Saturday, 31 March 2012

(Day 22) A day of two halves

Friday 23rd March (Day 22) 

Today was my second day working as a street fundraiser.  I was working in the city today a convenient 10 minute walk from my house.  We started off working on a street corner but after an hour very few people walked by, which to be honest suited me fine. 

A group of homeless people where congregating near where are bags where.  I saw them coming one by one each holding a bottle shaped paper bag in their hands.  I saw one guy holding at least 4 bottle shaped paper bags, I think the other homeless people actually sent him out to get more booze.  One of the homeless guys was particularly vocal; he is a largish black guy with a weathered face.  I had seen him before around Kings Cross.  He likes to sit on benches and sing really loudly, well when I say sing I mean shout.  I have dubbed him “the Kings Cross mascot”.

We only spent an hour or two at this location before deciding to move further into the city.  We moved to Elizabeth Street which is one of the main roads that runs through downtown Sydney.  Elizabeth Street also runs adjacent to Hyde Park the large park that is just south east of the city.  Hyde Park is a lush green retreat from the chaos of the city and working next to Hyde Park was awesome.  I was working on the pedestrian footway of Elizabeth Street but it felt more like I was working in the park.  The footway was bathed in shade by the trees in the park.  There was also a refreshing breeze blowing across the park that turned this particularly hot day into a pleasant one.  We spent all morning here and I was really enjoying my job.  Everyone seemed more relaxed here and I was having some great conversations with people.  My confidence in this job was growing quickly and for once I didn’t feel awkward or out of place.

However there was an issue with where we were, there weren’t actually that many people walking past us.  We were hoping things would pick up at lunch but when they didn’t Kate said that we were moving across the street.

I was feeling confident but across the street that quickly changed.  On this side of the road the atmosphere was a stark contrast to the relaxed and chilled atmosphere of the other side of the road.  This side of the road had no cover from the sun and was baking hot.  The gentle breeze blowing across the park didn’t reach this side of the road either.  Overall this side of the road was scorching hot and chaotic.

We moved across because it was busier but this was just ridiculous.  There were people flying past us left right and centre, people crossing the road, people coming from the road, people going into buildings, people coming out of buildings, people coming out of taxis.  They weren’t like the people from across the road either; everybody here was in a hurry.  I even had to jump out of the way of one man who was literally going to walk straight into me.  It wasn’t like I jumped out at him; he just decided that he could only walk in a perfectly straight line.  This afternoon was unpleasant to say the least; it was hot and stressful.  Even cool headed Kate my team leader was showing the strain.

After a stressful afternoon we had to drop by the office of the charity we where representing to pick up some documents for next week.  After that we headed to the pub.  Every Friday the fundraisers gather at a pub near where the head office is and consume large quantities of alcohol and talk about fundraiser.

Since training day I had been promised a free beer after my first week and I had never looked more forward to a beer in my life.  I think at some parts of the afternoon it was the only thing keeping me going.  At the pub I got a voucher off one of the fundraiser and quickly converted it into beer.  I saw the guy who did Wednesday’s training day and I asked him how the others from the training day where doing.  It turned out that everyone else had quit and I was the only one left.

Ha, I was the sole survivor.  The only one who made it this far.  In some ways this made me feel good.  But I was also looking forward to meeting up with them in the pub and talking about our first week, but none of them where here so that made me a bit sad.  I got talking to a few veteran fundraisers and asked them for advice.  Most of them said the same sort of thing, that the first few weeks are the hardest and after that something just clicks and you get good at it.  I couldn’t wait until this job got easier. 

I didn’t stay at the pub very long because the 2 days of fundraising and the bad night’s sleep meant I was physically exhausted.  I needed to go home and rest and have a sit-down discussion with myself about street fundraising and whether it is for me or not.

Btw, I will be adding some photos to this post soon, I am just having some camera related issues, the issues being I forgot to bring my camera on this day.

Two posts per day next week

Hey, as I am sure you have noticed my blog is actually a week behind.  For this coming week I will try and post twice a day, one in the morning/midday and one late evening/night so by next week by blog will only be 1 to 2 days behind.

Also I have had good feedback regarding my Sunday Reflections and I am going to add something new to my blog that I will post once a week (probably every Saturday).  I will announce what this new series is sometime this week.

Thanks for reading, Mike

Friday, 30 March 2012

(Day 21) The Cold Plunge

Thursday 22nd March (Day 21)

I really wanted a good night sleep before my big first day as a street fund raiser but I didn’t get one.  Instead I spent most of the night trying to get to sleep rather than actually being asleep.  I was feeling uncomfortable about my first day.  Partly because I had so much to remember and take in from the training day and partly because I had never done anything like this before.

I set my alarm for a very early time this morning.  I wanted to get up early to go over the script and the stuff I had thrown at me on the training day.  I also didn’t want to be late after the amount of fuss it caused yesterday.  My first day wasn’t in Sydney itself but a town call Parramatta which was 14 miles west of the city.  I was interested to go to Parramatta because when my mum found out I was going to Sydney she gossiped about it to her friends and heard that Parramatta was a rough place to avoid.  Yes, the one place I was told to avoid in Sydney was the place where my first day as a street fundraiser would be.  Perfect.

I only managed a few hours of sleep but I suppressed my tiredness with a boot full of caffeine.  One of the great things about where I live is that the central train station is literally a 2 minute walk from my house so getting the train towards Parramatta was not a problem.

In Parramatta I met up with the 2 girls I would be working with for this week.  I was paired up with Kate a confident and level headed Canadian girl and Sabrina a happy-go-lucky French girl with frizzy hair.  After going through the script with them a few times it became apparent that some of what I tried to learn during the training day had sunk in, but only some.  There was no time to keep practicing until I was comfortable with the script and what I had to say.  My first day had already started and it was time to get stuck in.  Kate and Sabrina dived in and started collaring people left right and centre.

I had to start collaring people now, it was my job.  The best way to describe what I was going through was saying it was like standing at the edge of a swimming pool.  We have all been there, stood dry at the edge of a pool, knowing that the water is uncomfortably cold for the first few seconds.  There is no easy way to do this; I either start greeting strangers or just stand there is silence and watch them walk past.  I just had to grit my teeth and dive in knowing that it won’t be all that bad.

So I did it, I picked some unassuming bloke or woman (I can’t even remember) forced a nervous cheesy smile on my face and approached them.  Of course they didn’t stop, I don’t think they even acknowledged me but I did it.  I picked my next victim and approached them, and then my next.  I would describe my first half hour as both terrifying and exhilarating, it was a weird combination.  Nobody really stopped for any of us, I was told during training that out of 10 people you greet only 1 will stop for you.  And out of 10 people who will stop only 1 will sign up. 

Later in the morning I finally managed to stop someone.  A young but smartly dressed Chinese woman was polite enough to stop and listen to what I had to say.  By this point I was so used to seeing people just walk past that I was completely unprepared for when she actually did stop.  I cobbled together some parts of the script and made it to the end but I messed up the end part of the script known as the “close”.  Virtually no-one is willed to sign up for charity without a little bit of pushing and the close is a series of statements and clever use of body language that are designed to coax a person into signing up.  She was undecided about signing up and I just couldn’t push her.  The idea of doing the close on her made me feel extremely uncomfortable and she ended up leaving with the statement “I will think about it”.

The rest of the morning was relatively uneventful other than some guys telling me to get a proper job and a guy with a dog telling Kate to fuck off.  The afternoon dragged very slowly.  I wasn’t doing too badly but the lack of sleep from last night had caught up with me and I felt exhausted.  You need a high level of enthusiasm to stop people and having no energy meant my enthusiasm plummeted and really I was stopping no-one.  5 o’clock finally came and it was time to go home.  By this point I was shattered and my legs were aching.  I knew this job would be hard mentally but I wasn’t expecting it to be so hard physically as well.  I literally felt like I had ran a marathon.

My first day was alright but I wasn’t expecting it to be so hard!  I still have a lot to learn as well.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

(Day 20) Training Day

Wednesday 21st March (Day 20)

Today was my street fund raising training day where I apparently get trained in the art of street fund raising.  I was still in 2 minds about getting up this morning to go to the training day. 
I was running late, there was always something to do before leaving the house.  Probably because part of me still didn’t want to go today.  I thought I gave myself enough time but the place always felt like it was another few minutes away, always past the next block, always around the next corner.

I arrived 10 minutes late and I was tired and quite sweaty.  It was a hot day and I was walking as fast as I could to get there.  Arriving 10 minutes late and feeling uncomfortably sweaty was not the first impression I wanted to give.  The guy who was doing the training was unhappy with me to say the least.  “What, no phone call or anything?” he said in an angry and disapproving voice like I had deeply offended him by showing up 10 minutes late.

In fairness being made to wait for over an hour for my interview gave me the impression that they didn’t stick to a tight clock in this organisation, but clearly I was mistaken.

He reluctantly led me into the training room where 4 none sweaty people were sat around a big U shaped table.  Two of the people I recognised from the interview day.  The training guy said that I had 3 minutes to complete all the paperwork before they began training.  After scribbling down my details onto some forms that should normally take 10 minutes to do properly I had to hand them in.  He wasn’t happy that I missed some sections that I thought I didn’t need to do.  “You and I are going to have fun today aren’t we?” he said in that disapproving tone of voice that he only spoke to me in.  After a brief introduction we began going through a large workbook that discussed:
  • Communication (talking to people)
  • Stopping (recommended techniques for stopping a stranger)
  • Building rapport (making it look like you are interested in the stranger you are talking to)
  • Pitch (the script we had to follow)
  • Concern handling (how to turn that no into a reluctant yes)
  • Anchoring (make the stranger feel good that they have just given some weird person on the street their bank details)

Overall the training day wasn’t bad, the training guy even began to warm up to me a bit.  Although he did take 15 minutes off everyone’s lunch because of me being late at the start of the day.  (A girl in the group was also 5 minutes late and he added her 5 minutes to my 10 minutes to take 15 minutes off our lunch).

One thing that did annoy me about the training day was the guy kept saying how quickly we were getting through all the stuff and that we would at this rate be leaving early at around 3 o’clock.  What time did we actually leave?  It was closer to 6 o’clock.

I left the training day feeling very tired and a bit overwhelmed.  I was starting on the streets tomorrow and I had so much to remember.  So much information was hurled at us today and I’m not sure if any of it has actually sunk in.

I guess I will find out what I remember tomorrow when I hit the streets of Sydney and to be honest, I am dreading it.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

(Day 20) The Two Mikes

Wednesday 21st March (Day 20) 

I have actually messed up the dates a bit, it was Monday when I had the interview, and Tuesday was when I was told to expect the phone call telling me whether I got the job or not.  After being approached by a fundraiser on Monday I actually had the interview that evening. 

The reason I got the dates mixed up is because I didn’t really do anything on Tuesday worth talking about.  I was just sat around watching Indiana Jones and waiting for the phone to ring.
Without a job my days have started to lack structure and some have begun merging with the adjacent days.

It got to about 4:30 and I was told to expect the phone call at 4:00 so I decided to ring them myself and find out.  The woman I spoke to sounded a bit surprised that I had rang her, “impatient are we?” she said, I said “no, just keen”.
She had a look on the computer to find out the results, I am not sure why she needed to do this because she was the one who did the interviews in the first place.  Could she not make up her own mind without the aid of a computer?

I was still in 2 minds about whether I wanted her to say I had the job or not.  If she said that I wasn’t picked for the job I think I would be disappointed but relieved and vice versa if she said I was picked for the job I think I would be happy but terrified.  It was an odd 30 seconds as I kept swinging from one direction in my head to the other whilst waiting for her answer.
After looking up some stuff on the computer she then congratulated me and said the job was mine.  I can’t believe I actually got the damn job!  She said “are you excited?” and I replied “ugh, sure”.

I have never been so unsure and clueless about something, not since my year 3 Mathematics exam on my degree course.  Do I really want to go to the training day on Wednesday?  Part of me feels like I can still pull out of this whole thing now, but no I am going to push myself.  If I don’t do this I will never know.

(Day 19) The Interview

Tuesday 20th March (Day 19)

Today was the day of my job interview and the chance for me to try my hand at street fundraising.  I don’t particularly dislike job interviews but I find that I am generally not very successful with them.  If I have counted correctly I have been to 8 job interviews and have been offered a job 3 times which works out as a success rate of 37.5%.  It isn’t that I am nervous and I just end up sitting at an interview being all shy.  Quite the opposite really, I love talking about myself, it’s one of the reason I stay up until the early hours writing this blog.

What gets me in job interviews is those trick questions like “why should we give the job to you” or “what would you say is your greatest weakness”.  These stupid questions always trip me up and answering those questions with “because I need the money” and “kryptonite” doesn’t quite cut it.

I arrived in the office in good time and I was sat in a line of chairs with some other people who were waiting to be interviewed.  The office was nice with a perfectly polished wooden floor and rows of modern computers stretching across tidy desks.  For a company that makes money through charity I was expecting a much more modest office.  Perhaps somewhat ironically there is money to be made through charity.

I was sat with the other people in complete silence.  A couple of minutes went by and I was thinking that if I was going for a job that involved talking to strangers why not start now.  So I turned to the person sat next to me and asked some question about whether he was on a working holiday visa.  Soon everyone in the line of chairs were chatting away, so much so that we didn’t hear the woman doing the interview come up to us to say she was ready to start interviewing.

One by one they went off with this woman to sit at a desk behind a screen at the other end of the office and receive a modest grilling.  Over an hour of went seeing people come and go until there was no-one left but me.  By this time I was feeling a bit nervous but also a bit fed up at the same time which was a weird combination.  She took me to the desk behind the screen and started talking to me about fundraising and asking me why I was a suitable candidate.  I cobbled some stuff together from my work history which to be honest was pretty good to work with.  I had previously worked in a charity shop for several months and had done voluntary work.  I have also worked for a council which involved talking to members of the public.  At one point she even had to stop me because I was getting into too much detail about the ins and outs of the council I used to work for.

The last thing she asked me was if I was feeling ok.  I thought this was a bit of a random question but she said that I had been grabbing my neck and rubbing my throat a lot during the interview.  This is something I tend to do when I am a bit nervous but have to talk.  I said I was fine and it was just habit.

The last thing she said was that there were 15 people going for this job but only 2 positions available which wasn’t encouraging.  If you work it out that is a likeliness of 13.3%.  Now times 13.3% by 37.5% which is my previous success rate and you get 4.9%.  So I have a 5% chance I will get the job based on maths.  But really the numbers are rubbish, I just haven’t done any maths in a while and I wanted to do some.
Anyway, I find out if I get the job tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

(Day 18) Charity begins on the streets

Monday 19th March (Day 18) 

Recently I have seen a lot of street fundraisers working the streets of Sydney.  They approach you like they are your best friend but you don’t know them.  I usually don’t know how to react because when I am walking around I am often daydreaming, which is probably why I end up getting lost so often.  And to be approached by these friendly strangers interrupts my daydreaming.  Naturally if they have their hand out I will shake it because it is rude not to.  One guy last week came up to me with his arms out wide like he wanted to give me a big hug, this was a very odd way of being woken up from my walking slumber.

Anyway I have been talking about street fundraisers because I was walking to the bank today to pay my rent when I was approached by a street fundraiser.  Usually the conversation ends quickly when they find out I have no job and not much money, but today after a brief conversation and when she found out I was unemployed she suggested I consider trying out street fundraising as a job.

I was quite surprised she even said that to me.  When I am walking and daydreaming I apparently look rather grumpy.  Her opening line to start the conversation with me was “are you not having a good day are you?”  Well I was just on my way to spend a fair about of my precious Australian money so I could stay in my dirty cockroach invested sweat box for another 2 weeks.  There are other things I’d rather spend my decreasing amount of money on than rent.
We had a brief discussion about working as a fundraiser, I asked her questions about the job like what are the good points and what are the rudest things people have said to her.  She said that she had been called a prostitute by a tramp and had her arse grabbed by some shady business men.  She also said that some guy was walking past her and was so busy checking her out that he walked into a tree.

At the end of the conversation she gave me the website address and told me to check it out.  I wasn’t really going to but during the walk I couldn’t stop thinking about it, the idea of me doing street fundraising.  Like it is something I could never imagine myself doing.  I don’t really like talking to people; I hate the sound of my own voice.  Especially now I have been told I sound like Harry Potter that specky twat on a broom.

I am quite vocal when I am with people I know but never to strangers.
This job, it just isn’t me.  But getting onto a plane and flying 10,000 miles isn’t me either.  So I thought “fuck it, this is the last type of job I could see myself doing so let’s do it”. 
Australia has so far been about pushing the boat out, doing stuff I normally wouldn’t do and being bold.  What better way of doing this than getting a job as a street fund raiser?  I filled out the online application and within minutes I received a phone call inviting me to an interview tomorrow.  If only every job I applied for had such a fast response.  They must be keen.
My interview is tomorrow at 4:30 and I still think I am mad for even applying.

Could this be me?

Images from
No copyright infringement intended.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Sunday reflection II – Living with people

Sunday reflection II – Living with people
(Sunday 18th March)

I had this all planned out in my head.  Before coming to Sydney I used to lie in bed daydreaming about where I would live and what it would look like.  I was going to live in a nice studio apartment where every surface was going to be made out of granite and every utensil or fixture was going to be made out of stainless steel.  This of course was all going to be paid for by my well paid job.  I was going to live on my own as well and have new friends and people come round occasionally.  Things are different now though.
I am living in a small room in a rundown shared house.  The lose plug socket in the kitchen is an obvious safety hazard, half the lights don’t work and never will work and a family of rats have moved in across the hallway.

It is scary that this plug even works.

Sellotape doesn't stop rats.

The main difference between the place in my head and the place where I am is the people, the fact that I am not living alone.  I have always lived with people in big shared houses like this.  During my time at University I lived in 2 shared houses with at least 6 other people and I thought Sydney would be different.  I thought because I am not a student now I would live on my own and “grow up”. 

But moving into this shared house made me realize that I was wrong about the whole thing.  In fact looking back at the studio apartment in my head I couldn’t think of anywhere worse to live.  Living on my own would be horrible and I don’t know how people do it or even enjoy it.  What do you do when you’re at home when there is no-one there?  There will be no surprises, nothing will be different because there is no-one else around to change things.

I am sure this would be different if I had ever lived with someone deeply unpleasant but everyone I have lived with has been really nice.  Maybe I have just been lucky?  Or maybe it is because people who look to live in shared accommodation are on the same wave length as me.  And of course there are issues with living with people like when you want to use something in the kitchen but some else has used it and not cleaned it after themselves.  But I much rather live in a house with a dirty kitchen than a house with a lonely kitchen.

There is always something happening.

So I am happy with living in a shared house and I can’t ever imagine living on my own.

Question: Do you live on your own?  Do you think I am mad that I never want to live in a place that is exclusively mine?  Or do you agree with me and think living with other people is the way to live?  Write a comment and let me know what you think.