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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The Independent way to choose a secondary school

The Independent’s correspondent Richard Garner has written a guide to education.  Being the Independent, it was very… independent but I liked the questions so have appropriated some of them for my own not so independent purposes:

There are three secondary schools in my area. One is an academy, the second a local authority secondary school and the third a Catholic Church school. Oh and they say an independent free school is to open next year. Which shall I choose for my daughter?

Blimey aren’t you lucky? If I were you I’d wait until that free school sets up, especially if it’s the one being run by that bald bloke who wrote that book about alienating people. Debating club should be fun.

What is the difference between an academy and a local authority maintained secondary school?

Well the kids at the academy wear purple and yellow blazers and shiny shoes and the kids at the comp wear black hoodies over their very small very wide ties. If that doesn’t help you, you might wish to delve deeper and look at boring stuff like educational attainment, behaviour and ethos.

Ok I’ve checked out the academy now. It seems it was a failing secondary school that has been given a facelift and brand new buildings and is now run by a bunch of hedge-fund managers. How come?

Well mainly because the feckless local authorities simply can’t be relied upon to support the schools in their area so it’s best we hand them over to the bankers. After all, they can be trusted to get things right, can’t they?

I’m unsure about the academy though. So now what do I do to make sure Endellion gets the best education possible?

Take a look at those impenetrable league tables for each school and try to make or tail of the figures. Especially those figures about value added. Don’t whatever you do go and visit the school to get a feel for it, talk to teachers, pupils or parents to get a balanced view or speak to the head teacher. And for goodness sake don’t make a decision based on the unique needs of your child.

Right I’ve done that. The one that comes out best on both schools is the catholic school. Should I go there?

Well him upstairs does keep an eye on faith schools so I expect to see you at mass at the church of Sweet Baby Jesus and the Wee Donkey on Sunday (don’t forget to pack your cheque book). Make sure you arrange for some adequate sex education because we wouldn’t want little Endellion falling for the nasty charms of one of those comprehensive louts and catholic schools don’t teach about contraception.

Everything clear? good, thought so.

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