In which I have a new job

In fact, I’m four weeks in. It’s a new role within the same company, but for the first time in my entire career, my job has nothing to do with either content or digital. This job is a further big step on the trajectory away from publishing and towards who knows what?

So now I’m working in the team responsible for coming up with new products and propositions. There’s a commercial aspect that I’ve never had before, and since delivery of any new product depends on lining up the customer care and field ops support as well, there’s another whole different area of the business to get my head around. All this was part of the appeal. I work for a big company and there are vast swathes of it that I never got a look at in my old role.

Just to complicate matters slightly, the hiring manager left before I started, her boss leaves at the end of June and as far as any of us are aware, there aren’t any replacements lined up. Mine is a new role in the team. I have no direct reports but 10 people junior to me who need varying degrees of management. A new product launch is looking like it will be 3 weeks late – I swear this is coincidental.

In all this, I’d say my comfort zone is a short drive away. Right through interview, I still thought that my publishing career was the bedrock evidence of what I can do. But that’s no longer the case. I was hired on the basis of the last three years, not the however many before that. I feel as though I swapped firm foundations for a high wire. As I don’t actually know what my job is and there’s no one to tell me, I’m doing whatever the hell seems to need doing. Every day, I’m flying blind. I’ve put out a lot of fires over the last few weeks, I’ve U-turned on a couple of decisions when I got more knowledge and thanked people for telling me. I don’t know how I’m doing, so I come home some days thinking ‘I got this’ and others thinking ‘What the fuck happened today?’

In other words, it’s standard new job stuff. The fear, the learning curve, the anxiety, the successes, the gradual build back up to confidence, to that state when ‘I got this’ is normal. Currently I’m at a low to moderate anxiety level, which is not only not a bad thing (temporarily), it’s what I went looking for. It’ll either all work out, or I’ll crash and burn. So, ok then.

10 things I have learned at work

  1. How to make tea without a teaspoon. There are never enough bloody teaspoons.
  2. Always make friends with security, the post room and the PAs. They are where the true power to make your life hard really resides.
  3. Lots of smart people together can make a whole lot of spectacularly dumb ass decisions; individually, they’ll all know it’s stupid but the Combined Stupidity Factor will out.
  4. In any shared space, standards will fall to the lowest common denominator. Thus, if you don’t have cleaners who clean bathrooms or kitchens on a regular basis, it will be like living back in halls of residence, only worse.
  5. The first 10 minutes of any conference or video call will be spent sorting out the technical issues and then waiting for the people who are late.
  6. Meetings that don’t have an agenda or minutes are a waste of everyone’s time.
  7. Buy your own stationery/as much kit as you can get away with. At least then you’ll have a good pen and a decent notebook, maybe even a workable phone and (holy grail) laptop.
  8. There is always more work. Put a hard stop in your calendar, go home and don’t check email.
  9. Play nice. Then grit your teeth and still play nice. If you really have to, remind people that you are, in fact, playing nice, and things could get a whole lot worse than this if they want? Then go home and pour a big glass of wine.
  10. This too shall pass.

Easter reading

‘Cos fer I have a long weekend and the only event planned is Rosencratz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Old Vic on Saturday. I saw Daniel Radcliffe in Equus on Broadway not long after he finished being Harry Potter. Richard Griffiths out-acted him simply by being there, and Daniel was rather shouty. But still, there was something. So I’m interested to see his performance on Saturday.

Until then, I have reading planned. Today I finished In the Woods, by Tana French, which I’ve read at least a couple of times before but not for a while. It was a great debut and I realised that she’s very, very good at describing those halcyon moments, the marvellous times that you want to capture and put in a bag that you can always carry with you because you know they won’t/can’t last. She does it with the evenings between Rob, Cassie and Sam in In the Woods and it’s also part of the set up for The Likeness.

Next up is Madame Solario by Gladys Huntington. This is a Persephone book that I’ve been waiting to read because Persephones are always such treats that I didn’t want to waste it on an ordinary day. I’ve been saving Mick Herron’s Spook Street for the same reason. I really want to read it but then there’ll be no more Jackson Lamb books until he writes the next one. I feel I have to keep it until I need Jackson Lamb to save the day.

Next choice is a tie between Summertime, All the Cats are Bored, by Philippe Georget and Good Clean Fight by Derek Robinson. No one does better WWI RAF than Robinson as far as I know, which of course means it’s heartbreaking. But then, French noir is also pretty tempting. The eventual choice may depend on the weather, I might keep the Georget until it’s sunny again and feels like summer.

My latest delivery from Blackwell’s was Jenny Diski’s Skating to Antarctica. It’s been on my TBR list from so far back I have no idea why, but it looks like that interesting blend of travelogue and memoir that I enjoy. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Diski, so this will be a first.

I think those will keep me busy but I have re-reads as back ups. Since I listened to vol 1 of A Dance to the Music of Time, I dug out Vol 2 in print. And I thought The Gone-Away World might stand up to a second try.

The only thing I’m not sure about is if there are enough hot cross buns to sustain me.

 

Middle aged fantasies

Picture the scene. Early evening, mid way through a hectic week. A cute Sainsbury’s delivery driver arrives, all twinkly eyes and carefully tousled hair. Your eyes meet as he hands you the cucumber. ‘Is there… anything else?’ he asks. Your heart speeds up a bit. You bite your lip. You shouldn’t. You really shouldn’t. What will the neighbours think if the van stays parked outside? You know better than this, but the temptation is just too much…

Ten minutes later, you’re snuggled on the sofa, clutching a hot cup of tea and catching up on Monday’s Broadchurch while cute Sainsbury’s guy does the vacuuming.

For the sad reality is that by Wednesday evening, Tom Hiddleston could rock up at my front door in a dinner jacket, carrying a bottle of Taittinger and a gift bag from Tiffany; but unless he’s going to put a load of laundry on, empty the dishwasher and clean out the fridge, he can rock off again.

Back in the day, I longed to be told I was beautiful, desirable, irresistible. And I’m not saying it wouldn’t still be nice to hear. But it doesn’t stack up against ‘I’ll do the washing up’ or ‘You have a lie-in and let me know when you want tea and toast’. What would really make me melt these days is someone saying ‘I’ve mopped the floors’.

The reality, of course, is that the Sainsbury’s delivery turns up while I’m in my old sweatpants and carrying a duster in one hand and a bag of rubbish in the other. Eyes do not meet, and anyway I’m so fed up of clearing soggy cucumber out of the fridge that I’ve put a ban on buying it.

Oh, sod the vacuuming. Where’s the remote?

In which I discourse on fashion

Although this could be a short discourse, because from what I can tell at the moment, the current styles are almost universally horrendous.

Let us begin. This season is going big on what I call either Asylum Chic or Jane Eyre’s Lowood Wardrobe. If I wanted desperately to dress like an escapee from a lunatic asylum, then I’d be sorted. This doesn’t mean that the shops are bestrewn with fetching faux Victorian white lace numbers a la Wilkie Collins either.  It means more of a nod towards 80s American schlock horror movies.

The woman in the blue dress is running, running, still carrying the bloody knife, even though she’s not sure what she did with it, but someone sure got stabbed and she can’t stop crying. Jane Eyre has been told to wear the pink one to the 10th annual Lowood TB Survivor’s Reunion.

Still, once you’ve escaped from the madhouse, or extreme Christian austerity, then it’s time to start partying. Is anyone going to a fancy dress party? And if so, are you thinking of costuming yourself as a migraine? Then [trigger warning] look no further…

These are probably designer, because all the most horrible items of clothing turn out to be designer. The high street’s cheap and cheerful knock offs never quite achieve the same peaks of hideosity. Can you imagine being drunk and seeing those dresses? Or hungover? Dear lord, someone pass the Ibuprofen.

Still, even an ex-Lowood girl can’t party for ever, so the shops have you covered for those quiet nights in as well. You know. The ones when you like to stand in the corner, dressed as a lampshade.

The pink one’s gotta be cheesecloth, right? I don’t think other fabrics can achieve that salmonella pink vibrancy.  For me, though, the blue one is the winner here, effortlessly achieving that ‘lampshade in an asylum’ look and so nailing two key trending influences in one garment. I’m sold.

The Bird Tribunal, Agnes Ravatn

Sigh. So I haven’t even finished this and although it’s basically a pamphlet, it’s touch and go whether or not I will. It’s supposed to be tense and chilling, but my fundamental problem is that the heroine is such a pathetic dweeb I want to smack her one.

And this is, in fact, is my problem with an entire set of books that are ultimately predicated on the fact that the heroine is spineless. There seem to be all too many of them around at the moment. She says, now unable to think of a single title. But you know  the type of thing I mean. The wounded heroine who gets into difficult circumstances that were avoidable or could have been resolved if she’d only actually said something. Like a normal person would have done.

So, to The Bird Tribunal, in which Allis, who fucked up her life with some accidentally public extra-marital shagging, has run away to the middle of nowhere and taken a job as a gardener-cum-housekeeper for some mysterious, grumpy bloke called Bragge. His wife is away. Or is she? At first Bragge says she’ll be back in the autumn; then he disappears for four days and comes back saying she died and was buried. In between, he hangs around being mysterious, dictatorial and unpredictable, which apparently is all Allis wants in a man.

Based on nothing whatsoever, she goes to pieces while he’s away, over-reacting to noises and her own imagination and completely terrified. So terrified, in fact, that she goes out of the house and into the dark garden and to the dark shed, where she picks up a hammer so that she can protect herself when the imaginary enemies come to get her. Because god forbid she should switch a light on, put the radio on and make a cup of tea or anything.

I think there was supposed to be some sense of brooding menace. But there was just a sense of Allis being a bit of a tit.

The only mysteries so far are why she’s still there being emotionally abused by a virtual stranger, and why for the love of all the gods she can’t call him out on his bullshit. He’ll probably turn out to be a nutter who murdered his wife, or Allis will get the wrong end of the stick and accidentally murder him, or whatever. At this point, I’m hoping for a nice suicide pact and the introduction of better characters.

In which I’m reading nostalgically

Back when I was a romantic slip of a thing, so roughly the dawn of time, I discovered that Jilly Cooper had written a whole series of books with girls’ names as titles. They’re all short romances and I galloped through the lot of them. They are literary Fondant Fancies – pretty, sweet but too many at once and you feel sick. Still, they seem to have been republished since last time I looked, and so I gave in and bought Harriet.

The eponymous Harriet is almost too naive to be true, but for the fact that I wasn’t far short of being precisely that sort of idiot when I was her age and first at university. In short order, Harriet gets seduced and then knocked up by a generic university golden boy bastard. He then promptly kicks her out and dumps her when his real, glamorous girlfriend comes back, and Harriet goes to pieces. Of course, she’s pregnant.

Golden boy bastard writes a cheque and pops her off to the doctor where he sends all his pregnant women. You get the impression that one more stamp on his loyalty card and the next woman will get a freebie. Harriet decides to cash the cheque and keep the baby.

Cue the hero, a grumpy writer whose vile-but-beautiful actress wife has just left him and their children. He needs a nanny, Harriet needs a job and a home. Of course, in the end the grumpy writer realises that Harriet is really the woman for him and, presumably, they all live happily ever after.

Obviously this is total nonsense, but Jilly Cooper’s style is perfect for it and she does have some nice touches. She was also one of the first writers I read who really dealt with some of young women’s reality: washing your tights in the sink, washing your hair with washing up liquid when you’re broke, scrabbling through a wardrobe of misfit items desperately trying to put something together that will reveal you as the elegant sophisticate you want to be as long as no one notices that you cut your leg when shaving with a dodgy old razor. In this one, when grumpy writer is being extra grumpy one morning, Harriet turns the waste disposal on so she can’t hear him. I do like novels in which people behave like people.

So hurrah for Jilly Cooper.

I also re-read Daughter of the Empire, by Raymond Feist and Janny Wurtz. It’s the first of a fantasy trilogy set on the world of Midkemia, which featured previously in Feist’s Magician trilogy.

So, Mara is the young daughter of a noble house, about to enter a religious order.  At the last minute, messengers arrive to announce her father and brother have both died in battle, and she’s now head of the house.

Midkemian politics, the ‘Great Game’ is of the intricate, bloody sort that makes Tory party backstabbing look like spring lambs gambolling in a field. Mara is immediately vulnerable, as a near miss assassination attempt makes clear, so she has no option but to become a skilled player very quickly. And that’s basically what she does in this book, surviving a brutal marriage, and a couple more attacks on her life to end up triumphant.

What strikes me this time round is how fast things move and how sketched in it all is. No wonder Game of Thrones was such a sensation, with its cast of thousands, protracted timescales and plot lines that are impossible to predict. I really hope GRRRR Thompson finishes the set because I haven’t watched the TV series and have no clue how he’s going to bring it all together.

But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Daughter of the Empire. I read it almost overnight, and I remembered more than I’d expected to. It was like watching a rerun of an old movie that you know isn’t that great but have residual fondness for anyway.