Go complain!!

There used to be a very funny (until it became annoying) tv campaign on British TV where an opera singer would jump out from a bush, or an Egyptian pyramid, or a sand dune, bellowing “Go compaaaaare!!!”

Well, today I want to sing the praises of the British customer complaint system: go complain!!!!

We’ve all been incredibly annoyed if not freaking furious with a train company for its delays, a gas company for its over estimated bills, an Internet provider for its random service… Well, in many countries, you ring them up to complain, if you’re lucky you get a fairly bored person saying sorry and promising it won’t happen again, more often you won’t even get that apology but rather something like “this is the way it is, s*** happens, goodbye!”

Not in Britain.
Americans can laugh at the British obsession with being polite and apologetic, but what you learn here is that if we foreigners also start being polite, managing our very unbritish desire to insult people for their incompetence, we can get everything we wish for and more.

In Britain instead of shouting on the phone to some 21 year old call centre agent, I can easily find the address of the company’s head office on their website (which will be clear and up to date) and write a letter (not an email! A letter! One of those things that come in an envelope) of complaints.
Of course I won’t be rude, but I’ll be firm – clearly summarising the events – politely outraged – explaining what a loyal customer I’ve been, how I loved their services and how disapponted and distressed I feel at their misconduct.
Of course I’ll close the missive by adding that with regrets I’ve decided never to use their services again.
I’ll sign “yours sincerely”, give them my best regards and post it.

And, voila, within a week, I’ll have somebody from the CEO’s office ringing me on the phone.
They not only will apologise but will offer a compensation, begging me not to leave them…

Yes yes it’s a game, and they will win, because by effectively “bribing” me with their gifts and politeness they will keep me as a customer.
But at least I’m given the illusion that what I say actually counts.

When the managing executive of a famous airline actually calls me on my mobile to offer me a full refund to compensate me for the horrible experience I had on their planes, there’s a sense of satisfaction in knowing my voice has been heard.

When I get a voicemail from a phone company’s CEO office saying they’re going to wave my bill and offer me a ten pound discount for next month, the world for a second is a better place.

So go complain! Don’t give up before trying!
It’ll only cost you a stamp…

Self satisfied expression please?

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Copy and paste – no thanks

Not a day goes by when one of my Facebook contacts doesn’t post a chinese-cookie style status claiming they love the world, they’re grateful for people in their lives, they care for cuddly animals, they want to protect children, save the panda, hug their neighbours or build a house for all their acquaintances to live in, challenging everyone to copy and paste said status in order to prove they’re equally involved with the energy of the universe and that they’re “real” friends. They should copy and paste and of course challenge their friends to do the same hence producing a chain as toxic as the St Antony’s we used to get in the post on the 80s (copy and send this to ten people and you’ll get rich. Stop the chain and something awful will happen!)
Some even go further by not only asking to copy and paste but also mention something, like where you met, their favourite colour, what you love about them and other useless detail somebody with a lot of time to waste came up with.

I usually ignore such posts and often hide them. I NEVER, ever, do the copy and paste.

Why?

Copy and paste of totally unoriginal sentimental stuff makes me cringe.

Quotes about love and the universe make me want to read Schopenauer.

Public declarations of overwhelming joy and devotion provoke in me an equally overwhelming desire to run somewhere far and isolated.

Call me cynical.

When I feel something for a person, I tell them (them, not Facebook) and if I believe in a cause, I act for that cause. I don’t copy and paste some random person’s soapy thought. Because it doesn’t MEAN anything. Come on, you want to be sentimental in public, at least come up with your own words for goodness’ sake! I stopped copying quotes in my diary when I was 16.

And why demanding such public declarations of loyalty on Facebook when in life you don’t bother? What’s about Facebook that makes everyone sentimental? Or is it that as usual, people are broadcasting their lives on social networks, creating an image for themselves and that image is the perfect friend, brother, husband and citizen who “cares” about stuff and get indignant if everyone else doesn’t.

Sorry but I don’t buy it.

I don’t need to publicly announce I’m honoured and mived to have my friends, because my friends, the real ones, would think I’d gone mad and call an ambulance. We don’t do cheap sentimentality because we dont need it, we “know”. It’s so much more fun to take the p… at each other!

My friends, the real ones, won’t judge my loyalty on the basis of what I copy and paste on my wall. This because my friends tend to be over the age of 15. Teenagers break friendships because one doesn’t like their music or those amazingly deep lyrics they composed. Adults tend to take other qualities into consideration.

But Facebook make us all act like self centered, ipersensitive adolescents.

I hate conformism. I hate being told what to do. I don’t need to prove anything.

Sorry…

You can keep your copying and pasting. It’s probably fun I’ll continue cutting and binning them with gusto.

Peace and love

Please leave us our home made pesto!

Another trip, another airport post…

Seriously, do we still need to strip naked and surrender all our Lucozade and organic pesto at security?

I arrived at Luton airport to catch my flight to Italy with plenty of time the other day. I thought I could browse the shops, buy myself something nice to eat, relax. After all I was travelling in the afternoon, in the middle of a working week, with schools just started. Not exactly peak time holiday season.

But of course the moment I get to security the most humongous queue materialises in front of me.

Where are all those people going?

Thing is, it’s not that there’s a LOT of people, it’s that everyone is taking a LOT of time. Why? Because, in the UK, airport control people are seriously nazi. They still insist on everyone to take off all by basic clothing, surrender any liquid container bigger than a nutshell, switch on your laptops, get rid of all your jewlellery etc.

Not only that, at Luton, unlike any other airport, your mini-containers MUST be put in the CORRECT plastic bag, no matter if you own a perfectly see-through make up bag that shows every single item inside. No, it has to be what they want, ie, what I’d call a resealable sandwich bag. They actually have vending machines selling such special sandwich bags in some kinder egg container for £1! £1 for 2 plastic bags you can normally purchase in batches of 500 for the same price.

Are you saying this is to protect our security?

Moreover, you can’t pay by credit card, or even by using several coins like two 50p coins, or five 20p coins. No, you must have a £1 coin or you can’t get your kinder egged bag.

Since I was travelling with virtually no cash on me, I had to persuade a random Spanish guy to put together my 55p and his 45p and beg another random woman in a burka to exachange them for a one pound coin so we could collectively purchase the kinder egged bags.

Seriously?

Bag purchased, you’re now wasting more precious time trying to convince the security people to let you through with your sandals on instead of walking barefoot on their filthy floor. In order to do that you make a joke about how many bombs could a pair of flip flops contain… MISTAKE! The main requirement to get a job at airports’ security points is the total lack of sense of humour. I suspect part of the job interview process consists in sitting candidates in front of an episode of Seinfeld. If they get to the end without as much as smiling once, they’re hired.

Yes, I know, by now we should all know we can’t bring a pint of shampoo in our handluggage, or a half a kilo pot of organic chutney, or laptops tucked at the bottom of our suitcase, or coins in our pockets. But let’s ask seriously, are these procedures REALLY making us safer? Or are they mainly satisfying the sadistic instintcs of bored security people who at the end of the day can also go home with my auntie’s pesto, your £30 Chanel body cream, and endless bottles of unopened Pepsi?

Do we REALLY think terrorists are still trying to blow us up using fake sparkling water, explosive mosturizer and banging shoes? They must be truly dumb. Unfortunately I suspect liquid explosive on planes is so 2007… Bad people must have moved on. Not that I personally know any of them, but I know that if I was a twisted horrible person planning to kill on a massive scale, I would have spent the last six years finding alternatives.

For instance I’m amazed that whilst endless checks are made before boarding a plane, anyone can board a train carrying three machine guns and all sorts of explosive and nobody would ever notice…

I’m not advocating a total lack of control, but I do believe 80% of the current checks’ only achievement is to exasperate people, subtly insulting their dignity whilst they parade barefoot, belt-less, and with raised arms through metal detectors.

Please, airports, let us keep our organic pesto. It won’t kill anyone, unless it’s badly sealed in which case it can give you botulism but not whilst in your luggage. Let us keep our shoes on and leave us our bottle of water, which we can easily taste for you if you really want. It’d make everyone’s experience so much nicer. And please, please, allow some sense of humour. It’d only do you good

It’s not real life…

Still not sure what Linkedin is for other than spying on people’s CV… but after about three years I’ve accepted everyone’s invitation to be part of their “network” so nobody should feel like I don’t like them…

I never stop to marvel at how grown up people, well over the age of 17, keep treating social networks as real life. How they get annoyed if you don’t “like” their page, accept their invitations, make comments on their photos… Before Facebook if you met somebody at a work meeting, or at a party, or at a class, chances were you’d never see them again, or you’d see them again in the same quick superficial manner, for five minutes. Before FB we were allowed to have “superficial” relationships with acquaintances  we neither liked or disliked – most of them were perfectly nice – and it was implicit on both sides that we didn’t have time for each other, or not that much in common.  But now with FB, five minutes after you’ve left a party you’ll have four requests of friendship from people you only spoke for 5 minutes with. And since they are friends of friends, or colleagues, or they come to your salsa class,  and you can’t 100% rule out that you’ll never see them again, you accept such requests. Because it’s easier to do so than to open a “cause celebre” by refusing them.

Let’s face it: how many people on your FB’s friend list, are really your friends?

What tends to happen at this point is that lots of people, who don’t actually know you, who never once called you on the phone to know how you are because they don’t HAVE your phone number, start judging you and your life on the basis of your Facebook posts. They get angry at you for what you say, or don’t say. Expect your attention, no matter what’s going in your life (they won’t have a clue, they don’t know you for REAL).

Since THEY put every single second of their life online, to let you know if they are happy, sad, constipated, bereft, in a new film, job, house or relationship, they assume everyone else does the same. Not realising that thank goodness there are lots of people outthere who, like me, only use social network for banter, to share a joke, to vent about the bad weather, to talk about a TV show or to tease a friend who lives far away. We don’t LIVE on it. Our life is elsewhere. Somewhere these people can’t reach.

Even the FB creators realised that so they have introduced the “acquaintance” button, whereby you can effectively downgrade a FB “friend” to acquaintance so that they won’t see your posts. A feature I know apply to more than half of my FB contacts, hoping one day to find the guts to simply erase them.

But, seriously…. What’s the point?

Since I don’t think Facebook is the real life, and I don’t necessarily think of my Facebook “buddies” as real friends, I don’t put my real life on it. Only small snapshots that say nothing about the true me.

My real friends wouldn’t dream of getting upset for not liking their page, replying on their posts, or not accepting their linkedin requests, because they will have the chance to actually talk to me and tell me what they are up to, what they like, what they think. And they know that, like most people, if I don’t reply to stuff it’s because I don’t have TIME. Because something IS actually going on in my life, something that will require my attention more than Facebook. My real friends are the ones who exist OUTSIDE social networks. They are the ones who ring me, the ones I see, the ones who don’t assume my life is a sequence of great acting jobs,  banters and holidays, because they actually know me.

Honestly people, get annoyed if somebody stops returning your calls, not if they forget to like your pages. That is, if you’ve EVER talked on the phone…

We’re all so connected… But real friends are still very rare. And nobody has 567 of them.

 

 

Down with shapeless jersey!!

Autumn is sadly knocking at the door and stores have started displaying the impending colder season’s fashion.

I hate cold weather. If I could chose I’d have 28 degrees from January to November with just a break at Christmas. However looking at new cardigans, jackets and skirts is fun, and by far the only activity that makes up for the drop in temperature.

But this year the London high streets, usually so full of fun trends, are displaying a particularly ugly fashion : long shapeless grey shirts, baggy beige sweaters, cropped jumpers, doc martins – all the worst the early 90s ever produced randomly thrown together.
And I don’t mean low cost stores such as H&M and Primark whose main customers are teenagers. I also don’t mean Uniqlo or American Apparel, notorious for only selling “basic” wear. No, I mean Warehouse, French Connection, Mango, Zara, Topshop, Esprit… All full of shapeless jersey in maxi sizes. It’s so unflattering I’m almost missing last year’s 80s revival…

One of the reasons vintage has been so popular lately is that it made us discover clothes that had amazing structure, design and finitures. What’s great about fashion ore-80s is how flattering it was, how fitted, how aware of a woman’s shape, how precise in design and detail. From 40s squareness to 50s tight waists to 60s minis, designs were made for real women, not 16 years old catwalk models, and aimed at making you look at your best. Even the hippie 70s had tight but flared trousers that made you taller, beautiful flowery prints, endless combinations of shapes and materials…

The complete opposite of this year’s loose jersey, a fabric that should be confined to Pilates classes and late mornings in bed watching tv.

This isn’t shabby chic. This is shabby… full stop!. They try to sell it as “new grunge” but at least the first time around grunge included flowery prints together with long jumpers and army boots.

Women who earn enough NOT to be forced to buy oversized cheap stuff from bad charity shops, don’t want to waste their money in order to look like vaguely smelly students who can only afford shapeless baggy stuff from bad charity shops.

I know Urban Outfitters made a fortune glamorising American student fashion, but the clue is in the word “glamorising”… Their clothes “hint” at the charity shop/shabby chic trend but are actually well made so women of most ages and sizes can wear them without looking ridiculous.

But 2013 grunge is like fifty shades of gray, without the saucy bits, a fashion aimed only at the super young who don’t actually bother shopping in overpriced high street stores.

Not everyone’s goal is to dress like a 17 years old. Mostly because the majority of us had a terrible dress sense at 17. So give us back some fun, some shapes and some colour.
We’ll need them to cheer us up during those cold winter’s days.

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Lists…

Thought of the day:

Lists are useful. Lists keep me sane. Every day I make a list of all the things I need to do and schedule them. And when by the end of the day every item is ticked I’m extremely satisfied.
Yes, it is possible. All it needs is realistic expectations and time keeping.

People often ask me how I manage to earn a fairly adequate living by being an actor and voice talent with an adversion to early mornings, and the answer is lists. If you look at your goals and expectations as a “whole” they look like a mountain you’ll never be able to conquer. But if you organise them in tidy daily tasks, the mountain becomes just a series of steps. One at a day…

I know I sound like a silly self help book and I apologise, I hate easy counselling, life coaching and quick fixes. And I’m not saying look at me, how fab I am, it’s not what I’m about.
HOWEVER, I’m tired with this silly myth that in order to be an artist one has to me messy, undisciplined, “spontaneous”. The implication being obviously that if you manage to have a decent life you’re probably faking it, because talent comes at a price and that price is craziness, social awkwardness and destitution.

Rubbish. That price is discipline. Your life is your choice. We could work in an office 9-5 but we chose not to. Blaming the unruliness of our crazy talent for our red bank account won’t get us any sympathy. The raising unemployment figures europe-wide depend on economics, social policies (or lack of) and politics. The average unknown actors’ frustration with their life doesn’t.

Most actors I know unfortunately are so chronically disorganised and egotistic they’d rather believe their destitute state is a proof of their artistic temperament rather than start rationalising their lives.

And don’t get me wrong, I haven’t turned into a right wing capitalist here. I still think art should be subsidised and helped, that artists should be encouraged and placed in the condition to work without distraction. But while we wait for society to change and acknowledge our existence, we can do something more edifying than just scraping by, struggling and accumulating debts in the name of our wild talent…

Living imitating Van Gogh or Baudelaire won’t guarantee any glory, only poor health. Their way of living isn’t the only way of being artists, free thinkers, anti-conformist, but their myth still exist. Why? Because it’s easier and terribly self complacent. But being hippie is far from revolutionary, guys. Floating by pretending not to have a choice is in fact a very privileged choice.

And to be fair, artists arent the only ones affected by this way of thinking.
Middle class stay at home mothers for instance fall into the same trap. They don’t work, they should theoretically be able to organise their days and their kids in the way the most befits them, instead they are always rushing around, forgetting things, being late, leaving behind a trail of toys, organic milk and soy pasta… Why can’t they schedule their days in a realistic way and stick to their plans?
I think the word REALISTIC is the key. Middle class mothers, like actors, have a totally unrealistic sense of what they can achieve in one day. They refuse to plan because they fancy themselves as bohemian. So they get excited with this million things they want to do, projects, appointments, courses, not admitting that they will NEVER be able to accomplish even half of them.
Result: they get frustrated and depressed.

So let’s make lists.

Lists are beautiful. Lists give you hope when you’re falling down. If you don’t itemise there’s no start or finish to your day, your life is a continuum in which you stumble about hoping done day to find your way. But lists show you a light at the end of the tunnel. And when you get to the other side, after ticking off all those items, you feel damn good.

At that point, you can relax, get drunk, stoned, angry, depressed, or just watch The Good Wife on the sofa with a plate of pasta on your lap.

The Return – a personal plead

I don’t often use my blog to promote my work but this is important.
Two years ago with my company Legalaliens (legalaliens2007.wordpress.com) we started working at the English translation of the Italian play Il Ritorno (The Return) by Sergio Pierattini, winner of the 2008 Italian critics award in order to present this great piece of writing by one of the most significant voices in Italian contemporary theatre to English-speaking audiences.

Italian culture is very seldom translated and exported. Yes, of course, Italian art is famous, but from which century? Let’s face it, we are all still relying on the laurels of the Renaissance, ok, a couple of film directors became famous in the 1950s with Neo-Realism, and occasionally a novel manages to get to grab the attention of the world, but the truth is, most people I know outside Italy – and I mean educated people, who love theatre, arts and cinema – would seriously struggle if asked to name three contemporary Italian writers, let alone playwrights.

With LegalAliens we’re trying to fill this humongous gap, by translating Italian theatre and using bilingual Italian actors to perform our shows, in order to keep the flavour of the original, whilst offering a show in English.

Our multi lingual, inter cultural, metropolitan cities are a receptacle for people from everywhere in the world no matter in which sector you operate. And this opens new horizons to theatre: because we can stage a play from another country, in translation, but using actors who are native of the country that produced that text.

The Return is a play set in a very specific area, industrial Bergamo, and re-creating its very precise language in English has been a long and challenging process, at times exciting, at times disheartening, but always interesting. I have always been very confident about London’s openness towards everything that’s different, and London did react well to our attempt: last summer we were selected to present the show at the Camden Festival, and we sold out. People loved it, and not only those with a special link or interest towards Italy.

Encouraged by such response, we pitched the show to theatres in the US and received a positive response from theatre Exile in Philadelphia. If all goes to plan, and we find enough funds, we will perform there in autumn.

The St James Theatre in London also offered us its beautiful venue for one night.

So far so good…

But unfortunately shows require money to be produced, quite a bit of money… The British government has made huge buts recently and the arts had seen their budget slashed. Getting public help has become increasingly difficult.

That’s why in order to finance our project we’ve launched a campaign.

CAMPAIGN PLEASE HELP!

If you think what we do has a value and can spare even just a few pounds, we’d be incredibly grateful. We only have two weeks left.

I’ll close this post with a video of our cast talking about the project. Enjoy!