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.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

A Wise Geezer Once Said...

'It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.'

Anyone know what great brain said the above?

Yep. Albus Dumbledore. A truly excellent man. Shame about the 'not being a real person' bit.

JK Rowling gives a lot of good advice via ole Albus. Sure, they're great stories with great characters, but she sneaks these bits of wisdom in without us really noticing until later. And I like that.

But I think it's worth giving that quote from Albus a chew every once in a while, just to make sure it's front of mind. And believe me, it's so easy for a whole load of the daily shite to get in the way, and block out the important things.

The choices our parents make for us when we're too young to know better are one of main things that determine if we're fuck-ups in our lives, or end up decent people. And if your parents make half-decent choices for you, and teach you how to do the same, then you're in pretty good shape. At least until you go off into the world where you can do what you damned well please without them harping at you about stuff from dawn to dusk.

My parents did a pretty good job, especially considering that they were practically CHILDREN when they became parents. And they each had their issues, which, alongside all the good stuff they taught me and my brother (i.e. Don't litter. Don't be a jerk. Clean up after yourself. Don't hit. Tell the truth. Apologize. Say please and thank you. Be nice, etc.), we also absorbed. And it's really an eye-opener of a day when you suddenly realize that you do stuff, or act a certain way, or think about things in a particular light, because you subconsciously learned how to mimic your parents along with all the shit they inherited from their parents.

But I think I need to start taking a good look at the choices I make, rather than question my abilities. And that means abilities across the board - as a parent, a spouse, an employee, etc. I'm VERY able and I do what I do well (most of the time). But it's the choices that are under fire here.

I have a really short fuse when it comes to my youngest. She's amazing -- smart, funny, cute. But boy is she a pain in the arse. And she's a typical four-year-old kid. Her attention span is great if she's doing something she likes; not so great if she's uninterested in the activity at hand. She faffs around with eating her meals. You've got to ask her to put her jacket on about seven times before you can walk out the door (this is especially effective when I'm trying to get her to school and me to the train on time every morning). So I shout. LOUDLY. And I hate it.

But it occurred to me tonight that I'm establishing the dynamic of our future relationship here. She acts out, I shout, she cries, I get stressed out, and we all end up feeling rotten. And none of it changes the fact that it still took 15 minutes for her to take her socks off.

So -- choices, not abilities. I need to choose to change how I interact with my kids. With my husband. Friends, mom, brother, sister-in-law, job. I've never been a good chooser. I've gotten a few choices right (hiya, Boss). But generally speaking, up until about ten years ago, I've been a bit of an ass when it comes to making good choices. I think my mom and dad tried to help me when I was younger, but I also know that they had their own issues and lives and thoughts to sort out.

I'm also very aware that I'm genetically programmed to make shitty choices. I've unlearned a lot of this behaviour (thanks, Valerie Brucker -- I miss you). And I know my nuclear family has done some good unlearning, too. See? It's never too late to think about choices.

I have a lot of abilities - I can do a TON of stuff. But it's the choices that I've made across almost my whole life, in conjunction with my abilities, that have come up a bit flat. It's almost as if by the time you reach your 40s, you've got a good enough idea about how it all works to actually be ready to be out there in the world. You Get It. It Makes Sense. You've Got A Grip On Things.

The sad part is, there's no do-overs. Not a one. The best you get is a clean slate.

It's not about a mid-life crisis (I had mine at about 28 years old, I reckon). It's about understanding how to make choices that turn you into the person that you want to be -- now, tomorrow, next week. And hopefully, those choices will allow a bit of retro-fitting, so you can try to see your former self as the person you wanted to be, too.

My husband and I were just talking about sticker charts - you know the ones? Where your kid gets a sticker if they [fill in the blank] for a whole day/week. When they get a week's worth of stickers, they get a [fill in the blank with treat/item/event]. So we were talking about creating a sticker chart for the youngest, to see if we can get her to try to not be so utterly bonkers.

I think the person who needs the sticker chart is me.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Kish mier en toochis...

After some quick conversation with the husband last night, and some serious thinking about what's been going on in my life recently, I've made the decision to make some decisions.

I don't have too much longer to go before I can put them in writing, but suffice it to say that it's going to be good.

It's going to mean there's going to be a lot less stress in my life, and a lot more joy (no, I'm not separating from my husband). Ha ha. See what I did there? I made a hilarious 'spouse' joke.

But it's actually the spouse who said 'you should listen to this great Freakonomics podcast - I think it'll do you some good.' And you know what? It did.

It got me thinking that what I spend my days doing has to be something that I not only LIKE doing, but that lets me use the expertise and the experience I have on a daily basis. Currently, what I'm doing could be done by a robot (see previous post on this subject), or they could save themselves a ton of cash and just get some newbie, wet-behind-the-ears recent graduate or temp to make screenshots of websites, and put up pictures on the noticeboard, or make sure that everyone gets the monthly email about passwords.

Yep. This is my job. After 25 years in business, this is the majority of my work. Sure. I have projects to work on. But I'm so busy doing administration and clean-up, that I can't find the time to actually perform any of the tasks that are supposed to show why I need to do more and be more. But I spend an inordinate amount of time putting data from one excel spreadsheet into another, and sorting it (over, and over, and OVER again) because someone somewhere (who has no idea of what I do, or how I do it) has made a decision that may see like a good idea, but doesn't bear any resemblance to reality.

Oh yes. I also love being told off by a newly hired colleague how to do my job, and why how we've always done something clearly isn't how we should still do it. Please note: I've been at my place of employment since 2002, with an 18 month break between 2005-6. So clearly I wouldn't have any experience with change, or have been through any restructures, or new 'business implementations' engineered by profit-seeking (and utter out of touch with reality) bean counters and uber-Geschäftsleute who got their MBAs and love to talk about globalization, but haven't been in the trenches in years.

I'm just done. I'm done with the stress that makes me grind my teeth at night so badly that I get headaches. I'm done with the place that raises my cortisol levels to such an extent that I get the shpilkas just walking in the front door of the place. And to run with the Yiddish here, I'm also over the schmegeggy who's made me cry twice (when I swore it would never happen). I'm an ADULT, for God's sake!

So watch this space, nu? It's all going to be great.