Thursday, 23 July 2015

Blame

It was my first office job. I was fresh out of university, and thought I knew everything.

What a twit.

My first challenge - and one that I've never succeeded in, by the way - was folding a letter so that it fitted into a window envelope, address showing. Two folds. Should be simple, with my background in origami flapping birds, but either the top, or the bottom, or perhaps none of the address showed in any of the letters. Occasionally I would rip open the envelope and start folding all over again, but this of course increased the creasage in each letter, proving that I was, in fact, an imbecile.

I blamed the Royal Mail for all the undelivered letters. I'd like to publicly apologise about that.


And then there was the forgetfulness. Sometimes, I would forget to post the letters, realising only a couple of days later, whereupon I would apply my franking machine expertise (self-taught) to turn back the date. Simple. Letter late? Royal Mail at fault. Again.

(They weren't.)

Even if you are never caught, everyone can tell that you're a blame-ducker. It's not a good thing to be. People can sniff you out. And the thing is, you'll never really get on. You won't be trusted. You won't be happy with yourself. You carry the blame like bricks in an invisible rucksack, and it will weigh you down.

I realised this after two or three years of working there. I can't really remember why - someone had caught me out, perhaps, and had just raised an eyebrow. Whatever it was, it was enough. I changed overnight. Decided that honesty was the best policy. Admitted that I didn't know everything (anything). Asked for help. Owned up when things go wrong. Suggested solutions. All of that.

And it's served me well at work. I've learned much, much more as I've been more open. I will take the blame where appropriate and will try harder next time. I understand that people fail - it's human nature - and so when it happens to someone on my team, I am more understanding. Most of the time.

Fast forward then, to Tween's recent accident in the playground. I've lost count of the parents who have said, "Are you going to sue?" SUE? That door frame had been in situ for at least 20 years. My idiot son was the first child to bang his head on it, and guess what? IT WAS HIS FAULT.

It wasn't the fault of the school. It wasn't the fault of the teacher. And I'm sure it wasn't my fault. It was HIS fault, because he mis-judged his own height - huge as it is - before he leapt upwards. It was an accident. Nobody else should pay for my son's split second error of judgement.

The US-led madness of our increasing blame culture is saddening. Britain has become the Compensation Culture Capital of Europe (whiplash claim, anyone? And not in a kinky way) and we need to step away from it. Now.

This article in the Daily Mail troubles me. We don't really know the ins and outs of what has gone on here but it just seems wrong that this guy is suing his friends for allowing him to sleep in THEIR house next to an open window. I know he's been through shit...but still.

I understand. Not all accidents are the same. There are degrees. If Tween had been paralysed by his accident, I might not be being so cocky now.

But this is more of a general statement about blame. We need to man-, or woman- up. We need to be honest and say, "Ah. I didn't see that slightly elevated slab in the pavement. I should have been watching. My mistake." There should be more of, "I know you crashed into the back of me. My neck did hurt like buggery and it was sore for a while after that. But actually, it's ok now and I suppose I did stop very quickly to avoid that cowpat in the road.."

We should just be nicer to each other. Accept that we all make mistakes. Take risks, but don't blame others if things go tits up. Admit that, sometimes, we are just being greedy.

Ease our own consciences.  Be better people.

Christ, I'm turning into a hippy.



Friday, 17 July 2015

Guiding our children

Teen has just made his GCSE choices for next year. Much to my chagrin, he has dropped all foreign languages. I did everything in my power to make him change his mind: sulk, stare, refuse to make cakes, undo all the bolts in his bed so it fell apart when he got in...but actually, after some rather pathetic standoffs which I was never going to win, I grudgingly backed down.

He is never going to be a linguist. He is painfully shy, so even if he went to Spain, he wouldn't utter a single palabra in Spanish (I looked that up). He'd rather stuff paella up his nose. And so, Computer Science is by far the better option. Because that's his calling. It's been obvious since he was two, when he beat me at Pac Man.

Git.

As a parent, I find it hard not to live vicariously through my children. Teen in particular is very different to me; the Arts are a foreign land to him, so why should he sit through countless piano lessons if he doesn't enjoy them? Even if he is damn good at playing (*bites knuckles with frustration*).

I need to learn from my own parents' mistakes. I come from a Science-based stable; Oxford Maths scholar for a brother (I know! No wonder I have issues), a 1st class Physicist for a Dad, Uncles and Aunts from Finance and other unpalatable - to me - numerical worlds. My mum, the arty one, was sadly absent from my life from the age of 14.  And so, although I was allowed to indulge in music - and even joined the National Youth Theatre for a year - my Dad always advised me to get a proper job. I desperately wanted to do something with the Arts, but I didn't know what, and I was scared of not making enough money. Of not having a place to live. Of living in a squat (because that's what all artists do, obviously).

And so, after university, I went to work in an IT company, qualified in HR, married a software developer.

It was fine for a while. But I wish I'd been braver. I wish I'd had the balls to say, "Fuck it! I'm going to live in a squat because I'm not going to die (although I might get a minor fungal infection), and I might have a chance at making it in whatever I want to fucking do in life. FUCK!'

And in fact, funnelling myself into a life expected of me did me no favours at all. In the end, aged 41, it all crumbled around me; I left my husband, became a pilot (a pilot!), changed my job, started writing, started taking photos. I don't live a traditional life now - and it suits me. But the change came at a cost to my family - my wonderful children - and I wouldn't wish it on anybody.

So I need to learn from my mistakes. I need to concentrate on what makes my sons tick and help them however I can. If this means finding work experience for Teen in some techie place where he can sit in a cubical and solve quadratic equations all day long - so be it. My life shouldn't seep into theirs.

I'm just the taxi driver.

And then the fun began...


Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Banning the technology

It's felt like we've been living in the half light recently. Neither of my kids have made it to school this week; Tween with his head injury (I'm still unable to rouse him in the mornings), and Teen got some viral thing which gave him headaches and the occasional vom bout. So days have been whiled away on phones, tablets, PCs... And it's not just the boys; I too have been guilty of wasting hours online. My particular area of expertise is stalking ex boyfriends on Twitter, daydreaming about what could have been, searching for signs of new girlfriends.

By yesterday lunchtime, I'd managed to rouse myself from my electronic fug. CRAP, I thought: it's like we've all eaten the apple, and have been drugged for 100 years. (Bit over the top, I grant you.) So I walked into the front room and made this announcement:

TONIGHT, FROM 5PM, WE WILL HAVE A NO SCREEN EVENING. NOSE FOR SHORT.

AT 9PM, WE WILL WATCH SOMETHING TELEVISUAL TOGETHER. AT 10PM, THERE SHALL BE BEDTIME. *END*

I was prepped for a barrage of abuse. I had my best steely glare at hand, in case of mutiny.

But, as it happens, it wasn't needed. Both boys glanced up from their porn viewing (or whatever). "OK," they said, in unison.

Bloody. Effing. Nora. What the actual??? Was that all it took? Just a firm 'no', and they would capitulate? Why have I been so frightened of doing this before?

So. 5pm came and the tech was turned off. I made scones. Tween read. Teen - wait for it - tidied his room. I KNOW. Then we all played cards together. We made tea together. We ate tea together and complained about anchovies. We played cards again. Teen did his homework. We all sat down at 9pm and watched Child Genius. I had a little cry.

And then, at 10pm, the boys went to bed, with less than the usual grumbling.

This morning, I feel much better than I have done for a long time. I had a good night's sleep, and was woken by my alarm (unusual). Teen is also better, and has gone to school. Not so miraculous for Tween, who needs a bit more than a night without tech to recover - I couldn't wake him up for school. Still - tiny steps forward and eventually battles will be won. Probably.

They don't know this yet, but NOSE will be a regular thing. It showed me that I've lost it a bit, as a parent. I've lost that sense of family that I remember having, in bursts - usually on caravanning holidays - when I was a child. I'd assumed that, when your children become teenagers, they don't need you anymore. But that's not true. In fact, you all need each other. Just as much as before.

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

A post for my ex husband

So. You've found it. I'm not sure how - through a friend, perhaps, or through Twitter - but I know you're there. And that you've been through all the old posts; the ones where I used the blog as a diary, a place to dump all my bitter, angry thoughts after we'd separated.

You have as much right as the next person to be here. After all, the blog's out in the public domain. I knew you would find it, one day - although hoped that you wouldn't.

We have been through a lot, you and I. That blind hate that I felt for you, two or three years ago, when you were doing everything in your power to trip me up - some of that got poured into the blog. I'm sorry you read it now, at a point where perhaps we are beginning to rebuild our relationship. I hope that you can see that it was a different time. We were both miles away from where we are today.

Ironically, it took something terrible to bring us together. Tween's accident, and recovery, has forced us to talk again. I will never, ever forget that quiet time that we had, the first night that he was in hospital. The two of us sat by his bedside, quietly talking in the early hours, about all sorts of things. Personal things. We hadn't done that for years. I felt closer to you then than I had for much of our married life.

I'm crying now.

When I can't rouse Tween, and you come to my house to look after him so I can go to work - I like that. A lot. I mean, I hate it that Tween is ill, and I worry, like you do. But I like it that we have come together, as mum and dad, to help him. He needs that. When he said to me, "I'm really glad that you and dad are getting on better now", I cried.

I'm doing a lot of crying, recently.

So I wish you well. I can't tell you that, face to face, at the moment - but I hope to be able to, one day. I hope that in the future, we will be able to sit down, and laugh together, and have family celebrations with everybody we love around us.

Not just for the kids.

But for us.

And then the fun began...

Sunday, 5 July 2015

A visit to Norfolk

This blog isn't really about pictures (words, words, words) but I love photography too. I've just come back from north Norfolk and managed to take, by some freak of chance, some decent photos. Street photography is my thing, but I would love to be a really good landscape photographer - and so my style is probably a mess of the two.

I'm a West Country girl and so, by nature, highly suspicious of anything east of Heathrow. But Norfolk was a surprise; it wasn't too flat, nor too windy. It has some amazing beaches. And an awful lot of tractors.

First of all: Cromer. Old fashioned, colourful, teenagers on the beach, old people waiting for the show on the pier. (Pier of the Year 2015, by the way.) Cracking.

Legs

On the strand

Gulls

Running

Roy Orbison

Sarah's

Stairs


There are many stunning beaches in Norfolk. It pains me to say that they eclipse many of Devon's beaches and, the best part is, there are relatively few people there. Here are a few of Weybourne beach.




Window
Sky
Escape

Suncream


And from that coast, you can just about make out a HUGE wind farm out at sea.
Ghost wind farm


Finally, I popped to Norwich Cathedral on the way back. The building is beautiful, obviously, but I wanted to share a couple of photos that are a bit different.


There was an exhibition of life-sized religious characters, made by local primary schools. They were incredible. This fella scared the bejaysus out of me, mind.


And lastly, I caught sight of a homeless lady, who walked right in front of the main doors of the cathedral, and started scavenging in a huge pile of bin bags about twenty feet away. It was Sunday. It struck me as ironic that she didn't go into the church for support; and nor did anyone come out to help.




***If you'd like to use or share any of these photographs, please do get in touch first, as I own the copyright. Thanks.***

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The power of HR

I never, ever, EVER thought I would write a blog post about Human Resources. I worked in HR for 10 years and we were thought of as the fag end of the business; generally, a waste of space and an unnecessary pull on already tight finances. I didn't find working in HR much fun, either. It was great when people behaved, but when there were fallings out (grievances) or redundancies, or something else that was bleak - it was bloody horrible.

Someone once said to me that to work in HR, you really need to dislike people. (That's not true, by the way.)

But today I find myself on the other side of the HR fence. Now, I work in publishing. Our small company has been swallowed up by a much larger one, with a proper HR department (this is important to the story, as you'll see, later on).

You know the background to The Accident. And you know that I've been struggling to cope with Tween's recovery, alongside work, and Teen, and all that. So after a few weeks of trying my best, I approached my boss to ask for a chunk of time off in the summer. I already had two weeks booked, and wanted another two weeks. I was about to pop, I said, and I needed some time to look after my boy.

Yes, she said, but four weeks is a long time. Can you do some Keeping in Touch days? Work from home a couple of afternoons a week? And also, I'll need a full handover plan in place before you go. I found myself saying 'maybe' - but inside I was thinking, 'Why aren't you listening to me? I haven't got the mental space to do this.'

I remember flexing my fingers a lot. Tense.

On Monday, after a weekend of no sleep with Tween, I rolled into work red eyed and harridan-looking. I was tearful and stressed. My boss barked at me for something. I cried in the toilets.

A friend took me to one side. 'Just walk out', she said. 'Other things are more important'. I couldn't do that, but I asked to see my boss. Again, I tried to explain that I was failing, losing control, and I needed to go home. 'Yes', she said, 'but we need you to ....'

I was overcome with a powerful urge to do something ridiculous. Why was she unable to understand? Why could she not look at my situation and say JUST GO HOME?

That was when I asked her to phone HR. Please, I said, ask their advice. They will know what to do.

A couple of hours later and my boss tapped me on the shoulder. In a meeting room, she told me that I had been granted a week's compassionate leave, and two weeks' off on full sick pay. From there, I could take a block of annual leave. And from then, if needed, I could reduce my contracted hours temporarily, until Tween gets back on his feet.

I don't like crying at work, but the relief was so huge that I burst into tears. My boss gave me a stiff hug. I could tell she was thinking, 'how the fuck am I going to manage this?' What she didn't realise, I think, was quite how close to a breakdown I was. It wasn't her fault; some people see it naturally, but she just hadn't been trained to see the signs.

So thank you, HR. You get a lot of flack in life. But yesterday you saved me.


Saturday, 27 June 2015

Single parenting when things go wrong

I don't like to admit it, but life is hard at the moment.

In general, you know that I'm an advocate of single parenting. I don't mean just for the sake of it - I'm definitely not saying "HEY! LEAVE YOUR PARTNERS! IT'S ACE OVER HERE IN THE SINGLEPARENTDOM DEEP END!"  Just that, it's possible to be happy, and a good parent, and bring your children up well, if you're on your own.

But. When things go awry - when something unexpected happens - then life suddenly goes tits up and can become extremely stressful.

You may remember that Tween had his accident six weeks ago.  My ex and I thought that, as the docs had said he could return to school after two weeks, then that would be that. All better. Job done.

In fact, we have learnt that you can't predict how head injuries will heal. Unfortunately, as we were crowbarred out of hospital with such speed, we didn't get any follow-up information on what to expect. Actually, that's a lie - I was handed a faded, photocopied leaflet advising me to go to hospital in my child's head exploded (or something), but it was about as useful as a holey bucket.

So when, a couple of weeks later, I couldn't wake Tween up for school, I was worried. It happened again two days later. And then the following week, he woke up not being able to feel his arms.

I phoned the Ward number I had been given, but it was constantly engaged. So I made an emergency appointment with the GP, who then referred us back to hospital. Multiple hours and tests later, we were released, none the wiser.

Well, actually, a bit 'the wiser', because now I know that there are no answers, and that I need to give Tween time to sleep. To recover at his own pace. Something that I had not been allowing him - not due to the pressure of school, who have been wonderful - but because I have to work.

The pressure of having to work is all-consuming. Initially, they were great, giving me a week's compassionate leave and telling me that 'family comes first'. But as the weeks have unravelled, and I have been forced to change my days at short notice due to Tween's erratic sleeping, their patience is thinning. And my stress level is mounting.

Last week I had an epiphany. The summer holidays are coming, and there is no way that I will be able to (and should) send Tween to his usual holiday club while I'm at work. So I decided to ask for four weeks off.

No, was the answer. It's too long. We want you to come in for 'Keeping In Touch' days, to work from home. You'll need to do at least two days' work each week. And you'll have to plan for the time off you have, in detail. 'But how?' I asked, 'I'm already pushed to bursting.' 'Make time,' was the response.

Listen, I don't like to moan. But employers need to realise something. In situations like these - personal emergencies - if you don't support your employees, then they are going to pop. I can see myself being signed off from work by the docs through stress. They have said that I can apply for unpaid time off, which is my best option it seems, but I am still being put under pressure to work extra time to plan for the leave, which will involve additional time away from my children and more stress (and no extra money, of course).

I would love my employer to take a more holistic, long term approach. I want them to say, "Take as long as you need. We'll shuffle some of next year's holiday over for you. We'll organise extra resource for you to take the pressure off. We'll tell some people what you're going through. We'll help you get through this."

But they aren't saying that. And as a single parent, I don't have the support of another adult who can share my load. My ex has provided some help, but asking him feels like I am asking for a favour, and it should never be like that. Ever.

And so, I battle on with my employer and, in the process, try not to go stark raving bonkers.