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...

Saturday, February 25, 2006

That was the week that was... 

Typical. Just because I decide to take a break from blogging, it all starts happening at work. Had I been a proper blogger, of course, I would have been giving you live (or almost live) updates from the sharp end, allowing you to live those dramatic moments with me. Instead of which, you must make do with the cold, dry summary after the event. I apologise in advance.

You see, Monday was not a Monday like any other. It had started normally, with my taking up my usual, Monday role. There were mutterings of a departmental meeting at 10, which barely gave me time to boot up my lamentably slow laptop and "sport" the telephone headset.

Soon, Brainiacs, Important People and Happy People were gathering in the main, open plan area where the videoconference screen was set up in such a way that we could only see our esteemed director on screen, looking not unlike a nervous news presenter. We knew something was up.

By 10:30, after hearing about the closure of one of our manufacturing sites (not at all unexpected) and the departure of a director I had never heard of, we had got to the nitty gritty. Due to rising energy prices, yadda yadda yadda, need to reduce headcount, yadda yadda yadda, there would be redundancies within the IT department. We would be told later in the day whether our roles were at risk.

As one of the most recent recruits to the department, one whose role is barely understood by her manager and one who would not be entitled to an expensive redundancy package or indeed any redundancy payment at all, I assumed that there was a high possibility of my losing my job.

When our manager took us into the meeting room and told us that, of us three brainiacs (one of whom had been with the company for twenty-three years, the other, ten), one would be leaving, I began to prepare for my unemployed future. Yes, I was planning to leave anyway, but I had wanted it to be in my own time, my own decision.

I maintained my defeatist attitude as we sat in the pub, bemoaning the situation. A (one of the Happy People also at risk) and I shrugged and said: "Ah well, shame about the Final Salary pension..." Others looked on, sympathetically. Some were very quiet.

I sent an email to my manager, saying that if the other brainiacs did not volunteer for redundancy, then I would, since in all likelihood it would be me. I was soon whisked into the meeting room, alone: "... not a foregone conclusion", "...the decision has not yet been made...", "... don't assume", "... positive contribution to the department", "...not dependent on length of service", "...just wait and see."

I waited and saw.

On the drive home, my eyes were welling up. Not because I was particularly attached to the job, not because I worried about getting another job (well, no more than the standard level of worry which accompanies me through life). Just because, on a very basic, human level, to be told you may be surplus to requirements is not a comforting feeling. Even though you know it's not personal, even though you know that this is how the corporate world works, even though you know that this is precisely why you will be leaving the corporate world behind.

The next day, as we drove to site, I discussed the situation with my close colleague. "Everyone has a unique selling point within the department. You are no exception," he explained. "Think about some of the applications you support. No-one else can support them. Then think about the other brainiacs... Don't undersell yourself. You have skills which are unique." But still, I was the cheap, easy and, let's face it, uncontroversial option, wasn't I?

After returning to the office, the manager began calling people to the office downstairs. First, K, the ten year brainiac. When he returned a few minutes later, he said nothing. I was next.

I didn't hear much, but I heard what was required:

"[...] your job is safe [...] K's role is redundant [...] very impressed with the work you've done[...] want that to continue [...] if you had volunteered, we wouldn't have accepted it [...]"

The shock and guilt took a while to subside. Facing K was difficult at first, particularly as he had interviewed me just over a year ago. He may have been putting on a brave face, but he explained that he had been wanting to leave, hadn't been enjoying the job for some time, the applications he supported were slowly being replaced, he was not surprised by the decision, it was just the kick up the arse he needed to move on. I think he means it. I hope he means it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Watch out West London! 

Anxious and Noreen will be in town tomorrow.
Oh yes.
Bring ear plugs.
There will be cackling.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Because I'm not worth it... 

Max Ehrmann once wrote:

"If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself"

Why do I find it so hard to take what is clearly such good advice?

The trouble with blogging is that it provides ample opportunity for comparison: the primary fuel of status anxiety. The fact that there are millions of people who are "better" than I am never used to be so much of a problem because I wasn't so acutely aware of it. Now, this fact confronts me every day, via my very own blogroll. I torture myself daily by visiting the sites of people who are far better writers than I am, who have more fulfilling or more interesting careers, who are slimmer, more attractive, more stylish, who are more intelligent, more eloquent, posher, richer, more self-sufficient, more self-assured, wittier, funnier, who have more sex than I do, who go on better holidays, who live in better places, who read more, travel more, see more films. In short, it seems like their "selves" and their lives are better than mine. So then I use these things as yet another stick with which to beat myself, as if "real life" didn't provide enough of its own.

Am I just eternally ungrateful? Will whatever I achieve in life be overshadowed by the fact that Joe Blogs has done it better, more quickly, with more style and panache or has, at the very least, written about it more eloquently?

This is truly the dark side of blogging for me. I sometimes get so lost in it that I wonder what it's all for. Now is one of those times. Quite apart from the time wasted, staring glumly at the computer in the evenings and at weekends when I could be doing those all those activities which engender such envy. It's an eternal cycle of beating myself up.

"Do you think you were happier before you started blogging?" Big asked, as he was forced to listen to yet another self-indulgent lament. I honestly don't know the answer. I can hardly remember the time when I didn't have this metaphorical millstone round my neck, even though it was less than three years ago that I started this nonsense.

When the negatives seem always to outweigh the positives, I have to wonder whether I would be better off without it...

Monday, February 06, 2006

Comfort zone 

Every Monday, I am living proof that putting a specialist in a generalist role may not prove to be particularly productive. For Monday is the day when I "help out" on the frontline IT Helpdesk. Where "help out" translates to something more akin to "answer the phone, look bewildered, ask stupid questions and type a poor description of a user's problem which will go in a queue for someone who really knows what they're doing to solve".

They may as well just drag passers-by in off the street than have me on the Helpdesk. Out of my comfort zone doesn't really go any way toward describing just how useless I am. But, weirdly, despite the fact that I'm flailing around in the unknown world of Windows 2000, Citrix, NT, Netware, dozens of applications I've never heard of and hundreds of users who haven't a clue who I am, I don't mind it so much. The time passes quickly and I get to wear a headset so that I can be the switchboard operator out of Hong Kong Phooey. Minus the blond hair. And the spectacles...

Of course, this doesn't mean for one moment that the role is not fraught with frustrations, ah no...

Dear user customer

Yes, I know I'm not one of the usual people you speak to. I'm sorry to bewilder you by my presence. Saying "Who's that?" and still sounding none the wiser when I tell you my name again gets us nowhere. I've told you you're through to the Helpdesk and that's what you wanted, so let's get on with it.

Now, you know your name off by heart - clever old you! I don't. I know *my* name, silly, of course. But not yours. You could be one of 900 people. Qualifying a mumbled first name with "from [insert company name]" does not help to narrow you down. There are a number of other people from [insert company name] who you could be (apart from me, of course). So howzabout you tell me your first name and your surname, slowly and clearly. That is always a good starting point, but it's amazing how many people fall at this first hurdle.

Once I have your name down, unfortunately this doesn't automatically give me telepathic powers which tell me exactly what you're trying to do with which software on which platform at any given time. This information is probably quite important if you want someone to help you with your problem. I appreciate that, to you, it's just "the computer", but to me, it could be one of several platforms and operating systems and one of dozens of applications. So if I ask you some questions which to you seem completely obvious, just try not to make me feel like a complete halfwit for asking them because they're far from obvious to me.

Finally, unless your problem happens to concern an application written in the specific language and on the specific platform from which I have made my career (hint: there aren't many applications which fit this description), it's probably quite unlikely that I'll be able to solve your problem myself, on the spot. So please don't hate me if I log the call and pass it to someone who does know what they're doing.


Friday, February 03, 2006


Four jobs that I've had
Four movies I can watch over and over
Four places I have lived
Four TV shows I like to watch
Four foods that I like [Ed. only four?????]
Four websites I visit daily
Four things I want to do before I die
Four places I would rather be right now
Four people I'm tagging
No-one. If it takes your fancy, just do it...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Goodbye, little friend 

We first met him when we visited the house which we were in the process of buying, back in January last year. He was sitting on top of a washing machine in the utility room, looking very chilled and only too glad to receive the unsolicited attention from the two tall strangers who wandered slowly around the house.

"Does the cat come with the house?" I joked to the estate agent at the time, not realising quite how prophetic that question would be.

He next came into our lives through the open bedroom window one sultry night in August.

"Why is there a cat in our bedroom?" asked Big. At first, I thought this was one of his nocturnal somniloquies which usually turn out to be red herrings. On hearing the "miaouw", however, I realised that there was, indeed, a cat in the bedroom. Being "cat people", we were delighted (if a little bewildered) by his presence, but felt that he should probably be returned from whence he came. The patio door was opened, the cat despatched onto the decking and the bedroom window reluctantly closed.

"Do you know, I think that's the cat who used to live here. Remember, the one who was sitting on the washing machine when we looked around?"

"Hmmm, you could be right..."

I was right. It wasn't long before we realised that our neighbours were the people who used to live in our house. The cat was as confused as us by this turn of events, but was only too pleased to now have at least two welcoming homes.

From then on, barely a day went by without our seeing (or hearing from) him. Throughout the summer, as we sat down to eat on the patio, he would trot happily down the garden to greet us and spend the evening asleep next to one or other of us on the sofa. Soon, as he got to know us better, he would venture onto our laps, tramping us with his sharp claws before settling down to a long, peaceful slumber. As autumn and winter set in, and the back door was left closed, he made his presence felt by crying at the back door. Some nights he would come to our bedroom window and howl; some nights, we would relent and let him in for a cuddle.

We enjoyed tempting him away from his "real" owners. Usually it would be enough to jangle the keys of the patio door lock to send him scrabbling over the fence from their garden to ours. Other times, we would open the kitchen window and make a sucking sound (you know, the standard "cat beckoning" noise) and would hear him land gracefully on the decking, staring hopefully up at the window and miaowing ferociously.

He made us laugh every time we saw him.

But today he made us cry.

Our little ray of sunshine, the only positive thing to come out of living next door to our selfish, deceitful, contemptible neighbours, has died.

It will take me a while to get out of the habit of looking out for him every morning from our bedroom window...

Rest in peace, George the cat. The very silly, very loving but really rather smelly cat.