Tricks of the Trade – Any Trade …

by Zoë Sharp

One of the things I love about reading any book is picking up those little snippets of inside information. Any information – it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s something that isn’t obvious, that dispels a commonly held belief, or is just one of those nuggets you store away for future use.

Toni did a wonderful post recently about Writing What You Know, in which she detailed – quite beautifully, I might add – the sensations and feelings and knowledge that you collect in the filter of your daily life. You might not think it’s the stuff thrillers are made of, but it is. It’s the glue that holds the whole thing together. The aspect that gives a work heart as well as flash.

The bits that make the whole thing ring true.

In the course of my own writing career, I’ve picked up all sorts of obscure knowledge – how to dislocate someone’s shoulder; how to tell if a mirror is in fact one-way glass; how to steal a motorbike; how to tell immediately if a Glock semiautomatic has a round in the chamber, even in the dark; what to add to gasoline to make the perfect Molotov cocktail; what style of suit to wear on a close-protection detail.

All useful and highly entertaining stuff.

In fact, there was a book came out about ten years ago called THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO SURVIVAL HANDBOOK. I have a copy and it contains all kinds of similar information, like how to win a sword-fight, fend off a shark, or escape from killer bees. Just one thing though – ignore the advice to lie down if faced by stampeding horses. It’s not true that they will avoid trampling you. In my painful experience, horses will put their clumping great feet anywhere they damn well please!

But all this is pretty esoteric stuff. Most of the time, even in fiction, your characters will be going about their normal daily lives. Even if they’re not a professional alligator wrestler, or a bullfighter by trade, this can be just as interesting, if not more so. Although the Internet is a wonderful tool for research, there’s no substitute for chatting to real people who actually do the things you want to write about. It’s that vital bit of colour that gives a work authenticity. Just as silly mistakes of any kind – like a flower blooming at the wrong time of year – will throw a reader out of a story, so those little snippets I mentioned earlier will help to draw them in.

Those tricks of the trade.

And until you think about it, you don’t realise what you know. To this end, I phoned my sister, who’s been a professional gardener for years. "Give me some tricks of the trade," I said to her. "Things that people wouldn’t know unless they’re involved in your line of business."

There was a long pause, and then she came out with a couple of belters:

‘If you don’t want to use slug pellets to keep slugs away from your plants, tip used coffee grounds round the base of the plant instead. Got to be fresh coffee, though – instant doesn’t work.’

‘To stop squirrels digging up your crocus bulbs, plant the bulbs with dry holly leaves and chilli powder. Curry powder also works, but they really don’t like chilli.’

For myself, working as a photographer for years allowed me to come up with one or two interesting factoids of my own:

‘If you want to take a soft-focus shot, breath onto the lens just before you press the shutter. This gives an instant soft-focus effect and saves coating the lens with Vaseline, which will take forever to clean off.

‘Resting the camera on a bag filled with rice or split-peas will take up a surprising amount of vibration and will dramatically reduce camera-shake during action shots. I use a bag of pearl barley (well, it was handy at the time and I’ve never got round to changing it) for all my car-to-car tracking photography to keep it pin-sharp.’

‘If you’re taking a female portrait shot in black-and-white rather than colour, cosmetics will create shadow rather than provide highlights. Hence blusher should be applied into the hollows beneath the cheekbones, to add definition, not on top of them.

And that led me onto another make-up tip I read in an in-flight magazine:

‘Professional make-up artists heat up mascara before applying it, to give a much fuller effect and increase the even coverage.’

I’ve no idea where that will come in useful, but I’m sure it will somewhere. And, as a motorcyclist, here’s an invaluable one:

‘Always carry the lid of a jar with you on the bike. You never know when you’re going to have to park up on grass. The lid can be placed under the foot of the side-stand to stop it digging into the soft ground and causing the bike to fall over – which is not only extremely embarrassing, but can also be costly in repairs.’

And as for these others, they were picked up all over the place:

Graphic designers: ‘If you have a client who is unable to approve a proposed design without putting their stamp on it, just put an obvious error in the proposal – a logo that’s too large, a font that’s too small, or a few judiciously seeded typos. The client requests the change and feels they’ve done their part, and your design, which was perfect all along, sails through to approval.’

In a parking lot: ‘Improve the range of your car alarm remote control by putting the remote under your chin. It uses the whole of your body as an extension of the antenna.’ (Wouldn’t do that too often, though, if I were you …)

Horse owners: ‘Baby oil works wonders to de-tangle a horse’s knotted tail, without pulling out lumps of hair by the roots and getting yourself kicked in the process.’

In restaurants: ‘If you’re serious about your food, eat in big city restaurants between Tuesday and Thursday, when the chef’s not just interested in turning over weekend covers, and he’s had his day off, so both he and the produce are at their freshest.’

For those with a delicate stomach: ‘Don’t order anything in hollandaise sauce. The delicate emulsion of egg yolks and clarified butter can’t be refrigerated or it will break when spooned over poached eggs. Unfortunately, this lukewarm holding temperature is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. It’s also very likely not only to have been made hours before serving, but also from the heated, clarified butter that’s been collected from the tables, with other people’s bread crumbs strained out.’ And you can thank Anthony Bourdain’s KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL for that nugget … as well as for:

‘If you’re worried about the hygiene standards in a restaurant, check out the restrooms. If they’re dirty – and those are the bits the customer is allowed to see – imagine what the kitchen’s going to be like, away from public view.’

One for wine buffs: ‘It’s no longer necessary to allow wine to ‘breathe’ by pulling the cork and letting the open bottle sit for an hour or two before serving. This is a throwback to the days when wines were stuffed full of chemicals at bottling. It can still make sense for vintages earlier than approx 1980, when letting a wine stand dissipates the charmingly named phenomenon known as ‘bottle stink’. But, today’s wines are much cleaner and healthier than a generation ago, and exposing a surface area of wine the size of the bottleneck to air is unlikely to have any effect on the great bulk of the wine in the bottle.’

Wildlife documentary makers: ‘If you want to replicate the sound of polar bears rolling around in the snow on your latest documentary, but don’t fancy getting close enough to actually record the real sound, replicate it by scrunching custard powder inside a pair of nylons.’ (Seriously, it worked for Sir David Attenborough!)

Car drivers: ‘If you live somewhere with a very hot climate, always fill your tank on the way to work in the morning, not on the way home. This way, the ground storage tanks will be at a lower temperature so the fuel will be at its most dense, giving your more bang for your buck.’

Airline cabin crew: ‘A fractious infant can be quickly quietened by the addition of a helping of gin in the milk formula.’ (Hey, don’t blame me, I’m just reporting what I heard!)

If you’ve got an ant problem, but have pets or small children in the house: ‘Put down bicarbonate of soda instead. It makes them explode, apparently.’

Cigar smokers: ‘Don’t dunk the end directly into the flame when lighting the cigar. Rotate the cigar gently above the flame. Do not inhale the smoke, just taste it in your mouth and blow it out. And don’t smoke it too fast, or it will burn hot and ruin the flavour.’

I should point out at this stage that all the above are comments and snippets picked up from a variety of sources and, should I ever feel inclined to use them in a book, I’d certainly double-check the facts before I used them.

OK, your turn. What little snippets can you pass on from your day-job? What do you know?

This week’s Word of the Week is onomatomania, which is the vexation of being unable to find the right word.

PS I’m blogging all this week on the Minotaur site so please drop by if you can – it’s lonely over there and I miss you guys!

56 thoughts on “Tricks of the Trade – Any Trade …

  1. Catherine

    This first one I know.

    I worked as a florist for years, and found that the quickest way to get a Bride to decide on a bouquet was to sit her down with a coffee and a few Bridal magazines and get them to point out everything they hate…the small amount that is leftover are the true possibilities of what they will be happy with in the end. If you try to extract what they like by being direct, it takes forever…

    Secondly I’m not sure if this is anyway scientific ( so I don’t know, but act as though I do), however friends and I have a theory that decanting ordinary wine improves it. Quite frankly we sort of wank on about air distributing through to improve said fluid…maybe it just makes more sense with limited funds and lashing of cheap wine.

  2. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Catherine

    Love the one about the florist trick. I’ve also heard – although I’ve no idea where – that putting aspirin in the water helps preserve cut flowers, is that true?

    And apparently decanting wine can help: ‘If the wine is very young and/or tough, you can encourage some development of flavour and general ‘softening’ of the wine by energetically pouring the contents of the bottle into a jug, decanter, or even another (clean) bottle, thereby exposing all the wine to air.’ According to wine expert Jancis Robinson.

  3. Catherine

    Yay, validation for the decanting of tough wine. Thanks for that snippet.

    Zoë, aspirin, does not significantly keep flowers fresher longer.It may inhibit a bit of bacteria…but not dramatically in my experience.

    Personally I feel having scrupulously clean vases is vital…(well maybe not to world peace but to extending the life of cut flowers). If there is any smear from old flowers in there, it does hasten the decay.

    Another tip is snipping off the bottoms of the stems every day ( best practice).When I was working I would do this and add fresh water daily.

    At home however, every other day for a snip and fresh water seems to work pretty well. Oh and make sure the flowers aren’t put in a drafty position (fresh air/ or AC)as this can sometimes kill them off in a day.

    Florist’s sometimes have this false allure of working in pretty surroundings, but it’s actually pretty hard work,( I’ve scrubbed and lugged around a lot of buckets) and it takes a lot more communication skills than people would imagine.

    When I first started training as a 17 year old I would often be the first person, people would talk to when a loved one had died.They often thought making arrangements for flowers was something ‘easy’ they could do.It’s rarely easy.

    At way too tender an age I also knew way more about some people’s affairs than I felt comfortable with.

    Nothing like being thrown in the deep end to develop tact and empathy though.

  4. Wilfred Bereswill

    Wow, Zoe, you are a wealth of information today. I’ll have to come back when I’m awake and soak this stuff up. One of the reasons I used to enjoy Tom Clancy so much was I always learned something.

  5. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Catherine

    That bit about cutting a bit off the stems every day is great – not something I would ever have thought of, but a great little piece of inside info.

    As is all the rest. Thank you for going into such detail. I just love hoovering up this stuff!

  6. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Wilfred

    Hey, go get some coffee and come back!

    And yes, Tom Clancy always includes those bits of insider info, but I specifically wanted this post to be about normal people’s lives and the trade secrets they pick up – probably without even realising it.

    Like the fact that putting a lemon in the microwave for 10 secs before squeezing it will bring out a lot more juice.

    Of course, now I’ve said that, it’s probably going to be a vital part of the next Clancy bestseller …

  7. Donna Moore

    Nothing from my deathly dull day job (well, exactly how many fascinating facts can there be about pensions?) but, having just come back from the Alaskan wilderness, here’s one from my travels…the best tasting bear meat is from a bear that has been sitting in a blueberry patch (I can attest to that, having just eaten bear which was caught with its whiskery little face all covered in blue juice!) A bear caught by the river tastes less yummy, since its meat tastes of fish. And worst of all is a bear that has been eating rubbish from the town dump :o)Donna

  8. Jake Nantz

    As a teacher, I can tell you a few things:

    1) Almost every teacher I know loathes dealing with parents. It’s one of the worst parts of the job, because parents are in 100% agreement that students get away with far too much, and have very little discipline in their lives, especially at home…BUT, THEIR little innocent is an EXCEPTION. THEIR little innocent really DOES have 6 different learning disabilities (which the students themselves will usually tell you isn’t even close to the case), and therefore THEIR little innocent needs every chance to get it right to get the grade. All this, and then parents blame us when their little innocent isn’t prepared for the real world when they leave.

    2) Children will lie to you when they get home. What you also may not realize is that they will lie ABOUT you when they get to school. So yeah, that 3rd-hand story you’re so pissed off about and want to call the school? No one will talk to you because we’ve all been told by your little innocent what a horrible person you are and how poorly you treat them. Good rule of thumb: You promise not to blindly believe what you hear at home, and I won’t blindly believe what I hear at school.

    3) Call parents from the school phone, or from a neutral phone. If you use your home phone or cell, they will use Caller ID and contact you at home, on weekends, EVEN AFTER THE CHILD HAS FINISHED YOUR CLASS, and discuss things with you that have no bearing on you whatsoever.

    Man…this soapbox is awfully high up….

  9. Wynda

    Thank you, Jake. I’ll step up on your soapbox…

    I’m a mother who went through the trials of infertility and am delighted to have two kids who were adopted internationally.

    Infertility first–NO it’s not fun “trying” to make a baby when you’re on the infertility rollercoaster. Scheduled sex is not fun. Taking your temperature at the exact same time every morning & checking your urine every morning(to determine ovulation)is a drag. Going to the doctor constantly is difficult to do without explaining it to all of your coworkers, family & friends.

    Their non-medical “advice” sucks and is often contrary to KNOWN MEDICAL INFORMATION. Keep your mother’s dentist’s neighbor’s best friend’s advice on the “real way” to cure infertility to yourself. And it’s nobody’s “fault.” 1/3 of infertility is male-factor, 1/3 is female factor and 1/3 is unexplained.

    As for the moral/ethical choices associated with infertility treatment, they are legion: use of drugs, multiple pregnancies & selective reduction, donor egg/ sperm,surrogacy…..

    My choices aren’t going to be the same as yours. If you’ve never been through the process, shut up. You really have no clue what you would do unless you have to make the choices yourself. If you have been there, you are likely to have had a different diagnosis and other different circumstances so keep your moral judgments to yourself.

    Whew. Rant over. I’ll skip the adoption rant. My keyboard is smoking.

  10. pari

    I love this post, Zoe!

    From PR:You’re never as interesting to others as you think you are. The trick to good PR is realizing that and finding out what DOES interest your audience.

    From Feature Writing:The best interviewers go in with questions and end up throwing them away.

    From New Mexico:1. Saguaro cacti DO NOT grow here.2. State question: “Red or Green” (it refers to chile — which as you notice is always spelled with an ‘e’ here)3. We don’t refer to “people of color” here. It’s Anglo (everyone who isn’t Hispanic), Black, Hispanic or “Native American” — though that last term isn’t as good as knowing the actual pueblo or tribe you’re talking about.4. State cookie, state dinosaur:Bizcohito and Coelophysis respectively.

  11. ArkansasCyndi

    These are wonderful! it’s early, and I can only think of one right now.

    DON’T store your batteries in the refrigerator. It doesn’t make them last longer and may in fact shorten their life span.

  12. Louise Ure

    God, I love this post, Zoë.

    Okay, to make a mediocre white wine drinkable, add a green olive to the glass.

    And if you’re doing your own car repairs, use a slash of red fingernail polish on the flywheel to measure the timing.

  13. Jake Nantz

    Wynda,Careful girl, that left edge of the ‘box is a little weak since I went to stomping my foot on it in a rant a week or so ago. Been meanin’ to get a railing put in over there….

  14. Lee Lofland

    To avoid splitting a piece of wood (when nailing close to the end of a board, or piece of molding) when performing home repairs, gently dip the pointed end of the nail in something greasy, like butter. Don’t apply too much, because the grease can repel paint and stain. In the old days, before pneumatic nail guns, carpenters used to run the nail through their Greasy-Kid-Stuff hair before nailing.

    Or, tap the pointed end with a hammer prior to driving it. That works, too.

  15. B.G. Ritts

    If you need to snake wire through curved tubing, wad up a bit of string into a ball that you fit into the tube, hold one end of the string and blow the rest through. Tie the string to the wire and pull.

    Years ago, a coworker of my dad’s was trying to rewire a lamp, but after much aggravation, hadn’t been able to get the wire through. My dad used the string trick but didn’t show how he did it. About two weeks later, the guy’s wife called and asked that my dad please show how he had accomplished the feat because the guy had been totally obsessed with figuring it out.

  16. R.J. Mangahas

    Great stuff Zoe. I think I really learned today. As a graphic designer, I often used that trick that was mentioned. And I have to tell you, it worked like a charm almost every single time.

    Another trick I learned with the designing is that when hashing ideas with a client, if you sometimes let them think that they came up with a good idea, they seem more willing to listen to other suggestions you make.

    BTW, did you notice all the “Worst-Case Scenario” Handbooks there are now. The “Zombie” one is particularly helpful. 🙂

  17. toni mcgee causey

    Thanks, Zoë! Very kind words.

    We do the same “graphic design” trick with construction. Give ’em something to have on their punch list and they’re happy they “caught” everything. [And we’ve routinely left something on there, had the client not see it and then pointed it out to the client and assured them that would be fixed at no charge. Since it was going to be fixed anyway.]

    When painting a wall color that is a different color from the trim, make sure the painter’s tape is pressed flat (no air) and then run one coat of the trim color over the line where the tape meets the wall. This way, if any color is going to bleed beneath that tape, it’s the trim color and you won’t have to touch up the trim. Let dry, then paint wall as normal. Use a utility knife and straight edge where the wall and trim meet (uncured paint will stretch and tear as you pull the tape off, cutting the line means a clean tear) and voila, no touch ups.

    Also, when choosing a color for a wall from one of those card stocks with the three or four colors, look not only at the darkest color on the card, but the position of the card in the overall scheme of colors. Whatever tone the darkest color / section has is what’s going to show up on your wall, no matter how light you go, because that’s the base of the color. So if you pick a yellow which goes down to a dark brown mustard, you’re going to get an earthy yellow, but if you pick nearly the exact same shade from a card which is sitting at the end of a yellow/green section, you’re going to get a much greener cast to the yellow.

    When painting swatches to decide wall color, whatever color you’re painting over will not only influence what this color looks like, but will mislead you, because it’s reflecting on the color, and once it’s gone, your color will look entirely different. Instead, get a white sheet, thumbtack it up on the wall, paint a posterboard whatever color you want to try and thumbtack it up on the wall and look at it in daylight and at night. The sheet and posterboard won’t do permanent damage if you decide that’s not the color for you and you’ll get a little better idea of the way the true color will appear.

  18. Rae

    Ooh, fun 😉

    Things I know (more Helpful Household Hints than anything else):

    There is almost nothing that can’t be fixed with tweezers, manicure scissors and a good nail file.

    Run in your stockings right before a big meeting? Clear nail polish or hairspray will save you. Also, clear nail polish is a great substitute for glue.

    If you’re boiling pasta, add either chicken or beef broth to the water. Yum.


  19. Fiona

    Zoe, those “nuggets” of information make a story come alive.

    Here are some from Minnesota:1) Be careful pumping gas in the winter. Spilled gasoline on bare skin in extreme cold can quickly cause frostbite.2) If a Minnesotan says,”That’s different,” she means “OMG, how awful!”3) We have two seasons: Road repair and snow removal.4) “The Cities” means Minneapolis/St. Paul. We do have other cities in MN, but they are referred to by name.

  20. JT Ellison

    Glad we’ve got the wine stuff fixed. You can improve the taste of wine, cheap to expensive, by allowing it to breathe. The Nardi Brunello I suggest must be decanted for at least two hours to reach maximum yumminess. Otherwise it just tastes like a good red wine. After breathing, it become supple and subtle, like liquid gold. Amazing difference.

    To thread a needle, bend the thread into two and push the bent edge through.

    Olive oil is the best cuticle cure. Carmex works wonders too.

    Neosporin heals acne practically overnight.

    To keep flowers fresh longer, I always add sugar to the water, and trim daily.

    To keep tea from getting bitter, time the brewing precisely, then get the tea out of the water. Longer doesn’t mean stronger, it means bitter.

    I could go on and on… Fantastic post, Z!

  21. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Donna

    I’m very envious about your Alaskan trip, but not so sure about eating bears. I have a thing about veal and horsemeat for the same reason. Nothing to do with the taste, just the principle, I think.

    The mind boggles what bear meat from the town dumpster-diving grizzly tastes like, though!

  22. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jake

    Wow, I knew teaching was tough. Maybe that was why I dipped out of school so early … ;-]

    A friend of ours decided to retrain mid-career as a mathematics teacher. We told him he was wasting his time going to teacher training college to get the right qualifications for the job.

    All he needed was a course in criminal pyschology and another in self-defence!

  23. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari

    Thanks for that – I never would have put an ‘e’ on the end of chilie!

    In a similar vein to your PR one, a group of UK screenwriting agents were recently asked for their insider tips to potential screenwriters on how to make a successful pitch. The two most common points raised?

    Breath mints and deodorant!

  24. Allison Brennan

    Wow! Better information here than going to college . . .

    To Jake: I’m on the other end of the spectrum from your parents. My kids complain about teachers? I tell them to suck it up, they’ll be dealing with difficult people their entire life. With five kids and a collective 22 years of school so far between them, I’ve only gotten involved once with a stupid idiot teacher who should never have been a teacher because while she might be book smart, she has NO teaching skills. It was a situation where I told my daughter to just find a way to deal with her, but it deteriorated and I had to get involved. I know my kids and I know when they are trying to slide and when they’re really having a conflict. But I’m also the parent who refuses to DO their homework for them or hold their hand through it. My rant? Science fair projects. The rule is the parent can help with tools (i.e. don’t give a miter saw to a 7 year old!) but the child needs to actually put together the project and write his own report. My kids used to get so upset because there were there perfect experiments, beautifully done, and their looked . . . well, age appropriate. I ALWAYS pointed out to the teacher that my kid did ALL the work themselves except for whatever I had to help with (nails, glue gun, whatever.) One teacher finally told me, “We know which parents get over-enthusiastic.” Now I don’t worry about it as much.

    Some tricks:

    From my husband who used to take a lot of political photographs, if you have a short politician on stage with a bunch of others, encourage him to stand near the front, then shoot the photo from low (squatting) so he looks taller, i.e. the same height as the other people. But never let the politician know that’s why you’re doing it!

    As a press person (per Dan again), if you’re trying to duck a reporter’s call, keep calling them to tell them you’re trying to reach the “boss” (elected official) to avoid the line, “The call wasn’t returned” . . . the reporter will feel sorry for you because you’ve worked so hard trying to get him in touch with the boss.

    Some truths:

    In the KILLER YEAR anthology, I wrote about a piece of legislation killed in committee. That bill did exist and was killed . . . not in the manner that I wrote about. However, the manner that I wrote about–the leader of the house replacing a member of his own party who was going to vote for a bill on committee in order to kill the bill–really happened.

    I got dinged once in an unpublished contest because I had the lieutenant government going to the hotel across the street from the capitol to give a political speech, and he didn’t have a bodyguard with him. The judge said, “This would never happen. He would have several bodyguard and security.” Hmmm, funny, two days before I got this entry back in 2003, the LG at the time, Cruz Bustamante, was walking down the K Street Mall. Alone. With no body guards or security of any kind. Arnold? Yep, he has security, both CHP and his own private security. But the LG? Nope. At least not when I worked in the Capitol.

    The California State Legislature has really stopped time . . . when they cared about passing a budget on time or getting legislation through by deadline. They’d stop the clock at 11:59 pm and continue. Hundreds of bills time-stamped 11:59 pm . . .

    And I used to write copy for a graphic designer and we used that exact trick too . . .

    Oh, something else I did. When writing talking points for elected officials or staff giving a speech, keep it to one page, and no talking point longer than three lines (preferably 1 or 2 lines.) I then used the same principle when trying to “sell” an idea. If it’s two pages, they put it aside to “consider” later (ha! It goes to the circular file.) If it’s one page, 9 times out of 10 they’ll read it right then and there and make a decision (and usually the decision I wanted.)

  25. Zoë Sharp

    Hi ArkansasCyndi

    Yup, you’re absolutely right. On photoshoots in very cold weather, we always used to try and keep the flash batteries in an inside pocket to keep them warm and prolong their lifespan a little!

    Keeping film in the refrigerator, however – for those of you still shooting film instead of digital – will help it to last longer.

  26. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Louise

    Gotta love a girl who does her own car repairs – not many of us out there!

    Also, clear nail polish is perfect for sealing pinstripes or vinyl graphics on your car to stop the edges peeling. Best thing to apply them with is an old credit card – that works great for the edges of wallpaper, too!

  27. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Lee

    I never even thought about the construction ones – these are great!

    I’ll add another couple – before attempting to remove a painted-in screw and probably chewing the head to pieces, insert the screwdriver and give the end a sharp tap with a hammer. This breaks the hold of the paint and/or wood on the screw and makes it come out a lot easier.

    And, when using a circular chop saw, always set the blade spinning BEFORE you drop it onto the piece of wood you intend to cut, otherwise it will kick the wood all over the place and you will nearly lose a finger …

  28. Zoë Sharp

    Hi BG

    These are great ones. When we were building our house, we had to run a LOT of electrical wire through plastic conduits – some of them very narrow. The easiest way to do it was to squirt silicone spray polish down the conduit, which allowed the plastic outer sleeving of the wires to slide through more easily.

    Likewise, to slide a heavy kitchen appliance into place more easily, squirt furniture polish just onto the area of floor where it’s going to stand, which will make it much easier to push.

  29. Zoë Sharp

    Hi RJ

    My father, who used to be in PR, told me this rhyme years ago:

    ‘If the client moans and sighsMake the logo twice the size.If they still should prove refractoryShow a picture of the factory.But only in the gravest casesShould you show the client’s faces.’

    And how to survive a Zombie attack? Really?

  30. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Toni

    I just love all these construction and painting tips. From my own experience – take masking tape off as soon as you’ve finished painting. While it’s still wet if you can do so without smearing the paint. Once it’s dried, it can be a devil to remove neatly.

    And your comments about checking out the darkest and lightest shades explains a LOT about some people’s colour schemes … ;-]

  31. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Rae

    “There is almost nothing that can’t be fixed with tweezers, manicure scissors and a good nail file.”

    This is why I carry a Swiss Army knife at all times – it has all these attachments!

    And similarly, in DIY and the garage, all you need is duct tape and WD40.

    If it moves and it shouldn’t, duct tape it.

    If it doesn’t move and it should, spray it with WD40.

  32. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Fiona

    Love the info about Minnesota, especially the road repair and snow removal seasons … it’s like English seasons – warm rain and colder rain.

    The good thing about pumping gas in the winter, though, is that gasoline in liquid form does not ignite. It’s the vapour that is highly inflammable, but the colder the gas, the less vapour.

  33. Zoë Sharp

    Hi JT

    Other tips for tea: always use boiling water, although if you put boiling water on coffee you’ll scald it.

    Don’t add the milk before the tea’s finished brewing – even if you’re just dunking a teabag in a cup rather than making a pot. The milk stops the tea from brewing.

    Putting the milk into the cup before pouring the tea is only done when you’re drinking from very fine bone china cups which – if you’ve followed the rule about making your tea with boiling water – might be in danger of being cracked otherwise.

    And with the wine thing – is it the breathing, or the decanting that does the trick?

  34. Zoë Sharp

    Wow, Allison – all these are great.

    Don’t you find it’s often the case, though, that fact is a lot stranger than fiction?

    Who would have believed, for instance, that a UK government close-protection officer would go to the restroom in a winebar and leave their weapon in the cubicle … and then walk out without it? Some poor unsuspecting member of the public had to hand it in later.

    Or that some poor unsuspecting punter on eBay would buy a digital camera, and the first time he downloaded the pictures, he discovered JPEGs of top secret documents, because the previous owner of the camera, a member of the security services, was too dumb to wipe the memory card before he sold the damn thing?

    You put this kind of stuff in a book and, you’re quite right, people accuse you of making it up …

  35. Fiona

    Zoe,Here’s a general one:Every car/emergency kit should have duct tape and safety pins. You would be amazed at how many things you can do with them.

    For example, for a sprained or broken arm, roll up a person’s shirt (front) over the arm and safety pin the shirt hem up over the arm–instant sling.

    Duct tape can be used to securely tape cloth to wound to apply pressure. You can “buddy-tape” a broken finger to the finger next to it.

    BTW, you all HAVE taken a CPR & first aid class, haven’t you? Not only is it a fantastic source of information (and a way to get new expert sources) but you never know when you may need the information in real life.

  36. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Fiona

    “BTW, you all HAVE taken a CPR & first aid class, haven’t you?”

    Not just the classes, but taken part as a team leader in simulated casualty exercises, which are an absolute hoot!

    Duct tape, or even electrical insulation tape, makes a handy instant bandage. Someone also once suggested a tampon to plug a bleeding bullet wound!

    If you pin someone’s shirt up to their shoulder to make a sling, souldn’t you create a huge expanse of exposed stomach, which might hasten the onset of shock? Great advice if you’ve got a blanket or a coat handy to wrap them in afterwards, though ;-]

  37. JT Ellison

    Actually, either. If you decant a good old wine you should serve the wine right away. I like to let any red wine breathe in the bottle for at least fifteen minutes before drinking, but if it’s a very fine wine I’ll decant. Decanting speeds up the process considerably. : )

  38. Catherine

    Zoë I’m glad you like hoovering up this stuff as I’m tagging along regarding the CPR first aid info.

    A couple of years ago, I did a first aid course with a bunch of people that were also doing a chain saw certificate.

    We got lots of scenarios of what to do to stop extreme bleeding. We got told that wrapping cling wrap around the wound site was generally more sterile than the average cloth you could apply, and there was no transfer of threads etc into the wound site. I guess this along similar lines to using duct tape.

    I love that your Dad had a rhyme regarding his work.

    My Mum was a primary school teacher and she said she always knew the day would be just that little bit more challenging when it was extremely windy. She thought that the kids were more on edge with this weather than sustained rainy days.

    Not sure if this also applies at a college level, but with the little ones it does seem to hold true.

  39. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Catherine

    Love the bit about windy days. I can just see loads of people with characters who are schoolteachers or florists after this!

    Clingfilm would be brilliant – what a good idea! Especially if it’s a home accident. But you’re probably more likely to have duct tape in a tool box in the back of a truck, so either would work well.

    I’m reliably informed that Superglue was invented during the Vietnam era for instant wound-sealing … until some bright spark discovered it was carcinogenic. Erm, alledgedly …

  40. Catherine

    Yeah Zoë we did make a comment about the availability of cling wrap in an emergency…

    The instructors response was if I knew I was going into the hills with you lot and a bunch of chainsaws I’d make sure I not only had a first aid kit, but a good supply of cling wrap.

    He did also mention that it doesn’t take up all that much room in the boot of the car so…after writing this I probably should go put a roll away just in case.

  41. Fiona

    Zoe, about the bare tummy–in Minnesota we dress in layers upon layers of clothes in the winter—no worries about shock from exposed skin when rolling up just one layer to make a sling. BTW, I keep a “space blanket” a foil type blanket that folds up to the size of two decks of cards, in my emergency kit. It keeps wind and rain/snow off, too.

    Great job taking part in the simulated casualty exercise. I’ll bet you have tons of material for stories from that. My Dh helps run those in our area. He tells the best stories!

    Hmmmmmmm. I see another story taking shape.

  42. Jake Nantz

    Thought of a couple more:

    1) When writing a college application essay, no more than one page, and space it at about 1.2 instead of single-spaced. Easier to read, and if they see 2 pages or more, it gets passed over unread.

    2) if the head of a screw is partially out and chewed up (or just came off), take out the bit in your drill/driver, use the chuck to tighten the nose down on the screw and then put the driver in reverse…unscrews itself right out.

    3) The thing about school children when it’s windy? It’s true of High Schoolers. Oh, and there’s an old wives’ tale about school children being MUCH tougher to handle around the full moon. Normally I call bullshit, but that’s one wives’ tale I fully agree with. I see it routinely.

  43. Tammy Cravit

    Random tidbits I picked up over the years:

    1) From working at a graphic design/prepress place: A good way to judge the aesthetics of a layout on a printed piece or whatever is to turn it upside down. This tends to discourage your natural inclination to focus on the text and allows you to see the layout better. (I’m told this works for drawing from photographs etc. too)

    2) Another soft-focus tip for photographers, courtesy of a wedding shooter I used to know: stretch a couple of layers of black pantyhose over the end of the camera lens.

    3) From my last CPR refresher: If you’re short on help, forget the rescue breathing and just do chest compressions, as many and as often as you can. Some research out of Japan suggests that chest compressions (at the rate of 100 per minute or so) by themselves actually produce somewhat better survivability rates than the whole CPR routine. Interesting side note: The Bee Gees tune “Staying Alive” is almost exactly the right rhythm for this, so imagine it in your head.

    Tammy, who’s often accused of being a vast storehouse of mostly useless trivia

  44. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Catherine

    A guy I used to know who did a lot of solo chainsaw work told me the best thing he ever bought was a pair of Kevlar trousers. They weren’t cheap, but the first time his chainsaw bounced and went into his leg – and stopped dead, the teeth bunged up with bits of Kevlar – he realised just what a good investment they were … ;-]

  45. Becky Hutchison

    Cool post, Zoe! I can only think of a few insider tricks. If I can remember any others, I’ll post those too.

    Archaeology -Many an archaeologist has discovered a site after a light snowfall, when slight elevation differences (maybe above building foundations, etc.) are apparent.

    Aerial photography can pinpoint archaeological sites either with regular film or infrared. In dry areas, change in soil color may indicate underground remains, whereas in areas with foliage, a change in plant types can reflect the presence of archaeological remains.

    Gardening -Release a box of ladybugs around your plants to get rid of aphids. The ladybugs will love eating the bugs.

    Libraries not at ground level -When a new building was designed for a state agency where I worked, they wanted to put the extensive historic preservation library on the second floor. Due to the increased weight of the books and library shelving, the design had to include heavily reinforced floors to support the extra load.

    BTW, Allison, the US House & Senate do the same thing with their clocks to get bills through within the specified time limit. It must be a government-wide trick.

    And Jake – When our son was in elementary school, he would come home with stories about being terribly misunderstood by his teachers and totally wronged when he had to be in detention. I’d listen to him and them go to the teachers and ask what really happened. I knew better than to just take the word of my child. Sometimes what he told me was completely right…but he would leave out about three-fourths of the complete story (i.e., the part explaining why he was in trouble).

  46. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Fiona

    Excellent point about the layering. I myself am horribly thin-skinned, so tend to be sewn into the winter underwear in about September, and not unpicked out of it again until … about August, usually ;-]

    And yeah, the sim cas exercises were great fun. I remember the last one I did, they organisers had given us someone who was supposed to be physically uninjured but suffering from hysteria, so she ran around screaming. On my team I had a very tall, heavy-set woman and after we’d gone into the room (after a supposed explosion) and done the initial very fast evaluation of the injuries, with this hysterical person shrieking and wailing at us, I turned to my largest team member and said, “You – get her out of here!” She literally picked this poor woman up off her feet and swept her out of the room. When they played the videos back afterwards at the debriefing for all the teams, that got a resounding round of applause!

  47. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jake

    1) Don’t you get extra marks for quantity as well as quality?

    2) That is one I’ll have to try.

    3) I always suspected that small children and werewolves had a lot in common, but this just confirms it … ;-]

  48. Zoë Sharp

    Tammy – who says it’s useless? Nothing is EVER useless to a writer. Who knows when any or all of this will come in useful.

    In fact, maybe we ought to pick the best three tricks of the trade that anyone’s come up with, and challenge you all to write a short story in which these facts play a vital role …

    Seriously, all these are excellent. I particularly like the upside-down one.

    And I was always told chest compressions were the most important aspect of CPR, too!

  49. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Becky

    Love all these. Your story about the library reminded me of when we were building our timber-frame house. We have an upstairs sitting room and when we were having the structural engineering drawings done, they asked if we had anything like a grand piano that we were planning to keep upstairs. “No,” we said, “but we do have an awful lot of books.”

    They upped the specs.

    But we did hear about one guy who used to keep old newspapers in his attic. A surveyor came to look at the house (I think maybe he was thinking of selling) who took one look at the tons of paper up there and told the homeowner to get out of the house immediately and not go back until it was made safe!

  50. Becky Hutchison

    Jake, the comment you made about the college essay paper is so true. In fact, the son I mentioned before is now applying to colleges. So far, all the applications have been online and the essay portion has been inserted into a little box much like the comment box we use for this blog. Only so many characters are allowed, leading to short and hopefully informative, concise essays. Ten years ago when our first child applied to colleges, only one of her seven applications was accepted online…and that was an experiment. Geesh, how computers have changed things.

    More college application info:Sixteen southeastern states participate in an Academic Common Market, where if one state doesn’t offer an undergraduate or graduate degree program and another state within the ACM does, then the student who has to go out-of-state can pay in-state tuition. For example, Maryland doesn’t offer an undergraduate program in marine science or marine biology; however, Old Dominion Univ in Virginia and Coastal Carolina Univ in South Carolina do. So if my son is accepted into ODU’s or CCU’s marine biology/science programs, we would only have to pay the rate that in-state students would.

  51. Zoë Sharp

    Well, it’s now coming up for 2am in the UK, and I really am going to have to call it a night, but thank you very much to everyone who’s posted such brilliant comments!

    And, when I emptied my spam folder tonight, one of the emails had the subject line: ‘Tips on How To Keep Your Wife Happy’ – so even the spammers are trying to contribute their tricks of the trade …

  52. Catherine

    Not sure if you’d even still be awake Zoë, but must say I’m impressed that someone even thought to use kevlar trousers for solo chainsaw action.

    Also wondering if British people ever call boxed wine Chateau de Cardboard, as I’ve heard it referred to here ?

    In my small sometimes drinking cheapo wine sample group we’ve sworn that said Chateau de Cardboard does improve with decanting.

    Actually as a way of storing wine the foil bag whilst not attractive is a much better alternative to cork tainted wine… not that all wine sealed with cork is tainted but schizer it’s memorable if you ever get one.

  53. Catherine

    Goes to show what happens when you speed read comments. Sorry Zoë, I ended up reading your comments in a dash and completely missed the fact that it was about 5 am your time when I commented again.

    There is something about the tricks of the trade that obviously appeals to me.

  54. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Catherine

    Thanks for the extra tips! I finally called it a night around 3am, but I did manage to get my daily word target completed, so I’m feeling suitably virtuous.

    Knackered, mind you, but virtuous all the same ;-]


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