Author Archives: musingsfromthesofa

About musingsfromthesofa

I've run out of books. Again.

In which I don’t know what I look like

And I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I don’t know a woman who doesn’t suffer from body dysmorphia, and that tends to make things a bit confusing. Of course, there are plenty of mirrors around, but most shops are well up on the art of the most pleasing angle, so there’s no consistency there.  When the reflection in the Regent Street branch of Banana Republic was particularly unflattering, it meant I really couldn’t tell if it was them or me. Either way, I gave the clothes back and slipped away.

A glimpse in a store mirror on Saturday suggested I was verging on anorexia. I am really not. My mirror at home says shorter and squatter than that. I genuinely can’t tell if my bum looks big in this, because (a) what is normal for me? And (b) therefore, what is big? And (c) is that just big in my head or big from an objective perspective?

This morning, absolutely unable to tell whether I looked fine or positively bovine, I just thought ‘Fuck it’ and left for work anyway. Because I also thought, ‘What does it matter?’ I was dressed well enough to sneak within the office dress code, and that’s all that counts. No one at work is actually going to be judging me, and if they are, I won’t know about it. Which takes us back to ‘Fuck it’.

The objective fact is I’m a size 0 to a size 10, depending on which country or store I’m shopping in. That range is clearly pretty normal. I’d definitely be happier a few pounds lighter, because months of inactivity is having an effect, but all my clothes still fit so it’s not that big a deal. I’ve no ambition to look like a model, given that even models don’t look like models until they’ve been Photoshopped to the max.

So mostly, it’s just irritating. I like certainty. So it follows that I’d prefer to be able to look in a mirror and think ‘Oh yes, that is the size and shape of me that I recognise’ and therefore also ‘Those jeans work and those jeans REALLY don’t’. How can it be that instead, I can’t tell?

But then again, why do I need to be able to identify my own size and shape?  Regardless of whether I think I look fat or thin, the only difference is going to be in what I wear. I might misjudge one way or the other, but that makes no bloody difference to anything. So I think that, on further reflection, all roads lead to ‘Fuck it’.

Resistance, Owen Sheers

I thought it was about time I tried writing about books again, to see if it will make me a better reader.

So, I heard about Resistance years ago, on Front Row, because it had just been made into a film. For all I know, the film sank without trace, but the premise sounded interesting and I made a mental note to find the book. I then didn’t and had mostly forgotten about it, until  I found a copy on the bookshelf in the cabin we’d rented for a long weekend in the Brecons. So I picked up my own copy.

Now, counter-factual history is usually not my thing, but the small scale setting of this appealed. It’s set in a 1944 where Germany is very close to winning the war, the D-Day Landings were an epic failure and German troops are now encircling London. The broader context has the Axis powers wrapping up elsewhere in the world, America returning to a more isolationist policy and an inevitability that Britain will fall.

That’s the situation at the beginning of the novel, when all the men from a small village buried in the Welsh mountains leave their farms overnight and disappear. They have probably gone to join some resistance movement, but that’s never made really clear because they are more important in their absence. Their wives wake up in the morning with no idea where their husbands have gone, and gradually figure it out together. They are disbelieving and fearful, because the German reprisals against the families of resistance members are well known and brutal. But, in the absence of other options, they settle to the hard business of keeping their farms running.

For Sarah, her husband Tom’s absence is a sort of bereavement. She misses him, she’s angry with him, she tries to remember the details of how they first met. So that she can tell him her story when he returns, she starts to keep a diary. At first, she struggles because the act of writing is unfamiliar; later, she struggles because she’s writing her own counter-factual story.

Because, a five man patrol of Germans arrives in the valley, tasked with finding the Mappa Mundi which has been moved from Hereford for safety. They are all battle weary, and finding that no orders follow them and they seem to have fallen into a bureaucratic hole between two local commanders, they agree to stay forgotten. They should report the missing men, but they don’t. All Captain Albrecht Wolfram really wants to do is to sit out the rest of the war in this beautiful, tranquil spot.

So life goes on. The men live at the hall and mostly keep themselves to themselves, while also keeping an eye on the women. The women, with Maggie as their unofficial leader and spokeswoman, tell the Germans that they won’t help them or give them food. It’s a mutually agreed truce, while beyond the valley, out of sight and finally out of radio contact as the BBC gets taken over, the war transitions into occupation.

Not until winter lands suddenly do the German soldiers (and really, I never distinguished between them and their individual identities don’t seem that important) start to help with the farm chores. This is where you expect that the story will turn into a romance, with likely a tragic ending. It’s more unexpected that it doesn’t. So while one of the soldiers does start to develop a fondness for the young daughter of one of the women, that never amounts to anything beyond a daydream on both their sides. Wolfram does create a better sense of connection with Sarah, but that’s driven more by his need than hers. She still believes Tom’s coming home.

The relationships above all are practical. After all, digging out sheep from a snow drift, or killing a pig are tough, physical jobs. But, of course, this is still war, and tacitly everyone knows that even that is too much. Wolfram accidentally intercepts a stand in postman one day, and scribbles over all the letters coming in that the recipients are deceased. He reckons that if the women are already thought dead, no one from either side will come looking, and he doesn’t want the women dead or his men found.

Sarah’s diary meanwhile, continues in it’s record keeping vein but without any mention of the Germans at all. So with each day’s writing she fabricates the day’s activity. It’s too complex a situation otherwise to explain that the enemy isn’t really the enemy, particularly to the possible return of a husband who’s been involved in the last line of defence.

The hard winter means that the valley is held as if between moments, but time catches up. Maggie has a promising yearling, the last raised with her husband William before he left, to take to the country show. She takes one of the soldiers with her, but he’s overheard whispering to the horse in German, and then recognised.

And that’s that. The inhabitants of the valley are back on the radar, tarnished respectively with collaboration and disobedience. The yearling is shot, which shatters Maggie. Wolfram  tells Sarah they must get away, now. His radio operator goes off to radio in, and as Sarah leaves, more Germans are coming.

We don’t know that the women’s husbands are dead, but it’s likely. We don’t know that the women themselves will be punished, but that was always the most probable outcome. We don’t know if Sarah does or does not meet Wolfram at the appointed place, or if she gets away. But in the family Bible, left behind, Sarah has added her own date of death.

Resistance Movie Poster 2011

 

 

 

 

In which my hair is my business

Thank you everso for asking.

For the two people who read this blog and don’t know me in person, I’ve had short hair for most of the time since my 20s, aka, the best part of 20 years.

I’ve heard ‘Oi, mate, your bird’s a bloke!’ from some charmer on the night bus. I didn’t punch him. I’ve heard a polite ‘Sir…’ before a guy at a reception desk clocked that I was female. My ex-husband and I got dodgy looks checking into a hotel one time, which baffled us until we realised that I looked like a teenage boy when I wore a baseball cap.

None of it’s a big deal, and mostly I just eye roll and move on. But the consistent question that really winds me up is ‘What does your boyfriend/husband/partner think?’, sometimes coupled with ‘Doesn’t he mind that you’ve got short hair?’

I’ve been hearing that for years. About 20 of them. From the 20th into the 21st century, apparently a defining characteristic of women is that they’ve got long hair; and secondly, their hairstyle is not just their choice. It should be validated by a male whose opinion is considered relevant on the matter. If Vidal Sassoon were still around and I knew him, I’d hope he appreciated that my haircuts are straight out of the Sassoon school. Everyone else can fuck off.

 

 

 

Five ways cats are like millennial employees*

*Some millennial employees. Not to tar an entire generation with the same brush. I personally know some great ones. On the other hand, did I mention my new job comes with NO DIRECT REPORTS? FTW.

  1. It’s all about them.
  2. They look blankly at you when you ask them to do something they don’t want to do; then they don’t do it. It’s as if they have no idea who’s in charge.
  3. They are capable of disappearing for long stretches of time with nothing to show for it. [? are millennials asleep on top of a dustbin]
  4. They think just showing up is enough to be deserving of attention and reward.
  5. They make you say to yourself several times a day ‘What is wrong with you?’

In which I ditch my work phone and leave at 4pm

Because, I am unashamedly more focused on my work-life balance than my career. Admittedly, that might be easy for me as I don’t actually have a career, but it’s the principle of the thing!

I did this a while ago, and I’ve been monitoring the situation to see what difference it’s made. And the difference is, life got noticeably better.

Ok, I’m a phone snob and what we were given was *snort* a Microsoft Lumia phone. I know. It was a really, really terrible piece of kit. As a fundamental flaw, it rarely rang, diverted straight to voicemail and then didn’t tell you for days, or sometimes weeks, that you’d got any messages. This is not helpful in a supposed business device. First, I took to doing all my calls on my iPhone anyway and just using the Lumia for email. Then I realised it was a horrible keypad as well, and I gave up on it completely.

But this is an important point, I think. If there is stuff in your life that does not work properly but that you have to interact with regularly, it is an unnecessary irritant. So why put up with it?

And really, do I need email on the fly? Well, no, I don’t. When I looked at how I spend my working time I’m either: (a) at a desk, with my laptop in front of me; (b) in a meeting, at which I should either be paying attention and therefore not using a phone, or not in the meeting at all; or (c) travelling to or from an out of office meeting. About once a month, I travel on the train, and that time is better spent catching up on back copies of The Economist. Or thinking about the work things I never get time to think about because I’m too busy on email.

Which leads to another reason to ditch the phone. Email simply generates more email, and it’s an efficiency trap. Or inefficiency trap. You will regularly hear, from all levels at the company I work for, that everyone thinks they get too much email. It’s the default communication system and worse, it’s become the default storage system. What I rarely hear is that people think they’ve got too much work. So even subconsciously, people don’t think ’email’ and ‘work’ are the same thing.

Extra ability to send or receive email isn’t a benefit. It contributes to the problem. As no company I have ever worked for has collapsed when I’ve been on holiday or off sick, I figure I’m not that important.  I put my out of office on when I’m in a lot of meetings or travelling, and that seems to work just fine.

The single downside I have noted is that I don’t have my calendar with me, and even this only comes into play when I need to dial into a conference call and realise I don’t have the details. That’s an administrative issue, not a tech issue. As I’ve recently switched to bullet journaling for work as well as home, it’s pretty easy to fix.

What’s this whole leaving at 4pm thing, I hear you cry? Well. I started doing that because when I started my part time OU degree, I thought it would require me to find more hours in the week. (It didn’t, but now I have extra time anyway so win-win.) But anyway, I typically get into the office for 7.30am so 4pm seems a reasonable end time. I mark a hard stop in my work calendar every day at 4pm, and with a few exceptions, that is respected. I will turn down meetings that are happening after 4pm and I don’t answer my phone to work calls.

And, this is the best bit: because I don’t have a work phone, my email can’t follow me. I can’t ‘just check’ or ‘quickly follow up on’ anything.  I may not do anything amazing with that hour, but frankly, I’d rather get a load of laundry done than yet more email.

 

In which there are swings and roundabouts

And it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, blah di blah di blah blah. Rhubarb rhubarb.

I’ve got a new job. It’s an internal move, so I’m not sure when it will start, but on Friday I drafted the job spec for my current role because I’m sticking around to help recruit my replacement. It’s an odd thing, writing a description of the job you do. The weeks mostly go by in a blur of meetings and emails, but you know what? I do a lot. At the same time, a cool reappraisal shows there are skills I don’t have that this role needs now. So it’s a good thing that I’ll be moving out of the way.

The new job is big and scary, beyond my experience and out of my comfort zone. That’s why it appealed to me and why I’m taking it. Hurrah for age and experience, because I may fall flat on my face and when I was younger, I wouldn’t have risked that.

This morning I got my car serviced, and as I’ve almost hit the mileage with about 18 months to go on the lease, I asked about changing it. Well. The story was not the one I wanted to hear. Turns out that there’s not a whole lot of an interest in a high performance car with 50k miles on the clock in under three years. I’m downgrading and I still have to put in a reasonable deposit to contribute towards depreciation and the gap between what I owe and what the current car is worth.

But. I can cover the deposit, and there were plenty of times in my life when that wouldn’t have been the case. Yes, it’ll be a hit on my savings but no one marched me into a Mercedes dealership three years ago and put a gun at my head to make me lease an extravagant car. I didn’t know then I’d be clocking roughly 20,000 miles a year.

So I write this on Saturday evening, sitting in the kitchen sink… Oops, I mean at the kitchen table, with a glass of wine. There’s a vase of flowers in front of me, bought for me because of a perception that I had a tough morning. I’ve got Thursday’s country music show playing while I cook dinner and I spent the afternoon reading a novel.

I’m a fortunate woman.

In which I fail the TBR dare. And buy books. And then read them.

So. Two blog posts ago, I excitedly signed up to the TBR dare and dug out the books that have been kicking around for a while unread.

In January, I re-read three books, faffed around online, paced the house and felt generally restless and ill at ease. The unread books remained steadfastly unread, and instead loomed at me accusingly from the window ledge.

Turns out that there’s a reason why they’re unread. It’s not that I never want to read them, it’s just that I especially don’t want to read them when they’re my only choice. But not reading anything makes me stressed and miserable and aimless.

So I did the only sensible thing and hit Blackwell’s, waving my account card triumphantly and to hell with the bill. (Which won’t turn up for a couple of months anyway because one of the endearing quirks of the account card is it runs so far in arrears and the statements are so impenetrable that I  basically never have a clue how much I’ve spent or when the amount will leave my bank account. As a result of which, I don’t bother checking.)

Anyway. I bought a lovely stack of books and I have read:

Watch Her Disappear by Eva Dolan. This is the fourth in the Zigic and Ferreira series and deals with the murder of a transgender woman. I like the concept of the Hate Crimes Unit, it’s a nice device for Dolan to explore less ordinary murders. This one explores the trans community a bit, sympathetically overall and without reduction to stereotypes. The perspective on the murdered woman, Corinne, shifts around as well. Of course she’s a victim, but as more information comes to light and the witness interviews mount up, it becomes clear that she could be very unpleasant.

Since the last book, Zigic’s wife has had another baby, and Ferreira has moved into what appears to be a grotty flat and is having an affair with a superior. But by the end of the novel, the Hate Crimes Unit is closing  – is this the end of Zigic & Ferreira?

Real Tigers by Mick Herron. In which someone has kidnapped Catherine Standish to try to get the Slow Horses to steal some files from MI5 in return for her release. As ever with the internal machinations of MI5, there are wheels within wheels and the double-crosses come thick and fast.  In this one, the body count went up a bit as well, with a splendid shoot out. On balance, I think you’d want Jackson Lamb on your side. Just not close enough to be able to smell him or let him steal your food. He does get all the best lines, though: ‘Mind like a razor. Disposable’.

Daughter of the Wolf by Victoria Whitworth. This got onto my list after a glowing review in The Sunday Times, so I was very pleased to find it. I really hope it’s the start of a series, because it felt like a story that had further to go and I found it absolutely engrossing. The premise isn’t that unusual – local lord goes away leaving untried daughter to rule for him – but the setting is pre-Norman England so the historical elements are really interesting.

And some others.

Finally, as I said to Mr W, I’ve struck audiobook gold with A Dance to the Music of Time, narrated by Simon Vance. It’s been years since I read the quartet, but I’m finding it pleasantly familiar. I may swap back and forth between print and audio for the rest, although it’s a great accompaniment to the business miles and means no risk of accidentally hearing any news on the radio. I find Simon Vance’s dry tone is perfect for Nick Jenkins. But ugh. Widmerpool.