A funny thing happened on the way to the office

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Well my dears, here’s a strange to-do! The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that in my last post I included a photo of my legendary toothpick knitting challenge. To be fair I didn’t think many of you would look at it closely, but that just teaches me a lesson, good and proper.

It happened like this.

The day after I posted my whinge abut DPNs, I had to go across to Head Office for a Very Important Meeting. Naturally I sprang from my bed in the grey and chilly dawn, as eager as a squirrel after acorns, bright eyed and bushy tailed. I bustled in and out of hallways and showers and kitchens configuring breakfast, clothing and toiletries (not necessarily in that order). Within the hour I was booted, suited and ready to go, and so I went. Most importantly I took with me my briefcase  containing my knitting, along with some papers, tickets for the train and my phone.

The morning train to Leeds is a proper caution, packed with giggling schoolchildren from the kinds of families that can afford to send their children miles away to schools where the teachers may or may not have chins. Apparently commuting form the age of 11 makes a man of you; a very tired man, it must be said, but such is life. Then there are the grey-haired 30-somethings who toil in the industrial heartlands of York, wrangling whippets and wrestling puddings for a fiver a go. In addition the keen observer may note bespectacled academics heading for Leeds and the one and only EBL.

I found my seat and started to knit. There’s no mobile signal so emails and phone calls are out of the question. Knittingis the only answer, as in so many scenarios. The lack of signal doesn’t stop the kiddies trying, and we all enjoy being lulled by the endless rounds of “Benedict? Benedict? Can you hear me?” which punctuate the carriage air in tones of constant amazement, as if the Howardian Hills only arrived last night and the phones have always worked before.

The other thing punctuating the air that morning, or perhaps I should say glutinating (as in making it glutinous), was a perfume. Somebody, probably a female, was wearing a year’s supply of Rose Garden Extreme, and generously sharing it with the rest of us. I can only assume she, or possibly he, let us not make gendered assumptions, had had an unfortunate incident before leaving home and not had time to rectify the damage.

Anyway, I was breathing through my mouth and trying to think of fresh air and open skies, when a voice enquired hesitantly:

“Do you write that blog?”

I ignored it, obviously, because who would respond to that kind of a question at 7.32 in the morning? A nutter. That’s who.

The voice repeated its interrogation, adding “I saw your knitting. I recognised the wool marker and stitch counter.”

Well, that made it alright then.

I looked up to meet the eyes of a mousy individual in a dark wool coat and carrying a rather bedraggled back-pack. She leaned across the table and added “I really liked your post.”

Obviously an individual of sophistication and distinction was concealed by an outwardly anodyne appearance, and not the murderous serial killer I had initially assumed.

Apparently she lived not too far from me, and worked at one of the hotels just outside Leeds as a catering manager. I vaguely recognised her form other commuting days; the crowd is pretty much the same year in, year out. We had a very pleasant time swapping tales of stitches, websites and TV shows we both enjoyed, although I struggled to forgive her for “Call the Midwife” and I suspect she was confounded by my passion for “Waking the Dead”. We both agreed on the wonderful “Wolf Hall” though, as does anyone sane. It’s fiction, get over it.

It was rather strange meeting someone who effectively knew more about me than I did about them. I admit I felt a little vulnerable. I mean, I don’t use my birth-certified name here, in case you wondered, but I suppose it wouldn’t be hard to work it out if you wanted. Some of you do in fact know me in the human world anyway. Nevertheless I felt a ambushed, bamboozled, embarrassed and quite stressed.

In short my fanfollowerstalker and I chatted until we got to Garforth, when inexplicably my new found friend had to depart. Does anyone get off at Garforth when heading west? Really? Why?

That was when I knew I had fallen asleep and it was time to wake up and face the day. It was like that moment in “Dallas” – which I never watched, but even I have heard about.

It turned out I had no fanfollwerstalker after all. I felt some relief but also a little piece of my heart broke. How contrary!

Suppose you were suddenly famous (or else, remember the time just before you became famous). How would you cope when the first person come sup and asks for an autograph, metaphorically or literally?

Namaste.

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Waking up alone

My dears, I know you think I am posting but it’s actually a magic pixie who is posting on my behalf while I am away for work. That’s why if any of you have been kind enough to comment I have not yet replied. I am thinking of you all, though, never fear. Be brave, I’ll be home for the weekend.

I dislike being away from home. I have moaned about it often enough. However, it occurred to me the other day that what I actually dislike is waking up alone.

The reason that startling revelation hit my consciousness was that last weekend I had a bug. Not a software bug, a proper virus. No, not a computer virus… A mean little germ got into my guts, settled down, had descendants and it resulted in me with my head down the loo at 3 am and periodically thereafter until the internal wars of digestion had seen me ultimately victorious and employing a full and healthy set of antibodies to send that old germ packing like the Swiss Guard at the Sack of Rome.

During this period Sigoth exhibited the better sign of valour and ministered to my every need from a safe distance to make sure he didn’t fall foul of the same bug. Very sensible of him really. We can’t afford to have both of us laid up because of the mother.

I still didn’t like waking up without the chance of a snuggle. Just a few precious minutes before the next busy day begins is all I ask.

When I am away I wake up alone. I often wake up alone at 3 am just because it’s not my bed and not my room and not my village. There are cars and party goers outside and random guests in the corridor and air-con gurgling. None of these noises help me sleep like a baby, except that babies often sleep by waking up at intervals and yelling for comfort. I don’t yell but neither do I tend to go back to sleep.

It happens sometimes when I sleep in at home and Sigoth gets up early, usually when I have been away and not slept well for a few days and need to catch up. Then I wake up in the luxury of my own bed, and roll over to find a big empty space that should be full of snoring Sigoth. There are times I fall asleep in my own bed before he comes up at night and wake up in the morning after he had gone downstairs and I am disoriented by solitude. My fuzzy brain wonders if it’s the future and I am alone forever; whether he is ill, or has died, and I’ve forgotten; whether he left me for some reason I cannot quite bring to mind or have blocked out; whether he no longer cares.  My desperately accumulated sense of being safe and happy and at peace is shattered in a moment of uncertainty and I begin to suspect I have been fooling myself for thinking anyone would stay with me.

I hear a sound, turn my head, and there he is with a tray of tea and a crossword, and the angels are blowing trumpets on the landing and turning cartwheels in the bathroom because he is back. Fireworks roar across the ceiling, exploding by the wardrobe and drowning out the dove burbling at the top of the chimney. Choirs reach a crescendo and the crowds dance in the street. There is the end of war and famine and sickness and poverty. The whale is saved. Hell, every last endangered arachnid and crustacean is saved while we’re at it, even the ugly ones. The sun has got his hat on.

This time.

Namaste.

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.

 

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.

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.

EBL’s One and Only Style Guide

Lately my mind has been distracted by thoughts of writing. Ooh, look, pretty, pretty writing!

In particular, by thoughts about my own writing, why it is so rubbish, whether I have the capacity or intention to improve it.

Let me take you, back, dear friends, to last November. I finally succumbed and signed up for NaNoWriMo because an idea for a novel had been rumbling in my brain and I had managed to work out what that novel was. I wrote like a demon, in the sputtering glare of candles made from the tallow-grease of bankers, my quill dripping scorching acid on the vellum of politician hide. I wrote my quota, oh yes. It was all about the numbers.

Now I would quite like to turn my carefully numbered words into beautifully crafted words, but I don’t know how. I read and re-read. I am occasionally struck by a passage and think, “Not too bad, that bit!” Then I remember Johnson’s sage advice:

“I would say to Robertson what an old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils: ‘Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.'”
Boswell: Life of Johnson

My heart sinks. How can I know what is good?

I read all the advice and guidance, I read the blogs. So many of you write so beautifully and so wisely about how to write. I yearn to emulate your creativity. I started to try to write every day, and to read more, paying attention to the structure and craft as well as the story. I bought John Banfield, for heaven’s sake!

What I have learned is:

  1. Writing here almost every day is fun and means I can avoid my novel
  2. Writing here almost every day relates to my novel very little
  3. I enjoy writing here more than writing my novel

I write in this blog in a stream-of-consciousness, conversational, devil-may-care way. It’s not supposed to be great literature (which is just as well), and it’s not supposed to be eternal (also just as well, although ironically thanks to Internet caches it may well outlast some novels). It’s a bit of fun, a playground to try out new things occasionally, and a chance to share toys with other kids.

I have written in a number of styles: academic texts and papers; work reports and strategies; letters; teenage poetry (not so much a style as a hormonal imbalance). I can do them all fairly well (except the poetry), and have been told so directly so I am confident of it.  I have never written a novel, although I have read thousands.

The styles, my dears, are not at all the same. This is not a Huge Revelation, but what I am learning is that I may prefer blog-style, and may never finish my novel. I am a little sad about that because I am still quite passionate about the story and I would like to share it. It still perturbs my thoughts and prods me to pay it attention.

I have too many hobbies, and no matter how I structure my life I must decide whether to focus on a Great Work, or dabble at the water’s edge, tracing lines in the sand. My confidence suggests dabbling is less risky; I can’t really fail badly at it, or if I do, it doesn’t matter. This approach has driven my life, but lately I am more inclined to take greater risks and reap greater rewards; I am starting to grow into my purple.

Fear, as we know, is the source of conflict (hey, bloggers4peace – got you in again!), and I am conflicted.

And I enjoy your company so very much.

Namaste.

 

What if…

What if I could fly? What if I could win the lottery? What if I could write?

Of those three things, which would I rather do?

I asked myself today the third, because I am aware NaNoWriMo is almost upon us, and I actually have a coherent idea and I would quite like to give it a try. Then the voices started (not in a schizophrenic way, you understand, the Other voices).

Who would want to read it? It will be terrible. There isn’t time to do it because of all the other Stuff. You aren’t a good writer. You aren’t even any king of writer. You just post occasional random blogs and have this crazy story in outline which is boring and derivative.

After that it can get much darker, unless I call time on comments. It turns out I have trolls living in my brain, Yeuch!

So I thought of other stuff I can’t  / don’t (currently) do. I wrote down the first three things that came into my head and then I thought – which is most important?

Let me put it this way: the lottery is just there to make up the Rule of Three. I’m not really interested. I don’t buy lottery tickets, and my life’s ambition is not to have more money than I can manage while retaining my sanity, my friends and my boring. but basically self-chosen. life.

Flying: that would be fun. But it looks like I have set up a Straw Man, because I don’t think it is likely that technology or medicine will allow me to fly during my lifetime. I could take up hang-gliding I suppose, but that isn’t what I meant when I said “Fly!”. I meant with wings and without machines, proper flying.

Which leads me back to writing. It’s certainly feasible to put words to keyboard. I have done it on many occasions. So a big tick for “possible”. Not only possible, it’s interesting to me; I have a story outline and a blog. The pre-requisites are there. So that’s another tick. In previous years I have avoided the problem because the story outline just wasn’t there. Not this year, oh no. This year it’s all perturbation and gnashing of teeth.

What are the obstacles then? It seems I live my life by fear. It’s easy to come up with excuses.

What if I make a fool of myself? What if it’s no good? What if I don’t manage it?

It’s strange how I let myself get into this vicious circle of negativity. At work I need to motivate my staff and develop the team and encourage them to achieve new and better things. I feel I do it, and they often tell me I do it, and they certainly achieve new and better things, so something is working.

Then I come home and tell myself I’m no use and can’t do anything and to stop even thinking about it because it’s plainly ridiculous. Apparently I don’t deserve the encouragement and attention that I give others.

Well, yah boo! I think I will have a go. I doubt I’ll post much here – that would be a step too far right now. And I doubt I’ll manage it in a month, but if it gets me on the way, then it’s all good. No one dies if I miss the deadline, you know. Really, I’m not sure why you are all making such a fuss.

[Exit left, buoyed up and ready to write!]