Dans le Noir

Ever wondered what it would be like to be blind? Well I have. I often wonder what it would be like to be blind, deaf, dumb, disabled, or in a wheelchair. All of these things scare me. It’s the fear of being incapable, of needing help and the recognition of how different my life would be. Thankfully, the closest I’ve come to being deaf is tinnitus, the nearest I’ve come to paraplegia is a crutch and the closest I’ve come to blind is keeping my eyes shut, so when I went to Dans le Noir this week I was in for a shock.

For those of you who don’t know, Dans le Noir is a restaurant where you dine in absolute darkness ( and I mean pitch black) and are served by waiters who are fully/partially blind. Sounds odd? The concept is aimed at encouraging the sighted to fully understand what it is like to be blind, to become the guided instead of the guide, to feel empathy and to test your true sense of taste. (Apparently much of what we taste is actually down to what we see and smell; taking sight out of the equation puts our taste buds in overdrive, kind of like a taste test.) To make things harder, their menu only offers a small choice of ‘surprise’ dishes; a meat surprise, a fish surprise a vegetarian surprise or a mixed surprise.

My friend and I arrived at the restaurant and were told to place all our belongings in a locker provided, in particular any items which would give off a source of light. We were then asked to choose our preferred ‘surprise’ dish. Looking at the menu, it was a bit of an eenie-meanie-minie-mo moment; I got cocky and ended up picking the mixed surprise. Oh dear…  Afterwards we were ushered from the lobby into a dimly lit corridor, where we lined up behind other guests, and waited to be guided to our table. I felt like I was queuing for a ride at Alton Towers; a mixture of butterflies, heart palpitations and excitement.

Gao (our waiter) appeared from behind the curtains dressed in all black complete with black shades, looking like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. We were told to grab hold of the person in front and follow him in a line as if doing the locomotive, simple enough I thought. But as we shuffled from dim to dark, I completely freaked out and I didn’t want to let on. Everyone else seemed to find the whole process entertaining. I was thinking this was a big mistake. It felt like I was walking into a black hole, into an unfamiliar environment amongst people I couldn’t see and didn’t know. Having complete lack awareness for everything around me made me feel alienated, out of control and helpless.

We were seated and given a jug of water and a bottle of wine which we were told we had to pour ourselves. Test one. Simple enough. I felt around for the wine glass and placed my index finger inside it as an overflow marker. That was the easy part. The hard part was avoiding knocking the drink over, which I managed to do almost immediately. With one flimsy napkin and a flooded table, my friend shouted out for help. Miraculously, Gao was at our table within seconds, darting through the dark like batman. He went to get some more napkins. “Don’t worry” he said. “Happens all the time.”
“How did you get over here so quick? Aren’t you blind?!” I blurted, regretting the insensitivity of my words. I felt really ashamed, but couldn’t exactly retract the question. Surprisingly he didn’t take offence and simply replied “Yes, but I’m used to it. You’re food will be here shortly.” I could sense my friends chastising glare through the dark.

Once I became accustomed to the darkness and odd feeling came over me. It was as if I’d developed Spiderman senses. Every sound seemed amplified to the point where I would’ve heard a pin drop, even amongst the nattering throughout the room. My friend was busy eavesdropping on a couple who were sitting near us. “Wow. What a dry conversation. He must be in it for the looks” he said laughing. But he was right. Given that 80% of communication is through body language it made it hard to have a flowing conversation without seeing the other person. “So how’s my personality then?” I joked. “You still like me without the visual?” To be honest I don’t think either of us had anything to worry about conversation wise. The only laughter in the room seemed to be coming from our table.

Our food came and we were told to reach out our hands so that our waiter could pass us our plates. After fumbling around for our cutlery we were both reluctant to actually start eating. “You go first.” I said
“No, you go” he chuckled
“No, YOU go!” I insisted.
We sat there smelling our food trying to figure out what we’d been given. The trouble was our sense of smell was so heightened due to our temporary lack of sight that simple smells we’d usually be able to distinguish were amalgamated into one. Initially, I was reluctant to try anything but I had legitimate reasons; my brother had told me he’d been served alligator balls when he ate here and it put fear in my heart.

Bravery kicked in and I started stabbing furiously at my plate in a case of trial and error. My food flew in all directions; I was getting nowhere. If I carried on at this rate I’d be on my hands and knees eating my food off the floor. Ten minutes in and my friend was half way through his course chomping away at what he thought was chicken…I on the other hand hadn’t had one bite of food and I was getting desperate. “Yes!” I cried after successfully forking a piece of food. “Ouch” I sighed as I jabbed my cheek smearing food down my face. My friend was cackling from over the table. My hand-eye coordination evidently wasn’t up to scratch. Scrap the cutlery I thought, I’ll dig in with my hands. It wasn’t exactly finger food but I didn’t care, I was just happy to be eating something at last and no-one would see me scoffing.

“What’ve you got?” my friend said. “What do you think it is?”
“Hmmm…tastes like salmon to me, I don’t know.” I murmured in between mouthfuls. “Here have some” and I reached over to grab his hand and guide him to my plate.
“Tastes like beef to me.” He said laughing.
Neither of us had any idea what we were eating, it was so difficult to guess without seeing the food. You may doubt me on this but honestly my mouth didn’t know beef from chicken, or salmon from sole. We were clueless, but carried on eating…that is until I heard my friend wail from across the table.
“What? What?!” I screeched.
“Eurgh! Ewww! Yuk!” he splattered as I heard him spit it out. At least I couldn’t see the mess.
“What is it?” I said.
“Some stodgy juice came oozing out of it. I think it’s horse.” he said worriedly. I laughed at his disconcertedness. In my amusement I realised that I’d sunk my elbow into a pile of goo on my plate. 
“F*ck! Ewww!” I yelled.
“Look who’s laughing now” he said. Karma’s a bitch.

I didn’t touch the rest; I was full within minutes. Turns out I have a small stomach. Who knew? I sure as hell didn’t. Usually I’d eat triple what I ate that night, sticking to my favourite rule of “a few more mouthfuls wont hurt.” I have eyes bigger than my belly but the fact that I couldn’t see my food enabled me to listen to what my stomach was telling me. I patted my belly as I congratulated myself on saving a few calories, but anxious about what I had actually eaten.

With our meal finished, Gao came over and asked us politely if we were ready to leave. He led us once more in a locomotive across the restaurant and into the lobby and we were then told to guess what we’d eaten. Out of the eight dishes we had, we managed to guess two correctly; our sense of taste is evidently under par. Even after minutes, the dim light pierced my eyes which were still adjusting. As I stood there squinting and complaining about the brightness, I looked over at Gao who was still seeing black. To be able to walk right out and have my sight back was something that I valued more than ever before. Being ‘blind’ had opened my eyes and the whole unique experience had left me feeling utterly grateful but overwhelmed.

Job Interviews

Trawling relentlessly through online job posts and slaving over multiple applications with no word of an interview or even a response, I was starting to give up hope. I’d sent countless CV’s, altered numerous cover letters and had networked for weeks but nothing materialized, so when replies started popping up in my inbox, inevitably I was ecstatic. But when I realized they were all phone interviews I started to panic. I’d only ever done one telephone interview before, and to be brief it was disastrous. Fair enough I wouldn't have to worry about an appropriate outfit, or make sure I turned up on time and I could even print out bullet point answers to jog my memory during the call. None of these things eased my concerns. Instead I envisaged myself coming across a stuttering wreck, not a confident professional.

O ye of little faith. The telephone interviews seemed to go well (albeit gruelling) but luck may have played a huge part because thankfully, all the interviewers seemed soft spoken and understanding. It all depends on the company, the recruiter and the responsibilities of the role you’re applying for. Generally speaking, fierce competition, high salary, and excellent job perks result in more pressure for you to prove your worth.

But whether it’s a phone interview or a face-to-face meeting, if there’s anything I’ve learnt it’s this: Never lie. You can embellish the truth, throw in some shameless self-promotion, and even go as far to say that you dabble in a bit of voluntary work helping the grannies because let’s face it, everyone likes a humanitarian. You may do all this, but never commit the cardinal sin of telling a lie you can’t sustain.

At this point I wish to clarify that I have never told an outright lie in my CV; nothing that I can’t back up. I’d like to think that I’m not that idiotic. But for some people it seems quite the norm and no doubt most interviewers have seen it all before; the lies, the begging, the arrogance and the tears.

Earlier this week I went for dinner with my cousin who'd just finished what he could only describe as 'the most rigorous interview he’d been to in his life' "The problem wasn't the one-on-one interview” he said. “It was the group session and role play."
He'd turned up at the company headquarters for a full day of cross-examination along with nine others who'd been selected as the final applicants to fill a vacant role for a trading position. The employer had sat them all in a circle and told them to stand up and introduce themselves as if they were in an AA meeting.

"Why should I pick you over the others?" he asked each of them in turn with a poker face that did not flinch, frown or smile.

The first guy stood up and professed that he could speak five languages: Arabic, Japanese, Farsi, English and Swiss. Impressive until you realise that Swiss isn’t even a language. Lies. But the interviewer decided to expose him in another way. He simply started speaking Arabic which was followed by silence. And more silence. "Cat got your tongue? Sit down." Rule One. Do not lie.

The second interviewee quickly rose to his feet; eager to capitalise on the first guys lost opportunity and brazenly clasped his hands together as if in prayer, begging "You should pick me because I'll do anything you want, absolutely anything." The interviewer drew a sharp intake of breath and seemed to revel in his desperation. "Bad move. Un-tuck your shirt and do a handstand for 10 seconds. Do not squirm." To his credit the guy followed through, got down on all fours and attempted the challenge. Rule Two. Do not lower yourself to such levels.

The last applicant tentatively got up, anxious about what was coming next.
"Tell me something interesting about yourself" the interviewer said.
"Um, well, I like drawing" the man responded.
"Dull. Not good enough. You're applying for a trading role not an art class" the boss sighed with rolling eyes and an exasperated look.
"Um, well, I like drawing naked women." He murmured, blushing at his own audacity.
The interviewer softened his expression and chuckled. "Good save! I’m sure you'd fit in well at our company. Me and the boys like to go visit the strip clubs after work. I like you. Sit down."
Rule Three. If in trouble crack an appropriate joke. Preferably one that will have you remembered.

You can never be too prepared for an interview; after all it's an opportunity to succeed in gaining something that you want. But along with your extensive research it's always good to expect the unexpected: the curveball question, the stern interviewer, an awkward silence. Just make sure you know your worth. You can be good enough without the lies if you distinguish yourself from your competition.

Spread Betters

I’m not one for gambling. In fact the only gambling I’ve ever partaken in is the fruit machines down the arcade. I have never been to Vegas, have never placed a bet, and do not have the faintest idea about how to distinguish odds and favourites. I am a complete novice, and if I’m honest, 14-1, 5-2, 10-1 means nothing to me. So when the Grand National was on yesterday and my friends were gathered round the TV getting riled up about their bets, my only input was shutting my eyes, counting to three and blind picking a horse called King Fontaine.

For all the gambling terminology that phases me, the definition of spread betting (Wikipedia: ‘any various types of wagering on the outcome of an event, where the pay-off is based on the accuracy of the wager, rather than a simple "win or lose" outcome.’) is something that I’ve become accustomed to.

But I’m not talking spread betting in relation to wagering, trading or finance. I’m talking about an alternative definition for ‘spread betting’ which has been coined to categorize a growing breed of men. Spread betters: Men who invest multiple odds in a succession of women in the hope they will gain a plethora successful outcomes. Layman’s terms: Betting for sex; men who court 10 women in hope that one says yes. Rationally speaking, the more bets you place, the more likely you are to reap some kind of ‘reward’. But problems occur when said ‘spread better’ is so consumed with shifting their odds about like chips on a black jack table that they cannot possibly dedicate thier time to one girl. This drastically reduces their chances in getting a desired result as most women like consistent attention. These men never have time to meet up. They run on a tight schedule; Craig David style. Text a girl on Monday, shifting chips about on Tuesday, linking different chicks on Wednesday, and on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, I’ll chill on Sunday. 

I was introduced to this surrogate definition of 'spread better' by a close male friend of mine last week in the pub after he asked about my love life and I told him about a certain guy who sporadically contacts me on a whim, sending flirty texts and calling for quick chat to tell me misses me. I was nattering away telling my friend how I thought this guy had ‘no game’ when he slammed his rum and coke down and proclaimed: “Spread better! Watch out!” I abruptly stopped talking. He could tell from my facial expression I was perplexed and went on to enlighten me that behind the façade this guy had more game than a Las Vegas casino. “A man will never invest too much time in a woman he only wants for sex. This guy is sporadic because he has no time; he’s too busy placing odds and messaging every other girl in his phonebook! I call it FTR: female text rotation.”  The penny dropped and he saw a slight smile spread across my face. “Scumbag exposé. Glad I could help” he said with a pat on my back. We both laughed but beneath it all I couldn’t help but feel a pang of embarrassment.

I’m sure my friend had his reasons for disclosing such essential information. He knows I’m unlucky in love; I’m too naïve, too untrusting and too picky. With all things considered, if I do decide to place my odds on one guy that catches my fancy I’d like to think that that guy is placing one bet too. On me. As the saying goes: Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.

I don’t know who coined the phrase ‘spread better’ for this category of man, but whoever did is a mastermind. So single ladies, when a guy continuously calls you out the blue to ‘see how you are’ and tells you he misses you, contemplate that it may well be a broadcast message to every other female in his phone book/ FTR. Alarm bells should ring. Go and place your odds on a man who is betting on you and only you.

Can I Help You?

Under normal circumstances somebody offering you their help could be seen as a gesture of good will, but when it comes to shopping the “can I help you’s?” become tediously repetitive. You’ve barely put one foot through the door and some over eager sales assistant pounces on you, broadly grinning “can I help you with anything?” Jarring as it is, you often reply “No thank you, I’m fine.” But how do you react to the unwanted attention when you’re in a sex shop intending to remain incognito?

The other day I ended up in Ann Summers as my friend wanted to pop in and pick up some ‘goodies’; “Don’t worry I won’t be long, I know what I want” she said as she strode off with confidence downstairs. Not wanting to invade her privacy I remained upstairs and gingerly edged towards the underwear section at the front of the store. I was hovering in the corner reluctant to draw attention to myself, when alas I heard the words “Can I help you?” over my shoulder. My heart sank. I turned around to see a big grin matched with a big cleavage two inches from my face. I squirmed and muttered “No thank you, I’m just looking.” But she was not deterred. Instead she reached over and grabbed the item I was looking at off the shelf and held it up to my chest. “Suits you” she said with a playful wink. “So who’s the lucky guy?” I was lost for words and stood there bemused, rapidly trying to think of a polite way to tell her to stop being so invasive.

At that moment, my stomach rumbled loudly; I was starving. Saved by the bell I thought as I made a poor joke about heading over to the ‘Lubes ‘n Licks’ section to see if they had any candy. My escape route executed, I stood there lovingly gazing at the candy thongs and dipper dicks, in want of food in any shape or form. I couldn’t believe I was standing there salivating over a chocolate penis in a sex shop but I was too hungry to care. I grabbed it off the shelf and made a beeline for my friend downstairs before I could hear another “can I help you?”

Once downstairs, before I managed to find my friend, my eyes were drawn to a lone man wandering around the shop who had a facial expression like he was in heaven. From afar, this guy was like a kid in a candy store; basket full, face beaming, he couldn’t help himself but pick up every other item off the shelf. I smirked as I scanned his basket; he seemed to have every aspect covered; lube, toys, cuffs, whips. But my grin dropped when I looked at him more closely and realised how old he was. Ancient. He went from kinky to lascivious in matter of seconds. My empty stomach recoiled as I stopped in my tracks clutching my chocolate willy. It put me off my food.

“Can I help you?” The shop assistant with the brimming bosoms had made her way downstairs and was back. “I take it you’re not out this weekend then?” the lady said to him cheerfully with a suggestive wink.
“No. I have better things to do with my time,” he replied, proudly gesturing to his brimming sack of goods like Santa Claus. All he needed was a sleigh; after all he had the wiry white beard sorted. Lewd.

I was flabbergasted, sauntered over to the toy section and feigned interest in a battery operated product while I waited for my friend to finish up.  Unbeknown to me was a prying sales rep breathing down my neck, ready and willing to give tips and suggestions where they were not needed. I as I turned to her, I could feel the words “Can I help you?” coming once more and quickly put the item back on the tester shelf. Too late. She leaned across and picked it up the gadget, insisting on showing me every different speed level and technique with which to use it. “Good choice” she said. “This is our top seller; your boyfriend would love it.” Was that flattery? If so it made me feel uncomfortable and I shuffled side to side on my feet like a hotstepper.

I was busy trying to muster up a response when my friend came over and said she was ready to pay. Saved by the bell once more. I was just glad to leave so we could go and get some real food and I didn’t have to walk down Oxford Street nibbling on a chocolate penis. I'd encountered one too many “Can I help you’s?” for one day.