Friday, 26 March 2010

for the love of lamination

so i'm just finishing my second week of gainful employment and how quickly one reverts to type. while i take my half hour lunch (as a contractor i feel much more aware of productive time hours and am uncharacteristically nervous of being branded a work-shy fob) i am guzzling down a gorgeous pret sandwich washed smoothly back with a can of ginger beer. the days of home-made soup have passed, and the promise of a packed lunch hasn't yet materialised so each day i guiltily, excitedly, stand like a proper business lady-type-grown-up infront of the shiny pret shelves and gleefully decide which one to launch into with shameful gusto. my only sadness is that they've stopped stocking diet coke in cans. this is a terrible decision; diet coke is one of my life-loves however it does need to be from a can. if it is from a bottle, plastic or glass, it tastes totally different, a little bit shabby. but a gleaming, slightly frosted can of diet coke is a joy. so i've reverted to ginger beer which is actually very nice and i wish i'd thought of it throughout pregnancy #2: fraught by nausea which only abated with the consumption of waitrose traditional pasties, oddly. in the six days i've been here i've tried four sandwich varieties and the ham and mustard with more than a smear of butter is winning so far. it is dijon mustard: another one of my desert-island essentials. sometimes i take a teaspoon to the dijon mustard jar; there has to be one in the fridge as well as an emergency supply in the cupboard. i particularly like it with poached eggs, cheese and biscuits, roast chicken, gammon and omelettes. however i'll happily eat it with almost anything.

but enough of this food fest; today's post is meant to be about the public sector and an intellectual review of the differences to corporate life. so a key difference is the love of lamination. since i started in this office i've been enthralled by the volume of laminated guidance, smoothing my flow around the space so that wherever i am i am never short of thoughtful tips. in the loo i am gently advised to "leave this space as you'd like to find it", that "loos are scared of the dark, so please turn off the lights", to"please not turn off the taps too tightly", to ensure that i "think of the environment in usage of towels" and to note that "the hot tap is hot" and some quite detailed descriptions of what articles should go in the bin. the only missing advice is where to wee so i go in the sink.

moving through the office, noting everyones' laminated names on their desk areas, we arrive at the kitchen. i know this is the kitchen, not the sick-room, because both are carefully labelled in case i mistake the kitchen units for the medical bed and try to fold my body into the fridge when taking a moment away from my non-ergonomic desk arrangement (more later) on one of my every 40 minute strolls around the office (also more, sadly, later). having thankfully avoided the risk of accidentally lying down with the "please ensure your food is in date" goods it is with a happy heart that i note i must "hold your cup close to the tap to avoid splashing", and straight after usage "wash and dry immediately to avoid bacterial growth". i could go on, at length, but feel you're getting the general idea of work-place as parent.

to my mind the risk of this is that people lose all ability to think for themselves and in this environment anything that could go wrong is clearly the fault of the three (THREE?!) office staff delegated to look after this office space of 60. i knew that i was accepted when, on day 3, i was approached by a team member brandishing my own special laminated name plate, which i was instructed to put on my desk to ensure that...and at this point, to his credit, the health and safety rep did lose his thread and wonder exactly what the short-coming of not having my name on my desk would be. but he gathered himself and advised me that i'd have a 30 -40 minute introduction to the health and safety of the office. i did blanche slightly and mention that i was just a contractor and only involved in the use of a computer but apparantly it is a statutory requirement.

so i now have a new ergonomic mini-bean bag wrist rest; nice. budget please? and my chair was swapped for one less likely to cause "long term upper back issues; then what would the true cost to the government be?". i was checked for three right- angles while i sat: back to thigh, thigh to calf, elbow to forearm (nearly resulting in an acute angle, pointing-finger to tall finger). and i know how to operate a pair of skis for people in wheel chairs needing to evacuate the building down the stairs (i can look but not touch as am not formally trained) and i've walked through the emergency exit route which goes quite close to the pub, i noted.

now to anyone reading this that has spent a lot of time in the public sector you might be nodding and wondering what the point is. my background is all private sector and i have to say i have never experienced an office management to team ratio of 3 : 60. i'm not saying that this doesn't have it's advantages: one day after being here i had an active email account, computer login, access to all relevent drives, working telephone, and a desk. these things usually take a few weeks to finalise the details of in the private sector, because they join a queue of working issues. however if there is no queue then i guess it can get done quite quickly. i'm not sure what needs to be done once the new joiners have been dealt with, ergonomic bean bags distributed and office stationery updated. but there are probably some other things.

so i'm time limited today, my half hour is up, and i haven't even mentioned the children (#2 wants to live with the nanny, #1 is being less adaptable and running rings around her: more another time) but my first few weeks back into work have been surprisingly smooth and so long as i don't eat up all my earnings then we're back in the black, which is more than can be said for the government right nowl; i wonder why?.....

Friday, 12 March 2010

nannies and porn

i am employed! i have my first contract: 6-8 weeks working for a public sector client. yes, it was through an agent but i'm still chalking it up as my first role under my own banner, it is hard to get a foot through the door with public sector work so i'm hoping to enthrall them with my business process mapping and become directly contracted further down the line. the role is three days a week and starts on the gears of micro-managing the change have been engaged and life is hectic.

i'm going to try not to allow this week's dispatch to become a rant about men and their inability to truly focus on more than one thing at a time. my gut-feeling is that i will fail. something about mothers' day stirs up a resentment which is not wholly fair or appropriate given the fact that we hope to be spoilt for our general wonderfulness. but its existence in the calendar leads us to dwell on what we do, and as such just how our other halves should be in reverent awe of this one day of recognition. in my heart i know that i am loved, respected and appreciated. but i'd just like it demonstrated a leeeeetle bit more, and especially on that day, regardless of whether it is a dreadful retail-driven consumer fest of appalling proportions or not.

i want that day to somehow encapsulate and reward the rest of the year; and i want it done with heartfelt genuity, possibly with a bit of grateful weeping and an awe-struck expression as the general enormity of a mothers role strikes like a lightening rod of reality into the heart of my husband. i'd like him to prostrate himself on the bed, earlier strewn with flowers and gifts and now adorned with croissant crumbs and freshly made coffee droplets, and to say "i really don't know how you do it. i have noticed this week you've managed to organise from scratch a nanny, the posting for which hit gumtree about 4 weeks ago in preparation for this moment, to interview a shortlist and choose one then arrange for an afternoon visit to introduce the children, followed up by a trial pre-school run, both walking and car, and meeting with other mums. wrapped around this you've organised sainsburys for two weeks of groceries including the weekend guests, done work from home as well as a day of marking, prepared the house for visitors, sorted all elements of our mothers' days, arranged a painter viewing and now agreed a price, arranged a hedge cutting (three men with chainsaws in the back garden while i marked accounting papers and drank tea; was tolerable...) and i've been in london for 3 days. and my business doesn't like me to do less than a 50 hr week. you've had two sets of friends around for playdates, cooked shortbread for the pre-school sale with the children, made cards for the teacher who is leaving, and cooked all the meals for the family. the washing is up to date, the beds are all clean, you appear to have cleaned the micro-wave for the first time this millenia, and i think you might have lost some weight".

this is unlikely. i hope to get a card. unlike last year. don't go there; the deep grief-wracked sobbing may have scarred adam more than intended. the wobbly hand as i accepted daugher #1's nursery-provided offering and the fresh onslaught of uncontrollable sadness in response to her unsure look were probably over the top. however i had been bed ridden for 24 hours with a sick bug the day before and wasn't really myself, and suddenly lost all ability to cope. so i think i will get a card. and i know that men do have it hard too. i know my husband's long hours are not his fault, that work-life balance is a nod in the direction of being allowed a doctors appt once every three years, that the economy is hard and we should all be grateful for jobs and not pushing back. however bodies are not just machines to carry around a brain in; large corporates should have some sort of direct answerabilty for the health of their employees and also their partners. and not a taxable benefit sort of answerability. more a "you should go home" or "we should have more people on this team" or "we should set some groundrules for acceptable working hours" or perhaps even "isn't there an EU directive that covers this sort of thing?"

i know; i am ranting. usually my work is going to be tues, weds and friday but next week they've requested weds, thurs and fri to get ourselves set up. the ability for my husband to release thursday seems to be questionable. just how flexible is a true work-life balance?

i truly am delighted i've got a position; a chance to earn some money and to start a reputation in my own right, but it is already a gentle reminder of the balance of power: who does the sick day cover? who does the early pick up? these are genuine questions; and each family does have to work this out for themselves and cover it in some way but it is another discussion point to have to negotiate our ways through. women working is more than just about money and childcare, it is about the withdrawal of the day to day coverage of the family side of life. however, as i've said above, we appear to have found our own mary poppins.

i decided that for day 3 of childcare i didn't want to increase the nursery hours: partly because the role is only temporary and partly because i want the children to be home based on a friday, and for pre-school to continue and to have one day without pick ups and drop offs. the nanny we've found seems to be heaven sent; seek and ye shall find etc. there was a wobble point when daughter #1 pointed to the dvd cupboard and informed her that they weren't allowed to watch them all as some were adult dvds..... there was no explanation for this. to try to explain she meant anything over a PG sounded like an excuse for porn. to make a joke about it not being porn made it sound like porn, and if she hadn't thought that initially then she would definitely now think it was porn. to say nothing but stare vacantly into the cupboard was the route i found i had taken. then i shut the door and changed the subject. so she probably thinks there's a lot of porn in there. however she didn't leave; and she ticks all the formal boxes, but more importantly all the informal ones. rosy cheeks, no warts, plays games, all sorts. in fact watching her with the children when icing cakes made me doubt my own approach; i seem to rush through all activities as if there's a train about to crash through the house. and it feels like there is; so i'm hoping a nanny for the day will give the children a different approach. she won't scold or, dominate them. never give them, cause to hate her. unlike me; both mine seem to not like me very much at the moment; this may be because i'm the main job do-er hence manic mornings and rushed evening activities lie with me. not just the once has a daughter of mine been heard to mournfully cry "i want my daddy", and for me to respond under my breath " you're not the only one". then to assert that daddy would have said exactly the same. although i'm not sure; i heard them merrily chuckling in the bedroom this morning while i showered and i had to stop and wonder how. how is there time for some chuckling this morning? are they dressed, hair up, breakfasted, shoes on, cardis ready, essential toys to hand? and i know that there should be time for that laughing and at point i am honestly grateful that perhaps adam isn't thinking of all the other things that need doing but allowing the moment to be, and to enjoy it.

so then we come full circle; in mothers' day we seek a full understanding recognition of what we do, however that can only ever really come from another women. men do different things well; they simply don't see or get everything else that needs doing, that it is not rose-tinted glasses that make us expect work to be flexible, but the genuine fact that someone has to do the other things. but if their difference means that they turn the full beam of their attention on to the children, that they have the brain capacity to play strange non-sensical games involving hiding, being unside down, and repeating funny words umpteen times then i'm pleased. and i'll just have to buy myself a huge present for sunday and give my mum a call to say thank you, i know what you did for me and i know what you continue to do for me and i'm just so grateful.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

fatties, flights and infestations

yesterday evening daughter #1 cocked her head in the mirror, tossed her hair over her shoulder and said "i really like the way you've styled this mumma". this raises a few questions in my mind. firstly why has my four year old taken to talking like scarlett o'hara? the adoption of a deep mid-west accent is also manifesting itself when talking to #2 and saying "you're a cute litt'l fella, i love ya litt'l fella". we've managed to mitigate her growing love of all things american by telling her that's where the wolves live; this wasn't a purposefully xenophobic move to stop her moving stateside on the next gravy train, but more a desperate attempt to end the evening panics about wolf attacks in her bedroom. the next question is where she's picked up the phrase "styled this" as i favour a less styled, more au naturel approach to my own physical appearance. in fact when time allows more than a wave of mascara (essential to cover pig-eye-lash syndrome) and a slide of lipstick (or people come to help me thinking i'm about to pass out) the girls actually stare in awe and say things like "have you got a meeting mummy?" or " your eyes look all brocolli mummy". which we think means sparkly. or i've overdone the shading again. however the biggest question it raised is why she would feel quite so proud of the oil-based nit removing lotion that i'd just lacquered all over her head.

i'd spotted them that morning; she is very blonde and they were immediately clear to see, swarming around in a vaguely sickening way. i didn't explain what was going on in any detail, her imagination already being rather developed, and said we'd just have to give it a really special wash. i read on the pack that the lotion is oil-based and results in all the head-lice body juices osmosising out of their skins in what is probably the most inhumane culling method known to man. however in the glowing bathroom of an edinburgh house i undertook this liceicide, smothering the oil all over her head and hair. and while she posed and postulated in front of the mirror admiring her new style the lice slowly expired. i had to then comb them all out, now looking less plump and toned than previously, and squish them in a bit of loo roll. feeling very itchy all over i then did my own; NOTHING THERE i tell you...

but i know what she means about the look as to be fair it did make it look quite shiny and brown, and she no longer likes her blonde hair apparently, wanting to now live in england (like her cousin) have a bigger house (like her cousin) have a different mummy and daddy (preferably her cousin's) and have brown hair (you've guessed it).

this weekend we went to the girls' cousins' house near bath. they've only recently left edinburgh and the children have all pined for each other so this had been a much talked about, counted down to visit, the cancellation of which offered up the most powerful blackmailing tool for some time.

i flew on my own with the girls as adam had been working in london and met us there. this was quite an adventure; i'd been looking forward to it and had packed carefully ensuring plenty of snacks, nutritious and treat based; plenty of different colouring options and a dolly each. it all started well and after checking in online, being waived through security queues and securing a large windowed corner table overlooking the apron (my husband wasn't an aircadet plane spotter of the year for no reason; i know all the terms) i tucked into my corona while the children had pizza, feeling quite smug. we arrived at the gate at 7pm only to find it had been delayed for 2.5 hours. self satisfaction leaked out of every oriface, the fact that bedtime was now due and #2 was all bright eyed and red cheeked, highly wired and screeching about getting on the plane was somewhat de-calming. but we spent quite a lot of time in the kids play section of the airport which was surprisingly absorbing for #1 while #2 practised climbing up the chairs and commando rolling down the otherside caterpaulting her over excited body around the furniture. we ate the fruit squeezies. we opened the apple juices. the raisons were rejected, the dried pineapple were a success for #1 and #2 thought she liked them so much that she wouldn't bother chewing and just kept putting more in until i had to leverage out a huge wad from her cheeks.

we moved back to the gate where #1 developed another OCD trait. the imagining of fat people. she sat staring at people, saying "i'm imagining a fat person mummy". i sort of hushed her, vaguely saying" are you darling? look at the flybe plane? is it easyjet"..."i can't stop imagining fat people mummy. i keep seeing them, in my imaginnashun, all fat, moving, i can't stop them, i can't stop seeing them, it's my naughty brain". i decided to reassure her that it was okay to think about what ever she liked, that it was fine provided you didn't then talk about it as people might think you were saying they were fat and feel sad.... "yes, but when i look around here it just makes me imagine more fat people, mummy, i just imagined you were fat, sorry". at this point i gave her the emergency percy pigs and turned my attention to #2. she hugged me exhaustedly and then gazed into my face and said "i love you mummy. and i love your mole". which was nice.

by this stage speedy boarders were speedily boarding; not feeling willing to pay £60 for the three of us to speedily board we were in group 2 so i hung around the desk and #1 writhed on the floor mutttering about fat people. thankfully boarding was a distraction and we grabbed three seats near the back row (top tip: always good as usually free, near the loo, quick exit) and got out our drawing. #1 was engrossed for a while before leaning forward and groaning; i asked what the matter was and in an exasperated tone she said she'd managed to forget about fat people but had just been reminded of them. while staring pointedly at the larger lady sitting across the aisle from us. i resorted to a twirl bar each, and resolved to order myself a beer to help take the edges off the journey. as we started to take off, after admiring the pilot's voice (english) and stating that she didn't like people who say "heh low instead of hello" (scottish?) the pressure picked up and #1 pushed her hands wildly to her ears and started shouting "i'm turning into something"...and so the flight began with some more percy pigs, a pot of pringles and full fat ribena for the girls, stella for me (which ended up all over #2 lap after a drawing incident) and at 10 we arrived in bristol.

i welcomed the girls' uncle warmly to my world as he drove us home and #1 accompanied the first 5 mins of the trip with "i just burped, i don't think you heard because i kept my mouth shut. i might have said excuse me. i can't remember. pardon me. i've said it now. i wasn't sure if i'd said it before. oops i did another one. pardon me....." before passing out like a tired duracel bunny.

on the work front there are various things happening but little definite to report. i have marking work next week so there is cashflow on the horizon. the public sector role is apparently to be confirmed later today, we've had a few conversations about rate and i really do hope it is going to come off as will be flexible, foot through the door and hopefully an interesting piece of work. yesterday i met with a head at the university and he has suggested that there might be a three day a week role going at one of the more successful spinout ventures which definitely sounds interesting. my gut feeling is that i want project work rather than another permanent part time role however any opportunity will be fully investigated. this week my two full time applications for later massaging into something more part time will have been processed: i've heard nothing yet. so there are things out there and hopefully this week will firm some things up. however today has been absorbed with two major non-work issues. #2 picked up a v&d bug over the weekend and i'm currently changing nappies every hour or so and constantly asking her to sip at her drink. i'm doing this while managing a rather large hangover due to helping a friend try on wedding dresses last night and then celebrating rather heavily. the combo is hard but entirely self induced and my only solace is to eat a lot of fat based foods. so #1's imaginings may not be far off the mark i'm afraid.