New horizons

New design phone coverI thought you might like to see my first ever “designed upon request” phone cover! I’d never have thought of trying a skull design, so thank you Charly for your fresh suggestion, and encouraging me to go beyond my comfort zone… a new horizon for me. It gave me such a thrill to hand over my work today, not to mention the relief I felt in seeing for sure that it did actually fit the phone it was intended for!

DSC00480As you can see, the design and completion wasn’t neat while in progress, and I like to remember the maths and the mess that was involved in getting to the end result. (Not to mention thanks to my patient family, for putting up with a fair amount of muttering and counting-out-loud from the corner of the family living room over the weekend.)

It does me good to remember that positive results can come from uncertainty, taking a leap in the dark, and experimenting with something new.

It’s mammoth!

It’s been a while since I last blogged, and in that time a lot has happened, not least the fact that I’ve become a teeny bit obsessed with all things woolly. You can see from my new hme page picture that this results in, apparently, a tangle of colour and texture, all piled together. I strongly suspect that my family think this is a mess! However, I know different, and I’ll share with you the view I see through my rose tinted (yarn framed?) spectacles.

The glorious riot showcases the last year or so of my creative life. It’s a good time for me to reflect and look back, partly because, once again, redundancy hovers around me and many of my colleagues, but this time I’m taking the opportunity offered, though who knows where it will lead?

Lily Pond

But back to the wool! The basis of it all is a crocheted “Lily Pond” blanket, courtesy of a crochet-a-long project by the fabulous Jane Crowfoot. It was my most ambitious project to date, and certainly a challenge for the hook novice I was when I started! When I look at it I see not only lovely layered flowers in rich colours, but pride in my own persistence and ability to learn.

Fluffy shawl

Next up is a gauzy, fluffy shawl, inspired by an irresistible couple of balls of decadence, which just goes to show that a bit of frippery can be a great tonic every now and then.

The blue toned mittens-to-be use a pattern inspired by historical ironwork, and involved an awful lot of counting and muttering! Just as well the gently self striping wool is a joy of softness or that all might get a little over intellectual.

Mittens-to-be

And currently on the go are some functional long socks in fun, tweedy patches of colour.  Once I get going I don’t have to even look down at the needles for much of the time whilst knitting these, leaving my thoughts free to wander, before glancing back to check on the unique formations of colour combinations since the last examination.

So… learning, growing confidence, colour, a bit of fun, and the whole thing combines logic and creativity to form a unique whole. I wonder if there are any lessons there for the next steps in my career?

 

Job centre to juggler: a new year story

A new year is full of new beginnings. Some are voluntary, exciting new goals, like taking up a new hobby or exercise regime, that we hope to enjoy so much it will become part of a better, new, permanent routine.

But some new beginnings happen without us volunteering for them. Maybe it’s at home, and maybe it’s at work. I’m sure a qualified life coach could tell you much more about home life changes, and how they can happen to you while you observe passively, or how you can embrace them and create a new life for yourself.

But work changes can be ground-crumbling too, even though health, family and friends (not necessarily in that order!) are really far more important in the grand scale of things. Threats to our jobs can take away our rudder, like an electric storm wrecking a ship, leaving it bobbing about, directionless. Sadly, too many of you reading this will know just what I’m talking about, and right now.

But it doesn’t have to be that way; it is possible to take control and steer yourself back on course, even if it turns out to be a different one from where you imagined you’d be going. At times like this, I have a few friends and acquaintances who inspire me. It took a Christmas card and a new example to remind me how change can also help break the mould in a fantastic way. (If you are reading this and you recognise yourself here, yes it’s YOU who are the inspiration, and I hope you don’t mind me sharing your story to share some hope along with it.)

  • From market research to cake maker – fantastic, enthusiastic Facebook posts show what a happy experience this change has been.
  • From financial services to theatre – leading to fulfilling a lifelong ambition to perform with the acclaimed Royal Shakespeare Company on their famous stage at Stratford.
  • Best of all, from job centre to juggler! Well, from Unemployment Benefit Office anyway. Back in the early 90’s, there was only one thing worse than having to ‘sign on’ fortnightly in one of those places, and it was having to work in one, five long days a week. (I know from experience, having spent far longer than I cared to in BOTH situations.) In my circle of friends at the time was a man who happened to work in a neighbouring UBO, and we had occasional ‘sharing the pain’ chats. He was keen to follow his dream to a more entertaining career, but was scared to take the leap. Eventually he did, and now he is a juggler and stilt walker, appearing at local events providing street entertainment, and he also runs a circus school.

Now that’s how to break the mould in style!

So if you have choices this New Year, remember there is an option to take an unconventional route, and it can work. Is it time for you to find your inner juggler?

There are lots of great websites to help you consider your options, set your goals, and work out how to get there. Try this article, particularly for women considering changing career direction: http://www.womenworking.com/map-your-dream-job

 

 

When was your best, first mince pie?

There’s something really special about the first mince pie of every Christmas season, don’t you think? It doesn’t always have to be a particularly nice one; it’s the atmosphere surrounding it that makes it such a special event, and for me it means that I’ve finally got over the “Bah, humbug” spirit of too much tinsel, too early, in too many odd places.

This year my first mince pie was at Hengistbury Head, along with a hot cup of coffee to warm me up after a walk through frosty crispness with my family. Fantastic! And I knew that December had begun and I was going to start feeling Christmassy.

But my best, first mince pie, was one from my childhood – in fact, I was lucky enough for it to have been a series of best firsts. When I was little my parents were regular churchgoers, and they supported a very small, rural village church, with an even smaller congregation. It was a farming community, and the family of three brothers and a sister who lived next door to the church were the spine of the community, and the backbone of that church’s congregation, performing nearly all its vital functions apart from taking the services themselves.

Every year, that family held a carol singing gathering in their generous sitting room, warmed by a large log fire as well as by the strength of belief radiating from the friends seated around it. Part way through the proceedings, the sister of that family would produce a piled plateful of warm mince pies. The pastry melted in your mouth as it can only do when rolled with care in a home kitchen, and the mincemeat was sweet and spicy.

When you get a best first like this, you sometimes don’t realise exactly how special it is until later; even if you appreciate it and savour the moment (along with the pie!) its true value sometimes only becomes apparent later. I was uniquely lucky in this regard with my best first mince pies, because I got to enjoy them as a child, but I also enjoyed one during my first Christmas holiday after I had spent 3 months away from home. The relief from home sickness and the warmth of the familiar hearth, combined into heady sweetness with those mince pies – I can’t tell you how much that little pastry parcel meant to me that year!

Things are different in that community now, and my life is very different. My children don’t have the same Christmas traditions, of course, and they don’t quite get my fondness for mince pies! Perhaps I need to start practising my pastry making skills and start a new family tradition?

So, tell me, when was your best, first mince pie…..?

 

 

A ‘Magical Musical’ musical moment

This weekend I started singing one of my favourite songs, really loudly, in the middle of a shopping precinct, and I felt pretty happy about it.
That isn’t quite as weird as it sounds – I was in the middle of a choir, and we were performing outdoors to crowds of shoppers, to celebrate 50 years of Samaritans’ befriending in Salisbury. I hadn’t realised it was one of the earliest branches of the Samaritans to be set up, and it’s a remarkable achievement for an organisation to have lasted that long, let alone one which extends such a valuable service to those who use it when they most need it. In many ways the Samaritans don’t need further introduction, but you can read more about them here: http://www.samaritansofsalisbury.org.uk/
Singing for such a good cause, is cause enough to be happy, but perhaps I should go back a bit further still, and explain the rest of the story, to tell you quite why it turned out to be such a special morning.
I’ve always loved singing, as long as I can remember, and I used to make up tuneless, epic ballads as a pre-schooler! At a formative age somewhat later, the Kids From Fame impressed me overmuch with their capacity to sing and dance at every opportunity, and the lurking suspicion that it might just be possible in real life has never quite left me. But enough of that!
Singing in a choir is great – with strength in numbers, there’s not nearly so much trauma as singing a solo! Over the years I’ve tried all sorts of different choirs, and now have ended up, very happily, in Babes and Ballads – fun, friendly, with brilliant energy and music, and an indescribable leader – Fiona (and I mean that in a good way!). You can find out more about it here: http://www.babesandballads.com/
Our rehearsals are fun as well as productive, and there’s very often a “tingly” moment, when something just goes….right. And if you can capture the tingle in front of an audience, then you’ve got something good going on. Add to that mix a really great song, that has meaning for you – I enjoy a lot of this morning’s repertoire, but “Lean on Me” is one that’s really special for me, and seems to sum up all that’s best in friendship and support. We sing it without music but with confidence, and that all helps to create a performance with a life of its own.

So today, all those ingredients added up to a fair bit of tingle. And then the really special thing happened. Our lovely leader had a surprise in store!
Just into “Lean on Me”, the crowd around us seemed to swell along with the harmonies, and I caught sight of a couple of people joining in – not so unusual in itself. But then more, and yet more of the “audience” suddenly burst out singing, like being in the middle of a giant musical! (And little bit of my almost forgotten vision of “Fame” flashed before me, just for a moment…) Ladies began to step forward out of the crowd, from all directions, and the look on the real audience’s faces were probably almost as surprised as those of the choir members I was standing with!
It turned out that Fiona’s lovely and talented Military Wives choir from Middle Wallop had come along to surprise us and join in.
And that made Tingle with a capital T!
Thank you ladies, you made my day!

Do Women Do It Differently?

I recently came across the work of Ari Seth Cohen, who has taken portraits of stylish, real women out and about in the streets of New York. Although “real”, these women are by no means ordinary; they are all of advanced years, hence the title of Ari’s blog: Advanced Style. http://advancedstyle.blogspot.co.uk/
At an age when much of society might expect them to be fading decently into the background, these women are daringly, explosively visible! They inspire us all to grasp life and make the most of it, enjoying every minute.
I’m impressed by the uniquely feminine way they achieve this. By taking such pains with their appearance they aren’t simply dressing beautifully, they are making a statement about their attitude to life, in a spectacular way. Who would have thought a necklace or a pair of gloves could have such significance, in the modern age?
These women certainly ‘do it differently’. Perhaps it’s not so easy for a younger woman to make such a big impact by dressing superbly (and I’m certainly not able to supply fashion advice!). But in the modern age, I do believe there’s a difference in how women present themselves, particularly at work, and how they address certain tasks, from how their male counterparts might do so.
For instance, one of my male colleagues is fantastic at getting his message across in no uncertain terms – he’s colourful, articulate and forceful. In complete contrast, a female colleague tends to favour the quieter “drip, drip, drip” approach to a problem, wearing it away with persistence, asking subtle questions. Both possess steely determination, and aren’t afraid to take an unpopular call, if it’s the right way forward. Perhaps the differences between these two particular individuals are more to do with personality than with gender, but they serve as an example of how men and women can approach things from a different angle.
These diverse approaches to problem solving each work better in some scenarios than others. Both have their time and place, and we should celebrate them both. Complementary ways of working lend themselves well to creating a great team, just as differing colours combine to form a rainbow – differences melding into a whole.
Is appreciating these Mars/Venus type differences the key to success? I believe it can be, if it means we can realise and acknowledge that success can be achieved in different ways – and that the way you would carry out a task isn’t the only way to do it, maybe not even the best way.
SHOUTING LOUDLY CAN BE HIGHLY EFFECTIVE.

Sometimes, a whisper can get even more attention.

Can sport haters love the Olympics?

Can sport haters love the Olympics?
I’m not sporty. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I’m the pupil my PE teachers still have nightmares about: the one who never scored a goal in anything, who hit the ball backwards in a golf lesson, and for whom being part of a school team meant a crimson faced half hour letting the side down.
Heated by the memories of such shameful escapades, as a youngster I trained myself out of behaving competitively. Where competition was applauded, on the tennis or netball court, I knew I was doomed to failure, so I trod a rather lonely path of pretending to scorn competition, training myself not to care about success, until I didn’t, in sport or at work.
As I’ve gained more experience of life and the different things it can throw at you, I gradually learned how a team can do things an individual cannot do alone, using complementary skills, or sometimes “just” providing some words of encouragement. I’ve also seen how competition doesn’t have to be a destructive force to make people feel bad; for example in business, it drives a creative, dynamic force to make products the best they can be, so benefiting the consumer – that’s you and me!
I’d describe my reaction to the announcement that London had won the honour of hosting the 2012 Olympics as dubious/cautious. It seemed a lot of hassle and expense, and isn’t London famous enough already?
Then the Olympic torch came to my home town. It worked out that I had to go along and see it, when normally I might not have done. I was lucky enough to see Michael Johnson hold the torch up high and proud, and suddenly I began to understand….
Friends and family have recently been sharing their Olympic memories with me: where they were when they saw Michael Johnson win his famous races; the GB men’s hockey team winning gold at Seoul. (See this blog for a passionate recollection of Olympic hockey www.bentwhistlethedragon.co.uk/) Just as I began to appreciate other people’s skills at work, so I can now start to marvel at other people’s sporting achievements – and appreciate the amazing heights of performance that competition can produce.
So to answer my initial question – yes they can!
Just one more thing to note: my two young daughters have already created their first Olympic memory, before the games even start, by meeting some of the stars of the women’s GB hockey team. I’m so pleased that they have such positive role models in this first Olympic memory, and that they are female too!

Chalke Valley History Festival, and Inspiration!

Chalke Valley History Festival 2012 has provided a glorious patchwork of history and literature – a delight for all history fans, and for wannabe historical fiction writers like me.
Nestled in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside, a colourful red and yellow striped canvas roof hosted the seminar I attended on History Writing, where an impressive, hugely experienced and well informed panel of authors, agents and publishers freely gave their time and advice on a wide variety of questions the audience cast out to them.
Why do these experts take precious time out of their schedules to give such valuable advice at events like this? I’m very glad they do of course, and it’s a clear benefit to people like me, but what do they gain?
For agents and publishers, I can only assume that in one session, of one day, of one event, they hope they will find a golden nugget – an author with fabulous potential and the germ of an idea which they can nurture into a best seller.
That’s part of the excitement of events like the Chalke Valley History Festival – if you go, maybe you’ll have a chance encounter that could turn into a pivotal moment in your journey (writing for me, but so many other interests are catered for at the festival that it’s hard to pin them all down!).
It’s an ephemeral chance, and maybe you won’t realise the significance of the encounter until weeks, or even years, later. Just maybe a contact made there could be the key to achievement further down the path.
That links in my head to the ephemeral nature of inspiration, which can trickle slow and sluggish, or burst through a surprising crack in the rocks of everyday life. Sometimes it’s just a case of following the sound of the waterfall, and allowing yourself to be amazed when you find its source.
Chalke Valley History Festival is setting up a Trust “to improve the education of history in this country so that children reach adulthood with a proper sense of the past so as to make better sense of their future.”
What an amazing purpose – I do hope it’s the source of many a waterfall of inspiration for years to come.

Superpowers (cont’d)

In a previous blog (see “The Superpower I Didn’t Want”) I wrote about becoming invisible. That can happen in everyday life, but it can happen at work too.
I’m lucky enough to work for a company with “fairness” running through its centre like a stick of rock, and yet there still aren’t too many women at the top, and sometimes I wonder why. When there isn’t discrimination squashing women down, why aren’t they rising up the ranks? Is it something we do?
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to go to a fantastic 2-day conference with work. The subject of glass ceilings came up in the informal discussions of the first day, and I found myself in the privileged position of debating the topic with some of the smartest and most successful women I’ve ever met.
Unfortunately I had to leave that conference early due to an emergency at home, and there was no doubt in my mind that it was the right, and only thing to do. I’m lucky enough to have solid and real support at work in that kind of circumstance, but from a less supportive company it would have been a great excuse to treat those couple of days of invisibility to slide the glass ceiling into place, and leave me banging on it for ever more.
Of course, a problem at home isn’t exclusive to women, and it isn’t the only reason why a woman might choose to put her job aside for a while, but it serves as an example of how work can sometimes take second place to a life outside. In my opinion that’s just as it should be, but I can also kind of understand that, for those driven, passionate individuals who have succeeded in the workplace at the highest levels, to see a promising person (who might be a woman) pass up an opportunity must be incredibly frustrating. And that surely must lead to the temptation to give the next opportunity to the next promising person (who might not be a woman). See how that glass ceiling is closing in?
But it’s not all double glazing and toughened windscreens. What if we could metapohorically turn that glass ceiling into a mirror, to reflect ourselves back as others see us? What if we could use that vision to decide if we like what we see, where we want to go, and then work out how we can change things if we want to?

Ceilings and Mirrors

In my last blog (see “Superpowers cont’d”) I wrote about glass ceilings. What if you could turn them into a looking glass, to reflect yourself, your visions and your aims? That would help solve your invisibility problem! Just maybe, it would help us all work out how to break through that glass ceiling of a looking glass, and into a world of adventure beyond, just like Alice.
Here are my tips for how:

1. Use that mirror to reflect back and understand your priorities and what works for you. Grow to know the kinds of meetings you can’t ever miss, or the kinds of home commitments you won’t ever give up. Make sure the priority calls you make are right for you.

2. Decide, deal with it, and move on – if you’re worrying about the place you aren’t, then you might as well be there, because you’re no use where you are. Sitting at home worrying about how the client meeting went won’t help your colleagues impress, and you’ve taken time out to help your sick child, so help them. Harsh? Yes. Simple? Yes. Easy? Oh, no.

3. Plan in advance how you’ll deal with conflict situations. For example, if you have kids, the odds are you’ll need to look after a sick one every now and then. Find a neighbour who might help out once in a while; get the kit to work from home during the patient’s naps.

4. Negotiate around your situation. You can bet the crisis point will come at work and at home on the same day. If the report needs doing by 5 – see whether working in the evening and getting it done by 9am the following day will do just as well.

5. Realise that most of the time it’s a juggling act, and you won’t get it right every time. Learn from the bad days and use those lessons when you go back to step 3 (planning).

6. Be kind to yourself – although we may have some superhero attributes, we are really human beings underneath!