Happy Jobmas!

This time last year I indulged in the memories of public sector Christmas past- the celebratory meal at the local Italian that did a lunchtime special for less than a fiver; the Michelin star quality of the canteen Christmas dinner (‘she wants vegetarian gravy!’) and the jolly office Christmas card.

Another jolly public sector party

I was also panicking about my future post 31st March and not sure what I’d be doing with the twenty three hours a day that Homes under the Hammer wasn’t on telly. Post redundancy like the infinity of space was hard to imagine without collapsing another synapse.

It’s not, however, been as doom-laded as I imagined. Since April I’ve set up a business with a colleague and recruited lots of schools. Phrases like ‘tax deductible,’ ‘e marketing’ and ‘business networking’ are part of my working vocabulary and I’ve retired public sector favourites like ‘stakeholder engagement,’ ‘best practice’ and ‘benchmarking.’

I’ve had some work as an independent trainer, have worked for a consultancy and have written for a well-known supermarket chain. I’ve continued my blog and been interviewed for a Guardian article without having to be anonymous.  I’ve also networkedlike a fiend and met some amazing business people.

Worth being made redundant for.

I had been told by a lot of people that being self-employed is a lonely option but I’ve not been lonely at all. I’ve met up with colleagues for coffee on a regular basis and in setting up our business my business partner and I have had to meet a lot, our favourite office being a branch of a well-known coffee chain. We make phone calls, send emails, sign cheques, check out eBay, plan training and design learning resources in our ‘office.’ NB: one of those items is not strictly work related.

It was after one of our meetings that I checked my phone for email and found and interesting message from a local head teacher. It said something along the lines of (and I may be paraphrasing here):

You know how you said you’d rather chew your own leg off rather than go back into school? You’d better sharpen your teeth and break out the salt and pepper because I’d like to offer you a job.

She went on to offer me the acting deputy headship at her school while her deputy is on maternity leave. Perhaps I’d like to meet her for a coffee in the ‘office’ and talk about it.

I discussed the proposition with Mr R who was very supportive. I then phoned my mother who said, ‘excuse while I faint,’ and then fell about laughing. Thanks mum.

I met with the head teacher and we worked out a deal: I’d take the job for three days a week so I can continue with my other projects and will remain self-employed to make the tax/national insurance/pensions thing my responsibility and so as not to confused HMRC. A few days after I accepted the post, the head teacher found someone to fill the post the remaining two days.  I’ll be very busy but it’s not class based and I’m very much looking forward to it. I like to think that maybe the universe has come good after a crappy start to 2011.

So my 2012 is set to be busy, challenging and exciting. Just don’t ask me what I do for a living if I bump into you at a party.

Happy festive season and a happy new year to my readers. Thank you for your support over the last fifteen months and I’ll see you next year.


How to work from home

Next week I’ll be joining my fellow redundantees in celebrating our six monthiversary of being out of our local authority jobs. Some are working, some are looking, some are retraining and some are self-employed like me.

So it’s time to reflect on what I’ve learnt. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks they say but I have so that must mean I’m not either a) old (but if you read that Guardian interview you will know this is sadly not true or b) not a … well, how very dare you for suggesting it.

I’ll start with working from home. My previous employers called it working at home, the idea being that it was an occasional occurrence and that you would be called at least once from the office to check you weren’t slumped in front of Homes Under the Hammer or in the changing rooms at New Look.  And it was only ever for one day.

But now I work mostly from home and this is what I’ve learnt:

1)      Work where you like. We are lucky enough to have an office in our house. This is mostly occupied by Mr R and his collection of guitars, amps and other music gadgets but it also has nice bright windows and plenty of shelving. So do I work in there? Do I heck. I’m happiest at the kitchen table. It’s near the kettle, a room away from the living room and telly and near the front door for the many callers we have. I recommend the kitchen able also because you have to keep mess to a minimum. My stuff is neatly tidied into one box and one pile of stuff which, when it gets too large, is transferred into the box. See? Gotta have a system, as Harry Hill used to day.

2)      It’s a whole new world out there.  We’re lucky enough to have really friendly neighbours and now that I’m around more during the day I bump into them more often. It makes for a much more friendly place. And for those of you out there who believe that London is one big scary city with muggers lurking on every corner, come and visit us. We’re nice really. Our postman is adorable and stops for a chat on his round and keeps an eye on the place when you’re away. The letterbox barely stays shut as we get a huge amount of junk mail hitting it. We average eight to ten pieces of junk on a good day but it can be up to twenty. It’s Friday today so there will be a flood of menus later today. My sister in law was staying a while ago and was in the house when we were both at work. When I got home I found her a glassy-eyed wreck. ‘It hasn’t stopped,’ she said pointing to the letterbox. She jumped out of her skin every time something came crashing through so had not had a restful time. She lives by a lemon grove half way up a mountain in Italy so I guess she doesn’t get many kebab menus and tarmac -your -drive flyers on an average day.  We also get a lot of charity works coming round for my money, church members asking me if I know Jesus and people trying to flog electricity/ gas/ double glazing/ life eternal.  I’m always polite but firm. I have certain charities that I give money too, I’m happy with my gas/ electricity/ supplier, my windows are fine and yes I think I saw him in Budgens buying Sugar Puffs. Today was an offer for loft insulation.

3)      Kids. I live near a secondary school and when I was working I never saw the students. Rather like an episode of CSI Streatham, however, it was possible to piece together the evidence that they were there: used cotton buds in the morning on the way to school; chip papers and cigarette butts at lunchtime and drink cans, crisp and sweet wrappers at home time. Nowadays I actually spot them scuffing down the middle of the road in herds, hoods up, heads down.  Once the grunting and loud dubstep has lurched by and I’ve held my breath as they swing their school bags past the wing mirrors of my car I pop out and collect the debris for recycling. I don’t mind them too much and let’s face it, they and their school ensure that house prices remain stable in our road and that’s no bad thing in these times.

4)      It’s good to talk. It’s important to talk to other colleagues if you’re working from home. Several home-workers had already told me this so I’ve made an effort to catch up with friends and ex-colleagues. I’m not usually a fan of the café culture mainly because I don’t (whisper it) drink coffee. It’s a matter of taste rather than for health reasons. I’d love to sip an espresso at a bar, order a macchiato at diner and enjoy a cappuccino at breakfast (which of course is the only time of day you should ever order a cappuccino) and I’ve tried but to no avail. I drink tea- wimpy green tea or Lady/Earl Grey without milk or sugar. Which is basically a tea bag in a mug of hot water and I can easily make that at home. Cheaply.  So until now the whole coffee shop experience has rather passed me by. I now, however, meet friends in cafés  and enjoy it. My favourite local is Earl Grey and Rose for a cup of the proverbial and they do the most delicious smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels.

5)      Eat when you’re hungry. In an office people tend to stare if you have lunch at 11 0’clock and roll their eyes in sympathy if you eat at 3pm. There was nowhere in the office to eat your own food save at your desk so it was never a relaxing experience . I get very grouchy if I don’t eat on a regular basis so when at home I nip to the fridge at make something to eat. Contrary to what you might think I eat less now than in the office (far fewer biscuits around) and I’m a much nicer person because I’m not hungry. If you come to visit you may wish to bring Jaffa cakes. Just in case.

Tea at mine. Note the homemade baked cheesecake.Yum.

6)      What to wear? I asked a self- employed friend if she got up early and dressed properly before sitting down to work. I had fears that I myself might be skulking around in pyjamas at four in the afternoon watching Jeremy Kyle repeats and eating cakes. My friend assured me that she not only gets dressed, she does her hair nicely and puts on makeup before firing up her laptop. I found that it makes me feel more professional to get up in time to spend a few minutes with Mr R before he goes to work, perform my ablutions and then get dressed. It’s strange putting on casual stuff rather than smart clothes and heels and I now look forward to dressing up on the occasions that require it. Of course there’s no really need to put on make up to work at home but I usually at least smear on a bit of mascara for fear of scaring the lovely postman (see point 1).

7)      Household chores. I was also worried that instead of working I’d be rushing around cleaning the house. I do notice that the floor needs vacuuming and the window sills need dusting but I’m at work ok? Proper work is much more compelling than cleaning anyway. Mr R has decreed that I can at least keep an eye on the milk level and buy milk when needed. Unfortunately I’m rubbish at this and only remember seconds before he arrives home ready for a coffee. Don’t get excited, I don’t make him that either. Not being a coffee drinker (see point 4) I make terrible coffee. I usually end up rushing to the shop, which is luckily only at the end of the road, with seconds to spare and acting all nonchalant and efficient when he arrives.

So that’s how to work at home part one. If I think of any more points there will be a part two. Meanwhile, feel free to add your own observations below.

….Today’s post was brought to you by elementary typing, much hitting of back space and mild swearing…. 

Ghost Town

This town is coming like a ghost town.
Why must the youth fight against themselves?
Government leaving the youth on the shelf.

This place is coming like a ghost town.
No job to be found in this country.
Can’t go on no more.
People getting angry.

‘Ghost Town’, The Specials

These lyrics might have been written in the bleak 1970s but I think they rather fit today in 2011 just as well. The offices where I work are becoming like a ghost town. It’s a bit like moving house: you think you don’t have that much stuff but once you start packing, it keeps on coming.

I need to get rid of all my stuff by R-day at the end of March so I’ve been tackling it bit by bit. Today I tidied one shelf (recycling/ bin/ take home) and one large folder on my computer. I’ve arranged to donate resources to schools but the rest of my things will be thrown away. All that work! I’ll take home a few bits. Out of an office of nine, three are surviving and they will have to move to the Civic Centre (eek!) after April so it really is all change.

I popped next door to look for something a few minutes ago and it really struck me how much the room had changed. Several desks were removed at the beginning of the year as one team moved premises. There were a few boxed stacked up ready to be filled and the shelves showed dusty marks where folders and files had once stood.

At times it really strikes me how different the public sector is going to be. Buildings will lie empty or be rented out as office space (although I can’t see anyone in their right mind wanting to pay good money for the room where I’m based); staff numbers will be decimated in the original sense of the word and services to children, schools and families will be gone or changed forever.

Can’t go on no more

People getting angry.

update…hmm, someone been reading my blog or did we just have the same ideas? Auschwitz and The Specials.


Things I won’t miss

In order to cheer myself up and get myself thinking about the future I thought I’d make a list if the things I won’t miss about work. Strangely, they’re all to do with the office environment. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: I love my job so I don’t have much to moan about on that front but bring on working at home!

 Things I won’t miss about working here:

  • Being freezing cold all winter and trying to work out the daily ‘smart but warm’ conundrum of what to wear to the office.
  • Sellotaping up with window frames every winter so they don’t rattle menacingly and let in gales of frigid air. For those who don’t believe me, here’s the photographic evidence.
  • Trying to do a professional job from a computer that only runs Windows 2000 which means that most documents sent to me are incompatible and vice versa. And broadband that’s so slow it should be in a museum.
  • The hole in the ceiling that lets in water every time it rains.
  • The ladies loo. Cold, cold, cold and hideous. Unless you are a woman who works in this office you will not recognise this photo but I’d like the blogosphere to know it’s not all soft furnishings and pot plants in the public sector.
  • The canteen. Responsible for: heavy handed garlic powdering of every hot dish they make; inability to make a cheese ‘n’ pickle toastie without a) burning it or b) forgetting to switch on the toasting machine and not noticing for twenty minutes; not knowing the price of any of their products ever and having to dash around for ten minutes and find someone who does by which time your food is cold; charging ridiculous prices for a piece of spot-addled fruit; making sandwiches with month-old bread and being all surprised when you point out that the bread is so hard it could be used by the Olympic curling team for not only kettles and brushes but for the ice-rink itself . And that mould is not a tasty additional filling. Under any circumstances.
  • The mess. I’m a bit of a neat freak so every time my neighbour’s Mount Crapius starts leaning dangerously over my desk I get palpitations. Luckily my computer monitor is so huge (see point one) it blocks most of the view. And indeed most of the desk surface.
  • The person in the office across the hallway whose shrieking laugh makes me jump off my chair several times a day. She sounds like the mad woman in the attic. Perhaps she is.

 What I will miss though is the companionship of my colleagues. They’re always really supportive when you need them and we work hard but have fun too. There are four of us in the room today and we’ve just held a game of guess the intro to naff eighties songs. I’m afraid I guessed almost all of them. I’ll miss this once it’s gone.

We got you a new sign but oops! we forgot to paint the door first.

Hands off our assets!

Last week I was ill and had to take some time off work. I know, feckless public sector workers taking tax-payers’ money off in sick days instead of dragging their vomiting corpses into the office.

 I just about managed to stay upright enough to take part in the online Guardian redundancy clinic on Wednesday on the panel of experts, (Mum, I’m an expert!) which I really enjoyed. If you managed to drop by, thank you, it was appreciated.

 I staggered into work on Friday and caught up on what was going on in officeland. This is what’s new:

 As an office, we have apparently decided not to go the Christmas lunch in the canteen. This is because of past bad experiences. See ‘adventures in catering.’ If our memories start to fade and we begin to think it’s might not be such a bad idea, someone will pipe up with ‘vegetarian gravy’ and we remember. We may treat ourselves to the all you can eat salad bar in the local Harvester instead.

 And we’ve had our assets checked. I know this is fairly common and neccessary but it has never happened before and it’s a little suspicious that it’s happening just as most of us are being laid off, non? A chap came in with his special asset gun and recorded every item belonging to the council and then marked it with a bar-code sticker. Now if anything goes missing we’ll know who to blame. Apparently he had to be forcibly removed from an absent colleague’s pink laptop bag and wasn’t convinced with assurances that it wasn’t council property.

 So on Friday we played spot the sticker in the office. Computer, telephone, desk- check. Shelving units, dustbins, swivel chairs- check. Filing cabinets, trolley, scanner- check. And then I decided to check underneath the blinds for a laugh and sure enough, there was the sticker. Because we wouldn’t want anyone to nick the plain white, slightly dusty and sticky blinds would we?  

 From my desk I can see countless little white stickers from floor to ceiling. It certainly makes us feels cared for and trusted. Welcome back!

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