take one woman with low self esteem, but quite good hair
add one moronic illness
stir in some medication which causes hair to fall out
mix it all up and this is what you get...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


The recruitment consultant was right. It's not often one has the opportunity to say (write) this, but he was.

"Most people who accept a counter offer will still leave after about 6 months"

He told me all the reasons why I shouldn't accept the counter offer - even sending me an article about it (written by a recruitment consultant, of course, on a recruitment consultant's website). He stood to make a tidy sum if I took the job at [large American corporation], so he wasn't exactly objective.

But, much to his chagrin, I accepted the counter offer. And from that day, my role gradually moved further and further away from what I'm good at and enjoy (being a specialist) to what I'm good at but don't enjoy (being a generalist). The eternal dilemma of a technical specialist: the career path. There comes a point in your career as a software engineer where you either embrace the idea of "management", leaving the detail behind in order to progress, or you cling to your speciality, because that's the only way you can make sense of your role. To me, reward is only possible when I'm designing and delivering systems myself, not when I'm organising a team to design and deliver systems.

At every meeting with my manager, we would have the same conversation:

"I don't enjoy my job at the moment"
"But you're so good at it!"
"But I don't enjoy it"
"But you're so good at it!"

and so on, until we finish the coffee. It's not as if I hadn't warned him repeatedly, albeit in a roundabout way.

The problem was, I was trapped by the platform, and I guess he knew that. If I wanted to continue to work with the technology I am a specialist in, and not travel far from home, my options were limited. There was:

In that context, staying was the only sensible option, unless I could find another speciality.

The problem with a speciality is that you have to have been doing it for a while for it to become a speciality. Starting a new career would mean dropping down to a salary that would not keep me in the manner to which I have become accustomed (to coin a phrase). But looking over at my friends who still worked at the company where I was originally trained (and where I was when I started blogging in 2003), I spotted a possibility.

When that company made the decision to take their IT department offshore (yes, India), this removed the need for in-house analyst/programmers, but created a need for a "middle man" between the business and the IT developers. A Business Analyst. Someone who needs many of the same aptitudes as a programmer, but is not tied to a particular platform or technology. A specialist in gathering, structuring and documenting business requirements to deliver change to the business. In an off-shored environment, Business Analysts are both vital and numerous.

After a whirlwind recruitment process (it helps to have contacts), I will start my new job next week at the company where it all began.

And whilst I'm fully aware that it's not "the answer" (which would be not having to work at all, if I'm honest), it's certainly an answer, in that it will allow me to:

Not for the first time, my life has taken a circular route. But that's fine by me.

Monday, March 14, 2011

And it came to pass that the big American corporation offered me a job.

And it came to pass that I told my manager.

And it came to pass that they matched the salary offered by the American corporation.

And it came to pass that I didn't need to leave at all.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

The news in (not very) brief 

I've applied for a new job.

Same as what I do now, but for a large, American corporation.
Same as what I do now, but 30 miles down the road, rather than 5 miles up the road.
Same as what I do now, but for 30 - 40% more salary.

30 - 40%.

And the company I'm at now wonders why they find it hard to recruit. Over the past few years, they've benefited from a couple of big companies in the area either making people redundant or off-shoring their IT to India (or both). They've benefited from those people who have ties in the area so want to find a job locally. The majority of these people took a pay cut to work there, because our line of work is so specialised, you have to take what you can, when you can.

But 30 - 40% just shows how behind the game they are.

It was a no-brainer, I had nothing to lose. I had to give it a try. Me and several others from where I work.

Let's face it, I don't do this work for the love of it, I do it for the money. One pointless corporation is no better than another. The extra money would mean we could refurbish our kitchen diner significantly sooner than if I stayed at the current place.

So, two interviews down (telephone, then face to face) and I'm playing the waiting game...

From hopefully gaining pounds in one area, to definitely losing them in others. Since June last year, I have changed my diet, adopting a "pre-agricultural" regime (also known as "Paleo", "Stone age", "hunter gatherer" etc.). Essentially, I no longer eat cereal-based products (bread, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals etc), the idea being that although our technology has evolved to cultivate and produce these products en masse, our bodies have not evolved to properly digest them. Particularly those of us with the most primitive blood type, O. (And I am O+)

I have spent many a year sneering at low-carbohydrate diets (for this is what it is), but having read the theory behind it and seeing the results (lost around 3 stone and at least 2 dress sizes), I am a true convert.

As a low-carber, there are some comments that are inevitable:
  1. "Oh, the Atkins diet"
    Well no, it's not actually. Any diet that tells me I can't eat fruit is not a diet I would want to follow. Fruit is arguably the most natural food for a human being.

  2. "I couldn't do it. I love bread, I love pasta"
    Do you think I don't? But let's think about bread for a moment. Think about the amount of grain that you need to make enough flour for one loaf of bread. Think about the processes that the grain of wheat has gone through to become a loaf of bread. Though we may think of bread as a "staple", it is a highly processed food. And a food that would not be available to primitive, pre-agricultural man. So for me, bread is now an occasional treat, and one that I savour.

  3. "But what do you eat?"
    Meat and fish. Eggs. Vegetables. Fruits. Nuts. Seeds. Anything that is essentially unchanged from its natural state (other than being chopped up and/or cooked). I also allow myself dairy products, although the pure version of the diet argues that milk and its various sidelines would be unavailable to primitive man (how do you milk a wild animal?).

  4. "But what do you have for breakfast?"
    Yes, breakfast is the tricky one. Toast is out. Cereal is out. Bacon and eggs every day, that just can't be particularly healthy. So I have berries and natural yoghurt, topped with toasted nuts. At weekends, I allow myself a pain aux raisins, a bit of toast or eggs and bacon.

  5. "What about a quick lunch when you're out and about? You can't just grab a sandwich!"
    No, you can't. Eating on the go is probably the trickiest thing about the diet, because our lunchtime outlets are just packed to the gills with sandwiches. Browse the aisles of Marks and Spencer for a takeaway lunch, and virtually every salad contains pasta, rice, couscous or legumes. So you end up assembling your own lunch from a selection of disparate ingredients. A packet of cooked chicken here, a slightly dreary side salad there.
I allow myself the odd sweet, the odd cake, the odd chip (for potatoes are also not part of the regime). And when I have them, I really savour and enjoy them.

I never feel bloated, but equally I do not feel hungry. I eat plenty. I eat differently. I eat delicious, natural, home-cooked food.

And as a result, I maintain a healthy weight. All the weight I gained through steroids and inactivity, I have lost. And more.

It's given me one less thing to worry about.

Anyway, how are you?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


... the new project.

In its infancy at the moment, but with "web-time" at a premium, I'm liking the snippetiness of it.

Will see how it goes...

UPDATE: I have decided to "break the link" between the new blog and this one, as I don't want to rule out introducing people I actually know (*gasp*) to the new one. So, if you want to see it, remove "the" from the url above and if you want to comment, remember: you don't know me!


Friday, July 23, 2010

Treat this place like a hotel, etc. 

Yeah, I know. Not been here for a while. Too much life, not enough time, so it would seem. How did I ever find time to do this anyway? Well, I've deigned to drop in and write something, so you may as well hear me out.

A funny thing happened to me at work the other day.

We were having a meeting about testing the project I'm running. Like most software development projects, it's based on an idea put forward by a senior "user" (as we call them). I designed the solution and have built it along with a colleague, over the past couple of months, in close consultation with my users - my customers.

The users for this project are unusual, in that they haven't been involved in projects before - they're far too busy actually transacting the business to worry about projecty things, deadlines, timescales, GANTT charts and milestones. So when the project manager asked the question:

"What if you don't finish testing when you plan to?"

The response came from the senior user:

"Well, we carry on testing until we're happy with it, don't we? It's a no brainer!"

I could have kissed him. Could have, but didn't. (That would have been strange).

In case you're sitting there thinking "but surely, what the man said was just sensible? Logical?", then I don't think you understand the world in which most software developers operate.

Twelve years, I've been in the business of delivering software and twelve years I've waited for someone to say "Let's just do this properly. Let's take the time it takes to build it right. Let's take the time it takes to test it thoroughly. Let's deliver it when it's ready." Twelve long years.

I really could have kissed him.

At that moment, I had just a flash of what my work could be like if it wasn't... well, the way it always is.

An estimate is just that - an estimate. Sometimes things take longer when you get into the detail. Sometimes you don't think of everything. Twenty-year old bespoke IT systems are rambling, complicated, illogical, riddled with holes and inconsistencies. So we estimate as best we can, we build a bit of contigency, but it's a guideline, not an excuse to carve a deadline in stone and hold everyone to it.

I basked in the glory of this man's statement for some time and contemplated its simplicity, its beauty. Only to be brought back down to earth by my manager.

"B said it's okay if we don't deliver bang on the date we pencilled in - he just wants the system to be right"

"Yeah, but we've delivered a few projects late this year, I don't want another one to explain to J (the director). So I'd appreciate if you'd pull this one in on time"

A glimmer of hope, eclipsed by the dark shadow of reality.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Delusion and collusion 

I had thought that I would never find a colleague as infuriating as this one. Apparently, I was quite wrong.

For the past few months, I have been sitting opposite a man who seems, on the surface, to be an interesting, intelligent and laid back sort of fellow. We all thought so. "Yeah, he's a nice, guy, D". Yeah. And I would stand by that now to some extent - he is interesting, intelligent and laid back.

But as an added "bonus", he has the most extraordinary superiority complex I have ever encountered. The way he talks about himself, one would imagine that he has reached the pinnacle of achievement in his life. Let's look at the facts, shall we? He is a test analyst for an insurance company. He lives alone and by his own admission, has no friends. Truly enviable, no?

He will argue with anything and everything, particularly things which really aren't worth arguing about. If you state a fact to him, his reply will always start with "But surely...". His opinions revolve around what he has gleaned from the One Show, Wikipedia or extrapolated from his own, limited experience of life. Once he has the bit in his mouth on a particular topic, he will not let go, even if the whole office provides evidence to disprove his ill thought out theory.

He has a particular bee in his bonnet about the fact that he didn't go to university, concluding that he is somehow better than those who did. Now, I couldn't give a toss if someone's been to university or not, and there are countless examples of people who do have a degree who are complete cretins and have made a mess of their life. I am very far from being a shining example of graduate success. But what cannot be denied is that if you have a degree, there are certain doors open to you which would not be open to you otherwise. Perhaps they are doors which have no interest to you, perhaps they are doors that you lack the confidence to open, but they are doors nonetheless. This is fact.

Instead of going to university, he will claim, he travelled. He worked in America, he worked in Dubai, he had valuable experiences which have made him who he is today. Well done, fair play to him. But going to university does not prevent someone from travelling and/or working abroad (for example) - in my case, it was part of my degree to do so. Many students take a year off before or after university to do so. Many graduates take a sabbatical part way through a degree to have such experiences. His argument does not hold water. I do not criticise anyone for not having a degree. Yet he will criticise and claim to be superior to those who do.

A particular example he has cited more than once is one of his teachers at school telling him he would never make anything of his life. "But look at me now, and look at him. I wonder how much he's earning..." he will spout, smugly.

I have a number of problems with this. I am looking at you now. You are a test analyst for an insurance company. He is a teacher. I know which profession I have more respect for. As for "how much he's earning", well I would consider that to be utterly irrelevant, but for the record, it's *probably* still more than you.

I almost look forward to going back to my old desk, behind him. Almost.

Luckily, I have an ally. A is, I think, my secret sister. We are both tall, loud, North Londoners who tell it like it is and won't suffer fools gladly. We are both mimics, we both sing if prompted by a phrase that happens to be in a song, we both laugh, we both overreact. Those who don't know us think we can be aggressive or intimidating. Those who do, know that despite our appearance we actually lack confidence and self-esteem.

The other day, A said something to D that made me realise that she felt the same way about him as I do. A hasty email followed by a satisfyingly cathartic bitching session.

Always good to know one is not alone.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


What buying a present should be about:

At any time of year:

Seeing something you know someone would love.
Buying it there and then.
Giving it to them when you next see them.
"I saw this and thought of you".

Making something.
Something tailored to a friend, a lover, a family member.
Something you've given up your time to make.
Something utterly unique.

What buying a present should not be about:

December. Shops really busy. Where's my list? What was it he wanted? Was it Guitar Hero or Band Hero? I'm not even bothering going in *that* shop. Where's my list? Argh! Stress! What was it she wanted? Eternity or Escape? Why can't everyone just fuck off? Need a cup of tea. Where's my list? What was it they wanted? Hannah Montana or High School musical? Stop pushing me! Need a drink. Wrapping paper, yes. Queues! Argh! Bus home. Squashed. Oh no! Tags! Sellotape! My sanity! My patience!


The older I get, the more pointless it all seems.

Not being at work, relaxing with the ones I love, being warm, being well. That's what I want for Christmas.

What do you want?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

La Belle époque 

It can't have escaped the notice of many "old school" bloggers that Belle de jour has finally been unmasked.

I remember when I first became aware of Belle. I remember, because I blogged about it in the days when I was still finding my own blogging voice, when my posts were distinctly more superficial, impulsive and snippety. I remember the controversy, particularly when she won a blogging award after only a couple of months. I remember the various theories - most notably, that "she" was a man. Furthermore, a journalist. No female, amateur writer could write about sex like that, apparently.

What was different about Belle from my perspective was that she had no comment thread. I had come to blogging at a time (known by some as "the second wave") when comments had become the norm. It seemed unthinkable that a new blog wouldn't have them. What we now know is that Belle had been an early adopter of blogging under a couple of different pseudonyms, therefore not having comments on her latest offering was probably normal for her. But not for the bloggers who saw themselves as her "contemporaries". Me being one of them. It all seemed incredibly aloof. "This is what I have to say. You may not respond, you must simply read and admire" is how I interpreted it. And they did, in droves.

Another feature which set her apart was the "monomania". The blog was about her experiences as a call girl, but not about her as a (as it turned out) PhD student, who had chosen prostitution as a means to pay for her studies. As a woman in a serious relationship. As a woman with American heritage. We never got to "know" her as a whole person, she was an enigma. Whereas I and many other bloggers at the time were open books, blurting out our feelings and failings to anyone who would listen.

She seemed supremely confident in her looks, her abilities, her intelligence, her writing. With good reason, as it turned out. Although this meant that I could never relate to her as I related to so many of the other blogs I was reading at the time. I relate best to humility, honesty, inadequacy.

Hers was probably the first blog that made me feel utterly inadequate about my life, my writing, my everything, but this did not stop me from returning to that url, week after week. When I think about how my own writing has evolved, from the early, chatty posts I used to publish, to the more thought-out, philosophical offerings of more recent times, I suppose I can't deny that I have been influenced, almost despite myself. I was a secret, reluctant admirer, inspired and intimidated in equal measure.

I once sent an email to Belle. She used French date stamps on her posts, and I noticed that the day and month names began with capital letters. If she wanted to be authentic, I pointed out, these should begin with lowercase letters. I have no idea if she read my message, but when I saw her first book in Waterstones, I noticed that lowercase was being used and smiled.

She was the first "blog to book" that I was aware of, and probably heralded the way for many others. I believe that blogging became more competitive and corporate after this - people clamoured for awards and book deals. Not Belle's fault, clearly, but a change was apparent to those of us who'd been blogging "before Belle". Many of my blogging strops have been reactions to these changes, but my instinct to write stuff (however crap) has usually tipped the balance.

So Belle (Brooke) is indeed a woman. A respected scientist. I am not surprised. Her writing betrayed her as a supremely intelligent person, whose intellect extended well beyond the somewhat limited (however specialised) demands of the escort work she wrote about in such detail.

Go well, Brooke.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


By the time I was nineteen years old, I'd lost all of my grandparents. I never knew my paternal grandfather, and can barely remember my mother's father either, who died when I was just four, a year after my own father had died.

I saw my two grandmothers regularly: one lived in West London in a 1930s block of flats, the other a stone's throw from the sea, near Bognor Regis in Sussex. Both had many stories to tell, but like most youngsters, I didn't think to really listen.

I lost my mother, my only remaining parent, when I was just twenty-seven. As I moved into my thirties, a time when I began to indulge in much philosophical introspection (the fact that I started blogging at thirty-one is no coincidence) I began to ponder my own history and wonder where I'd come from, but unfortunately had no-one to ask.

In the past few months, I have been inspired by re-runs on satellite channels of this, and with the help of the wealth of resources now available on the Internet (for a nominal fee and in some cases, free), I've been delving around in censuses and putting together my own family tree. Luckily, my grandparents were all old enough to appear on the 1911 census as children, so I was able to find out their parents' names, their siblings, where they lived, and the occupation of the father.

In my family, there have been booksellers, shopkeepers, wood labourers, police constables, mercantile clerks and station masters.

They have lived in Clerkenwell, Camberwell, Bethnal Green, Hoxton (before it was trendy), Stepney, Kent, Surrey, Hampshire, Devon, and Sussex. With the wonder of the Interwebs (most notably, Google Street View for the London addresses), I have even managed to glimpse some of the houses my ancestors lived in - where they have not been replaced by 1950s blocks of flats.

There are numerous Eleanors, Claras, Ediths, Thomases and Georges. One of my great, great grandfathers had a wife called Amelia, a daughter called Amelia and a servant called, yes you've guessed it, Amelia. Another had two sons called John, both alive on the same census.

One of my great grandfathers was one of nine siblings, and grew up just a few miles from where I now live. My paternal grandfather grew up in Sidcup and went to school in Chislehurst - a stone's throw from where I lived briefly with Big, back in 2004. His mother was born in Mottingham - one stop prior to where I used to get off the train from the city during those dark (but mercifully short) days of commuting.

It is all quite, quite fascinating.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Our garden has provided us with:
Butternut squash

The cat has attempted to provide us with:
slugs (which attached themselves to her fluffy haunches)
a lack of sleep, due to night time meanderings on the bed
surly, nonchalant behaviour
general ungratefulness
rare moments of utter adoration
seemingly endless amusement

Work has provided me with:
a salary
an overwhelming urge to run for the hills

My sister has provided me with:
a small, perfectly formed niece (to add to my collection)

The municipal recycling centre (or "dump" as it used to be known) has provided us with:
Two filing cabinets
A blind, which miraculously fits the bathroom window as if it were made to measure
Two chrome effect radiator drying racks
A marble lazy susan (used mostly as a Scrabble turntable)
A bird bath
Two large pieces of fabulous "retro" fabric
Some pint glasses

That about covers it, for now.