On home, change and anger…

Assuming all goes to plan, come this time tomorrow, we will no longer have a home in the UK.  The sale of our house in Old Windsor will complete, and for the time at least, thus will end a chapter in our story.

I have mixed feelings at this.  There’s an element of euphoria at being mortgage free.  Being free to make choices about how we live, with less regard for the ££ is something I’ve long beavered away at making happen.  I’m also conscious though, not for the first time in our lives, that *home* is pretty binary. It’s here; not here, there & everywhere.  Anyone who’s lived with international relationships I’m sure will recognise that.  I’m not convinced it’s possible to be emotionally rooted to more than one place.  Not convinced, rather than certain. I’ll find out in the fullness of time.

The plan, is to buy a small flat, somewhere  within spitting distance at least, of London.  It’s largely for my benefit, as till now, I’ve thought of London as home.  I was born & raised in Hampshire, but London is where I experienced a wider spectrum of life & truly grew up (if I have, actually, grown up yet).  Professional life has been London life.  I will come back to it when I’m ready, but right now I need to live differently.  I need to not spend my daily life being angry about poverty & inequality, at just how borked public service delivery is, and just how fucked up the Daily Mail’s Britain can be.  I found I couldn’t work in public service delivery, in “the poverty industry”, and not be angry.  And it tipped over, so I wasn’t using that anger in a constructive, force for change way.  The Britain of 2015 made it easier to leave.  I’ve decided simply to not be angry, and to live differently.  Maybe here I’ll work out how  best to use my skills to effect the change I think we need & keep the angry vibes at bay.  I can’t come back till I do, I know that much for sure.

The mountains in France are home for now.  I love being here.  I love throwing open the shutters in the morning and breathing in clean fresh air.  I love walking the dog down the snow covered lanes in the village, past the chickens roaming around free, and getting a fresh baguette.  And I love leaning out of the window in the evening to pull the shutters closed, smelling the woodsmoke as I do it.  We’re investing emotionally in being here, meeting new folks, making new friends, spending more relaxed time with old ones.  It’s good.

I’m learning how to navigate a foreign language and a foreign culture.  That’s not just “French” but mountain, countryside, village life.  It’s challenging, but good.  It calls on a resilience honed of not-quite-fitting-in in corporate life, and decent sized dollop of good humour, which I’m blessed to have inherited from my mother, who is an inherently sunny soul.

For Sid, it’s second time around. He’s done this ‘big move’ once before.  He reflected on the differences earlier this evening. Moving from Turkey to the UK as a single young man, with a single bag and £100, but reasonably good English was a different kettle of fish.  The language is harder this time round, but the financial situation is better, and there’s three of us (the dog, obv).

So here’s to big adventures, and the gut conviction that when you’re 90 you regret what you didn’t do, rather than what you did.  And to London property prices tanking, so that we have the option of coming back!

Immigrants? Refugees? Human beings.

I’ve thought more about immigration in 2015 than I have in the last 20 years put together. And that’s despite having lived with a non-Brit for all of those 20 years. In the first half of 2015, it was UKIP that raised my blood pressure. And now the refugee crisis that reduces me to tears.

My day job in social housing has caused me to think and talk a lot about race, faith and valuing difference.   In my life outside work, there somehow wasn’t so much “thinking” there was simply “living”.  This corporate-speak of ‘valuing difference’ was simply normal life for me and thousands of other people who like me live in a big metropolitan city like London.   By and large, happy days.

My husband, known affectionately on twitter as The Sidster, is Turkish.  He gained a degree in this country, and has worked as a radiographer for the last 20 odd years. He’s paid his taxes, repaid his student loan, never claimed any benefits, and aside from one speeding fine, qualifies as a fine upstanding citizen.  In fact, let’s face it, he deserves a bloody medal for having lived with me all these years. But dear UKIPers, he wouldn’t have made it through your “Australian style points system”.  And it would have been the UK’s loss.

It strikes me that Germany remembers its history, and plans well for its future. Germany looks to welcome 800,000 refugees. It recognises that refugees can be a long term asset to a nation. Contrast this with the short term view of refugees as a financial burden from the UKIPers. Sure there’s an initial cost, and it’s too great to be born solely by those countries on Europe’s borders. But long term, people are an asset to a nation. And the young people in particular – they create the future wealth of our nation.

Immigration has touched so many of our lives, and I wonder if we’ve somehow forgotten this.  My mother has a german friend who fled the nazis during WW2.  I have two friends with German mothers who came to the UK in the aftermath of WW2.  Another with a mother who arrived from Hungary.  Two friends are descended from Hugenots. Another with parents affected by partition in India.  Another two who settled themselves direct from Zimbabwe, three from South Africa, two from Ghana, one from the Congo, two from China, one from Singapore… I run out of fingers trying to work it out. Our lives are infinitely enriched by these connections. This is what makes Britain Great.  Some are refugees, some are economic migrants.  All are human beings. All bring hope for a better life, and the potential for creating it.

And so to the images of a small drowned boy from Kobane, washed up on beach in Bodrum. A little boy whose mother carried him for nine months. Whose father will have held him for the first time with all the hopes and dreams of any ethnic Brit father. And those parents would only have taken that small boy and his brother on such a treacherous journey if they believed the alternatives were worse. Who cannot fail to be moved by such images.

Before they’re immigrants, refugees or migrants, they’re human beings. They’re parents, sons and daughters, siblings, families. They’re friends we’ve not yet met. And they need our help right now.  

The nations that extend them a helping hand are not only compassionate, they’re investing in their future.

I hope the UK Government does the right thing. History will judge us on what we do now.

Contrasting migrations…

Last night I watched Kevin McCloud on TV, filming a British family who’ve chosen to sell up in London and live on the side of a volcano in Chile.  I loved their adventurous spirit, their ‘just do it’ attitude.  This morning I listen to the news on the radio about more migrants drowning in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe. How does it come to this?

The relative wealth of Europe is in stark contrast to the countries that the migrants come from. Listening to the interview this morning, I’m struck though, that it’s not only material wealth – it’s the wealth of freedom and hope. One young man said “you can do anything in Europe – I want to study”.

In contrast, the family now living in Chile, spoke of being trapped by the rat race in London, doing jobs they didn’t particularly love, living a life they didn’t love, and only seeing more of the same for their kids. They wanted adventure for sure, but they also wanted to live more lightly, valuing natural beauty and time with each other while their kids were young. I couldn’t help but identify with their desire to live differently (though I’m not sure I could be as hard core as them and live on the side of a volcano). They get to choose to live differently, because they sold their London house, because they had studied, because they had the wealth to trade in. The young migrant who nearly drowned in the Med had none of those on his journey.

I hope the young migrant gets to study, to work, to build a life he loves. Europe needs young talent to grow and prosper – and anyone who’s had the commitment to get here surely has something to offer.

But his home country needs it more. Building the freedoms, creating the businesses, generating the wealth – closing the wealth & inequality gap between Europe and its neighbours is the only long term way to stop this human tragedy playing out in the Med.

The Battle of Orgreave…


( Picture courtesy of the telegraph  : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/uknews/10607957/In-pictures-A-look-back-at-the-Battle-of-Orgreave-in-1984.html?frame=2807590 )

I surprise myself at how deeply moved I am watching this evening’s Channel 4 news. The IPCC are not going to hold a public enquiry into what happened at Orgreave. There’s an middle-aged former miner who can’t speak at his press conference, because he is in tears. And I’m just moments behind him.

I was an odd kid as a Hampshire teenager – I avidly watched the news of the miners strike in the 80s. Much to the astonishment of my southern, staunch Tory parents. They must have wondered what on earth had happened to me.

So I remember the horrific, almost biblical, pugilistic images of the Battle of Orgreave on the 6 o’clock news. But now I see it with adult eyes. And I’m reminded and saddened how Thatcher’s Britain turned working man against working man. Miners and Policemen, both public sector workers, both doing hard & sometimes dangerous jobs, and both traditionally unionised. How did they end up pitted against each other?

I look to the political and civic leadership of the time, and can only conclude that the politicians sought to use the police force as part of their political war on the working class. And the police leadership failed their rank and file officers by taking them into it.

There’s every chance I’m wrong about that. An IPCC enquiry might have had me better informed.

I’m interested in people power.  If the IPCC won’t investigate, can the people do it for themselves? What would a crowd-sourced testimony look like? Surely the simple act of honesty, of telling the stories of what really happened, could be a key part of healing the hurt that still exists.  

Making Christmas Cards, 2014.

This years cards are all about place, taking the rough with the smooth, and de-cluttering.

The last one is the easiest to explain. When moved house this year, we moved a lot of stuff. And this was after throwing out a lot of stuff. It seems that The Sidster and I are both inclined to hold onto things *in case they come in handy* (he likes to think it’s just me, but dear friends, I proffer you our garage, aka man-cave, in evidence to the contrary!). So the challenge was set, could I make this year’s cards out of stuff we have already. Yep, I could. I have *that* many card blanks, fancy papers and, it turns out, six cans of spray mount.

But onto the inspiration. A sense of place. We moved house this year – from Ealing to Old Windsor. Not because I’ve fallen out of love with Ealing, or particularly love the Queen (I’m a committed republican), but because we figured to cash in our London housing market chips to finish our chalet in France (we’ve been lucky rather than wise). And it’s been an interesting journey.

By moving off the TfL network and into train territory, it has solidified the feeling of moving out of London. Despite the fact that is actually only an extra 10 mins on the train to get to Southbank from the sticks than it was on the tube from W13. Being a Londoner has been (and still is) a massive part of my identity.  Sometimes I miss it so much I could weep. I knew every step of that 8 minute (oft inebriated) walk from Northfields tube to our house.

There are upside though – we see Red Kites circling the skies over the village, we hear (and smell) the cows, and take @DenistheDog for long walks on The Long Walk at Windsor Great Park.

So there’s the taking of the rough with with smooth. The Sidster had long fallen out of love with London (if he ever had been) and he loves the village. I miss the tube (train timetables are way to stressy for me) and London’s energy, but I love the village pubs.  Moreover we both love The Alps, and we will soon (eventually) have a home there. 2014 has been quite a year for our little oddball family.

So merry Christmas everyone. I hope you enjoy the cards as much as I enjoyed making them. Its been fun to turn the world’s norms on its head – instead of sending e-cards to people I see IRL, I have many friends I’ve met online and rarely get to see IRL – so its a delight to pop something in the post.  And any ideas on what to do with the other 20 out of date maps in my “might come in useful box” gratefully received.

photo 1

Christmas tree frames


Frames mounted on maps


Mounted on cards

Mounted on cards


All ready to go...

All ready to go…


The girls, language, and self-limiting beliefs

It started with my tweet:

“Today’s interesting moment. Me & @Geeta_nanda being asked “ooh what do you two girls do in the organisation”? Sort of funny, sort of sad”

And there’s been quite a bit of twitter, DM, Facebook, PM Etc convos this evening. So I figured it was worthy of a more nuanced explanation.

It was innocuous enough, but really made me think. It was a bright young woman who’s a doing a temp sales job in an outpost from the main office. So no reason why she *should* have known us. But actually rather hilarious, and I felt bad for her, when we explained we were a CEO and an Exec Director. But that’s not really the interesting thing.

It was the “girls” thing that really struck me. Use of the diminutive form for women in the workplace is part of the language of power. Or more pertinently the language of disempowerment of women. When it’s so commonplace that even the bright young women who are our future use it, it relights my feminist fire. The job is not yet done.

Language belies much. If we believe that folks of either gender can do a great leadership job, we need a language that gives our daughters the sense that they can achieve greatness. Not the self-limiting belief that “the girls” giggle a lot, and only carry out supportive functions.

There are many roles infrequently filled by women. In my worlds, that’s property development and web tech. So much of the language slips lazily into the masculine form. And the gendered-diminutive for the female form. Language reveals the assumption that the next team member will be male.

There’s so much more than one late night blog post (tapped out on an iPhone), I could write on the subject of gender inequality in the workplace. But for now, I’ll stick to the detail on language.

This is a gender issue for all of us, not just the flag-waving feminists. [edit: I should add here, that I count myself as one of the flag-waving feminists]

Fathers, how do you want your daughters to feel about themselves as they grow up and join the workplace? If you want them to have the same sense of ambition as your sons, you have to start creating a workplace culture where that can happen. And it starts with small things like not perpetuating the “the girls” stuff. So either stop it yourselves, or call it out when you hear it.

And women. We need to be grown up about our ambition, and crack on with doing a good job. And not perpetuate the bollocks. Call it out, and move on.

Silence means you’re part of the problem. And I’ve been too quiet for too long (me, silent… Unlikely I know).

A spot of customer feedback for BT.

Oh god. I’ve become one of those people that writes rant-o-grams. But really BT, I’ve been driven to distraction, whilst trying to give you my custom….

They offered Sainsbury’s vouchers if you ordered online. Of course I ordered online. I’m a digital-type of person. My order didn’t make it into their fulfilment system. I had to ring up, over and over again. Eventually I got the broadband, but not the vouchers.

Bizarrely I don’t really care about the vouchers. But I do care about my wasted time and negative energy thing. And I’d quite like for BT to be a good company, delivering good service, so I followed up.

Well, to be honest I ranted. But man I hate those bloody IVR call routers. Theirs took me 3mins 22 seconds each time to speak to a person. Yep, I’m now that persons that times those interactions.

Please can you review the case file.

I originally ordered online, with installation booked for 6th June. Something went wrong with your back office systems and my order got lost in “no mans land” and I received daily SMS alerts “just to let you know, your installation has been delayed”. No helpful information about when it was delayed too. After various phone calls, promises of call backs that didn’t arrive, and eventually a marathon call of nearly an hour, with most of it listening to your “on hold music”, the order was finally resurrected.

However your call-handler advised the best way he could resurrect it was to do it over the phone. So I went through the entire ordering process that I did online, again with him over the phone. I specifically raised the issue of the Sainsbury’s Vouchers. He put me on hold “for just a moment” – which turned out to be 20 minutes of you on hold music. He eventually returned, and advised that his supervisor had said it was OK, he would have to log it as that I’d tried to book online, but the website was down, and the vouchers would be sent.

I did indeed order online. It was a far more delightful experience than being stuck in your call routing IVR experience, but you lost my order. I then lost a few hours of my life chasing you up, in order to give you MY custom.

And now you want to quibble over the vouchers. Nice. Please either send me the Sainbury’s vouchers or details about how to raise a formal complaint. Your call.


My broadband was installed last week. It’s great, it’s fast. I can’t get iplayer to work yet, but hey, I’ll save that problem for another day.

Instructional Furniture

I got quite into pimping old furniture last year, after a fashion. I used chalk paint and simple wax polish in layers to create an aged effect. And then stencilled on instructions. Having spent a load of time making them, I then decided they weren’t quite right for the chalet in France. My friend Nat has given “drink” a home. I’ve re-used “sit” as a garden chair, but “put” is looking for a home if anyone’s interested. I’ve aged it a bit more since this pic, and it’s looking nice and worn now… Email me for deets.




2013 and onwards to 2014

Well, the annual reflection and planning time is upon us. This year I thought I’d actually blog about it, instead of intending to blog about it. So how was your 2013?

For me, a bit of a mixed bag tbh. It didn’t suck as bad as 2011 (that was officially the crappiest year this century), but it wasn’t as fab as 2007.

The high point was undoubtedly Sidster-related.  He got a serious sized chunk of his hearing restored in April. For 20-odd years, our relationship has been based on a solid foundation of mis-understanding and decoding what each other is saying. When we met in 1990, he had perfectly good hearing, but ropey English. Following a head injury in 1993, he gained a hearing impairment. Come the start of 2013, his English is perfectly good, but his hearing sure ain’t. But two stapedectomies later, its working well. No more hearing aids. No more confused Q&A exchanges where he answers a different question to the one I asked, no more TV volumes that can be heard by the neighbours, no more avoiding pubs with hard floors because they’re really loud. But plenty of conversations in the car (before the hearing aid amplified the sound of the car engine too), hearing the waterfall from our friends mountain balcony for the first time, and plenty of jokes with punchlines that don’t need to be repeated. Joy all round. And a plea to take care of your hearing folks. In the words of Joni Mitchell, you don’t what you’ve got till it gone….

The low point has been the frustration that we’ve not been able to move our French chalet build project on since this time last year. We’d hoped to at least get air and water-tight with windows and doors going in, but it wasn’t to be. The local French builders are sufficiently busy that they’re not interested in quoting on the job. C’est la vie en France. And I’ve been too bl**dy busy with the pesky business of earning a living to have looked hard enough for alternative solutions. I’ve let the impediments beat me for a bit. But that’s one to prioritise in 2014.

And what about the wider world in 2013? Observations and reflections in no particular order:

If your business model (or state for that matter) relies on people keeping secrets, you’re up shit creek. I offer you Edward Snowden, wikileaks, the NSA…

If you’re trying to keep secrets, you probably wanna spend more time addressing why its something you need to keep secret in the first place.

Android, mobile, tablets. Holy crap, the potential for the $100 tablet. Please can we do something good, like education, as well as all the pothole reporting apps and taxi-ordering apps. #firstworldproblems

Zero-hour contracts, low pay, companies that don’t share the value they create with the people who create it. I offer you Amazon. I’m trying to vote with my £ and not buy from them, but I’ll admit its hard to resist.

Foodbanks. Holy shit. In 2013 in the UK. This sucks. There but for the grace of god go any of us. Donate something. And lets see what else we can do to make them a thing of the past. I’m sure the Trussell Trust and others have a whole bunch of other good community projects they’d love to do when people aren’t hungry any more.

So to 2014. What’s in store? Each year I make a list. Usually its too long, and too detailed. A bit like KPIs (don’t you just love that we all forget what the K stands for…. 8 pages containing 42 KEY performance indicators anyone). So in the spirit of remembering that we can do ANYTHING, but we can’t do EVERYTHING…

  • Finish enough of the chalet in France so that we can spend next Christmas there.
  • Make the best use of my specialist skills at work and don’t get sucked into doing stuff that others can do better. Or that doesn’t add value.
  • Move more. The chair is this generations smoking. I’ve become a lard-arse through sitting still too much.
  • Take the time to enjoy things more. And don’t get sucked into other people’s grumpy vortii (I may have made up a new plural there).

Bonne Fetes from Haute Savoie.

Making Christmas Cards.

It started out as a bit of fun a few years ago, making Christmas cards.  But its taken on a life of its own now, and its one of the few rituals of Christmas I do.  But this year its become a bit of a statement.

I get piles of unwanted direct mail each week.  And given my demographic, it seems to mostly be about floaty clothes or home furnishings.  Now don’t get me wrong, I do like nice furniture, but really.  These things irk me.  They hold out some promise of a perfect life: buy this item of white washed furniture / blanket / item of clothing and be magically happier / thinner / more successful.  Its all a pile of bollocks really isn’t it.  You’ll just be a few quid lighter, and the possessor of a new thing.

So the idea of turning this nonsense into something nice for folks I’m fond of at Christmas seemed appealing.  We don’t do Christmas presents in our house, we give each other a two-week skiing holiday and leave the country instead.  I can’t bear the advertising, the excess consumption, the drunken accidents.  But I do like taking some time out to make things, personally.  So here they are.  Philosophical statement through the medium of Christmas card, in 4 easy steps.

1.  Crappy advertising

1. Crappy advertising

Make snowflakes

2.  Make snowflakes

fold, spray, stick

3.  fold, spray, stick

leave to dry

4.  leave to dry