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(Too) great expectations

20 Feb

the-view-from-dover-castleLast week was half term but this made little difference to my economic circumstances, so through a cunning (and winning) combination of kind friends, family, childcare and a 12-yr-old fired up to find her own entertainment, I managed to fit five days into four and take Friday off.

We would, I decided, have a proper day out, something which weekend commitments and work often put paid to.

I was really excited about it. I love hanging with my kids and in an ideal world – one where people funded me just to ‘be’ rather than to ‘do’, and one where school-years education was absorbed by osmosis rather than in-school attendance, that kind of ideal world – I would do it all the time. We had never been to Dover Castle and Friday, I decided, represented the moment all that would change.

However, lurking darkly in the back of my mind is the knowledge that the optimism generated from anticipation prior to a day’s adventure is rarely matched by the actual experience. Someone – usually more than one someone – is not in the right frame of mind to enjoy, and I am left trying to work out why actuality doesn’t always reach the heights of expectation. 

I think that word, ‘expectation’, turns out to be to blame. I want it to be great, not just Facebook-photo great, but actually in-real-life great. And because we’re all in the same boat, looking forward to being in the same place at the same time with no other demands, we all have the same aspirations.

No surprises, it’s impossible to match reality to these over-high expectations. It’s why in our household the impromptu (which I am absolutely rubbish at) tends to be the most successful, because no-one has anything to anticipate; but being impromptu when any attempt at it needs to be scheduled to the n-th degree, to fit in with everything else, contradicts the term and as a result doesn’t work.

Looking at it rationally, with sky-high expectations filed firmly under ‘give yourself a break’, it was a great day, when viewed upon a normal plane of greatness. We saw some fascinating exhibits – the Dover Castle War Tunnels and hospital are highly recommended – and spent the day together mostly out in the almost-sunshine without interruption. Yes, L2 became hangry on the way home, and had a ‘moment’; yes, L1 was overtired and started the very early morning off with a little bit of weeping, but why should it be those incidents that I allow to loom large in my memory when the rest of the day was what long-term memories are made of?

A perfect day is one in which we are together, and one where we can be honest and genuine with each other, without any grudges or long-term repercussions; we take the rough with the smooth because there’s no need to paper over the cracks with family.

Horton Hears A Who-am-I-to-be-silent?

30 Jan

horton-hears-a-who-am-i-to-be-silent

I’ve not written on this blog for ages and ages. 

I’ve not written because I have been angry for a really long time, and so the urge to write has left me. This is because writing about what has made me angry will make me more angry about it; or writing about other things that still exist that don’t make me angry feels like fiddling while Rome burns. 

I haven’t simply been angry. I’m sad too, very sad. We will be the next generation that has to apologise to its children for the catastrophic disastrous mess, the ongoing motorway pile up of decision making that’s leaving our country, the services we hold dear, the principles our country is supposed to uphold, unrecognisable, decimated. And the same thing is happening globally on a scale which looks set to wreak even greater, perhaps irreversible, havoc. I have been uncomfortable that I have been inarticulate, but I have had nothing to say that has felt like it could address the torrent of horror unfolding, flowing into the future.

And as I say, it’s not just anger. A lot of the time what the news tells me leads to a sadness that creeps underneath celebrations and erodes the ordinary joys of life. Even feeding the birds in the garden, watching them devour what I give them to stave off winter starvation, has made me despair. What’s the point of supporting nature, I have thought, if the leader of the (allegedly) free world is a climate change denier with our own unelected Prime Minister in his pocket? They’ll die out soon as the ice caps melt and the air quality plummets (did I mention I was mired in negativity?); am I simply prolonging the inevitable?

This weekend, though, was a watershed for me. I need to fight through the silence. A wise friend asked me why I was not writing; I explained; she pointed out that now more than ever all voices, however minor and inconsequential (like mine – I have no illusions!), should be raised. No voice should stay silent against the rising tide of all that’s wrong.

In the shower, I thought about this. And a little sentence from a little book came into my head. Dr Seuss’s ‘Horton Hears a Who‘ – which is of course the story of the oppression of a minority group – the Whos, dwelling in miniscule Whoville – by a more powerful group, the Wickersham Brothers (this tale is ringing curious bells), a virtually voiceless group only heeded by one individual (the elephant Horton) who is himself oppressed and tortured for his support of the Whos (allegory alert!!) – has this sentence towards the end, as the Mayor of Whoville exhorts his citizens to action:

“We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts!
So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!” 

It’s the participation of the single previously silent Who that makes sure the Wickersham Brothers hear the cries of Whoville. The Wickersham Brothers change their tack; they view Whoville as a town of living things and vow to protect them, those who are more vulnerable than they are but who have the same unequivocable right to life.

Okay, so I’m not Horton. It’s difficult to stand up as one person with no involvement in the workings of the political classes, and even less influence. I’m not very brave at all.

But I cannot be the single silent participant, however quiet my voice alone may be. I have to be an honorary Who. I have to raise my voice along with the other voices trying to be heard protesting against the horrors unfolding around us daily, until, like the Whos, there is a loud enough chorus to be heard. Time to be silent no longer.

Brain in need of a reboot

17 Feb

No room in the brainMy brain has neither enough space nor sufficient individual compartments for the current pace of parenting. My memory has about 533kb spare; I can identify this clearly as that is the point where my phone refuses to cope with any more functional data requests and tells me it is ‘critically low on storage’, and I have to ‘manage storage’, which I do by backing up photos and deleting the latest round of offspring selfies and apps downloaded to battle boredom at points where things like car services and haircuts have exceeded duration expectations.

I haven’t yet found an app for automatically managing my mobile storage issues; and it seems that for managing the storage settings in my brain, well there isn’t an app for that either.

So the circuitry is starting to fizzle at the edges. Often I am trying to say something while speed-thinking something else, which goes horribly wrong in all processes; words are incorrectly substituted and children stare at me blankly, saying ‘Chicory?’ in a quizzical manner, leading me to realise that I have combined teeth-cleaning instructions with an attempt to recall the name of the leafy veg from earlier, which has ended badly for all concerned. Or I can picture the word clearly written in my head, but it will not translate to making the exit via the medium of speech. 

I do try and concentrate on one thing at a time, but I have a feeling that mono-focus starts and ends with the world of work.

To be fair, I think the main problem is to do with the number of queries and reminders parenting seems to require on an hourly basis. It definitely isn’t helped by my children’s insistence that I need to have two entirely separate conversations with each of them simultaneously. Sometimes I will congratulate myself on having seamlessly answered one question immediately followed by a second, asked within the same milli-moment, then realise (after some hours of panic and initially fruitless searching) that I have put my purse in the fridge so the chain of logic has simply broken down at a different, less immediately obvious, point. The numbers of items I have lost track of because I have been doing something useful with them while concurrently ensuring something else happens are legion. 

If I could select the files to delete in order to function efficiently in the here and now, it is clear to me what they would be. The stash of embarrassing memories 1994-2001, for a start. The ones that make me curl my toes still, they have no place here. And that would, to be fair, liberate several gig, maybe even a terabyte. All the lyrics to ‘When will I be famous?’ by Bros, I think they can go away now. Obscure back routes between various no longer visited mid-Kent locations are no longer necessary to be saved, particularly since we purchased an up-to-date sat nav. 

But they stubbornly seem to remain, so I will be seeking my purse in domestic appliances a while longer, I fear.

Rash words, Jeremy

2 Feb

Two hands, I believe

On Friday I took the car to the garage. It had a slow puncture, or so I believed, which needed to be addressed, and potentially a new tyre fitted. I told the nice mechanics at our usual garage what the problem was, and they took it to the bowels of the building for their diagnostic treatment. In the meantime L2 and I played Poisonous Creatures Top Trumps, which I would recommend heartily.

The mechanics came back to me with startling news. My diagnosis was wrong! The tyre was intact; it was a thinning of the beading around the wheel hub leading to minuscule quantities of air making a bid for freedom whenever we drove on it. Careful application of fresh sealant, no new tyre needed, job done.

Honestly, who would have thought that I, with no car mechanic qualifications or experience to my name, could have got that wrong? Well, probably most people would have assumed it was highly probable that I could be incorrect. Tyre’s deflating; it’s got to be a small hole in the tyre, right? Well, actually, not right. But then I am not and have never claimed to be a car expert. Insane idea. My diagnosis of the car’s issue was based on assumption of what as a layperson I believed to be likely. Doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the case. And that’s why I took the Zafira to the expert.

In 2014 I applied the same principles to my small son’s not-well-ness. His symptoms, to me, appeared remarkably similar to those expected for glandular fever. I Googled it, and voila! Glandular fever fitted the bill. Good old Google, giving us the answers we want since 1998. Crikes, I thought, poor kid, glandular fever’s nasty.

However, because as evidenced by my taking the car to a mechanic, and entrusting electrics to an electrician, and so on, I am a fan of the concept of the expert, and because the small boy had a spectacular temperature that wasn’t shifting, I popped to the out of hours GP at the hospital to have my glandular fever diagnosis confirmed.

But! Who would have thought that the symptoms of pneumonia are the same as glandular fever (to the unpracticed Google reliant amateur diagnostician, at least)? Thank goodness for the professionals, who got it right, treated my son quickly, kindly and correctly, and stopped something nasty becoming something very nasty indeed.

Jeremy Hunt, shame on you. As Health Secretary your duty of care extends to the nation (God help us) – we are meant to look to your advice to know what to do. Advising the population to turn to the Internet for knowledge that takes our doctors decades to learn, practise and perfect, is madness, and dangerous. You have pronounced some idiocy in your term of office, but this is simply demented.

Dieting without doom

26 Jan

Veggie nice
This summer I became uncomfortably – quite literally – aware of an increasing case of weight creep. Not much, just a smattering of pounds (sorry, old money only in this blog) above where I like to be, but it was nearly impossible to pinpoint any dramatic reason for all this. So I realised that I had inadvertently fallen into some rather damaging dietary habits and even my passion for power walking couldn’t neutralise their effect. Slicing cheese for lunch? Oooh go on, just add an additional couple of slices which I’ll just scarf down. The odd crisp or two a day won’t hurt, will it? Odd one or two bags, I mean. And having a cider on a Thursday can’t possibly do any damage. So I’ll go ahead. These innocent examples simply form the tip of the iceberg.

And let’s not even get started on my caffeine and aspartame intake… pint after pint of squash (hydration – that’s definitely a good thing right, despite whatever it is I’ve flavoured it with) on top of pint after pint of coffee and some lovely diet Coke or Coke Zero, that’s the way to keep sharp during long days. The peaks and crashes caused by such dramatically fluctuating sugar levels were a wonder to behold, not such a wonder to experience.

The nudge I needed to tackle my dissatisfaction, which was creeping as inexorably as my weight gain was, arrived in the very welcome form of my wonderful colleague Katie and her nutrition course. She had devised a three day detox as part of the programme and needed victims, oh did I say victims, I meant volunteers, an easy mistake to make given that they both begin with ‘v’ (only kidding, Katie!) to trial the programme and give her feedback. This was exactly the trigger I needed to address the increasing lack of respect with which I was treating myself.

In a mere three days my eyes and my tastebuds were opened, and I am genuinely fascinated by how to nourish myself and my family in new ways that make everyone feel good. I realised I hadn’t tried a truly new meal for months, probably for years. I remembered that eggs are brilliant. I found new grains, and grain substitutes, to help me cut down my reliance on wheat (specifically, bread and pasta) while still keeping me nicely full and energised. Turns out this was just in time, as L1 now appears to be wheat intolerant – so I would have had to carry out this investigation into alternatives sharpish anyway.

Nuts and seeds are a pleasing crisp substitute, particularly macadamia nuts, with their smooth milky round crunchiness. Infusing turmeric root, ginger root and lemon juice in a pint of boiling water brings the day sharply to life and doesn’t taste like ‘a curry drink’ (copyright: my children, daily). I won’t claim to have given up coffee and have no intention of doing so, but I have quit squash and all forms of fizzy cola and their friends. Chromium genuinely quells sugar cravings. And yes, I feel significantly better for it all. And no, no-one’s really noticed that I cook in coconut oil, pour water with dinner and our pasta is made from spelt, not wheat.

What’s best about all this is that the dietary changes I’ve made have all taken place comfortably within the confines of normal everyday life. Katie’s healthy living ethos is that being kind to yourself includes a healthy dose of indulgence alongside healthy nutrition. It acknowledges that we all deserve treats and these can sit comfortably alongside a plan for good living. I can most definitely be doing with that attitude and I would thoroughly recommend anyone interested in this area finding out more via her perfectly-named website Imperfectly Pure.

Journeys

3 Sep

Until about ten days ago I didn’t think much about a thirty minute bus journey and a ten minute walk to get to a destination. ‘Much’, on reflection, is an exaggeration. I don’t believe I considered it at all.

However over the last ten days I have considered little else, and it isn’t even my journey. It is of course the upcoming commute of L1, who starts ‘bigger school’ tomorrow. 

Rationally, I get it, the journey is nothing. A trip on a school bus with many people she knows, then a stroll through residential streets into the school gates. She is sanguine about it, just as she has been sanguine about this whole process to date. I have poured all my longing for everything to be ok, no, to be more than ok, to be great for her, at secondary school, and the worries this inevitably provokes, onto this 40-minute time period as by concentrating it so directly I don’t have space to consider all the manifold other aspects of secondary education that I should doubtless be more concerned about.

Never has a bus trip and a stroll felt more filled with peril.

Now, today, like everyone else who has cast even half an eye over the news, I have been confronted by someone else’s journey, and its terrible consequences, that have put all my small worries into perspective.

The knowledge of how blessed I am that I have my daughter to worry over has rarely felt more present. The fear I feel about the journey she is about to take – I imagine it – in fact, I cannot imagine it – magnified and expanded as these desperate families, thousands of them, contemplate their potentially fatal travel to what they perceive and pray to be a better life for their beloved children, the centre of their worlds. How dark and untenable must the lives they are leading be, if their only viable alternative is to flee in boats piloted by profiteers with less than zero regard for preserving human life, when the strong and distinct possibility of death is a consequence of that journey as likely as the possibility of a safe passage. 

What a thing to contemplate, as awful as Sophie’s Choice – a mother deciding which child to save – where the equally unbearable choice is ‘stay and suffer or leave and possibly die’. 

As my children get older, I understand increasingly that quite a lot of parenting is quelling your own fear of something horrible happening in order to do what you believe and know to be right, to be the best option for your children. When I think of the desperate refugees in these terms, it brings their plight sharply into focus. How could I bear making that choice? Yet daily these poor people do that and risk losing the centre of their worlds.

Safe in my world where right now my biggest concern is successful completion of an adventure by public transport, I feel too small and helpless to affect the cause of the scenes on all front pages today. Yet I am compelled nonetheless to add my voice to the chorus now driving for decisive action and concrete decisions. I hope our Government listens and finds the wisdom for discernible action not just excuses and deflecting responsibility.

  

Things I have learnt from my daughter

19 Jul

This week coming is L1’s final week at primary school. I know, she only started a week last Wednesday so I don’t quite know how we have come to this, but there we go.

In the last week she has embraced two nights of her Year 6 production, given it large at her leaver’s party and received her SATS results. This week of heightened and contradictory emotions comes on top of a year where she has had to process and recover from her first ‘proper’ disappointments. And she has approached each of these events with calm equanimity, unlike me, looming on the sidelines ready to pick up after a crisis that so far has not yet come, as she takes these milestone events in her stride.

She is able to process and explain her emotions, and she does cry and get angry, but she explains why. She is not afraid to say she doesn’t want to leave, and that she will miss her wonderful classmates terribly. But she is also able to accept that sitting alongside that is anticipation for the next step of her education and her life; she has no hang ups about the passing of time. She really does embrace the way things are, even if they are not as she expected, and as a result, she enjoys it. 

Life is positive for her despite it holding trepidation, uncertainty and a bed of roses where she has occasionally discovered thorns. 
Whatever Kool Aid she is drinking, I think I would like some of it please. Lots that I can learn from here.