In which I mourn apostrophes

So, I’m recruiting at the moment and it’s something of an eye-opener. The covering letters have been ghastly, to the point where I think there must be an automated covering letter generator, into which prospective employees load a few generic skills. Then they push a button and the generator vomits forth a few paragraphs of meaningless business jargon in seemingly random order. Still, at least they’re helpful in weeding out those who can’t be bothered to sort out even glaring errors.

If I have survived this trial by verbiage, I’m next faced with the CVs of doom. Time after time, hopeful candidates reference their ‘GCSE’s and A-Level’s’. It is, of course, difficult for me to imagine that anyone who can perpetrate such a horror has actually obtained so much as a cycling proficiency badge, let alone a degree and a couple of years of work experience. My colleagues tell me it would be harsh to ask interviewees to explain the use of the possessive apostrophe, while a certain nervousness to their demeanor suggests that the next email I get from them will have been pretty carefully proofread.

To be fair (or generous, as I like to think of it), once I’d forced myself past the list of dubious academic achievements, most of the CVs weren’t that bad. If anything, this adds to my concern. Why can’t these relatively intelligent, ostensibly decently educated people spot such a basic mistake? It makes me think that their use of the apostrophe is not automatic; and that, generally, no one cares.

Although, in fact, it isn’t that no one cares, it’s that the problem is so egregious that it is very hard to stand against the tide. I care, but if I were being properly exacting, I would have no one to interview, and so pragmatism wins out. In turn, this makes me think that the poor little apostrophe is heading into that dark night.

Which made me wonder, how did apostrophes come into being in the first place? Off to Wikipedia (caveat lector), which says that the possessive apostrophe is in fact the Saxon genitive, and is a marker of what used to be an -es case ending in Old English (Anglo-Saxon). Over time, the ‘e’ dropped out, and the apostrophe is used to show its absence. It’s a convention that English picked up from French as late as the 16th century, and which only became really entrenched in the 19th century.

On the one hand, then, the possessive apostrophe is a relative newcomer to the language. On the other hand, it’s an indicator and a reminder of how language evolves. It might be that the apostrophe fades gradually away, and if no one uses it then perhaps that’s right. And then I’ll be sad, because it’s not just a mark on the page, it’s a link to the past.

In which I book a reading retreat

Think of it. You take yourself off somewhere lovely for a weekend in which all you have to do is write. A generous host provides food, wine, tea, biscuits, sympathetic company.  Writers’ retreats always sound amazing, and there was yet another fabulous sounding weekend being dangled in front of my nose on Twitter, and there was me still not being a writer. Damn writers, all they have to do is sweat heart’s blood and tears until they have crafted something that, if they are incredibly lucky, will get published, and if they are truly the child of the gods, will earn them a minimal living. They have all the fun.

So I suggested that someone should offer a reading retreat, and it turns out that they already do. Therefore have I booked myself on it, and therefore shall I head off to Sussex in June to sleep in a bell tent, be plied with food and wine, possibly go horse-riding or have a massage, and in between read, read, read.

Blessed as I am with a relative degree of independence, disposable income and no children, I could, of course, do most of that any weekend, without paying extra for the privilege. But I don’t, because life gets in the way and even on my laziest weekends, I still have to get off the sofa and put the kettle on (feebly raises back of hand to pallid brow in ‘woe is me’ gesture). The idea of a weekend when all I’m supposed to be doing is reading and the boring stuff happens by magic (aka other people’s effort) is pure decadence. Hurrah!

The curated reading list

Like most of the people I know who read a decent amount, I maintain an ever-growing list of books I want to read. For each book I buy from the list, I add a handful more to it and, being but a fickle jade, I go rogue as new titles catch my eye. So it came about that my TBR list was pushing 100 titles. I’d forgotten why I wanted to read some of those books in the first place, and they were becoming less like possible purchases and more like items destined to live forever in shadowy, wish list form.

Now, as regular readers may recall, I set up a fab deal with the wonderful Blackwell’s about 18 months ago, in which they agreed to send me one Patrick O’Brian book per month, and I agreed to pay for it. On or around the first of every month, a package has duly arrived from Blackwell’s, with a hand-written note from Becky, who sends my books out. In these days of e-everything, I love getting parcels in the post, and I now have a complete set of Aubrey/Maturins, all in matching covers, looking very handsome on a shelf. But, as the series was winding up, I was beginning to wonder what could replace it? I mean, obviously I couldn’t be expected to give up my monthly hit.

So, at Stories Aloud a couple of months ago, I asked E from Blackwell’s if they could consider taking my TBR list and sending me one book a month from it. He enthusiastically agreed and as E is keen to encourage the reading of more non-fiction (and I hardly ever read non-fiction), we added that he could chuck in something additional if he thought I really ought to read it. I duly tidied up my TBR list, whittled it down to about 80 titles and sent it off to Blackwells. The first book should arrive in April.

This makes me very happy. By my reckoning, I’ll be getting one book per month until approximately 2020. It will be a surprise, because I can’t remember most of what was on the list; there will be wild cards thrown in; and I am freed of the guilt of an untended TBR list to buy whatever takes my fancy and build up a new TBR list.

If I say so myself, it’s genius.

In which I admit acceptance

Over the years, I have aerobicised, cycled, run (outside and on treadmills), worked out with  free weights and weight machines, yoga’d and walked. I like walking and yoga, but I’m readily swayed even from a yoga class by an extra cup of tea and a digestive. For the rest of it, I’ve spent most of my time resenting, hating or detesting whatever activity I have chosen. These days, the best I hope to feel in the gym is neutral, and that’s if I can get the right audiobook. On Thursday, I literally only went to the gym because the traffic was so bad getting off the business park that putting a little effort into my new gym programme seemed preferable to sitting in a traffic queue for 20 minutes. Even then it took a significant effort of will to get me through the cafe and into the changing room.

This is, clearly, batshit crazy nuts. Why do I keep subjecting myself to activities which I dislike so much? Part of it is that I know other people actually enjoy exercise. So, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I pursue the impossible dream of the Ideal Workout, that mythical combination of effort, location and reward that won’t make me begrudge every damn second. The bright-eyed, toned and taut advice is all about finding that thing that you like to do so that exercise isn’t a chore. For year and years and then some years, I’ve thought that the problem is with me and I should just keep looking.

Then there is also the theory that exercise is a habit. You hit the gym, run or whatever with regularity and hey presto! you’ve built a habit. Well, not so much. Every single time is a battle of wills with myself, and I’m a stubborn, lazy bitch. I often lose. Even bribing myself doesn’t work – I have promised myself great new workout gear in place of the crappy old t-shirts that have been downgraded from everyday use, and I’m still not biting. Yes, indeed, my hatred of the gym trumps even my desire to go shopping. Bet you never thought you’d hear that.

So I’ve decided: fuck all this for a game of soldiers. A much better approach is to accept that yes, exercise has sucked, does suck and will always suck, but it’s a necessary evil. If it ever stops raining and the floods dry up so that I can go on a decent long walk, I’d like not to collapse in a heap 5 miles in. I’d also prefer it if my bones don’t snap like twigs when I’m older, and in the even longer term, that I’m flexible enough that a fall doesn’t necessarily mean a hip replacement. Let everyone else keep their endorphins, I’m off to download another audiobook good enough to distract me on that third rep of pistol squats.

In which I distill my views on social media

I spent today at a digital content conference that focused primarily on social media. It got off to a rocky start: ‘Use Google Analytics!’ ‘You don’t say?’, which had me eyeing the door and wondering how I’d last the day. But, after that, there were some nuggets of wisdom, even if it did feel like an awful lot of panning to find them.

The words communication, conversation, engagement came up over and over. Walking back to the train, I was trying to sum up the day to myself, and I think what it all boils down to is ‘only connect’.

Everyone should just read EM Forster.

In which I tell you about my new job

Enough frolicking by association in the dusty groves of academe, and the less said about the last place, Omnishambles-R-Us, the better. It took the lovely HR representative who called to offer me the new role a good 10 minutes to talk me through the package I was being presented with: salary and car allowance and bonus this, and pre-tax benefit that. Package! I’ve never been offered an employment package before. To be honest, I was so desperate to escape Omnishambles that I’d have bitten her hand off if she’d said ‘And we’ll be poking you with pointed sticks at 9.26 promptly each morning’, so the mere fact that she didn’t say that was a selling point. Rumours that I was typing my resignation email while still on the call are unfounded. Probably.

I’ve gone all corporate, the reality of which so far is that I’ve never been so thoroughly inducted in my life. But, here’s the weird thing. Companies always do a lot of talking about how great they are and how much they value their employees, diversity, health and safety and wellbeing, but they don’t walk the walk. To be honest, I mostly haven’t minded it, I assumed it was the norm. Read the documents, sign off, eye roll, no one mentions it all again. Now I’m in a place where the risks of getting it wrong are simply too high, so they get it right. Between the working environment itself and what I hear discussed in meetings or just casually, there’s too much evidence. It can’t be faked.

The office is fairly successful at being paperless and it’s all hot desking, so I unpack my laptop and Blackberry (dear gods, having a non touchscreen phone to handle is like working with a FisherPrice toy) to a different spot each morning, then I stroll down to the in house Costa to get a subsidized coffee, paid for via the cashless card that is also my ID card. Coffee in the morning! Welcome back, coffee habit. The hot desking thing doesn’t bother me at all, as I tend to carry my own notepads and pens with me anyway (Moleskine and fountain pen thankyouverymuch, not crappy spiral pads and biros), and I’ve never particularly felt the need to turn my desk into my living room. It’s surprisingly friendly when there’s a few people jammed together, sharing the power sockets.

There is a hell of a lot to learn. I’ve hopped to digital marketing, about which I know jack, in an industry about which I know less than jack. Then there’s finding out about the company, the company culture, the range of people I need to work with, my team, the projects that are already underway… It’s fascinating, even if I do feel I am currently running fast to stand still. Everyone has been welcoming and helpful in the face of my entire ignorance about, well, everything, but I need to get up to speed fast. Which means that after more years than I can remember in which I’ve basically coasted, I might have to change up a gear. Huh.

I’m adjusting to a manager who says ‘You don’t have to justify how you spend your time to me, I trust you’ and means it. It’s hard to shake off that sense that someone is standing a little way behind me, frowning and shaking their head, to whom I have constantly to try to prove and validate what I’m doing. I realized, sadly, that it’s harder than I thought to pick up the reins of responsibility and authority because I’m habituated to shifting parameters and constant disapproval. The process of second guessing myself and mentally testing my defence is slowing me down, but at least I’ve figured out what’s going on so I can deal with it. 

My team are at a different site, as in fact are most of the people I work with. That’s another adjustment, and I’m spending a couple of days a week away from my home office. It’ll settle down, but for now I like the traveling and the lack of routine. It also means I get a good balance between a couple of full on days of back to back meetings, and a couple of days in a quieter office, where I’m a step removed from the frenzy. Best of all, I can work from home if and when I want to.

All told, three weeks in and I’m knackered!

In which I make a list

Not that it is exactly news, I run my entire life on lists. In my head, on my phone, via TeuxDeux (the most awesomest online to do list, if you’re looking for one), and on paper. I really don’t think I would ever get off the sofa without a list telling me to do something. So, I was emailing with Mr W, as I do, and yet again he recommended a Bollywood movie, and yet again I said I’d put it on the list of potential films to watch. This has been happening for approximately 8 years. But, have I seen any Bollywood movies at all? No, I have not. So, behold! The list! Of things for 2014.

  1. See a Bollywood movie. [Update: I have added a recommended title to my Lovefilm list; it's not currently available]
  2. Run 10k – I am idly thinking about running the Town & Gown in May; but equally, I may just run 10k on a treadmill and call this one done. Of course, I have to be able to run that far first, which requires, as a starting point, a running playlist in order to stave off the unmitigated boredom of running for that length of time. All suggestions for a playlist will be gratefully received.
  3. Make a cheesecake – the last cheesecake I attempted was going really well, right up until the point where I burnt it and had to concoct an entirely new dessert for the dinner party from scratch.
  4. Sort out my pensions – ZOMG, I have pension plans all over the place, US and UK, all with roughly £11.73 in them. Currently, I expect to be able to afford to retire about 20 years after I’m dead. This is, perhaps, not the most practical approach. However, I have started a new job (I know, excitement abounds, more anon) so with any luck I can chuck all the paper over to the financial people and they can fix it.
  5. Do a map reading course – I wanted to do this last year but couldn’t spare the holiday time to take a couple of days off mid-week. So, this year it’s definitely back on the list, with a little more urgency because my main walking companion has selfishly buggered off traveling for five months and if I have to rely on myself I’ll probably fall off the edge of the world.
  6. See more theatre – The good thing about the Oxford Playhouse is that tickets are cheap, so you can take a bit of a gamble without risking more than the price of a cinema ticket. I saw a couple of productions last year (Nobulus Dance Company and  Arcadia) that I might not otherwise have bothered with, and both turned out to be excellent evenings. Plus, I saw Richard II at the Barbican just before Christmas and it was absolutely gripping. More, please.
  7. Write more letters – Which I say every year, and every year I mean it, and then I forget. I am not allowed to buy any more stationery until I’ve used what I already have. Anyone want a letter? Let me know.
  8. Listen to Neverwhere – Mr W bought me the CDs of the dramatized version for my birthday and I’ve been holding on to it, in the hopes of a lengthy car journey. What I have now realized is that I don’t live in America any more, and four hours isn’t going to cut it.  On to plan B, which is to listen to a bit every night, as if it were ye olde radio serial. Which, of course, it was. Still. I feel that biscuits will be an integral part of the listening process.
  9. Subscribe to The Economist – Because, really, I can’t keep getting all my news via Twitter. On the plus side, I get the headlines fast; on the minus side, I never get more than the headlines. Also, The Enocomist (as I like to call it), has good cartoons and the occasional snarky photo caption. [Done. I'm a week behind in reading it already.]
  10. Walk the Highline – Guess that means another US trip, huh? That wouldn’t suck.