Hopefully

Hopefully, my dears, I will be posting this to you soon. I travel in hope as I write this, as WordPress has decided to block my ability to post because my blog content is causing concern.

Well, how very exciting! I haven’t felt this excited since being phone-tapped in the 1980s for being undesirable. It makes me feel positively young again. The phone tapping thing was because we were caretakers at the local Quaker Meeting House, and I also worked at Friends House in London. I suspect they just listened in automatically. They would have been treated to some very mundane conversations, but obviously it was all code.

“Hello, Someplace Friends Meeting House.”

“I’d like to book the hall for Saturday 5th all day please, in the name of Someplace Embroiderers.”

“Oh, hello, you’ve booked before, haven’t you? That’s fine, it’s free then. Is that all day or just half a day?”

“All day please, with access to the kitchen.”

“OK, that will be an extra £10. Please be aware we do not allow alcohol on the premises.”

And so on. Clearly all a deadly plot against HMG. At no point did we discuss the geese flying south for the winter, or the clouds hanging low over London, although it was tempting.

The Embroiderers are not a joke though. We also hired out meeting rooms at Friends House and the National Front was always trying to book the large hall because it was cheap, capacious and handy for various stations. We had them blacklisted but they remained hopeful too. They booked once as an Embroidery Guild and we only realised when lots of shaven-headed young men in bovver boots arrived for the meeting. Now I don’t mean to be stereotypist here, but generally such sartorial elegance is negatively correlated with a keen interest in artistic sewing. Upon challenge it turned out they were, in fact, not the Embroidery Guild and so were asked to leave.

So here I am, writing to you from the equivalent of Solitary Confinement until WordPress respond to my cries for help. If they take too long there will be a mighty storm of posting to catch me up. I look on it as a way to learn patience. I’m learning as quick as I can! Hopefully.

Namaste.

And thanks to the Kindly Elves at WordPress my account was restored in under 24 hours. Thanks, guys! Although can I say I am slightly disappointed not to be considered a radical threat to society after all…

Live Adventurously

Today has been a thoughtful, peaceful kind of day; the kind of day we all need once a week or so to recharge batteries and gird loins to face the tumult of the working week.

Today someone reminded me, standing there in her bandage from where she hurt herself through misadventure:

Live adventurously.

Today I tried something new, adventurously in my old lady, careful way. I finished knitting the baby cardigan for the imminent-new-team-member-by-proxy, and started knitting myself a cable pattern jacket. I have never knitted cable, largely because my mother taught me to knit and she didn’t know how.

“It’s really difficult,” she said to mini-EBL, and so for more than 40 years I have thought it too difficult for the likes of me.

Today I decided the likes of me would give it a whirl. So far, it’s looking pretty good. It’s fiddly and my fingers haven’t yet worked out the acrobatics of balancing three needles at once without spilling all the stitches while my brain still remembers to keep counting. Instead of my usual rushing, untidy, flailing knitting style, a kind of free-form fingered version of Norman Wisdom, I am having to learn to be thoughtful and quiet and peaceful as I work. I think it’s good for me.

Until I get lost and swear and have to unpick it and snap at poor Sigoth. So much for trying to speak more thoughtfully. It seems I can’t be thoughtful in two places at once.

That phrase, “live adventurously,” has a little more to add. It’s from the Advices & Queries of Britain Yearly Meeting (that’s how the body of Quakers in Britain are known, because they meet together once a year). It goes on like this:

Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak. When decisions have to be made, are you ready to join with others in seeking clearness, asking for God’s guidance and offering counsel to one another?

Today I thought quite hard about that. The first bit, the bit that sticks in the brain and can be easily remembered as some kind of mantra to help us try new things, that bit on its own can be a sorry excuse for recklessness and thoughtlessness. We can throw ourselves into wild new adventures without thought for how it will affect other people, or how we put ourselves or them at risk. On its own it’s not enough.

I have mentioned before I’m currently incarnate as a Project Manager. What I do is manage risk. It means I plan, plan some more and finish off by planning. It doesn’t mean not taking risks, it means talking them consciously, knowingly, considerately and in such a way that when everything goes wrong, and the Hellmouth opens, then you know what to do. It sounds dull, and often it is, although it plays to my strength of catastrophising everything around me.

Today I noticed the follow on bit for the first time, really noticed I mean. I’ve heard it many times before, but like a truculent teenager or defiant toddler, I have chosen not to hear it in my heart. I thought I could live adventurously and not worry about consequences. I thought it was a bit foolish, because EBL is by nature a cautious old bird.

The Advice, though, doesn’t suggest that at all. It says “Hey, EBL, when you have a bright idea, check it out with people whose judgement is sound, who know what’s what, who can tell you where their towels are.”

It’s taken me over 30 years to notice, but better late than never.

It’s funny how you think you know something, but then, when you finally look at it properly instead of brushing it aside with a “pfft, I know all about that!”, it turns out to be new and different and better than ever.

Namaste

Superstition

You know how people, other people that is, often say something along the lines of “I’m not <insert thing here>, but…” and then go on to demonstrate that they are in that very thing. The thing in question could be “racist” or “sexist” or “a Daily Redtop Newspaper Reader”. It’s often an –ist word though. And I’m not ist-ist but – those –ist words shouldn’t be allowed. It’s political correctness gone mad.

Well, anyway, I’m not superstitious, but…

Actually, what the hell, I am superstitious in certain sets of circumstances. Today was indeed one of those days when the circumstances happened. Today was the day when The Project entered the End Game.

That’s when the superstition kicked in. I am a nervous wreck, the nervousest wreckiest wreck. Not so much shivering me timbers as top of the Richter scale quaking them. It’s all gone so well so far, that it can’t go on.

The fact we plan to go live over the Ides of March is not making this any easier.

I was going to write more about it but I can’t. Talking about it will make it go wrong. It’s magic.

It’s not really superstition of course. I don’t actually think that walking under a ladder will make my project fail. I think I will have missed something and mess it up. That might happen, and it might not. Time will tell.

In my first proper job, I had a lovely boss who told me there are no such things as bad decisions.

“You don’t deliberately set out to fail,” he said. “You make the best decision you can at the time. Sometimes it’s wrong.”

That’s where I am today. Waiting to find out. Oh yes, and scrambling about like demented poultry trying to finish the work in time.

I’d be glad if you kept me company over the next few weeks. If you felt up to it we could share some irrational fears and phobias to pass the time. What larks!

Namaste.

Home Work

Home working is such a brilliant thing, isn’t it? I am blessed to have a home-based contract, which means that I have the shortest commute to work known to humankind. I struggle from the kitchen to the office, mug in hand, surrounded by hordes of no one and log in to my computer. Outside January has arrived in force and snow is beginning to pile up on the ground, with the promise of blizzards by Friday.

I wasn’t always sure that I liked the idea of home working, but today I am going to tell you what it is like, and why it suits me.

I was supposed to go to Head Office today, but cancelled. We are doing on-line meetings instead (it’s a fancy, high-tech name for a telephone call, in some cases). I am so grateful, and hesitate to rub your noses in it, but thought I would anyway.

There are probably plenty of articles about the pros and cons of home based working, referring to social isolation and the difficulty of switching off from work at the end of the day as negatives. Certainly when I was offered the post three years ago I was not at all certain it was a good idea. Despite being socially inept, I know I become depressed when not out and about with humans. Sigoth dreads it because he otherwise comes home to a wreck of a creature, unable to have rational conversation.

I sat in the interview and actually said I wasn’t sure about the contract being home-based.

“Oh,” said Boss-to-Be, “don’t worry, you won’t be home much!”

She was right of course. Sometimes I am not home at all for weeks. It’s exhausting. It means hotels and eating at that special table at the back reserved for business customers on their own, out of the way and forgotten, too dark to read. You eat and leave as quickly as possible. You then go back to your room and watch junk TV or do more work; either way your brain is abused. Living in a hotel all week is unpleasant. In fact it is the least enjoyable thing, for me, about being a home based worker.

Even if colleagues are also around, and you spend an evening with them, inevitably you talk a lot about work. Sometimes you make decisions as if in a meeting, and that risks missing out people who didn’t happen to be staying over that night. It can be tricky. At the very least, the risk that you don’t switch off at home is multiplied when you stay away and have other colleagues for company all evening.

What Boss-to-Be didn’t explain, though, was that the company is geared around home-based workers. We are over 50% of the workforce. This means that all the technology and planning and assumptions are based on people working from home. The difference is amazing.

In previous jobs I have Worked At Home (WAH) for a day a week when possible. It was a chance to catch up on things without so many interruptions. It was peaceful and serene. I would write up reports or analyse data or just catch up on admin. If anyone called, they would preface every conversation with “Sorry to call you at home,” as if I was on holiday. It could be irritating, but it was also a blessing because they didn’t call unless it was really important. It was incredible how many times I picked the day nothing important happened to work at home. Whenever I was in the office I was bombarded with calls and questions. On WAH days it seemed they didn’t arise, in the way that there’s usually no news at Christmas. Interesting.

Now I have a contract which says I am home-based. The company provides me with a computer and broadband and phone. All I need to do is find space for a desk and chair, which can be difficult, and they do the rest. I am on the phone all the time, if I am not on webinars. If you looked at my diary you wouldn’t know where I was, only that I had meetings booked or not. It makes no difference most of the time, and this is because almost everyone else is doing the same thing.

The team I joined was quite new, and we learned together. There is a different rhythm to working remotely, to holding meetings where you can’t see expression or read body language. You have to have more directive chairing because people can’t judge when to speak so easily. A classic example is that it’s no good asking “Who’s here?” on a telecom because people don’t know when to speak and either say their names all at once or wait too long. We find it’s easier to run down the list, like school register. Equally the chair has to ask people in turn if they have anything to add. On the one hand it is easier to drift off if the subject is not keeping your attention; on the other hand you need to concentrate very hard not to miss anything, which is more demanding than sitting in a room passing round the biscuits someone has brought in.

Most interestingly we also found tha some meetings had to be in person. The more creative, problem-solving meetings, and some of the team meetings, simply need human contact to maintain relationships and to spark ideas. So we have a mix.

It’s true that I find some disadvantages too. I hate to leave my desk even to boil the kettle or nip to the loo. There’s no one to cover me while I’m gone. I also lose track of the time and either start early or work late without realising. The temptation to check something in the evening or at the weekend has to be resisted. Self discipline is important. I have learned to manage myself better than I did before.

However, on the plus side, being at home means I can get the boiler serviced without taking a morning off. I can put laundry on before I start work and then hang it up at lunchtime, or while I make a cup of tea. I can work slightly odd hours (meetings aside) to suit myself, so if I need to take mother to the doctor, or talk to her care manager, it fits more easily into my day. I can eat my own food, and don’t have to make a packed lunch or buy a terrible sandwich. I can write my blog in the time I would usually be commuting (hello there!). Sometimes I even manage a half hour of yoga. I achieve greater balance, and not just by standing on one foot like a tree in an earthquake.

When I started working at home I faced the change with trepidation. The old, old lesson is that change can be good, but we let fear get in our way.

How do you work best, and what have you tried that worked or didn’t?

Meanwhile I count my blessings and am grateful, which is pretty much all we can ask for.

Namaste.

Carefree

My Grandma had a wealth of sayings, and one of them was “Don’t Care was made to care, and locked in a box ‘til he did.”

She would say it to me whenever I scuffed my shoes mutinously and declared that I didn’t in fact, care about whatever it was we were arguing about. In truth I heard her say it quite often.

Mind you, she also used to say “Cheer up for Chatham, Dover’s in sight!”, whatever that meant!

However, as time went by, I discovered that not caring was quite a healthy attitude to take, if the alternative was to care deeply but powerlessly. I soon developed my own remedy: the I-Don’t-Care Song and Dance™ which was put into practice whenever things at work became too irritating for any other words. My colleagues soon joined in and we started the IDC Club.

“Well, EBL!” I hear you cry, “That’s very disappointing of you! I thought you cared about Stuff.”

Get used to disappointment, my dears, for EBL has feet of clay, and if not clay, possibly Play-Doh.

Do I care about you, my gorgeous readers? Of course I do. I do in fact care passionately after all, about things that matter to me. I care about all manner of people and animals and plants, and causes and ideas and art and science and beauty. I care about literature and history and adventure and even peace.

I don’t care about having my time wasted or being ignored or under-estimated, or being queue jumped or patronised or taken for granted. I don’t care because caring would waste my time even more.

The alternatives can be explored through the medium of song, much as the IDC Club expresses its philosophy in performance art. Let us compare the fortunes of other exponents of this paradigm.

Afroman might have cared, but he got high.

Will Smith might have cared but he got jiggy.(or possibly fresh, maybe both at the same time)

Paul and Art did care and they got walked over. In a bridging sense.

So, EBL, what are the words/music/moves to your amazing and uplifting song of defiance?

I could tell you, but I don’t care. Nor do I care about the music, nor the steps.

Sing your own song, that’s the secret, and always has been.

Namaste. (I really do!)

In harness

Today I finally bit the bullet and went back to work.

I like my job. It’s unfashionable to say so, but EBL has never been knowingly fashionable. I may once have sported a trendy outfit in error, but I gave it straight to the charity shop so it doesn’t count.

I like my job because I have a Nice Boss who said “Take the week off!” when I mentioned to her about how tired I was from Christmas and mother and so on. The Nice Boss also has a mother, if you catch my drift, and knows very well how tiring it can be, having a mother. Mothers can be tiring, they surely can.

As a mother myself, I am obviously the Exception that Proves the Rule. Apart from flirting with purple in my twilight years (and thanks to a lovely Offspring I am now the proud owner of a new purple dressing gown to lounge about in, in a purple haze. It makes me very cuddly, on the outside at least.) As a mother, I am always delightful and fun and a pleasure to be with and I usually remember the names of the Offspring, although not always.

I genuinely forgot Youngest Offspring’s name one day and called him Stephen. His name is not now, and never has been, Stephen; it doesn’t even begin with S. So I had to ‘fess up that he had an Evil Twin whom we had hidden from him all his life, and who lived in the loft. That was what he could hear moving about at night, not mice as previously indicated, and it explained who stole the odd socks, pens, and chocolate cereal. He should stop blaming Sigoth for any and all of those things. At once.

The end result of that revelation was that he occasionally feels sorry for Stephen and lets him out to play. Every time he is too annoying he pulls a face and says, “But I’m Stephen, mwahahahaha!”.

You might not be surprised to learn that Youngest Offspring, if he survives that long, will be 20 in the spring. At that point all my beloved teens will be 20-somethings. Eldest Offspring will be 29 in the summer. The others fall in between (hence Eldest and Youngest. Do keep up!)

We have been a little economical with the actualité, on occasions, with regards to our Offspring. When Eldest Offspring, who bore the brunt of it but then grassed us up to the younger siblings, was pre-school, we told him the ice cream van was actually a nice music van which drove around playing tunes. Because he only saw ice cream vans parked up to serve ice creams, and so not playing Da Tunes, he fell for it and only found out when he started school. It’s true that we are Slut Parents From Hell™.

In an effort to save humanity the Offspringses have rejected our values, as Offspringses often do, and grown up to be decent, honest and honourable. Oh, the shame.

But today I ignored Nice Boss and logged in anyway because I have to travel on Monday and wanted to Get to Grips with Things before that happened and I couldn’t catch up at all. I think it was worth it. I have spoken to lots of people, mostly about the joys of the Eurostar and the fireworks from New Year, and sorted out training for the team, more or less, and printed off what I need for Monday. I’m shattered. I thought the week would never end. I can’t be expected to work at this pace all the time.

More importantly I arranged the annual service for the boiler, the Aga and the chimneys, which we have every year even though the last time for all of them was in January 2011 because that’s how good I am at prevaricating! In fact I have been so good at it that the Aga engineer has emigrated to Australia and I had to find a new one. Really, all he had to do was say he was too busy. It seems a bit extreme.

Obviously going back to work has meant I can sort those things out. Doing them in the holidays just wasn’t cricket.

I hope your Friday has been productive and you are ready for Real Life to resume.

Namaste.

 

Compassion

My dears, I fear this will not be a cheerful post because EBL is not in a cheerful place. I have spent the weekend thinking sad thoughts and cannot be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on this grey Monday morning. But I can be hopeful.

Last week I was away from work and posting was a step too far after my first attempt. In a way it was because I forsook you all to go out and have fun with colleagues at our Christmas dinner. We went to a new restaurant that has just opened in Leeds and tried their rather expensive cuisine. The results were mixed. If they learn and improve it will be a fantastic place; if not, they will close down soon enough. Nevertheless we had fun in a sedate and civilised way and no one was unable to function back in the office the next morning.

That is not why I am sad. That is why one reason I have joy as well.

Over the last few days I have been reading the usual Christmas appeals in the papers, and learning about things I prefer to avoid during the rest of the year. I read about child soldiers. They are children, but at the same time they are soldiers. Armed and dangerous. Scared. A scared soldier is the most dangerous of all. A scared child needs our love more than any.

On a daily basis it seems, the news reports more and more instances of child abuse scandals, and in a shocking sentence this weekend:

“The alleged presence of household names adds to the intrigue, but in a celeb-obsessed age, there is a danger that, should such names not materialise, Rocks Lane will be seen as “just another” child abuse case.”

I felt quite ill when I read that. Do you usually read about grisly horror in the paper as you munch toast or sip tea, and somehow pass by on the other side of the road? I know I do most of the time, because it is debilitating to take it all in and treat it as seriously as it deserves. That sentence got to me though. We are in a place that says the abuse of children may only be considered sufficiently newsworthy if a celebrity is involved to spice it up.

Really? It’s not about the children, it’s about the perpetrator? Only a sufficiently interesting perp validates the suffering?

I had been thinking that, if nothing else was good about him, Jimmy Saville’s misdeeds had shone a light under a nasty big rock and let us see what people have denied for a long time. Now it seems all he has done is raise the bar for what is reported.

So my week wove into the tapestry of my life. Other things happened, inconsequential to you, but the kind of small mercies that keep me going.

Then our team suffered two bereavements. On Wednesday one person lost a dearly loved grandfather who had been seriously ill for a while and whose loss was tinged with that guilty feeling of relief that he was no longer suffering. Our friend was very upset, of course, and we all shared his pain through our memories of similar experiences.  We had all lost someone close at one time or another.

On Thursday the second person lost a dearly beloved grandchild to a terminal illness. The child had lived long enough to see their 12th birthday but not held out for Christmas. In fact making it to twelve was a miracle in itself. Again there is guilt in feeling relief it is over. This time none of us can understand how our friend must feel. We cannot comprehend losing a child, living as we do in our privileged, comfortable world. We think about the loss of the person, the pain of the family, but also the loss of his potential, his future family, his contribution for years to come.

My dears, I warned you it was not a happy post.

And so on to the end of the week, because time does not wait upon our sorrows. I am sure you are all aware how things turned out. We cannot understand it here in the UK. We cannot.

“This is our first task — caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. “

I am very sad today, and at the same time thankful for the examples of compassion I see around me every day. Compassion is the foundation of a life well-lived. It is our common, shared divinity, if you will. Buddhism speaks of compassion as our Buddha nature; Quakers similarly, a continent and centuries away from the Buddha, spoke and wrote of the Inner Light. If we cannot show compassion to those around us, we have no purpose.

“When others mourn, let your love embrace them.”

Slip Sliding Away

Those of you who have been kind enough to spend time in my corner of yon t’Interweb may remember that I often catch the 6.55 bus to town in order to transfer to the 7.23 train. Usually this is a seamless process and I tend to be half asleep as I am transported to the delights of Head Office.

Today I awoke to the shock news that it was winter and that there was ice on the roads. In this part of the country the council is very efficient at gritting. We are the leading Winter Olympic Team in Laughing at the Soft Southerners Who Can’t Cope with a Bit of Frost. We chortle at London’s hapless attempts to keep trains running after a millimetre of snow, and snort at their feeble cries that it’s a really, really hard thing to do. (Note for those not familiar with English geography: for the purposes of identifying a Southerner, anyone living in the Southwest counts as a Northerner when referring to snow, ice and gritting.)

So this is a shout-out to North Yorkshire County Council who spectacularly failed to grit the lane last night. It is unusual, to be fair. The consequences, however, were entirely predictable and underline why they should grit the damn lane as a matter of course.

The 6.55 bus was a little late. Three of us were waiting at the bus stop: myself and Sigoth, and our lovely neighbour, Marathon Runner with Diabetes. We were stamping our feet and puffing into our hands and talking about the owl we could hear, badminton tournaments and Christmas parties at work. It was convivial and we were not surprised the bus was a little late because clearly the roads were not in peak condition. We had all slithered precariously across the glacier at the roundabout so we knew it very well and were considering Writing A Letter to the Council to voice out displeasure.

As we waited at the bus stop a car fishtailed round the roundabout because he was going at more than one mile an hour. We all ducked into the shelter to avoid being walloped.

The bus eventually appeared about 15 minutes later, chugging along very slowly as befitted the conditions. We all dug out our passes and change and watched him inch his way round the roundabout. Our stop is at the end of a lane and the buses come up, go all the way round the roundabout and head back to the main road again. It confuses the hell out of tourists because you can’t tell so easily where the bus is going (north or south) after that. There’s a trick to it called “reading the destination on the front,” but this is not always possible because it scrolls and you have to catch it at the right moment.

Anyway, this was the bus we wanted. It slipped as it approached the roundabout and slowed down even more. Then as it started to go up the incline and round the edge it lost all grip on its rear wheels, slid sideways and stopped. After a couple of minutes it was obvious there was nothing for the wheels to grip and it sat there, hazard lights flashing and one road junction completely barred.

An oil lorry came along behind it and skidded into the verge. Eventually he got the vehicle under control but couldn’t get past the bus.

The bus inched forward slightly then slid back. It began to spin a little. The woman in the upstairs front seat displayed true Yorkshire grit by sitting calmly throughout, no matter how the bus danced and pranced. It was like dressage for motor vehicles.

Time went by and the sky grew lighter. Cars and vans came along, skidding and sliding too. They had to go the wrong way round the roundabout to get to their exit. The bus inched forwards a little more. After 20 minutes it had got round the first quarter of the circle. We cheered and stamped our feet and Marathon Man posted pictures on Facebook. Sigoth tweeted the Council to let them know about their dangerous and inept #FAIL.

After another 20 minutes or so it was clear the driver could do no more. A small van arrived from the bus company with sand and a shovel. The bus driver got out and apologised to us for the delay and offered us some of his coffee from his thermos. The man deserves a medal.

The rescuer used up all his sand and the bus began to skate towards the third quarter leading back to the bus stop. A large oil lorry slid into a hedge, recovered and carried on down the other exit. As the bus crawled towards us the man with the sand pushed the left front wing to guide it along its way. It was so slippery on the road that this actually worked.

The driver got the bus to where we were standing and appeared to stop although he was moving slightly without volition.

“Jump on!” he said, voice tight with stress.

We hesitated at the thought of imminent disaster, then jumped on and sat down and everyone on the bus said hello and smiled. We wobbled off down the lane, crawled over the hump-backed bridge and lurched towards the main road. Traffic on the main road roared by. The main road had clearly been gritted. Cautiously we felt our way onto the carriageway, although it was hard because our lane was very icy at the junction too so we had no power.  

It was an hour late, but we were on our way. By the time the kids come down for the school bus I hope the ice will be in retreat and they will be safe.

I understand that some drivers get frustrated when they are caught behind the slow moving gritting lorries. They are idiots. Those lorries are absolutely vital and you don’t know how much until they miss you out.

So here I sit in the station café with a steaming mug of tea, waiting for the next train 2 hours after my usual one, and wondering what it will be like when I come home on Friday.

Namaste.

 

Away from it all

I am away from home for the rest of this week because the world will end if I don’t spend more time in Head Office. You will have heard about the Prophecy; this is what it is really about. Well, I like to think that, but in fact it’s more a confluence of meetings all in one week, which at least gets them out of the way and means I can then tidy up at home before the family arrive for the festivities.

So much for the housekeeping announcements. If the fire alarm goes off, it is not a test and you should follow me to the nearest exit.

This preamble was intended to continue and state for the record that, if I get any time in the evenings, I would quite like to use this opportunity to write. I won’t be posting here probably; limited access to yon t’Interweb may preclude it. Unless you hear from me, of course. It’s all a bit speculative.

I don’t know if you travel away for work. People who don’t, seem to think it’s a marvellous perk. Those who do, generally agree it’s like having your soul eaten by the anthropomorphic manifestation of dreariness. If it had a face it would be the girl from the BBC test card, sitting with the creepy clown doll and playing noughts and crosses. She would smile at you and devour you from the toes up as you lay helpless in the beigeness of the hotel room, deadened to life and laughter by the total neutrality of the décor and the blandness of the food, served earlier at your neat little table for one in the darkest corner of the restaurant (for the business woman of taste and discretion – the sub-text being “and no friends”).

That test card was presumably supposed to imply fun things kicking off; in practice it was stultifyingly boring. She sat there for hour after hour. She never moved or even blinked. I know because I used to watch her when I was a little kid. For ages and ages I watched, but nary a flicker. Sometimes the picture would lose its quality and there would be dots and lines crawling around the screen. If the horizontal hold went you had to fiddle with a button at the back and if that failed, thump the TV. The youth of today will be looking at these assertions blankly (a bit like test card girl in fact) because I really can’t remember the last time I had a TV that acted like that, but it was before they invented colour. Now the digital switchover means that everything pixellates when the pigeon lands on the aerial, but that’s different, plus we have BBC iPlayer to overcome such misfortunes.

Hotel TVs don’t get any kind of decent reception as far as I can tell. I don’t watch much TV but I do like to have it on when I am away to add some noise and movement to the blankness of the room. This is how I found out about CSI, and it’s a real balance to decide whether to put up with that or look at the neutral décor for the evening.

What I mean by all this moaning is that being away for work is utterly boring when falls the eventide. Hotels aren’t fun unless you are on holiday. There are only so many hours I am prepared to soak in a bath. Being alone in a hotel room is solitary confinement that has somehow crept under the radar of the Geneva Convention, and allows companies to seclude their staff in a very special kind of purdah (in the segregation sense, not the election sense). You get a Gideon’s Bible and then you are left to it, without even a Red Cross parcel or Amnesty International postcard to provide hope. It is particularly a problem for lone women working away from home; you don’t want to get me started on hotel bars. So obviously I fill my time by doing extra work.

Except this time I have a cunning plan: I am taking my knitting and my novel and looking forward to some me-time. Hurrah for me. It can work quite well, because I have tried the knitting thing in the past. I haven’t tried the writing though, so we shall see how the environment affects the Muse. At least it will be quiet. Although I could go to the bar as typing on a laptop is almost as good as wearing a sign saying “Hello, I work for the Inland Revenue and am particularly interested in cacti as my hobby.”(Although there are probably websites even for that.) I don’t have anything against cacti, of course, nor even the Inland Revenue, so long as they have nothing against me.

Enough rambling. It’s time to go and pack. I hope your week is filled with joy and friendship. I hope mine is filled.

Namaste.

A day in the life

What is it like to live in a small rural village in the early 21st century? Well, my dears, draw closer and I shall reveal to you a day in the life of a typical village resident.

The alarm goes off at 6 am. It isn’t a surprise. I have been lying awake for at least half an hour. I have two old fashioned wind up clocks that chime, usually a minute or two apart, and I heard them strike the half hour. If I listen carefully I can hear the church clock too, slightly off set again. It’s easier in the summer because the bedroom window is open but in the winter the sound is muffled by the double glazing we had installed about 3 or 4 years ago. A woman in the village is responsible for keeping the clock going and no one knows what will happen when she is no longer with us; she is quite elderly now and not in the best of health so it is a pressing matter, but church attendance is very limited. Only a handful of villagers attend the services, and these are spread between a number of churches which are the responsibility of the local priest. I am not an Anglican so I do not attend but I am sad to think the church may not be able to continue.

Sigoth gets up to make a cup of tea and we stumble through our early morning routine, in and out of the bathroom, dressing and getting ready for the day. We both have to travel today and need to catch the bus which comes at 6.55. The next bus isn’t until 8.55 and it is about 8 miles to the nearest town or train station.

Downstairs we put the breakfast news on so we can keep track of the time and I download the newspaper to my e-reader to read on the journey. After the local news and the sport it’s time to go. I have to travel to Leeds to go to head office for a couple of days. Tomorrow I am going to visit an Offspring overnight before heading back to Leeds for an afternoon meeting.

Sigoth and I find our way carefully down the street, slip-sliding away. It is a good thing there is a moon not long past full to light our way. The streetlights here are further apart than in the town, so it is dark. There has been a heavy frost, or perhaps light snow, and the pavement is white and slippery, and we are the first to tread along it. In the distance a barn owl is hooting, and we crunch the frozen leaves which have fallen from the horse chestnut. In the summer we are serenaded by peacocks as we wait for the bus, but in the winter it’s the owls. Sometimes there is a cockerel, but today he is too cold to shout.

When we reach the bus stop we look at the stars and moon and feel blessed. Sigoth has an app for identifying stars and we find we can see Mercury, Venus and Saturn towards the east, all in a tidy line. It’s very kind of them to queue up to be viewed.

We often meet a neighbour at the bus stop on his way to work, but today he must be working at home. It’s just me and Sigoth waiting in the freezing darkness, and the bus is unusually 10 minutes late. I worry I might miss my train, and Sigoth worries he might miss his connection to another bus.

The bus usually connects quite well, but last week there were problems because of delays on the journey caused by diversions around flooding. The late bus still gives me 5 minutes to lurch across the road in the dark and ice and reach the platform just as the level crossing comes down to announce the arrival of the train.

I scramble into my seat in the last of 3 coaches. My ticket is pre-booked so I can reserve a seat but the regular commuters are not so lucky and it can be difficult to find somewhere to sit as the journey progresses. Quite a few children use this train to get to school so it is noisy and boisterous.

By the time we reach Leeds about an hour later the train is crammed with commuters standing in the aisle and their bags all end up in the face of whoever is sitting nearest to them. Luckily I have the window seat today. Most of us are playing with gadgets: e-readers, smart phones or tablet PCs. There is no phone signal for much of the journey however, so blessedly few loud conversations. We have to travel through the Howardian Hills which block signals, but which are home to rabbits, deer and foxes if you are quick to see them, as well as fields with sheep, horses and cattle. When it is light there is a lot to see, but at this time of day you can only see your reflection in the glass.

I have put my suitcase in the overhead rack for the journey. It is difficult to reach it when we are ready to get off in Leeds because the press of people trying to leave the train prevents me standing up and reaching it. I have to wait for a gap and then get it down by which time the people on the platform have surged forward and now I have to fight past them all with the suitcase, my laptop and handbag. At the same time I am clutching my ticket in hand ready to negotiate the automatic barrier to get out of the station.

I stumble onto the platform and manage to find my way to the escalator, trailing my suitcase. An eager commuter rushing for the train trips over the case and we both apologise to each other, then hurry on our separate ways. I go up the escalator, across the bridge and down again to the exit, juggling bags, tickets and crowds.

By the time I reach the barriers the main crowd had already gone through and luckily no other trains have arrived so the way is fairly clear. Just the last few stragglers like me.

Now I have made it through the first hurdle I head for the hotel where I will be staying tonight. I leave my case with the concierge, exchanging a few cheery words as we now know each other quite well. I am a regular, which affords me certain privileges with the staff. I set out for the office with laptop in hand, already running late for the 9.00 meeting. I make a point of stopping on the way to pick up lunch; there won’t be a chance later.

Arriving at the office the lift isn’t working so I use the stairs, carrying laptop, handbag and now a coffee and lunch as well. I swipe my ID card to open the door, sign in and take my lunch to the fridge. Already colleagues are asking questions about the new release, the issue with the system and the workshop we are holding at 10.00. I find my way to a hot-desk where I can check emails in the 5 minutes before I have to dial in. I need to speak to Finance about the capital budget, and plan to do so at 9.30 after the teleconference.

The rest of the day is a whir of meetings, questions, emails and discussions in odd corners. A colleague and I have to take part in a telecon in the first aid room because there is nowhere we can go to dial in that is quiet. I fail to speak to Finance because the gap I had planned is taken up with a more pressing crisis. I eat my lunch in one of the meetings, along with other colleagues on similar schedules.

My last meeting is with a colleague who has had a busy day too and we decide to go for a pint of beer to recuperate. It’s great to have an hour or so to talk about something other than work. I check into the hotel properly at about 8 pm but they are so busy that I end up using the restaurant instead of room service for dinner.

Eating in a hotel restaurant on your own is very depressing.

When I get to my room the heating has broken down. It’s December in the north of England, so not very warm. The staff rush up with heaters for me, and I begin to thaw out as I type this story.

I call Sigoth; his buses ran fine and he got home at a reasonable time. I also call Offspring to be visited, and agree where we will eat tomorrow night, assuming the weather does not prevent my visit.

Tomorrow is another day, and I plan to head west across the Pennines after work. Who knows what adventures await? I will cross Saddleworth Moor, the site of appalling murder, and also the highest train route in England. Or I may use the Leeds – Settle route across some of the most beautiful scenery in the country (although it will be dark). I will visit a medieval cathedral city which isn’t York, the site of the gaol where George Fox, father of Quakerism, was imprisoned in the 17th century.

What will you do today?