Banishing Self-Indulgence

Earlier today I wrote one of those typical woe is me blog posts, alluding to how hard everything felt, how lacking I was in inspiration etc. But before I posted it I stopped, my finger hovering over the mouse key, and asked myself: What good will it do to share this with the world? It may well be cathartic to get things off your chest, but haven’t you done that just by writing it? Don’t you feel a little lighter as it is? And you know what? I did feel lighter just for having written it. Much like a letter to an ex that never actually gets sent, I had expunged the negative emotions without the need to inflict them upon the world. So that was one thing that happened today.

Another thing that happened was my reading of this article, which can, I believe, be best surmised by the following excerpt:

“The 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

“We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.”

I don’t know about you, but reading those two paragraphs struck a chord so deep within me that the hairs on my arms stood up of their own volition. Why? Because that person with no time to be ambitious outside work, who feels constantly dissatisfied in a way they struggle to articulate and who spends money they don’t have on ways to make themselves feel better: That person is me. And most likely also many of you. Of course (trust fund children aside) we have to work for a living (and in this respect with a four day week I can complain less than many about my lot), but it’s so true that outside work it takes (what often feels like) a superhuman effort to cultivate the kind of extracurricular activities that leave you feeling wholly satisfied and fulfilled.

But, that aside, the fact is that those with true talent and passion DO manage to make the most of the time they have, no matter how little it is. They don’t sit around complaining about being oppressed and enslaved by the organisations they work for, but rather work out ways to escape their clutches and create opportunities for work – and living – on their terms. Whether incarcerated by consumerism or not, we all have choices. And our choices are the difference between a life of success and a life of failure. Which is a pretty sobering thought.

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Santa Comes to Town

It’s Secret Santa time at The Stationery Store and Harold, the acting manager (standing in for John who is off work for the duration of the festive season due to hernia surgery), calls everyone into the office to exchange gifts. Rita, the manager’s personal assistant, brings out a bottle of cheap Cava and sets about pouring everyone thimble-sized amounts in plastic cups so they can toast one amother’s good health.

Stacey walks into the office, her impressive breasts squeezed into a tight Christmas jumper that has a Christmas pudding placed strategically  over each nipple. She clocks Mick and takes up a position at the opposite end of the room (everyone knows Stacey and Mick had a clinch in the stationery cupboard at last year’s party – everyone except Mick’s wife, that is – though Stacey swears blind it’s a figment of Mick’s overactive imagination).

“So,” says Alan, the company’s resident social commentator, “which poor bastard got landed with being Santa this year?” The question is answered when a sheepish looking Ron – the gawky work experience boy with luminous ginger hair and violent acne – appears in the doorway in an ill-fitting Santa suit, holding a tatty red sack.

“Come on then,” Harold says clapping his hands together, “let’s get this over with. Time is money after all.” Alan laughs and digs Mick in the ribs. “Bedside manner’s not our Harold’s strong point is it?”

Rita hands the thimbles of fizzy wine to the assembled employees and Ron circles the room proffering his sack. When everyone has their present they open them in unison.

“Well that’s just hilarious,” Stacey scowls across the room at Mick, brandishing a pair of pink handcuffs. He shrugs.

“Ooh!” Rita squeals with overstated enthusiasm, “socks! Just what I wanted!”

“That woman’s feet haven’t seen socks since the day she was born,” says Alan. “What a bloody ridiculous present.”

“Open yours then Alan,” Rita says breezily. He obliges, holding up his Christmas tree shaped ice cube tray and grimacing.

Harold gets a comedy tie, Mick a joke anti-cheating device and Ron a tube of Clearasil.

“Well,” says Harold once all the presents have been opened, “that concludes this year’s office festivities! Merry Christmas, and get back to work!”

“Thank Christ for that,” says Alan, dropping his ice cube tray in the bin on his way out.

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Walking tall

Calling all ladies “of a certain age” (by which I mean over the age of thirty): Let’s talk high heels. Or, to be more specific: Have your high heel-wearing days been in decline since the halcyon days of your twenties? Or are you still flying the flag for glamorous women the world over by squeezing your tootsies daily – a la Mrs Beckham – into skyscraper shoes that would dwarf the Shard?

I ask this question because it’s recently dawned on me that these days – bar the odd wedding or social engagement that demands smartness – I almost never wear high heels. I’m honestly not sure if this was a gradual decline or an abrupt change but, either way, I seem to have lost the glamour factor somewhere along the line.

And it’s not just when it comes to footwear. Not only have I not had a hair cut in over six months, most days when I roll out of bed and open my wardrobe to select an outfit I completely bypass the (admittedly few) corporate dresses in favour of my staple (and so ancient they practically pre-date the dinosaurs) comfort outfits. On the odd days when I do reintroduce a smart top or shirt (usually because everything else is in the wash) I get complimented by my colleagues on how nice I look. But does it tempt me to dress like that every day? Does it heck.

The thing is this: I place a very high premium on comfort. Why put yourself in constant pain by wearing towering heels all day long, or squeeze yourself into smart office wear that makes you feel uncomfortable (when, let’s face it, you’ll just be spending eight hours slumped over your desk inhaling minstrels anyway)?

This all rather begs the questions: When did I become this slob who doesn’t care about her appearance?! Is it age or laziness that’s made me this way? Whatever the answers to these questions, I’ve come to work today in a smart dress and towering heels, and have booked myself a hair appointment for this Thursday. I may have got into bad habits over the years, but I’m not ready to call it quits on glamour just yet…


Cold calls and cupcakes

This morning I came into work determined to blitz my to do list once and for all, so that I might go to Belgium this weekend feeling in control and, dare I say it, ‘on top of’ things. Sadly, however, today was not to be my day. My initial enthusiastic approach was thwarted at every turn. Firstly, I sat down at my desk to find the papers for the hitherto forgotten (in my mind at least) board meeting staring back at me. Then, post three-hour board meeting, I emerged, blinking in the light, to a telephone call from a blocked number which went something like this:

Me: Hello?

Annoying stranger: Hi, yes, I’m calling about your payment protection.

Me: I don’t have any payment protection.

Annoying stranger: But haven’t you recently taken out a loan?

Me: Look, if you’re trying to sell me something I’m really not interested..

AS: No, I’m absolutely not selling anything….

Me: So what are you calling about?

AS: Your recent loan..

Me: But I haven’t taken out a loan.

AS: Really?

Me: Yes, really. Look, I’m not interested in whatever you’re trying to sell me, okay?

AS: But I’m not a salesman, honestly…

Me: Then what are you?

AS (weakly): I’m calling about your loan…

Me: How many times do I have to tell you I’m NOT INTERESTED?

AS (sounding scared now): Um, okay….

Me: Right. GOODBYE (slams receiver down).

I’m not sure my true wrath translates so well in this context but suffice to say I think the poor man might be re-evaluating his career choices from this day forward…

Fortunately the remainder of the afternoon passed without incident and I did manage to make an indent in the To Do list despite the adverse conditions. But the true success of today was the delicious risotto we made for dinner-with peas, beetroot and goats cheese. This was topped off with a bottle of red and two delicious Hummingbird Bakery cupcakes (apple strewsel and tiramisu, since you asked), courtesy of my friend Kaye’s birthday voucher from a year ago, to celebrate two years to the day we ‘officially’ started going out – a low key celebration in light of recent events, but a lovely one nonetheless. Bruges this weekend will be the icing on the (cup)cake. I can’t wait.

Mister Moneybags

(I wrote this yesterday and, for reasons I can’t go into now, didn’t get round to posting it. Let’s just say yesterday was a tough day).

Hey Mister Moneybags, look at you! In your high rise office with your high flying job. Is that suit from Savile Row by any chance? I knew it! And those shoes, genuine Italian leather from last weekend’s jaunt to Milan? How’s the wife? The kids?The mistress? What’s that-two mistresses?! Gosh, you really do know how to live the high life! Has your golf handicap improved? Surely those expensive clubs have paid off by now? Not to mention that public school education. By golly your parents must be proud.

You know what Mister Moneybags? You really have made it, whatever ‘it’ is. You are the definition of success. Everything you ever wanted is yours. You’ve got properties and cars by the dozen, private jets and yachts the likes of which most of us can only dream of. Your family must adore the lifestyle you’ve created for them.

What’s that Mrs Moneybags? You’d rather have a husband than the lifestyle? And not have to share him with dozens of floozies at that? You’re sick of making excuses to the kids about why daddy’s let them down again? And actually if truth be told you’re starting to re-think the marriage altogether?

Oh dear Mister Moneybags, maybe you can’t have it all, after all…

There’s more to life than work

As I write this I am standing on the tube with two full Tesco bags literally dripping with sweat after sprinting from the office to the tube station because I’m rushing home to make dinner for a friend.

The stress of this situation’s got me thinking: Why is it only on the days you really have to leave the office on time that a million and one things crop up at 5.01pm that require your immediate attention? Is it some kind of divine test? If yes then I’m afraid I’ve failed, because not only have I not managed to deal with the million and one things that cropped up (I maybe managed four), I have also fully lost my composure (hence the sweaty mess that virtually stands before you-though it must be said that this ridiculously hot day has also played a significant part in that).

I suppose I should be grateful that these days I have a job where I’m usually able to leave soon after 5pm. Back in the dark days when I worked in leaflet distribution (I’m shuddering as I type those words) I regularly stayed in the office until 10pm, which is ironic given how unimportant that job was compared to the one I have now (I’m not sure my ex-boss would agree with that, or my ex-client come to that, but it’s true).

Even in my last job working for another charity I rarely got out of the office before 7pm. Working late is a culture, I know, especially in central London, but it’s one I’m no longer prepared to adhere to at the expense of my sanity and mental well being, especially now I’m in my thirties (sob).

In the vast majority of cases I doubt people’s productivity at the end of a ten or more hour stint in front of the computer is even worth their being there, but often they feel duty bound to stay because others are, or because they fear their slave driver boss will haul them over the coals if they leave (which, if my previous experience is anything to go by, they most likely will).

Well, count me out thanks very much. After ten years of imbalance I’m taking it back and making time for ME. I do my job and do it well, but at the end of the day I want to have an evening, whether it be to enjoy with my friends, exercise or do my writing. Without that I feel trapped, and whilst I’d rather not be sweating into my shopping bags right now because I’m so desperate to enjoy my evening, when I’m drinking an ice cold glass of Pinot Grigio by 6.30pm it will all have been worth it. Cheers.

Office politics

An emergency meeting has been called in No Man’s Land headquarters.

“Well?” says Derek, the CEO, tapping his watch pointedly.

“I’ll go first, if that’s okay?” Hazel, the Office Manager, speaks up. Derek nods his consent and she continues. “Well, it’s just that we’ve run out of stationery.” Derek raises an eyebrow. “And, well,” Hazel continues tremulously, “we need some more.”

Derek regards her with incredulity. “Then get some.”

“It’s not that simple, you see,” Hazel says, averting his gaze and fingering the buttons on her cardigan (previously part of a twin set but whose twin had long ago succumbed to a nerve-induced coffee stain).

“And that would be because…?”

“Because John holds the budget and he says we can’t afford it,” Hazel finishes on a note of triumph, passing the baton of blame to No Man’s Land’s Finance Manager at the far end of the table, who glowers at her through his unflattering thick rimmed spectacles.

“Now don’t go blaming me,” John says crossly, “Sadie’s the one who’s been telling you it’s not possible.”

A tut of discontent alerts them all to Sadie’s presence. “I said no such thing,” she remarks. “What I said was you would have to run it past Danielle because she’s the communications person and she’s updating the brand guidelines, so she might well want to wait until they’re done before ordering more stationery. Anyway, I’m just a lowly secretary, what would I know?” She rolls her eyes and returns to the serious business of filing her nails.

“And Danielle would be where exactly?” Derek asks, barely managing to hide the exasperation in his voice.

“She’s in the office,” Hazel offers, “working on the communications strategy.”

Derek sighs, tweaks his tie and scans his Blackberry for new messages, all the while emitting a slow hiss through his teeth. “And I suppose it didn’t occur to you when you convened this meeting regarding communications activities that it might be wise to invite the sole communications person within the organisation?”

Hazel blinks and shakes her head.

“May I recommend that someone phones Danielle and asks her to join us for a moment or two?”

John obliges this request, and seconds later a flustered looking Danielle appears in the doorway. “Yes?” she says accusingly.

“Hazel here tells me we’ve run out of stationery,” begins Derek. “And John here tells me that Sadie’s been saying it’s not possible to order more because you’re doing the re-branding.”

“Correct.”

“Might I therefore ask when this re-branding will be over so we might be in a position to order more stationery, since it’s evidently a matter of most pressing urgency that seems to be grinding my commercial business to a halt and involving the efforts of every member of my staff team to resolve?”

Danielle’s lower lip begins to quiver. “I’m doing it as fast as I can,” she whimpers, “but what with the constant barrage of requests from everyone all the time and these incessant bloody meetings I just can’t focus.” She starts to cry.

“There, there, dear,” says Hazel, putting a sympathetic arm around Danielle’s shoulder.

“Barrage of requests – what a joke,” John pipes up, “all you do all day is sit on Facebook.”

“That’s not true!” Danielle protests. “And anyway, it’s not like you can talk! You’re always playing games on your computer. It’s a wonder any of the accounting gets done at all.”

“That’s true,” Sadie says without looking up from her nails. “You do play a lot of games on your computer John. Pot and kettle come to mind.”

John’s broken capillaries flare up like beacons on the hillocks of his cheeks. “I don’t have to sit here and take these accusations!” He stands up and slams a hand down on the table, leaving a sweaty hand print on the glass. Without another word he storms out of the office.

“And nor do I!” Danielle retorts. “I’ve got a bloody communications strategy to write!” She turns and flounces out of the office after John.

“Oh dear,” says Hazel, “I only wanted some new stationery…”

“Sadie,” Derek says, rising from his chair, “kindly tell all staff to desist from scheduling pointless meetings for the indefinite future. And,” he adds over his shoulder, “make a note to check the filters on the computer system.”