Security fees

What would you do if a supermarket asked you first to make a debit payment on entering the store, and then refunded you the difference when you left the store, or asked you to top up the payment if you went above the deposit? You would probably view this kind of arrangement with some kind of suspicion. After all, it goes against the normal arrangement of things. When you require a product from a store, you pick it out from the store and then take it to the till to pay for it. It is a simple process, one that does not need to be complicated by initial deductions and subsequent resolution.

It might be slightly different if you required a service from someone, such as if you order new windows from your house. You have to give a deposit because while you have ordered a window, you have set someone else on a chain on ordering raw materials and for work to be done, and the deposit that you make is in meeting the person halfway in a binding agreement.

Perhaps binding agreements are what is being sought through this form of pay first, buy later and then get refunded, or top up the difference financial methods. They were trialled at fuel service stations, where car drivers were charged to use the pumps, then paid for their own purchases before getting the initial charge credited back to the them again. And why fuel service stations? It is because fuel theft – driving off the forecourt without paying – costs the economy lost revenues and wastes police time, in having to record, pursue and close investigations which detract from the real job of policing more serious matters.

By another name, this kind of down payment would be known as a security fee. And we do make such payments in our lives. We pay children’s school fees in advance. We pay online for items we have not received. But perhaps this kind of payment method is too radical for the present – but in future, who knows?


So here is another situation we might encounter on a daily basis. You sit on a train and the seat next to you is empty. The first thought that might come across your mind is the silent shout of hooray! Because this means that you can put your forearm on the armrest, and that there will be none of that awkwardness you encounter when two individuals silently manoeuvre their forearms so that they occupy a narrow strip of plastic of no mans land. So you rejoice inwardly, but this temporary moment of celebratory elation is soon suitably shattered at the next stop when a man walks through those two parting doors and lays his eyes at the empty seat.

Within moments of plonking himself into the gap, unceremoniously bouncing you an inch of your seat, you find not just your arm shoved off the shared armrest, but there is a sense of your own personal space being minimised by the expansion of the man. Your legs, which your mother had always taught you to keep within your own space, are now contorted sideways, as the man expands from his seat, like a toy sponge frog that has taken on water. If he is traveling on the train and continues with the same rate of expansion, he might swell to twice his size.

This sort of anti-social behaviour is more commonly perpetuated by men and it is so prevalent that it even has a term for it. Social commentators refer to the term as manspreading, simply because a man (used in its generic sense, actually) merely sites himself or herself in a particular spot and expands outwards, spreading the legs wide open and elbows out. It is a particularly unsightly social act, like a frog on its bottom.

What can you do if someone acts like that? Well, realise that some people deliberately go out of their way to be rude and difficulty. (Johannes Brahms, the classical music composer, would deliberately apologise for not having insulted people. And if you are ever a victim, don’t stay silent and endure the lack of consideration. Speak out. “Excuse me, can you keep your self out of my space please?” Or if you are simply too afraid to, then as you depart, casually knock an arm or bag into the offending body part. Look at the person. Glare. And then simply refuse to apologise as you walk off. That may be the return treatment most of us are comfortable with! It may not be good, but it is better for your well-being than holding on to that anger!

Sticking with what you know

Stressful situations and anxiety can come anytime. For some it comes with meeting new people, or in other people it may even be through going to new places. For example, if you are meeting someone you have never met before but have arranged to meet, if you are early at the meeting place you might feel yourself getting nervous, or find yourself scouting the people around, hoping that you have not missed the person you were supposed to meet. Or perhaps you want to be straight out of your chair when the afore-mentioned person walks in to demonstrate your eagerness, and this keeps you on tight edge all the time.

We are all susceptible to stress. Stress is another one of those things that makes us human, for without stress, we would be in the same state as we were before, unevolved. For it is the human body’s response to stresses that have made us who we are. Stress helps us to grow. The body’s reaction to stress programs our genetic code and responses and is directly linked to our growth.

Stress goes hand in hand with anxiety. In fact, we can even go as far as to say that stress is prolonged anxiety. It may manifest itself in various ways such as through physical reactions, like excessive sweating, faster heartbeat or headaches. Or you may find your palms getting sweaty, or yourself talking in a higher pitch voice, or gulping air when breathing.

When you face a stressful situation where you have to make a decision, try to come up with one beforehand and stick with it, instead of going with your feelings. The singer Bob Dylan had planned to sing a song on a television news channel, and at the last minute he was told it was too risque to perform. Rather than opt for another song, he choose to stick with his guns, and did not perform at all at an occasion that had been meant to be his music breakout moment. Instead, his sticking with his own beliefs gave him more respect and popularity. You can read more about this from the Piano Teachers Crouch End website.

So when you feel anxious, perhaps trust your head instead of your heart. Stick to the facts instead of going by how you feel. Of course this varies across individuals but it might be a good rule to go by.

Getting priorities right

The sights of social letdown are around us. Just see how the number of people being made homeless seems to be increasing. But why is the problem not dealt with? The simple answer is that because there is a shortage of funding. It all comes down to money. But the trail goes deeper and higher up than you think. When there is a shortage of money coming into the country, then there are less taxes, and consequently less money for public provision. The situation that you see on the street, however unfortunate, is because the local authority does not have the money to step in and intervene for the better. And the fact that you have to step in reflects a breach of the social contract between the government and its citizens.

Governments raise money through taxes. And through these, they pledge to pay for public services. How local authorities choose to spend the money of course is their choice. Some may choose to spend it on fancy computers. Some may opt to spend it on services for younger people. Some may choose to spend it on the elderly and provision for such people. Others may choose to spend it on working adults. All local authorities do in all likelihood spend it to cover a wide breadth of the population as much as possible, so that everyone benefits – but the reasons for doing so are not as altruistic as you might think. It is more for the sake of gaining votes coming local election time, so that would-be councillors can point to the £100 donation that they spent on the local nursing home and then crow in some publicity poster and website about how committed they are to ensuring that the local elderly population has access to services it needs, and the provision that they are making for the elderly in order that they may live good lives.

The situation on the ground is more obvious. An improvement? Not much will appear to have been done, it seems. But it is buying political clout for election time, and making little provisions that allow, on the face of things, for local authorities to be seen to be doing things is what matters. Repeat the small dwindling sums of money for other services, such as children’s libraries – perhaps another £100 donation to the local library. What do you get? A mention on the local website that “XXX council invested in the library and contributed a percentage of local revenue for the furthering of education of the future generation.” The words are longer than the value provided.

Money talks. Unfortunately, that is the case. Money gives you spending power, freedom and control over life. And a good life skill to learn is to work to accumulate it first rather than to become a spendthrift. Maybe we should take a leaf out of the classical composer Rossini‘s book, who made his fortune writing operas such that by the age of thirty seven he could comfortably retire. (Unlike Mozart, who had died penniless.) But we should also counsel our local authorities to spend finances more astutely, focussing on the human element instead of the social media and PR element. Just remember, the website may look good, but it is the human living out on the street that matters.

Workplace outfits and presentation

Would you wear expensive outfits to work? You know, silk suits, pretty dresses, or smart formal clothes – just to impress? These outfits usually require delicate cleaning; after all you would not just chuck a suit made from expensive fabrics into the washing machine!

Some of the more expensive suits and dresses are also dry clean only, which means they are cleaned using special chemicals in a machine. Now, we all have a washing machine but it is unlikely we will have a dry cleaning machine at home! Unless you are a millionaire and have more money to burn than the average individual, it is unlikely you would have such a unit at your home, and even if you wore an assortment of dry clean only outfits to work, necessitating frequent cleaning it is unlike you would want a dry clean machine ruining the look of your penthouse!

So it looks as if dry cleaning services and formal wear rental shops will continue to stay. But what if this practice was extended beyond the boundaries of occasional formal wear, to within the zones of daily work wear?

The adage goes that you dress for the job you aspire to achieve, not for the one you are currently at. And why would people say that? It is because when people see you everyday, they have an image of how you fit into your work organisation. If you dress like someone who looks like they belong in the higher echelons of the organisation, then when there is a promotion opportunity, you will have already put yourself in the frame because it is possible for others to visualise you in the role. You have already played your part by looking the part, and subconsciously you are ahead of the chasing pack. It may mean that you dress slightly ahead of your pay grade, but this is nothing to be ashamed of, it demonstrates you have aspirations beyond your current job scope and there is absolutely nothing wrong in showing you have ambition. Dressing well is putting yourself into the selection frame, so that the interview team can decide if you have the skills they need. But if you don’t dress like you have ambition, then you will never be in the selection shortlist, even if you have the skills.

Dressing for the part is important, but one should not neglect to work on talent too. The classical music composer Joseph Haydn was often teased about his clothes as a young person, but through effort and hard work he made it to the position of music maestro in the courts of Prince Esterhazy of Vienna, where it is likely he did not have to worry about raggedy clothes any more. (You can learn more about Haydn from the Piano Lessons N10 blog, and also other bits of trivia such as why his tomb has two skulls.) It is important to note he got the job first and then improved his presentation – will society come to the point where we have to improve our presentation vastly just to have a chance at a job?

Worrying thoughts.

How beliefs shape careers

Mathematics is one subject in which many people claim not to be good with numbers. It almost seems acceptable to suggest that there is an inborn, predetermined inability to deal with numbers that , to excuse, to the casual observer, a lack of trying and effort. Is there any truth to this predetermined ability? Or are people shaped and influenced more by society and expectation?

Research shows the latter to be true. In psychological research undertaken by Yale University, the attitudes of two groups of students were studied by psychologists. The students were high school students and they were tracked across the college studies and working careers. The results of the research undertaken in 2008 found that even though the students had been assessed in high school to have similar SATs scores, there were diverse outcomes in their future careers. Those that went on to successful careers were those that displayed a willingness for patience and a willingness to try. Those that did not persist when faced with the initial signs of difficulty were those that ended up with what might be considered less stellar careers.

The results of this research are hardly surprising. We know that hard work allows us to achieve good results. What is less known, however, was that the less successful group was more inclined to quote generalisations to support their lack of effort. When students faced initial difficulty in the subject of Mathematics, some claimed “I’m not good with numbers” or “I’m more of an essay person” or “My family are more artistic and creative types”. The problem is two-fold: these generalisations are made by adults to excuse their own lack of effort, and secondly, younger individuals pounce on them as an immediate knee-jerk reaction to difficulty, and held on to these “axioms”. Few of those who claimed at high school level that they were not good with numbers went on to careers requiring these skills.

It is more the environment that shapes ability. Environment also shapes reaction. To help kids succeed, some measures could include putting them in training environments where they have to develop skills at persistence, trying while manipulating information. One of these environments is in learning a musical instrument. As a piano teacher in Stroud Green  mentions, it is juggling six or seven skills while developing the patience to improve.

Hunting the perfect job

What makes a perfect job? A job is the combination of many factors and maybe the blend of these factors really depends on what you want to get out of it, and the lifestyle you want to lead. Lifestyle? What has that got to do with a job? Well, actually, a lot – because a job is something that allows you to obtain the means to live the life you want, then certainly the first thing to decide is the kind of life you want.

What kind of life do you want? Obviously we want to have meaning in our lives. We want to do things we enjoy, and have the means to do so. For some people, living thrill-seeking lives are important to them. They may spend weekends jumping out of airplanes, climbing mountains, going on long marathon runs – the adventure bug keeps biting and they have a zest for life and living. If you are one of these people, then you must find a job that allows you to do this. It may be you already are a good runner – in which case you may have to find sponsorship deals to allow you to do the things you want. But what happens if for example, you enjoy being an 10,000 metre runner and as you age you find you cannot keep up with the younger runners? After all, it is unlikely you will be running when you are 65 and still expecting to compete with twenty somethings. You may have to obtain financial sustenance in another form. Look at your track career and leverage that to your advantage. Become a life coach, or a motivational speaker. Speak of your training and the things you have learnt in life. Sell your experience – and be a coach in another field for another generation.

Life always presents opportunities but the best things to ask yourself are – what am I good at? What can I do? Then look for opportunities to do them. It may be something like playing the piano. You may want to follow a career in music. But you may not want to tread the difficulties with a piano career; in which you case you could take up a more stable job, while earning the money that would give you the chance to buy a piano and have lessons – still pursuing your passion! The balance of all these things will do wonders for your mental health.