Category Archives: Life

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.

The 2017 TBR dare

In a moment of madness on Twitter, I seem to have agreed to the 2017 TBR dare. The things one is persuaded to do on the spur of the moment. Look on me, children, and behold my tale of social media downfall.

The rules are actually flexible but I’m going to try to stick to a pure form. So, from 1 January 2017 to 1 April 2017, I can only read books that are already on my TBR pile. I’m including anything that Blackwell’s send me as part of their curation of my TBR list as well.

Of course, this seemed fine at the tail end of last year, when I had the concentration span of an amoeba and the TBR pile looked correspondingly healthy. Now? Not so much. I’ve had to trawl the shelves, and come up with:

  1. Isaac Asimov, Foundation & Empire – there’s a bookmark partway through this, so clearly I wasn’t loving it.
  2. Isaac Asimov, Second Empire.
  3. Miklos Banffy, They Were Counted.
  4. Cees Nooteboom, Nomad’s Hotel.
  5. Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil.
  6. Elizabeth Taylor, Complete Short Stories.
  7. Samuel Richardson, Clarissa.
  8. Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver. I’ve got the rest of the Baroque trilogy sitting around unread as well, but I know I tried and failed with this one so I’m not optimistic enough to put all three on the list.

Unfortunately, Jan to March last year I read 24 books. Admittedly there are some hard hitters on this list that will definitely slow me down. It could take me a month to get through Clarissa, especially since it’s enormous and I’m not taking it out of the house. But the Asimov and the Nooteboom are the work of a couple of train journeys.

So. Either, by 1 April, I’ll have cracked the list above and have a pile of new, unread books to dive into from my moral high ground of reading smugness. I may also have a gleamingly clean house and new exercise habit if I run out of books and have to find something else to do with the rest of my time. Or, I’ll be fidgety, anxious and slightly feral,  occasionally snuffling and licking the covers of the new books I can’t yet read. Who knows?

Happy New Year, by the way!

2016 reading round up

I read 114 books this year, including audiobooks. I thought it would be fewer than that, because I don’t feel as though I’ve done enough reading at all. I did a fair bit of re-reading, but it’s been a tough year and I’m not at all surprised that I went for comfort reading.

Discoveries of the year

Jodi Taylor’s St Mary’s books, about historians who do their research by time travel and have many adventures along the way.  I raced through these, enjoying the history and sci-fi blend to start with, but then increasingly the character development. I found Max an engagingly flawed heroine and it made a real change to read a series in which the women are allowed to take as many risks and get just as beaten up as the men.

In a darker, more serious vein, there’s Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series. Lamb heads up the Slough House division of MI5, which is where the losers and failures are sent until the pointless admin drives them out of the service altogether. Caught right in the middle of internecine battles between MI5 and MI6, Lamb’s ‘Slow Horses’ (a pun on Slough House) turn out not to be completely useless after all. These burn slowly, but they’re quietly gripping. I’m two books in and pleased to see there’s a fourth volume on its way in 2017. I don’t know how I’ve missed Herron up to now, as he also writes detective novels set in Oxford, but I’ll definitely be reading more.

I defy any woman to read the title essay in Men Explain Things to Me and Other Essays by Rebecca Solnit and not identify with it. Solnit originally wrote the essay in 2008 for the Los Angeles Times, and says it’s been the most reposted of all her works. It’s not hard to see why. In the essay, Solnit describes an incident in which a man tells her all about a very important book that’s been published that year on a subject she has mentioned, while repeatedly ignoring Solnit’s friend telling him ‘It’s her book’. He finally gets the point, but despite realising he’s talking to the author and despite the fact he’s only read a review of the book… he keeps talking. It’s a classic account and explanation of mansplaining, before the term was invented.

Rediscoveries of the year

Magician, Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon by Raymond E. Feist. I first read these when I was in my mid-teens and I can’t remember when I last read them but it’s got to be about 15 years ago. Magician is certainly the strongest and I’d have stopped there but… you can’t stop in the middle of the story, can you?

Unless you’re re-reading Dune, of course. This stood the test of time but as even when I first read it I remember the series getting progressively weaker, I was content to stop it there.

Let’s just be thankful I wasn’t tempted back to The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, shall we?

Autobiography of the year

No, it’s the not the only biography I read, because I enjoyed Graham Greene’s A Sort of Life as well. But, I’m a partisan judge and Springsteen’s Born to Run is my winner. As a fan, it was fascinating to read about the early struggles and the background to the albums that have been the soundtrack to my life. It felt like a fairly open confessional, and a couple of interviews I’ve heard suggest that’s true. The only thing on my bucket list is a coast to coast drive of the US, with a Springsteen soundtrack.

Surprise read of the year

Holding, by Graham Norton. I’m ambivalent about Graham Norton himself, but generally sceptical about celebrity authors. Still, I heard him on R2’s bookclub and the book sounded interesting enough to get me over the scepticism hurdle. It’s a murder mystery, set in a nowhere town in Ireland. The local Garda officer usually doesn’t get to do anything more exciting than direct traffic outside the village fete. Then the discovery of a body up at a building site turns the town upside down. I enjoyed the unravelling of the mystery, but I was really sold on the characters. There were backstories aplenty, and that’s what brought it all to life.


Runs like clockwork

Except that, this is the time of year when the mechanism is breaking and maybe a bit over-wound. It runs slower, and it runs down more quickly. This year has been hard and long, and it’s not even as if heading into a new year will bring a clean slate. England is broken,  and those in authority are a big part of the problem. The US is facing a disaster that could well become international. No one is going to come along and fight the monsters.

It is tough to get out of bed in the mornings, and if it wasn’t for the cats demanding that I get up and feed them, I can’t be sure that I’d always bother facing the day. Once I’m up, I run like a good little automaton: shower, dress, drive to whichever the hell office it is. Tick those boxes.

Someone I was close to was killed in a car accident a few weeks ago. One of my best friends is hurting so much, it almost breaks me to see her.

I am so tired.

I don’t believe in any gods and I don’t believe in miracles, and all the feel-good Christmas ads make me furious at how gullible retailers think people are.

But what are the options? It’s basically stop or go, and I choose go because I always do. And  since the cats got me up anyway, I might as well go through the motions until they mean something more than a chore ticked off a list: order the tree, buy more decorations, plan the gifts.

And I don’t believe in gods, but I do believe in people, and so look. Look at the Blackwell’s Giving Tree, where I’ll go donate today. Look at the more than 50 shoeboxes for Shelter my colleagues put together. Look at the flowers my boyfriend bought me, and the guy at carwash telling me to it was ok to come back later with the cash. These are the small kindnesses that get us all through the days. With all this, maybe we are fighting the monsters.