Posted in Personal life

Top Tip on Time Management

In ironing, a fabric is heated through the gla...
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When I gave up my full-time job in January, I had a rosy vision of future domestic bliss.  Dust would be permanently banished from the top of my piano and I’d have a regular acquaintance with the bottom of my ironing basket.  Every meal would be cooked from scratch, using veg home grown by me in between dashing off brilliant freelance articles.

So I was startled the other day to realise that my house is now messier than ever.  Yet with my life no longer dominated by the day job, how could I be too short of time to do housework?

Then I had a revelation.  Just because I no longer work full time doesn’t mean my daytime hours are idle.  I’m busier than ever, with three regular monthly columns to write, my online blog, private PR clients knocking on my door and a new part-time job helping to run a charity.  These all take up a lot of time. And, in ex-politician’s tradition, I’m spending much more time with my family.

In my previous incarnation, “I haven’t had time” was a frequent excuse.    But now I realise that’s not the issue at all.  Rather, my priorities have changed.

So now, if looking to explain why I haven’t done the ironing (or the dusting, or the hovering) my standard response is:  “I’ve been giving priority to other things.”  And boy, has it been fun!

A friend’s late mother lived by a simple maxim: “B***** the ironing”.  That sums it all up, really.  In fact, I’m thinking of having it made into a lapel badge – that is, when I’m not too busy giving priority to other things.

This post was originally published in the July 2010 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News.

Posted in Family, Personal life

Time to Readjust

An old style alarm clock.
Image via Wikipedia

Since leaving my 9-5 job in February, my body clock has been quietly readjusting.  No longer do I wake up a minute before the alarm sounds, nor do I habitually go upstairs at 11pm, programmed to fall asleep the minute my head hits the pillow.  Instead, my bedtime is creeping back, getting later and later.  I’m having way too much fun to want to go to bed.

This subconscious readjustment has always happened during my two-week Christmas break.  By the end of the fortnight, I reach my natural state: waking refreshed around 9am and hitting the hay around 1am. Holiday over, I ditch my body clock and take my cue instead from the radio alarm, permanently tuned to Radio 4.  Listening sleepily to whatever is on, I can tell whether we are running late.  Farming talk: safe to doze.  News headlines:  jump up and get busy.  Sports Report: overslept, but I can still make it to work on time if I hurry. Thought for the Day: I’m in big trouble.  Putting the clocks forward or back at the end of March, as we have just done, has never affected my sleeping habits, so long as I’ve remembered to adjust the radio alarm (and John Humphrys had done the same to his).

Now that I’m liberated from my job, I’d rather do away with my watch and my radio alarm and listen to my body clock instead.  Now I no longer have to get to the office by a fixed time, I just wander into my study when I’m ready and take a seat at my desk.  Surely following my body clock must make for a healthier lifestyle.

After all, it’s not that long since it was common practice across the country to take the time directly from the sun.  It was only the construction of the London-Bristol railway that caused this part of the country to reset its timepieces to match the capitol’s.  Apparently, we were far enough west for our day to run 11 minutes behind central London’s. This would have made the first London-Bristol train timetables bewildering, were it not for the fact that the newly built Temple Meads Station helpfully offered passengers two clocks, one showing local time, the other “Railway Time”, i.e. 11 minutes earlier.

Unfortunately, there is just one small obstacle that will stop me from giving full free rein to my body clock:  my daughter still has to get to school by half past eight.  So it looks as if my household will also have to keep two clocks, one for London time, the other for Debbie time.  I wonder if I can persuade Hawkesbury School to do the same?

This post was originally published in the April 2010 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News.

Posted in Family, Travel

It’s Not Them, It’s Me

On a cold, damp morning, I’m waiting for the London train to whisk me off for a fab day out with my three best friends, who I’ve known for longer than any of us care to admit.  (Can we really be old enough to have known anyone that long, even our mothers?)

Warming my hands on my paper cup of coffee, I idly wonder why I now seem to have so many more friends than when I was working full time.  For the first time ever, my daughter’s playdates are outnumbered by my own.

And my friends have been turning up like buses, never just one at a time. In the last few weeks I’ve had emails from former colleagues spanning the last three decades.  School friends from even further back have got in touch, though they now live as far afield as Michigan and Malawi.  I’ve spent more quality time with friends closer to home too. The friendships of a lifetime are snowballing.

What’s going on?  Has there been a collision in the space-time continuum, compressing my life, like a scrapped car, into a tiny cube?  Have I won the lottery, been made a Dame, discovered the secret of eternal youth, mastered alchemy?  I’m not aware of any recent achievement that might have boosted my popularity.
Standing on the chilly station platform, I resort to a tactic that helped at work whenever I found myself wondering why everyone except me was wrong/grumpy/stupid.  I was like the proud mother in the old adage, watching the parade:  “My boy is so clever, he’s the only one marching in step”.  A little self-examination would always reveal that the fault lay entirely with me.  Once I’d spotted the problem, getting back into the beat was easy.

I decide the same rule applies to friendship.  If you’re feeling friendless, don’t assume others are unfriendly: you may just be sending out the wrong vibes.  Trudge through life with eyes downcast, mind on your problems, and you don’t even notice those who want to be your friend.  Look up and reach out, and your world will be transformed.

It’s never been easier than in our internet age to rebuild old bonds, catch up with old friends or find new ones.  Despatch a few emails, get texting, pick up the phone – it’s easy to invest in your preferred currency of social engagement.  As my train pulls in, I realise that I have been doing this on a grand scale since leaving my job last month.  Boy, has it paid dividends.  I’ve even had to buy a bigger diary.
As I hop aboard the train, I  think to myself, not for the first time, that if you want to win the lottery, it really does help if you buy a ticket.
Posted in Family, Travel

The Perfect Job

Strolling down The Ramblas in Barcelona, the leafy pedestrian thoroughfare that slices through this great city, we can’t help but fall into the traps that have been laid for the unwary tourist.  Passing by the many living statues, we toss coins liberally into their collection boxes.

The statues are spectacular and imaginative, ranging from all-white classical Romans in togas to space-age superheroes.  There is a diminutive Charlie Chaplin, a giant baby in a pram, a man with two heads and another with no head at all, employing the same clever technique as the invisible man that we (didn’t) see in the Park Guell.  A particular favourite is what seems at first to be an abandoned fruit stall.  As soon as we look at it, a fruit-covered man emerges from the display where he has been effectively camouflaged, holding out a fruit-bedecked hat for Laura to wear for a photo.

Laura is entranced, if a little wary.  The more experienced statues know how to overcome children’s shyness and proffer coloured glass beads and marbles to encourage them.  I find the marble policy particularly pleasing as Laura is diabetic.  In any case, if they were offering sweets, the whole proposition would seem rather seedy.

We also encounter musicians on the Metro, to which Laura obligingly dances.  She is hoping for a Spanish flamenco dress as a souvenir and is certainly meriting one on her performance.  The quality of the music is very high – a delicate rendition of Bach on a mandolin, cocktail lounge favourites courtesy of duetting guitarists, soothing Sinatra from a trumpeter.  Again, I’m easily parted from my money.
Soon I am slipping any coins I receive as change into my trouser pocket, for ease of access whenever we pass another street performer.  When we encounter any plain common-or-garden beggars, of which there are plenty, I am hardened to their entreaties.

“Can’t you put a little more effort into your act?” I want to say to them.  “Show a little creativity, won’t you?  The competition is pretty stiff, you know.”

The sun comes out and we head for the beach, happy to pass a couple of hours making sandcastles for Laura’s Polly Pocket dolls.  We gather tiny pebbles, driftwood and sea-smoothed glass to make Gaudi-inspired mosaics as decoration.
Finally, after dipping our toes in the Mediterranean – still quite cold, despite the 20 degree heat of the day – we head back along the promenade, passing  magnificent sand sculptures, each the work of a young African man lurking nearby.  There is a wonderful castle with high arches.
“How does he get sand to levitate?” I wonder.  And a waterfall.
“A concealed pump,” my husband surmises.
The sculptor has clearly come well prepared.  A giant dog, very simple but vast, pleases my daughter, though she gives a basking sand crocodile a wide berth.  Cue for more redistribution of my wealth.  I’m all out of coins by the time we leave the beach.

Laura has fallen into a quiet, pensive state.

“Perhaps I won’t be an artist or an inventor when I grow up,” she confides eventually.  “I think I know what I want to be now.  I’ll be a person who makes a model and people have to put money in their tin.”

Relaxing in the late afternoon sunshine, as we stroll back to our hotel, I decide that she is definitely on to something.



Posted in Uncategorized

On the Evening of My Last Day at Work

Dr Who and I have a lot in common.  Every now and again, we can’t help it, we just have to regenerate. I’ve reinvented myself several times during my adult life: I’ve been married, widowed, married again, then become a mother.  In career terms too: a journalist, a PR consultant, a marketeer.  All along, it’s been the same old me underneath, but I’ve just added another layer, an extra dimension.  I’ve just evolved a little bit further.

I feel quite a lot like Mary Poppins, too.  No matter how much I’ve loved my current job – I’ve danced on the rooftops, fed the birds, tidied the nursery, ridden the carousel – I know in my heart that it’s time to slip away and move on. And while Jane and Michael Banks might think they can’t function without me, not only will they manage, but soon they won’t miss me at all.  I’ve imparted sufficient wisdom.  My work here is done.

I’ve had a sign in my office for some years that says “When your heart speaks, take good notes”.  (Not far from the one that says “The Romans didn’t build an empire by having meetings – they did it by killing everyone who opposed them.”)

The thing is, no matter how much you enjoy the carousel ride, sometimes you just want to get off and have a go on the dodgems. And in a few hours’ time, I’m going to climb aboard.