Thursday, 29 March 2018

Look at the Time!

Oh. So it's been about three years since I've posted a blog.

That's bad.

But I've been busy!

In full swing as a Pilates instructor, which I love. It's the greatest. And I just got some feedback from one of my clients, and it made me feel like a million bucks. So thank you, student and friend. I appreciate you.

But things continue to move on and change.

I've spent a few years really working the bugs out of my life, and hopefully creating some room for things both new (new activities and ideas) and old (dusting off some of the things I love that I've ignored for a while).

Change is all around. And I'm inspired to blog again by a friend of mine who's made the leap from FB to his own hosted site. Well done, sir. I commend your decision.

I expect that I'll stay on FB so I can see pictures of the people I care about. But I also suspect that I'll be spending less and less time there. For various reasons.

More soon...

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Growing Pains

So it's been about a year since I've posted here and I'm sorry about that.

But it's been a heck of a year.

I'm in full swing as a Pilates instructor, alongside my freelance work as a proof reader and copy editor. I've had some cool freelance jobs come in, and I've really enjoyed doing them. I've got another iron in the fire as a project manager for an online product, and I'm enjoying the people I'm working with. Thus far, it's all good and clearly this decision was the correct one for me to make.

I'm also still adjusting to the way things are around hearth and home. Things are a little less tidy, and I've learned that that's OK. Things are also a little bit more chaotic, but that I think goes with the kind of schedule that I've got, now that I'm no longer a 9-5 kind of gal, and that's OK, too.

The kids are fine, and growing up fast, and that's really the main reason that I've decided to do what I'm doing now. I see them a lot now every day, to the point where now they're saying things like 'Mummy I really liked it better when you had your other job'.

Out of the mouths of babes, eh?

Still, I suspect that it's just that familiarity breeds contempt. I'm always here (well, except for the nights I teach, but even then, I'm still around between when school gets out and bedtime), and so I'm the face they see all the time. And sometimes I'm the most horrible person/mother in the world.

But tonight I wasn't. Tonight I spent time with my eldest, who is soon to be nine. She blew off both the choir show she was supposed to sing in at the local beer festival, as well as her ballet class. She's been saying all week that she's just tired, she doesn't want to go to her after-school club, she doesn't want to go to today, instead of participating in all her stuff, she just put her jammies on and mooched around the house all day. But while the husband and the youngest child took themselves off to the event, I had strict instructions from the husband to not let eldest child use the iPad, have fun, have a friend round, etc., because if she was 'too ill' to sing or go to ballet, then she was 'too ill' to have any fun. Fair enough.

But tonight she and I made stuff. I've recently completed the crocheted blanket I've been working on for 18  months (gift for sister-in-law), and now I'm working on a quilt. But I, of course, have to have an interstitial project to go to when I don't have time to concentrate on the quilt, but I've got a few moments to spare. So I've started plaiting fabric scraps to make a rag rug. And eldest came to hang out with me. And after a while of her watching me and some chit chat, she said she wanted to make something. And tonight I taught her to sew.

She cut out some bits of fabric and said she was going to make an apple. I taught her how to pin the wrong sides of the fabric together, and sew a seam with a sewing machine, and then turn the right sides out, and she stuffed it full of sheep's wool that she'd collected on a walk a few weeks ago, and hand sewed the top closed, and put a green ribbon on the top. And it's great.

And then after that was complete, she just hung out and we talked.

(Incidentally, we've already had the chat about where babies come from, and how they get in there in the first place, and what happens to your bod when you get closer to being a teenager.)

So she asked me how old I was when I first decided I 'liked' a boy. I said 'about nine or so', and she said 'OK'. And then she told me about how a friend of hers (male, also almost nine years old) kissed her the other day, and then we talked about when that's OK, and when it isn't. And then she said, 'I know that when I'm a teenager I'm not going to like you or Daddy very much, right?' -- and I said yes, that that was probably right. And then she said, 'But I like you quite a bit right now.'

And then she got up and went to get ready to go to bed. And as she left the room, I said 'I love you', and she was silent. So I 'ahem-ahem-ed' at her, and she just looked at me and rolled her eyes, and the door closed behind her as she went out.

She likes me 'quite a bit right now'.

For this moment, that's lovely.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

I'm Outta Here...

Glad to report that my days are numbered. At work, that is. I've officially given notice, and boy has the stress level gone down. A LOT.

I love the fact that my team leader, who is one of the main reasons I'm going (don't get me started), hasn't even acknowledged that I've given notice. At least the head of my department has sent me an email saying I'll be missed. The team leader just goes right on talking to me about things that will be deployed/happening long after I'm gone. In a meeting the other day, he started talking about how he's really excited about a new development we'll be able to use in testing our products, and how it applies specifically to my colleague and to me. Deployment estimate: August. My last day: 30th of June.

Not to mention a host of other things that have done nothing except confirm for me that this decision is the right one for me right now. My mental health is sure to bounce back. The teeth grinding has already lessened. I don't feel as worn out as I have in the past. I no longer dread Mondays. And I have a positive view of my future (which is certainly something that I haven't felt professionally for a long time).

I've still got 26 days left, which is a long time (or it SEEMS a long time). But I'm not making any plans to do more than what I need to do. I have finished going to the extreme for this company. I've finished with going beyond the call of duty. I have 13 years' worth of experience, know-how, understanding of how it all works. I know things that could only be known by someone like me because of how long I've been around, and because I listen to what people say, and I know who to ask about things, and how to ask for help from people who would tell other people to just get in line. (As an aside, I think people are willing to do things for me when I ask them because I treat them like people. There are many around here who treat their co-workers like production-line flunkies. I'd like to remind a few people around here that just because you happen to have been promoted to 'manager', it doesn't necessarily mean that you know bugger all about how to manage people, or how to lead a team. I can tell you unabashedly: you don't know squat).

I'm going to do what I must do, and that's all. I'm going to record things that are part of my job description, but when it comes to divulging all my secrets about who to talk to, and how, in order to smooth the way and sort things out, forget it.

One of my strengths is being a facilitator. I'm great at getting people to work together. And what I've come to realize is that, around here, that's not desirable.

I'd also like to quote from my most recent appraisal, from a comment from my team leader: "I see the need for [her] to progress, and her enthusiasm to gain extra experience with which to make the case for further progression when appropriate roles arise that she can apply for." I've added the emphasis here. Two and a half years in the same position, without a pay rise, nor a promotion. What is the point of working your arse off to get a great appraisal, or to ask for help with learning and development, when there isn't a chance in Hell that you're going to be promoted? OOooh. You mean I'll be ALLOWED to APPLY for a job to move up in my department, but I'd still potentially be shunted aside, just in case there's someone from outside the organization? What about that old fashioned gem -- promotion on merit? Remember that one?

He 'sees my enthusiasm to gain extra experience'. Gee. That's nice that he SEES it. But he's never done a thing to work with it, or provide any opportunities to help me move forward. And when it's been queried, he just bounces it back to my line manager, saying 'oh that's a management issue -- not something for me'.

I'm gone. Long gone. Even though I've got 26 days left. I'm well and truly gone. And I'm taking my information, my know-how, my experience, and my secret ways with me. So have a good time after I've gone, trying to figure out how it all works.

Oh. And I'll be watching the salary and career progression of my replacement with interest. I reckon that if there's a promotion, or a pay rise, before two and a half years are out, you'll be hearing from me. And one or two of my professional friends. You know - those people with the letters QC after their names?

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Dress-up Box

Today was World Book Day, for those of you who missed it. Although if you live anywhere near a primary/elementary school, you'd have to be pretty well blinkered to not see the hoards of Harrys, and Hermiones, and Oompa-Loompas, and Horrid Henrys, and Ghostbusters, and so on...

I'm glad it's all about reading, and encouraging the kids to delve more into what's out there. I'm a big fan of books. I like them. I hope you like them. You should get some more. I need more, too.

But let's be honest, here. It's really about the dressing up.

A few years ago, the eldest wanted to be Pippi Longstocking. So I took apart a dress I'd worn as a bridesmaid, popped some patches on, and got out some of my old knee socks. Presto! But I will say that the crowning achievement there was the brown pipe cleaners in the plaits, to encourage the iconic sticky-outy hair look.

Last year she was Captain Hook. I'd be cheating you if I didn't mention that the CH costume was lovingly made by my godmother, who is a phenomenal seamstress, especially when it comes to kids' costumes. (I'm sorry to say I just can't find a picture of this one right now. When I do, I'll edit it in!)

This year, it's all about Harry Potter. And I'm proud that she wanted to be Hermione. Hermione is a pretty great character, and a super great role model for kids in general (brainy saves the day, generally speaking...), but also for girls. Hermione never comes across as manipulative, or as a girls-like-pink cliche. Sure, she's a complete swot and can be utterly annoying as a KIA, but she's all right. The greatest part about it is that she's also never caught wearing some god-awful outfit where her skirt is up to minge base, her navel is showing, and her teen-aged ta-tas are on display. NEVER. She's a nerdy girl, but a cool, intelligent, and ballsy tough chick to boot. 

So I got my Costume Designer head on, and found a black graduation robe and a Gryffindor badge online, bought from M&S a white school blouse (2 for 8 quid, mind), a grey cardie, and the crowning glory (hooray for eBay) was a time-turner necklace (I refer you to Prisoner of Azkaban). Then we appropriated dad's white and red diagonally striped tie, and I coloured in the white stripes with a goldenrod coloured marking pen.

[Aside: how cute do little kids look in ties? Cute, right? Awww.]

So with all the kit, plus her Harry Potter branded magic wand she got from her grandma at Xmas, we went to town. I took in the arms on the graduation robe. I did the tie colouring thing. I ironed on the Gryffindor badge. We found a grey school skirt, clean grey tights, and she put on the white blouse. Dad helped with the tie. And directly after her ablutions last night we plaited her hair into four plaits for her to sleep in. 


The result? My Very Own Hermione.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015


It's been a weird week or so. I've finally made my decision about Mr Mean Man (thanks, Julie!), and all that he embodies, so that's good. My plan is in place, and as soon as I'm at liberty to talk about it, believe me, I will. But suffice it to say, it's certainly lightened the load for me.

The other thing that happened is that I learned some distressing news a week ago tonight. The mother of one of my 7-year-old's classmates died last week. Melanoma. She was diagnosed last summer, and BANG. She leaves behind a daughter who's 5, a son who's 7, and a really terrific guy who's now, according to multiple sources, having a really bad time of it all.

And she was my age.

I didn't know her. I met her only twice. She seemed really nice. So I'm not writing this to tell you how much I'm mourning my friend, or to talk about what a great person she was; I don't really know. I presume as much, but I don't know.

What I'm writing about tonight is perspective.

Mr Mean Man has been getting my goat far too long. And I've been racking my brain to figure out what I can do to impress him/the others/whomever it is I think I need to impress, to get ahead. And I've realized that it really doesn't matter.

I have spent so much of my life being identified by what I do every day to earn my money. I don't know why. It could be because of the industry I was in when I cut my business teeth, and all the bullshit that surrounds everything that goes on there. I could be the people who I claimed as my mentors while I was in that crowd. It could be a combo. It could be none of the above.

But I've realized that my kids are 4, and 7. And right now, they'll still hold my hand when we're walking along. And they want me to kiss them goodnight, and read them stories, and they want to do things with me and go places with me. And in a few short years, they won't want to do those things with me any longer. Especially the holding hands bit. That might just be what breaks my heart, when it happens. And it will happen.

So after hearing last week's news over a cup of late night decaf with a friend at her kitchen table, my perspective has changed. My decaf friend asked me about how I'd feel if tomorrow were my last day on earth -- would I be so upset about not spending more time slogging my guts out for people who don't even know my name, or people who talk to me as if I'm dirt? Or would I rather be lying there, and remembering all the lovely things I did with my kids, and my husband, and my family, and my friends?

I choose the latter, folks. And it's a conscious decision to do it. It doesn't matter what I do from 9-5, really, as long as it's something I like. And it's something that likes me back.

I look at the faces of my kids. I see pictures of them from just 6 months ago, and I see the changes in their eyes, and faces, and smiles. I see their slightly rounder, slightly more babyish cheeks stare at me from the picture frame, and when I look round to who they are today, I see girls, not toddlers. I see personality, and curiosity, and temper, and independence, and fury, and humour. And I've only got a little while to be within their circles, until I'm banished because that's what we did to our parents, and what our children will do to us.

Last week, what did that lovely young mother think as she waited for her end to happen to her? Was she prepared to leave her children behind? Did she regret any choices she'd made, because she'd thought she'd have years and years to spend? I don't know. I never will know.

But I'm not going to regret a thing. Thoreau also said 'Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.'

OK, Henry. I'm listening now.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Why Do They Have One, and We Haven't?

Ok. So first of all, I'm a loser. Who had any idea that the little local cinema was going to sell out tonight, when we planned a date night to go see the new movie about Stephen Hawking?

Oh. You all knew that I should have booked tickets online two weeks ago? Oh.

Anyway, there we were, out and about, the sitter at home with the kids, and we had no where to go. So we had a think and decided (wait for it...) to go to the pub.

But we decided to go to a pub we'd never been to before. One in a village a good 20 minute drive from where we live. Let's call the pub 'The Chequers'. 

It's amazing. 

It's comfy, and welcoming, but elegant. It's got a good area for proper settling in by the fire, but it's got a bar, and a dartboard, and snacks. And none of the comfy chairs around the fireplace match, and most of them are a touch threadbare. But it's also a restaurant, and the place is well turned out, but not over the top. Chairs and tables in the dining area are large, dark wood pieces, and the chairs have seats upholstered in green leather, with the brass studs going round the edges. 

But what makes it great is that it's all a bit eclectic, and shabby, but without being a dump. Sure, it's got trendy lightbulbs in the hanging lights, but it's got a leg of cured, acorn-fed ham sitting on the bar, waiting for your order (and they serve it sliced oh so thinly, on a plate, with blanched almonds). And it has hunter green wainscoting, but it's got a tiny Victorian stuffed alligator on the bar, holding books of matches. MATCHES! No one does matches anymore. I love matches.

Taxidermy? Yep. They've got it, and I love it. This place has a deer's head mounted behind the bar -- it's Clive. But it's good, and it works. They've got huge glass jars of snacks behind the bar on the glass shelf - the aforementioned almonds, but also caper berries, wasabi dried broad beans, chilli peanuts. And a popcorn machine. And the selection on tap was pretty great (I have my sources).

Sunday nights they do their steak night (there's only one chef on Sundays - the rest get the day off). For 16 quid, you get a bib lettuce and bleu salad, flat iron steak, chips, and a cheese board. For an extra 7, you can have one of each of an excellent selection of oysters (St Austell natives, pearl, etc.)

These two guys were having a late dinner, and came over from the bar to a table nearby when their food arrived. It smelled pretty good, and we commented. They (one in his early 50s, one in his early 70s) didn't miss a beat, and handed round the chips. And they were good. They ordered merlot (larges), which came with glasses, and each had their own tiny carafe. 

Upstairs, the private dining room can be reserved with no extra charge. It seats about 20 or so, and it's a proper private room, with double doors that close, and bookshelves filled with books, and candles, and other tchotchkes. Dark green walls, leather-covered chairs, and the table set and the candles burning, ready for a party to sit, and eat, and enjoy.

SO -- in a nutshell: fabulous, slightly tatty, taxidermy, good snacks, good booze, steak, classy, and totally nice, but not overbearing staff. Excellent, right?

Then why can't they do that in my town?

The big thing these days in my town is that the people who own one of the oldest pubs in town want to convert it into three houses, and sell up. And people are outraged. Because the owners have said 'it's not a viable business'.  But I wonder how hard you're trying, really, when you're closed a lot (how can you offer B&B rooms but be closed on a Monday?), you don't cater to people with kids and dogs, the food isn't great, and you're not exactly the friendliest people around. I've walked in the door there as a party guest, and been given a shoulder cold enough to cause frostbite, let alone going in for a drink, just for the heck of it.

Clearly, things can be viable - it has been before - and it's been a pub for hundreds of years - so YES - viable! It just seems that either they don't really care, or they're shit at it. I'm inclined to think it's a bit of both. And I never have been able to understand people who go into the 'people' business, when they obviously aren't particularly fond of people.

There's another pub in town, and that's been recently taken over by a nice couple. They're nice. And they try so hard. And that's part of it. They're so all-fired determined that you're going to have a great time at their pub, they're going to beat it out of you. As a pub landlord, is it really best practice to suggest to a group of 40-something dads who've come in for a pint at 8pm on a Thursday that they 'line up some Jäger shots'? And the fake flowers. Ugh. And the fact that there's a fire only in one fireplace. And that none of the tables look like they want someone to come sit at them. 

I know. I'm complaining. But it's something my husband and I talk about all the time. What would WE do, if we were running a pub (or a B&B, or...)? Because you've all been there, when you've gone someplace, and it's been 'meh' when it could've been 'WOW!' So what's missing?

Is it an innate sense of aesthetic? Is it that some people don't know how to do classy? Is it differing standards of comfort? Is it a cash thing? Is it a lack of desire to provide something for your customers that goes just a smidgeon beyond satisfactory? WHAT?

About that 'not a viable business' pub. Let me tell you one thing...if you deck your place out with furniture that someone might want to sit on (for more than five minutes), if you welcome people in with a smile on your face, if you do a few good things on your menu instead of a cornucopia of mediocre choices, and you make it a place where people want to stay, instead of a place where they can't wait to finish and go, it might change things a bit. 

I'm not a pub landlord. I'll never be one. But I'm a customer, and I know what I've seen that works, and what doesn't. 'The Chequers' works. The pub in my town could work, too. But only if someone chooses to put into it what they want to get out of it.

Friday, 13 February 2015

When I Grow Up...

I've been doing a lot of thinking today about role models.

I think the thing that really struck me today is that, for the most part, the role models that girls grow up with are ingénues. And they come in all sort sorts of categories, created by various groups of people or individuals, etc. So you've got your Disney crowd (Ariel, Snow White, Cinderella, Elsa, Aurora, blah blah). Then you've got the crowd I hung out with -- Jane Eyre, LIzzie Bennett, Dorothea Brooke -- that type of heroine. And they're all presented with their problem that they have to overcome: I'm poor. My stepmother hates me. I'm a fish. I turn things into ice. I'm an orphan. I've fallen in love with my husband's hot young cousin -- the typical stuff, right?

But if you think about it (caveat: Elsa's not really included here - see ***), all their stories pretty much end when they've hooked up with a guy. Generally speaking, their stories end at the altar: 'Reader, I married him'. And while you get a teeny tiny glimpse of good ole Jane as mother, it stops pretty much after her adored Rochester sees the bairn with his own two (unblind) eyes. YAY! The underdog triumphs again.

Then there's the other end of the spectrum - the haggy, croney part. Generally speaking, these women are the exact opposite of the fresh, young things from above. These are the women that are solitary, slightly weird, a bit scary, and either live in the woods in a hut that runs around on chicken legs, bake children into pies, or get burned/drowned as witches. Neat. I can't wait. (Another caveat: Miss Marple comes out all right in the end, but she's a maverick here).

But what I started thinking about is that we all grow up with these kinds of role models. About how it's all about being young, beautiful, feisty, adventurous enough, and we're geared up to find our way, and hope we bag Prince Charming/Mr Darcy along the way. And sometimes the crone shows up, too, but usually it's as the Fairy Godmother, or the Evil Witch, one of which gets us to the ball on time, and the other tries to prevent us from getting PC or Mr D (Lady Catherine loses out here, but she still fits the role).

So there we go - out in the world, armed with these perceptions. And we let ourselves be cast, as willing or not-so-willing participants, wearing whatever costume we're provided with, and the curtain goes up.

And biology kicks in. We get our plumage dusted off and shined up. We parade around, and strut, and beckon. Because somewhere, underneath of all the crazy, fun madness that you get up to when you're young (and beautiful, and slender, and single) are your genes, telling you that it's time to find someone so that you can make sure your genes get passed on before your ovaries shrivel up and turn into dried fava beans. 

So that's what you do. You follow Lizzie Bennett's lead - you dance at the Netherfield Ball, you say 'no thanks' to Mr Collins (let's not even think about passing on genes with him), you finally get rid of the schmuck, and you bag Mr Darcy (TEN THOUSAND A YEAR!!!). 

And you marry him. And as the carriage rolls away to Derbyshire to your palatial estate where you're going to live happily ever after...the instruction manual stops.

Where are the role models for those years in between the ingénue and the crone? Where are the books that talk about what it is to be a matron? A mother? After you've passed on your genes, and you have put aside all the plumage and the frippery and the mating dance -- what then?

[LITERARY ASIDE: Don't forget here that matron doesn't mean fat, red-cheeked, and dowdy. It means a 'married woman or a widow, especially a mother, of dignity, mature age, and established social position.' So being called matronly doesn't suck, really, if the person knows what they're talking about.]

Because all that leads up to the altar, and to child bearing, which results in the fulfilment of your biological destiny, right? (*Please note here that I'm WELL aware that there are plenty of women who have chosen not to have children. But I think there's something behind the baked-in sexual urges of youth that are driven by a primordial urge to make sure your genes make it to the next generation. IMHO, of course).

I know what you're thinking. Scarlett O'Hara. She did it. She married Charles, had Wade. Then she married Frank Kennedy, and had Ella. Then Rhett, and had Bonnie. But if you look at Scarlett, she never makes that transition, does she? She's still always trying to be her 16-year-old self, with the tiny waist, surrounded by all the single gentlemen attending the Twelve Oaks barbecue. She never really transitions out of the ingénue phase until the very end of the book, when tragedy strikes so close to home that she finally has to grow up. But again, we're left hanging - this time, not at the altar, but watching her as she makes her plans for tomorrow, to get Rhett back (i.e. put the plumage on, shake her tail feather, do the mating dance to bring him back).

But I want to know what you think. Where are our matronly trailblazers and mavericks?

We can't rely on characters like Mrs Bennett, with her ribbons, nerves, and discussions of lace. Or Mrs van Hopper - with her bossy, brutish behaviour.

I always have wanted to grow up to be Mrs Fezziwig. Remember her? She's the wife of Ebenezer Scrooge's boss -- the one who throws the terrific Christmas parties for all the employees. We only see her as a glimpse of Scrooge's past, but from what I've seen, I think I like her. She's 'worthy to be [her husband's] partner in every sense of the term'. And Fezziwig himself is a bit old-fashioned, a bit foppish, but about as happy of a man as you'll ever know.

And if that's all I have to go on right now, I'll use it. But I'm going to keep looking.

***Elsa doesn't end up with anyone. She's the Ice Queen, revisited. Clever girl. She gets to be who she really is, without all the hindrance of propriety, society, and family breathing down her neck. If that's a spinster, it comes highly recommended.