Progress Report

I’d forgotten just how much hard work, work could be – especially if you are trying to fit in “life” as well!!

Things are beginning to ‘hot-up’. Tensions are high. Major Projects are reaching fruition and the fears and stresses of colleagues are palpable. Mainly that the ‘fruit’ will not be either ripe or ready enough for roll-out OR that roll-out itself will go pear-shaped…

I have also begun to plan/do the ‘staff engagement’ work that my job is largely about. And staff are simply fatigued; fed-up; cynical about there ever being an end to ‘change’; cynical about the nature of the ‘change’ they face. But at least I am beginning to really get back into it.

Plus ca change… I suppose. The same conditions that led to me having a meltdown still exist – in spades. But, I keep reassuring myself, I am better.

On the home front there is relief that Rebel Eldest appears to want to communicate meaningfully. She and I had what became a ‘hug-in’ last week. And it dawned on me that she appears very mature on the outside – but (like so many of us) is still a wee wain on the inside. Needing reassurance, support and guidance. All of which were previously on offer, of course – but all of which she has now decided she will take. As my auld Maw says: you can lead a horse to water, but you cannae make it drink….

We also have a car solution for my Dad (not to mention Rebel and the Lad – both of whom are learning how to drive). I’ll leave shortly to collect a new Renault Twingo Pzaz for them to share. Dad using it Mon-Fri and taking the Passat Sat and Sun. The kids having access to the Twingo at nights and the weekend.

It is a wee sma’ motor. No very braw. A bit of a wee toatie tiny box on toy wheels. Like a Dinky toy in fact. Hideous metallic blue. 4 seater. But delivering 65-75mpg on a 1.2L 16v engine. Don’t even need to pay road tax for it cos it’s one of them ECO cars… And aside from driving it back from the garage, I hope not to be seen dead in it… Ugh! street cred is now oot the windae!

Lad is dubious as to the benefits it will deliver – but given his sights were fixed on some souped up

Pimp-Mobile anything else is likely to be a bit of a climbdown…Thus he has decided he will embrace it as his route to highway heaven. All I can say is that with acceleration powers rivalling the Baby’s pedal-car the car insurance comes cheap!

Rebel is over the moon. And planning to kit it out with new mats and little stickers.

I can just hear the squabbles already… Dad oblivious. The Lad disgusted and changing the interior decor on his turns. Rebel certain of her good taste…

My pal of the messy divorce will be up and staying over from Sunday for a couple of days. I’ve booked time off (un-taken annual leave from last year which I feel positively guilty using!) and she and I will face her latest court case on Mon-Tues together. I am so eager to see her. I really miss her presence here.

But, tonight I am off up to Lanark to celebrate my sculptor pal’s birthday (it is she of the Gruffalo pumpkin fame) – which should be cheap good FUN. And that is always the best note to finish a working week on..


The Holiday – Return of the Natives and a theological argument with a cynical 10 year old

The mad boy, my eldest boy, the lad, invited a squad down tonight to play pool in the basement – and consume copious amounts of lager and fortified wine. Some Russian Standard Vodka too (oh how I love Russian Standard – though it does not love me).

They left at 9pm to go to the clubs and pubs.

Four of the many will return much later to own the sofa bed and spare room. Or so I was informed, as the lad jumped into a taxi.

Baby giant returned from his friends at 10.45pm and is sitting with me as I type – and as Jaws plays out its gory suspense on terrestrial tv, yet again (I want to resurrect Roy Scheider and have a good time).

All this partying and the lad populating the house with his pals… I am reminded of my return from The Holiday… Thing is, this would ideally be the final installment in what I think of as my Holiday series. On the other hand, it seems mean to deny you the denouement, given I’ve been a bit slow with the in-between bits… 

The Holiday – Return of the Natives 

The journey back was unexpectedly quick. On reflection we agreed that this may well be due to the fact that on the way there we a) had literally no idea where the hell that single track road through the moors was taking us and b) had got lost despite the satnav anyway.

It started pissing with rain the minute we crossed the Anglo-Scots Border. We had the  customary small cheer from the kids as we passed that massive, squinty, Border Saltire emblazoned with SCOTLAND and Cead Mile Failte and then the rain came down in sheets. 

Thats God pee-ing on us stated Ana, quite matter-of-factly, Mamie told me.

I held my breath and glanced at R. We could sense Jamie pausing. His acute sense of dramatic timing pushing him to weigh his retort-options quickly. On the one hand he had patronising nonchalance and on the other, he had plain, outright, old scorn – though we knew he also he had a fine repertoire covering all the in-between options.  He discarded nonchalance, this was not a time for nonchalance. He went straight to the main artery and struck.

Dont be so stupid. You are just so stupid. Duhhhhhh. You just know nothing

There was a brief silence.

In the rear view I could see Ana begin to wind up to a whine. But Jamie had not finished yet.

God! God!! God doesn’t EXIST!

Yip.  There     it      just about      was   …Yip…    Ana whining

Muuummmmmm Jamie’s annoying me. Hes annoying me. He said I’m stupid. I’m not stupid. If I’m stupid then Jamie thinks Mamie’s stupid too. Mum, Mum, Mum, Jamie said Mamie was stupid too.

Jamie played his top trump card. Smugly.

Go on Mum. Tell her then Mum. Tell her that God doesn’t exist. You don’t believe he exists. Do you Mum. 

Jamie and I have been here before. Debating God and world religions and the bible and why I studied Religious Studies at University. He knows the answer to that question. He is being a smart-arse. I decide I am going to be an annoying smart-arse.

Well, Jamie. What if I ask you a question first, before I confirm or deny anything.

He is all ears.

Imagine, Jamie, that you have just landed on Planet Earth. You are walking along a beach and see something at your feet. You bend to pick up what appears to you to be an intricate object. The object is a watch (but you don’t know that because you’ve never been on earth before and never seen a watch). You study it closely. You open the casing and study the mechanics. 

He was hooked. Round-eyed.

Do you think if you found a watch like that that you would believe it just appeared? Or would you think it had been made? Would you think someone or something had MADE it? That they had created it?

I could see him mustering all his powers of cynicism. And feigning nonchalance.

Well. Of course I would know someone had made it.

I hated this argument but felt compelled now to finish it.

Right. Now, just think about the human body, Jamie. Or the animals. Or all the plants and trees. Just think how complicated they are. How complicated your own body is. Your asthma. All those little villi in your lungs. A watch is really simple when you compare it to your body.


So, don’t you think someone MUST have created your body. Someone we could call GOD, Jamie.

It didn’t take him long. He was truly disgusted that he had allowed himself to be taken in in this way. And without weapons with which to beat me. 

Thats a STUPID argument. You KNOW that God doesn’t exist. I don’t CARE what you say.

(to be continued…cos we have still got 74 miles to go to find out whether we have a habitable home to return to or whether the lad and Baby Giant have managed to trash the place)

Work – a few reflections on the first week back.

This is not a moaning post. I say that for my benefit. Setting out the rules. Trying to corral thoughts and shape meanings direction.

I am very tired. I underestimated the energy that returning would require. I started the week on a high – desperate to get back into the maelstrom. I whimpered to a bit of a stop yesterday with a sickness virus (which my Mother and Father and Baby now have). Today I am drained of energy.

Nothing at work has gone badly. It was good to see colleagues. I felt exhilaration that by Wednesday my contributions at the BIM (Big Important Meeting – the one upon which the future of the organisation appears to rest) were sharp and were adopted. I have begun to put together the changes which have occurred in my absence – I have begun to process the problems and to develop solutions. I look forward to more meetings and to doing.

So, what is different? Because something is. And I suspect that a post like this would not exist if there were not a “but” just lingering there in the background…

The “but”… Now… Ahh… I sense a bit of dissonance between pre-burnout me and new me. I sense a detachment that didn’t previously exist. And there is the tiredness. And a new sensitivity to previously unconsidered personal limits. A certain confusion as to what really matters to me.

And the truth is that what does matter to me now has shifted slightly. I never have been a one for status and formal position – though latterly I know that I was beginning to be seduced. I have decisions to make about how I position myself in the organisation. About whether (and this is shocking to me even now) I reduce my hours (shock horror though no big decisions are being made just yet).

I have also been a bit shocked that the organisation I left 13 weeks ago appears to have lurched a little further down. Two completely unconnected individuals ended up crying (yes, really crying, real tears) in response to my gentle how are you? People whom I previously assumed were robust and would survive regardless – are off sick. Principle IT folk will shortly finish their contracts and will be gone. An already depleted band (due to restructuring, redundancies and early retirements etc) will face reduction again. There are a few maternity leaves amongst the gaps – absolutely wonderful for them, though admittedly maybe not so wonderful for those left behind – particularly when the skill gap is one that will be difficult to fill.

And that is just the essential backroom folk – the ones who ensure the front-line are able to continue working and that the infrastructure which supports field staff (and which I am certain that field staff are not even aware of needing) remains robust enough to support them.

If you turn to look at the staff who remain in the field – well, the low morale, the stress, the heavy workloads and build up of backlogs, the confusion and the disgruntlement regarding organisational change, the anger over pay freezes, the lack of trust or confidence in management (at any level) – all suggests a bit of a powder keg waiting to blow – or worse, a series of major mistakes waiting to happen.

I have always maintained that workload is manageable even in this dark period – but that management of that workload must change. The difficulty? That change takes time and that resistance to changing the ways of an organisational lifetime runs deep.

Add to that the implacable denial and refusal to recognise that public sector cuts are here to stay – that there is no general political will to reverse them and that the Coalition Government agenda on the need for cuts has largely been accepted as a “given” – and you have a recipe for very ugly resentful and angry Public Sector workforce.

My own skills are largely the bizarre ability to pour oil on troubled waters. To comfort and reassure beleaguered employees. To find the third way – or previously un-thought of solution. To mope up interpersonal mess. In other words, I oft times practice the dark arts – spinning and schmoozing and manipulating. None of which sounds pretty or reflects well upon me – but I do try to stick to an honest line and to protect people as best I can. I have standards honest.

Given all that though, maybe it is obvious that I might be under a fair bit of pressure attempting to grease the wheels…

I started by saying that this wasn’t a moaning post. But I wasn’t entirely sure what type of post it actually was. Now I see it was a personal taking stock post.  Self-indulgent and boring for any reader – so apologies to those who’ve made it to the end…

Working Day

Unexpectedly, I slept. Five hours of sound sleep. Waking to the lad thumping and clumping up and downstairs for his work clothes. Then breenging into my en suite, battering the door as he staggered, in the very early morning darkness. I lay, getting bearings, trying to remember what it was I had to do today.

Ah. Yes. Return to work.

I measured my extra bed time in ablution progress. That was the lad blowing his nose in the shower (filthy dirty habit which I scream at him for when I find bits of snot on the tiles – yes, he can and does blow that far and into the air – or his hand – I am divided about which is worse). That was the lad lathering his hair and dropping the shampoo bottle. That was the lad getting soap in his eyes. That was him reaching for the towel which is not where it should be…

Finished, he emerges in a fog of Eau de Young Stag, to moan about the towel not being where it should be and the shampoo not being the anti-dandruff stuff he likes. I say Did you get snot on those tiles again you little bugger? Cos if you did… I am too befuddled by the Eau de thingy to develop the threat into anything but thin air. He laughs. You don’t even clean the shower! Now, this last is true. I don’t. But that is not the point. I use the shower. I said But I use the shower you dirty boy! And your Mamie cleans it! And then she moans at me because shes convinced the snot is my snot! This last was a mistake. He laughs even harder and then says Well thats ok then. She thinks its yours so why should I stop!

This is the type of logic I find hard to argue with. Especially when the oxygen in my dark bedroom is being gradually displaced by his eau de pong-thing.

He goes to the kitchen where I can hear him raiding the fridge for enough supplies to feed his entire working shift. I shout at him to leave enough for the wee ones packed lunches. He grunts cos he is already stuffing his face.

I turn into the bed. The soft flannel warmth of the pillow against my face telling me to sleep some more. But I need to rouse and get washed and get out.

The new blue dress I bought for my first day back is discarded in favour of my customary comfortable invisible black. I take care with make-up. Pale face. Red lips. Black eye-liner in little corner flicks.

I am ready and out before the others are up. My Dad waves me away from the door. I am certain I can see relief on his face – now I can get my routine back he seems to be thinking.

I measure the journey in cigarettes. I’ve cut down whilst I’ve been off and only smoke 2 to my previous 4. I enjoy them. Being on my own in the car and smoking and choosing my own radio station – luxuries I had almost forgotten these last 12 weeks. I speed onto the motorway. The M80 is open now and – with a clear view on the straights – I push the hairdryer engine to 90. Never fails to irk me that this large 7-seater has only a 1.5 diesel engine. It is an affront I can only forget when it sails smoothly near the ton.

It is only when I am nearing Head Office that I feel the heavy fist of fear punch the air from me.

This is it. Soon I will be facing people. Making decisions. Taking meetings.

I park up and sit in the car and have a final cigarette. Then I hear me say oh fuck sake Y! Get a grip! Get out there and show them how a proper return is done!

I muster my bag and briefcase, shut the car door behind me and stride with purpose and determination to the Office door.

Where I stand. Staring at the security keypad. Feeling the momentum of determination leaking with every passing second. I have forgotten the security password…

And so the day began. I was my own, old, ordinary, human self. And when I got through the door I was passed from embrace to embrace.

Blogging – keeping it in the family…

My youngest son – the Tricky one of the family – has decided to get some blog action of his own…

Argh! He is giving McGonagall a run for his money…with his own take on poetry, life and the universe.

Tricky is 11 years old. Into football (soccer to you e.f.) and Top Gear (though I have managed to explain that Jeremy Clarkson is NOT a good role model)…

His name, The Steelman references the football team of his heart – Motherwell F.C.

I will be monitoring his posts with interest…

The Waiting Room

9am and the local clinic is beginning to fill. A warning sign, just through the double entry doors and three feet from the reception, greets with prohibition: ‘Do not queue beyond this point’.

Three feet. The premium given to privacy.

The woman in front of me shuffles the crevasse between queue and receptionist, whispering her name, her appointment time, her address, the doctor she will see. All repeated by reception staff in a weary dismissive monotone that carries into the clinic’s silence. The motif Please take a seat, your name will be called shortly echoing after each of us as we reach the head of the queue and are ‘processed’.

The wheezing old man behind me shifts on bent legs. He coughs and farts. The woman behind him quietens a child’s high laughing voice which pipes that man pooped mummy.  The man seems oblivious. He smells of piss, cigarettes, unwashed body. I take my seat and observe the Receptionist’s recoil and her wrinkled noise; her attempt to manage his deafness; the spraying of freshener whilst he struggles towards the waiting room.

The child runs towards the primary coloured kid’s corner and begins whacking bricks. The mother attempts restraint in a reasonable voice. Look how patient and tolerant and understanding I am this voice says. I am a good Mother this voice says. But the child blithely ignores her. He fixes on the old man and runs towards him. You pooped. You smell. Why did you poop? He says in a voice that reaches into every corner of the large room.

People stare at left behind magazines as his mother gathers him up. The old man has not heard.

The Support of Friends

I am compelled to share this. I received it this morning. It came from just one of the Directors I work with…

What can I say, Yvonne? Our conversations these last two nights have been lovely landmarks in your journey into, through and out of your dark places. It feels as though you have found the optimism, drive and humour which you had mislaid and I’m really chuffed for you that you are feeling so much you.

You’ll have worked out by now that all of life is a metaphor. Well, not quite all but near enough. The picture above is on the way up to that fabulous vantage point. The Chinese are right that every journey starts with a single step. What they don’t say is that every summit is reached through hard work, perseverance, some bad words, a bit of pain and a lot of pleasure. All made so much better by having the right companions on the journey – the speck in the picture is my pal Alan who is a right companion for a hill journey.
Keep on the climb. Remember that there are sometimes false summits. Sometimes you have to go down a wee bit to go up again (though I have  a personal campaign with the Lord of the Mountains about this!). Sometimes you have to pause a while to recover your breath, look around and take in where you are. Sometimes you have to cross mushy ground where the boot eating bog monster lurks. Sometimes it all looks impossibly steep but usually there is a path threading its way through the obstacles. Sometimes the top stays out of reach or is stolen by the mist fairies. But every step, no matter how small, how slow and how much it hurts, is another step on your journey.
And the reward? You own the view and gain your perspective.
See you next week …………………

We will go for a curry in Glasgow next week. I have a great many reasons to be grateful.