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:



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:
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:
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!

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 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!

Jubilant Street Parties!

Isn’t the word “jubilant” a brilliant one? With a meaning all of its own, yet with overtones of others: like “triumphant” – yet somehow not so bossy; like “celebration” – yet with more gravitas; like “jewel” – yet with perhaps even more sparkle. A word not used very often except, perhaps, in the few weeks around Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
The Queen has always been a fixture in my life, and like when anything or anyone is always there for you, sometimes you take it, or them, for granted. While watching some Jubilee celebrations on TV, I was struck by one comment an artist made, whilst painting on the Millenium Bridge. He wanted to celebrate the Queen’s contribution to the role of women throughout the Commonwealth. I hadn’t really considered this before, but what a great role model for a woman in power – grace, constancy and determination.
To celebrate Her Majesty’s great achievements over many decades, my neighbours planned a street party, with lots of activities, which everyone nearby could get involved with – or not, as they choose. Only the weather could intervene!
During the planning of this event, what has amazed me is the “jubilant” spirit in my street. We’re the same people who don’t see much of each other usually; we all have the same personalities and skills as we did a few weeks ago when we were unconnected. But somehow this jubilant feeling has spun a thread of diamond-glinting magic between our homes and made us into a community. This same magic has been evident all around the country, in a tide of optimism.
In some ways, the street party itself became secondary to the “jubilant” spirit was created in the first place, and that somehow, we can maintain it.
How can we do that in our street? Well, perhaps in the same way as at home, in our daily lives, at work, or in the country as a whole. By remembering the good times, by remembering what we can and have achieved together, and that we are all amazing – individually, but together even more so.
We can’t have a street party every day, but we can celebrate our group successes and be jubilant a little more often.

Postscript: How it rained on the day of our street party! But we went ahead and held it anyway, just adding “Puddle Splashing” to the list of activities!