Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Working 9 til 5...

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m pooped. It’s only Tuesday and, even though I had the day off yesterday, I’m already counting down the hours until the weekend. Why? Well, the reason is simple. Work. A necessary evil that most of us have to contend with for at least 35 hours a week, often more. Humph.
I know, I know, it could be worse. Although my job doesn’t quite set my world alight, I find it relatively interesting, at times rewarding, AND my boss is pretty cool (even if he does have a tendency to micro-manage and a bad case of workaholism). And, after facing a service re-structure this time last year, I am jolly grateful to have it.
Another thing I have to be thankful for is the management structure of the organisation that I work in. It is fairly robust, and despite some misgivings about how the whole debacle was handled 12 months ago, we are treated fairly. We are pretty much left to get on with it, are able to work flexibly (LOVING my fortnightly four-day weekend) and we are paid a decent salary.
Sadly, this isn’t the case for everyone I know.
Take friend number one. After completing her PhD she finally managed to secure a health-related research post. Although not something she was trained in, it was an area that caught her interest. The interview panel saw her potential and offered her the job – and all the training she needed to get up to speed.
Unfortunately, that training was not forthcoming. Her manager was never around to offer her guidance and support. And, most worryingly, then blamed my friend for her short-comings.
I’m glad to say my friend didn’t take it lying down – although the experience did knock her confidence. Despite grumblings from her boss, she is still in post, but now facing further drama after the powers that be recognised the blatant mismanagement and pulled up the said boss for her own poor performance. Although things are still pretty grim, my friend is now waiting for the job of her dreams to be created (with her in mind) by the people who saw her potential in the first place.
Now there’s a bit of karma for you.
She isn’t the only one who has suffered from the ineptitude of those in charge. Take my other friend, a medical professional who lives and works in London. She recently gave up a relatively cushy job at a local authority for some hardcore hands-on hospital work. She was offered a competitive salary at interview and accepted. Within weeks of starting her job, she had the largest caseload in her team and has been taking on extra work. Why? Because, being a decent sort of person, she refuses to see anyone else’s grandparent treated any other way than how she would expect her own to be.
Has her hard work been recognised? Her morals rewarded? Well, no. Instead they have now told her that they can’t pay her what was agreed – leaving her £150 a month worse off that she was in her previous job.
It doesn’t stop there. Today I was left without a desk in my own department (don’t get me started on hot-desking) so I headed to my old team’s office elsewhere in the building. It was great to catch up with some old faces – but I was sad to hear that they were facing yet another re-structure. I kid you not when I say I think they have been subjected to such a lack of job security every year since I left nearly four years ago.
It seems to me that those who dedicate themselves to helping others get a bum deal in this world. Want to be a researcher in the field of health? Well, don’t expect any support. Dedicated to making the infirm feel safe enough to go home? That’s great – but you’ll still get screwed over. Work for a homeless support service? Well, hold onto your hats – because the cuts are coming. Again.
And this is why I thank my lucky stars. My boss is supportive. My salary is adequate. And my job, for now, is secure. Yes, they should be givens, but it would appear, in the public sector at least, they are not.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get myself ready for bed. Tomorrow is going to be a long day, but, you know what? It could be a lot worse...

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Feeling the Pinch

So, here I am again. Fluffy Bunny Feet are firmly in place and my long, thick black cardie is buttoned up all the way to my chin. Yes, my thermals are on. What isn’t on, though, is the heating.
Yes, I am in the UK in January but no, I am not stark raving mad or menopausal. What I am, my friends, is on a budget. In a desperate bid to finally raise a deposit for that stupidly expensive flat, I am trying to economise. Okay, so sitting in a rather chilly flat may seem a bit extreme, but my extra layers are doing the job and saving me quite a few bob - as is taking my lunch in to work every day, walking everywhere (within reason) and carrying a flask if I know free coffee will not be available at my destination.
Sadly, though, London seems hell-bent on scuppering my money-saving schemes. Saturday is a perfect example. On my way to Greenwich to meet a chum, I stopped off at my local picture framers to get a painting framed. With a top price of £40 in my head, I happily looked at the frames they suggested, ummed and ahed over a variety of mounts and settled on a metallic rather than natural wood frame. Part way through the consultation I asked if the prices varied much. They kind of shrugged and offered to price up a selection.
“That one comes in at 106.”
I blinked rapidly.
“Sorry, what?”
“106 pounds.”
I blanched and asked them to look up choice number two.
“That one works out at £86.”
Dumbly I shook my head. We tried another and managed to knock off another tenner. At which point I apologised for wasting their time and vowed to make a trip out to Ikea.
It didn’t stop there. After a mooch around the market me and my mate decided to hit the pub. One and a half pints of Fruli and a bag of Salty Dogs later?
“Eight pounds please.”
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. I mean, this is London after all, yet surprised I was. Having said that my shock of paying nearly a fiver a pint was nothing compared to the gob-smacking truth of how much another friend’s rent was in Finsbury Park. We were thinking of flat-sharing, but it soon became clear that her budget was much bigger than mine. Her revelation that she paid more than me for her flat share than I did for my own one bed flat made me realise that I currently live in a real bargain – and a move anywhere else would probably increase my outgoings rather than save me cash.
So, as I can’t save money on my rent, I shall have to make my savings elsewhere. Although there are certain things I will not be giving up. Besides, with vouchercodes.co.uk and Groupon on my side, I can still have a social life without it costing the earth and make up for the odd night out by cooking up a pot of homemade soup on a Sunday evening to see me through the week.
Living in London doesn’t come cheap – but with a bit of planning and organising, anything is possible. Even that two bed maisonette in Walthamstow...

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


Right now I am sat on my sofa in my fluffy bunny feet, sipping herbal tea by candle and fairy light whilst listening to KT Tunstall. I’ve done the washing up after leaving it for two days and am looking forward to watching One Born Every Minute. You see, at the moment I am living on my own, and can do what the hell I please, whenever I feel like it.
Okay, so it has its downfalls. I have to clean the entire flat on my own, cook all my meals and find myself talking to no-one in particular more often than I would like to admit. Then there is the finance factor. For the benefit of those of you who are blissfully ignorant, living in London aint cheap. And that includes paying for a roof over your head - especially if you live on your own.
So, what to do? Do I suck it up and fork out, or do I return to flat-sharing? I can afford to live on my own, but dreams of buying would be put back quite a few months as I reduce my monthly saving by half in order to pay the rent. Flat sharing would put me in a financially better position but, well, do I really want to go there?
When I first moved to the Big Smoke, that was my only option. On the advice of friends who had already moved to the city, I bought a copy of Loot and starting making phone calls to potential flats within a bus ride from my new place of work. Sadly, my knowledge of London was limited and I ended up feeling decidedly out at sea in Streatham. Having said that, my landlady was lovely, the room adequate and my fellow housemates pleasant if not particularly sociable.
Six months later I ventured into Zone 2 to an ex-council flat near Oval. At first, everything was hunky-dory. I shared with a laid-back Aussie chap and a cheery Irish girl. Happy days – until they both announced they were moving on within two months of each other.
Reader, I admit, I did panic a little. And although I was lucky enough to have a friend who was looking for a place to live at the time, that left me at the mercy of my landlord to fill the other gap.
BIG mistake.
Mick was forty, liked gardening, cycling and sheds. Okay, so what, you may say? So he left his bike in the stairwell, hung photos of sheds in the living room and moved all his furniture out of his bedroom so he could sleep on the floor? Don’t get me wrong, I can cope with oddities, but screaming in my flatmate’s face when she replaced the mirror in the bathroom, loud music when I had a 6am start the next day and general lack of social skills, I can’t. We told our landlord that we would be looking for somewhere else to live if he was planning to stay beyond his initial six months. Luckily Mick decided to move out. Weeks later, we received a call from the British Transport Police asking why he had two cheques from us about his person. They were for bills, but even now I wonder why he was stopped and searched to the point that the contents of his wallets were scrutinised.
Needless to say I insisted that we interview our next prospective flatmate. And so we did – and found a corker. Pank was a great laugh – even though his housekeeping skills left something to be desired – and we were soon heading out with him on a Friday night for a bit of a booze up and a boogie.
Everything was going swimmingly until my landlord phoned to ask if he was still living there. Yes, we replied, why? Well, it turned out our landlord had yet to receive a penny off him. No, not even a deposit. At this point he had been living with us for over six months. Luckily we all had separate tenancy agreements, but we were not amused to be paying a huge chunk of our small salaries when our flatmate was living with us rent-free.
Sadly, my favourite-flatmate-of-all-time moved on. I shared with a couple I knew before one of returned to Canada, leaving me with her bereft other half. One of her colleagues moved in to fill that gap, and they were soon driving me mad with their lack of understanding of how to use a vacuum cleaner or clean a toilet.
It’s over six years since I moved out and into a place of my own, and, after a move to a bigger flat in the same building followed by a financially straining change of circumstances, I am loathed to give up my own home. But then I saw on Facebook that an old uni friend was having to move out of her lovely flat in Finsbury Park because her flatmate is leaving. I have arranged to meet her over the weekend to have a look around and see if it could work. Part of me thinks it could be great, but part of me wonders if I am just getting a bit old for the flat-share set-up. Where would I put my odd bits of furniture? Would she mind my random Paella and Party Games nights – accompanied by several friends setting up camp in the sitting room?
But then, maybe being that little bit older would put us in good stead. We are both adults, could discuss our potential differences when it comes to playing house and negotiate cleaning and bathroom rotas with the wisdom experience alone can give us. I’d like to think it would, anyway.
I just hope she doesn’t have an obsession with sheds or sleeping on the floor...

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


Oh my word. 2012 is here. 2011 is, like... well, so last year.
And what a year it was. So much happened in twelve months – and I hope it will have set the precedent for the year to come. And, let’s face it, London has made so much– whether good or bad – happen.
So, rather than ranting about the weather (shite), being back at work (heartbreaking) and my phobia of the bathroom scales (just don’t go there), here is my summary of 2011 – for me, in London – in numbers.
The number of kilometres I ran for Race for Life in Finsbury Park: 10. I’ve never considered myself a runner, and doing the whole race without stopping and in a reasonable time showed me that anything really is possible. So this year, what will it be? A half marathon? Charity walk? Bike ride? Who knows? Although the bike ride may prove a little challenging, as you will see below...
Number of blogs I have contributed towards: 3. As well as my humble Love To Hate weekly rant, I have written for Grumpy Young Women (more ranting), Anglo Info (more Londonish insights) and, with my fellow writing chums, Writerss Blocc (a wee bit of fiction for a change). Okay, so Grumpy Young Women may be folding (we’re all too old now) and Writerss Blocc has yet to take off, but getting out there has been a great experience. And long may it continue.
Number of times I have fallen over: 3. Once flat on my face whilst running (my knee is still not right), once on my arse whilst dancing in a bar (no I wasn’t drunk, just merry – and I still have a bump on my butt) and once more on my booty weeks later (bloody slippery rain/pavement combo). Yes, London is full of hazards - and has a warped sense of humour.
Number of writing competitions I have entered: 2. One short story and one novel. Number of competitions I won... well, it’s the taking part that counts, surely?
Number of times I fell off a bike: 2. Yes, I am 32, and yes, I am a novice. One incident was during my first bike riding tutorial, courtesy of Islington Council. The second accident occurred when I attempted a hill start. Lesson learnt? Hills are just evil.
Number of new skills: 2. In the summer, there was learning to ride a bike. Finally. Then, over Christmas, I knitted my first scarf in over twenty years – and, bearing in mind my last one was for Gordon the Gopher and consisted on only one stitch, I think I did very well, thank you very much - after a few false starts anyway. And, if it all goes wrong, I can always head down to Drink, Shop, Do to one of their knitting nights. And a cocktail or two whilst I’m at it.
Number of novels finished: 1. Thanks to the girls at More to Life Than Shoes for making me kick myself up the arse and go for it! Number of published novels? Mmm, not quite there yet...
Number of published short stories: 1. Courtesy of ABCtales.com. Okay, so you order the compilation on line and they print to order – but that counts, right?
Number of new jobs: 1. Number of scary re-structures at work: 1. The public sector is certainly feeling the pinch. Enough said.
Number of times I locked myself out of my flat (On a Sunday, when no-one from the letting agents wass around): 1. Well, there’s a first time for everything. Thank God I know people who know how to break into houses...
And, finally...
Number of times I have fallen asleep on the tube and ended up stranded in Golders Green at one in the morning: 1. Another first which I have managed to avoid in over ten years in the capital. Shame I chose to do it in the middle of the night. All I can say is thank you London for your night buses.
Well, who knows what the next year will bring? I mean, anything can happen in this place. If you let it...