Sunday, 16 November 2014

How long does a lipstick last?

Those of you who have known me for a long time might remember that, a few years ago, I dated my toiletries to see how long they lasted.  Out of curiosity, I extended that to my cosmetics after I wondered how long it took to get a lipstick from this:

To this:

Take a closer look from the top:

Can't get much emptier, can you?

How long do you reckon?  This is the lipstick I use virtually every working day.  I apply it in the morning, cover it with Lipcoat sealant and forget about it.  I probably only reapply it one afternoon in three. long do you think?

A clue:

Yes, that's right, three and a half years!

- Pam

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Career girl? Who, me?

In the beginning, I didn't set out to have a career.  Initially I just wanted to take care of people, travel and get paid a living* wage.  Later, after I fell out of love with nursing, I added the requirement "to not get treated like a slave".  After a couple more years, I added "and not be bored" to the list.

For a while, when I first became an accountant, I did get really ambitious.  I wanted job titles, promotions, to get away from the tedious stuff, and to earn big money.  If you'd asked me then what I wanted to be doing in five years, I'd probably have responded with "I want my boss' job" or "I want to run the company".  The blazing ambition faded as the years wore on and realisation dawned that I'd never really got onto a path where my career could follow any sort of trajectory.  I'd chosen tax as my speciality and then discovered it wasn't for me; got rescued by a finance systems project but became a systems trainer, not a systems accountant (another blind-ended career path).  When I did, finally, make it out into the business as a management accountant, I got made redundant 18 months later, having still not achieved what I considered to be the necessary step on my career path: Assistant Financial Controller.  After a few interviews, it became blatantly obvious to me that the dream job wasn't going to happen - I'd have to settle for having a job, not a career.

When I interviewed for this company in 2006, I was asked what I wanted for my career.  I remember looking at Simon and Mike and considering telling them  "I want your job".  Instead, I told them that I just wanted to do something interesting - that I didn't want to be bored - and that I wanted to be part of a team.  I must have said something right - they hired me.  Since I was hired for one specific project, I half expected to be made redundant 2.5 years later, when it was due to cease.  The project eventually ran for 5 years. Occasionally, Mike and I would have a chat about what I'd do next, after "The Project" finished. (Worst case scenario was project controls.)  When things did eventually start winding down in September 2010, I was poised to become his assistant when I came back from a long weekend in France, got dragged into a meeting room and was told "I'm sorry but we're going to have to change to Plan B".  "What's Plan B?" I asked.  "Sergey's resigned.  You are going to have to take over Buildings Group"!

I took on Sergey's projects and responsibility for four project accountants.  I had a shiny, new job title "Project Accounting Manager" (later changed to Finance Manager) but it was apparent that the business didn't need me - they had never received much in the way of financial management support from Finance and had set up its own internal support systems to cope.  Anyway it was another 9 months before The Project finally left site and I had the time to consider the non-project aspects of my job and wonder why I wasn't involved in the business in the way that my peers (the other Project Accounting Managers) were involved in theirs.  

It was then that I got to know Tall and Dark.  At that time, Dark was the project controller on Sergey's two projects; Tall was the business' Commercial Director.  Since my month's work was front-end loaded, once that was done both of them would regularly receive emails from me: "I'm bored.  Do you have anything I can do?".  I lost count of the times I sat at my desk trying to figure out a way to do something which would add value to the business, something which would help me make my mark, convince the Powers That Be to involve me and use my skills.  I gate-crashed the monthly Project Accounting Review meetings ("PAR") - Mike had been invited to them, but I never was.  None of the business' senior management team were based in my office, so unless I made the effort, I'd never meet any of them.

Tall became my ally - often, the first I knew about the time and date of the PAR was when he sent me slides; sometimes, it was when his hand would appear in my field of vision, between me and my computer screen, holding a cappacino for me. Later, I would learn that he'd reference me in management meetings, saying "Pam and I investigated this..." or "Pam and I did that...", even regarding things where I thought my contribution was minimal.  (Not that I was at the meeting, you understand - I was never invited to anything - but information would drift back to me.).  Tall ensured that I got copied into internal reports/introduced to people/informed what was going on.  He mentored me; my job changed and grew.

I can date exactly when Tall and I became real friends and not just colleagues to a working lunch where he explained the arcane workings of the forecast file.   In the course of three hours, we shared a lot more than just his forecasting methodology.  We clicked.  

Work meant that Dark and I had to talk several times a day.  Early on, I went up north to meet him and we became firm friends. We'd talk about life, family and football, not just work.  Later, I discovered that he and Tall were best mates and, at some point, we became the "three amigos". A unit. A team.  We'd exchange hugs when we met, find excuses to socialise, use each other as sounding boards.  When Tall was shoehorned into Sales and Dark got promoted, our roles changed but our bond didn't.

Do you remember this lunch?  At some point during it, I told Tall that I was very contented with my lot, that I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing the job that I was made to be doing. 

It was the truth.  And it has remained true for most of the last two years.  Sure, there have been times when I have been driven almost to tears by the frustration of dealing with certain people in Glasgow - and there were other times, early on, when I drove home crying over how unfair it was that Tall was no longer Commercial Director while Dark was doing the work but not getting the recognition - however there was never a day when I wanted to work somewhere else.  For two years, my only ambition has been to be Tall's Finance Manager when he gets promoted to Vice President, with Dark as his Commercial Director.  I just want to work with my mates, my amigos.  I was really happy when Dark got promoted to Commercial Director in the summer - he deserved it.  When we were given a second business to look after - a new one, just beginning - it was fun scheming about how we'd make it work.

Since I only have the one ambition, I thought I was in my job until it either came to fruition or the three of us came up with a viable business solution and jumped ship.  I never expected the conversation I had a month ago with my new line-manager** - a conversation that froze me to the core at the time and has driven me to tears since.  His grand plan is to move me away from the business I know, away from my friends and support network, to take on a smaller business while at the same time taking over some of the corporate work that has been neglected/ended up on his desk because there was nobody else doing it.

Since when has a possible promotion felt so much like a bereavement?

It wasn't sold to me as a promotion. What I was told that day on the phone was that there might be somewhere else in the business that could better use my services while the new-to-us-came-via-a-merger-finance-manager was a better fit for my business(!) because he lives in the same city as Dark and the business' new VP.   (Somehow that logic only works when applied to Newby - it doesn't work when you consider that the business I now know i'm getting has its senior management in Glasgow and Manchester.)

Initially, I wasn't even being told what I'd get or when.  At that point, I was being asked to consent to something that was all hints without substance, without being told the details.  All I knew was that they were taking away my toys! It took another three weeks before I was told the details and longer before an announcement was made.

How on earth am I going to handover everything I know about my current business?  I can't just download my brain. This is not one of those companies with standardised processes for everything - where you can just slot in and out of a finance role - every business does things differently and I don't think we have ever completely followed the way our current region works.  (I don't like the flavour of some of their Kool Aid.)  Newby hasn't even been here long enough to grasp the few things we do have standardised.  We are too far into the Q1 forecasting for me to just do a handover and walk away.  Plus he had leave booked, right in the middle of it all.  Meanwhile the Finance Manager of my new business is handing over responsibility as quickly as he can... Which  leaves me with the lion's share of three forecasts to prepare, plus review meetings to attend, and the certain knowledge that I don't have enough hours in the day to do everything to my exacting standards.  (Oh yes, and from the kick-off of 10 days ago, when we got the timetable, the bulk of the work has to be done before the end of the coming week.)

So where the hell does this leave me?  I am exhausted, stressed out and pulled in at least four different directions right now. I've spent the last two days in forecast review meetings with Dark - a bittersweet  experience since a) it's for the last time (probably) and b) he keeps telling people to send me stuff/update me as part of the process, demonstrating how much he relies on me and how hard it will be to let go.  

I do not know what I am going to do.   I spent the week in France trying to come to terms with things, deciding whether I should stay or go find a new sandpit to play in.  In the end, I decided to stay for at least another six months to see how it all plays out - at least here I know ground rules - but I feel besieged on all fronts.  I don't want to fight again to become part of a business, nor am I certain that my boss will back me over the things that I think add value to the job (he doesn't like bespoke reports and I've always been left with the distinct impression that their way was the only way).  

Dark feels like his right arm is being cut off; frankly, so do I.  Tall is having his own work nightmare at the moment (not mine to tell).  I just hope that when the three of us go mad from stress, the PTB's put us on the same ward.

I'll let you know how this plays out.

- Pam

* A living wage by my definition includes earning enough to pay for a nice home in a reasonable neighbourhood, a car, books,  the odd meal out, one or two concerts/plays/operas a year, and not having to worry about how I am going to put food on the table or pay for my train fare to get to work.

** Yes, another one.  Long story.  Suffice to say that this one was number 2 in Glasgow and got promoted. I used to bang heads with him over stuff when we joined the region and it would annoy him that he didn't control me or my team.  I also used to regularly be surprised when I'd pop my head around his door to ask a question/say hello and find myself still there half an hour later, listening to him vent.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Life goes on

A reminder that, before it was a battlefield, Utah Beach was just a beach....

Monday, 6 October 2014

Bonjour. Je m'appelle Lucky

Hello.  We've never met before.  My name is Lucky.  I'm Pam's car - the one she bought after her beloved Toy was written off (it's OK - I know she loves me, too). Anyway, I thought I'd let you in on a secret.....

Guess where I am?

Come on.  I'm sure you can do it.  Have another hint:

Yes.  That's right - I'm in the Channel Tunnel on my way to France!

A Bientôt 


Friday, 19 September 2014

Arnhem 19 September 1944/2014

Last night, I finally watched 'A Bridge Too Far'.  Less than three weeks ago, I stood on the John Frost Bridge over the Rhein, watching as the Band of The Southern Highlanders piped the standards of No 1 Para and some very elderly paratroopers across.   What started out as a discussion 6 months ago regarding visiting the battlefields of WW1 became a visit to Arnhem and the commemorations to remember Operation Market Garden, the Battle for Arnhem, 17-21 September, 1944.

There were hundreds of active and retired British servicemen here, mainly paratroopers but also RAF.  We were there to honour the bravery of No 1 Para who were dropped behind enemy lines and, unsupported, fought for the best part of a week to firstly secure the bridge and, later, just to survive long enough for reinforcements to arrive.  Their story is told in A Bridge To Far. That any survived to tell it amazes me.

Of course, the Battle for Arnhem isn't just the story of No 1 Para.  A Polish airborne regiment were dropped on the opposite bank of the Rhein and were thwarted in their attempts to break through.  (Sadly, the commemorative parachute drop was also thwarted by the weather.). 

Ultimately, though, the story belongs to the people of Arnhem, since after the battle, the Germans raised the city in retaliation. 

Friday, 15 August 2014

A Summer of Culture and Sport

This is my summer - a summer of culture and sport.  I’ve fulfilled one long-term ambition (seeing Rick Wakeman perform Journey to the Centre of the Earth), enjoyed the football World Cup, the Commonwealth Games, an opera (La Traviata), a rock festival in Hyde Park (watching Black Sabbath, Faith No More, Motorhead and Sound Garden), several Proms (with 7 to go plus Proms-in-the-Park), the tennis (I went to Queens for the day and watched Wimbledon on the telly), and the cricket (two series:  England vs Sri Lanka and now England vs India).

Monday of last week was my birthday.  After two weeks in which I saw Simple Minds perform at Kew-the-Music, drove from London to Scotland, went to four events at the Commonwealth Games (the opening ceremony, Rugby 7’s semi-finals, hockey and the athletics on 100m finals night), delivered the FY15 Plan (budget) to the Powers That Be in Glasgow, re-enacted the Battle of Bannockburn, attended a 60th birthday party, attended three Prom concerts (a Greek-themed one, Mozart’s Requiem and the War Horse Prom) and went to the Ballet (Swan Lake),  I took a much needed day off work on my birthday and crashed out.

It took me the best part of a week to recover from the Scotland trip plus the weekends that bookended it.  Scotland was a mixture of holiday to attend the Commonwealth Games and work, both coupled with little sleep – I trekked into the Glasgow office on 4 days including on the morning after the Opening Ceremony, when we’d got home at 2.30am and I had to be up at 6am in order to get the one-and-only direct train into Glasgow from Inverkeithing.  

 Somewhere in there, I've also managed two overnight trips to Manchester - it doesn't feel like work when you're spending the time at work with friends - plus several days working in the Tower Bridge office.   After one of those days at Tower Bridge, I even managed to extend my birthday celebrations by going for drinks/dinner with Dark.  (We were surprised at 9pm when there was a gun salute at the Tower.  I can't find out why there was a salute at that time so I've assumed it was to commemorate the start of the Siege of Lierge in WW1.)

The weather has been glorious, too – long, hot sunny days for most of the last two months.  I managed to get sunburnt at Queens and again at the Commonwealth Games (I never thought I’d ever get sunburnt in Glasgow!).  

As an August baby, I'm a child of the Sun - I was born in the week that Spring habitually returns to Melbourne.  Long, hot, sunny summer days feel like my birthright.  Bring them on Apollo.  Bring them on.

- Pam

Monday, 4 August 2014

A light in the darkness

One hundred years ago today, the Great War started.  "The lights are going out all over Europe.  We shall not see their like again," said Sir Edward Gray, the Foreign Secretary.  Tonight, like hundreds of thousands of others in Britain, our home is lit by a single candle in memory of those who lost their lives.

Everywhere you go in Britain, the councils have planted great swaithes of poppies...

 Ninety-nine years ago this week, at the Battle of Lone Pine two young men died - my mother's uncle and my father's uncle.  They died fighting the Turks, throwing their grenades back.  A third boy, a cousin, survived and was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Lest we forget.


Sunday, 6 July 2014


I never did tell you that I've identified That Man from the Television, mentioned in an earlier post.  He's John Inverdale the tennis broadcaster.  Why I'm forever stumbling across him at Heathrow, God only knows, but at least I now remember his name.

- Pam

Thank you Hector

In case you've never seen him before, here is Hector the Tax Inspector, the image of HM Revenue and Customs.

Although I think Hector has never uttered it, he is permanently associated in my mind with a catch-phrase from earlier tax-self-assessment ads, "Tax doesn't have to be taxing"...

So... Why am I introducing you to Hector?  This afternoon, I broke the procrastinator's habit of a lifetime and completed and submitted electronically my 2013/2014* tax return**, over six months before the due date (31 January 2015).  Thanks to several midnight dramas while I was in Australia at Christmas, Hector tellls me I'm due a refund, having paid too much tax in advance via my tax code***. 

What happened at Christmas?  You may remember that I rent out my flat (we didn't sell it when we bought this house 11 years ago).  Well, I don't think I ever told you about being 13,000 miles away and having to replace the boiler when it broke just before Christmas.  Nor do I think I told you about being woken up at 3am Australian time on Christmas Day (!) by a phone call from the tenant downstairs, when water was cascading through her bathroom ceiling four days after the new boiler was installed and frantically trying to get hold of the rental agents on Christmas Eve UK time.  (Thank God I had their mobile numbers.)

Anyway, I knew that the costs would have a knock on effect on this year's tax and had been eagerly collecting the relevant paperwork****.  For once, I wanted to get my tax returned filed as soon as possible.  This afternoon, with DH out of the house and the Wimbledon final on the telly, I sat down to do the necessary.... And got a pleasant surprise.  Just between you and I, it never occured to me that I might be due a refund for the last tax year - shocking, I know for an ex-tax professional - but because I pay estimated-in-advance-tax on my rental income via my tax code, I was hoping it would increase for this year and, with it, my monthly take-home pay*****.

The question now is what to do with the refund.  While, it's not an earth-shattering amount - several hundred Pounds not several thousand - I don't want to fritter it away.  Since I spent a large proportion of my "F-You Boss" money on rebuilding the kitchen, I think I'll put the refund into my cash ISA to boost that up.

- Pam

* The British tax year runs April to March.

** Not everyone in the UK has to file a tax return.  If you're a basic rate tax payer and only have employment income, chances are you will never have to file one. You'll pay all your tax via the PAYE system (pay-as-you-earn).

*** Every UK employee has a tax code, which tells their employer how much of their salary should be tax free.  For most people, it is their tax-free personal allowance (currently £10,000 per annum), but if you fill out a tax return, you can elect to pay any tax owed via your tax code.  Additionally, since our tax system requires payments-on-account if you've got rental income or self-employment income above a certain level, if  you're also an employee then you can opt to pay that via your tax code, which is what I do.

**** My P60 arrived promptly in April, but my P11D (benefits in kind statement) seemed to take forever and only arrived on Wednesday.  (The deadline for issuing them to employees was today.)    A P60 is the equivalent of an Australian "Group Certificate" or an American W2.

***** I am still expecting that to happen, but only by £10-£20/month because the 2014/2015 tax year estimate will be based on this latest tax return.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Someone at Virgin Trains has a sense of humour

When the toilet door closed behind me on the Manchester train this morning, a voice announced  the following:-

(I just had to photograph it.)

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Thinking in Bullet Points

This morning, I came to the conclusion that I think in bullet points.  If you receive an email from me, chances are it'll started off with a small paragraph along the lines of "Please find enclosed the ..blah..blah... Please note the following:-...." followed by numbered bullet points.  There might be a table or two thrown in there for illustrative/explanatory purposes, but the majority of the email will be in bullet points.

Even when I'm trying to identify a problem or work out a solution, I'll end up with a list of bullet points.  Often, I'll start writing down whatever-the-problem-is in a blank email, work my way through the issues, and suddenly there'll be half a dozen bullet points on the screen, possibly being arranged and rearranged until they make sense.

Frequently, my bullet points have their own bullet points....

It's got to the point that, this morning, I was driving into work, making a mental list about things that needed to get done today and realised that the list in my head (which I was mentally projecting onto the windscreen) consisted of a load of bullet points, with sub-bullet points and the odd arrow thrown in for good measure.  And this was all going on in my head!

I need to get out more!

- Pam

Sunday, 25 May 2014

I am not superwoman

Please, can people remind me that I am not Superwoman.  I'm just an ordinary, forty-mumble woman who works long hours, hates housework, loves cooking, gets far too little sleep, knits whenever she can and gardens far to infrequently to call herself a gardener...

Seriously, I'm having problems remembering that I have limitations.  You'd think, given this is me I'm talking about, that I'd know that I have limited time, limited energy and numerous calls on my time.  But no.  It seems I have a severe blind spot.  Today, I took myself to the garden centre to buy veg plants* to grow in our two metre-square raised beds.  Within 10 minutes had to talk myself out of several purchases, because a) I have no where to put them, and b) in order to make somewhere to put them, I'll need to put in in several days work of work in that wilderness I call a garden.  Not a chance right now, Pamela, not a chance!

But... But.... BUT!!!

No.  Walk away from the Eglu... You haven't got time to keep chickens.  But it's cute!  No.  But we could save loads of money on eggs... And feed the chickens on sunflower seed-heads so they don't cost a lot of money.... NO!!! 

In my head, I obviously think I'm Barbara Good from The Good Life

- Pam

PS:  The only way to resolve the Podcast app problem was to delete the app and reinstall it.

*  Since I obviously didn't have time or the inclination to start any seeds from scratch this year, the only way those beds were going to get plants into them was to buy partially grown ones.  I bought tomatoes, peppers, a cougette (zucchini), onions and bok-choi.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Apple have broken my favourite App

That's right.  Following an update installed on Monday, the Podcast App refuses to load on my phone. [ pout ]

A quick scan of the reviews on iTunes tells me that I'm not the only one.

I feel deprived, damn you!!!  Fix it Apple!


Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Another Airport; Another Trip

Heathrow.  6.30am.

I'm heading "up north" for my seventh Forecast Review.  No travelling companion this time - my business Head of Operations is flying from a different airport and Tall hasn't been invited to play.  (Dark has never been on the invite list.). While there are friendly faces in the office up there, my favourite Cheeky Chap had his job terminated a week ago.    For this three day trip, I am berift of playmates.

Bored, I am left pondering the inexplicable:-

1). Why had the flight time moved again? I'm catching exactly the same flight as on all other trips, but the departure time has changed for the third time.

2). When did businessmen stop wearing ties as standard?  I can see one man in a tie on this plane.

3). Why is that man on the same flight as me, again?  Must be the third time I've travelled with him.  I'm 99% certain he is a journalist (or some political talking head), which is why I recognise him.  Can't remember his name - think he's from ITN, which we rarely watch.

4). And, finally, the most inexplicable:  why do I always get one tiny drop of make-up on my tee shirt whenever I wear a white one?  Also, why do I never notice until it is far too late, even when I've checked immediately after making up?

- Pam

PS:  half way into my flight and I have another question:  why do BA's insist on teasing me by showing destinations in Africa and Europe as part of the cycle on the inflight map?  I'm only flying 300 miles north. [ pout ]

Friday, 9 May 2014

Dear snail

Whatever made you think climbing up the picture window in our kitchen was a good idea?

I admire your bravery....

- Pam