Tag Archives: work

Winter is coming, but first…

2015-10-27-09-13-03

Taken at a reunion of friends at Ullswater, October last year

Spring may be the time of rebirth and renewal but I always find autumn is when I am most likely to hoy myself off my ample backside and crack on and DO stuff. I suspect it is a hangover from 16 years of full time education and the whole “new academic year”, fresh start thing which became ingrained in my psyche. I always feel a restlessness and an urge to plan ahead, tidy and clean everywhere, turn a new leaf etc. Toes tap, fingers twitch and brain works at 19 to the dozen. I am at my most productive, focussed and creative as the leaves turn gold and the days shorten.

A new academic year was always a chance to wipe the slate clean and to try harder, do better. I have to confess that my enthusiasm at school wasn’t always sustained beyond the October half term but as an adult I feel energised in the run right up to Christmas. I have been lucky enough to have this past week off work and it has been a luxury to have the time to tackle some of the a million and one jobs that need doing in the garden at this time of year. I have written before about the pleasures of gardening in autumn and the weather has been great this month so I have loved all of the pruning, clearing and planting of spring bulbs that I have managed to tick off. But I have also managed to clean my venetian blinds, paint the garden fence, catch up with two friends I haven’t seen for ages (years in one case), go for a run twice and finally complete the blog post that I started last December. Ok so I admit it…by going for a run I mean wheezing while I jog for 45-50 minutes on the treadmill (long enough to watch a full episode of “The Sopranos”) but hey – it’s more than I’ve done for six months so I’m feeling smug.autumn-clean

I think perhaps there is something more primitive driving my activity levels at this time of year too. Maybe the fact that autumn is a season of change has a subconscious affect, making me want to change with it. The drop in temperature and light levels give me a sense of urgency. I want to get things done before the onset of winter when it will be so dark and grim that I know all I will want to do then, is hunker down in front of the TV with the fire on and a mug of tea in my hand. Winter is coming and I might not survive ‘til spring so I’d better get a wriggle on and do all of those things I’ve been procrastinating about for months. And if I do survive I need to make sure I’m on the front foot so investing time in tidying the garden now will make it easier to manage come March. Why do I feel the urge to reconnect with friends in the autumn? Is it because my inner Neanderthal thinks I might need my buddies to see me through the hard times to come? It’s a weird thing your sub-conscious…well mine is anyway. Still, my autumn mania has at least it chivvied me into writing again so I am not complaining.

Perhaps there is a biological explanation rather than a psychological one. Like birds knowing it’s time to migrate or leaves to change colour, maybe the reduced hours of daylight  affect my own diurnal hormone levels which in turn affects my behaviour? Although I guess if that’s the case then everyone would feel the same way come October (in the norther hemisphere at least) and I’m not sure they do. I wonder if there is any research on the matter…hang on… (returns ten minutes later)… nope. My Google search reckons people feel more depressed and fatigued in the autumn, mourning the departure of summer and dreading winter. So it’s just me then and a personality quirk rather than a natural biological instinct. Well that’s a shame and I am sorry if autumn is not your thing, it really can be stunningly beautiful, as the photo I took this time last year (at the top of this page) will testify.

autumn-lawn-careRight – less philosophical rambling next time and more substance Trowers. Until then, stay cheery my friends and enjoy the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” however you choose. I recommend catching the last of the year’s sunshine in the garden or on a country walk, with a beer at the end of the day to reward your labours.

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Excuses, excuses

 

ExcusesI always know it’s time to start writing a new post when I find myself scribbling random notes on whatever piece of paper happens to be at hand, making lists of potential topics, or jotting down thoughts and observations which might spark a blog post. Time to bite the bullet and get busy typing. I have not had a productive year I know. The dust devils have been blowing forlornly across my blog for some time now and the few followers I have, must surely have despaired of reading  any more of my wit and wisdom. But, here I am, older, wiser, rested and ready to dump my brain onto the page once more. I have a list of subject matter ideas as long as a gibbon’s arm but I thought I would return with a light-hearted look at the excuses I have employed for NOT writing. Actually I suspect that these very same excuses have been used by many people for NOT doing many other things but I didn’t say I would be original 😉

  1. Too many quality box sets / TV series. I mean seriously – have you not seen Breaking Bad? Game of Thrones? Sherlock? Line of Duty?? Horizon??? Even Springwatch???? Superb stuff. I get quite cross with intellectually snooty “Oh I don’t watch TV” people in the same way that I don’t trust “non-readers”. Good TV makes me think just as much as reading a good book does and is no more anti-social. I have enjoyed many a stimulating conversation with friends and family comparing opinions on a character’s motives, or guessing what will happen next…
  2. Too much time spent playing Candy Crush. What started out as a “this is a fun way to spend 5 minutes while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil” has led me to level 347 where I have been stuck for some time. It is an addiction that I cannot bring myself to give up. I know I should go cold turkey and just uninstall it but it’s so damned compulsive and oh the pretty colours…
  3. Too much time spent on Facebook. I’m not as fixated as some people I know (I am mFB logoore of a reader than a commentator) but I do like to see what everyone else is up to and to check out the articles from the pages/people I follow. It’s another one of those things that begins as a “I’ll just have a quick look” and then before you know it, a whole hour has disappeared.
  4. Emotional overload. Regular readers will know that I had a pretty grim time last winter when my manager very sadly took his own life. I have written about this before so won’t re-hash it here but the emotional aftermath has taken many months to recover from. Eventually I made the decision to leave not only the project I had been working on with him, but the company itself and I made a clean break two months ago to take up a new job elsewhere. Which in turn led to…
  5. …intellectual overload. I always forget how exhausting it is starting a new job. The effort to concentrate and learn new processes, methodologies, cultural norms, people’s names and who to call when your PC doesn’t work, is physically and mentally tiring. For 8 weeks my brain has been on full alert and it is only just beginning to relax and allow me headspace for other things.
  6. Uncharacteristically long periods of decent weather. I live in the north west of England and most of you will know what that means… it rains – a lot. If you are not British and are unaware that the north west is any wetter than the rest of England then let me tell you that in 1982 when I first came to Manchester as an undergraduate, it rained every single day for 48 days on the trot. I genuinely contemplated building an ark. Happily,  this year our spring and summer have been fair and warm. The rain we have had may have been torrential but it has lasted for only a relatively short time (less than a week goddammit!) and consequently I have been spending a lot of my spare time pottering in the garden or relaxing outside with a cold beer rather than glued to the sofa with my laptop.
  7. Domestic demands. You know the sort of tedious stuff that you have to do to maintain a steady supply of clean knickers, your plate replenished with fresh food, the rats out of the kitchen, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. There is a school of thought that a tidy house is the sign of a wasted life, but I cannot relax for long in a dirty, messy home. I am a martyr to my anally retentive personality and have to spend time cleaning and organising my home environment otherwise I develop a nervous tic and a bad temper. I’m not completely OCD about it and my home is far from pristine but I have an acceptable level of tidiness and order which causes me distress if not sustained.
  8. Family demands. Aside from actually having to talk to the immediate loved ones in the same house, maintaining happy relationships with an extended family means investing time too. There is always someone, somewhere feeling neglected and left out or passed over in favour of someone else. It’s a fine art trying to keep everyone happy, not unlike twizzling flat, round ceramic objects on long poles. Don’t get me wrong, I love them all dearly and don’t begrudge time spent with any of them, but inevitably it means that I have less time to myself.
  9. Social demands and maintaining enduring friendships. See the previous point. If my family think I don’t spend enough time with them they should talk to some of my friends…years can go by without so much as a phone call. Happily, my true friendships survive anyway and it is always a delight to catch up with people I may not have seen for eons and find that we slip immediately into easy banter and chatter as if a mere week had elapsed.
  10. Personal health and fitness. I am not naturally sporty so keeping fit and healthy is a bit of an effort but I do think it is time well spent, even if it means I have less of it to write in.
  11. Not a trait I like to admit to but if I am being brutally honest with myself then there are plenty of times when I just can’t be bothered to think that hard and I just want to put my feet up in front of The Big Bang Theory.
  12. Sometimes it’s not the lack of will but the lack of energy caused by points 4,5,7 8 and 9!
  13. Provide me with two equally tempting (or equally dreadful) choices and I’m liable to dither a very long time. Provide me with more than two and you could be waiting for hell to freeze over. When I said that I had a list of writing ideas as long as gibbon’s arm, the downside of that is that I have to make decisions – not one of my key strengths.
  14. This is slipping further down the list of excuses as I am less sensitive to criticism in my old age but I do still feel anxious writing a new piece. What if I make a complete arse of myself? What if it’s just self-indulgent waffle? I am getting better at saying “what the hell, just go for it anyway it’s worth the risk”, but long gaps between articles doesn’t increase confidence!candy crush

So there you have it. A whole litany of sad excuses for not writing. I am sure I could think of a few more if I thought a bit harder or longer but I want to get this thing out there so I can crack level 347 – oops sorry – crack on with the next post…

 

The Return of the Wandering Wordsmith

An editor's work is never done...

An editor’s work is never done…

If it were not for the seedy and sinister connotations that now come to mind when reminded of Gary Glitter, I would open this blog with a hearty rendition of “Hello! Hello! It’s good to be back, it’s good to be back!”. It has been far too long since I last wrote anything more exciting than a ‘Configuration Management Plan’. Don’t bother asking what one of those is because you will have yawned and lost the will to live before you get to the end of the first explanatory sentence. The point is… I AM back, writing stuff that interests me (if no-one else).  The enthusiasm and excitement I felt when I first plucked up the courage and confidence to articulate my random musings publicly (see “Baby Steps”) has returned with full gusto – huzzah!

In all honesty it never really went away but I have been somewhat distracted by a miscellany of real world stuff. Like starting a new job last February which, although was no more demanding of my time than my previous job, was a lot more demanding of my brain. For the first time in ages I was (and indeed I still am) enjoying the chance to think, use my initiative and interact with intelligent and committed people. Great news, but this leaves me pretty much exhausted and less than keen to spend any more time in front of a computer screen after the 8 or 9 hours in the office each day. However, I have not been entirely idle on the literary front, having spent the summer proof-reading and editing my friend Mike’s[i] second novel (coming soon to a large online bookshop near you). My editing speed is almost but not quite, as slow as my writing, so I am now going to take this opportunity to publicly apologise to the lovely Mr Holley…sorry mate. Hopefully I have made up for my tardiness by handing your baby back in a sleeker, sharper and  shinier condition.

Editing is fun if you are a slightly sad, anally retentive wordsmith like me. I do like WORDS and working out ways of stringing them together in a way that best suits the message being conveyed. That’s why I enjoy writing, even (heaven help me) rather boring technical documents for the day job. I find it deeply satisfying to re-shape a sentence to make it snappier, wittier or more accurate. Bizarrely,  I actually enjoying dotting the “i”s and crossing the “t”s and I like to tie up loose ends. So if you need someone to spot the plot holes, character discrepancies and timeline errors then I’m your gal. Just don’t ask me to do it quickly…

But now I am back to writing and I repeat, I am a slow writer. I mean really slow. Glaciers have carved fjords in the time it takes me to produce 500 words and I am in awe of those who knock out 3000 words a day as if it were the easiest thing in the world. The problem is not that I am uninspired or that I have writer’s block, on the contrary, I have a plethora of ideas and my inner voice never shuts up. I just spend too long trying out different ways of saying the same thing, agonizing over every word in an effort to articulate accurately what I am thinking and feeling. Sadly the inner voice which sounds so erudite, charming and witty in my head rarely survives the transfer to the written page, but hey-ho, I still enjoy trying 🙂 .

And whadyaknow? I’ve managed to churn out this brain dump (604 words and counting) in less than 3 hours, which is a Usain Bolt like performance for me. Something must be wrong and I’ll almost certainly re-read it again later and dismiss it as utter rubbish which needs completely re-writing… quick Trowers – publish and be damned!

P.S. Oops one week later and I’ve finally finished. Not a solid week working on it you understand, but a snatched 30 minutes here and there. Tinkering, polishing and looking for suitable images to use. Still, productivity is up on the last six months so I will publish my next post before I acquire too many more grey hairs I promise.


 

[i] Michael J Holley. His first novel “The Great Corporate Escape” is both funny and charming. And it was also edited by me.

Confessions of a Tea Snob

Time for a brewThere it is in black and white in the middle of an ex-line manager’s description of me on a well-known professional networking site. And of course if it’s on the internet then it must be true. I am, officially, a “tea snob”.

In my defence I would argue that it is all relative. I drink bog standard builders’ brew and not lapsang souchong (well, not often).  My reputation as a tea snob arises from my refusal to drink the stuff that masquerades as tea in most vending machines in the corporate world. After many years working in various large companies, I have developed a sliding scale of drinkability for machine tea. From the “will drink it reluctantly in a moment of weakness but then whinge about it for an hour” to “I would rather drink my own urine or die of dehydration before letting that pass my lips”.

In this latter category comes the “instant” white tea made from some sort of artificially flavoured powder. Whatever alternate universe exists in which this passes for tea is beyond my imagining. Probably the same one in which carob is an acceptable substitute to chocolate.

Marginally less offensive is the instant black tea to which you add UHT milk from tiny plastic containers. However, you do run the risk of opening a damaged carton to find that you have inadvertently poured cottage cheese into your brew instead of milk. Nice.

Occasionally you will come across a vending machine which proudly dispenses one of the famous branded teas and you may be tempted to try it. Don’t. It will still taste like the sweepings from the factory floor. There is no substitute for making your own brew.

Real teabags, a hot water dispenser and a fridge to store your fresh milk. Best of all, water dispensed that is actually hot enough to brew tea and not just raise the ambient temperature of your mug to “warm”. If your office water dispenser is hot enough to scald you then you’re on to a winner and know that you have secured employment with a company that really cares about its staff. Heaven forbid that you do have a water dispenser related accident but at least then a friendly colleague would be able to comfort and calm you with a decent cup of hot, sweet tea which is, as everyone knows, the panacea for all ills.

My love of tea began in early childhood. Playing with my toy tea set in my den, underneath the dining table, I would copy the tea-making ritual I had watched my beloved granddad perform every day, but with cold milk and water instead. One day, desperate to make real tea in my own teapot, I subjected my granddad to the full force of my charms (knowing full well that he could rarely resist me) and begged him for tea leaves and hot water for the pot. There was a great pause while he weighed up the potential waste, mess and risk of scalding. Eventually he suggested a compromise whereby he would decant some of his already whitened, sweetened and cooled tea from his cup into my toy teapot. I readily agreed and with great excitement poured out three or four tiny cups of the amber nectar for my dollies. Surprisingly they wouldn’t drink it, so I downed the lot. Thus began the habit of a lifetime.

I have long since given up sugar and switched to semi-skimmed milk but my love of tea is undiminished and I drink it by the gallon, provided it’s the real McCoy and not some vending machine sludge. Does this make me a “tea snob”? Perhaps. Writing about it has certainly made me thirsty though…time to put the kettle on methinks.