Saturday, December 27, 2008

'Twas the night after Christmas and all through the house...

Our old neighbours moved out a couple of months ago, which we were quite relieved about: they were noisy; shouted at their kids a lot; parked outside our house after making a fuss about our friends parking outside theirs once - and in some way connected to local gangsters and involved in a shooting incident a few years ago.  No, we weren't sorry to see them leave.

A new neighbour moved in a month or so ago - we hadn't really seen or heard much from him.  Until Christmas started.  On Christmas night at about 1 am Matt was woken by screaming and arguing on the street from people at next door's.  I sleep through earthquakes so this was no trouble.

And last night we were just going to bed at 10.30 when there was a knock at the door.  Our neighbour says he is having some friends round.  It might be a bit noisy.  Would we like to come round?  We decline, explaining that we're just going to bed and, as Matt has to be up early for work, ask him to keep the noise down.  He goes away.  We don't feel very confident.

So we go to bed and there is some noise but we manage to sleep.  Until 1.30 am, when we're woken by screaming and laughing from next door.  It's loud.  And it's not stopping.  I go round and knock on the door.  Nothing.  I knock more loudly.  Still nothing.  I do my 'baliff' knock.  Someone comes to the door, our new neighbour behind him.  I explain that it's 1.30 am and we're trying to sleep.  He looks sorry.  I ask if he has people upstairs.  He says he does so I ask him to move them downstairs.  He says he will.  He says he's sorry.  I go back to bed.  There's still a little noise but nothing like it was.  I lie awake wondering if it's going to get worse.  Fortunately, it doesn't.

I'm considering treating this as research in understanding what my tenants deal with and claiming overtime - double time for the bank holiday, of course.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

No. 1

I think it's fair to say I'm not an X-Factor fan.  I don't really have anything against it, I just can't be arsed.

I am, however, incensed by their plans to appropriate 'Hallelujah' for the winner to do a cover version of.  It's just wrong.  'Hallelujah' is dark and powerful and conflicting and speaks to those painful times in life.  The original version was written by Leonard Cohen and then covered by Jeff Buckley, the epitome of angsty musicians.  I'm not saying no-one should ever cover it, just that it should be done by people who understand the song and have chosen it because they can do something new with it, not someone who has won it as a prize in a talent show and who has had it chosen by a company aiming to wring as much money as possible out of the public using the hauntingly beautiful* melody.

So, if you are also unhappy, there is something you can do.  Buy the Jeff Buckley version.  Currently it's at number 3.  Links to where to buy it from are here (not Amazon, apparently , as this doesn't contribute to the charts).  I'm not sure whether it's really possible to stop the X-Factor version getting to no.1.  I do know Sony will be laughing as they own both versions.  But I honestly think it's worth making a little stand against the overwhelming triumph of the commercialisation of culture.

*Yes it's a cliche.  No, I don't care.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Last train excitement

We went to Sanctus.  We went to the pub.  We ran (sort of...) to the station to catch the second-to-last train home.

We missed it.  A man had collapsed outside the station so Matt did the off-duty paramedic thing and made sure he was ok until the ambulance arrived - the ambulance he usually uses when he's not off-duty!

So we got the last train home.  

I don't often say nice things about my husband in public.  But I was very proud of him.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Good electrician, bad electrician

I will be glad when the rewiring is done - it's due to start on 3rd December.  Lucky Matt, it coincides with his 6 days off work.  There are some good things though.  We get to decide where we want plug sockets - there's been a huge leap in the amount of electrical equipment people have since the wiring was first put in.  And we'll have a shower put in while we're having the rewiring done - another of those things we haven't got round to yet.  This VAT reduction has come at an excellent time for us as well :)  Oh yes, and our house will no longer be a fire risk.  

We're planning on trying to get some money back from the electrician who certified the electrics and did some of the work about two years ago - yes, just before we bought the house.  I know that if we had employed him claiming would be easy enough but I'm not sure where we stand as we've bought the house from the people who bought the original service.  Her certified it as good for 5 years when it wasn't actually good for ten minutes, so I think it's worth a go.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Small hiatus

I finished my essay!  My weekend was fairly tedious (Apart from going out for Matt's birthday and going to a baby shower... so not so bad...) but I managed to find around 3000 words to say about how our relets department does continuous improvement.  We'll see.

I have more work to do - another test, another essay, an exam - but I'm in that lovely state of readjusting to not having something to do every single minute.  And I'm going on holiday!  Matt is 30 on Thursday so we're going away for a long weekend.  I'm very excited.  It's going to be fun!  And nothing at all about continuous improvement!

Friday, November 07, 2008

When even the good news isn't actually good...

We started having some problems with the electrics in our bathroom recently.  A while ago the fan stopped working and we never quite got round to getting it fixed.  And then the bathroom light started flickering randomly.  It's irritating when the light goes out when you're on the loo...

When the fan switch started sparking and making crackling noises and the light was flickering even when it was turned off at the switch, we thought we'd better do something.  We turned the light circuit off at the fuse box and lived in darkness for a week.  The electrician came out on Monday and said the wire from the light switch and the wire to the light fitting were different colours (apparently bad), the light was live all the time (also bad apparently) and the fuse for the wiring circuit should have an earth as well as a live wire coming out of it(even I know this isn't good).

They came back yesterday and did some more investigations.  Matt texted me to say there was good news and there was bad news.  At this point I was hopeful.  Maybe, I thought, this meant that not much needed doing but they couldn't do it for a couple of weeks.  No...  The bad news is that the whole house needs rewiring.  The good news is that the house hasn't burnt down.  At some point the fan set itself on fire and then smothered itself.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Not a post at all.

I haven't posted for a while.  This is because I am writing such a wildly boring essay I have nothing to say.  About anything.

I wanted to write something about the government wanting to be able to look at everything ever written on facebook for reduction-of-terrorism purposes, and link it to the redefinition of terrorism under one of the criminal justice or terrorism acts.  But I was too tired.

I could tell you about work and my performance review and how coaching has improved my life no end.

I've thought about writing some more about housing law and how much I like it, or the complexities of preparing for Matt's forthcoming 30th birthday.  Or the joy of our neighbours moving out and leaving us in peace, quiet and parking space.

And of course I always want to tell you all about Jake, and how he's sitting up now, and just how awesome he really is.

But no, my brain has been turned to mush by Continuous Improvement as Applied to Lettings and Allocations.

So I have nothing to say.

Friday, October 10, 2008

'People like me'

As a housing professional* I was interested to read the tenancy agreement a friend is using to let his house.  Anyone who has rented privately will have seen this sort of thing - 2 sides of A4 explaining that you have to pay the rent and look after the property, and leave if you're asked properly.  I explained that social landlords have slightly weightier agreements - ours cover everything from rent to gardens to car repair to neighbour nuisance to who gets your tenancy if you die.  I use my tenancy agreement to tell tenants to cut their lawns.  "I hate people like you," another friend muttered.

Ah yes, people like me.  Landlords do not always have a good reputation** and this is sometimes deserved.  And, admittedly, there is really potential for being a complete bastard*** in this job - housing law is so complicated that power rests squarely with landlords unless tenants get good advice.  Landlords tend to start with the power anyway, being the ones with houses to provide.  So, being a 'person like me' doesn't always feel pleasant.

But just what is it that I do?  What social benefit do I provide?  Well, generally, I help to provide people with somewhere to live.  I explain the rules to them.  When people have problems caused by their neighbours, I do what I can to resolve those problems.  When people have problems with us, I try to help them resolve those problems - we can't always do everything people want, but I find that people are happier sometimes if you can explain why.  

When people are in crisis - when their relationship is breaking down, for example - I help them to know what we can do to help.  I go to meetings designed to protect small children who are being abused or neglected by their family.  I intervene and support people when they are being harassed or suffering domestic abuse.  I listen to all sorts of horrible stories.

Today I spent a considerable amount of time talking to a tenant who is due in court next week for possession proceedings.  Now, hopefully, he will come in and get his tenancy issues sorted and I've also arranged for some support to enable him to sustain his tenancy.  If he is still in his flat on Thursday I will feel some sense of satisfaction.

I don't like all of my tenants.  Some of them are unpleasant people to deal with.  But I genuinely care about my tenants being well and happy in their homes.  I try really hard to make them happy when I can and be honest when I can't.  I know I've had a positive impact on people's lives.

Which is more than you can say for hedge fund managers, for example...

*yes really, that is how I describe myself.
** try googling "evil landlord"
*** I learnt this at uni on Wednesday - Crodon LBC v Buston and Triance (1992) - a secure tenant is told by a lawyer that she can sign her tenancy over to her son, so she does and moves out.  Her son takes the legal document into the council offices.  They say assignments have to be evidenced by a deed.  She goes away and gets a deed done, but the council point out that, by moving out of the property and not intending to return (evidenced by the original document) she's lost her secure status so no longer has the right to assign.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Back to school

It's definitely autumn - I can tell from the weather and the way it's getting colder, and from just how dark it seems to be almost all the time.

And it's back-to-school time.  Uni starts again tomorrow.  I seem to remember that I liked going to uni last year.  I liked learning things, I liked drinking coffee, I found it interesting to find new ways of looking at my work.

But I also vaguely remember losing whole vast swathes of my life to essays, and to the time wasted not doing essays but not actually doing anything else, and not seeing my friends or my husband or my family.  I've enjoyed the freedom I've had over the summer to do those things and I don't want to lose it.

Still, we're doing law and finance, how hard can it be?*

*I also seem to remember saying that about a masters in International Political Economy and that turned out to be so hard I just cried all the time until I gave it up...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Things to do when you're ill (1)

So I am ill and stuck at home on the sofa with a very low boredom threshold.  To make myself feel better I am knitting very small hats for innocent smoothies' The Big Knit.  So far I am up to 2 1/2 hats.  Each one takes about 45 minutes to knit which, coincidentally, is about the same length as Any Questions.

Admittedly, I could more easily spend a couple of hours asleep on the sofa and send them £1.50 but I'm not sure that's the point.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I'm not a student any more, dammit!

For a long time, September was a funny month.  It heralded a new academic year, either as a student, working at a university or working with students.  Every year, for approximately a decade, September would be a hectic month filed with freshers' weeks, late nights and lots of hard work, followed by an unpleasant week of so of Freshers' Flu, that delightful result of meeting lots of new germs from all over the country, which takes the form of a runny nose, sore throat and an overwhelming urge to stay in bed until I feel better.

While technically I am still a student, it's on day-release now, which is completely different - the new term starts on Wednesday, I know I've passed my re-sit essay (that one on Polish migrants I was telling you about) because I've been allowed to register on-line but I still haven't had my results through the post - but my body does not seem to have grasped the idea that it has no reason to be ill.  It's September and I'm off work with what feels suspiciously familiar.  A runny nose.  A headache.  A sore throat.  An inability to process thoughts or communicate coherently.  I have The September Malady.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Here, there and everywhere...

Just about getting over Greenbelt - it's tiring but completely awesome, and I feel like an amazing person when I'm there, and then I come home and I'm just tired and feel slightly less awesome - it takes me a week to get used to normal life again.  

And now I'm off again - going to Quinta with SPEAK to do Vocal Training, a weekend getting network people together to do training.  I haven't been for a while as I no longer work at SPEAK, and this time I'm just cooking - it should be a lovely relaxing weekend with lovely people in lovely countryside.  And I'm hoping to fit in a visit to my favourite baby on the way home.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Because work just isn't pressured enough.

Friday night! Yay! Home from work! And on my doormat is the new copy of Inside Housing, the trade journal for people working in Social Housing. Yes, I read a trade journal and yes, I will be 30 next year...

Tonight's headline was "James Mitchell was killed by his neighbour after a six-year feud. Should his landlord have done more to protect him?". A tenant, after suffering anti-social behaviour from his neighbour for a number of years, was killed by his neighbour after his neighbour was warned that he may be evicted for his behaviour. The tenant's family are now suing the council involved for failing to care for the tenant by warning him that they were going to speak to the neighbour.

I spend a lot of my time at work, but not as much as I would like, dealing with anti-social behaviour. I have, at any one time, between 10 and 15 ASB cases open. We are obliged to investigate any complaints we receive, though not necessarily solve them. It's harder than I think people imagine to deal with. I have to consider the confidentiality of both the complainant and the subject, deal with counter-complaints and try to get evidence of what is going on, while remaining impartial. Often the person being complained about will deny all the allegations and provide a completely different story. Sometimes I have to work with other agencies such as the police or mental health professionals. People are not always co-operative, for a range of reasons. All this for 10-15 different cases, some quite complex, some reasonably minor - and it's sometimes the more minor cases where people make more of a fuss.

Every time I hear a story about violence following neighbour disputes, I feel a sense of fear. I can imagine this happening in cases I deal with. I have to try to work out how to investigate and how to progress cases. My job is to investigate, not to decide who to believe, and it can be very difficult. I love doing this and find it very interesting, but it is a huge responsibility, dealing with the most difficult parts of people's lives - I'm not always sure who I am to be doing this.

And this is just part of my job.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Most Fun Ever. In the world. Ever.

I loved many things about Greenbelt this year.  Work has, as regular readers may have noticed, made me a little cynical, and Greenbelt has helped to return the joy of helping people.  As support stewards, we help by wandering around being a presence, we help Greenbelters by being available and dealing with situations as they happen, and we help other stewards by providing a bit of support where it's needed.  And we help each other with a large dose of mocking.  It works for everyone, I think.

Not everyone appreciates us, however.  One kind man spent ten minutes explaining to Guilty and me that what we were trying to do was pointless and offered to spend the whole night following us around to point this out.  As we were planning to have officially The Most Fun Night Stewarding Ever*, we declined his kind offer.

It's been quite a quiet year, mainly - I'm sure we've looked for more lost children in one night in previous years than we did in the whole festival this year - possibly because there were a few occasions when we reunited parents and children before we managed to get the radio call out.  But we've done some things which I'm really quite proud of.  We found a mother wandering round in the rain with her small boy at 1 am as the sound of the rain on the tent was scaring him, and we re-directed her to somewhere safer to spend the night.  We dealt with a few people who had spent longer in the beer tent than was good for them and stopped them causing more problems for themselves and others.  We helped some girls who had lost their tents in the middle of the night.  We gave directions, smiled a lot, pointed out toilets and wandered round the campsites drinking Greenbelters' coffee (really, the best way to get moved off a campsite is to get a full cup of coffee), eating their cake and being the friendly face of Greenbelt.

What I remember most about Greenbelt is spending time with my team, talking and messing about, having loads of fun and getting caught doing silly things by my team leaders when really I should be looking responsible...  But I feel proud about the added bonus of helping Greenbelters to have a better festival.

*With some success, I might add.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I am back from Greenbelt.  I had the BEST time ever, in the world, ever.  I have had a bath and do not smell any more.

I did some awesome things.  I also did some... other things.  Here's a short list:
  1. I got caught by my team leaders pretending to be a horse and doing an olympic-style dismount from a pub bench, in the space of 40 minutes, the latter following the 'awesome timing' phrase, "I'm glad Zippie and Merlin didn't see that".
  2. I had an opportunity to tell someone not to set themselves on fire again.
  3. I nearly got to set a gazebo on fire but Rob Safety wouldn't let me.  I think Guilty would have let me.
  4. I may have been caught having a small sit-down on the campsite when I was supposed to be patrolling.
  5. I pretended to mourn (loudly) a boy who pretended to die.  This was necessary.  I didn't ask him if he was a horse.
  6. I nearly got run over by a fire-engine.  Twice.  And by Merlin once.
  7. I fell over in the mud.
  8. I learnt to play cat's cradle.  Honestly, don't bother.  It is the most pointless activity ever.
  9. I didn't poke anyone in the eye.
  10. I may have been a bit annoying.  Occasionally.
I love support team...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Nice decisions

I listened to last Friday's Any Questions? and found myself very disappointed in Billy Bragg.  Usually he's got passionate and interesting opinions.  But not on the issue of NHS funding, it would seem.

There was a discussion about NICE, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, who decide whether medicines should be licenced for prescription in the UK, based on a cost-per-years-of-life-gained basis.  These are the people who decide whether you should get expensive cancer treatments, among other things.

Do they do a good job?  I don't know whether they do the best job they could do - I don't have any experience of their work.  I think they do a very difficult job...

Billy Bragg argued that what they do is fundamentally wrong - that you cannot put a value on life, that the NHS was set up to fund treatment, and that if you can't fund the treatment people need, you have your priorities wrong and should put more money into the NHS, presumably until you can.  He said that if treatment cost £100,000,000 (yes, really, a hundred million) for an extra year, it should be provided.

That's a nice thought to have.  But not feasible.  We don't have an endless amount of money to spend on the NHS.  And there is a near-infinite amount of money required to treat every illness.  

NICE is about resource allocation and opportunity cost.  If you spend money on one medicine, it isn't just about the cost of that medicine, it's about what you are giving up in order to provide that medicine.

And health goes so much further than just medicine.  That £100,000,000 pounds could be spent, for example, to build more houses.  Into those houses could go families currently living in overcrowded accommodation, which are damp due to the overcrowding and which make the children ill due to the damp.  

No-one is going to stand by and choose to die when they know there's a medicine out there which can help them to live.  People are going to fight for the treatment which will keep the people they love alive for longer.  Once it's you it's emotive.  That's why we need an organisation like NICE to make those decisions rationally.  Let's have a discussion about how they do that and the values they apply to make their decisions.  But let's not claim that it's wrong to make those decisions. 

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Not pleasing

I work for a housing association, managing about 450 properties on a fairly nice estate.  I deal with tenants' enquiries, complaints and problems.  I'm the face of the housing association for most of my tenants.

The advert for my job said that I would have to be passionate about helping people.  I really am.  I came into the job wanting to change society at an individual level.  I think a lot of people get a bad start in life and have an impaired ability to make good choices.  I think people must be held responsible for their behaviour, but there needs to be some recognition of the circumstances that have shaped them.

I'm finding my job quite difficult.  I have to give people difficult answers, tell them we won't be doing everything they want - or at least, not just yet.  I tell them that their behaviour is having an unacceptable impact on their community.  I try to understand why people fell how they do, explain decisions in a way that makes sense, and represent their opinions to other people in the company.

For this, I get told that my answers are pathetic, that they will hold me personally responsible for the death of family members, that I wouldn't be prepared to live like that.  I have tenants hang up on me when they don't like the answer I give, or tell me that all they are asking for is everything they want, straight away.  

I find it hard because one of the things that drives me is a desire to make people happy.  I understand that sometimes this is a case of making the best of a bad situation - making people happier than they would have been had I not explained things properly to them.  But I feel like I really am pleasing none of the people, all the time.

Friday, August 01, 2008

6 years!

We had our 6th wedding anniversary on Sunday.  We like to give each other presents related (vaguely) to the traditional gifts.  Guess what's traditional for 6?

We already had the most sugar in the world due to some unfortunate miscalculating when I did the cooking for a weekend away.  Now we have some more.

I haven't ever read Sugar.  I hope I never have to again.

More welcome but with less spelling accuracy - two Sugababes albums.

Chocolates - mmm - and they're made of sugar...

Two lush bath-bombs.  No sugar-relatedness at all.  But very nice.  

Not sugar-related but will last slightly longer than the chocolate.  Or the sugar.

Monday, July 07, 2008

meaning and happiness

The happy man does not look back.  He doesn't look ahead.  He lives in the present.

But there's the rub.  The present can never deliver one thing: meaning.  The ways of happiness and meaning are not the same.  To find happiness, a man need only live in the moment; he need only live for the moment.  But if he wants meaning - the meaning of his dreams, his secrets, his life - a man must reinhabit his past, however dark, and live for the future, however uncertain.  Thus nature dangles happiness and meaning before us all, insisting only that we choose between them.
Jed Rubenfield, The Interpretation of Murder

I have decided that I am just not constitutionally designed to be happy.  I'd like to be happy, and I think it would probably be quite satisfying.  I know people who are happy - who are quite content with their lives pretty much as they are.  I am married to one of those people.  I don't think I'm ever going to be one of those people.

I want to matter.  I want my life to be significant.  I'm not saying happy people are insignificant.  But I wonder whether people who are more likely to achieve things (yes, my definition of 'things' includes some things and not others...) are likely to people who are driven.  And people who are driven are, by definition, trying to get somewhere because they are not satisfied with where they are.

I like my life.  I think I'm pretty fortunate.  But I think there's more.  I could be doing more, being more, making more of a difference.  I do think there is always greener grass.  And, right now, I'm planning on how to find it.

Even if I don't find the rest of Mr Rubenfeld's book 'spectacular' and 'fiendishly clever' as the Guardian has promised I will, I'm grateful to him for making me feel it's ok to want more than just happiness.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The best thing about Indonesia was...

There are things I loved about Indonesia.  The food was very nice, for example, and the weather was quite pleasant - it rained once for half an hour during our two-week visit.  The people are friendly.  Seeing Emily and Paul, my best friend in all the world, and their two boys was great - it was so much fun!  

There are also things I didn't like.  Travelling for 30 hours to get there and back wasn't fun.  Nor was the crazy driving.  Coming from the long days of British Summer Time to it being dark at 6pm was completely weird - it felt like 11.30 pm at 7.30 pm.

We did some amazing things - we went to Borobadur, a 1300-year-old Buddhist temple, made of interlocking blocks of lava.  We saw a volcano.  We went to the beach and body-boarded in the Indian Ocean.  I became 29.  We saw rice growing.  We survived spending 30 hours together on a plane without going mad.

And we rode on elephants...

How cool is that?*

The whole visit kind of made me want to go and live in a foreign culture and learn a new language again.  And kind of made me very glad to live exactly where I do...

*The tour guide at Borobodur, who was very knowledgeable and interesting, thought he was taking photos but actually pressed the video button by mistake...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Out of office

I'm going to Indonesia.  I'll be back in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Ontology and etymology (or Losing My Religion)

I'm writing this after a pint and a half of cider and some vodka and coke so if it's less than comprehensible I hope you'll understand...

When I started postgraduate study the first time round we talked a lot about ontology and etymology, which were words I really struggled to understand.  Eventually I got the hang of it: what we know and how we know it.  How do we think the world is made up, and how do we know this?  So for me, among other things, I'm a feminist - in part, we're split into men and women and that affects how we'll get on.  And I'm a social constructivist - I think society is created through the language we use and how we behave.

I have discovered a downside to not believing in God.  I have no basis for believing in anything.  Until recently, having the certainty of an existing authoritative God and the Bible, I had a solid basis for everything I needed to have an opinion on, and room for lots of interesting debate within safe parameters.*

Now, I don't have that.  In an uncertain world, I have no idea how to know anything.  There are lots of theories and I can tell you which ones I like and why I like them, and also discuss the merits of them as theories, but how do you know anything?  Is it just a case of deciding something and sticking with it, hoping for the best?  Or making a best guess?  Do I just have to earn to live with uncertainty?

*Actually, it was always much more painful and indecisive than that, but that's just the outworking of my personality.  I've learnt to live with it. 

Friday, June 06, 2008

Public bodies (and a gratuitous baby...)

Did you know that Fern Britton has lost a lot of weight?  Did you care?  Well, bear with me, because it's vaguely relevant to what I want to talk about. 

We watched a debate about the child of our time series on BBC4.  The participants, who were all vaguely famous and vaguely clever, were discussing a variety of those things people always talk about when talking about modern childhood.  And we discussed whether we liked what they were saying and if 'critically evaluating' was normal language or jargon (guess who fell on which side of that fence?) and we critically evaluated their outfits.

So.  One woman was wearing just too many different attention-grabbing accessories/hair/make-up/everything.  One woman had weird hair.  And one woman had a top I didn't really like.  One man was, maybe, dressed a bit too casually.  One man looked nice, smiled a lot and said nice things that I liked.  And one man was Robert Winston, who I think may be a modern-day saint as no-one ever says bad things about him.

I noticed 
we were much more critical of the way the women were dressed, which reminded me of the whole Ferngate thing, and the Guardian's suggestion that public women's bodies are considered public property.  So I interrogated my thinking...  Is it just because women wear a wider variety of clothing, so there's more to discuss*?  Or is it that the way every public woman dresses is considered fair game for discussion in a way that doesn't generally happen to men?  Or maybe that women are considered to be more interested in clothes generally, so are more scrutinised because of this association between women and clothing?  I don't know, but I'm planning to do some more thinking about it every time I dislike someone's shirt.

And, as we're discussing children, I'm throwing in a gratuitous picture of my favourite baby ever:

*It's like this at work too.  Men wear a shirt and a pair of trousers.  And either a tie or not a tie.  There's some choice over colour/pattern of shirt, the tie question and, if they wear one, how much they care whether their shirt matches their tie.  For women, it's more interesting, probably a bit more relaxed, but much more complicated.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The aftermath

Well.  The Big Dress event, eh?  It's pretty hard to sum it up.  It was exhausting, stressful and busy and I did NO REVISION AT ALL.  One day I'll learn.

However, I enjoyed it.

It felt like a festival - lots of sun and sitting on the grass.

I developed my conflict resolution skills.

Tony was an invaluable deputy and we had an amazing team of stewards.  I'm still trying to work out how to put into words their wonderfulness so I can email them all and thank them.

I was called a fascist by a stand-up comedian due to my concern for fire safety and then was called upon to put out a fire in a litter bin - see the picture!

We had quite a few stressful times due to football-related disputes, plans changing, barbecues in bins, lost radios (which have turned out not to be lost after all) and a serious sleep-shortage.

Nothing makes me feel competent quite like this.  We did a great job.  The Big Dress event made a difference, and it made it well and safely because of what we stewards did, and they could do that partly because of what I did.  I think when you find something you're really good at, you should do it as well and as often as you can.

I also finished my exams today so am rejoicing in all my free time.  Despite my lack of revision and general tiredness, I think I did ok.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

On the home straight

I've been writing essays.  I've started revising.  I've been compiling crazy rotas juggling about 30 people's complicated lives.  I've been making lists and checking them twice.  and tomorrow I'm heading off to Sheffield for The Big Dress event.  I'm in charge of the stewards.  And I'm taking my revision notes with me.

It does feel hectic - I feel like I've been working for about 9 months solid.  But this time next week I'll have done my stewarding and finished my exam - and I'm really looking forward to the break!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

New! New! New!

I'm sitting in my kitchen writing this.  This is exciting because my computer is in the attic.  My old computer, that is.  After months of deliberation, investigation and saving up money, I've bought a macbook.  The novelty of being able to check my email anywhere in the house is immense and incredibly enjoyable.

My computers have all been old, slow and inherited, put together from leftover parts from other people's computers, and tended with much love by Matt.  So it's very exciting to get to choose a computer.  Having itunes which doesn't have Matt's dubious taste in music on is amazing.  Having a computer that is completely empty and waiting for me to fill it up with my rubbish is very exciting.

It's also exciting because I'm new to macs.  So far it is beautiful, but slightly frustrating - trying to cut and paste is near impossible...  It just doesn't work like a pc.  It's supposed to all work together beautifully, but working out how to get it to do that can be a challenge.

And it's new because I'm on my own.  Matt is pretty good with pcs and has always looked after mine.  I'm good with software and the internet, but I know nothing about hardware*.  Matt knows nothing at all about macs.  It's kind of exciting but just a little bit scary...

Right, I'm going to have a bath.  But even I, new to macs as I am, know not to try to check my email in the bath...

*Apart from graphics cards.  Due to my old one being rubbish and my computer being too rubbish to run anything better, I've spent a lot of time taking graphics cards in and out of my computer.  I know how to do that!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Things I can tell you...

It's been a while. I'm writing about The Homelessness Act 2002 - it's actually really interesting - and preparing for SPEAK's Network Gathering, which I'm organising the stewarding for. And visiting my nephew, who is amazing.

I can, however, tell you that there's nothing much wrong with my heart or brain. I have learnt the following:
  • I have episodes of sinus tachchardia.
  • My brain MRI was 'unremarkable'. Thanks.
  • I don't appear to have any inter-ictal epileptiform disturbance. I can only assume this is a good thing. In fact, I can only really assume that all of the above are good things.

I'll keep you posted.

I'd also like to recommend Patroclus's investigation of gender bias on the Guardian's letter pages, which I am currently loving...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Too many pies?

Turns out she wasn't lying. I wondered if my sister had just eaten too many pies.

But no, here I am with baby Jake, who is two days old.

Friday, March 07, 2008


As so often happens, once I start thinking*, I head towards discussing feminism, and the downsides of conservative evangelicalism in restricting my thinking about this. And Merlin says "Ah, you see, my belief tells me that women can do just as much as men. And my god agrees."

I think, I'm not sure I'd want to have my god agreeing with me. But here's my new question - what's the point of god? I appreciate that it's possible for things to exist without a purpose - and if god exists, god exists without needing to have a purpose for me**. But...

1. If God isn't bigger than me, and doesn't know more than me, what is the point in relating to him/her/it?

2. If God is bigger than me and does know more than me, doesn't that mean I just have to do what they advise? I'm really not interested in just doing what I'm told - it doesn't sound much fun.

I was trying to work this out by discussing it with a friend. I miss God loving me and having a good plan which I'm part of - a sense of purpose. But I don't want to lose my freedom and independence and go back to living within narrow rules.

She asks, what if God doesn't have a plan? I say I can't imagine God not having a plan - that's too much part of what God is for me to comprehend God being God without it.

Ok. She asks, if God had a plan, but was a tyrant, a complete dictator who just wanted veryone to do what they were told, what then? Well, I wouldn't be interested. Turns out goodness is more important that the plan.

What it comes down to is, if God doesn't know everything, how can I trust God? She asks "do you trust me?". I see what she means. I trust her, within her limitations of knowledge and understanding. Can I trust a limited God?

*It's true, I do think, they took some pictures of my brain this week and there really is one there. And it has brainwaves coming out of it and everything.
**my theology takes a while to make much sense.

Monday, March 03, 2008


I got my promotion. I'm looking forward to finding out where I'll be managing, what it's like and starting to make my own decisions. And to getting paid.

I went away with Sanctus this weekend. I had a lot of fun, drank a moderate amount of alcohol and thought until my brain felt like it had been trodden on.

I started coming out as some sort of atheist a while ago - I used to believe passionately in god, but with a lot of turbulence. I got a bit tired and decided to have a holiday from trying so bloody hard, and hopefully discover something about what I believed from what floated to the top at the end of it all (this may be something of a mixed-metaphor experience...).

Unfortunately there wasn't much left floating. I discovered that I had no real sense of any sort of god existing. But I discovered intellectual freedom along the way, and the real joy of feminism... However, there's something to be said for believing that someone created the world and that that someone loves meand has a plan for my life. I'm left feeling slightly purposeless and less loved. And less like a lovely person. My life just feels slightly... flat.

So I went away this weekend hoping to at least think a little about what I might believe. I realised that Sanctus is very important to me. I find a sense of community, safety and acceptance that makes me hope there is perhaps something more than just us. I'm not sure I can believe that it is just the result of a lot of people trying to create something good. It keeps me hanging in because it's something I want to be part of.

Dave Tomlinson, who wrote the post-evanglical, which I thought at one point might save my faith, came and talked with us about ourselves and about what he thinks. It was thought proviking. He talked about god's kingdom as a spirit of life and liberation. I don't have any ability to believe in a personal, intervening god but maybe a spirit of life and liberation is somewhere I can start exploring from - less crude than just good and evil.

And I thought about my place in sanctus. Socially I feel very part of sanctus - I can turn up, say what I think and feel secure. I feel that I belong. Spiritually, I feel less inside - a community is built on shared values and, not believing in God, I haven't felt like I have so much to say. But I think I've realised that I have things to contribute. I'm not pastoral like some people, or particularly wise - things you would associate with being part of a church community thing. But I've been to lots of places in my faith, and I can organise things and ask interesting questions, and cook an awesome pudding. I've realised that maybe I need to be giving, and see myself as someone who has things to give, in order to grow. Some theologians have talked about belonging without believing, and maybe that's where I need to start in order to believe.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


On Friday night I went out with friends from Sanctus1. We started off in the new Tampopo at the Triangle in Manchester. It's Asian fusion food - I had Mee Goreng Chicken, getting in practice for my trip to Indonesia in the summer, followed by chocolate icecream. I really liked the style - long benches, so you could end up sitting next to a random stranger - good for a night out with friends but possibly not for a romantic dinner... The staff were very friendly and helpful and the food was delicious, though reasonably spicy - so not ideal if you don't like spicy food at all. The only small problem we had was that one person's main course was burnt so she sent it back and it was replaced with something undercooked, followed by the wrong pudding - although again this was speedily replaced. Definitely worth another visit.

After this we saw Juno - a fantastic film about a pregnant teenager. It was unmoralistic - no goodies or baddies, just flawed people dealing with problems as they arise - unsentimental and very funny – it reminded me of Napoleon Dynamite in its style. The acting was fantastic – so much shown without any words. I was concerned about the portrayal of the potential adoptive couple - a neurotic woman desperate for a baby with a husband who just wasn't sure: a bit of a cliched gender stereotype - but because of the strengths of the characters each person was an individual rather than representative of a group. Equally, there's been some debate about whether Juno is pro-life but I think the decision is portrayed as an individual one, set in the context of being 16 and pregnant, rather than a comment on all abortions everywhere, ever. One thing I loved was Juno's immaturity -she was funny and clever but the state of pregnancy didn't make her suddenly wiser, more virtuous or more mature - there was no suggestion that being pregnant makes you an adult, or a woman, or that pregnancy is the ultimate state for all women. And it managed all this with hardly any showing of sex or babies...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Here comes the sun...

I have been reasonably successful in having more fun - I was out every night last week and did not cook once.  This did result in me feeling quite ill and thinking I might faint/fit on Saturday.  I will refine my goal somewhat - have more fun without making myself ill.

I got a hospital appointment letter for 19th Feb and was quite impressed.  Then realised I'd been mis-referred - it said ECG* rather than EEG**.  Turns out I'm having an ECG as well as an EEG and brain scan - Matt claims the doctor said he was sending me for one.  I was quite alarmed.  I'd come to terms with maybe having a weird brain but I appear not to be prepared for having a heart problem.

I'm applying for a job (regen stuff in Salford) and struggling to (a) convey just how amazing I am and (b) work out how to fill in bits of the form.  For example, do I count as being disqualified from driving or does that just count for people who got caught drink-driving?  Can I put that I've got a license and then explain that I can't use it or is it better just to say no?  Do I say I have a disability, when the job doesn't actually ask for driving and that's the only bit I really have difficulties with?  Do I even count as disabled?  I've only had one fit.  But my day-to-day functioning is impaired in that I can't drive.  But then lots of people's day to day functioning is equally impaired by not managing to pass their driving test.  I don't have epilepsy, just a good excuse to see pictures of the inside of my brain.  Does not knowing how to answer questions on a job application count as an impairment?  Fortunately there is a very helpful equality and diversity person at Salford Council who will hopefully ring me up and help me work out what to put.  

But now that it's getting light again, I'm feeling happy.  Life is worth living when it's sunny outside...

** brain thingy

Friday, February 01, 2008


I had a revelation last weekend.

I went to visit some friends of mine and they asked about things like my mother-in-law's wedding (in November) - I realised I hadn't seen them since October*.

I saw this** and laughed a lot, and it felt rather nice to be laughing and feeling endorphin-y, and it was a bit sobering to realise that I clearly don't laugh enough.

I realised: my life is shit.

Again, this isn't technically true. But I eat, sleep, work and study. This isn't a life. So I've decided. If I'm not good enough at studying to do well enough and see my friends and have fun, I'll just have to not be good enough. It's not the end of a career, just the curtailage of a particular career path.

So, I have a plan:
  1. When I'm working, work hard. My time is valuable.
  2. See my friends. Accept invitations. Arrange to see people. Have fun.
  3. Find a new job. My ideal would be to get a Neighbourhood Management Officer job and do that for a few years and then move into strategy, research or policy. But, if no NMO jobs come up soon, I'll look for something else, somewhere else. I'm not feeling challenged enough and I need more responsibility. I like it where I work and I'd like to keep working there. But not doing this.

So. I went to Sanctus on Wednesday and saw people, and it was interesting. I met up with a friend for coffee and we talked about SPEAK stuff. And I'm starting planning the stewarding for a speak event in May. It involves a comedy night on the Sunday. Subject to not getting knackered organising stewarding, I'm going to restart my comedy by putting a short routine together. I'm excited because I love doing it.

I have decided. My life will be better.

I was going to blog about evolution and where the world comes from. Maybe next time...

*This turns out to be untrue. I saw them at a Christmas dinner.

**Too lazy to do my own linking, but Merlin's blog is very thought-provoking, so it's worth a visit. I'll be like the internet tourist board for a minute.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Eureka! A kick in the stomach...

I would like to direct you to Nine Tenths Full of Penguins talking about Sigur Ros, who I unreasonably claim to dislike, and a moment of thrill he got when first hearing one of their songs.

I can't claim to have felt anything much when listening to it, but I did just get my own little jump-in-the-stomach feeling (no, not a baby, silly!).

I have been dragging on and on with an essay. It's always a worry, reading stuff, having no real sense of where I'm going to end up, and the terrible paralysising fear that I'm going to have nothing to say. Nothing at all. I'll work so hard and just tell the lecturer what all these other people said, and he'll say, well, yes, I knew that, that is why I am the lecturer and you are the tudent. Have a 35% fail.

And then, suddenly, I am writing the essay, and I look at what I've written about Single Regeneration Budget funding. And I look at what I want to write about the Pre-Volunteer Programme at the Commonwealth Games. And I realise... I can argue that the PVP was very successful, but the criticisms of it are the same as the criticisms of the SRB, and I can argue that it's likely that it was successful despite being SRB funded, and I realise that I have an argument! It may not be true and it may not be write, but it works!!!!!

So, obviously, I blog about it rather than writing my essay.

Now go back to advising me on laptops.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Technological advice request...

Ok, my clever and technologically aware friends, I am thinking of buying a lap-top in the near future and would like some advice. My current desktop is a bit old and slow and gets tired and confused when asked to do too many things. And I'd like to be able to work all over the house and occasionally take it out and about with me - to work on the train, at university or at my mother-in-law's in Skye, for example.

I want to use it to:

  1. Look at Facebook.
  2. Listen to the comedy programme I like on Radio 4, which was on yesterday, in the kitchen, rather than Front Row.
  3. Store all my photos and every essay I have ever written, plus 50 versions of my cv, just in case I do need an out-of-date cv to apply for an admin job at some point.
  4. Listen to music.
  5. Skype my best friend in Indonesia. I liked the idea of having a webcam to do this, until she pointed out that their internet connection is too poor to support webcam use and talking at the same time. But still...
  6. Have 13 journal articles open at the same time.
  7. Play World of Warcraftbadly and sulk because all my friends have levelled their characters faster than me. I maintain this is because I have a life.

I'd like to get something which will last me a long time and won't need replacing too soon. I'm expecting to spend more than £500 but hopefully not too much more. If it looked nice that would be a bonus, and if it was light and mobile, that would also be a bonus, but fairly low down my list of priorities. If could have a big screen for playing WoW, but still be small and easy to carry, that would be... miraculous?

So, advice? Who makes good laptops? What do you find really useful in yours? How do you find it for playing games? Any recommendations?


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

: )

I can tell when I'm happy. I sing, badly, while rushing round the house randomly.

Today, finally, I feel happy again. I am looking at a catalogue of archived material from the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, trying to decide which bits I really need to look at when I take a trip to the Central Library on Thursday morning. The bit I really need, the SRB bid, is restricted access, so they may not let me look at it.

I go to put some washing on and make a drink and find myself singing, very badly, to the bits I can remember of Earth Song. I am happy.

If only they didn't make me go to work, I could be this happy all the time.

I suppose it is possible work don't send me on this course just to make me happy.

p.s. I have an appointment with a neurodude at Tameside hospital on 2nd Feb. Hope wasn't even an option. Unless I'd like to sit on a waiting list for a very long time. No thanks, I'd rather be allowed to drive again.