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…. 

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Thank you…but not goodbye

Today is officially R day. My P45 was waiting for me when I got home for work yesterday. I have less than three hours left at work and I really shouldn’t be writing a blog post but I have things to say.

 Back in September I was considering writing a blog to help me manage my feelings about the whole public sector debacle and my own small part in it. I didn’t know any bloggers except my two lovely sisters-in-law, Miss Melancholy and Stray. When they visited us to help cerebrate Mr R’s birthday, I talked to them about starting a blog and they persuaded me that this was a Good Idea. ‘You’ll make friends!’ they said. I scoured the Internet for similar bloggers and tentatively made some cyber friends.

 I wasn’t convinced that anyone would read my ramblings but I set them down anyway and discovered that people did read and respond. Even The Guardian, the paper I’ve been reading since I was teenager, read and enjoyed. I was even an ‘expert’ on the Guardian redundancy Q&A. Memorable for not only being an honour, but also for being in the middle of a bout of Norovirus. I wrote my responses, threw up and lay down for a few minutes in a repeating cycle for the three hours of the live chat.

 I’m convinced that if I hadn’t written the blog I’d be sitting in a corner rocking by now. So a big shout out and a huge thank you to the blog massive especially, Ellen, Guerrilla Mum, fighting for the rights of children with special needs; Tim the Armchair Sports fan who is forever Slouching Towards Thatcham; Citizen CW, my cyber mentor and friend; Andrew Brown, Someday I Will Treat You Good, who I actually met in real life although we didn’t realise it at the time and the Redundant Public Servant who has retired temporarily from the blogosphere but who wrote a blog far more dignified and less indignant than mine. And of course Miss Melancholy and Stray who set me on the blog path and my friends, family, colleagues and tweeps who have been there. Also a huge thank you the brilliant Patrick Butler and very funny Judy Friedberg from The Guardian. Thank you for seeking out the truth.

 I felt like a I wanted to protect my employers so I’ve been anonymous until recently but sod it, I’m on my own now so I’m out of the closet. If you didn’t already know, I manage the Healthy Schools programme across three SW London local authorities and I support schools with all aspects of health and wellbeing (teenage pregnancy, healthy eating, gang crime, mental health etc). My friends call me the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll guru.

 But it’s not over!

 I will be blogging some more here. I’m still a victim of government cuts, I still have friends and family in the public sector and the story is not over. After all the title of this blog is- in homage to bad B movies- I was a public sector worker and a bit like being an president of the United States or an alcoholic, I will always have been a public sector worker.

 Thank you, TTFN and as an actor with biceps the size of small children once said, ‘I’ll be back.’

The final days and my certificate of long service

Time is ticking on and I have lots to do. Far from slowing down, I’ve been busier than ever. I’ve also been trying to meet key players to explain that I will still be around after April so gissa job!

Yesterday I met with the director and she promised to support my new venture and spread the word to the head teachers. I also received- much to my surprise and amusement- a certificate for long service. Which means I must be really old.

There was no carriage clock or watch and chain but an envelope full of Marks and Spencer’s vouchers whic I will be spending on raunchy (well as raunchy as M&S gets) underwear so I’ll be able to think of them every time I…on second thoughts I might by some thermals. T

The actual wording of the certificate is:

The council of the London Borough of XX desires (desires!) to place on record its sincere appreciation of the valuable services rendered by you to the Local Government Service all (all capitals their own) over a period of x years (I’m not telling you how many).

It then goes on to say:

The Common Seal of the Mayor and the Burgess (who?) of the London Borough of XX was hereunto affixed this 31st day of March 2011.

While I was at the civic centre I also received a card signed by some of the education team who work up there and a lovely gift from my line manager. It didn’t occur to me that there would be certificates and gifts. I thought- perhaps unfairly- that having made the decision such a long time ago (last July) that they’d be quite keen to see the back of me by now. I was touched.

The grindstone doesn’t keep turning just because it’s the last few days with my nose to it. Must dash and give of my ‘valuable services’ while I still can.

A little inspiration

At the end of this month my job finishes and it’s been a long hard slog in redundancy limbo for the last few months so a little inspiration at this point goes a long way.  I haven’t posted as often as I should but that’s mainly because –and how’s this for irony- I’ve been exceptionally busy at work. It may be because people have suddenly woken up to the fact that the free support and advice they’ve enjoyed for years is finally going but I’d also like to think it’s because they need and want my services too.

CV: It’s hard to get excited about writing a CV but I’ve been inspired by the support I had at a one to one CV writing session. One of the perks of redundancy is being able to access loads of training and support. This session was funded by the Department of Work and Pensions and I came away with lots of ideas.

Photos: Another colleague whose job is going has turned his hand to portrait photography and offered me a free session. I now have some swanky photos to go on my new marketing materials and website. And facebook. It took about twenty frames for me to stop looking like a startled meerkat but he got some great pictures in the end. In some he even managed to make me look attractive. Hoorah!

My new business partner: I’m going into business with my colleague. It’s part of that big fat portfolio career I promised myself a while back. We’ve sorted out our logo, planned our business cards and opened a business bank account. NB: we were messed around by banks offering deals on business accounts so we went to the nearest bank, walked in and asked to see the small business manager. We had to wait for a while and passed the time discussing whether the title ‘small business adviser’ was misleading and whether it should really be ‘adviser for small businesses’ but as it turned out, the small business adviser was actually quite small so we let them off.

World Book night : My business partner was one of the lucky few chosen to give out books on World Book Night on Friday so we picked those up on the way to the bank. After our appointment we rushed up to Trafalgar Square to take part in the launch. It was like a music gig but with books. When Philip Pullman came on stage people actually screamed and jumped up and down. It’s inspirational that people can still get that excited about books. I came away with Nigel Slater’s Toast.

Work: I’ve also run some new training and meetings. I can now add these activities to my list of things I can offer in my new life and I still get inspired and excited by my line of work. I promised myself at the beginning of the year that it was time to stop being miserable and look to the positive in 2011. It’s March, I’m days away from redundancy and I’m still here and still smiling.

Bring it on!

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.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/19/youth-unemployment-lost-generation-work?INTCMP=SRCH

The Big Little Society

Today the Prime Minster relaunches the Big Society. This will iron out the misunderstanding that it’s just a way of getting things for free once the bulk of staff have been redundant from councils and third sector groups have their budgets cut to the bone.

 No funding for schools? Set up a free school! Library closing? Run it yourself! Woodlands being sold off? Plant an acorn! Leisure centre shut? Go for a jog around the woodlands acorn seedlings!

 Rather than Big Society I prefer Big Little Society. I’m lucky enough to live in a part of London where there really is strong community. We have a community choir run by the music department of the local secondary school. We have a summer festival run by locals and we have a community Arts centre. We also have a community forum where we can share ideas and ask questions.

Our house has just sprung a leak and I’ve just found a list of local plumbers on there. The sergeant from the Safer Neighbourhood Team answers questions on the forum and the ward councillors sort out local problems.

 I’d also like to see some more basic community issues being addressed across the country too so we can all take more responsibility. Here’s my list for the Big Little Community:

  1. Make friends with your neighbours and keep an eye out for each other. Offer to keep an eye on their property and invite them over every now and them for Christmas/ Eid/ Diwali etc.
  2. Sweep the snow from your little patch of Great Britain and don’t be put off by gloomy emails about being sued if someone slips outside your house.
  3. As above but with litter. It only takes a moment to pick up the rubbish outside your house and pop it in the bin/recycling. And pick up your neighbour’s junk mail that he insists in throwing out onto the pavement. Or is that just me? If you live in a super clean part of the country, vow to pick up and dispose of two bits of litter when you’re out and about.
  4. Challenge anyone who drops litter without believing they’re going to stab you. I can’t help myself doing this; I think it’s the teacher in me. Mr R once challenged a woman who chucked her rubbish on the ground in front of her kids. ‘If you’re so worried about, ‘ she replied, ‘you pick it up.’ So he did because he was.
  5. Keep an eye on other people’s kids when they’re out and about but tick them off if they do something silly (eg point 4). Parents: allow this to happen.
  6. Use local shops as well as out of towners but insist on using your own bags. Hold the door open for the next person and say please and thank you. You may also wish to smile.
  7. As a wise man once said, ‘Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights.’ And stand up for others too. If you think that something is wrong or unfair in any part of your life, don’t whinge about it, do something. And if anyone upsets your friends, family, colleagues or neighbours, stand up for them.

 Right I’m off to phone a plumber. So in this new Big Little Society what would you like to see?

Something to look forward to

This January we have the most depressing day of the year to look forward to. The complex formula takes into account things like debt and weather and failure of new year’s resolutions and the mental health wizards have calculated that this year’s D-Day is 24th January.

This year we might also add into the calculations the huge (‘swingeing’ as we’re learning to call them) cuts to well, pretty much everything and the rise in VAT. We can’t even drown our sorrow on drink cos that’s gone up too.

 For those of us being made redundant we also have the worry of how we’re going to afford life without our jobs.

 I need something to look forward to. I get the same amount of holiday leave as anyone else at the council but because of working in education, I am not allowed to take term time holidays.

 My contract ends on Thursday, 31st March and state schools don’t break up for Easter until the following week so I’m looking to blow some of the redundancy payoff and go on holiday straight away. A holiday will give me something to look forward to otherwise I know I’ll be moping around the house feeling sorry for myself come April.

Citizen R driving across Ischia

 I quite fancy doing something like a road trip rather than sitting on a beach somewhere and this is where I need some help. Where can Mr. R and I go to get away from it all and where would readers recommend? I’m really stumped for ideas so all advice will be gratefully received. If you could tweet this too and ask your friends and colleagues that would also help. Thank you, lovely readers!

 Meanwhile, batten down the hatches for Monday 24th January and hey, let’s be careful out there.

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