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Monday, 26 November 2012

Castle Cloudberry Ballet Book Party

A few weeks ago I previewed the Castle Cloudberry Ballet Book Party on Weekend Notes. The girls spent the next few weeks trying to get their mouths round that lengthy title, and at the same time got quite excited at ballet fun on offer.

And there was a lot of fun: crafts competitions, cakes, author signing, a raffle, dance classes, and more.

It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Josie and Lori had great fun dancing around:

Lori has just tried some berry juice. It was fizzy. That was unexpected.

Waaaaaaaaah! Ninja dancer!
This is my signature walk, and it's going to make me famous.
She danced for about 15 minutes, then ran over to tell me she wanted to perform in front of "thousands of people"
Ah, an arabesque. Lovely.
And there you go. That was the Castle Cloudberry Ballet Book Party. 2 hours of lovely ballet fun!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Concerning Measurements

I have lots of recipes that have come to be favourites in our house. I'd quite like to share them. However...I'm not very good when it comes to writing down the adaptations I've made to recipes over the years. Thus, my recipes are not very helpful as the measurements are somewhat....variable. My chicken pie recipe and cooking process goes something like this:

How much chicken or turkey is left? Not much? You'll need more veg then. Maybe one or two onions. Maybe three. Carrots? One or two, you know, depending. Don't forgot a bit of oil in the pan (I use rape seed, nowadays. It's made locally). You can use butter, if it's Christmas time, because why not? Do you have mushrooms? Chuck some in after the onions and carrots have softened for a bit. Garlic? Can do, only if you fancy. I usually cook my chicken with lemon slices under the breast skin, and the cavity stuffed with lemon halves and squeezed juices. It flavours the meal, and the resulting pie. If I didn't have lemon, then sometimes I slosh a bit of white wine in at this stage and let it reduce.

Oh! Better do the sauce. Melt some butter. About 50g, and then about the same amount of flour. Cook until you get bored of waiting and it starts to look all yellowy. Stock? Yes. Some. A cube, about 400mls water. Put it in a bit at a time, and whisk constantly. It seems a bit gluey? It'll be fine. Right...cream. I think you're supposed to use double, but I always forget that when I'm at the shops and buy single. It never seems to make a difference. How much? A bit. Maybe 2 or 3 tips of the carton (yes, a "tip" is now a measure).

Check it now - does it taste nice? I think so. Needs a bit more flavour? Sprinkle in a teeny bit of Maldon salt. That'll make you feel better. The flavours develop as it cooks.

Rip up the chicken. Oh. There's more than I thought. Meh. It'll be fine. Chuck it in with the veg, and then combine with the sauce. Tip it all into a ceramic oven dish.

Pastry. Flour, lard...you're having a laugh, right? Ready-rolled, all the way. And I forgot to take it out the fridge for its appointed time. Never seems to make a difference. Lay it on top, and then use the scraps to make a pretty picture to go on top. I like to do a flower. Sometimes I do a snowman.

Oven. Temperature? Yes. It is hot. Say, 180ish? Oh, don't forget to brush the pastry with milk and egg. Better take it out the oven and do it

And that is my recipe and the cooking process I regularly undertake for chicken pie. I do forget all those things, and I do measure that haphazardly.
However, I'm reliably informed, by Josie boasting to her friends and my family requesting repeat creations, that it's consistently delicious.

Oh! Forgot! You put frozen peas in when you put the chicken in with the veg. You cannot forget the peas.

Anyway. Where was I? Delicious. Apparently. I can only assume it's really, really difficult to mess up chicken pie.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

We Made Them Out of Fluff

Parenting is quite hard, and yet at the same time it simply flows along, from day to day.

You don't need to work hard to let the days pass. They just do. Although sometimes they do feel like very hard work.

Before you know it, you have fully formed people, who interact with each other without recourse to you, except the occasional yell of "Mummy!" when they can't reconcile their own issues.

They are endlessly fascinating to eavesdrop upon, even if eavesdropping is a behaviour one shouldn't role-model for one's children.

One of the most special  parts of being a parent of siblings is when they stop needing you for their interactions with each other. For many years, their conversations have been moderated, and facilitated, and to some extent, created, by one or other parents.

Then, that starts to stop. They start to engage each other, like proper little humans, in proper little conversations.

Occasionally, although I know I shouldn't really, I hover on my way past their bedroom door and have a sneaky listen. Their conversations are so sweet, and a little odd. Here's a sample that I observed tonight:

Lori: Where do you do a World War?
Josie: All around the world.
Lori: No, I think you'd just do it in random places
Josie: No, you wouldn't do it in random places, I don't think. What kind of random places?
Lori: Just in the middle of the road. Places like that.
Josie: I don't think so. I think in fields maybe.
Lori: I will ask Mummy.
Josie and Lori: Muuuuuuummy!

Aaaaaaand I'm back. I'm glad they're growing into proper little people, but it is also quite nice to still be needed. Moments like that make all the hard stuff worthwhile.

And at moments like that, Andrew and I turn to each with these words: We made them out of fluff. It's the kind of thing that the child of a teddy bear would say, I suppose.

But we did: adorably sweet, lovely fluff. As cute as can be to us, their parents, the ones that will always love them more than they can possibly imagine.

"Out of fluff" we will say to each other, knowingly, when we are old, and they have their own children, their first job, or a broken heart.



Monday, 19 November 2012

The Fairy Swimming Pool

As if to illustrate the point I made in Quantum Theory, I heard the following sound issue from the bathroom last night:

Lori: Nooooo! Josie! Don't let the water out. I still need to make the fairy swimming pool.

Intrigued, I wandered through to the bathroom to mediate this burgeoning dispute.

Lori was lying on her back in an ever-reducing pool of water, splashing it on to her tummy to fill the "fairy swimming pool".

Yes, you've guessed it, her tummy button now functions as a place for her imaginary fairy friends to have a refreshing dip.

Now that was...unpredictable.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Votes for Everyone?

While I'm not particularly enamoured with the idea of prisoners getting to vote, I think that there's a better way to debate it than for Conservative politicians to go on TV and laugh in the face of those who want to have a genuine discussion about the following:

If Britain flouts the European Court of Human Rights' ruling on prisoner votes, on what grounds can we criticise other countries who also flout its rulings and the associated European Convention on Human Rights?

For instance, you could argue that if Ireland had acted more quickly on the European Court's ruling on its laws concerning abortion, then Savita Halappanavar might not be dead.

If the UK is free to pick and choose which rulings it follows, then why on earth will other countries not point to our example and do the same?

Mark my words, those other countries will not be picking issues to ignore that people find morally understandable, like prisoners voting. They'll be picking issues to ignore rulings on like abortion, institutional homophobia and racism, and worse.

The European Court was set up for good reasons, and its rulings should not be ignored by political parties simply because "the people" are repulsed by an idea, and you fear it will harm your ratings as the tabloid press seize on the issue and attack.

Ignoring the European Court of Human Rights is the first step backward into another era, and it should be resisted at all costs. Even if that cost is giving some of our prisoners the vote.


Saturday, 17 November 2012

Vampires and Werewolves...Oh My!

I've just written a Weekend Notes article about Twilight, and how the vampires and werewolves are actually completely extraneous to the plot, in the sense that if Stephanie Meyers were a better writer she could have written a teenage love story, and not needed to put sparkly vampires and clich├ęd ethnic minority werewolves in it.

It's a bit of a departure from my normal type of articles, so we'll wait and see whether 'tis approved by the editors.

In the meantime, I am going to bed, because my throat is scratchy, my nose keeps on sneezing, and I sense that some kind of illness must be creeping up on me. I find that the best way to stave these things off is to sleep, a lot, which is also good because I really like sleeping.

"See you morning!" as my younger daughter used to say from inside her cot.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Quantum Theory

I was reading a book about the world's greatest ideas, and I came across this passage:

"Quantum theory is based on the discovery that at the very smallest scales, smaller than atoms, things behave very differently. The classical rules of physics, the rules that govern everything from how an ant crawls to how the universe expands, just don't work at the sub-atomic scale, it seems. In classical physics, things behave according to a strict pattern of cause and effect. Quantum theory...is all about probabilities. It means you can never say where something is...you can only say where it probably is. It's position is fixed only when you observe it."

Either this is wrong, or my children are sub-atomic particles governed by quantum theory, because this describes *exactly* the state of unpredictable chaos that occurs when they have a bath together and I shut the bathroom door.


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Drama in the Department Store

My girls have done a lot of funny things over the years. Lots of them seem to have happened in John Lewis, because that is apparently how middle-class I have become.

 They asked me to tell the "Lori plays Hide and Seek in John Lewis" story on the way to school today, so I decided to write it down.

I started about 30 minutes ago.

It's now done.

That was refreshingly different to the book I am working on for Josie!


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The times they are a'changin'

I was on an call at work yesterday, when a colleague who had been presenting a paper announced:

"Please excuse me for a minute. I'm looking after my son, and he just fell over."

It made me quite happy. Not because a child was potentially injured, you understand. That would be completely weird. In fact, more than weird. But it was fine, the child was okay.

What made me happy was the person speaking, and the response from another person on the call, "Don't worry, we've all been there."

It really made me think about how much positive change there has been in the workplace, even since I got my first graduate job ten years ago. Even when I started, the above scenario would have been very different.

Work was still somewhere you "went", and it was all about being there. Presenteeism was rewarded, which  led to appalling work-life balances and subsequent impact on relationships and families. Socialising with team was expected, further reducing time spent at home, and if you didn't (like me) it could have a negative impact on your career. Alternative arrangements were viewed with suspicion. Some of us had laptops, but working from home was viewed by managers as though the employee was having a skive.

This was bad for people, bad for families, and bad for the organisation. Driving stressed employees, unhappy with their family life, to deliver quantity over quality is not a recipe for success.

However, things slowly changed.

I started to lead my own team. Half of the worked in London, and travel budgets were tight. Managing from a distance, when half the team is with you, has potential pitfalls. The distant team can feel isolated, invisible, and resentments can build, especially if the distant manager focuses on petty things like when people leave the office, or why someone wasn't on the phone.

My leadership style was to establish relationships based on trust, in which my basic assumption was that my team were adults who could be trusted. They had Service Level Agreements with our customers, and if they met them, then I didn't really care that on an individual day Person A took a longer lunch hour..

My managers did not share the same view, and I had a constant battle to protect my team from what I perceived to be old-fashioned and unrealistic attitudes.

For example: I had an absolutely excellent team member, who I was coaching to become my deputy in London. She was a single parent. Occasionally, her childcare fell through, or she got a call from nursery to say her son was sick. I could see quite clearly that in those circumstances she had absolutely no other option but to leave work. Absolutely none. Not negotiable. I could also see quite clearly that there were plenty of occasions that she had stayed late to finish off some work.

My manager would call me (from London - I was also being managed remotely) to ask me why my team member had left the office at 15:00.

I would ask why they wanted to know.

Was there a specific piece of work they had asked her to complete? "No".

Had one of our development customers called with a query? "No".

Then why did it matter that she'd left at 15:00? "Because it sets a bad example for other employees."

I explained that there was no alternative. No childcare. Circumstances beyond our control. Either she goes home with my blessing, or she goes off sick or takes annual leave. And those last two were not going to happen to my team. And further, in my view, it set a great example to the team. Their employer would allow them to do their job, but not at the expense of their family life. What's wrong with that as an example?

The overwhelming impression I got from that management team was that they fundamentally could not understand that the relationship with an employee is one of give and take. Every person on my team went above and beyond what was written in their contract on multiple occasions. My manager didn't call me to tell me when that happened, did they? They didn't call me to ask why one of my team had only had a half-hour lunch, or had stayed until 18:30 three nights that week. They didn't give anything like that recognition to their employees, and yet, they expected to be able to reply to employee's occasional, reasonable needs with outraged inflexibility. Come in at 09:00, go at 17:00 unless you have specifically requested a contract change.

"Be" at work. "Go" to work.

I sighed. My team member then asked if she could apply for remote access and a laptop, so that she could keep up with work when had to take a day off if her son was ill. Bless her. She was very conscientous. She cared about doing her job well. And yet, she was treated by managers as though she couldn't be trusted. They acted as though every single employee was trying to do as little as possible.This had a huge impact on the effectiveness of performance management in the organisation.

That team member was one of the most talented people who've ever worked for me, and my managers treated her as though she was an under-performer. Which made it impossible to actually manage the under-performers effectively.

So, why was I happy at the call today, when the concerned Dad popped off for a minute to check his little boy was okay, and someone replied that "we've all been there?"

Because, all of a sudden, I realised things had changed so much. It showed how much work is now not somewhere you go.Instead, it's something you do. And you can do it in the office, or on the train, or when you're looking after your children.

The boundaries of the office are no longer defined by the bricks and mortar of the buildings.

More and more you will be measured against your achievements not against the time you spend in a building. You will be able to work from home and not have managers think you're having "a skive". You will be able to pick up your child from swimming at 16:30 and still be considered serious about your career. You will be able to look after your parents when they are ill and still be trusted with key projects and considered a reliable member of the team.

It wasn't like that when I started work, but it almost is now. I wondered what else has changed that I just haven't quite noticed yet, and what other changes will be enabled by advancing technology.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Where have all the pronouns gone?


I noticed at work today that status updates on our internal social networking site are split about 50/50 into two categories:

People who use pronouns in their updates and people who display reduced pronounage.

e.g (reduced pronoun usage) Attended a Women in Business event at Gogar yesterday and made lots of new contacts, all interested in Focused Women, mobile banking app and more.

What’s that about? Why do  some people include pronouns and some people don't?

Perhaps there is some element of Twitterage, where people who use Twitter a lot are held to a certain number of characters and pronouns are the first to go, but we don’t have a character limit, and it’s not just (even) the ones that use Twitter that do it. 

If they’re not using Twitter, then they are probably texting people, and again, pronouns are right out. Character limits, little keyboards, a tendency to text on the move, all things add up to fewer pronouns.

And if they’re not texting, then they’re probably emailing. Some emails I receive are also pronoun-stripped.

I think that all it is probably indicative of is that people are very busy, but I find it impersonal and yet at the same time more direct. Even before you read the little message that tells you it comes from Twitter, you can always tell on Facebook which status updates are Twitter-fed.

It reminds me of a CV, where you don’t really use I, but talk about yourself in that weird CV-way*
e.g. “A remarkable and flexible limbo dancer who has worked with the best in her field at corporate and cultural events.”

You might be talking about how an event made you feel but because there’s no association with I, you, or me, it removes the personal connection. You might as well be reading instructions from a microwave meal:

Pierce film. Place in microwave for 1 minute. Remove film and stir.

It certainly gets to the point quickly, I suppose.

Glib points aside, I can’t quite put my finger on what I find slightly “off” about status updates with no pronouns. I don’t notice in texts or Twitter. I do notice when I see them on Facebook and G+.
                                                                                                   
I think perhaps it’s because on G+ and Facebook (and my internal work one) I expect status updates to be the start of a conversation, but these ones don’t sound like that. That’s just a random suggestion though – actually no idea why. Thoughts welcome.

*I have changed the words from my CV, because obviously if this is how I describe myself on my CV, that would be weird.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Banned!

I think the strangest thing I've ever been banned from doing was wearing Dewberry perfume.

There was a craze for it for a while. We all used to go through to Dundee and buy stuff from The Body Shop, after we'd been to Miss Selfridge next door. It came in glass bottles, with glass sticks to put it on. They chinked very satisfyingly, and you could go back and get them refilled.

It had a very distinctive and overpowering smell. One day, the Home Economics teacher just flipped out. Apparently it gave her headaches. So, we had to stop wearing it. Probably for the best.

I remember it fondly because it's one of my only brushes with synesthesia. To me, it always sort of smells purple.

Ah, Dewberry, I miss you and your purple haze.

But I still don't know what a dewberry really smells like, or really what one is.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Give your alcohol away. Rewards aplenty shall come.

Today I was at a Women in Business event at Gogarburn. It was hosted by our corporate banking team and was a networking evening with lots of women business owners (both customers and non-customers). They're hoping it will be the start of a more regular networking evening, and I was invited because of my work in the Focused Women Network, although I spent a lot of the evening talking about my day job in Technology. They all wanted to know more about the mobile app - how it worked, was it secure, and I also snuck in the story of its creation from within Technology.

I met some interesting people, including:
Ann, a bookkeeper, who gave me some advice about the charity we are setting up for Broughton Primary School
Eliane, a public relations student from Cameroon, there to recruit women for her research.
Jojo, a stand-up comedienne who married her ex-husband's brother, and is now Auntie to her own children.
Lauren, a make-up artist who offered a make-up lesson as star-prize of the raffle, and who offered me advice on false eye-lashes for my burlesque show.

Unfortunately, they hadn't bought enough books of raffle tickets, so early on in the evening I offered to give Anne a bottle of wine (if I won it), because I don't drink it.

After much chatting, eating, listening, and swapping of cards, the end of the evening arrived and the raffle was drawn.

First prize out - a bottle of wine. Winner? Me. So, I duly passed on the wine to Ann.
Last prize out - make-up lesson. Winner? Meeeeeeeee!

Normally, winning two prizes, I would have felt duty-bound to give the second one back. And I really quite wanted the luxury of a make-up lesson so I could perfect my burlesque eyelashes.

But it was okay. I had already given raffle prize number one away! Cue burlesque make-up lesson at the end of November, just in time for my show.

By the way, I am inordinately lucky at raffles, much to my brother's chagrin when we were kids. It all started when I was 7 with a toast rack at a farm fair.

This time, there was a full book of tickets in the draw, 6 prizes, and I won a third of them. That's a good average.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Not ANOTHER person on the Internet who is wrong.


I just got into a bit of a rage at an article I read on the internet. This is becoming a bad habit.

To sum it up: it was a woman complaining about the cost of childcare. Fair enough, you’d think, but no. Instead of a straight-out complaint about child-care, it was actually a rant about nurseries being staffed with the working-class, and the poor and shoddy values of Eastern European au pairs. In short, it was totally unpleasant and bizarre.

For example: the very worst thing about day care she could come up with was that she had to spend hours undoing the damage done by “day-care lingo”. Was it swearing? Was it abuse of siblings? No. It was calling a loo a toilet, and lunch dinner. The other thing? They didn’t have a naughty step, and instead told children what the consequences of their naughty behaviour was for staff. Apparently that’s another sign of the imminent collapse of Western culture. No naughty step? Ill discipline rages unchecked.

One thing I did notice was that the tone of this article was starting to sound familiar. She seemed intelligent, but she was peddling a casual snobbishness that seemed designed to show how “well-bred” she was (“look at me, I know the upper middle-classes call it a loo”), and a focus on appearance and class that bordered on bullying (apparently it was relevant that said day-care workers were overweight girls).

It got worse, as she moved on to racist slurs on her former au pairs.

She listed the outrageous actions of a whole load of Eastern European au pairs whose nationality she couldn’t even quite remember ("Slovakian, or was it Slovenian"). She could not even start on names. 

Forget welcoming an au pair in as part of your family, on a valuable cultural exchange where you act as surrogate parents. This is BritEngland, so they’re just cheap servants under another name, and any support they might need in learning how to care for your children is apparently not your remit.

I was about to link it here, and then I glanced down at the footer of the site.

This is Money – it’s part of The Daily Fail group! How could I be so stupid? I was tricked! They got me again!

Every article they are involved with should come with a disclaimer.

Caution: Might incite anyone with a modicum of intelligence and decency to have dangerously high blood pressure.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

A Successful Woman?

The past two weeks have felt like I've been running downhill, very fast. You know that feeling, when you're just on the edge of falling over, and the only thing you can do is run faster, and hope?

I'm usually quite a busy person - full-time job, combined with family life with 2 children, combined with other commitments = little spare time. In the past couple of weeks, it's gone off the chart. This has been thanks to me stepping into the role of Chair of RBS's Focused Women Network in Scotland. Unexpectedly, I've been inundated with invites to speak, or to attend events, or simply to discuss what the Network can do for its members. It's been a wee bit hectic.

The first event was the reason for the title of the blog. I was asked to speak at Gender Equality Week at St. Andrews University, under the tag of "A Successful Woman in Business". That was scary. But it was also brilliant, and exciting, and rewarding. The questions were interesting and challenging, and I went back to Edinburgh thinking furiously about how we could work more closely with universities in future. 

More followed: an evening reception at the Scottish Parliament for Women in Business. Lots of contacts made, requests for me to speak with other organisations and share our experience of building a network that seeks to attract, retain and develop talented women to benefit the organisation. 

Then it was Edinburgh University Business School to listen to Lady Susan Rice talk about Professionalism in Banking and then network afterwards. This didn't go quite so smoothly.

 I had a dance class later that evening, so I had all my dance stuff in my laptop bag (no laptop) and I had put my trainers on to walk to the Business School, with the intention of changing back into my heels when I got to the School. What follows is an "exchange" with Andrew, by text, which illustrates exactly how that didn't go to plan:

 

In the end, I kept my trainers on, and nobody seemed to care or notice. 

Lesson? Confidence is all you need. 

Your perceived shortfalls are only huge in your head, and if you don't draw attention to them, then chances are no-one else will even notice them. And if you take radical action to disguise them (let's call the Hot Pants Option) then you're likely to make a ridiculous, and unnecessary spectacle of yourself.

For the record, I didn't go with Hot Pants Option, I just pretended I had my lovely, shiny shoes on and faked a confidence I didn't feel inside.

Result? Director of Corporate Banking now wants to talk about how I can help his business with their diversity agenda. And that is a result. 

Friday, 2 November 2012

Another Daily Fail

Today, in a well-earned lunch break, I read an article on the Daily Mail internet site about the supposedly maverick and independent Conservative MPs from the 2010 intake.

Why? You might ask. Why did you subject yourself to the Daily Mail? You would be right to ask. I can only say, in an anguished wail: “I just don’t know. There was a link to it in a morning briefing email. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and now I don’t know how to un-read it!”

It is so depressing that this is one of the most read newspaper sites in the whole world. Their casual bullying of anyone who doesn't fit in with their stereotype of “normal” and “British” and “traditional” is just appalling. If it wasn't so horrible, the facile and baseless commentary from (presumably) educated adults who should know better would be funny. But people take this tosh to heart. So it’s not funny, it’s sickening.

The article was  ostensibly praising and supporting these MPs but there were so many back-handed and offensive slights based on the physical and personal characteristics of the MPs being “complimented”.

Pity “bespectacled Mark Reckless” who “has a computer geek’s voice”. Oh, come on. What does that mean? A “computer geek’s voice” isn’t even a thing. I’m not even sure computers are a thing anymore.

The article declined to elaborate any more on what this comprehensive assessment of the timbre of his voice actually meant, but it did state that he was “physically awkward” and that he was “previously known best for being a late-night tippler”.

I’m therefore assuming that having a “computer geek’s voice” means “this MP sounds like Steve Jobs and therefore could potentially be in charge of a company so successful it has more money than most small countries”. Successful business people should now include this on their CV as shorthand for success and authority:

“As I speak with a computer geek’s voice, I am therefore adept at coming up with new ideas,  floating companies for public listings, and making myself the youngest self-made billionaire on the planet.”

Or could it mean that the Daily Mail is characterising people who work in technology as having poor people skills, not interested in sports, and borderline alcoholics? Or is this some kind of snobbish shorthand that implies he didn't go to Eton, because who would ever get into technology after having a private school education. Perish the thought.

I know not. We will never learn how the Daily Mail imagines a “computer geek” speaks, nor what kind of insult they were intending with it.

The article went on. Two female MPs were described in the context of their marital status and motherhood:

“[Tracey Crouch] lives for politics (she has yet to find a husband)”
“Sarah Wollaston, 50, another rebel, is a doctor and mother of three”

So, when Tracy Crouch does find this elusive male, he will immediately complete her life and she will step away from the men’s world of politics? Seriously? WTF?

And why is Sarah Wollaston specifically singled out as a mother of three? Do none of the men have children?

I could go on, but I’m now so disillusioned with the state of the press that I actually want to vomit. I should have stopped at the picture entitled "Computer-geeky Mark Reckless".

I can only say, please don’t ever make the mistake I did. If anyone ever sends you a link to a Daily Mail article, even if it is to share in their righteous fury, please don’t click on it. Please don’t help validate their bigoted bile by increasing their page views. And if nothing else, do it for your own sanity. I wish I had followed my own advice.