All change is loss

In a previous life as a Local Authority IT Manager, I had two application support teams. They provided a help line service to staff using a couple of key IT systems in the authority, and were really rather good at it most of the time. Which is more than can be said for a lot of IT support teams in my experience.

In fact they were so good at it that they wanted to become better.

One of the areas they were keen to know about was change management. Working in a Local Authority is a master class in change management. I was there for about five years and had three managers, three different departments, and at least four restructures (the latest starting before the previous one had been completed) without changing my job. One of the reasons your Local Authority can appear a bit sullen to you as a customer is that the staff are being messed about by politicians like you would not believe. This applies quite generally in public sector, but whereas teachers and nurses get a sympathetic press much of the time, council workers are generally less fortunate.

So unsurprisingly my team was keen to understand how to handle the challenge of turning up for work and remaining sane.

I had also worked in a different Local Authority back in the 1980s and things were not so different then. One day the office received word that they were being moved to another building and we had to pack up immediately. Boxes appeared, were labelled and filled, and then disappeared. We moved as directed and found desks and boxes magically awaiting us.

Unfortunately for one person they were on holiday. When he returned to the office he found an empty space with a note saying “Sorry mate, we just couldn’t stand you any more”. It took him all morning to track us down.

Meanwhile, back to my team. I managed to arrange a day’s training for them on change management. It was illuminating and possibly saved quite a few of them from requiring therapy, despite talking at times about cheese that moved and polar bears on melting icebergs. Nothing is perfect.

We also talked about being scared and confused and feeling insecure. We talked about how people react when they feel those things and put ourselves in the customer’s shoes and realised why they asked stupid questions and how we should communicate changes properly and many other good things.

The one lesson that provoked a great deal of discussion as the trainer’s assertion that all change was loss.

My dears, I feel it is true. Not all of my colleagues were fully convinced but I uphold that proposition. When change happens we lose something, The something may be a thing we do not want, like an aching tooth or a few pounds of weight or loneliness. Nevertheless it is a loss and we must feel it and work through the stages of loss, however quickly and possibly gladly.

I must come to terms that I can’t use my pain as an excuse any more. I can’t hide behind my weight as a reason for not being sociable or not liking myself. I can’t demand sympathy from others because I am lonely and deserve special consideration. I have to face up to the responsibility of being happy.

It’s not that I want to be in pain or feel bad about myself or feel isolated. It’s unlikely that many people would actively seek those things for themselves.

But when we have been in those situations for a while we adapt to them, we learn how to live with them, work around them, define ourselves by them. Sometimes when they are taken away we no longer quite know who we are or how to behave. Then we feel scared and confused and insecure.

So why the sudden obsession with change management, EBL?

I’m glad you asked.

Life in EBL Towers is a little stressful. Despite completing the Great Project, which was a relief (and a change and a loss) this week is yet a Great Challenge. Sigoth will be unemployed as of the weekend, which leaves me in some anxiety about coping financially. I will be the only wage earner again, which I find quite hard, and we will have to be pretty tight-fisted. The Offspringses are all struggling too and I like to be their safety net – not that they often ask, but when they do it’s important.

In any case, it is true to say I am a little, well, scared and confused and insecure.

I am also known for catastrophising, so I wake up worrying about losing the house and moving mother to a home, which will kill her from the strain, and generally having uncheerful thoughts. I picture the Offspringses homeless or hungry or in variously desperate straits. Usually I hear wolves howling. The recent bitter wind from Mordor has not helped. At this rate I’ll be beating Orcs off with a stick and summoning Voldemort as my Life Coach.

I might even have to resort to a Knitted Army of Evil. Here’s one I made earlier.

Knitted Dalek

Or things may turn out OK. I’ll let you know.

Namaste.

 

Blogging as a means of remaining sane

My dears, those of you who read regularly may recall that I have referred obliquely to my Great Project at work. It’s tedious for those not involved, I realise, but in summary I am trying to move a large database from old kit to new, including an Oracle upgrade and so on and so forth (just insert the Martian of your choice here). Obviously I am not doing this alone and have been accompanied in the Grand Tour by a wealth of brilliant and talented people to whom I owe my very sanity. If ever they track down my little rambling corner and work out who I am talking about, then know I love you all and am proud of you. I do also say so to them in the real world, well, at least the bit about being proud. “Love” is the kind of word that can result in restraining orders if misunderstood. And suppliers can get a bit twitchy if you tell them things like this, and start wondering if the contract is worth the candle.

Well, this weekend is the acid test and we are mid-migration as I type and preparing to start testing in the next couple of hours. Last night we had a conference call about an hour before shut-down and were all giddy as toddlers in a thunderstorm.

Have you noticed how kids get excited in stormy weather? Someone told me it was the ionisation of the air. It’s also why people sing in the shower or like sea air. To which I say “Wotevva!” and splash in puddles.

Anyway, the call was slightly hysterical with excitement because we have been working on this for two years and the big moment had arrived. I admit I cried a little when we finished. It’s a strange feeling. Next week I expect I will be doing bereavement counselling for the team – in fact I started last week as we began to recognise the end was nigh. When you have been working on a large project for a long time, ending it is a big loss.

I have just had the checkpoint call from the supplier to say we are ahead of schedule, so I have given the testers the green light to head into the test centre. Hopefully they are racing down the street right now, checking bus and train timetables, getting into the car, picking up their pack-ups and working off the adrenaline rush with frantic movement.

I sit still at home, trying to conduct the orchestra remotely, and have no such outlet. So I decided to blog through it, to try and keep sane. Trust me, meditation is not going to cut the mustard at the moment. I am not very good at it. I can type drivel for England though, so here I am.

What I was planning to blog about was Sigoth’s mighty sacrifice. Last night was also Red Nose Day. Sigoth and I have been keen supporters since the inaugural RND 25 years ago, when  I wore a red nose on the packed commuter train into London and was stared at so hard by everyone that my face ended up as red as the nose. But we like the pragmatism of the projects they run, and the split between home and abroad, and the focus on the positive. It may be more usual now, but back in the day it was more common for charities to be utterly patronising and show you nothing but desperation. I like to see the joy engendered by successful projects.

So Presentation1Sigoth decided to make the ultimate gift this year, because we can’t donate as much money as we have in the past. He shaved off his beard. He has had a beard forever. He may have been born with it, although the photographic evidence suggests not. In any case, he had it when I first met him in 1980, and has only been nude on the face for an occasional day since. He managed to raise £500 though, which is more than we could manage to donate by miles, and is my personal hero today. As soon as the beard has grown back he will also be himself again. So big shout out to the Wonder that is Sigoth, and to all the other people who did something funny for money.

 

Meanwhile, the project should conclude at 17.00 tonight, just as England kicks off against Wales in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. Any elation I will be feeling will soon be depressed by watching England. They have a knack of winning in the most ungainly way or losing spectacularly. It’s painful supporting them. I also support Wales, given that I can sing the Welsh National Anthem in Welsh; possibly the most useful thing I ever learned at school, so the England/Wales match is always a difficult one. And it’s the final one of the tournament this year, deciding the winner. At the moment England can win the overall title – but only if they win this match. How much stress can I take today?

I like the Millennium Stadium. I have never been inside it, although I would love to go. I remember the season it was being built and Wales were playing their matches at Wembley. I lived near Wembley at the time and there was an International against the mighty All Blacks scheduled. As we had been over to New Zealand the previous year, I was quite keen to see them play again, so I rounded up friends and relations to make a party of it. My friend agreed to sort out tickets, and called the stadium.

“Any tickets for the match between Wales and the All Blacks?” she asked, crossing various extremities, and mentally reciting the Haka.

“No, sorry,” replied the ticket office person.

My friend was downcast, although not surprised. We had left it a bit late.

Then the ticket office person added, “I can do you tickets for Wales v New Zealand though. Is that any good?”

My friend choked a little and said “OK, that will do…”

So that was the day I saw Jonah Lomu belting down the left wing towards me with two Welshmen hanging from him like red flags. It was glorious, simply glorious.

I hope your Saturday is glorious too, and I hope for my sanity that my poor little project has a glorious result tonight.

Namaste.

 

Daily Prompt: Playlist of the Week

Tell us how your week went by putting together a playlist of  five songs that represent it.

Well my dears, I haven’t had time to tell you about my week, which included a cataract operation, a decision on The Project and Mother’s day dinner with my mother. So obviously the Daily Prompt felt that it needed to remind me to do so.

Fit the First:

On Wednesday I went across to Head Office in Leeds ahead of my operation because I knew I would have to avoid travelling for some time after it. The train was, as ever, crowded and a little late. It is ever thus.

That was not what was on my mind though. I was thinking about how we actually need another stop, like we used to have, to help all the harried commuters who live on the outskirts of York at Wigginton and Haxby. Every now and then they talk about restoring the station at Haxby which was torn out during the Beeching Evisceration of the railways on the 1960s. Flanders and Swann wrote a song about it at the time, called “Slow Train”. It’s very sad and sweet, rather different from most of their songs.

No-one departs, no-one arrives,
From Selby to Goole,
From St. Erth to St. Ives,
They all passed out of our lives

Fit the Second:

On Thursday I went to hospital for the cataract operation, the second of the two. Being Britain this was done under the auspices of the NHS, which meant I had a long wait between eye one and eye two, and then sat in a dingy room with five beds which was designed for four beds, surrounded by curtains which had a cheerful logo on about “Clean Hands Saves Lives” . The logo bothered me. I’m sure it should have said “Clean Hands Save Lives” but I suppose grammar has been cut to make savings. Sigoth couldn’t wait with me because there was no room for visitors so he went into town for the afternoon and came back about tea time to collect me.

In another bed an 85 year old woman was being sent home to manage on her own. She was blind, although the surgeon hoped to have given her some sight back, but she had no one with her. She will have to manage eye drops for four weeks. Eye drops are tricky beasts to wrangle. I dread to think what it is like to do them when you are 85 and mostly blind. Social care is also being cut along with grammar and ethics.

The surgeon was a delightful Dutch gentleman, fairly young and rather stressed because the 85 year old had blood pressure above 200 and he needed to operate on her first so she could get home before the transport system stopped at 5.30. Transport has been cut so it only runs during office hours regardless of what time you wake up from anaesthetics.

He gazed at me and said “Amazing! I’ve never seen anyone with Minus 24 before!” He was referring to my eyesight, in case you were wondering. I am used to it. It’s why I am having surgery. What it means is that they all pay attention and do a good job because it interests them.

They gave me a general anaesthetic and when I woke up the eye patch I was wearing made things a bit blurry, but I could see the surgeon smiling. Cue Jimmy Cliff and God Bless the NHS!

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright) bright (bright) sunshinin’ day

Fit the Third:

On Saturday I woke up, took off the eye patch and I could see. I could read the clock. I could see the knots in the ceiling beams. I could read the crossword clues to Sigoth. I could see the pattern on the curtains and on the duvet cover, and the veins in my hand. I could see the photos on the wall and the dust on the dressing table and the shadows to eh birds against the curtains as they flew past the window.

Really, I love science, and I love medicine and I loved that consultant for taking time out ina  really busy afternoon to run through the formula for the lens change three times to make sure he got he it as good as he could.

I have to praise you
I have to praise you like I should

Fit the Fourth:

On Sunday it was Mothers’ Day and we took my mother to the local pub for Sunday lunch. She enjoyed herself but couldn’t remember where we were going for the less than one minute drive (it less than ¼ mile from the house) or read the menu. She had fun though and I let her have a Knickerbocker Glory despite the diabetes.

We’ll build the world of our own that no one else can share
All our sorrows will leave far behind the stairs
And I know you will find there’ll be peace of mind
And we’ll live in a world of our own

Fit the Fifth:

Later on Sunday the Offspring who loves locally decided not to call me, but came over instead with a beautiful card. I was able to read it and I was so happy to see her and get the card and to Skype other Offspringses and I felt so blessed.

It was a cold day with snow on the wind. The weather forecast was grim so we stayed inside and lit a fire and drank tea. We have a song we sing when it’s cold. We nicked the tune from Lennon & Macca.

All you need is gloves!” we carol. “Gloves is all you need!

Epilogue

I haven’t even mentioned that I rang into a tele-conference on Friday to approve go ahead for The Project, so was feeling very chipper about that too.But I did. It’s been an amazing few days.

Next Wednesday I am back at the hospital to have a suture removed. They might need an entire opera for that.

Namaste.

Gang Agley

OK, OK, if you are not familiar with the Bard of Scotland, then that post title may look a little suspicious. Your trusty EBL does seem to have a penchant for quoting odd bits of schoolgirl poetry. I swear I don’t know where it comes from, I work in IT, for goodness sake.

The poem on question is “To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough”, and the bit I am referring to is

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

It’s just saying that things don’t always turn out as we expected and hoped.

Today was my last trip into the office for a while as tomorrow is The Operation, and I needed to go in and ensure I signed off The Project so everyone could crack on with it while I was out of action for a couple of days.

Well, the warning signs were there. When there are that many capitalised nouns in the schedule, something is bound to give. It’s one of the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Long story short, I did not sign off. On the plan I don’t sign off until Friday anyway, so I am leaving the goodly folk on the team to work a miracle tomorrow and will dial in for a sign off call on Friday afternoon, hoping that by then I can see well enough to press the right buttons, and will be recovered sufficiently from the general anaesthetic to be coherent and decisive.

It’s a bother.

Never mind, chin up me old muckers! The mantra for a Project Manager on my position is “No one will die!” My career, however, may not survive the business, not that it is a particularly robust or flourishing specimen. It may be best to put it out of its misery.

Oh look, everyone! EBL is catastrophising again!

On the plus side, I may have achieved agreement to proceed with a new project today. There’s nothing like looking someone in the eye and saying “We can do that!” with conviction and confidence. There is some kind of phrase about it: straws, drowning…I forget. The fact is I am confident we can do it, or at least do what is needed. The difference between want and need, there’s a thesis right there! Anyway, we’ll get that sorted next week when I am back.

I also managed to take some things into the office which needed to be there on time.

So not too agley, in retrospect. Perhaps more “fashionably late” than “ohmygodwe’reallgoingtodie!”

In fact, I am not completely distraught. Take note, my dears, that was a flash of optimism. In fact, my project officer said today “The new system has optimism built in!”

I must have caught some.

So here I am to pass some on to you. Catch!

Namaste.

 

No one expects the comfy chair!

Rarasaur is kindly providing a series of prompts for the promptless and this week it’s on the 11th Possibility: the 11th Possibility is the idea that, regardless of data to the contrary, something unexpected and outside the realm of ordinary thought is always potentially around the corner.

This, my dears, speaks to my very soul. I love that kind of non sequitur, and all I could think of after reading the prompt were prime examples of humour that make me go <snort>.

For example, Monty Python’s hapless Spanish Inquisition, bursting in to cry “NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!” and then failing miserably to torture or maim anyone, beyond making them sit in the Comfy Chair, ensuring that the victim will get “only a cup of coffee at 11” o’clock and making the torture “worse by shouting a lot”.

Ah, Messieurs Pythons, how I love you. I never wanted to run a pet shop anyway, I always wanted to be a lumberjack.

You know when you get an ear-worm – one of those tunes you can’t get out of your head, sometimes for days? It’s been a bit like that with this prompt. I keep thinking of something completely different.

Most clamorous have been Messrs Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Both writers convey the 11th Possibility with expertise and panache. In both cases I appreciate their sudden twists of logic which leave me wrong-footed but amused by the dissonance.

In Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, apart from the invention of the Infinite Improbability Drive to power a spaceship, there are little moments when things just don’t quite go according to the usual script.

“What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”
“Ask a glass of water!”

As for Terry Pratchett, almost any page you care to look at will have some kind of twist or turn that leaves the brain faintly disoriented.

The question seldom addressed is where Medusa had snakes. Underarm hair is an even more embarrassing problem when it keeps biting the top of the deodorant bottle.

So does an 11th Possibility matter? For me, it’s about opening up new ideas, creating space to try something different, or just experiencing uncertainty in a safe but stimulating way.

I am making it sound dull. Let’s try this.

Humour is what makes the world go round without us falling asleep or falling out; our creative brains are engaged and exercised and expanded by indulging it.

In my team at work I am the most right-brain of us all. What that says about our team I dread to think. Anyway, on one occasion we were on a workshop together and during the day various members of the team would leave the main room to go and take part in an individual exercise elsewhere. My colleague sitting next to me said, during the tea break, “You know, I keep seeing people going out but I never notice them coming back.”

“There’s a mad axe murderer out there,” I explained. “We’re actually being picked off one by one. By tonight there will just be one of us left. It’s management cutbacks.”

She looked at me strangely. “Trust you,” she said. “I just meant I was impressed by how quietly they all slipped back into the room.”

I sighed. How boring.

Namaste.

 

Operation

I finally received an appointment for the second cataract operation.

Previously on ElectronicBagLady’s Blog….In case you don’t recall, or missed the first one, I am between operations to replace the lenses in my eyes. I don’t have fully formed cataracts yet, but I am myopic (“pathological myopia”, they told me) to an extreme level, so much so that the optician can no longer correct the problem fully. So they are giving me new plastic lenses in the eyes which should correct the vision and also prevent the further development of cataracts (they are beginning to form). The first operation in October was very successful but in the interim I have been suffering headaches and vertigo and nausea from having one eye very slightly long sighted, and the other so short sighted it’s almost looking behind me. And now the story continues…

There was a great deal of fuss involved in sorting out how to get to and from the hospital (not that easy from where I live), arranging the pre-op assessment (again a whole day to get there and back for a five minute MRSA swab – annoying but necessary) and many colleagues to calm down because it will be a week before Project Go Live and about 24 hours after I sign off Go Live, assuming that I do, in fact, sign off Go Live.

Well, that was all gobbledegook, wasn’t it? In English then, I will be going in for an operation at a Very Awkward Moment for everyone at work. However, being a Project Manager of some competence, I had recorded the possibility in the Risk Log and we all had agreed what to do if it happened (which is what a risk is). So there was no excuse when I held everyone to account, looked them in the eye down the phone line and said, “So you know what to do, right?”

Bless their hearts, they did. After the initial shock everyone admitted they might be able to manage, which soothed my ego nicely. I am sure they are cheering really because I have been so neurotic over the last few weeks they will be glad to get rid of me. The other item in our favour was that we finally signed off the documentation yesterday, by which I mean the planning documents, policies, joint procedures and so on, and have more or less finished running the Disaster Scenario tests.

Oh my dears, I will be so pleased to have this operation over. I hope the second eye will be as successful as the first (although it’s a different surgeon so I am a little nervous). They had said the wait would be 6-10 weeks, and that was a few months ago. God bless the NHS and all who sail in her, but they are lousy at timing, although in this case it has worked out better for my work life, even if it has meant a period of nausea and vertigo which was longer than hoped.

I don’t really have much to say tonight; I just wanted to share with you about the operation, and to say I am not sure if I will be able to see well enough to post for a while. If I do, I pray you will indulge the many typing errors (as opposed to the hopefully lower number that slip through during normal service).

I can’t touch-type. I wish I could now, but when I was more nimble pf brain and finger, my school took the attitude that we girls should not learn to type because that was what less academic girls did in order to become typists. We were destined to do greater things, attend university and marry well so we could entertain our husband’s business colleagues amusingly and intelligently. That was why girls went to university, don’cha know?

It didn’t work out. I fear I have let Sigoth down terribly. I am most ashamed. If he ever brought captains of industry home for supper, I shudder to think what would happen. Much would depend on their conversational ability, and the level of casual –ism of choice (racism, sexism, homophobia, which is an –ism really, or their position on hanging, which will have some –isms attached somewhere, probably by a reef knot).

On the other hand, if I bring home strays from work, as I used to do back in the day when we didn’t live in Ultima Thule, Sigoth can whip up demon veggie lasagne and we have a right good laugh. Even that time I invited my boss, we forgot he was coming and ate everything before he arrived. He enjoyed his Indian takeaway very much though so I think we got away with it.

Namaste.

Brave

I was brave today.

Not Brave, like a mythical Scottish princess in a tantrum.

I am not now, nor ever have been, a Scottish princess. At least, to the best of my knowledge I have not. I have no affinity for tartan, although I don’t mind haggis or bagpipes, but am neutral on the Campbells. Sigoth meanwhile can trace his ancestry back to the Ancient Kings of Scotland via Rob Roy McGregor, which means the Offspringses may have Scottish princess in their veins, in a more or less diluted form. I, however, hail from different stock, more English, more Southern, more stiff upper lip.

So I was brave with a small b, but also in a big, heart-thumping, screw myself up to it kind of a way. Worse than a sack full of spiders, worse than an attic full of wasp-nest, I had to talk to someone about my feelings.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am of the IT Project Manager persuasion. This means people think I am logical, rational and reasonable. No doubt any one of you who reads this blog will be able to tell them better. EBL is a right-brain mess of emotion and fanciful ideas, popping and fizzing with little structure or coherence.

In every test known to humanity I score right-brain, creative, intuitive to the extreme. I’m not just a bit that way inclined. I am X-treme with a capital X. Yet I work in a job requiring logic, process, and structure. I can even do those things passably well.

Partly people see what their prejudice expects. It’s enough of a shock for some people that I am blessed with more than the usual number of X chromosomes for an IT goblin. After that they redefine me as a weird bloke in a skirt. I comfort them by drinking beer, watching rugby and laughing loudly at my own jokes.

Being expected to behave a certain way can result in behaving in a certain way. You need processes and structure? Fine, I’ll give you some. Then when I get home I kick off my shoes and knit, or write, or teach myself Anglo-Saxon.

Hwæt! Þū willt leornian Eald Englisc? Yes, actually, it’s fun. And the poetry is magnificent.

Whatever the reason, I have learned at work to be a veritable Vulcan. Sometimes due to the need to control excess emotion I have to meditate or perform the Kohlinar (on this planet, also known as having a nice cup of tea), but otherwise I try not to let my feelings get in the way. My colleagues think I am thick-skinned.

Today I had to talk to someone about how I had been feeling about a problem at work. It took me days to summon up the courage to do so, but after three sleepless nights in a row I knew I must. I didn’t have the opportunity until mid-afternoon because of meetings, and the fear of it prowled around me all morning. I couldn’t eat lunch. I barely tasted my cup of tea. I refused to look at emails in case the person had sent me one that I had to answer. I rehearsed what I wanted to say, doubting that it was really a problem, doubting that I was allowed to feel like this, but then recognising finally that if I wasn’t sleeping and felt sick it might be important. Eventually I called.

My dears, I look back on that phone call now and it was such a little thing. We talked and I felt better.

How big I make these problems, which are in reality so small.

So, today I was brave. In being so, I took a small step on the path to peace. One day I may be able to take another. And if I can do it, so can you.

Namaste.

Snow train

The train had arrived early in Leeds in spite of Snowmageddon. Our management had told people to leave early in case of travel problems, with a predicted 15cm of snow across the Pennines which would inevitably cause difficulties for those travelling more than a few yards from Leeds City Centre. I left at my planned time and the train arrived early. It hadn’t read the memo, or, indeed, the weather forecast, and had crossed the Pennines in excellent time.

At York we sat outside the station for a long time, trapped as two other not-very-useful Engines gossiped idly on platform 5. We imagined them stamping their wheels and rubbing their fenders to keep warm, sheltered snugly under the Victorian roof and thinking little, caring less, for Engines which had arrived early or kept to their timetable.

“We’re waiting for two other trains to move so we can come in on Platform 5,” the conductor announced, keen to demonstrate his frustration and lack of culpability. We were all in it together alright.

The minutes crawled by, slow in the frozen wind, and we waited. There was sighing and tutting and raising of eyebrows. None of them achieved a forward momentum. I played Sudoku on my phone. It didn’t seem worth calling home where Sigoth was snuggling and thinking of dinner. Other passengers however chose to share their outrage with loved ones, and many conversations ensued along the lines of “I’m stuck outside York now, we’re waiting for a platform.” It was generally followed by a character-defining pronouncement of either “hopefully not long now” or “probably be ages, bloody trains”.

Eventually another trian strolled past heading north.

“That’s the culprit!” the conductor told us. “Feel free to gesticulate as he goes by!”

And everyone laughed. Some of us waved, ironically I’m sure. People turned to their neighbours and smiled and agreed it was good to have a conductor with a sense of humour. We felt warm and companionable, thanks to a single quip. Onward, fellow travellers!

One man made everyone’s miserable, cold, frustrating journey better. How easy it is to share a little joy, if only we remember to try.

Namaste.

 

Boiling Point

When I am at work I often fancy a cup of tea, nectar of the gods, to ease my day. I like tea. If I had not had the fortune to be born British this may have been more problematic, but here tea drinkers are looked on with affection and understanding.

Sometimes. In offices across the land there is a terrible blight and I need to tell you about it. I will not shield you. Prepare to be shocked.

In many offices kettles have been replaced with…hot water taps!

The tap is supposed to dispense boiling water. My dears, the tap lies. The water is not boiling; it is warm but it is not boiling. It cannot brew tea, not even the mass-produced, bagged variety.

Office workers are betrayed, and in their agony they turn to instant coffee or immerse tea bags in the tap’s effluvium to produce a drink inaccurately referred to as tea, but in fact, not tea. No one is clear why the taps are there. ‘Elf and Safety is blamed, but I am not sure. I believe it is a conspiracy to weaken our moral fibre in preparation for the Great Invasion.

Meanwhile, colleagues offer to provide me with the elixir of life.

“Tea?” they ask brightly as they take the round. Some have already turned to the Dark Side and request the granulated coffee option. I can sympathise. We have all been tempted and not always resisted. We are only human after all and these taps are inhuman.

I continue to fight the good fight, today at least. “Yes, please,” I say, heart sinking.

“How do you take it?”

“Like my men, strong, dark and handsome,” I tell them. They remember that better than “Strong please, not too much milk.”

One colleague in particular is excellent at managing to wring flavour from a limp tea bag suspended in warm water. I applaud his ingenuity and am pathetically grateful that he turns his talents to providing me with a drink that is more palatable than the usual alternative. He understands and shares my pain. In fact, he makes it his mission to produce a drink that is recognisably of the tea family. Each time he succeeds it is a little victory against the Dark Forces.

There is a storm coming, possibly in a teacup.

A couple of weeks ago the tap refused to provide water at any temperature. It runs out now and then, as if dribbling luke warm liquid is so exhausting that it cannot be expected to meet our insatiable demands any longer. Drama Queen!

I needed tea. I don’t mean I just fancied a cup. I needed it. Like a junkie. The Want drove me. I knew there was a kettle, hidden away for emergencies. I asked around, wheedling. I found it and got it out and boiled water. God, that tea was good. Oh so good.  I left the kettle out for other people to use until the tap was restored. I became a pusher.

It’s still there. It turns out that I am not alone, that many of us prefer to boil the kettle. We smile and look a bit embarrassed and admit that we prefer to drink tea made that way, as if we should be ashamed of it. This is the evil of the tap, that we do not claim our God-given right to drink tea as free-born English folk. The coffee drinkers use the tap, because instant coffee is fine with less-than-boiling water. To be honest, nothing is going make that stuff OK to drink.

I think it may be too late to put the kettle away again. We know it’s there. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. You can’t pretend the kettle does not exist, any more than you can claim the earth is the unmoving centre of the universe. “And yet it boils,” you might say, so long as the Inquisition were not around.

If I am remembered for anything, let it be this. I found the kettle and brought it to the oppressed. And if that kettle ever disappears, then I will seek it out again. I will not rest. I will brew.

Namaste.

 

City Square, 3 A.M

City Square, LeedsI like my sleep. It is a rare and precious thing. I often sleep badly, which is strange to me even after several years of sleeping badly. I blame the pesky hormones and keep hoping it will settle down, but so far it hasn’t.

Last night was my second night in a hotel room overlooking City Square in Leeds. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a fine room with a fine view. I’m quite fond of City Square. In December it has a massive tree with sparkly lights, and sometimes Occupy protesters around the bottom like a modern Nativity. (Take that, St Paul’s, with your eviction notices!) In milder weather, if there is such a concept north of the Watford Gap, there are hanging baskets with pretty flowers looking pretty as only pretty things can. Often they are pink, and none the worse for it.

I’m looking out the window now as I write this, the sky greying and the buildings awash with yellow spotlights shining upwards and dawn shining downwards and streetlights filling in the gap in the middle. It’s 7.30 already and busy and soon I will venture down into the sleepy, shuffling commuter crowd to stride purposefully to the office.

City Square has bicycle lanes criss-crossing it as well as a wild tangle of bus lanes and normal roads in a bewildering one-way system, and lots of different traffic lights and many , many pedestrians so confused by it all that they simply wander where they will at great personal risk. Taxis erupt from the station in all directions like champagne from a vigorously shaken bottle splattering everyone in its orbit. Buses chug and wheeze and occasionally glide along the central, bus-only, roadways. Busy, busy, busy.

It’s all well and good at 7.30 on a Friday morning. It’s a work day and a school day and a doing day. When I toss and turn in my bed at night, missing home, gnawing at a work problem, wondering if my alarm is set and checking it for the third time, I expect a bit more peace and quiet. City Square does not oblige. Sometimes there are sirens for dark, night time emergencies. Last night there was singing.

I lay and listened to the inebriated group of gentlemen singing as they staggered through the square. It felt like they were under my window, serenading me. I am sure the other guests enjoyed the concert as much as I did, way up on the 5th floor. But I was proud of myself, because I was awake for other reasons so it wasn’t their fault and I did not blame them for disturbing me. Rather I thought to myself:

“There’s some pretty good harmony and two part singing going on there; that’s quite impressive given how drunk they are.”

They sounded like they were happy, and happiness is not a bad thing to be heard, even at 3 o’clock in the morning. They eventually found their way out of the immediate vicinity, hopefully in the right direction and not to the canal (unless they were Yorkshire Gondaliers I suppose). I turned over (again) and tried to relax (again) and this time I did. So they sang me to sleep after all, bless them.

Namaste.