Sunday, 19 January 2014

Don't Brood

If I have rules that I live by, then one of them is "Don't brood on the might-have-beens".  I have never seen the point of constantly re-hashing events in your mind, wishing the outcome was different to reality, while just reopening old wounds in the process.  After the first or second time - when you might possibly identify any mistakes made and figure out how to correct them in future - it seems to me that brooding becomes more about reinflicting pain upon oneself than a learning process.  Ultimately, it gets to the point where you think so little of yourself that you consider yourself such a loser, such a failure, that reinflicting old pain is deemed appropriate. (Or so it seems to me.)

So what has triggered my rant?  One of my team is starting maternity leave shortly and two weeks ago, I conducted interviews for her maternity cover.  Three interviews in, I found the perfect project accountant - absolutely wonderful, would hire her in a heartbeat.  Then my line-management pulls the plug.  Can't be done - we have spare capacity in Glasgow that has to be utilised first, etc, etc... 

I argue.  I lose.  I speak to the boss's boss.  I still lose.  I wander around furious for a few hours.  The implications to me are clear:  ever since we moved regions there has been a looming power struggle over my project accounting team, because we aren't based in Glasgow and not part of their project accounting hierarchy.  I know this.  I have always known this.  (I also know that regardless of what happens to my project accounting team, my job is safe because my business will still need a Finance Manager and that role is outside the power struggle.)

Reluctantly, I break the news to my team and deal with the fallout.  Suddenly, I have three people worried about their jobs and a battle of attrition as work drifts north.  If I have any say in the matter, that won't happen, but I know it is a battle I won't be able to win if the bosses decide it is to happen.

Firmly, I remind myself that there is no point brooding.  Brooding over whether I will eventually lose the team is just counterproductive - it won't help me stop it.  I can't control what will happen; I can only ensure that I do my best to demonstrate why it is important to keep my team together, by providing the best support for our business.  With that in mind, I consciously turned my thoughts firmly to how to best maintain business as usual.  The job goes on...

You can't always control what happens to you, but you can control how you think about it and how you deal with it.

- Pam

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Going walkabout

Good morning (I think - although it might be another 24 hours before I post this).  Greetings from somewhere over Asia.  No idea where as the in flight map isn't working.  I think we have an hour to go before we land in China, en route to Oz.

I've just spent the most uncomfortable night I've ever had on a plane.  The seats on this one are hard, rock hard.  Had some difficulty over our seating at check-in (I worked out that we had not been seated together on the flight plan, so surprised the staff when we said we are travelling together. This airline gave no choice of seats).  Anyway we scored a rank of three seats between the two of us, so could stretch out, but it doesn't mitigate feeling like you're sitting on/snuggling into concrete.  My head has obviously been in a weird position because my neck is complaining. 

So far the airline is scoring (out of 10):

Cleanliness 10
Service 5 (OK but don't collect dirty cups or towels)
Comfort 4 
Food 9.5 (would have been 10 except for the sabotage prawn in the dim sum)

There were no passenger comfort bags, ie with ear plugs, eye mask and tooth brush.  I'm desperate for a toothbrush - my teeth are furry and horrible.

The crew are a bit unenthusiastic.  Better on the second flight than the first, but they remind me a bit of theChinese  crew on the last Qantas flight out of Beijing in April 1986, which coincided with my only trip to Beijing.  (There was some deal and China Airways took over manning the route.). Anyway the Chinese crew were rather obnoxious and demanding and did not endear themselves to the Qantas crew (one of the Qantas stewards grumbled to me about them).  It was obvious that they weren't air crew because they liked helping people.

I hate being at the mercy of people like that!

Anyway, we'll be landing in Melbourne soon.  Can't wait.

-Pam (written Saturday night)

Friday, 6 December 2013

Doing the laundry

Probably the most annoying thing about having the kitchen gutted is not being able to use the washing machine.  Currently, it has no waste pipe.  Although we'd done two loads last week, before the builders started on Saturday, it's amazing how quickly the dirty laundry builds up again.  This afternoon, I loaded up the laundry trug and headed out to find the nearest laundromat, 3 miles away.  They've almost disappeared - we had to find this one on Google - and when I set out, I'd never been near this one before.  Drove passed it twice before I spotted it.  

Once inside, I was gobsmacked to discover the price of a wash. The last time I paid to do laundry was 1990, when it was a couple of Pounds to do a wash AND dry.  Guess how much it is now?  £5 for a small machine.  £6.60 for a large.  Talk about expensive!  At that rate, a family doing two washes a week could pay for their own machine in four to five months.  

Both large and small machines only took £1 coins or 20p pieces.  I'd planned to do a light wash and a dark, but ended up shoving everything into the one large machine - I didn't have the change for two.  (DH - aka "Keeper of the Laundry" - will go spare when I tell him.  Mixed washes are one thing he doesn't tolerate.). Reviewing my resources, I had 6 x £1 coins, 4 x 50p and 3 x 20p. (I'd already had to pay 60p to park.  Thank heaven I hadn't used all the 20 pences.)

Settled down to read my latest book, leaning against a dryer.  The wash was surprisingly fast, just over half an hour including prewash.  

It was only when I emptied the washing machine that I remembered how laundromats make their big money: from the dryers.  The dryer is 50p for 5 minutes and only takes 50p pieces.  However, even after it had been through the industrial spin, my wash was very wet - not sopping but more like twice as wet as it would have been at the end of a cycle in a domestic washer.  I split the load into 2 and put 2x50p into each machine.  I'd thought I'd had more but it wasn't the case.  I sat there praying the big industrial dryers dried really fast because I was out of 50p's and there was nowhere to get more (I tried buying something at both local shops but they were out of 50p's).

10 minutes later, they both ground to a holt.  Gingerly I opened the closest door. Inside was a pile of hot, streaming laundry.  The other dryer, with the sheets, faired better. The sheets were almost dry.  

With no other option, I bundled the wet washing back into the trug, put the almost dry stuff in a bag, and headed home. Every radiator now has it's garland of washing carefully positioned thereon and the house smells like an old-fashioned laundry.

Unless our washer is workable, I'm not doing any more laundry until I get to Melbourne next weekend.  I'd rather turn up at my sister's house with a suitcase full of dirty clothes than pay those exorbitant prices again.

- Pam (did I mention we're spending Christmas in Oz?)

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Angel of Death

One of the constant descriptions you hear about nurses is “they’re angels”, which would be rapidly followed by a comment about how “nursing is a noble profession”. When I was nursing, there were times when both statements would annoy me. I remember snapping at my dad once, saying “there’s nothing noble about watching a dying man trying to tell his wife he loves her when she won’t damn well listen!”.

Because I spent much of my nursing career working on cancer wards, together with a year working in Radiotherapy And Oncology Outpatients, I rapidly came to the conclusion that, if I was an angel then I was an angel of death, since I spent most of my time trying to make the dying comfortable.

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. It can’t be helped - several of my friends have either lost a parent this year or are experiencing the pain of watching a parent undergo life-prolonging treatment for terminal cancer. Perhaps it’s our age. It’s the alternative mid-life crisis; not so much “life is passing me by -what do I do with myself?” but instead “I’m not old enough to lose my mum/dad! How can this happen to me?”.

As a friend, I have learned that the best thing to do is listen, hug your friend and ply them with tea/suitable beverage. Offers of help need to be specific: “do you need me to collect your brother from the airport?” is easier for a grieving mind to process than being asked “is there anything I can do to help?”.

On Saturday, I will be singing in a service to celebrate the life of a dear friend’s dad; a lovely man who recently lost an 18 month battle with pancreatic cancer. I consider it an honour and a privilege to have been asked. It is my gift to my friend and her family. I hope they gain a level of comfort from it.

- Pam











PS: The other life lesson I’ve learned is that marriage makes things far easier if your life-partner dies – from organising the funeral to dealing with the deceased’s estate, being married to your partner will make things much, much easier. There is no such thing as de facto marriage in this country, so if there isn’t a will the surviving partner will lose everything. Even if there is a will, they won’t be sheltered from inheritance tax on the estate. (And don’t get me started on hospitals/doctors who refuse to give spouse status to the non-married life-partner of a patient….Red rag to a bull, that….)

Saturday, 30 November 2013

It's started!

Finally, after a 3 year delay, work has started on my new kitchen!  

Final "Before" photos:




One last look at the ceiling.  See the chink of daylight?



I am so excited!

- Pam 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Crisis

Looks like we are going to need some more gin....


There is still 1kg of sloes requiring gin, currently lodged in my freezer.

A couple of weeks ago, my dear friend AJ and I played golf and, inbetween holes harvested the nearby blackthorn bushes.  We liberated 1.8kg of sloes, which I brought home, washed and froze (splits their skins so that you don't have to stab them with a skewer).  Tonight, DH and I made sloe gin, following the recipe from www.sloe.biz .  

Should be ready to drink in three months.

- Pam

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

View from my commute

Thursday was a long day.  Thanks to two meetings, I had to work in our London office,  so left home at 6.30am to get the bus then the Tube.  The view on my walk to the office certainly made up for it...


That's right.  I spent the day looking out if the window at Tower Bridge, with the Tower of London in the background.




Sometimes, I feel very lucky living on the outskirts of London.

- Pam



Sunday, 18 August 2013

And so the season begins

You can guess where I am.

Come on Chelsea!!!


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Oops!! I slipped

I'm knitting a Five Hour Baby Sweater out of Stylecraft Baby Aran in the shade Baby Lemon for the newborn daughter of one of DH's colleagues. With 20 rows to go on the body, I know I will run out of yarn. I always knew it would be tight, even after inserting the reminants of some white aran yarn into the yoke to pad out the yarn as a styling detail. (Photo below.)  I can't do another stripe of the white - I've used all that I had - so this morning, I unwillingly went searching online for some more. 

(I really didn't want to go yarn shopping. Even with the Fashion on the Ration challenge, my stash is approaching epic proportions.) Below, is the exact transcript of a conversation I had with with DH…

  ME: Just to let you know that I've ordered some more of the baby yarn from a shop on line. It'll arrive over the weekend (probably).

  DH: Cool. So I assume you order lemon/yellow? 

ME: Yes, same shade. Probably a different dye-lot, though, so I'll have to wait for it to be delivered and then alternate rows in order to ensure the change in dye lots doesn't show up.
 [ cough ] 
In order to get free P&P, I had to buy some other wool. Some 4-ply in French Navy. [ cough ] And it made sense to buy 12 balls because a) I don't know how much I'll need to knit the jumper I want (I'll be knitting "off-piste"), and b) it got me an extra discount. (I only paid for 11.) 
[ cough ]
 I'm sure it'll squish down into nothing.... 
[ / cough ] 
DH still hasn't responded.

-  Pam (another 16 coupons spent)

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Nickle and Dime-ing it

 (How annoying - I wrote this post and then lost it.)

Have I ever mentioned to you our coin collections?  How, every day or two, DH and I empty our wallets of 1p, 2p, 5p and £2 coins and pop those coins into various jars and a money box.  The coppers (1p and 2p) go into one Celebrations sweet jar; the 5p pieces into another; while the £2 coins, aka the "Running Away Fund" goes into a Maltesers phone booth money box.


 The coppers jar holds about £22 and takes a year or two to fill.  Ditto the Running Away Fund, which holds £600.  In the thirteen years since we started filling it, 5p jar has never been emptied.  The above photo is at least three years old and, even though we have been adding to the jar assiduously since then, it took forever to fill.



A couple of weekends ago, the jar was finally full.  And heavy (once they were bagged and tagged, I weighed the coins: 10.2kg).  It took the two of us over an hour to count them all.  5p coins are small, about the size of a dime, and the instructions from the bank was to put £5 in each bag - i.e. 100 coins.  We filled 32 bags.   DH lugged them into the bank on the Monday and added them to our Running Away Fund (holiday money) savings account.

Thirteen years of saving 5p pieces netted £160.

- Pam

Saturday, 27 July 2013

66 Coupons? Not a problem.

I am feeling a bit like a fraud.  You remember my fashion on the ration experiment?  I've just been updating  the box on the right to include all my purchases since I last wrote about it.  And it's left me feeling rather fraudulent.  Why?  Because, a) I have a lot of clothes in my wardrobe, and b), when I have made purchases, they've been second-hand from a charity shop which doesn't cost coupons (5 balls of Sirdar Calico, an M&S t-shirt with the tags still on but labelled "donated goods").

So why does that make me feel fraudulent? Unlike my WW2 sisters, I'm not suffering for my fashion.  To be fair, I gave up on trying to be fashionable a long time ago, when the fashions stopped suiting my body type, so I am not desperately chasing the next big thing.  I don't care if my suit is 6 years old, as long as it still looks smart and fits in with my late-1930's/WW2 fashion style.  Additionally, in Wartime terms, I have quite an abundance of clothing, yarn and fabric stashed away.   Even shoes.  I suspect that level of abundance puts me in the league of the Wartime upper-middle class.

(On the shoe, thing.  After a conversation with Tall, when he claimed his wife had over 150 pairs of shoes - turns out she has 154 pairs and a database of them(!) - I went home and counted my pairs of shoes.  Before I tell you the total, please remember that I am a woman who generally wears the same pair loafers to work, lives in sandals in the summer and trainers in the winter.  So.... You'd expect me to have maybe a dozen pairs of shoes, right?   I have 35 pairs of shoes.  And I probably missed a pair or two in the counting.  And that includes my site boots, my gardening shoes, several pairs of boots, my slippers, etc, etc.  There were even pairs I'd forgotten I had.)

Perhaps I'd better keep this challenge going for a few years, instead of one?

- Pam

Friday, 28 June 2013

Categorise us

These things are givens: my blue-green eyes;  the brown curly hair that refuses to be tamed (I joke "it wears me"); that I am a musician; that I'm Mensa-level bright; that I like puzzles and solving problems but can't do crosswords; my need to create and craft; that I'm a damn good cook and love entertaining;  that I am a bookworm; that even though my father worked in a factory and my mother trained as a dressmaker, I am inexorably middle-class.

While some a physical attributes or accidents of history, many of the above are labels I stick on myself.  The human tendency to categorise people always amazes me.  As a species, we are awfully judgemental. We go about consigning our acquaintances to labelled boxes, e.g. "shelf stacker" or "nice but dim" or "arty" or, my favourite from a friend, "so common they'd make TOWIE look posh".   It can be funny watching the reactions when the labellee doesn't conform to the labeller's expectations - have you ever had someone protest to you, "But you're not like that!" when you do something that doesn't agree with their preconceptions? 

I've mentioned before that I hate to be labelled, hate the assumption that just because I like one thing, I will dislike another. In any given scenario, you can only possibly present part of yourself to the world.  The core "you" will always be present but it's highly unlikely that your closest loved ones will see the same version of you as your colleagues.  I am aware that pretty much everything people might know about me depends upon where and how we met, for example, at work most of my department do not know that I play RPGs on the weekends. I'm not ashamed of it but it's only ever come up in conversation once, at which point, I out geeked the guy who thought he was the resident geek. They know I sing in a choir but it's taken some of them years to reconcile my taste in classical music with going to rock concerts.  Wonder what they'd say if they knew the last band I listened to live played bluegrass and the one before that played skiffle?

On the flip side, if you knew me through role-playing or choir, it is unlikely my profession would have an impact on you.  At most, you'd know I'm an accountant in an engineering firm.  If pushed, I'd tell you about the business I look after now, possibly about the project I looked after for 5 years. There are days when I re-read some of the emails I've sent at work and think, "my God, I'm good at what I do" but, outside the recipients, only another accountant would get the impact of what I've written.  Maybe that's why many of my dearest girlfriends have a connection to my profession and the job I do.  When the "Ladies of A" get together, we trade war stories about segmental analysis, complain about revenue recognition, share the triumph that comes from finally being able to take the static figures from the management accounts as presented in Hyperion and drill all the way down into the ledgers to find the primary transactions.

If you were watching us from a nearby table at a restaurant, you probably wouldn't notice until after the second or third cocktail since the conversation is always interspersed with stories about husbands and children and football and holidays and houses and hobbies and homemaking.  Until that point, from the outside, we probably look like any other group of middle-aged "ladies who lunch".  After that point, when the alcohol  loosens the volume controls, you might notice the lack of conversation about hair and make-up while we dissect the technicalities of the accounts we manage (although we might make the occasional detour into shoes...).  Another case of appearances deceiving.  Not fitting in to neatly labelled boxes.

I am not a stereotype.  Don't try to make me one!

- Pam







(Incidentally, one of the funniest assumptions that has ever been made about me is when my Head of Project Controls and I went to check into a hotel in Glasgow and walked up to the reception desk together.  Having told the desk clerk that I'd booked two rooms, indicating my male colleague as I did so, the clerk promptly asked me if we'd like two keys to my room! J's face was a picture.  I hate to think what mine was like.)


Friday, 14 June 2013

How many meals?

This morning, I skived off work*, scooped up the contents of the meat fund and went to the kosher butcher.  It had been six months since my last visit, I had £230 to play with and a freezer that looked half full.  In the end, I spent £199.35 and bought the following:-

2kg roasting chicken - 3 meals plus stock
3 x 350g packets of chicken livers - 3 meals
2kg rolled turkey leg roast - 3 meals
marinated Tuscan lamb roast - 1 meal
1lb marinated stir-fry beef - 2 meals
4lb minced (ground) beef - 8 meals
Shoulder of lamb - 2 meals
5lb cubed steak - 5 meals
9 chicken breast fillets - 9 meals
Lamb spare ribs in honey - 1 meal
2 packs beef sausages - 2 meals
700g turkey schnitzels - 2-3 meals
6 packets stock cubes

So that's 41 or 42 meals where each meal feeds a minimum of 4.   The only thing I didn't buy was steak.  (I forgot.)

Let me restate it:  that's four roast dinners plus leftovers; three pre-prepared Chinese meals (just add veg and rice); nine large chicken breasts (250g each) which will make nine stir-fries/ risotto/pasta dishes or curries; five assorted beef stews or curries; 8 meals of minced beef and other possibilities; three of chicken livers; plus a bag of "I don't feel like cooking what have we got to eat?".

It will take us through to December by my reckoning.  Sometimes my ability to stretch out food amazes even me.  Of course, we eat the odd vegetarian meal - less frequently than you'd think - and a reasonable amount of fish (maybe 2lb a month if you include tinned tuna and pilchards), but we don't go hungry by any stretch of the imagination.  Nor do we eat out a lot.

Hmmm..... Do you remember back in October when I was toying with doing a Wartime Experiment but wondered about whether we could survive the food rations?  Dealing with the meat ration was really what was putting me off trying the experiment.  Well, www.whatsthecost.com's  UK inflation calculator tells me that £200 today is the equivalent of £3/17/9 in 1941 money (£3, 17 shillings and 10 pence).  In 1941, the meat ration was 1s2d per week.  Therefore, I reckon I've just bought 15 weeks' worth of meat ration for two people.  Food for thought.

- Pam








* More to the point, since I have done at least 40 hours unpaid overtime since the start of May, which includes unwilling working 5 hours on Saturday and our timesheet week runs Saturday to Friday, I told my bosses that I was booking that time in my regular 40 hours and not working today.  (At my grade, I can't claim paid overtime.)

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Stopping for breath

Hello.  How was your weekend?  Mine was very productive.  This is the first weekend since the start of May that I didn't have work to do, and I made the most of it.  Friday, I finished work at 12, then met a friend for lunch and a very l-o-n-g chat (lunch finished at 6pm!).  Saturday, we went to the farm shop, the supermarket, then hit the garden.  Today, I collected Howard from the airport, cleaned the house, cooked up a batch of base, prepared dinner for tomorrow night as well as tonight. I even snatched an hour or so sitting in the garden today, knitting and listening to the cricket on the radio.

It might not sound like a completely fun weekend, but compared to the previous few it was bliss.  I've spent so much time working in May, that just getting a few hours to potter around the house was lovely.  There are two bank holidays in May, after the first - Monday 6th May - I worked 50 hours in 4 days.  You know how I normally work half days on Fridays?  Well, I left the office that Friday after 9pm.  We went on holiday on the Saturday - Malaga in Spain, I may tell you about it sometime - got home the following Saturday at 4pm and by 6pm, I was back logged on and worked until midnight.

And so the cycle continued. Early mornings.  Late evenings. Back and neck rigid with tension. Two more weeks. Two trips to Glasgow.  Two reviews with the Big Boss.  Final submission date was Thursday.  I went home on Thursday night, leaving my work laptop in my desk, feeling lighter than I had even while on holiday.   And being able to take this weekend off was a joy - housework or not.  We haven't quite finished, tomorrow has the potential to be nasty but, thanks to this weekend, I can face the day relaxed.

I hope your weekend has left you in a similar state.

- Pam

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Marry the man = Marry the job

Once upon a time, I had a friend who was dating a sports journalist. After a few months, she started getting very sulky about him spending most weekends of "the season" working. Her complaint was that you didn't date someone in order to spend most weekends alone; you dated them to have someone to spend weekends with! At the time, I was a bit mystified - surely she knew what his job entailed before they became a serious item? Hadn't she considered how it might impact on their time together? To not do so seemed to me to be as silly as those Army or Navy wives who complain when their husbands are sent abroad on a tour of duty. You knew that their job was their life when you got involved with them, so why exactly are you complaining?

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague asked me whether DH minded the long hours I put in and the travel that I do. The question surprised me*. It could be interpreted on several levels, although I am sure the original intention was just curiosity and a chance to compare someone-else's circumstances to his own. Of course, in a male dominated industry, there is always the sexist angle that we expect wives to put up with travelling husbands but vice-versa is rare enough to be an object of curiosity. However, I don't think that was his intention. Still, he got me thinking - what are the assumptions we make about our relationships? And that reminded me of my friend, above.

Maybe I am different from other people, but I have always assumed that you have to accept your partner as they are - and that includes accepting the impositions of their job. Marry the man; marry the job, as it were. Then again, I started my working life doing shift-work, in a job that required a degree of obsession to enable you to do it (nursing). Perhaps it has given me a different perspective. I don't understand when women (and it is usually women) complain about the hours their husbands put in, but they're happy to enjoy the benefits of the income his hard work pulls in. You can't have it both ways.

In engineering, there often isn't much of a choice - you want the job, then you have to work at site, miles from home. It isn't a lifestyle choice; it's a choice between earning an income or being unemployed; paying the mortgage or worrying about where the next meal comes from. Even if you are a permanent employee, there are only so many times you can turn down working away before it damages your billability and your career. Oh, and marks you down as dead-wood for the next round of redundancies.

However, a marriage is a partnership. If a job offer or promotion comes through that involves longer hours/weekend working/working away/a long commute then you have to discuss it. When the job is a lifestyle, both partners have to have buy-in, even though reality is there may be little or no choice. It is what it is. But both parties need to accept that. And accept that, if you love your partner, then you need to love their job too.

- Pam




* The answer, when I asked DH, was "No" but he's a bit fed up with dropping me off for early flights.