Category Archives: commuting

Life lessons

So, Charlie-with-the-broken-leg is now out of his cage and under house arrest. It’s been a week so far and I can see him getting stronger every day: he’s gone from limping a little and being uncertain about some jumps, to bounding wherever he feels like. He got out one night by going through an open window and down a sheer, 8 foot wall. A couple of hours later, at the sound of the snack packet, he came racing across the lawn to me.

He’s got another 10 days in the house before he’ll be back at the vets to have the pin removed from his leg. Then normal life will resume. I’m looking forward to that, as he’ll be so much happier being allowed outside; but he’s taken to following me around and I’ll miss my little shadow.

Meanwhile, my other cat barely comes in the house because she no longer recognises Charlie. When I do lure her in, usually with food, she’ll tolerate him for as long as it takes her to eat, then resume growling before making for the nearest exit. I’m hoping the trade off for seeing less of Charlie will be that Belle feels comfortable in the house again.

With all this cat care going on, I’ve been at home a lot more. I haven’t done any overnight stays away and I’ve been working from home as much as I can. I’m at my laptop by 8am latest, but as everyone who gets to skip their commute knows, you get to sleep in, do a fuller day’s work and still have more of an evening. So for me, despite working longer days, it’s felt like something of a holiday simply because I only recharge by being at home.

I hadn’t realised the extent to which I had gotten into the habit of looking at the various locations ahead of me during my week and thinking ‘Just got to get through it.’ Or the extent to which a constant low level of tiredness and stress was delimiting my ability to relax in what felt like very limited time in my house. The balance was off and although I knew some of the negative effects, I hadn’t appreciated all of them. There’s a pretty long list:

  1. Not getting time for lunch at work, so 3pm lunches of popcorn and granola bars, plus too tired to cook proper evening meals.
  2. Not drinking enough water
  3. Drinking too much tea, I think, and therefore over-caffeinated and twitchy
  4. Plus tired and unable to concentrate properly, so too much time on my phone
  5. Therefore internet shopping and then wondering where my money goes
  6. Not enough exercise
  7. A bit of not-exercising guilt
  8. General sense of should be doing something but failing to tackle any of the above because tired and lazy

And the big one, not feeling as though I had any time. Which is different to not actually having time: if I had any time at all to read Popsugar then I certainly had time to make decent food or practice yoga. It just didn’t feel that way because I had trapped myself in an apathetic circle of lethargy.

Now, I am definitely busier when I’m commuting, and I had been spending a couple of nights away a week. So it wasn’t all perception. But the situation wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, either. It’s just taken a bit of critical distance for me to be able to reassess the situation. I’ll have to get back to a more normal working pattern, but there are still steps I can take to keep some balance:

  1. More driving, fewer hotel stays. Not that more miles on the road is ideal, ideal but it’s the necessary swap for me to be at home where I can relax.
  2. Less time on my phone. I don’t think it’s a smartphone addiction, I think it’s a lazy habit (I can stop any time). Right now, I’m not sure where my phone is, but it’s definitely not within arm’s reach.
  3. Yoga. I’ve found a great yoga studio about half an hour away, and I’ve been trying to go to at least one class a week. I’m going to try to start a home practice, which is something I’ve never been successful with before.
  4. Water. I don’t understand why I struggle with this one so much. I spent Monday with a self-induced dehydration headache and it’s still hovering in the background, waiting to come back if I’m not careful. I can drink tea by the bucket but even with a water bottle on my desk, I can fail to take a single sip. I know all the benefits, I know from experience that I feel better if I’m hydrated (no shit, Sherlock) so why am I punishing myself? Argh.

So that’s kind of my promise to myself. Nothing huge there and yet, in small ways, life changing.

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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.

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.

On urban cyclists

On the rare occasions when I do cycle, a primary aim is to be visible to motorists. Partly because as a driver myself, I know how invisible cyclists can be; and partly because, as a cyclist myself, I know you can’t trust the useless car-driving bastards to be paying attention.

What I don’t understand is why so many of Oxford’s cyclists have a death wish. I don’t want to run them over, I really don’t. Mostly. But why do they have to make not running them over so bloody difficult? I’m not getting into the whole drivers vs cyclists debate, here. Everyone has a right to use the road, there are faults on both sides and until both sides show a bit of respect for (a) each other and (b) the rules of the shared road, the problems won’t be resolved.  Which will likely be never. But in the meantime, the sad truth is that even if some cyclists feel they are safely occupying the moral high ground, it does not provide them with a force-field of invincibility.

So:

  1. If, as a cyclist in the dark, you are wearing all dark clothing and have no lights or anything reflective, I can’t see you. You can literally seem to appear out of nowhere, even when there are street lights and headlights. Go out in a car, at night, during rush hour and take a look some time. Would you see you? No, you fucking wouldn’t.
  2. You are then reducing my chances of not hitting you even further when you wander vaguely into the middle of the road without bothering to check if anyone has spotted you in your special cyclist’s urban camouflage gear.
  3. Yes, I know you made eye contact, but this is a lump of metal. It doesn’t stop instantaneously, even from a low speed, and that is not my fault. It’s something to do with the laws of physics.
  4. Why are you scratching your ankle…? Oh, it’s a turn signal that you’re just too cool to make properly. Oh look, now you’re on the ground and quite broken. How cool is that?
  5. I was just wondering, is your head actually made from some unbreakable material? Oh, it’s not? Interesting.

Your safety? It’s a joint responsibility.

On the deadliness of routine

The problem with being inherently lazy and having a boredom threshold roughly on a level with that of the cats (‘Oh, that’s interes… never mind, I’m doing something else now’) is that in order to do pretty much anything in a day, I need some structure.

The problem with the 9-5.30, 5 days a week in the office structure, is that it makes my soul itch and breeds foul rebellion in my dark heart. I dislike even the necessity of setting an alarm clock to make sure that my regimented day gets off to its timely start. It’s that measuring out one’s life in coffee spoons feeling that I kick against, like a surly teen at a bus shelter. Give me back my time, you bastards, I can manage it far more efficiently and pleasantly.

I’ve been working consistently for too, too many years already and I get my  job done. Ultimately, no matter how boring, however much I really don’t want to edit that manuscript, write that email or decipher that fucking Excel spreadsheet, the work happens near enough on time. The few interesting things happen sooner, of course, but I’ve got some annoying completeness gene that won’t allow me to let stuff slide too much.

This is in no way related to any silly goals that have been set, or alleged SMART objectives, or bonus schemes, because all of that HR crap is just so much pointless form-filling. Three points here: (1) I’ll do what needs to be done, regardless of what your funny bits of paper say; (2) bonuses are bullshit, hire competent staff and then pay them well to start with:  if you need to incentivise with more money then let me refer you back to the beginning of point (2);  (3) Netflix? If that ‘Freedom & Responsibility Culture’ stuff is true, call me, ‘kay?

Getting stuff done is also not related to whether I’m in the office, at home, out for lunch or wandering round the shops. I can think anywhere, I can handle email from most places and I can write at 8 in the morning or 10 at night. Generally I think more clearly and work better between about 6am and 9am. Which is why, of course, it makes sense that I spend that time getting up, showered, dressed, eating breakfast and sitting in traffic, so I can arrive at an arbitrarily designated building just in time to start winding down for a bit.

Sing ho! for the industrial day in the post-industrial age.

This cycling life

That’s a bit of an overstatement, really. I’ve been to work and back a few times (about 10-12 miles each way) and on a short ride round here once. There is a fundamental misunderstanding between me and the guys in the bike shop: they think I aspire to be a cyclist and so have started showing me cycling shoes and talking about ‘Attacking the hills’; I just want to get to work without traffic hassle, including, eventually, maybe, up the hill in Wootton.

I quite like cycling again, though. It’s a good way of appreciating Oxford’s wonderful flatness and unavoidable head winds. You would think that if you were cycling into the wind in one direction and then changed direction, you would no longer be cycling into the wind. That is only if you have never cycled in Oxford, where the wind comes from all directions at the same time. Often with a handful of drizzle in it, just for the hell of it. (The calendar says it’s June out there. I say, the calendar knows fuck all: it’s October and other than a brief foray into July that happened in May, it’s been October since April.) I sort of prefer it as cycling weather, though. On a sunny day, I’d much rather be jauntering about in the BMW of Expense. Cycling can’t compete with driving for sheer fun, but it is practical in this bike friendly, car choked city.

It’s also insidious. Already, the distance to work doesn’t feel all that far and a hill that I’ve previously walked up, begging for breath, just disappeared today. Perhaps I am beginning to understand gears?  I’m getting to know my bike better than I ever did when I used it in the US, and ambiguity has turned to appreciation. Now that I’ve got panniers, even all the kit (lights, light chargers, incredibly heavy bike lock, waterproofs) is much easier to deal with.

So, I suppose I’ll keep going. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how quickly the trip has become manageable, almost comfortable. It’ll be 16-17 miles each way to the new job, and that’s gone from seeming like something I’d have to work towards, to a reasonable proposition. In another month, I suspect I won’t notice the extra miles at all. O frabjous day! Exercise achieved without really noticing.

The going gets tough

And the not very tough don’t have any time. Look. I’m tired and on the train and a bit tipsy. This is when NaBloPoMo gets hard. Which is a bit pathetic considering I am only a few days in. But all I have done today is sit in meetings and attend a product launch party, so there has been no space for creative thinking at all. Oh, and get volunteered to be part of a panel at ALA. There is no escape. I am resigned to ongoing anxiety.

I’m sure this won’t be the only time this month when I lack inspiration, so my poppets, is there anything you have a burning desire for me to waffle about? I aim to please. Well, sometimes. All right, not very often. But this offer is genuine! Ish.