom in my garden
Rosa 'The Fairy' kissed by last night's first hard frost of the season - at least I know she'll bloom again 

Dee told a story recently on her blog about meeting a stranger from Persia, which has stayed with me ever since. It's good to be reminded that simple acts of kindness are much more powerful on a personal level than anything the news can throw at us. Thanks Dee.

It sparked a memory of something that happened to me many years ago, so here's my story...

Graduation during a recession means even the best laid plans can go off track. So in the early 1980's I found myself back at home with my parents instead of forging the glittering career I'd anticipated by being the first in my family to study at university.

The work ethic is strong in our family, so I took whatever temporary jobs I could find to tide things over until my dozens of permanent job applications bore fruit. I never doubted that would happen, and finally it did, even though the result isn't quite the path I originally thought I'd take.

One of my temporary jobs was as a census officer, taking round and collecting in the questionnaire UK households are required to complete every 10 years. My allocated patch was a 10 minute bus ride away and consisted of a council estate of maisonettes and high-rise flats, plus some university accommodation allocated to postgraduate students. It turned out to be quite a cross-section of humanity.

I quickly learned the role of a census officer is a lonely and thankless task. You never meet any of your colleagues and the majority of people I met regarded me with suspicion and open hostility. I was a 'government snooper', rather than a young woman trying to make her way in life.

Towards the end of my stint, I was going around the remaining addresses left on my round where I'd had no contact with the people living there. Many of these were in the university accommodation and as it was now the Easter holidays I was not expecting to collect many more of the outstanding questionnaires. I was not finding it the most rewarding of tasks, and I quickly became tired and grumpy.

To my surprise, one of my last rings on the doorbell was answered by a young man dressed in flowing robes. Whilst his English was good, it was clear he would need help to complete my alien-sounding form. I was invited in and greeted by his smiling wife, who offered me some orange juice as I sat down.

It turned out to be freshly squeezed orange juice, something not readily available in England at that time. My spirits were lifted instantly and I stumbled out my thanks at being offered something so delicious.

"It is the tradition of my country to offer guests something refreshing when they enter the house", was the young man's reply. We soon turned our attention to the information I needed, and I duly entered 'Syria' in the appropriate place on the form.

I can still remember clearly that couple from Syria and their brief kindness some 30+ years later. I cannot remember any of the hundreds of people I met in those six or so weeks who greeted me with hostility and suspicion.

I read somewhere recently about a survey where people who'd been treated kindly said they were more likely to perform an act of kindness themselves, and to do it more than once. Perhaps the solution to many of the world's problems is in our own hands after all.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #35

Screen grab from Chippenham's 2015 John Lewis-style Christmas advert

  1. Set up a Business Improvement District (BID) to promote your town
  2. Install wi-fi in the centre of town and promotional flags at key entry points
  3. Create a John Lewis-style video to promote local businesses for Christmas 2015
  4. Wait for a blogger to spot she can't embed the good news into her blog
  5. Et voila!

I wanted to make this a good news story, I really did. There's much to applaud in an organisation dedicated to show the good things Chippenham has to offer. However, I can only give you a screen grab plus a link to our local paper's article about Chippenham's Christmas advert, rather than sharing it directly with you. NB it's worth a scroll down the article then a click on the video to have a look at the town at its best.

There isn't quite enough time at the end to see all the local businesses involved (unless you freeze the frame), so here they are:

  • Amelia Classics (bridal wear)
  • Butlers Butchers
  • Chippenham Museum and Heritage Centre (say hello to our friend Chris who volunteers there)
  • Sarah Jane's Cafe
  • Floral Culture (florist)
  • Humbugs Sweet Shop
  • La Passione (Italian restaurant)
  • Phase Patch (craft and haberdashery)
  • Rivo Lounge (NB go elsewhere if you're after Real Ale, as NAH found out they don't serve it)
  • St Andrew's Church
  • The Brunel (pub)
  • The Buttercross Inn
  • The Craft Company
  • The Garden Restaurant *
  • Thyme (deli and cafe) *

It's good to realise this isn't a full list of the local businesses nestled amongst the national chains found on our High Street.

* = as a garden blogger I feel duty bound to check on these establishments ASAP.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Things in Unusual Places #18: Salad

Picture of salad images used in the latest captcha development

Trying to outwit the spammers led to some amusing happenings in the past, but I didn't expect it to involve salad.

After puzzling over word verification, sums over at Karen's, proving I'm not a robot etc etc., the latest innovation I found over at Happy Mouffetard's was possibly the trickiest yet. How many images with salad do you see in the picture above?

I labelled this image 'Good Grief Google' at the time. Since then, I've seen its presence isn't confined to Google, but seems to be the latest CAPTCHA development on offer to anyone needing a spam prevention or similar service.

My inner imp still giggles at the notion this might be a development in context-driven provision. For example, craft blogs could get pictures of knitting to sort out from other fabrics.

Update 18/11/2015: I've since found out this CAPTCHA is a compulsory step for preventing spammers if you're allowing Anonymous comments. Note that mobile users are having particular trouble with this step, so you may wish to consider disabling anonymous comments instead. Also note that anything involving CAPTCHA et al. is a moveable feast and is subject to change!
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