Re ‘direct’

‘Direct’ is a description that’s come my way a few times over the last year or so. It’s a new one on me, and I guess that what was ‘articulate’ when I worked in publishing, is ‘direct’ in an organization beset by business jargon. I’m tempted to create a Business Jargon Bingo card that we could all take to meetings, just to liven things up a bit. Mind you, it would hardly be difficult to win. Sorry, did I say ‘difficult’? I meant ‘a challenge’. (Yes. Precisely that sort of thing. And may the gods have mercy on us all.)

I hadn’t particularly minded being ‘direct’. Lord knows there’s enough bullshit around offices without me needing to add to it, and so I aim to be clear and objective. But you know how it goes when something gets said a couple of times, and suddenly develops its own, unchallengeable truth.  You find yourself slapped with a bloody great label that no one can see round and you aren’t allowed to change.  I’m also aware that ‘direct’, at least in the current context, is not something that is viewed entirely positively.

What I’m genuinely uncertain about is how much the label is influenced by gender perceptions. It is, seemingly, considered an admirable business skill to be straight talking, to cut the crap, to cut to the chase, to see to the heart of the matter. But you don’t get those descriptions applied to women very much.

So what does ‘direct’ actually mean? Well, there’s only one way to find out: the next time that adjective gets applied to me, I’ll ask. And then I’ll ask if my interlocutor would describe a man in the same way. And if they wouldn’t, they’ll get a very direct response.

You don’t have to say you love me

Just buy a pint of milk on your way over.

Well, seriously. Color me old and cynical, but these days I’ll trade the words ‘I’ll make dinner’ for any number of compliments and flowery phrases.

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately: Leicester, Rotherham, Leeds, Staines, Windsor, Newcastle, Edinburgh. The roll call of glamorous locations just doesn’t start, but the miles still add up. I’ve spent far too many nights in indistinguishable crappy business hotels, eating shitty, on-the-road food. When I get home, the cupboards are bare, the fridge is half full of decaying vegetables and sour milk, and my relationship with the cats is reduced to filling food bowls for mysterious creatures I never see.

Over the last several weeks, domestic routines have gone completely to pot. I’ve not been here long enough to get things properly back on track by, I don’t know, cleaning the bathroom or buying real food. And also, I’m knackered.

So right now, anyone who was making my life more difficult would be getting pretty short shrift. Anyone who had ridiculous expectations, such as that I might not shuffle round in pyjamas, or that I might actually talk to them, would be SOL.

Fortunately, instead, a miracle happens. Food appears, and is sometimes cooked. Movie tickets are just booked. The newspaper turns up, so I can do The Times crossword on Saturday morning. People – there are Jaffa Cakes. Someone is picking up the slack, and it isn’t me.

I’m drinking tea made with milk that I did not buy. That is romance.

In which I am perturbed and baffled by peer pressure

Another thing about Christmas, is that a couple of my colleagues are very, very keen on the whole business. I have various friends who start getting ridiculously over-excited about Christmas around about now, but I can just say ‘Fuck Christmas and then fuck it harder’ and they’ll indulgently accuse me of being a Grinch. But then they’ll back off. This is why they are still my friends and not just random people I used to know.

Unfortunately, the more formal relationship demanded at work requires a bit more subtlety. This, in turn, becomes incredibly tiresome, because there are those who Will. Not. Let. It. Drop. Chuck in the added factors of needing to maintain good working relationships, plus the narrowly defined notion of ‘being a team player’ and it all gets pretty complex. As well, the team I work in is very tribal. They like to feel that people ‘belong’ and they don’t have a lot of compunction in exerting considerable peer pressure to achieve that. The most common way this gets evidenced is on team nights out, when someone orders shots and the pressure is then on for everyone to drink them. One of my colleagues had to say ‘No’ six times before she finally got left alone. She’s a grown woman, with kids, who could reasonably be expected to know her own mind as to whether she wants a drink or not. Of course, it’s all done with laughter and banter, it’s all fun. Just rather less so when you’re on the receiving end of it.

So navigating these waters is hard enough at the best of times. I aim to maintain a balance between preserving my sanity and doing enough tactical joining in still to be part of the group. To this end, I did some foundation level socializing when I first joined the company, and then established my anti-social tendencies early on. I deliberately and consistently exaggerate what I’m sure are viewed as my eccentricities (preferring time on my own, staying in my hotel with a book, driving home rather than booking hotels so that I can get downtime in my house), so that my norm is recognized. I don’t think it’s coincidental that I get severe headaches at the end of team away days.

But, of course, there’s nothing like Christmas to ramp up the compulsory fun and participation. If rumor is correct, then the next signifier of belonging will be the wearing of the Christmas jumper. I am about as likely to wear a Christmas jumper as I am a Disney sweatshirt. They’re horrible, and I’m damned if I’m deliberately wasting money on a nasty creation of synthetic fibers in order to make a bunch of other people feel comfortable. I know it’s a small thing to make a fuss about. Why can’t I just grit my teeth and suck it up to make people happy?

I feel as though I already do put in enough effort at fitting in. I’m not really minded to do more, so it actually doesn’t matter whether the trigger for enough being enough is small or large. Peer pressure is an interesting mechanism for ensuring conformity. First, the person being pressured has to acknowledge that those doing the pressuring are peers; and second, some benefit has to accrue to the person being pressured, so that the yielding is worthwhile.

But forced belonging has always made me deeply uncomfortable and even nervous, long before I understood why. It’s about the exertion of at least mental force to make individuals submit their own preferences to the group, and that is a continuum with great ugliness at the end of it. It’s about herd mentality winning. And I think it’s about insecurity and weakness. In my view, a strong team should be big enough and generous enough to allow for the preferences of its members. I value difference over conformity. Well, of course I do. I’m a card carrying introvert whose natural position in life is observing from the sidelines.

Back to the Christmas jumper conundrum, and my risk analysis says that a couple of the more emotionally labile members of the group will get upset at my refusal because they’ll view it as an attack on the team, and may not get over it. But most will. It’s all quite interesting from an ethnographic perspective (I presume there are studies on tribalism in the workplace? If not, I could knock up a great PhD on that, so please send funding.) But as an individual, it’s wearisome.

In which I am preparing for Christmas

I know, I know, it’s unlikely. But bear with me.

As the launch of the John Lewis Christmas ad signals that the full horror of the festive season is about to be unleashed on us again, I’ve been thinking about a few preparations of my own. ‘What does Christmas really mean to me?’, I thought. ‘What is this season of joy and good cheer likely to bring?’ and ‘What was it I wished I’d done last year?’

Casting my mind back to Christmases of yesteryears, I realized that basically what it means is 10 days of incapacity due to a vile illness from which I’ll only recover in time to go back to work in the new year. What it’s most likely to bring is a debilitating cold, a multi-day blinding headache and 3 weeks of a hacking cough. Or, just good, old fashioned tonsillitis.

I’m preparing accordingly:

  1. Bulk buying of Kleenex with balsam. Last year saw me driving round Bicester at 10pm on a freezing night, desperately trying to find somewhere, anywhere that would sell tissues. Those I eventually found were like thin cardboard. In my preternaturally weakened condition, this experience very nearly reduced me to tears.
  2. Soup. Screw the mince pies, the stollen and all the other rich but pointless stuff. I’m going to fill my freezer with delicious soup that I can easily heat up when I need it.
  3. Box sets. If I’m not mistaken, the latest season of Castle and the latest season of Penny Dreadful will both be out shortly. Last year, I was dependent on what the BBC had to offer. I watched Kung Fu Panda, for fuck’s sake. What’ll it be this year, Frozen? I can’t risk it.
  4. Pyjamas. As I’ll basically be living in them for the best part of 2 weeks, I should get some more. At least it’s the right time of year to be acquiring brushed cotton.
  5. Day Nurse and Night Nurse. Within limits, though. Unfortunately, last year I OD’d on decongestants and had to go cold turkey for a week before the next batch would start working. This was not a happy time.
  6. Firewood. I need something I can sit in front of while shivering uncontrollably, and a real fire will be very festive. And warm.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll get a tree, I’ll make a Christmas cake. In fact, my sister has already asked me if I’ll lick the cake I make for her so she can get my germs and, in turn, escape the family Christmas she’s got to endure. There’ll be presents, some of them even for other people. The cats will play with baubles, I’ll start drinking snowballs and ‘Now that’s what I call Christmas’ will resound through the house. It’s just that all of that jollity has to be fitted into the two days between finishing work and collapsing.

10k and out

My love/hate relationship with running has hit another milestone, in that today I finished my second 10k. Today’s run was a vastly improved experience compared to the previous one, which I ran in May. Although I failed signally to do any interval training that might have knocked a few minutes off my time, I’ve definitely been running faster on a treadmill. Back in the real world I obviously defaulted to lazy pace, which was why I felt comfortable all the way round. I didn’t wear a watch or have any kind of time tracking device than the chip, so I mostly stopped thinking about time. The first marker I saw was the 3k, which was a pleasant surprise. At 5k it still felt easy, 6k and 7k slipped by almost unnoticed and then it was the home straight.

It helped that it was a beautiful autumn day and I was running through Blenheim. I’d trained there a handful of times and adjusted to the shock of its rolling hills after Oxford’s all round flatness. That Capability Brown knew a thing or two about landscaping, eh? I’ve also gotten used to the fact that even several months after purchase, at around 5k my not so new trainers give me blisters in exactly the same place every time.

It also helped that I’d already decided that I never need to do this again. Running for an hour at a time is just too boring, the training is too difficult to fit in and about 97% of the time, I actively dislike it. I’ve never come up with a reason other than ‘I think I ought to be able to’ and now I can. So I can stop.

In which I despair at A/W 15 fashions

One of the good things about being born and growing up in the 70s is that, yes, I may have worn some of the clothes, but it wasn’t my fault. I’m not sure how old I was when I got to start exercising my own judgment (which, to be fair, was disastrously flawed for a number of years – I wasn’t always the epitome of well groomed chic y’all know today) but I’m pretty confident we were into the 80s by then. And, as far as I’m aware, there’s nothing about 70s style that needs revisiting.

So, I’m finding this autumn’s clothes extremely depressing. I love autumn. Bring me colder weather, and fresh breezes, and leaves whirling from the trees. It’s an invigorating change after the summer, and I like chilly mornings, brisk walks and cozy evenings as the sky darkens earlier. I also, usually, look forward to stocking up on sweaters and trousers and new boots.

Not so much this season, which has apparently won the triple of vile fabrics in vile colours in vile shapes. If I was 20, I might be having a lot of fun with micro miniskirts and fringing, but I’m not. I basically need stuff for work that is simultaneously stylish and not cut up to here or plunging down to there. I also have a body type that requires my clothes to have some shape to them. Make it ‘unstructured’ and I may as well done a cardboard box and paint it paisley.

Let’s look at some key style trends for this season as evidence.

Culottes – are you fucking kidding me? I don’t care how many magazines are throwing their models into them, there is nothing flattering about a wide leg pant that stops at half mast. Nothing. Everyone looks rectangular. Plus, they’re just plain stupid. In real life, people need coverings all the way down their legs, because we have this stuff called weather.



Flat shoes – this just breaks my heart. It’s a continuation of the summer theme that saw skate shoes and orthopedic sandals foisted on an unsuspecting public with the rallying cry ‘They’re really comfortable!’ I had to look high and low for a pair of CFM heels when I needed them over the summer, and my autumn search for brown ankle boots that aren’t horrible is proving similarly troublesome.

Ugly shoes

Granny chic – words fail me. Ok, they don’t, but the only ones I have left are expletives. The shapes, patterns and colors all make me want to cry. Pussy bow blouses; ankle length pleated skirts in 70s orange; angrily patterned fabrics, of the sort that is usually left over at jumble sales. It’s defiantly ugly, and maybe if you are awesomely cute and you live in a movie, you can pull off the look. I am not and I have to go out in public without being afraid that I will traumatize passing strangers by reminding them of their deceased grandmother’s curtains.



Polo necks/roll neck jumpers – Do they have ribbing too? Super. So, these actually work if you are a size triple zero model in a black and white shot that’s pretending to be 60s Paris. Smoke a Gauloise.  C’est bien. If, on the other hand, you are a real person then you may have breasts, in which case your options are: the fitted, ‘here are my tits but I don’t have a neck’ look, or the ‘I am a shapeless blob and I don’t have a neck’ look. If you want, you can try tucking a roll neck into your dubiously coloured flares, thereby giving yourself an artificial roll around the middle too.


I’m heading into the cheapest A/W season in years.

This running malarkey

Despite the fact that I hated every single second of the Oxford 10k back in May, I’ve committed myself to running the Blenheim 10k in October. So, same distance but with some gentle, rolling hills for added unpleasantness. Of course, I’ve slacked off all training since May and haven’t tried running anything other than 6k tops. So why am I doing this again?

Even I don’t know. The best answer I can come up with is that I think I ought to be able to run that distance, and so I should run it. And my time for my first 10k was slower than I thought it would be, which is niggling at me. So I should be able to run it faster. Based on… well, nothing at all.

Getting back up to the distance just requires me to buy some willpower, find some music and I’d really like better headphones. But there is general agreement that to get my time down requires interval training. This scares me, because it’s hard work and what I actually really want is the result without the effort.

And yet. Today I hit the treadmill and did about 10-12 minutes of intervals in a half hour of running, and it was bloody hard work, but I can really see how it will make a difference. There are probably fringe benefits like you get to eat more chips, too.

So here I am, caught in a mental trap of my own devising and now forced to put some effort into achieving stupid goals that I’ve set for myself. I don’t understand me. Do real runners think like this? Is every single run still a battle for them?