Friday, 8 July 2011

Do me a favour

I’m one of those (irritating) people that will shamelessly ask for favours. I see nothing wrong in asking for help, maybe because I love doing favours myself. I just like to feel useful.

Giving and receiving favours contributes not only to a sense of community (which in my opinion we are in danger of completely losing in this country) but also creates feelings of good will on both sides. It feels good to be of use and to help someone, and it feels nice to be on the receiving end of an act of kindness. Good karma all round.

Research suggests that asking for favours actually endears you to people because the person has to justify to themselves why they are willing to help you. Do they like you? Or is it just to feel good themselves? Either way, it’s a win-win situation.

Last Christmas when we had all the snow there was a knock on our door. An elderly gent had brought his dog for a walk at the park by our house, but had locked his keys in his car. He asked me to call him a taxi so he could go home and get a spare. With two small kids staring at him like he was from outer space, and his poor dog looking terrified in our doorway, I called a taxi. The car arrived promptly but just as promptly sped off, refusing to take a “dirty, stinking old dog” in his car. I bundled up the kids and took the man and his dog, Ben, home to pick up his spare key. When I dropped him back off to his car the man tried to press a fiver into my hand. I of course refused, saying “I would hope if I were in a similar situation someone would do the same for me. Happy Christmas!” I have felt good about that day ever since (probably even better than the man did at the time) and I wouldn’t hesitate to do the same thing again. 

Recently I was asked to make a cake for a friend’s birthday. It took at least five hours of my time, plus traipsing about getting supplies but I loved every second of it. The friend was happy with his cake, and I loved every second of the five hours in clouds of flour and icing sugar and knowing I was helping someone out.

I don’t understand why some people are so averse to asking for favours. It’s not a sign of weakness and it’s no imposition unless you are guilt tripping someone into doing something they don’t want to (I have done it a few times but only to family members who are technically obliged to do anything I ask) and people are free to say no if they want. Some people may think they can get through life without asking for help, but it’s a damn sight harder and they won’t make any more friends along the way. There’s nothing like saying “Thank you, you really helped me out” to cement a friendship.

When working abroad for a bar I was paid in commission, but soon realised that I could boost my income by getting tips. People don’t generally tip for drinks so I needed to gently ask for them, by pushing my tip jar towards them, or casually pointing out that I only worked on commission. Many a time I was told I had a “brass neck” for asking, but I soon found that despite my “brass neck” the same people were coming back to me time and again, even asking for me on my nights off, and my tip jar was soon doubling, or even tripling, my otherwise pitiful income. The people who gave me tips usually got a slightly larger cocktail, or time spent outside work hours showing them around or telling them the best places to go. I still have many friends who started out as my customers at that bar, friends who I had asked for a “favour” of a tip of a few cents, and we have been giving and receiving favours ever since.

I’m not saying we should go overboard, and sometimes there’s a fine line to asking for a favour and blatantly taking the piss. But I see nothing wrong in asking for advice or help with something that I couldn’t otherwise manage myself.

In asking someone for a favour you are actually saying “Hey, I trust your judgement/ expertise/ knowledge/ kindness” and we could all do with a bit more of that in our lives.

So do yourself a favour, ask someone else for a favour this weekend, it might just make someone’s day.

Monday, 4 July 2011

You'll find me in the reduced section

I was watching some crap Saturday night telly – just realised how many of my blogs start with “I saw something on telly” - anyway, the idea was that Loraine Kelly, Jimmy Carr, and that guy from Gavin and Stacey would settle couples disagreements. One woman absolutely loved buying reduced food. She saved them an absolute fortune (although they both repeatedly said they didn’t “need” to so they must be minted), but the panel actually sided with the guy and she is now no longer allowed to shop in the reduced section. Harsh.

She was a bit of an extreme case but I absolutely love getting stuff reduced. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of getting something really cheap. Not just the half priced, half hearted “offers” the supermarkets are constantly throwing at us (although I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth) but it’s when you get something for just a few pence that really gets me going. I’ve been known to actively stalk the person with the reducing machine, and often walk down the same aisle five times in order to get that pizza that is already half price for even less because I just know it’s going down even more. Strangely, the reducing person is usually quite crabby and doesn’t appreciate being stalked.

I’ve seen a couple of episodes of an American show (telly again, but I write about popular culture, it’s my job to keep up to date with the current zeitgeist) called Extreme Couponing, where people were getting hundreds of dollars worth of shopping for a few dollars by seriously exploiting coupons. They also have days when coupons are worth double, and taking advantage of in-store offers, they were regularly getting paid to take stuff away. The shop staff loved it! Even the manager was laughing and giving them a round of applause.

That would never happen in this country. In Sainsburys that little printer regularly spews out about fifty little slips of paper which clog up my purse and usually end up in the bin. I actually tried to use one the other day and the till lady looked at me like I was trying to pay with a dog turd. She got her glasses out and read the small print, checking the date and the T&C’s, desperate to find a reason to refuse it. Seriously, you give them to me woman! It’s not even as if it was a coupon cut out of a magazine, although god forbid how they would react if I tried to pay with one of those. Maybe one day I’ll be organised enough to give it a go, I expect they have some kind of alarm system for those situations; I will be prepared to be escorted off the premises.

Shops actually get paid by manufacturers to use coupons, it just takes a bit more administration to process them. Clearly the supermarkets are rolling in so much cash they don’t need to spend an hour or two logging coupons to earn themselves a few extra quid. 

The man didn’t get my obsession with yellow labels until about a year ago when I sent him off to Tesco late one Saturday night with a short list of essentials. He happened to arrive just as they were doing the last of the reductions and got an obscene amount of stuff for a ridiculously low amount of pennies. He came back positively buzzing, fresh from popping his reduced food cherry. Finest sausages were the best buy at 49p a pack, straight in the freezer for them, 4 bags of slightly brown lettuce for 4p each, not quite so good as the man doesn’t eat lettuce and frankly I didn’t fancy it.

I watched another programme a few months ago (seriously, I have to get out more) about this guy who spent a month living off out of date food. He never once got ill, even when he ate some slightly green week past its date mince. I wouldn’t take a risk on the green mince, but most of the stuff I buy reduced just goes in the freezer. But I would stay away from dairy products that you can’t freeze, I think even my kids (who have been known to eat week old rice and peas from a drain and lick hose water off the patio) would question a lumpy yoghurt. But fruit, vegetables and freezable stuff is fine. It’s not as if the clock strikes midnight and food is suddenly sprouting mould and maggots anyway.

Reduced shopping is not without peril though. There have been a few times when I’ve come home with really random items that we would never eat, which technically means I’m wasting money rather than saving it. An old housemate had an obsession with reduced shopping, and one night he came home all excited because he had bought two tiny octopuses for 10p. They were too small to do anything with, and spent weeks going smelly in our fridge. 10p down and a smelly fridge? No thanks.

All danger of stinking your fridge out and making the kids ill with lumpy yoghurts aside, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of seeing those little yellow labels. And it’s great fun coming up with ways of using stuff that you don’t usually cook. Octopus and lettuce soup anyone?