Here’s something I prepared earlier

So my blog challenge from Robyn this week was to re-publish something from long, long ago. I had an article I’d written for a football magazine, which although I’m amazed at how good it is (I can barely remember writing it!) it’s way too long to publish here. And I don’t have time to edit. So instead I’m going to treat you to some of my favourite photos that I’ve taken over the past couple of years. That’s kinda keeping to topic… ish…

 

Flexible – my middle name

So, today we celebrate the benefits of flexible working. Let me state the reasons I love thee!

First, what do we mean by ‘flexible working’? I think today it incorporates what we call ‘part-time’ as well as, for example, different start/finish times, compressed hours, term time… there are so many different flavours of flexible. But for me, it’s all about getting the right work/life balance – what is right for the individual.

pabloNot only do I work flexibly, I manage a team who you could all class as flexible workers. We all have different arrangements, for different reasons, and it all works brilliantly. A combo of our partners working hours, children, other businesses and outside interests mean we need to work differently than 9 to 5.

May we live in interesting times

In a world where you can go shopping on a sunday (not exactly new, I know) and you can communicate with businesses all over the world at any time of the day or night, we live 24/7 – everything is on all the time. Technology and modern expectations are demanding changes in the way we work, but it also enables us to work differently to fit those expectations. My email and calendar are synced to my phone (it also helps me not be late for meetings!) and so even when I’m not technically working, I am available and able to work when I need to. My broadband speed at home is often quicker than when my laptop is docked at work. My laptop means I can work wherever I happen to be, and so yes, it can blur into my live… but I happen to be pretty passionate about what I do, so actually that helps me to be less anxious about it as I’m able to do things when I think about them, not waiting til I’m back in the office. This works for me.

Now obviously there are job roles that require attendance (Waitrose Partners who work in store do need to be there, physically) and others have set hours (think of Nurses – set hours are essential to enable continuity of care of patients) but for most ‘office’ jobs the tech available allows more flexibility – working from home, call forwarding, VPN, web cams and  video conferencing – it’s just about trusting people to do their jobs when you can’t actually see them. I know individuals who are much more productive when they’re working from home – so let them. The less we focus on 9 to 5, and more we can focus on what gets done, and then we can be more flexible and accommodating to the real world and demands of life and businesses now and beyond.

And that’s my point – utilise the tech, find the right balance and work with it. Everyone is individual and therefore have different needs – communicate with staff to find what works for them and make that work. As the days, months, years go by, flexible will be the norm and 9 to 5 will be archived to the past.

Oh, and that’s without me starting on what type of person you are! Take the guardian’s personality test for some insights. And the marvellous Robyn has something to say about flexible working, too… Find more on Twitter:

 

Why do I #loveMK ?

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Love…
Ah, Milton Keynes. It gets such a bad rep… for no real reason. Concrete cows? Yep, we have them. A bazillion roundabouts? YES! What about them?

So let’s discuss this…

I’ve lived in Milton Keynes for 38 years – I was here before the City Centre existed, when the grid road system was just one road north to south with a few off-shoots… yes, I do remember when it was all just fields.

From the largest (at the time) under-cover shopping centre (now called The Centre:MK) to the first multiplex cinema in the UK, the wide variety of companies who have a base here to the wide open green spaces, it’s a genuinely unique place to live.

It’s cool. No, really it is. It was mentioned in Marvel’s Agents of Shield, for goodness sake! That immediately puts it in the awesome list. Superman IV filmed scenes at MK train station and other films and music videos have used MK’s interesting architecture and space as a backdrop.

The roundabouts?

We have something like 360 of them, there’s even been a calendar <insert embarrased smirk here>. The road system the roundabouts create ensures traffic flows easily around the busy city. The only jams we have are when someone is digging up the road “to make it better”. Despite this, we have a shockingly bad public transport network. The original design allowed for a monorail style of public transport but unfortunately that never made it into development – we have instead a rubbish bus service… however as a car lover, I love the fact I can get to pretty much any part of MK in 10 minutes or less.

And yes, a much-loved football team moved here and the fans didn’t like it. Get over it! Apart from this season (2015-6) they’ve done brilliantly and have an awesome stadium – let it go, you haters!

The community – well, for a very long time the makeup of the city was varied. We were from all over the UK and overseas (I’m Welsh) and it’s only now that we have adults who were actually born here. It’s beginning to feel like the place people actually come from. Greg Rutherford, for example.

There are so many other reasons to love MK – but mostly I do because it’s so varied and mixed and full of surprises. Just a two minute walk out of my house is the Grand Union canal, and within a few more minutes, you’re in green spaces that just aren’t associated with city life. That’s a good way to live.

My blogging inspiration, Robyn, has spelt out why she loves MK.

Cats v Dogs

As I type, there is an alluring rumble from under my desk. Nope, I’m not hungry, it’s my ginger cat  (Spot) signalling he wants a stroke. And I will contort myself to fuss him, even though he sits just out of reach, and after about 32 seconds (or a length of time of his choosing) he will get up and bugger off to the conservatory to ignore me until dinner time. This is normal cat/owner behavior…

So, yes, I am here to state the case that cats are most definitely better than dogs*. Desperate for a subject to blog about, I blurted “cats v dogs” as a challenge to Robyn (see the Dog side of the argument on Robyn’s blog). This is actually really hard for me (see * below…) but as currently I am owned by cats, here goes…

We had cats (and dogs) in the house when I was a kid, and they made me want to be a vet (I also wanted to marry Simon le Bon… I’m still waiting for him to ditch Yasmin and gimme a call) just so I could help cats. Not house cats. No, I wanted to help lions and tigers and cheetahs and jaguars. And it was all because I’d seen big cats on nature programmes and those big cats were exactly the same as the little cats in my house. Just… bigger. Wow! I was hooked.

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Jaffa and Phoebe. Busy as usual.

When I left home and had three jobs to pay my mortgage, it became apparent I definitely couldn’t have a dog. They need walking and are needy and totally dependent. Whereas cats allow you to adopt them, fuss them when they want but they can pretty much get on with life without much looking after. Well obviously some looking after is required, but you get the gist. So I got a cat. Um, I actually got two kittens because they were just so cute and furry…

 

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Nessie and Spot. So tiny!

Skip forward to present day… I’ve loved and lost Jaffa and Phoebe, those cute, mental, moody, bonkers, affectionate, lazy, fur-shedding moggies and have another two. Nessie and Spot – just as cute, mental, moody… (you get the picture) yet TOTALLY DIFFERENT to the other two. I am constantly amazed and delighted at their wildly different personalities and behaviors.

Spot should have been called Hulk (“Smash”) and ruins all notions that cats are clever, stealthy or graceful. He would fall off a rug if it wasn’t on the floor. Nessie is delicate, quiet and looks at her brother with absolute disdain. (If I could get her librarian glasses to peer over, I would.) However, bring a bit of Canadian catnip in the house and she bounces off the walls for hours. They bring me comfort and cuddles, they arse around the house and sleep in the best spots, refuse to go out and get jobs, but I wouldn’t be without them.

Cats. They own me.

(Of course you can chase your own tail, fall off a step and get away with it by rolling over and being cute)

* please note, I am owned by cats but love dogs just as much. However, my overlord cats won’t allow me to have a  “privy-carpet smelling fleabag” in the house…

So why am I studying?

‘Regular’ university study was not my thing.

I hated school. I didn’t like my teachers, I had very few friends and couldn’t wait to finish my GCSEs. Academically I could very easily have gone to a ‘traditional’ university, however I just couldn’t bear the thought of sitting in classrooms and waiting for my life to begin… after my studies had finished.

In hindsight I feel a tiny bit ashamed that I didn’t take advantage of university study when it was free. However I left school and started working immediately. I have been in employment (sometimes two or three jobs at the same time) for all the 24 years of my working life (so far!). I’ve worked in some great places, met many people and gained a vast range of skills and experience.

I started working at The Open University, in alumni relations, and got to meet some fantastic students and alumni. I was amazed how they could juggle life real life – where granny has to move in with you for six months, and children arrive, and you move house twice – and still manage to complete six (or many more) years of study to achieve a degree. The pride I’ve seen in so many people’s faces inspired me to start my own learning journey. Now I’ve been pretty lazy about it. I’ve been studying really for about the last 10 years on and off, randomly picking subjects that I find interesting. That’s the beauty of the OU, you can just pick the topics that stimulate you. And if you don’t like it… well you can try a different subject next year.

Working in a university initially gave me a biased view of academic achievement. Obviously great value is placed in having a qualification. However my view has been balanced by the many alumni I have met over the years. So many of them are doing it for career purposes, to work towards changing their job or progressing up the ladder with their employer. However the skills that they gain through studying part time overlaps into their personal life too. Many talk about the confidence that study has given them, their ability to analyse, absorb information and create reasoned arguments has meant that their personal life has also been positively affected by their study.

There are always stars. A 92-year-old gentleman achieving his degree – you’re never too old to learn. And I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a professional rower who’s training for the Olympics later this year. He’s had to move his wife and young child to be close to his training ground and is so determined to get his business degree this year, and yet manages to keep a balance on everything. He told me that when he’s doing something (training, studying, playing with his little girl) he is there fully in the moment. He is totally focussed on that thing. He is a real inspiration to us all in keeping that work/life balance in check!

Even the seemingly ordinary are extraordinary

There are literally hundreds of examples of people I’ve met and every single one of them inspires me. I can’t wait to join the ranks of OU alumni. They are an incredible bunch of people who work so hard and I feel it will be a privilege to join them when I complete my degree next year. I do study to enhance my career, I think it will give me more confidence in my own abilities. But actually I’m just proving a point. I do have a brain and I know how to use it. And I don’t regret for one second not going to a ‘regular’ University. Part time through the OU is so much harder but so much more rewarding.

Things that make me go hmmm. 

Every now and again, a track hits the charts that makes me just..pause. Think Meghan Trainor All about the bass or Mika’s Big girls. 

I love All about the bass, and am often caught singing out loud when it’s playing on my iPhone at work – but it makes me wince ever so slightly. It’s a light-touch anthem to be happy with what you are. Right. But it feels ever so slightly awkward for me to sing it. Hence you won’t fine me singing out loud to my favourite Queen song: Fat bottomed girls. It’s a bloody killer track – but it feels very wrong for a fat bottomed girl to be singing it. I know we make the rockin’ world go r-o-u-n-d but should I be singing it out loud? 

AC/DC’s Whole Lotta Rosie is another one. It’s an epic track… 

“Ain’t no fairy story

Ain’t no skin and bones

But you give it all you got

Weighin’ in at nineteen stone”

Maybe it’s the weight reference, I have been 19 stone, so it feels a bit personal but it just feels like people would snigger at me enjoying the song. 

Or – am I just reading into all this too much? Do people even notice (care) about song lyrics? Should I just let go of my paranoia and enjoy the music?