Thursday, 30 August 2012

Paid in Full

No, I don't understand it either
I'm willing to wager that people who design pay and incentive plans for large businesses do not have children, or if they do, they can't get them to make their beds. 

Before becoming a freelancer my 'package' was made up of salary, and a bonus plan so complex that it required knowledge of database technology to find out what deals you had been paid on.  Add to that an annual review with a scoring system of 1-5, and the requirement to complete CBI's, KPI's and meet an RBI, and you can understand why many people thought it was SH.....I'll let you complete the rest. 

Compare this to encouraging a child to get themselves ready in the morning.  During a conversation with some friends (as mentioned in the Because You're Worth it post), one remarked how her children aged 7 and 4 not only made their beds but also tidied their rooms, made breakfast and got themselves dressed without complaining - they may be dressed in a tutu, a t-shirt, and a pair of their dad's socks, but they did it by themselves.  She achieved this through the well-worn tactic of a reward chart and pocket money.  The rest of us mused on the fact that we had become incredibly slack and resolved to make some changes in our own homes.

Easy Peasy!
Summer holiday out of the way, we decided to go for it and already the children are doing a list of things that historically would have taken much nagging to achieve.  Our daughter loves being in charge of making breakfast and our son is constantly asking what else he can do to get more stars.  They're even putting their clothes in the washing basket which is something that not all of the adults in the house achieve.....

Going through this reward process has made me realise that there are times as adults in business when we allow ourselves to be treated like a lab rat: made to carry out increasingly complicated (and often, meaningless) tasks in order to receive a reward whilst someone else watches over us.  Coming away from that environment means that I avoid the headache that is an annual review conducted in algebra, plus I have a true sense of the value and worth of the work that I do for my clients.  

It feels like a proper, grown up way to conduct business and it certainly motivates me to work harder than any incentive plan ever did.  I'm not saying that businesses need to set up sticker charts in their offices and treat their employees as children, but I do think that more companies should start treating their staff as adults when it comes to getting paid.

Postscript: Today's title comes courtesy of Eric B & Rakim - watch it here

Sunday, 26 August 2012

There Goes my Hero

I am watching one of my favourite bands - The Foo Fighters - perform at the Reading Festival.  Unfortunately this post is not coming from the festival itself, but my living room...something that I plan to rectify next year.  

Seeing Dave Grohl in action is a particularly life affirming experience as he manages to combine raw power, musical genius and the biggest grin in rock to deliver a masterclass in connecting with an audience.  As they've been going nearly twenty years the Foo Fighters' music has soundtracked my adult life so far and the last time I saw them live I had to be dragged from the moshpit due to nearly passing out.  The reason?  I was (unknown to me) 2 weeks pregnant and my body was not pleased at the weekend of drinking and leaping around I was trying to inflict upon it.

Go on, admit it.  You want to hug him too!
Outside of my attachment to their music what really does it for me is watching someone doing something that they so obviously love.  There's this guy, creating a brilliant thing to share with other people and having the time of his bloody life doing it.  You can't fake that kind of passion and energy and it's made me realise why I'm so attached to the experience - I want a piece of that!  

Let's rock
Before you become too alarmed I am not about to embark on a singing career but what Mr Grohl has just provided me with is a motivational boost to pursue my writing career with even more gusto.  Participating in a satisfactory business meeting will not make me feel like a rock star but getting published will.

So here's to all the people that are already rocking out in their day to day lives, turning what they love into their career - I look forward to joining you soon!

UPDATE: I did indeed publish my book.  And then another two :)  You can view them here

Monday, 20 August 2012

Handbags and Gladrags

Now that's how you dressed for a night out in the 80's!
This post is coming to you from a caravan park in Poole and oh how the humble 'van' has changed.  Rather than a site for tow-alongs and tents for proper camping, this is acres of mobile homes centered around an entertainment complex, pool and spa.

We are here thanks to the kindness of relatives allowing us to use their 'Monaco Super' (nothing Monaco about it, but I'll give it the 'super') to continue our summer holiday quest of trying fruitlessly to get the children to do as we've asked them, but in a seaside setting.  As the park has a mix of holidaymakers from those renting for a week or two to those that have paid anything between £20k-£70k+ to buy one, there is a fantastic variety of families staying here which means great people watching opportunities.

One of these opportunities is the nightly 'Show'.  It involves characters, loud music and flashing lights which, combined with the gallons of Capri-Sun on offer, whips the children into a frenzy.  They love it of course and after a day at the seaside which is scientifically proven not to be relaxing if it includes children under the age of 5, we are too tired to do anything but give in.

So we settle down with a glass of something cold, the kids have fun, and whilst The Show is pretty good; the best part is coming home.  The reason for this is that by 8pm, when we're on our way back, we pass a lot of families who are just beginning their evenings and in quite some style. 

Over the past few nights I have seen more glamourous women, and men in sharply-ironed shirts and shiny shoes than I thought possible.  Given that my holiday wardrobe is a cross between the Ramones and All Saints (think skinny jeans, combats, vest-tops and washed out t-shirts) I knew I was going to be short on 'going out' clothes but nothing had prepared me for the lady in a lycra and chiffon dress with 5-inch stillettos that I saw leading her brood for their family night out.  She had pushed a twin buggy half a mile up hill whilst Dad escorted a further two equally well turned out children and there was neither a hair nor heel out of place.  Impressive.

As well as that particular family there have been glossy tresses, Mulberry handbags (including one on Swanage beach being used as a beach bag!), plunging fronts, open backs, skirts slashed to the thigh, leopard print, sequins, neon and body-con, and an abundance of 'mini-me' children dressed to match their parents.  By contrast we resembled Victorian orphans and whilst for a moment it caused me to re-consider my future packing to include couture and curling tongs the fact is I can't be arsed.  Living in a rural village combined with holidays that centre around beaches and farms means that the dresses and heels are reserved for rare nights in town a deux or girlie nights where our mere presence as mums that don't get out much frightens everyone else off the dancefloor. 

I enjoy the spectacle of other people's big nights out as it reminds me of my own childhood trips 'down the Welly' (the Wellington Social Club, oh yes) where on a Friday and Saturday night it was The Law to dress your best.   It may well be that we only went there a handful of times but the memory of the whole family getting properly dressed up is a powerful one.  We had the photo for this post taken before one such outing which features me wearing green velvet pedal pushers with matching waistcoat, and a blouse with a pussycat-bow.  Sounds a bit Peter-Pan meets Margaret Thatcher today, but for the early 80's I was one cool 8-year-old.

Those were very happy times indeed but reflecting on them has reminded me that my job is not to try to recreate my childhood for our children - what they choose to remember and hold as their  memories will be up to them.  Instead, I shall celebrate others sequins, marvel at their manicures and await with interest next year's visit to find out what it is I should be wearing - if I could only tear myself away from my skinny jeans.......

Friday, 10 August 2012

Let's go Outside

On moving to the Newbury countryside eight years ago, and being a staunch advocate of punishing classes at large gyms, I wondered how on earth I was going to stay fit now that I lived many miles from a David Lloyd facility.

Eat your heart out David Lloyd! 

For the first six months, I thought that a really smart and not at all unsociable thing to do would be to leave the house at 6am to get to a 7am class.  This meant missing breakfast with my husband and any opportunity to use a decent hairdryer but hey, at least I will have had an hour with a man wearing boxing pads shouting at me to “hit them harder you wuss!” to get my day off to a nice mellow start.


Eventually I came to realise that this was an expensive and quite frankly mad way to keep fit.  The tipping point was an incident where I managed to forget my work clothes and had to drive into Reading to buy something to wear for my 9.30 meeting.  As laid back as my boss was, I think even he would have drawn the line at sweat soaked lycra as appropriate business attire.  So I raced into town, and by 8.45 was hopping from foot to foot outside M&S looking very dishelleved and with the mad stare of a woman waiting for the Harrods sale.  Despite trying to smile nicely and explain what had happened to the shop assistant as she opened the doors, she became very pre-occupied with getting as far away from me as possible.  Understandable given the circumstances.

After the embarrassment and expense of that workout, I cancelled the membership and looked for an alternative way to keep fit.  At the weekend we often road our bikes along the Ridgeway and it struck me that with a bit of diary reorganisation I could swap the gym for the countryside and ever since have been enjoying the benefits of outdoor exercise.  I knew it was as good for your mental wellbeing as it is your physical, but hadn't anticipated these added extras:

  • There is never anyone else’s sweat on your bike seat and you will never find yourself pursued by a woman in a day-glo unitard saying "Aren't you finished on that bike yet? I need it."
  • You never have to run / cycle in front of a screen specialising in music videos of men in t-shirts the size of dresses surrounded by greased up women in strips of elastic tempting them with their 'jelly'.
  • You don't have to listen to people roaring / huffing / accidentally dropping their guts through the effort of lifting weights the size of a family car.
  • You might see a horse but not a man in shorts that are too tight (hopefully).  
  • You might smell manure but you won’t smell someone else’s B.O.
  • It’s free and always open.
So I am sold on outdoor exercise but brilliant as this is, concede there are times when you need a bit of coaching and motivation.  The solution lay in the friendly local gym run that runs brilliant classes like Body Attack where you are taught by instructors that also work at the members-only places.  It is one of these fantastic ladies that I have to thank for giving me the beginnings of what may be some stomach definition due to her fantastic technique - it's either that or a hernia, I'll let you know what it turns out to be!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Scouting for Girls

Mean stitching technique
courtesy of Brownie training!
At the age of 16, a friend and I boarded a train to a nearby village to go to a party.  So preoccupied had we been with securing cans of Special Brew and menthol cigarettes (sophisticated or what?), we didn't give a second thought to how, or indeed if, we were going to get home.  There was always the prospect of a friend's floor, or in the worst case; calling my mate's dad to come and collect us.

I will spare you the full details of the evening but needless to say we ended up drunk, deserted by friends, and with no idea of where we were going to sleep.  After a brief discussion we agreed that calling home to ask for a lift was out of the question.  We had, of course, lied about where we were and 2am is never a good time to call your dad in a drunken stupor and announce you are in need of a lift home for the third time in a month.  Please.

We instead returned to the train station where we had earlier alighted and found it to be deserted and freezing.  As you can't 'plump up' a wooden bench, sleep was not forthcoming so we ended up in a dilapidated hut that offered a bit more shelter and set about building a fire.  The only problem was that we had nothing suitable to build a fire with, and as both of us came from families that were very light on the whole 'outdoors experience' we didn't have the nous to fashion something a la Bear Grylls.  Instead we tried to start a fire using the only thing we had that we thought was flammable: a box of Tampax.  To that we added some printed materials which we found near the hut.  In the dark we did not know what they were, under the light of our matches we saw they were a pictorial study in the anatomy of women and wished we had never touched them.

We discovered that night that tampons are not good fire-lighters and that you should never go scavenging for stuff to start a fire with if you don't have a torch lest you should encounter some 'specialist' magazines.  You live and learn......

So what's this got to do with anything?  Well, the point of it is that my daughter has recently joined the first group within the Scouting family; Beaver Scouts.  As a former Brownie (see If I had a Photograph of You for the proof) I didn't know what to expect.  One term in and she has already taken part in archery, a woodland exploration that involved leaping in a huge bog, following a line blindfolded and building a shelter, and - most recently - building a fire.  These are girls and boys between the age of 6 and 8 who, far from being cosseted and wrapped up in cotton wool are being given freedom, the opportunity to try new things, learn properly useful skills and succeed in all sorts of different areas.  Best of all they are having an absolute ball.

As a result I'm sold on it and wish that I'd had the chance to join the Scouts as a girl.  I'm not sure whether it would have stopped me from going to the party, but I sure as hell would have been able to light that fire........

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The Future's Orange

Note how the cushions were
chosen to match my hair..
Dec 2012 Update: Wiggo wins Sports Personality of the Year - get in!

With Bradley Wiggins' triumphant addition of another Olympic Gold to his medal tally, being the first Brit to win the Tour De France under his belt, and exceeding Sir Steve Redgrave's medal haul to become Britain's most decorated Olympian (an accolade he now shares with Chris Hoy since this was first published) I thought now would be a good time to extol the virtues of 'the redhead'.

Being born with bright orange hair I was adored and indulged by my Irish grandmother (what is it with elderly Irish ladies? They love a ginger-haired baby!), and called 'Goldilocks' by my mum who would brush my hair until it shone.  Less charitably I was called 'ginger nut' at primary school.  Childish but disappointingly still happens among adults - what gives?  

The red wasn't destined to stay and I went from orange to ginger to strawberry blonde to whatever number it is on the colour chart that my hairdresser uses but I still get excited to see a redhead give their childhood bullies the equivalent of a big 'v-sign' by being successful. 

Check out 'Wiggo' below.  Not content with being superhuman, he's managing to rock sitting on a golden throne with his kit unzipped to the navel whilst giving a peace sign.  Only the truly outstanding among us can carry that look off.
Mr Wiggins 'at rest' - photo
courtesy of Grazia

Aside from this titian titan here are some of my other favourites:

Daniel Craig - finally a Bond to give the girls a run for their money in the swimsuit department.
Karen Elson - born in Britain, massive in America, stunningly gorgeous model and super cool singer.
Nicole Kidman - smart enough to ditch TC early on
Josh Homme - Queens of the Stone Age frontman, amazing 'axe'-wielder, friend of Dave Grohl and very fine indeed...
Ronald Bilius Weasley - funny, magical and he gets the girl. In your face Potter!
Nicola Roberts of Girls Aloud - not content with being part of one of the biggest girl bands of all time; she got serious, became celebrated within broadsheets and high fashion magazines, and her public stance on the damage caused by sun beds helped pass the bill banning them from use by under-18s.  Hats off to that woman.

On a more personal note I want to send big love to a few fine redheads that I know: Vicki who was building a successful online business before most of us had figured out text messaging, Laura of the band Fairfolk who has a voice as mellifluous as her hair is vibrant,  Lucy who wore a Monroe-style wedding gown with more sophistication and class than a blonde ever could, Auntie Karen who was my first example of an 'independent woman', and my niece Leila who at the age of 4 is proving to be a talented actress already.

So here's to Bradley Wiggins - so cool that Paul Weller thinks he's cool.  The man's a legend and he's ginger.  Judging by all the spectators wearing ginger 'lamb chop' sideburns at the Olympics I can feel a trend towards people asking for red the next time they visit the salon - the future's orange.