Archive for the ‘office life’ Tag

Changes

WP_000104This is the desk I sit at when I am working the day job.

In a couple of months, we shall be moving offices. We’ll all have desks half the size of our current ones, in the new building, and there is very little storage space. This means we have to cull the paperwork.

I like pieces of paper. They serve as a physical reminder to do something. As long as the bit of paper is sitting there, every time I see it, it reminds me I have to do something with it. My current method of dealing with emails is to print off the email and put it in my ‘in’ tray. When I’ve dealt with the email, I throw the bit of paper away. Otherwise, the email is likely to get lost in midst of the hundreds of other emails in my in box, and not dealt with.

But I will have to develop new methods of working. All of this paperwork will have to go, since there will be no room for it in the new building. I am not a fan of change. I am comfortable with routine. But routines will have to change. Everything will be different in the new building. I am going to have to cull all the paperwork, and get used to keeping track of files and reminders electronically.

This is a metaphor for life. I carry around a lot of unnecessary baggage in my psyche. Not because this is good for me, but because I’m used to having it there, and familiarity and routine are reassuring.

Change of any kind I find terrifying. But sometimes change has to happen. We have to throw away the superfluous pieces of paper, and rearrange our lives. And sometimes this only gets done if something or someone forces us to do it.

This is the real reason things need to change – because I fear it. After all, the best way of dealing with one’s fears is to face them head on.

It’s time to make some changes.

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Hibernation

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

My dislike of January is well known – I do a post like this about this time every year.

I don’t like the cold. I seem to have the blood of a lizard. And I really don’t like snow. When you can sit at home all day by the fire, and don’t have to be anyplace, it probably looks pretty, but when you have to go to work in it – particularly on public transport – it’s a pain in the backside. At least in London our snow fall is generally fairly short lived. If I liked snow I’d still be living in Canada, where it covers the ground for nearly six months of the year.

I spend January bundled up in thick jumpers and thermal vests and socks, shivering on the station platform waiting for a delayed train, arguing with my office mates about how hot we can have the central heating (I want it at ‘tropical’ mode – they don’t), and generally feeling tired and run down. I seem to go into a kind of hibernation. Getting out of bed in the morning is a supreme effort and I drag through each day feeling half asleep, not being able to focus my brain on anything. Moving becomes an effort. I don’t go to the gym, I don’t do much writing, and I spend as much time as possible in bed. But it doesn’t really matter because no matter how much or little sleep I get, I still struggle to stay awake during the day. And I crave sugar and carbs even more than usual, because I feel I need the energy.

When I’m not at work, I spend my time playing video games, because they don’t require too much mental energy and distract me from how tired I’m feeling. Now, I am aware of my weaknesses. I would be quite capable of spending all day, every day playing video games if I didn’t have to go to work. And there are many weekends in January when I do pretty much do that, leaving the sofa only to use the bathroom, go to bed, or get myself more chocolate. But the price you pay for being a grown-up is having to do stuff you don’t really want to do a lot of the time, like go to work every day.

So far I’ve not had a terribly productive January. I’ve eaten a lot of biscuits, and made progress in ‘Dragon Age’, but not done much else. Come to think of it, I was in the same situation last year.

Roll on Spring, when I can wake up and emerge from my hibernation…

Imaginary Places

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Location is crucial to a novel. For crime fiction, which is a very crowded market, it’s almost as important as plot and characterisation. There’s a serial killer loose? We need to know where. Is s/he pounding the streets of East End London, or moving among the movie star wannabes in Los Angeles? Swedish crime novels are the Hot New Thing at the moment, and I’m sure that part of the appeal is the Otherness of Sweden – a country that most people haven’t visited, and its uniqueness – both in climate and the attitude of the population – make it a fascinating backdrop.

Of course, the location of a novel can only pull your readers in if it feels like a real place. If you’re going to write about a real place, you need to convince readers who’ve actually been there. If I write about a real place in my stories, it’s generally London, or parts of London that I know pretty well. But that’s because I’m rather lazy about the research. If I have to set a story in a place I don’t know very well, I’ll create a fictitious place, rather than research a place I’ve never been to.

For SUFFER THE CHILDREN, I made up a fictitious town in Surrey, called Stanbridge. The town itself doesn’t exist, but it’s based on a combination of other Surrey towns, and I hope it comes across as a real place in the novel. For DEATH SCENE I used real-life locations – the book is set in and around London and Sutton. I wanted Shara to have a real-life grounding, a chronological time line in an actual place. It does mean that I have to be careful with location, as when you use a real place you have to respect the features that are actually there. If you throw in an abandoned warehouse on a street that actually exists and is exclusively a residential area, the residents might feel the need to correct you.

The current work in progress – the horror novel – is set partly in the Forest of Dean and partly in London. I don’t know the Forest of Dean all that well, but it’s a vast ancient forest and I don’t think anyone knows every tree intimately.  However, it became necessary to take my characters to a town on the outskirts of the Forest of Dean. It had to be a small, old town.  Since I don’t know the area all that well I thought I would just make up a town. After playing around with a few letter combinations the name Lydney came to mind, and seemed to work.

Earlier this week I discovered there actually is a town called Lydney – and it’s a small town on the outskirts of the Forest of Dean. I found it while looking someone up on the database during the day job. One of my committee members actually lives there, so I suspect this knowledge had been lodged in my brain for a while, and my brain threw out this information when a request for the name of a town in the Forest of Dean came to light.

The only problem is, having never been to Lydney I have no idea if my Lydney bears any resemblance to the real life one. And because I really don’t want irate Lydney townspeople writing me to protest what I’m doing to their town – and not just taking extreme liberties with the layout – I think I need to change the name. I’d far rather use a fictitious town. So I’m going to have to come up with another name for my fictional little town in the Forest of Dean.

I’d be interested to hear other writers’ views on this. Do you prefer fictional locations for your settings, or real ones?

High Tech

About 18 months ago, we got a new franking machine in the office Post Room. Apparently the old one was so outdated it was no longer supported, so we were given a new one. An all singing, all dancing one, that is much more high tech than the old one.

With the old franking machine, we all understood how it worked. You weighed your piece of post, told the machine where the item was going, and the machine came back with a sum. You input the sum into the franking machine, ran the piece of post through it and it came out with the right postage printed on it. Easy.

The new machine does all this for you. All you have to do – allegedly – is put the post on the scales, the machine will calibrate the weight and size of the item, and then you run the item through the machine and it prints the right amount of postage on it.

Or this is the theory. In practice, it’s a bit more complicated than that, and you have to know which buttons to push. Push the wrong ones, or in the wrong order, and it doesn’t work. And sometimes the scales decide to not talk to the machine and you can get nothing out of it. Generally whenever I go to the post room to mail something, there are at least two people huddled over the franking machine, trying to figure out how to get it to do what they want it to do.

I think what this reflects is that the cleverer technology gets, the more complicated it gets, and the more we rely on it. This is a consequence of modern life. When the power goes out in the office – and it occasionally does – no one can do anything. All work is on the computer, and even the phones go down because they are computerised. We can’t even do any filing, because we’re working towards all electronic storage these days.

I’m not necessarily saying this is a bad thing. I’m addicted to the Internet and for the weeks I was without it, after moving, I was completely lost. But the more complicated our technology gets, the more often it goes wrong and the more stressful our lives get.

I’m not criticising the technology. I couldn’t be without my mobile phone, my e-reader and especially my NetBook. But they all need charging on a regular basis, and they can all go wrong. And when they do, my life is thrown into disarray.

In the 1950s, the future was portrayed as being a utopia with so many wonderful time-saving gadgets, we’d all have a lot more leisure time. How different the reality. The more time saving gadgets we have, the busier our lives become.

I couldn’t live my life without electricity. And I think that’s probably not a good thing. But that’s the way it is. When the apocalypse comes, I don’t think I want to be one of the survivors. Let someone else be responsible for the survival of the human race. Given the choice, I think I’d rather die with the power supply.

Stressed

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Generally I don’t post when I’m stressed. When I’m stressed I get grumpy, and I don’t want my blog posts to turn into long whinges. However, I am doing so today for reasons I hope will become clear later.

I’ve had a couple of holidays this summer, which were not stressful in themselves, but coming back to work after time away always makes me regret going away in the first place – the work piles up when I’m gone, and suddenly there isn’t enough time to do everything.

I seem to have been struck by a series of ailments over the last few weeks – nothing serious or long lasting, but it has meant I’ve spent altogether too much time sitting in hospital waiting rooms.

We are in the process of buying and selling property, which is a long, drawn out and stressful process. I’m not going to say too much about this at this stage, because English property law being what it is, nothing is set before exchange, anything can go wrong – and frequently does – before that stage, and so it’s best not to assume it’s actually going to happen until the keys are in your hand. However, the process involves dealing with estate agents and solicitors, which is stressful enough without all the other stuff going on.

Most crucially, though, I am still wrestling with the WIP. I am mired in the “my writing is rubbish” stage, believing the whole thing needs dismantling and putting back together, and I am not sure where to start.

However, I am starting to think that life stress is connected to writing stress and vice versa. When the writing is going well I am in a much better frame of mind and can pretty much handle whatever life throws at me. When it’s not going well, suddenly all kinds of other hassle creeps in – notably, things that wouldn’t be bothering me quite so much if the writing was going well. I started today with an early morning writing session that didn’t go at all well – I spent much of that hour staring at the page thinking what I had written was complete rubbish. Hence, I didn’t have a good day at work, either. When I start the day with a good writing session, the day job is much easier to handle.

So the only stress in my life I should actually be focusing on is my troublesome WIP. If I can kick that into submission, everything else should be a breeze. Even the house move…

Posh Frocks

I’m really not much of a glamour girl – it’s all a bit too ‘high maintenance’ for my liking.

For the last seven years, though, one of the responsibilities I’ve had in my day job at the medical college has been to organise the bi-annual formal dinner for the New Fellows. This is a black-tie affair in a five-star London hotel. Hence, twice a year it is necessary for me to get into a ‘Posh Frock’.

I’ve come to the conclusion that these women that look fantastically glamorous all the time don’t actually do anything at all – they just sashay around looking gorgeous. When I try and get all glammed up, it really doesn’t work out well. Consequently, though I’ve gone through a few posh frocks over the last seven years, I don’t have a wardrobe full of them, which more glamorous women might have acquired.

A few years ago I had a lilac dress full of sequins. I bought a pair of spangly sandals with kitten heels to go with it (another point – me and fancy shoes don’t get on either, but more of that later). Every time I wore the dress, I managed to get the hem of it stuck in the spangles of the shoes, and the thing was full of loose threads. I also kept losing the sequins. Once, I managed to put the heel of my shoe through the chiffon inside lining. But this was hidden under the main layer of the dress, so you couldn’t see the rip.

I did manage to get about four or five wearings out of this dress, but when I had my wardrobe detox a couple of years ago with the stylist, she made me get rid of it. In fact she looked faintly horrified when she pulled it out of my wardrobe. I’m still not exactly sure what was wrong with it – apart from the fact that lilac is apparently not my colour.

Armed with new style knowledge, I went and got another dress for the next dinner. This was a midnight blue long number with Greek-like folds. I had been told this was one of my colours, and I thought the dress looked nice. It was quite expensive, too – first time I’ve ever paid three figures for an item of clothing. I wore it twice that winter – once to the dinner, and once to the formal dinner dance that Hubby’s scuba diving club put on every Christmas. We have to travel by public transport into central London for the latter. On the escalator down to the underground, the long dress got caught in the escalator mechanism, and fearing being pulled into the machinery I had to yank it out hard to free myself. Miraculously the dress didn’t rip – synthetic fabric is hardy stuff – but it was all pulled out of shape and ended up with a fair bit of black oil all over it.

I objected to paying over £100 for a dress I only got two uses out of so I was determined to wear it again. My mother in law managed to work miracles with white spirit and got the oil out of it, but nothing could be done about the rather mis-shapen hem line. As it happens I now can’t fit into this dress – it’s a size 12. I’m a size 14 nowadays and I can no longer get the damn thing zipped up. So I think I have to say goodbye to it, wonky hemline and all.

My latest posh frock is a black and white silk prom dress that I bought for a friend’s birthday party last year (she had a ’60s glam’ theme). Then I wore it to the dive club dinner last year. We had to take the train into London, as usual, to get to the venue. On my way to the train station I fell over because I was having trouble walking in the shoes, and now it has a couple of black marks on it. I deliberately chose shoes I thought I could walk in, because I hate having to take a bag full of shoes to change into when I’m going out of an evening. Clearly I was wrong. Is it too much to ask that someone invent girl’s shoes that it’s actually possible to walk in? And just how are you supposed to keep these damn dresses clean until the end of the evening? If I don’t fall in the mud, I end up spilling my dinner down them.

We’ve had a reshuffle of responsibilities at work and the organising of the dinner has now passed to someone else, so hopefully I won’t have to keep investing in posh frocks. Just as well, really. Evidently staying neat and clean of an evening is completely beyond me. I guess I’m just not a ‘posh frock’ kind of girl.

By ‘Eck It’s Parky…

…as my Lancashire grandmother might have said.

Once more London is struggling to cope with heavy snowfall. And this year it’s even earlier than usual – we’ve not had snow before Christmas here in over 30 years.

My friends and relatives in Canada are laughing a bit at the way London struggles when it snows. They cope fine with the snow, whereas here everything seems to shut down at the first sign of snow. However, most of Canada is buried under snow for nearly six months of the year. They cope because they have to, and they’re used to it. They have snow ploughs and snow boots and chains on the tyres of their cars to grip the ice. Shovelling one’s driveway is on the chores list of every Canadian household.

We don’t have such things in London. I can actually see the argument that if we get snow once every twenty years, is it really worth a council spending a huge amount of money – money that could go towards more urgent things – on a snow plough?

Living in Canada, though, taught me how to dress in the snow. This week I’ve been trudging to work in long johns, hiking pants, thermal socks and hiking boots, to get me through the ice and the slush and the snow. All these things come off when I get to work – I keep indoor shoes and a pair of work trousers in my desk drawer. My colleagues laugh at me, but I feel prepared. I seem to feel the cold more than most people do. With all these layers, at least I am staying warm.

I’ve also been leaving the house really early, expecting train delays but so far this week – and I am reluctant to declare this, in case I’m tempting providence – my journey has been relatively delay-free. Not so for my colleagues, though. It seems those who come from the North of London are having the most problems.

But it’s been this way for the last three winters. So is this the sign of winters to come and London should invest in snow ploughs? Not according to Phillip Eden of the Royal Meteorological Society in this article here from the BBC website. He says we’re just following an established pattern, and we can expect a run of mild winters from next year.

Here’s hoping he’s right. In the meantime, I’ve got another three early mornings of struggling in to work in the snow, and then I have ten days of lie-ins over the holiday period.

I don’t really mind if the snow sticks around after Christmas. Hanging around the house, with hubby and the cats, working on my WIP and blasting zombies on the Nintendo Wii, sounds like a pretty good way of spending the holidays to me.

Nothing To Do, Nowhere to Be – For Once

I’m having a busy old time at the moment. The bi-annual formal dinner I organise for work is on Friday, and the run-up to it is always hectic. The week after that, we’re off to Canada. As we know so many people there, I’ve been firing off emails to various people to find out who’s free to meet up with us and when as part of the trip organisation.

Hubby has spent the best part of the last two weeks working abroad, and when he comes back he’ll have to pack his suitcase for Canada. In fact, I think sitting at the airport waiting for the plane will be the first chance I get to have an extended conversation with him in three weeks. But because he’s not been here, I’ve also had to run errands on his behalf. Taking his suits to the dry cleaners so he has something to wear to the office when he’s back. Sorting out the tax disk for his car, which expires while we’re away. Booking an appointment for a hair cut for him, so he can get it done in the day or so he’s in the UK between flights.

And I’m still being diligent in getting up at 5:30am twice a week to get my ‘writing mornings’ in.

But in spite of all this, I’m not feeling stressed (rather exhausted, perhaps, but not stressed). After a cold winter and unusually cold May, it seems the warm weather has finally arrived in London. I love Spring. Getting up at 5:30am is not so bad at the moment because it’s broad daylight at that time in the morning. I love the extended days we get at this time of year, this far North of the equator. We pay the price with excessive hours of darkness in winter, but winter’s a long way off.

And there’s tonight. Tonight I have nowhere in particular to be – for the first time in ages. I have no urgent emails to send, no documents to hunt out, nothing important to do. So just for tonight, I am going to do nothing. I am going to be on the sofa with the cats, in my PJs by 9pm, watching ‘Supernatural’. And then ‘Dexter’.

From tomorrow, I’m busy until July. But that’s tomorrow. Tonight, I’m spending quality time with the Winchester boys. Bliss.

Speccy Sara

A pic of me in new specs, as requested (actually, I think it was only Michelle…).

I think they make me look a bit stern and school marmish. But maybe that’s because I’m not smiling. I was concentrating on trying to take a picture of myself – harder than one might think.

I am still trying to get used to wearing them for driving and watching TV. There’s no doubt I need them for driving – I can now see road signs much further away than I used to be able to. Watching TV in them is rather like when we got our new flat screen recently. I thought the picture was pretty good on the old one, but after five years, when we replaced it, technology had moved on considerably and the picture on the new TV was noticably sharper. It was sharper still when I looked at it through my new specs.

I don’t need them for the computer, though, so I haven’t been wearing them to work. Which is kind of ironic, as they make me look like a steretypical secretary. All I need is the severe bun. I’ve already got the crisp white blouse and the pencil skirt…

Power Cut

At the moment, Britain seems to be suffering its worst winter in many, many years. We have come off fairly lightly with the snow as far as it goes. We haven’t had nearly as much in London as the rest of the country and I have made into work every day I’ve had to be there, whereas a lot of people haven’t. I do have more than one route in and I’ve been leaving early, so if my first choice is inaccessible I can use another route and still get to work on time.

However, there is no doubt that London’s been struggling. The power cut we experienced today I am sure is not unrelated to the current extreme weather.

our offices are in a wonderful Georgian building, which has had various bits added onto it over the years. It has a lot of character, but it is prone to strange quirks, and we are used to fuses blowing, the telephone system going down, the internet server crashing, and so on. But usually these problems get resolved quickly.

Today though, just after 11 am, everything on our floor went off. Lights, power sockets, computers, telephones, everything – except, bizarrely enough, the heating. The whole building, it seemed, had problems, but strangely, different ones. All the lights and power were out on the ground and first floor. The second floor had lights, and power, but no telephones or internet access. The office in the annexe at the back of the building had power, telephones, internet – but no heating (a distinct problem in the current sub-zero climate).

As it turned out, other buildings in the area had similar problems. The power company informed us they were working on the problem, but couldn’t say when it would be fixed. With no lights and no heating in various parts of the building, it was decided to close the office at lunch time and send everyone home.

So I have had an unexpected afternoon off. Though the journey home was rather more difficult than it should be, due to the trains in and out of Victoria station being affected by the weather.

We have been told the power has been fixed, so the building will be open as usual tomorrow. The snow remains, though, so my journey to and from work remains arduous.

Roll on summer.