Helmets and Markets

I am absolutely exhausted after finally venturing away from the one street in Bangkok that I frequent daily. With the intense studying, written assignments and lesson planning I have not had an opportunity to explore, until today. I say explore but my aim was to get a bus ticket to Fang district for the 8th of December, which I managed to do. Just. I have however managed to recruit another adventurous soul who is joining me on the trip up North so as least I will have someone to keep me company on the 10 hour journey. We were meant to pick up the tickets together but E was feeling slightly worse for wear with some unknown Bangkok bug so I told him to go home which I’m thankful I did as it was no easy trek.

I decided to get off at Mo Chit BTS and realised that actually it’s quite a walk to the North Terminal bus station. Also being a Saturday was probably not the best time to decide to buy tickets as it took me an hour to navigate through Chatuchak market due to the ridiculous amount of people shopping for bargains. I was temporarily distracted from my bus ticket mission a few times, particularly when I caught sight of the gorgeous carvings of elephants and crocodiles that were bigger than me. Finally I got to the other side of the market where I had no idea where I was or where to go.

Walking up the main road a guy on his moped stops to ask me where I’m going, which is the norm here. I told him I was heading to Mo Chit bus station which immediately got him stating his price of 50 baht. I told him no, I didn’t have it. Not because I didn’t have it but because I was in two minds of even getting on the back of that moped. It seems like a game of Russian roulette if you ask me. I watch passengers effortlessly throw their legs over the bikes with not a care in the world and it baffles me. One look at the chaotic drivers weaving in and out of the lanes is enough for me to break into a cold sweat. And for all my promises to never get on the back of one, what do I do? I gave him 20 baht and hopped on. Poor guy, he was driving on the pavement before I frantically told him to stop after seeing pot holes and uneven pavement which made me panic. ‘No, its ok, you go’ I told him jumping off the back of the bike with lightning speed. ‘Why? Why you go?’ He asked ‘I’m too scared, I may fall off (cue lots of miming of me falling and cracking my head open) ‘Ahhhh, here’ With that he gives me the helmet and I jump back on with him giggling uncontrollable ‘go really slow…….REALLY slow’. It was only 2 minutes from where I was (50 baht indeed!!) and it was pavement all the way, which was definitely for the best as if he had gone onto the road I would have had a meltdown. Once I was off the bike and waving goodbye to my Thai driver (who was now chuckling to a friend and probably telling him how hilarious it was that I clung onto him for dear life) I walked over the bridge to collect my ticket. Ticket in hand I walked back towards the BTS line (another hour walk through the park) high fiving and shaking hands with locals as I went. One went further and wanted a cuddle which I was happy to oblige, much to the amusement of his friends.

Arriving back in Silom I made my way to my usual destination – Tops market. Such a creature of habit. I have been here for 3 weeks and have already built up a routine that leaves me just a little less culture shocked. Simply picking up my mango and sticky rice leaves me feeling like I’ve accomplished something with my day. I am already starting to panic about leaving the ‘nest’ I’ve built and the daily routine that I have become used to. I am wondering how I am going to be able to cope being eaten alive by mosquitoes in Fang, knowing that I cannot kill even one of the little suckers as that is certainly not the Buddhist way. After Fang I shall head back down south to meet friends and as far as teaching goes, well I have no idea. One week left of the course and then I’m booted out of the Celta nest. I’m already panicking about it coming to an end as I am enjoying it, even the paper work and lesson planning (I didn’t really just admit to that). I constantly feel on my toes in the lessons where the tutors dump their knowledge onto us. Certainly no place for slackers or ‘away with the fairies’ types (me) as your tutor is on to you. They can tell when you are not listening, particularly when you get that glazed look in your eyes and they know that your mind has gone to the Irish bar next door. Oh yes they know and they will use this moment to CCQ (concept check question) you in front of everyone. You and your mind goes nowhere, so don’t even try it. Still, I have actually learnt something from being here and that is more than I can say about my time at University.

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Let me be surprised

I am currently sat on the floor of my living room apartment watching the tiny (and I mean tiny) black ants that are scurrying around, seemingly full of purpose. I am not disgusted by this tiny army of company, as I have heard from fellow students that they are battling cockroaches on steroids. In this case, I think I have the better deal.

My days have been a blur of lesson plans, written assignments, coconut juice, paper hand-outs, syrup style Red Bull, banana pancakes, sweat, confused faces, mangos and sticky rice. Today was my opportunity to deliver a grammar skills lesson. Needless to say I was feeling hot under the collar, with the sinking suspicion that my students were much more knowledgeable on the subject. Another stern talking to was needed in the bathroom. Its 45 minutes, for gods sake pull yourself together. You have exercised longer than that and that’s saying something!  I made my way through the lesson, clutching at my lesson plan as if it were my life line and smiled all the way through. Fake it till you make it.

Other than teaching and fumbling my way through assignments, I have steadily become more aware of my survival skills. As a Brit stepping out of the rigidly controlled traffic system in the UK, I find myself in a place where you really wouldn’t want to play ‘chicken’. Pedestrian crossings are just for decorative purposes. Yes I know they look exactly like the ones back home but seriously this is a whole different ball game. Always follow the herd, is my advice. Make sure there is a gaggle of you when you cross so that the driver thinks twice about wiping out his front bumper. Also just because you are not crossing the road doesn’t mean for a second that you will be safe from the pot holes, random cats, mopeds, (free to drive on pavement and road by the looks of it) food carts being pushed to their next destination and over 14 million people who are either purposely rushing to their next destination or casually stopping to look at every single market stall, while you do some step dance in frustration behind them.

I forget where I am most of the time as I am so busy dodging sweaty bodies and vehicles that I rarely pause to catch my breath.  It’s a place where you could completely lose yourself and strangely find yourself at the same time. A place that is so chaotic, the bubble I have been living in has burst. Everyone is making their way through this life, all with various thoughts and feelings. All with their own dreams and purpose. I have been thinking of my next step after the course. I emailed a Temple in the north of Thailand and asked if I could teach English there for a few weeks. I am delighted to say they accepted my offer. Six weeks ago I was sat in the corner of an office knowing that I would be making my way to Bangkok. At the beginning of September I had no plans to move away or do any course relating to teaching. I was actually forcing myself to apply for roles within the company. Roles that would give my life no meaning but lots of money and gold stars for my CV. I sat at my desk going through a ‘plan’ of how I would be able to succeed at the desired role. I calculated my monthly income and how much I could save and spend. I went over my CV with a fine tooth comb, every little detail re-drafted, to ensure that I was the ‘ideal candidate’. I hated it. I don’t even say this lightly. I hated how it made me feel. Lost, unfulfilled and mostly exhausted. I was completely drained and not from my work responsibilities being overwhelming but from spending 9 hours, Mon to Friday, doing a job that left me feeling numb and increasingly invisible.

How quickly it can all change. Here, the work is hard. When they say the CELTA is a beast of a course, they really mean it. I feel like I’m ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ the majority of the time. I dream of delivering my lessons with various outcomes. My brain is bursting with information and despite all this I finally feel alive. I am bubbling over with energy and cannot sleep, finding myself frequently up until 2 or 3am with ideas and most importantly, hope.

I sometimes wander down the path of planning for the future. When I finish the course what shall I do? I could teach for a year…..But what about an MA, should I still do Art therapy? What about Education? What about….. I then have to stop myself as I have made myself sick with worry in the past, desperately trying to plan each and every aspect of my life. Nothing can be gained from this apart from your experiences being tainted or all together ruined as you don’t see the opportunities that are blossoming right in front of you. For now, I will let things run their natural course. As Charlie sings in ‘All dogs go to heaven’, let me be surprised! 

Let Me Be Surprised

I need Brazil, the throb, the thrill
I’ve never been there, but someday I will
Adventure and danger, love from a stranger
Let me be surprised
Today the sun, they said there’d be snow
When all said and done, it’s fun not to know
What keeps my heart humming is guessing what’s coming
Let me be surprised

Ostracise me

Look at the paper, whatever you do just keep looking at the paper. Do not, I repeat, do not make contact with the tutor at this point. Oh my God I’m going to be asked for the answer. Shhhh, you wont if you just keep staring at your notebook. For heavens sake don’t write anything. Any sudden movements may attract unwanted attention. Stay perfectly still. If you can’t see the tutor then they can’t possible see you. Slouch if it helps, this may add to the low visibility you’re aiming for. That’s right, bury that head of yours. If all else fails and you feel that even for a second that you are about to be asked anything, quickly look at the student in front. If the tutor had happened to glance your way, the attention will now be averted as they will want to know what you are looking at. All focus is now on the unsuspecting victim…I mean student. Now you can breathe and go back to fumbling your way through the grammar work sheet.

Grammar. The subject as a whole has me breaking into a cold sweat just thinking about it. My exasperation is overwhelming and I find myself frantically trying to find the class mates who feel the same way. Funnily enough its pretty much 90% of us. The other 10% are the grammar gurus of the class who would probably flinch if they knew of my lack of knowledge on the subject. I did manage to congregate with a few like-minded grammarless souls where we sympathised with each others woes. “I know what I’m talking about….I just can’t describe it”. “Totally, I mean I have no idea what most of the rules are when constructing a sentence…I just do it”. We all nod our heads in defeat. We make sure that we mentally beat ourselves up to pre-empt any future failings.

I do not recall ever being taught grammar in secondary school. There may have been a sprinkle here and there but it is certainly something that had not been imbedded in my wee teenage brain. You can certainly forget about primary school. I was far too interested in whether Anne Smith was going to wear her flowered leggings to school and hoping she wouldn’t as the boys would certainly be chasing her more in ‘kiss chase’. I cannot recall what most of the rules are, except for the basics and that terrifies me enough. It is part of my lesson for tomorrows observed class and for the short amount of time it has allocated, it really is making me sweat.

To take my mind away from the inevitable, I wandered through the streets of Bangkok. The air had become thick and humid with the recent rain fall, leaving a musky summer smell. I am overwhelmed with the choice of Tea. Green tea with mango, Green tea with blueberry, pearl tea, coconut tea, wheatgrass tea. Pick a flavour, any flavour and they have it. I feel my mind and stomach doing ‘flip, flops’ with excitement with the sheer volume of what I can stuff into my belly. Everywhere I look there is something new that needs to be eaten. Something delicious that needs to be drunk. I really need the novelty to wear off or else my future students will need to roll me up to the front of the class room. It seems I have been here for years. I remind myself that I arrived a mere 4 days ago. There is something that calms me about the madness of Bangkok. I find the herds of people something of a comfort. Maybe its the reassurance of being surrounded by other souls that leaves you feeling a little less lonely. That you are part of a much bigger picture. A picture that is truly astounding and full of sheer beauty and innocence. Everyone’s heart beating to the same rhythm as each of you scuttle around purposefully. Yes Bangkok, I could potentially fall for your vibrant, gritty charm like a first love. Lets just hope you will be able to give me a huge embrace when your delicious cuisine finally rests itself on my growing belly.

Sweet Eggs

My senses have been assaulted.

Completely and utterly smothered by the lights, the traffic, the people, the cats that roam, the food and the thick, sticky heat. Mostly though it is the smell. I don’t know whether its delicious or intoxicatingly disgusting. One minute its something sweet and ripe – a combination of succulent fruit,  awakening my senses to a tropical paradise – then I take a few steps and I am hit with the smell of deep-fried chicken, followed swiftly by a lingering smell of urine, sweat and fish. Each step sends my stomach into a dance of love and hate. I don’t know where to look next with another stall popping up, a person stepping on my feet or the intimidating buildings with their bright lights shinning down, reminding me of the tiny being that I am. I have arrived in Bangkok.

My journey was all together hassle free and my only annoyance was being sat next to a woman who proceeded to burp loudly throughout the 8 hour flight from Heathrow to Delhi. It seemed that she had no control over it and I spent the entire journey sat counting down the seconds before she would inevitably make a loud roar of a burp which had me covering my mouth with my scarf and stretching my body into the aisle to escape the smell of yesterdays curry mixed with stomach acid and fart. A small price to pay though, as the rest of the trip went comfortably. Delhi to Bangkok was the last stretch, taking 4 hours.

Although a smooth journey, it was not without its nagging doubts. As I left my family to board a train to London where I was to catch the shuttle to Heathrow, I was consumed with all the reasons why I shouldn’t go. You are wasting your time and money, you can turn around right now, just get off at Cardiff. Failing that you can stay a night in London and go back home in the morning. Why the hell are you going to Bangkok and the most consistent and troubling questions was what are you looking for? I proceeded to dodge my irritatingly persistent ego until I got on the plane and I could relax into my panic with the realisation that it was too late to change my mind. I am now sat in my hotel apartment feeling mentally drained after my first day of CELTA, but also exhilarated. My mind and soul seem to be awakening with a yawn after so much time spent clock watching and slinking around the office. I am also feeling the strain after spending 2 hours frantically looking for my hotel after school. I must have walked in circles a few times before asking an unsuspecting Thai gentleman to point me in the right direction. Although my legs have been exercised more in the last two hours than they have for months, it did give me the opportunity to sample the renowned banana pancake which was still delicious after 2 hours sweating in a plastic bag.

pancake

I also managed to pick up a pack of ripe papaya, cut into big juicy chunks and a pack of mini bean cakes which look appetising but I failed to read the recipe that they contain egg yolk. Don’t know how to feel when I bite into the cake and taste sweetness but see the orange yolk staring back at me. Just may have to eat a few more before I can make a decision.

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Let go

Let go.

That’s what they tell you.

I look back and see myself gripping the events, emotions, people, objects which such intensity that my mind feels crushed with the need. The pure wanting and the idea that if I just let go, my world will disintegrate around me. When I was in school – pre-rebellions stage – I would cry over a lost school book. It would be 7.30am and I would be hanging over the sofa frantically grabbing at the various objects that have fallen down the sides, never to be seen again. I cannot bear the thought of walking into school and being ‘That girl’. I know the teacher will have to give me lined paper to write on which would make the other children look at me. I cannot bear to feel those beady eyes burning holes into my itchy, woollen jumper. I know that for that split second my teacher will look at me in disappointment. Disappointment. That word lingers in my 11-year-old mind. I cannot take it anymore and the tears fall down my pillow creased face. Time is ticking so I have to give up the hunt. Give up. I walk to school with a black cloud, snaked around my shoulders. My life at that moment is ruined.

Oh how I have worried, needlessly. ‘worrying is like a rocking chair, it never gets you anywhere’. My mother tells my I am such a worrier. Or she did. She hasn’t said that as much recently as I am doing anything but worry, choosing to lounge about while I am in limbo, the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. I do though, recall the countless hours I spent on CV’s for jobs that were just not meant for me. Running over their endless questions in excruciating detail, hoping so desperately that they pick me, “oh please pick me”. The interviews that I have ‘performed in’, the countless running onto the Tube, from office to office, finding public bathrooms in between to rearrange my make-up which has been silently sliding off my face in the heat and stickiness of public transport. I have wasted my smiles on dates who leave me with such disappointment that I cannot fathom how on earth I am going to find someone who is even remotely decent. Those relationships that slip through your fingers whether it is you or them who wish to leave. It doesn’t matter. I have been furious at myself for not feeling the feelings I had just weeks ago. Love that has decided to not love any more, or maybe not love so much so you run around sticking invisible Band-Aids on the hope that everything stays ‘just so’.

Cant control myself…Let go. I have felt my face flush with the embarrassment of walking into a meeting because I am late due to transport. I feel like I am lying when I state the fact that the Tube was down…Again. I have sat feeling the frustration and anger of not knowing whether my rental deposit will ever be transferred back to me, my mind running wild with various revenge tactics.

Most recently I was worried about resigning from my job. It wasn’t my future I was worried about or finding myself full of regret a few weeks down the road. It was the actual act of resigning and what my managers would think of me. Am I letting them down, will they be disappointed in me? Of course now I can see that it mattered little. Life goes on and people move on. Mostly you will be forgotten so what really matters? Let go.

Over the years they have collected, these moments in time that completely overwhelm you and leave you crushed with uncertainty. The understanding that you cannot control the actions and consequences of others. I also understand that if I had got that job, stayed in that relationship or not cut contact with that friend that I wouldn’t be on the path I am now. A path that I know is the right one, whatever the end result may be. All I know is that being the worrisome person that I am, I really need to just Let go. Have faith that all will be as it should in the end.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Moved by Music

My dad and I were discussing accommodation in Thailand. I told him that I was planning to find a retreat and meditate. You would swear by the face that he pulled that I had just told him I was planning to sell myself on the market in exchange for Thai fish cakes. ‘Ohhh NO. Don’t you bloody be doing things like that’.

Note to self: When dad pisses you off, threaten that you will mediate all over the place. That should sufficiently end any disagreement in your favour.

Although my parents can test my patience I must say I am grateful for the escape its given me from my bedsit existence near London. I did have some rip-roaring great nights though….By myself…With my iTunes. Who said that single life was dull?! Hell no! With the right wine and headphones (cant piss off the neighbours that live with you) you can really get your groove on. Firstly, you need to make sure that you have enough space for thunderous jumps, extreme hip thrusting and heart-felt miming (which can involve a lot of hand gestures and frightening facial expressions….Remember that expressing yourself is key). Now there is the choice of where you want to end up. That’s right, you read it correctly, music can take you down memory lane (hell lane, love lane, teenage lane etc.) Decide where you want to go pre-wine bottle….I mean glass! Pre-wine glass. Mentally prepare, sip wine, play tune and I will see you tomorrow…..

As sure as I am – Crowded house: I’m in Beijing. A miserable young girl who decided it would be a fabulous idea to board a plane to Beijing to teach English, with little in the pocket and even less in the mind. I am sat with my two flat mates. A guy from Liverpool and a guy from Texas. “I am as sure as I am. I couldn’t care less what might go wrong”. I am home sick and quite honestly being eaten alive by loneliness. The culture shock that I though I would be immune to has quite rightly given me a solid smack in the face. The three of us are sitting together in the apartment – the harsh winter freezing our undies that hang outside on the balcony, drinking questionable wine and stuffing dumplings down our throat. “Make your decision now, rely on no help from above”.

Cry me a river – Justin Timberlake: I’m in the car with my boyfriend. He pumps up the volume to the painful ‘ear shattering’ setting which makes me wince. “You don’t have to say, what you did, I already know, I found out from him. Now there’s just no chance, for you and me, there’ll never be and don’t it make you sad about it”. His eyes are popping out of his head, staring at me menacingly with the idea that I would ever be unfaithful. I know he is creating this movie worthy scene in his mind, me running off with some random lad. “Why are you directing this at me? I don’t understand why you would sing this to me when I barely leave the house, never mind cheat”. “I know princess…I’m not really singing it at you…I’m just singing!” He gives me the ‘I’m watching you’ look. Nothing like a bit of fear and projection to keep a relationship fresh.

Are you Strong enough to be my man – Sheryl Crow and Dixie Chicks: I am sitting on the double bed at a lodge in Sydney. My attention is on the industrial size cockroaches that are scuttling up and down the walls. I have the song on repeat and I am wondering where he is. My face is drawn and my skirt is hanging off my hip bones. I believe my boyfriend is telling me lies. Big, fat, whopping porkers. I choke back the tears and hope that I am wrong “Lie to me. I promise I’ll believe”.

Fireflies – Owl city: I’m walking along Coogee Bay, Sydney. I have my head phones on, strutting to the beat and feeling the Australian sun breathe life into my sallow skin. I’m heading to my see my boyfriend, who is staying with a fellow work colleague. I walk in and the place is filthy. Takeaway boxes and empty beer bottles line the tables and the counter tops. He is there sprawled out on the cream leather couch, naked. My stomach churns when I look at him and I am hit with a waft of whisky, vodka and beer. He has that certain kind of sweat that accumulates with a hangover. The kind that leaves a thick, pungent odour hanging in the air combined with the smell of stale tobacco. He is smoking and I don’t understand how he can smoke with such a painful hangover. He is angry that I have made a decision to leave him. I want him to put clothes on as it seems inappropriate that he is stretching and sweating all over someone else’s sofa.

Mmm mmm mmm mmm – Crash Test Dummies: I’m in London and my flat mate hates me. She is older than I and works as a Lawyer, although this is questionable as I rarely see her leave for work. She takes time off from work due to stress and proceeds to scrutinise my every move. She turns off the electricity at the mains so we cannot have the light on before 8pm. She shouts when I have my clothes hanging in the window to dry. I am desperately unhappy as I did not plan to be in London and miss Sydney so much it hurts. My boyfriend continues to watch me and follow me. Full of empty promises and lies. I can’t live with him and cannot live without him. He picks me up from the flat and I lie in the back of the car crying over the things that I cannot handle, while he continues to run errands. We continue to torture each other.

Life is too short – Scorpions: I am packing the last of my belongings and moving back to Wales. I lip sync to the music, putting emphasis on my dance moves around the bedsit. I ensure that the curtains are closed so poor unsuspecting neighbours do not get an eye full of my “I am a star” impersonation. I feel no regret and know full well that this is another chapter in my life that is fully closed. I have recovered from a toxic relationship and finally feel ready to embrace the world and whatever challenges that life may throw at me. I am ready to throw caution to the wind. I will no longer wait ‘For the time to stand still or all the worlds and stars from turning around’. Yes Scorpions, life it too short and sometimes you have to run for it before you have a chance to change your mind.

The smiling stage

Thailand visa has now been ticked off on the list. 60 days to run amok in the land of smiles. My mother was temporarily confused with the time limit.

Mother: 60 days….So that’s a month then.
Me: Ah no……How many days are in a month?
Mother: I don’t know.
Me: Yes you do, come on, how many?
Silence
Me: 30 days hath September……..
Mother: Oh yes I know this one….April, June and November!
Me: Right….So if that’s the case how many months are in 60 days?
Mother: Two. Two months.
Me: We got there in the end (patted hand for extra reassurance)

And that right there is evidence of what a fabulously patient teacher I will make.

Six days left before I board the plane. Six days left of watching Friends re-runs and judging people on Facebook. I know I will not have time over there to do such important things so I have to get as much judging and stalking in as possible. Pathetic as it sounds I just cant help myself. The fact is I am procrastinating like a pro and I know that if I think about the things I REALLY need to do, it will send me into a panic so to ensure panic diversion, I will continue to stick my head in the sand ( aka Facebook, Dailymail, Uberhumor) as much as possible.

I do this every time I know I have something important and life changing to focus on. I also take the same approach to legal documents, bank statements and anything else that really does need my undivided attention. Complete work as quickly as possible and then fling into the oblivion. Close your eyes and cross your fingers that all will go well. My work as a Sales Analyst also took this creative approach (delightful employee that I was). The ‘If all else fails, lets pretend it isn’t happening’ approach. First complete work quickly and sufficiently. Then scan documents with confidence that all is correct. This can be done in seconds (please don’t lie to yourself that people with check…..The ‘you are important’ ship sailed a long time ago). Send document out into the black hole of cyberspace where it will never be read or acknowledged again. For extra fun send the email as important and in bold black letters, emphasise the importance that it must be read otherwise the consequence of not actioning will be eye watering. Watch as your email pops up in you colleagues Outlook to be either opened and ignored, opened and deleted or my favourite, not even opened or clicked on. Self sooth with a trip to the canteen for cheesecake.

I think back to what a good little worker ant I once was. Even cried over an Excel Spread sheet and the fact that I thought the Office application was completely out to get me. Especially when I had to present data to management. That was when it really went to great lengths to piss me off. ‘This never happens usually’ I would squeak while clicking everything possible and turning several shades of red. I gradually learnt that I wasn’t that important and graduated to the ‘Smiling stage’. It never failed and always delivered fast results. You don’t even have to be mentally present in the conversation which is why it was such a success. I spent full conversations shopping, planning dinner, deciding whether I should go to the gym, deciding against the gym, whether my latest crush was in the building or working from home, what movie I should I watch, has Netflix added new movies, whether I could eat that giant muffin in one whole bite all while smiling and nodding. Not only was I able to mentally check out I was also able to please my employer as I was seen as an eager to please, result driven professional. If I missed something really important I could comfort myself with the knowledge that my manager would forget that he had spoken to me after 5 minutes.

Coming back from the Thai Consulate I promised myself that I would never torture myself with spread sheets again. That and skinny jeans. I swear I am having to catapult myself into them. I am hoping that the sheer shock and terror of arriving in Thailand on my own will drain the fat off me. Or at least to my feet so I can walk it off. My mother also likes to comment on my ‘out of control’ curves.

Mother: You have a figure like Marilyn Monroe
Me: Oh…thank you
Mother: Yes voluptuous
Me: ah, thanks
Mother: Men like a lot of meat……..And by God you’ve got a lot of meat!!!! (Cue cackling)
Me: Great….Don’t know how to take that…Mmmm…Cheers