Looking Beyond …

thoughts and deliberations .. a theme is too restrictive


Caring beyond the cuddles….


Just about everyone who has ever met my mother says she is a ‘sweetie’.  She is delightful and no trouble at all.   I beg to differ.  My mother is not all sweetness and light.  She is 92, unable to walk and only able to stand for just a few seconds with support, her arthritic hands have taken away her ability to grip or pick things up, her hearing enables her to pick out only the fewest of words spoken by those fortunate enough to have a voice that resonates at the right frequency, and her sight is poor, very poor.  Now all this in itself does not exclude her from being delightful or a ‘sweetie’ but no trouble at all is about the last phrase I would use when describing  my dear mother.  The deterioration of her health excludes her from all of the activities that keep a person occupied and all she has left is her thoughts and thankfully, her ability to speak and communicate.

I mention this, because I like to see myself as a caring person.  It is one of the attributes that I feel able to ascribe to myself and use without difficulty on job applications and forms.  A recent exercise in seeking out ideas for my intended change of occupation, puts a number of caring activities firmly on the list.  It has been suggested that I might enjoy working with people who have physical and mental difficulties to overcome in order to live their daily lives.  Well this last week has provided a reality check on that one.  I have been reminded once again of the truth about caring.  Caring, like love, is costly.  It is relentless, hard work, selfless, all-consuming, challenging and yet mind numbingly tedious.  It is not just about the odd cuddle here and there.

Yet millions of people all over the world are doing it day in, day out, for their loved ones – often until they are literally on their knees with exhaustion and despair.  Many more are caring as a profession, with low pay, long hours and very difficult circumstances to endure.  Almost without exception, each one of the professionals I have met over the years who have had a hand in caring for my mother (and there are many) have displayed impressive amounts of caring, patience, tolerance and respect in their duties.

A few years ago, when I started thinking about my future in the job I was in, I considered taking a career break in order to spend some time helping to care for my mother.  At the time, it seemed like the best solution to a difficult situation with my father heading for prolonged cancer treatment and Mum’s needs increasing.  I knew it would be a challenge, but I honestly thought that with the help and support of my siblings, I would be able to do it.  The plan never came to fruition, and sadly now I know otherwise.  I know that it is one thing to feel that you care about something or someone, but it is quite another to show this in your actions, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day and night by night.


I present to you (with the full intention of maintaining respect for both my parents whom I love dearly) a flavour of the challenges of caring:

On Monday afternoon, I head three hours north for a two-night stay with my parents in order to facilitate my father’s day trip to the hospital for surgery on Tuesday. Before leaving I phone home to enquire whether it will be necessary to buy food for a meal upon arrival.  I speak to Mum who shows all signs of having followed and understood the conversation.  Dad had taken a half hour break from Mum to run down to the allotment and plant a row of leeks.  Having fought the continuing insistence of my body to shut down and sleep, despite the unplanned stop for caffeine, I arrive. I am exhausted, hungry and grumpy.   The evening meal has been eaten and there is little food in the house.  Truth number one – caring is not about being in control but requires an unflinching ability to ‘go with the flow’.  Instead, I am unsettled by the sight of the sink. Undeterred, the washing up is tackled in due accordance with the rules of the household regarding draining and disposal of tea leaves, minimal use of washing up liquid, correct procedures for rinsing and recycling and returning each item to its specifically designated place in the kitchen.  And all the time, despite it being probably over a decade since Mum had any influence in the kitchen, my subconscious is telling me – “I want my Mummy back”.

Dad rectifies the food situation by finding fish and chips in the freezer, I feel bad that he has gone to this trouble whilst he in turn feels embarrassed at the situation.  I realise that both my parents still have a psychological need to be caring for me even when circumstances suggest that the reverse should take over.  I am still their childTruth number two – role reversal is uncomfortable, awkward and does not happen naturally.  This truth is to be illustrated repeatedly over the next couple of days.

Next up, I have a nice chat with my mother.  This inevitably involves shouting which sometimes accelerates to fever pitch in frustration.  At best, there is relentless repetition of critical words in a procedure that resembles a rather agitated, high volume game of Chinese whispers.  So we switch topics.  Mum does the talking…”does my husband have a job?” she asks. Perplexed by this question, I impatiently inform my mother, who has recently scored full marks in the tests for dementia, that indeed he does, but inside my heart has given up on the conversation.   Truth number three – dementia or not, the decreasing lack of knowledge and ability in the cared for, to engage in what is happening in the carer’s life can cause isolation.  Again, there are to be constant reminders of this over the next two days.

Mum requests a visit to the bathroom.  As I hold her steady in the transfer from chair to wheelchair, her bones are literally squeaking, crunching and creaking.  I can feel and hear hundreds of tiny movements and her vulnerability is frightening.  I remember with longing, the distant days when she would at great cost in energy and effort, walk with me to school.  Instead, I am required to help her undress sufficiently to use the toilet and when called back later, we enter into our regular argument about whether she has washed her hands.  I know that she hasn’t.  She angrily protests that she has.  My gentle, caring, loving response fails to emerge as I battle with the knowledge that it is now Mum that is hiding the truth from me and not me hiding the truth from Mum.  I am concerned that poor hygiene will result in yet another UTI.  Truth number four – constant physical and mental attention is required in the battle for safety and hygiene.

I turn my attention to arrangements for the next day.  Dad is too mentally exhausted to have addressed the transport arrangements for getting him to hospital for 8 am.  We both acknowledge and confront the obvious fact that Mum cannot be left for the hour it will take me to transport him and return.   We establish that Mum’s overnight carer is unable to stay later until I return.  It is too early for buses, the assistance of neighbours or the Plus Bus scheme with which both my parents are registered and there is a resistance to booking a taxi that today’s generation would fail to understand.  So it is decided that we will leave early so that I can return before the paid night carer departs.  We have no energy to address what might happen at the other end of the day.  Truth number five making straightforward arrangements for an isolated event are never simple or straightforward.  They often sap the life energy out of the carer.    Leaving Mum even for half an hour is probably high risk and unwise.  Prior to her latest hospitalisation, she had a panic alarm strung around her neck, but we have realised that she does not have the ability to raise the alarm if needed, and so that potentially life saving service is no longer an option.

Mum is trying to undress in readiness for bed.  The carer arrives at 11.30 pm but sometimes Mum likes to be ready for bed before then.  She is struggling to undo a button on her blouse and after about 5 mins asks for help.  I realise that the button she is struggling with, is in fact a sticky sweet stuck between the layers of her blouse.  Sweets are now habitually squirreled away at every opportunity – preferably unwrapped, as Mum can no longer unwrap them for herself.  So at the hint of a chance, she will coerce anyone who is willing, into unwrapping a sweet.  These go into pockets, her handbag, down side of chair, under pillow, up sleeves and inside tissues.  We discover that Werther’s caramels have a particular propensity to soil garments unpleasantly.  I am asked to unwrap a bar of chocolate so that it can be stored in Mum’s handbag in case of need.   Truth number six – losing independence is accentuated in the small things of life which become just as distressing to deal with as the major issues – for both the carer and the person being cared for.

The paid carer arrives for the night.  I wonder if she finds it odd that I am here and not volunteering to take on the overnight care.  This makes me feel inadequate.  How can it be that a mother’s own daughter is not prepared to get up through the night to assist with getting on and off the commode?  I tell myself that it is to do with preserving dignity but I know this not to be the primary reason.  I just don’t have the stomach for it.  Thankfully, I have not yet been audibly challenged on that account.  The night passes to day without event, and the hospital drop off is completed in time to release the paid carer to a day of rest.  The 7.00 am rise is, however, a daily event in this household, despite the fact that my father’s natural pattern in retirement would be to get up late morning. He needs more sleep.  Schedules are dictated by times of carer visits and astronomical costs mean that late to bed and early to rise have become essential.  Truth number seven – schedules and daily routines are taken over and dictated by external authorities.  Choices rarely feature.

We settle in for a day together – just Mum and I.  Foremost in my mind is the accurate administration of drugs:  seventeen tablets – with adherence to the specification as to whether they require chewing, swallowing, taken with liquid, on an empty stomach, with food, or half an hour before food. There are some optional medications to be taken as needed.  Additionally, three eye drops of two different kinds must be administered at appropriate times and to the correct eye.  At this day’s first request for pain killers, a single tablet plummets into the recesses of clothing, chair, or surrounding boxes of mail catalogues and is never to be seen again.  This is clearly registered to Mum’s subconscious mind….but not her conscious one, for now.  It is some hours later she is to be found frantically searching for the dropped medication which has now surfaced as an urgent problem to be solved.

I need to get to the shops otherwise there will be nothing for tea – it would be good to have a lovingly prepared meal to welcome Dad home.   Having assessed Mum’s strength and enthusiasm for the day, I realise that my planned adventure by wheelchair to the shops is not realistic.  She would have delighted in that a year or so ago.   I can just about manage a round trip to the local Co-op in 20 mins, which if timed carefully around toilet visits, will not constitute too much of a safety risk.  Today, I need to wait for the district nurse to arrive and administer Mum’s life saving monthly B12 injection.  She has a morning visit booked. It is beyond mid day by the time this visit has occurred and all I have done all morning is waited and watched.  Mum has been sleeping although she will deny it.  I realise that I have developed hospital brain.  This is a phenomenon that I am familiar with from long hospital stays with my son over the years.  Somehow, when in a caring role over which your control of the situation is minimal, the brain goes into standby and all normal activity is suspended.  Truth number eight – whilst caring is not full-time in that if you added all the spare minutes together there would be a sizeable chunk of time in which you could turn your attention to something else, in practice, this does not happen.  Caring is all-consuming.

Mum and I battle over the position of the wheelchair required in order for her to transfer with minimum effort.  She is insistent that it needs to be closer.  The wheels are already jamming into the side of the chair and any closer will result in her legs being squashed.  This argument is repeated every time she makes a visit to the bathroom.  These are the only visits she does nowadays – apart from hospital visits and the occasional trip to the dentist.  Despite her fragility, once she has decided that she is on the move, the move happens quickly.  She no longer waits or allows time for the brakes on the chair to be applied.  I need to be alert to ensure that the chair does not fly back as Mum thumps down in relief.  I need to listen out for her cry that all is finished to ensure that safety procedures are followed at the other end of the trip.  Once safely back in her chair, she spots an object that she doesn’t recognise on the bookcase at her side.  Can you pass me that dear, she says, I will put it in my pocket for later.   I have no idea what the object is but pass it to her as requested so that she can see for herself that it is not the bar of chocolate or sweets that she obviously has in mind.  But she doesn’t recognise this and I have to hastily retrieve the object when she reveals that it is, in fact, a sharp cutting knife whose safety catch she has amazingly managed to disengage whilst investigating the object in question.  Truth number nine – there is a constant battle for independence going on which has to be weighed up against clear thinking and safety.  This battle is emotional, physical and mental for everyone involved.

I call the hospital and realise that despite not knowing when Dad will be able to come home, arrangements will have to be made somehow.  I learn that he will be coming home with a catheter.  The information had been buried somewhere in the paperwork that the hospital had sent but unsurprisingly dismissed as too complex and unpleasant a possibility to consider.  I try not to let the events that followed on from the last post surgery catheter enter my head.  I know that they will certainly be in his head.  Several phone calls are made including one in which I call the wrong Ann. This results in a bizarre conversation in which I have to backtrack rapidly.  The explanation for my mistake is only going to sound ridiculous and cannot be made without digging a big hole for my father to climb out of once I have gone.  So I refrain from the explanation.  Answerphone messages, husbands and volunteers all come into the mix and I am now awaiting calls back from several people, as well as the hospital.  As Mum can no longer take a reliable message on the phone, I can’t go out.  Prospects for that home cooked welcome back meal are not good.   A befriender in a local volunteer scheme agrees to come to the rescue and free me, at some unknown time, to pick Dad up.   The hospital tells me that Dad will need to revisit on Thursday morning.  I have not planned to be with my parents on Thursday morning.  I have to decide (or so it seems) which is more important….looking after my parents’ needs, or continuing with my own life.  Truth number ten – caring comes with a constant guilt trip.  However much we engage, the questions will keep coming – could I be doing more? Am I being selfish?   I talk myself out of staying, on the grounds that two people would be needed – one to escort Dad back and forth, and another to look after Mum for an unknown length of time.  As I am finding that she is needing help with personal care, the volunteers are only good for an hour or so – they are not allowed to help in this respect.  And so, I begin the process of looking into respite care for Mum.

The call from the hospital comes at rush hour.  There is stress as we sit in a queue of traffic causing a half hour delay to the half hour journey home.  We are indebted to the volunteer and don’t want to take advantage of her or put her in a difficult situation.  Dad has had a general anaesthetic and an uncomfortable procedure and yet everything continues to focus around the needs of Mum.  I am immensely saddened by this.  As soon as we are home, I am off to the Co-op to pick up microwave meals for our dinner.  It should have been different. Later on in the evening, Dad complains that he has no energy.  He says he has done nothing all day, and can’t understand why he is tired.  Compared to what he is having to focus on day in, day out, at home, I reflect that he probably feels like he has had a day off!

We spend the evening discussing options for dealing with Thursday.  We spend the following morning putting the plans into place.  Mum gets it into her head that she is having to stay in the local cottage hospital for three weeks, rather than the three nights that we have booked.  She worries about the cost.  She worries about the packing.  She worries about having sweets to take.  We explain again, that it is actually cheaper than the overnight care which she is now paying for.

Thankfully, Mum appears to have no recollection of the events of the night.  I wish the same could be said for myself.  Disturbed at 4.00 am by a polite knock on my bedroom door and a request for assistance from the carer, the next hour turns out to be as in a nightmare.  I am amazed at the level-headed, calm and respectful manner in which Jo is dealing with the situation unfolding.  She inspires me to be the same.  As I hold all of Mum’s weight on me for a good 15 minutes she panics.  She wants to, but must not, sit down.  I tell her I have her weight and will not let her fall but she is in a blind panic.  She has been here before.  She knows the consequences of a fall – broken neck, broken hip, broken femur are all on her list, along with many long hours spent on the bedroom floor waiting for ambulance services to arrive.  I have not been here before,  I am strong and grateful for those hours spent at the gym but amazed at the strength required to protect a panicking frail old lady.   After the event, the real carer and I sit together for a cup of tea to recover.  I now have memories of my mother that I have been trying to avoid for several years.  Dad may have feigned sleep through the incident, but it will have had its impact on him too.  I know that this event will linger and remain in the air always.  It has been a defining hour in understanding the cost of true caring.   I fail to sleep and at 7.00 am the new day starts.

There is a letter from a friend of my parents in the kitchen.  I am in the habit, with permission, of reading such letters for news of old and dear family friends.  This one is poignant.  It reads “I hate getting old as I am sure you do, but as I don’t know if I’m going to heaven or hell – I’ll keep going”.  This family friend is a saint.  She is not perfect and is sure to have made mistakes in her life.  But to me, she is a saint.  After all, she cares for a husband with advancing Alzheimer’s.   Her whole life must resemble the two days I have just described.  She, like my Dad, is a true carer.  That place in heaven is waiting for them if they did but know it.

At 10.00 am Dad emerges after a rare chance to catch up on some sleep.  He apologises for me having to deal with Mum overnight.  It is less than 24 hrs since his general anaesthetic, yet his own health problems are brushed aside as he starts to pick up on his duties – this is just life as normal for him.

And so it is that I have learned the truth about caring.  There is no such thing as passive caring.  Caring is defined by action and  longevity.    It is no more about a quick cuddle than it is about a tenner on a friend’s sponsorship page.  If you think you care about a person, or a situation, then put that care into practice.  Take some action and then find out how much you really care.  It will be a truly humbling experience.

For me,  I recognise that where family members are concerned, a whole set of additional challenges come into play but I think I might just use that word ‘caring’, with a little more care in the future.



Photo credit to Paul Talbot



















Perhaps this is not the right job ….

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Today, was my last day as ICT Network Manager.  I started the job when my oldest son was planning to move to an Upper School, somewhere between my home and the new workplace. I had been encouraged by a fellow course mate studying IT  at my local college to apply.  There is no doubt that I was out of my depth from the beginning, but with the happy location of the school right next door to the County IT Support Service, and a bold readiness to try out my newly acquired IT skills, the huge gaps in my knowledge and understanding of how to run a network were somehow overlooked.   Then there was the cloud: confidence has always been an issue, since tthe conversation which constituted my job offer went along the lines of…”perhaps this is not the right job for you”.  Words which have come to mind on several occasions throughout my time at the school.

Sometimes it is just the bizarreness of the situation in which a conversation is held that makes it so memorable.  The job application was really just for practice.  I had already had the message that I had been unsuccessful at interview, but candidate number one must have had a better offer because whilst Christmas shopping in Milton Keynes with my husband, in amongst the pushing and shoving and unachievable gift buying targets,  I found myself having a discussion which seemed to be a tentative but unconvincing job offer. There ensued a debate about working hours, and the closing words of that conversation are the ones that remain printed in my mind.

If it hadn’t been for one amazing IT teacher, I would never have survived the first year. Not once did she complain or show any impatience!  As soon as I arrived, the County IT Support arm announced its relocation.  So, we struggled through together and eventually, there came a time when things seemed under control. And they must have been, because for the next eight years the school network and the many vaguely related  things that creep strangely into that heading (on the grounds that if it uses IT then it falls squarely into the Network Manager’s role ) have kept going and expanded without disaster….and dare I say it, with some improvements.

But eventually, I  came back to those words and reached the conclusion that perhaps this is not the right job for me.  And this is what has brought me to my last day.  The Goodbye message was duly delivered at break time:


“It is customary at this point to say a few words.  I have great difficulty choosing which few to say but you will be pleased to know that I have settled for safe ones.

I have seen many staff arrive and depart, computers, servers, projectors, and other such IT essentials purchased and worn out,  software and operating systems come and go, new initiatives and policies burst in and fade out, and the building projects ….. well I’m not quite sure how to describe them.  There is no doubt that all this will continue to happen without me – it will be business as usual.

And so, a quote from the bible* :

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”     says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless!     Everything is meaningless.”

But, the teacher goes on to say:

“I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.”

I would like to thank all of you who have showed me kindness and appreciation, patience and understanding (not in a technical sense – that is immaterial) and at times forgiveness, over the last 8 1/2years.  These are the things of substance and the things that make a difference and the things I shall take with me.  I have always tried to do what is right and good whilst I have been here, but it is now right for me to venture into something new.  I know I am leaving behind, a whole bunch of people who are doing good while they live, and who certainly deserve to be happy.

And as “many words mark the speech of a fool”, I shall finish right here.

*the book of Ecclesiastes

And that is it.  Good bye.  The desk is now clear.  The champagne, flowers, chocolates and fine jewellery will be enjoyed.  The kindnesses will be remembered and the frustrations will fade into the night.


The Art of Decision Making

I am just wondering, is it an art, or is it a science?  You see I have painstakingly applied both art and science to the decision-making that has confronted me over this week-end.  I’m not sure which ‘won out’,  but a decision has been made, thinking has been done, and so I am entitled to continue posting here without it being considered an act of procrastination.

On Thursday, I was offered an internship post that I had applied for at the very start of my active search to fill a year with experience designed to allow me a different career progression than that which seemed to be my fate.  I consider this to be victory for the more mature woman.   Such was my excitement that the same evening, when responding to an enquiry as to my well-being I found myself saying  “I’m doing great thank you”.  In my answer there was neither hesitation for thought, nor the backlash of an urge to withdraw such a rash statement which clearly runs the risk of turning out to be inaccurate.  Any one who knows me will recognise the significance of this…”I think I am alright” is about as good as a response that they might normally expect from me.  This on the best of days.

By Friday, the euphoria had subsided and I became acutely aware of the problem this offer had created.  I seem to have been accumulating options at a rate far greater than I ever intended.   I had imagined something a lot more linear and progressive than the avalanche of opportunity that has been hitting me as soon as I had taken the first steps to knock on a few doors.

Now, having narrowed the options to a choice between two internship offers, a volunteer training offer and a more complex proposal, it was clear that taking time to stop and think was no longer a nicety but a necessity.  And so, I set about the process.

Firstly the scientific, methodical approach:

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Armed with a pen and set of different coloured sticky notes, a print out of my ‘job tracking 2014’ spread sheet, my increasingly bulky black folder of collected interview notes and other analysis, I set to work in identifying the various advantages and disadvantages of each option. Using one colour for the four main types of experience I am looking for, another colour for the individual factors, suggestions and job roles that make up those four strands, a third colour for any additional positives and a fourth for identified negatives, the pros and cons combined to create a colourful display on my table top.   Despite a rigorous approach, this proved to be an exercise which could easily turn out manipulated results with factors being tailored according to the oscillating preferences of the moment.  However, after a couple of hours of carefully focussed analysis I viewed the outcome.  And guess what?  I was none the wiser.  Naturally if the decision was to be clear cut, the process would have been unnecessary.  As things stood, I merely reaffirmed my position that there was not a firm winner.  I added in the core values and purposes of the organisations and found them to be of equal merit.  I tried, and abandoned an attempt to somehow measure the size of each factor.  I rested and returned to the colourful array of notes.  They looked the same and no further interpretation jumped out at me.  I started to feel very stressed and questioned my ability to analyse.

And so, it was, that I moved on to a less measured approach to assist my decision making.  The process that can better be described as artistic:

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This comprised a long walk in the sunshine and sitting on a bench.  I was looking for signs and wonders.  The kind of message leaping out of the trees that would show me exactly what my destination was to be.  I prayed.  I listened out for a still small voice.  I explored thoughts and feelings and watched the world go by.  And guess what?  I was none the wiser.  Things continued to weigh pretty evenly.  I started to feel very stressed, and questioned my ability to understand my own instincts and passions.

However, I did finally reach a conclusion and it wasn’t one that I was particularly comfortable with for a while.  I had to return to my original objectives, and the whole purpose of putting aside this year ahead.  For me, this coming year is about discovering new skills and talents, progression, risk taking, and getting out of my comfort zone to discover what else life has in store for me.  And one of the options, perhaps the one that I really wanted to come out on top, was going to be just too comfortable and possibly too prescriptive to make it the right first move.  The need to keep a flexibility in what I am doing and the freedom to change direction as I go, is what counted in the end.

There are times when only a deadline will force me to make a decision.  Even self-imposed deadlines can be a pretty good thing for a poor decision maker.  But I am glad to have gone through both the structured and non-structured thinking process.  It brings a certain amount of security that whatever else, the path that follows has been well-considered.

And now, I am ready for a bit more of that care free, self-assured spirit that enables me to say “I’m doing great thank you”.  Only three days left as an ICT Network Manager.



Finding space to stop and think


On the whole, I don’t have a problem coming up with ideas. However, they usually arrive at the most inappropriate times and sometimes so fleetingly that it is difficult to assign any substance to them.  Alongside remembering people’s names, recalling the essential ingredient that triggered a full-scale supermarket trip, and bringing to mind the urgent items on my ‘to do’ list, my ideas are difficult to grasp hold of and so rarely get acted upon.  They simply get lost.   The ephemeral qualities of my own ideas and thoughts mean that they need immediate transposition to a more accessible storage space than inside my head, if they are to be of any positive consequence at all.

This isn’t a new phenomenon brought on by maturing years, but is rather, symptomatic of the way my brain has always failed to oblige by appropriately filing, or retrieving any given piece of information at a helpful time.  And so, I have learned to take notes.  Sometimes these notes are in the form of pictures, sometimes they are lists, and sometimes they are mind maps. Not maps of my mind I hasten to add – the concept that a map that actually reflected my mind might be in the least bit useful is one that puzzles me greatly.   I attempt to order thoughts, ideas and information into logical sequences that might be helpful to reflect upon – and I add some colours to join things together in a manner suggestive of creativity and spontaneity.


Until recently, I thought that I had to accept the loss from most of my better moments of lucidity or inspiration occurring at inconvenient times. Now I realise that it is important to capture what I can, when I can.  This weekend, for instance,  whilst on a three-hour journey driving North, I pulled into a lay by and recorded a couple of sentences on the hitherto unused voice recorder app on my phone.   They may well appear on a page here before long.  The camera also helps – sometimes a photograph can be the trigger needed to bring back the idea or inspiration of the moment.  These are the real joys of technology.

Once everything is down in solid state – so to speak – I feel better.  I have something I can work with.  I can look at my gathered resources and feel satisfied.  It is all too tempting to leave it at that. Task accomplished.

Only the task of deciding what my next step is going to be when I finish my paid job in two week’s time is far from accomplished.  Much  research and soul-searching has been backed up with carefully recorded notes.  Doors have been pushed, and strangely enough, none of them have closed, leaving me with more options than I am comfortable with and some choices to make.  Aah!  Choices.  Alongside risk taking, choices could be what I enjoy least.  What I really need is to find some space to stop and think.

You will see that I am beating about the bush when it comes to approaching the topic of this blog post.  Finding space to stop and think is surprisingly difficult and it is such an underrated activity.  It doesn’t look busy, and it doesn’t always have a measurable output.  In a society where we expect each other to give instantaneous answers, respond to emails within minutes of receiving them, always be at the end of a phone, and to vote, comment and react on social media, it has become natural to respond and move on without a moment of reflection.

So here lies my next challenge.  I will stop. I will not be afraid to take time and to take stock. I will create the space for thought and not fill it instantly with something else.  I will consult my maker.  And I will post no more here, until I have done so.









Fitness is no longer First

The resignation time required for leaving my gym was greater than that for leaving my work place.  So it was that my first step of commitment to making changes in my work life , was to give notice of cancellation of membership to this extravagance that I have become accustomed to.  Considering that I have consistently achieved two or three visits a week since I determinedly made a remarkable new year’s resolution in 2006 to get fit, this represents a significant chunk of the life that I am set to change.

The need to cancel was as much psychological as financial.  If sacrifices in spending are to be made then it is only right that I should be the one to experience the pain first.   Furthermore, gym membership represents a cost saving which is instantly measurable, significant and clearly within my control.  This now adds another challenge into the mix of the year ahead  – how to retain fitness without the convenience of zumba, Body ‘this’ and ‘that’ classes and my more recent addition of spin and abs classes, all of these beckoning me from less than five minutes walk away?

On reflection tonight, perhaps it is just as well that my gym days are coming to an end.  Attracted  by the unknown quantities of a newly scheduled  zumba class with Stewart, I abandoned our house which is now bathroom free and thickly laden with sticky consequential dust. I was ready to take on whatever challenge Stewart might throw at me.

My first zumba class several years ago, consisted of a few moderately challenging, regularly repeated moves, undertaken in a carefree manner with a hint of sensuality and a lot of fun. It featured many mambo steps to upbeat and delightfully uplifting latin music guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.  But time stands still for no-one.  Today I found myself reflecting for once, on the changing face of zumba, as opposed to my more usual preoccupation which is the changing face of information technology.  I mourned the loss of the African drum beat and the solid accompanying graceless moves.  I realised that I was performing some kind of variation to the infamous Village People YMCA  dance ritual, to whatever that genre of music is that I feel a compulsion to switch off once it alerts me to the fact that it is Radio One playing in the car.

Then there is the matter of my attention span.  Concentrating enough to avoid disaster by collision, is a significant challenge in fitness classes nowadays. Actually, it always was.  After thirty minutes, the ability to remember which step comes next and to remember it in time to undertake it, quite suddenly disappears.  This is followed rapidly by a feeling of helplessness, exhaustion and lack of enthusiasm for the rest of the class.  The opportunity for learning is over and the opportunity for exercise is severely disrupted.  I am reminded of how it felt in school when I was just about keeping up with the pace of the lesson and on the brink of fully understanding the matter in question, when everything would fall away and no amount of further explanation would do anything to assist progression.  I feel for the generation of young people who may find themselves exhausted by brain gym before their lessons even start.

With all this in mind, and a year ahead of learning, catching up with what has been going on in the rest of the world beyond my little corner in the workplace and exploring new territory, I am going to need all the attention span, brain capacity and enthusiasm I can muster.  I intend to train hard.  The world will be my gym and in it I will walk, dance and learn new routines with renewed enthusiasm, and I will go where the music puts a smile on my face.

So thank you Stewart, for my lesson tonight.  You taught me well and I wish you well.  I enjoyed the first half hour really.  Only sometimes, it is just right to move on.


Post Script:  I was only sorry that my evening ended with a cold shower.  If hot water doesn’t even come with membership nowadays, just what have I got to lose?



Having put my mouth where my money is……

….. it is time to put my money where my mouth is.  Or in other words,  talk can be a dangerous thing.

What I have found is that  once I start verbalising thoughts it becomes much easier to act on them, and in the build up to my decision to search for a different work life, I have done a fair amount of verbalising.

It helps to talk, not least because one is obliged to make a fair attempt at putting together something coherent to express.  I become acutely aware that I haven’t thought things through properly when I attempt to voice them to those that know and understand me best.  These same people make no hesitation in pointing out the flaws in my thinking.  I thank God for them.

I mean that literally, because my brain is capable of taking me to some very unhelpful places and frequently does at times of self-doubt.  And so it has been, that the first thing I have had to address on my journey is the unavoidable matter of self-image.  I happen to believe that I was made in the image of God, so for me, this has meant exploring how the image I have of myself gets in the way of being who I was made to be.  But whatever you believe, or don’t believe, it is true to say that if you have a poor image of yourself, then you will certainly get in the way of fulfilling your potential.  By the very nature of the problem, this is a difficult one to sort out by yourself.  Good friends and family who believe in you are invaluable.  Ignore them at your peril.

Quite apart from this mentoring type of talking to which I refer, there is another kind of confidence boosting talk that has helped me thus far.  I think it is commonly known as bravado.  It goes something like this….. “I don’t intend to be in this job for much longer”…… or for me, more latterly ….”I’m thinking of taking a bridge year.  A year out to find a new direction” .  There was a particular day, just a few weeks ago when I must have voiced this to nine or ten different people on the same day.  People I barely knew but had bumped into in the street were getting a full run down of my proposals.  I was rather alarmed at myself.  But this all had a purpose.  Have you noticed that if you say something about yourself enough times, you come to believe it?

I tend to be a woman of my word.  If I say I am going to do something then almost without exception (although I can think of one now and feelings of guilt and panic are being fought back) I will do it.  I guess I must have mentioned that I was planning to move on a few times at work, and so it comes to be that having put my mouth where my money is,  I now find that I am having to put my money where my mouth is.  So perhaps my next blog entry will be all about how to plan for a year with no income.






Risk Taking

Writing to an undiscovered audience is clearly not the same as writing to an imaginary audience.  There are certain difficulties to face, especially, if like me you are not a risk taker and you value other people’s opinions of you to an unhealthy extreme.

Having decided to blog about my experiences of looking for a complete change in work direction, I face my first problem.  Much of what I would like to say – for example the anecdotes that make for interesting reading – might not be wise to publish. Being an analyst by nature means I feel the need to undertake full scale research projects not just on the risks of libel, but also on how to win friends and influence people, creative writing, the technicalities and merits of comparative platforms for blogging, wise use of social media, good use of grammar and punctuation and much more.  This is the kind of thinking that so frequently leads me to the conclusion that no action is the safest form of action.

Whilst typing even this first blog post, the temptation not to take the risk and publish is great.  The radio blares out sports debate and I am being asked for advice in culinary matters.  Concentration and distractions are problematic.  Perfectionism rears its ugly head.  A certain amount of resentment even enters into the mix as I realise that in the time I have taken to dither about blogging my experiences, my son woke up one morning, beat me to it and competently created a blog and posted intelligently twice.  Without any introspection evident whatsoever!

If this resonates with you, here is my first tip.  Risk taking is necessary.  No one grew up without taking risks. No one learned anything useful without making some mistakes along the way.  If you are looking for change and you are not a risk taker you will dream and possibly plan, but change only comes about through action.

So this week, I handed in my notice at a job I have been doing for eight and a half years. This was not without careful planning and preparation, but for me – a long standing low risk expert – it marks a significant step to a change in attitude that will allow the journey on which I am embarking to take place.

Join me on the journey as I journal and reflect.  Your comments, suggestions and feedback are welcome.