Sunday, April 29

Walking Alone

My daily plan has been interrupted by a talky sort, and I'm not quite sure how to deal with it.

I walk to work and I walk home again. It takes me about 40 minutes and I enjoy it. I use the time to listen to podcasts, read my Kindle, or just think. It's my time and I use it to prepare myself for the work ahead of me or to recover from it afterwards.

Now though someone else from my office has started walking the same way.

This is not the first colleague to pass me on the way to work. People have been walking my way for some time but we have a mutual agreement to ignore each other. We realise that the walk to work is sacrosanct, not to be cheapened with office gossip or talk of weekend plans. At best we give each other a short curt nod as one of us powerwalks past the other. It is an arrangement with which we are happy.

But this new person is different. This new person is an Extrovert!

"Simon!" she shouts at me as I walk past her, "Simon!" For a moment, I consider pretending I don't hear her. I reach for my ipod to turn up the volume, but it's hopeless. She'll keep shouting at me.

I turn to look at her, mouthing curses, then take off my headphones and twist my mouth into a smile.

"Hi, How you going?" I say, switching into extrovert mode, and we begin our small talk peppered 20 minute trek to the office.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I dislike this person, but I don't do well with small talk at the best times. Small takes effort and thought, working out what to say next. I especially don't do well with small talk when I'm not expecting it. My walk to work is a hallowed moment of non-communication, a few minutes in the day when I know that I won't have to deal with someone else's life, preperation for 7 hours of customer calls. The last thing I want is someone else to talk to.

She carries on oblivious. She is friendly and polite, and shows an interest in me, and talks, and tells me stories, and throws my whole day out of sync.

Finally we arrive. I thank her for walking with me and retreat to the relative quiet of my desk, where I can sit down and read for few blessed minutes before the calls start coming in. Then I log in and the day begins.

Finally as 5 roll around I pack up, tired, slightly stressed, but glad the day is done, ready for my walk home, 40 minutes to unwind, nothing but me, my thoughts, and the sounds of a city that is heading back home.

And then I look up and see my new walking buddy smiling at me.

"Are you walking home tonight?" she asks...

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Saturday, March 17

Saturday night dreamers and drinkers.

Saturday night, walking home, sober, clean, heading through town, the perfect time, of course, to judge.

Don't pretend you haven't been there.

My bitterness has been flamed ready. I had spent the evening at a comedy poetry reading and as ever, these things, far from inspiring me, lift me up and then leave me in despair as I realise that my own skills can never compare. A reminder once again that I am and always will be an amateur, scratching my words with a stick in the sand, as they, the voices of a generation, carve their thoughts into the cliff face in letters 6 foot high. When the tide comes in where do my words go? Does the earth take them back, as one day it will take back me, nothing more than a fading imprint?

You see what poetry recitals do to me?

I am an amateur. I lack the passion in my soul that the poets feel, and lack the grit in my spirit that drives the novelist onto the next page. I had the passion and the grit once, I think. But over time other things got in the way, and the dream faded, like my words in the sand as the waves climb higher. When had I stopped dreaming? When had I given in?

So you see I had a choice: I could be down on myself, or I could be down on others. I chose, I admit, to take refuge.

See them, the mobs of Saturday night, a unofficial St Patricks day parade from one pub to the next. The girls, in their dresses, wobbling on heels, squealing loudly, while the men, stand behind, watch them walking, comment on their wiggle, before leaning on a lamppost and coating it in vomit. I stereotype of course, but then I am walking through Bristol, and it is Saturday night. Look around you, and you'll see what I mean, at any city on any weekend.

Drunkards and thugs and sluts. How easy to forget the nights when people thought that of me.

But not tonight, tonight I am sober, and trying to understand, why we do it? What is it about Saturday night that drives us to try and have fun?

And I realise, perhaps for the first time, that these people too have dreams that will never come true.

That man, with the bald patch, and the Guinness hat, which he keeps taking off as the ladies pass, whilst taking a good look at their passing arse, what was his dream? Was he destined to be a rock star? A footballer? Does he dream of holding the kid that he's never seen, or of being a better father, or lover, or son? Maybe he dreams of being an investment banker but made the wrong choices and now works as plumber? Maybe he’s an investment banker who wanted to fix pipes for a living? Who knows what his dream is? But he does have a dream.

The girl walking past whose arse he stares at, she's on her 5th pub now, getting tired, but she knows her man wants to keep going, and so she tags along, because her dream is to have the perfect homelife, with the perfect man, and he isn't it, but he's the best she can find. (How stereotypical my thoughts are when they try to be philosophical.) 37 and getting so drunk that she can hardly stand up right on a Saturday night. This isn't what anyone imagined.

Is that why we do it? A moment to try and forget that things aren't the way they were meant to be, that our lives aren't what they were meant to be, that we aren't what we are meant to be?

Or perhaps, more likely the poet in me, jealous at the superiority of finer minds, wants to find something to pontificate about. Maybe, just maybe, the only reason we do it is because it's fun to go out on a Saturday night, and I'm just jealous that they're feeling alright, and having a good time, and are able to forget their dreams that they let go of so easily.

But for me, even to realise they have dreams, impossible dreams too, somehow, I find I no longer feel like judging. Let them have their party, they hangovers, their morning regrets. Sometimes, 'Tonight' is all we have. The future is a dream and there is always the worry we might wake up.

Ahead of me there is the sound of breaking glass. A beer bottle falls off a wall, smashing to the pavement. The beer foams and runs off into the road, another dream gone. A man pushes his friend, starts a fight. I walk past them, stepping into the beer puddle to avoid their eyes, and with a great sense of relief find myself judging once again.

Saturday night. Sober. Clean. The perfect time to judge.

Don't pretend you haven't been there.

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Monday, February 27

Enlightenment in the office. A failed experiment

I really did try to make this work. I refuse to take full responsibility for it's failure. But, to be honest, it would probably have been a bit easier if I'd known exactly what I was trying to find out before I started it. Just trying to find out how stressed I was is a particularly unreliable measurement as my mood changes several times throughout the day. In the morning for example, it tends to be quite low, as I have to leave the house. Around 12 o'clock it goes up as lunchtime starts, and then, at around 1, when I pull myself back to the office it sinks rapidly as my body diverts all it's attention to digesting the huge amounts of sugary goodness I consume at lunchtime and so doesn't have time be happy.


Throughout the week my moods swung from 1 to 5 with wild abandonment, and even quicker back in the opposite direction. And is is for someone who, as a rule, doesn't consider himself to be overly emotional. I try as much as possible to keep myself solidly british in my emotions, which is to keep generally optimistic and avoid complaining.


The experiment would have been easier however if the Little Book of Calm at Work had actually contained some sensible suggestions that the average office pleb can use.


"If you want to stay calm, never go into a meeting unless it has a clearly defined agenda," only works if you happen to be in an office that actually allows its staff to have freewill. Likewise, "You'll feel calm if you walk away from the things you can't do anything about, and concentrate on those you can influence, only really matters if the things you can't do anything about didn't make customers yell at you.


However the week did have one merit.


By managing to admit that I was struggling to a team leader we have now worked out a new plan, divided my day up differently, and eventually, although this is still very much in the 'planning' stages, created a new role for me to move into based on the things I actually want to do with my job.


I can not however thank the Little Book of Calm at Work for this, so much as I can thank the level 5 stress experiences. The one thing the Little Book of Calm at Work forget to mention is that Stress can be a great motivator. In this case it motivated me to ask to discuss things with my boss and work out how to fix it.


Maybe there's a market for the Little Book of STRESS at Work? It would at least be more practical.

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Tuesday, February 14

Enlightenment in the Office - The Notebook

So, I really should research these experiments before I just jump into them. It turns out that the "Little Book of Calm at Work" is full of the most bizarre suggestions: 

"Whenever you are given a deadline immediately think of it as an amount of time you an do whatever you want with. That way you stay in control." Another words when given a deadline ignore it, and get in trouble with your boss. This and many other suggestions that I found as I was reviewing the book were immediately rejected either because
  • They wouldn't be possible to apply in my office. ("Whenever you feel Angry take a 10 minute walk" That way by the time you return to your job they'll be able to fire you for being AWOL) 
  • I didn't understand what they were suggesting (See the deadline one above)
  • It would make people in the office look at me weirdly. ("Go with the flow - Do a Tai Chi routine to help ease stress.")  
  • It was just plain stupid. ("Lean on a tree...") 
Withall that in mind the first challenge was finding a technique I could actually try, whilst working in a insurance call centre.

Moleskine NotepadIn the end I settled on "Take a notebook to work. Write down your worries to make them go away. Write down your tasks to organise your day." I happen to a have a very nice Moleskine Notepad so I took this to work with me, and, when in the morning my stress levels were approaching explosion levels, I wrote down what was annoying me.

Honestly, speaking I can't say it calmed me down. Instead it wound me up as I realised that so many of thees problems were things that I just couldn't fix, things that I would have to keep putting up with until I either quit, get made redundant, or finally get recognised for the hard-worker I am and promoted.

The more I wrote, the more stressed out I became as I realised just how completely hopeless everything had become, and how stressed out I was constantly feeling. I could feel the tension in my forehead, and started worrying that all this stress was giving me (more) wrinkles. 

Eventually, overwhelmed by everything I gave up, and emailed my team leader asking for a meeting so I can talk things through and try to work out a plan as to how to make things better.

And as soon as I did that I started to feel a heck of a lot better all at once.

So, it turns out that writing things down did help a little. It meant that I could pass off the problems that were ouside my control to someone else to deal with and take a little bit of the weight off of my shoulders. Back in my normal role, where I was just a nobody taking phonecalls and no-one expected anything more of me, it was very easy to just get on with my job, and try not to let get to me.

Which I suppose makes my first lesson of the week "Happiness is delegating your problems to others." 
 It seems like rather a stuck-up realisation...

Enlightenment might be harder to find than it first seemed...

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Sunday, February 12

Does the UK need Atheist court battles?

It's rare that we have atheist news in the UK. As a whole our country has got used to being a secular country that likes to think of itself as Christian. We tick the box Christian box just because we happened to have been Christened and we put some money in the Salvation Army's charity box last Christmas. 

This week though we got two big atheist headlines at once.  

Firstly, a Judge ruled prayer at local council meetings unlawful, and secondly there is a campaign to keep chaplains in our hospitals

The papers had a field day with it of course, all of them leading with the headlines that were something along the lines of "Christianity under attack". A former archbishop even prophesied a time when police would drag priests from the pulpit for preaching. It all got a bit silly. 

And I find myself torn. In any other country I would be right up there saying "too right!" But in my own homeland... Well, it's just a little different. 

Maybe it's because I was raised Christian, but I have a soft spot for the pomp of organised religion. There is something settling about being asked to bow my head in a moment of prayer, even if I do find myself chuckling at the ridiculous things people pray for. And I love listening to a good old fashioned preacher give a humorous, but completely inoffensive, sermon to his middle-class flock. And I have to wonder, I have to ask, does it really matter?

Is anyone really being hurt by having to sit through a prayer before a meeting? Is anyone the worse off for getting a visit from a hospital Chaplin? Isn't it the British way to just politely smile and laugh about those things you disagree with, instead of getting all uppity and legislative about it?

And then I realise that probably makes me part of the problem. Because all the time people like me keep being tolerant there is nothing to stop Christian dogma from creeping into our schools, our politics, even our homes. Have we become a country that is so so used to Christianity that we fail to seperate it from harmless tradition? Is there even a need to worry about it?

In all of the articles they give the argument that we are a Christian nation, with a Christian majority, but I wonder how true that is. How many people would really be upset if there weren't any prayers at meetings? How many people even really listen to them? I think that there is only a tiny majority of active Christians, the rest just play along. 

And if that is the case is it even something worth worrying about?  I would think that the act of removing prayers serves only to bring people's attention to back to them, and maybe begin to fight for something they had never paid much attention to before. It marginalises the atheists too, as evil people who don't want the Christians to bring their beliefs with them to council meetings or hospitals. It seems like a pointless battle that can't do anyone any good. 

But I'll end the way it started. If this was happening in America, is be all for it. I just wonder if we need that kind of thing just as desperately over here. 

Urgh, I'm so British. Honestly, if it wasn't for my stuff upper lip, I'd be blushing. 

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Saturday, February 11

Enlightenment in the Office - Control Day

I had been worried that Friday wasn't going to be the best day to use as a control day, and I was somewhat right in my suspicions. I say that not because it was the worst day ever but, as far as work goes it really wasn't all that bad. This as probably partly helped by fact that my boss was only in for half the day, which meant I could actually get my work done, and our team is trying out a new "Stop whining in front of your workmates" idea which is just as ridiculous, and just as painful, as it sounds, but did mean that everyone was trying very hard not to wind me up. 

Office stess

I have decided to keep scoring simple and rate my stress levels on a simple 1 to 5 scale. A hasty google search for Stress Scales on Friday morning caused only confusion. I had originally intended to score this every hour but when working in a call centre your time is not your own and this proved impossible. Instead I decided in the end to just recall it whenever I remember. 

You can see, I hope, the very high scientific standards I am applying to this experiment. 

These scores are being recorded throughout the day, and when the week is over I will plot them up to obtain a daily average. I'll then be able to see if it has been possible to make my office life that little bit more bearable by following the tips in "The Little Book Of Calm At Work".  

And if everything goes well, I may even have discovered enlightenment. 


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Friday, February 10

Comment Reset

As more and more people are reading blogs on mobile devices nowadays, and intense debate doesn't work on mobile devices, I have decided to reset the comments back to Blogger Default.

Unfortunately this will mean that all of your lovely comments have been lost. Please feel free to go back and say some random things on post again!

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