The Digital Dating Survival Guide

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Dating has undergone a wholesale change in recent years. This is thanks to the arrival of the smartphone, social media, and the dating websites and apps.  The internet dating site was once seen as the uncool territory of the over 40’s. Whereas it has now been kicked into touch by the advent of the dating apps that showcase simplicity at its finest. When even my manicurist, a vibrant young thing in her 20’s, is meeting her matches on ‘Plenty of Fish’ or ‘POF’ as she calls it, I realise there is no stigma any more to using digital tools to access a potential dating pool.

The rules of this new game however, are vast, and this is intended to be an idiot’s guide for those new to the scene, highlighting some simple guidelines so that you can navigate your way through.

Think that you’re too old for tech?

For those that are wary of smartphones, social media and the digital world, the advantages can far outweigh the time needed to invest in getting up to speed. It does not have to take over your life, and you certainly don’t have to become glued to your device. It’s more about accepting that that’s how people communicate these days, and if you want to meet new people then this can open up your opportunities exponentially. So if you’re not on FB or social media, and need help getting up to speed with the protocol of messaging, have a chat with your kids….

If at first you don’t succeed…

With nearly 1 million people swiping on tinder every minute, its easy to see why the apps are working. It’s not all about tinder either, there’s a range of dating sites and apps, each appealing to slightly different demographics. So do your research, try a few, and if they don’t work for you, ditch them and move on! I came across one app called Bumble, which has the ease of use of tinder, but with one difference, only women can send the first message, meaning you won’t get inundated with messages from anyone you haven’t already identified. The main advantage of the apps over the traditional dating sites is there’s no subscription fee, unless you use the extra services, The set-up is much quicker as they use less details, and can import those from Facebook if you choose. On the traditional dating sites you can usually create a profile and search for free, but to send a message to people you have to subscribe.

This recent article gives a rundown of the latest dating sites and apps….

 It’s a numbers game

All the experts advise to date as many people as possible to help you find the ‘one’. The old style model of dating one person at a time has been replaced, it is now socially acceptable to date multiple people at once, reducing the chance of becoming emotionally invested in the ‘wrong’ person and enhancing the chances of you working out what type of person is the best match for you. Internet dating is a great way to help find your ‘pool’ of dates, something that just wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

Power of the Profile

This is the most important thing with online dating. There is an art to creating a profile, so it’s worth taking your time over. There’s lots of information online about writing a good profile, and even coming up with a profile name, so read up before you set up! One tip to focus the mind is to check out the competition and see what other males/females you are up against. Make sure you have good photos too, you can always ask a friend to take some of you, as there’s nothing worse than selfies as profile pics.

 Tips for staying safe 

The whole point of the dating sites is that they are designed to protect your anonymity until you are ready to share details and/or meet someone. You can continue messaging through the dating site even after you have met someone if you don’t want to give out your email or mobile phone number. Its strongly recommended that you use a different email address to your regular one for communicating with new dates however, and it’s a definite no-no to give out your home address to anyone whilst in the early stages of dating. In terms of meeting up for a date, take a common sense approach such as always meet in a public place, and take your own vehicle so you can leave if you want to.

Different dynamics

 Smartphones and the instant messaging culture have added a new dimension to how we interact with our dates and potential dates. It is expected to have a bit of chat via message with someone that you have first met online, so you will need to make time for that, however the 24/7 accessibility of messaging can be overwhelming, so make sure you set your own boundaries. I’ve learnt to always switch my phone off when I go to bed, so any late night messages pinging in don’t disturb me. Don’t feel you have to reply to anything straight away, just because it’s called instant messaging it doesn’t mean you have to instantly reply.

In general it’s best to move away from messaging as soon as possible, so aim to set up a time for a phone call as a good way to get to know the potential date better before you decide if you want to meet up.

A virtual relationship is not a real relationship

Beware of investing too much time on a ‘digital’ relationship without a balance of ‘real’ time spent together. Someone that may be a laugh a minute over text may not be so charismatic in person. Meeting up in person, or if a long-distance situation, having a skype call, as soon as possible, is a critical stage before you become emotionally invested.

Dating Danger zones

Beware of catfishing (someone who pretends to be someone else online). These people are very clever and will know how to play you, and if they’re after your money (or anything else), they will think nothing of investing lots of time ‘seemingly’ wanting to get to know you and feigning interest. If something doesn’t feel right it usually isn’t. Remember you are in control, you don’t owe anyone else anything, especially if someone is a ‘virtual’ contact.

Any other strange behaviour such as ‘love-bombing’ – this phrase was used chillingly in the recent case of murdered author Helen Bailey. Love-bombing can be used in any medium but lends itself well to the digital world with use of constant messaging. If you meet someone online and they seem to good to be true – they probably are. If in doubt ask a friend for a second opinion.  It may feel gratifying to receive lots of attention this way, but again common sense needs to prevail.

Pace yourself 

Just because you have access to a potential pool of dates doesn’t mean you have to become a slave to your device and spend ages messaging people you’re not really interested in.  Maybe just try out one site at a time, and realistically think about what you want to get out of the process. If you just want to meet one new person a month, then contact/respond to people accordingly. When things aren’t working out with someone and you don’t want to stay in contact with them, move on.

Have you had any experiences you want to share? Let us know!! It’s only through sharing our stories that we can help each other, and I’ve a few more things to share on this topic…

My other blogs on dating:

The seven deadly fears of a 40-something singleton…

Things I’ve learnt about dating the second time around

In Demand: the importance of post-divorce dating

Take your broken heart, make it into art

Mentoring: a formal arrangement or an informal conversation?

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While formal mentoring schemes have been shown to deliver great results, quite often we can benefit greatly from those ‘informal’ mentoring conversations. Here’s my top tips on how to maximise informal mentoring opportunities:

1. Recognise those ‘informal’ relationships. For me it took the death of someone I had worked with for 14 years to realise that they had been my ‘go to’ person in the early part of my career, my unofficial mentor that I had taken my professional questions and challenges to. Over catch-up lunches to review work projects we always spilled over into the personal aspects of our lives, including careers and problems faced, offering honest, objective and challenging advice.

 2. Cutting both ways. A reciprocal arrangement can benefit both parties. This can work informally with peers also, and I recognise my conversations with my late friend benefited her as much as they did me, as I had strengths in areas she didn’t. She would help me as a sounding board, with questions related to my role where I benefited from an external perspective, and I helped her, drawing on my more creative approach when it came to developing her marketing plan for her business.

The current fad for ‘reverse mentoring’ plays on this reciprocity, and seeks to capitalise on filling knowledge gaps that executives may have with new technology, for example, by pairing with mentees that can pass their knowledge upwards.

In general, any mentoring within the same company is going to have benefits for both parties. The mentee may receive direct assistance, but the mentor may pick up on useful information on what’s going on ‘on the ground’ in the organisation, as well as greater commitment from colleagues and a sense of fulfilment and pride.

3. Look for opportunities. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, in her book ‘Lean In’ suggests that grabbing a moment after a meeting or in the hall to ask advice from a respected and busy senior person can work. It need not be any more that a casual and quick exchange. After taking any advice, it would be appropriate for any would-be mentee to follow up to offer thanks and then to use that opportunity to ask for more guidance. Without even realising it, the senior person becomes involved and interested in the junior person’s career. The word ‘mentor’ never needs to be uttered. The relationship is more than the label.

 4. Go where there’s a real connection. There is a place for being given a mentor, as typically happens through a formal mentoring programme. However, if seeking your own, be wary of asking a virtual stranger ‘will you be my mentor?’ The strongest relationships spring out of a real and often earned connection felt by both sides. If those connections don’t exist, then networking and cultivating those relationships needs to be the priority.

After a few long conversations with a potential supplier I recognised they possessed a knowledge and experience base that was useful for me, and as we had established a good rapport, it wasn’t scary to ask if they could meet with me a couple of times to have a mentoring conversation.

5. Use your peer network. Sandberg also talks about how peers can mentor and sponsor one another: ‘Friends at the same stage of their careers may actually provide more current and useful counsel’. Taking time out of the working day to do things like go to lunch with a colleague provides a perfect way to give time for these discussions.

 6. Preparation, preparation, preparation. Whether a formal or informal conversation, preparation is key. A senior executive will respect an approach or a request for their time if the mentee has done their homework. Asking specific insightful questions of someone that has ‘been there, done that’ may yield greater results than just asking for a portion of their time to ‘pick their brains’. Your problem or needs as a mentee is not their problem, so make sure you are not asking for things you could find out on your own.

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg

Other blogs of mine you may like:

Placement Student meets the Prime Minister

Having your cake and eating it…

 

 

Take your broken heart, make it into art

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Meryl Streep’s closing line at the Golden Globes was given to her by her friend, Princess Leia, aka the late Carrie Fisher.

It resonated with me, as many times I have wanted to take all the emotion that is in my person and to create something with it. As for art, well, I’m probably still wanting in that department.

So if I can’t create my own, I can use other people’s… and there was born the idea for my Top Ten Heartbreak playlist. Well, top 13, actually, as there were some I just couldn’t leave out. And 13 seemed quite apt. Unlucky for some, most definitely unlucky in love for me…

Music has been my best friend in recent years. Music to lift my mood and elevate me just at the right moment. I remember one difficult day hearing Nina Simone’s ‘Here comes the Sun’ come over the car radio waves and how it raised my spirits to a hopeful optimism. The full orchestral scores from ‘Friday Night is music night’ on Radio 2 have often turned a routine Friday night washing the dishes into something magical. In the same way sometimes a heart-searing ballad is just what you need to let it all out.

With that in mind, here’s a run-down of my Top 13 Heart-breakers:

1. All Cried Out – Alison Moyet – Alison captures all that pent up emotion, resentment and frustration in this perfectly executed break-up ballad that is one you can blast out in unison with.

2. You Don’t Own Me – The Blow Monkeys – there have been lots of covers of this since the original by Lesley Gore in 1963, however I love this one from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Its Dr. Robert’s sardonic delivery and the lyric ‘don’t tell me what to do, don’t tell me what to say…’ that was a perfect fit for one of my break-ups.

3. Go Ahead and Break My Heart – Blake Shelton featuring Gwen Stefani – This song is a happy/sad song – happy as they’re telling their own love story of how they met whilst nursing broken hearts, while obviously still bruised, and daring each other to ‘go ahead and break my heart’. I love this, as a huge Gwen fan, and Blake’s country twang is endearing. A good reminder that by putting your heart out there we’re all taking a risk, right?

4. Forget You -Ceelo Green – a great tune for kitchen dancing and for getting back in the mindset that you’re ok and better off without a certain person…

5. Boys Don’t Cry – The Cure – another timeless classic with a great chorus, with lyrics capturing the stoic pretense: ‘I try and laugh about it hiding the tears in my eyes’.

6. Don’t Speak – No Doubt – Gwen again at her best, capturing real emotion and putting it into a song. Of course as a Gwen fan-girl I have to give a mention to her song ‘Used to Love you’ which if you haven’t seen the video is a must. Written at the end of her marriage to Gavin Rossdale she takes her broken heart and lays it out for all to see.

7. A New England – Kirsty MacColl – this may not be an obvious choice but I love her Englishness that comes through on the lyrics ‘I loved the words you wrote to me but that was b***** yesterday’

8. Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley – we may as well get cheesy with a bit of ol’ Elvis – another good one to rock around the kitchen with.

9. Only Love Can Hurt Like This – Paloma Faith – As I’ve had mostly ‘oldies’ so far I need to put this one in for balance – one of the best heartbreak songs in recent times. She gets the emotion in on this one with her searing vocals.

10. Wicked Game – Chris Isaak- the deep melancholia of this tune and the accusatory ‘what a wicked thing to do, to make me fall in love with you’ captures something quite unique.

11. A Little Time – The Beautiful South – I love the Beautiful South as they weave clever lyrics that tell a story into upbeat ditties. This one is a classic two-part story, the guy wanting ‘a little time’, and once he’s had said time the girl realises she doesn’t want him ‘the freedom that you wanted bad, is yours for good, I hope you’re glad’.

12. Strong Enough – Sheryl Crow – I love the daring of this song ‘are you strong enough to be my man’ but also the contradiction ‘Lie to me, I promise I’ll believe’.

13.Linger – The Cranberries – I’d never thought of this as a break-up song before, but Dolores heart-felt delivery is there and every word tells a tale ‘I’m in so deep, you know I’m such a fool for you’. What a great way to let it all out, to sing along to Dolores!

 

Right, before I die

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706f43f6-2f7a-45e8-a59d-94b7eb314df6Last year whilst on a trip to Bruges looking at all the usual historic sites, I kept seeing a little poster advert. It was entitled, ‘Right, before I die’ and suggested it was a photographic exhibition. The picture on the poster of an elderly lady along with the juxtaposition of the comma in the title had caught my attention and I was keen to see where this exhibition was. Finally on the last day, after we had visited an 11th century hospital building, the last historic site that our schedule allowed, I spotted the poster at the foot of a winding staircase. My curiosity led me up the stairs into a large attic room, where this exhibit stretched before us. Along the walls of this space was a series of 20 photographs, all taken of an individual that knew they were facing impending death. Accompanying each photograph was a narrative based on interviews with each person, reflecting on their thoughts about their life, and death, and dying, showing also their own handwritten notes. Given that a couple of months prior I had found out that my own Dad, so active and vital and full of health, was too facing a terminal diagnosis, I was intrigued to read every single account from every person that stretched across this main wall.

There was a very quiet, almost reverential feeling in this room as I took in these people, their faces, looking right into my eyes. I read about their lives, their hopes and fears realised, and tried to make some sense from it all.

I learnt later that this 2 year project was created by photographer and American artist Andrew George who spent time in a hospice to capture the pictures and stories. He summed it up best with his words:

‘I believe it takes real courage to accept that everything we see as so vital and integral to our lives will vanish. Some of us will have the fortitude to go beyond the fear of our mortality and confront this unknown journey bravely.’

For me I was struck by the themes of love that came through from their words, and for some regrets, for not loving enough. One lady, Sara, said:

‘I think growing up with love makes people give love back. And you have to give love to receive love, you have to be good, without expecting anything in return. You do it because it comes from within you to do it. I like to help people who are in need – if I see a person who needs help, I will do so even if I don’t know them, because I know they have a need I don’t….and they do. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong,’

What I took from this is that all we will remember is love.

In Demand – the importance of post-divorce dating

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There is a song I like from Texas, called ‘In Demand’ – the video featuring Sharleen Spiteri and the late Alan Rickman, being chauffeur driven in a convertible through the night. He plays the role of the demonstrative lover, holding and cosseting a playful Sharleen. The lyrics tell a slightly more complicated story, the song is to her ex ‘you never had our love written in your plans’ to ‘but now I’m in demand’. The real story is about coming out of a relationship, and finding out what it’s really like to be ‘in demand’. 

 

Dating is so important post-divorce, or at the end of any long-term relationship. This is a time when confidence can be at an all-time low and may need slowly rebuilding. Loss of identity can occur whilst in a difficult relationship and dating can be a great way to recover this, a time to have fun, to rediscover your hopes and aspirations and what makes you happy to be alive. Fundamentally dating is important in helping someone believe that there can be a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. 

 

As in real life though we soon see that things aren’t all they were quite idealised to be, the older romantic lover has to go back to his regular life, and Sharleen is left looking quite bereft. This was not meant to be a happy ever after. Experience tells us this is quite often the way, we have all heard about ‘rebound’ dating. But while it may be a cliché it is also necessary, we all need that first post-break up experience to get us back in practice, back to experiencing what it is like to feel ‘in demand’, amazingly good for one’s self-esteem and an important part of the journey to finding yourself again. 

 

My Edinburgh Festival Fringe Experience

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A Tuesday morning and Carmen my 20 year old daughter and I set off for Gatwick at 5am to catch an early flight to Edinburgh.

Everything was effortless on landing – I grabbed a street map off a stall at the airport, we jumped straight onto a tram which took us through the city centre to the last stop, where we had an easy 10 minute walk to our airbnb apartment.

With a quick turnaround we were heading into the city centre – in the sunshine – yes, sunshine, with our events for the day pre-booked using the Edfest app.

So here’s a bit about the fringe taken from the website:

‘Every year thousands of performers take to hundreds of stages all over Edinburgh to present shows for every taste.

From big names in the world of entertainment to unknown artists looking to build their careers, the festival caters for everyone and includes theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera, music, spoken word, exhibitions and events.

In 2015 there were 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues, making it the largest ever arts festival in the world.’

Our tram ride through the city had given us a glimpse – a giant ferris wheel amidst the Edinburgh spires, crowds of people creating a huge buzz.

We walked up to the Royal Mile – the epicentre of fringe activity, and found the street teeming with people and performers, mini stages dotted up the mile with ‘tasters’ of the main shows being showcased.

The first find we stumbled across were some seriously handsome guys singing accapella., They had a certain ‘je ne sais quo’ – that swag, confidence, that meant you couldn’t take your eyes off them. We took a flier and made a mental note to see them the next day. We walked literally two steps and there was yet another male accappella group – it seemed to be the thing this year.

All the while fliers were being thrust into our faces, with heart-rending pleas form actors, playwrights as to why we should see their show and why it was the best thing at the fringe – we started listening, and collecting.

Then to our first performance I had pre-booked – the picture in the advert and the promotional story caught my eye, called ‘Angel’ – the description as below:

‘Kobane, 2014: there’s a siege as fierce as Stalingrad. ISIS, having steam-rollered through Iraq, expect to take the town easily. But the citizens have found a heroine: a crackshot sniper, with 100 kills to her name. And she appears indestructible. She’s the Angel of Kobane.’

We sat in a small dark theatre, with probably 10 rows of seats, and were gripped from the outset as the one woman show took us to a different place. The story began in her childhood, and using her voice and the voice of her father, she acted out how a young girl being raised on a farm ends up becoming a crack sniper fighting ISIS. Her childhood innocence destroyed when her village is taken, she is caught and escapes. Her father taught her to use a gun, she didn’t know why at the time, but his foresight and preparation is what enables her to survive. Finally finding an all-female group of fighters, she has to face up to the realities of survival. Persuaded to fight with the speech from a comrade, ‘If you don’t fight back you facilitate. If you facilitate you collaborate’.

This superb piece of compelling writing was delivered with intensity and was a fantastic start to our fringe experience.

Our second show was of a contrasting nature, a traditionally set production of The Great Gatsby, featuring 4 actors playing all the parts. Using music and dance to convey the mood, and a lit screen at the rear of the stage where shadow silhouettes acted out the darker scenes, this was a stylish piece.

Our early start was catching up with this at this point, so we headed for the burger place to refuel. I was literally so tired I could have put my head on the table and slept, but opted instead to load up with carbs, so huge burger and sweet potato fries it was.

We went back to our airbnb for a chance to meet our hosts and a nap before we ventured out for our ‘late’ show – this one was booked on recommendation from my cousin. A cheeky piece (literally, with bottoms frequently on display), the description read thus: ‘Peter and Bambi Heaven, Australia’s most deluded dancing magicians, and they’re about to explode into Edinburgh. Imagine if David Copperfield and Claudia Schiffer were from Australia’s Gold Coast, now roll them in sequins, set them on fire and you’re almost there.’

This was comedy cabaret at its finest, but not for the faint hearted, and certainly nerve-wracking when you’re sat on the front row…. I’ll say no more on this one as I think you had to be there to get it….

Our next day (after a much-needed lie-in’) we used our app to book more shows for the day based on the fliers we’d been given the day before.

We were able to enjoy breakfast in the sunshine at a fabulous café just 5 minutes from our accommodation, and fuelled up for the day.

First off we saw ‘Playback: Impro’ – one of the free fringe shows. In a bar underneath a pub around 20 of us watched a group of 5 actors act out on the spot improvisations based on audience suggestions. Clever and funny. Carmen was first off to share an anecdote from her year in France (playing wink murder in lectures), another story involved a shark and a speedboat. The finale consisted of a combination of all the stories, coupled with the genre of religious epic to add to the hilarity.

Next up was Techtonics – one of the acapella groups we’d seen on the Royal Mile the day before. This group of 10 guys just blew us away with their spectacular vocals and effortless choreography. Old classics such as ‘I love you baby’ and ‘I saw her standing there’ were punctuated with modern hits like ‘Bang, bang’ (the Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj hit) and Sam Smith’s ‘Lay Me Down’.

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Our first sighting of ‘Techtonics’

When the good-looking lads revealed they were all students at London’s Imperial College, and that they had just won the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA’s) in the US we were even more in awe.

We came out buzzing, and then had to settle down for a sudden change in mood, watching Tennessee William’s 27 Wagons Full of Cotton. The small set allowed for an audience of around 40, and yet again we were on the front row, feet on the small stage, with actors touching distance. The set consisted of a porch swing chair, a few crates and gasoline cans. The 3 actors conveyed the oppressive humidity of 1930s Mississippi – a place where normal rules didn’t apply. As the programme summary said of the piece ‘A dysfunctional relationship centres this disturbing look at abuse and how one woman may find a silver lining in a desperate situation. This play deals with the social and economic climate of a country coming out of recession, and transcends this with the still relevant issues of mental health, domestic abuse and rape.’

Our evening slot was booked with our first comedy act of the fringe, courtesy of Loyis Gola, with his show ‘Dude, where’s my lion?’. As there were only around a dozen of us in the audience, this felt more like a laid-back chat. Loyis drew on his experience growing up in post-apartheid South Africa, and covered racism, poverty, Islamaphobia, terrorism, travel, Brexit and the Olympics in subject matter. Part-comedy, part political and social commentary, this was a great thought-provoking hour spent with a genuinely nice guy.

As it was our last evening we wandered up the Royal Mile taking in the sights, the Royal Tattoo was taking place at the Castle at the top. On the Mile you only had to walk a few paces to see a completely different act – and our highlights that night were a young lad called Morf who was beatboxing and vocal looping – basically creating a full whole sound just using a little black box to record his vocals. He took an audience request and created Bastille’s ‘Close Your Eyes’ which sounded amazing. Further along was a fire-eater. I watched him swallow a 2 foot long balloon, and then breathe flames 20 foot high in the air. I’m still wondering what happened to the balloon – it didn’t reappear…

So – to Friday. Our last day started with a breakfast of note at Café Marlayne – and then we made our only error of the whole trip – we didn’t get to our next event early enough. It was a free comedy show entitled ’10 things I hate about UKIP’. It was popular and we didn’t make it in….so we then tried ‘ Electile dysfunction’ and had the same problem. It seems political comedy is very popular….

Fortunately we ended the day on a high note – with a pre-booked comedy show by Samantha Baines (of ‘Call the Midwife’ fame) entitled ‘1 Woman, 1 Dwarf Planet and 2 Cox’. This was a heart-warming show which used her childhood curiosity about science (and fascination with Professor Brian Cox) as a back-drop for exploring the role of women in science (or lack of them – did you know more dogs than women have gone into space?). The narrative worked well and had us all hooked – serious points were made in a not-so-serious way, but left us all feeling inspired.

Between shows we wandered round the many sights, taking in the market stalls, sampling street food and enjoying the Edinburgh sunshine.

We had our own comedy moment when I spotted 2 of the guys from the Techtonics giving out fliers, including the incredibly tall handsome one that could move and sing like nothing you’ve ever seen – Carmen was doing her ‘no mum, we can’t go and ask them for a picture – that would be SO embarrassing’ routine, when a nearby actor overheard her and amplified….with ‘OH MUM YOU’RE SO EMBARRASSING…’  so everyone nearby heard – we did laugh…..

Carmen’s other comedy moment came at the airport when like the seasoned traveller she is she perched onto her pull along suitcase whilst we were in the queue. Only for it to slip out from under her so she landed flat on her backside in front of everyone…..more laughs.

So all in all an amazing couple of days – I can fully recommend the fringe to anyone – and if you want to check out Techtonics look here 😉

Tribute to my Dad -The Eulogy of Alan Carter

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This is the Eulogy that Jason my older brother and I wrote and delivered at my Dad’s funeral. He died Christmas day 2015.

It is really wonderful to see so many people that knew and loved my Dad here today. It has been very challenging for Jason and I to try and capture all of the things we would like to tell you about our Dad, as there is so much, but we hope that what we will say will give you the essence of our Dad, your friend, and show his larger than life character. I’m going to start with some background on his life and then hand over to Jason who will delve into some more details.

Alan was born on 10th March 1946 to Irene and Edward Carter in Putney. Alan’s younger brother Chris noticed that Alan was very inquisitive at taking things apart like clocks and putting them back together again, after which they still worked! At age 10 he built a tree house (his first of many) in the woods in Wimbledon Park.IMG_0209

Alan and Chris spent some time in their childhood living on a farm in Kent which Alan loved. The boys built another tree house, had catapults, made crossbows and made dens by hollowing out tunnels in hay stacks. The boys built a raft with 4 oil drums to go onto the farm pond in the middle of winter. When it turned over Alan saved his brother Christopher’s life as he could not swim, Alan had to rescue him and get him to the bank. They were both frozen and had to stagger across several fields back to the farm house.

Alan was made Vice School Captain age 16, and at the same age had his first contact with the church. This was via a school friend who had the missionaries coming round to visit, and the plan was they were going to make fun of some Americans, having not met many at that point. His mother also warned him saying ‘Let me tell you something Alan, Americans are very good salespeople!’

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Alan and brother Chris on Wimbledon Lake

However, as soon as Alan entered the room he had a strong impression that he should be quiet, listen to what they had to say and not play the fool. The missionaries then taught him and his mother and within 6 weeks he had been baptised a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which proved to be a defining point in his life. Between 1964 and 1966 Alan with many other members were involved with building the Wandsworth Chapel.

Around the age of 17 Alan noticed a young lady that had started attending Church each week. Each week he would say ‘Hi Ros, how are you today?’ until finally her friend Judy said, ‘I think Alan likes you’. They began dating, and Alan eventually baptised Ros on her 18th birthday. These were fun times for Alan and Ros with a strong network of friends. They formed a folk group with another couple, the Cary’s and played at some church events. Alan and Ros later married in 1967 and had a honeymoon in Austria.

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Alan playing Joseph

In Alan’s teenage years he was involved with the Scouting programme that ran from Wandsworth Chapel as a leader.  While looking through family photo albums I found one entitled ‘Alan’s Adventures’ which contained pictures of a speedboat built by boys of the 19th Balham and Tooting LDS Scout Group in 1963. Other pictures were of caving, pulling cars out of rivers and rope swings over rivers. There’s no doubt that these early scouting experiences paved the way for Dads future leadership roles at church youth camps.

On the career front, Alan had left school and started work at the age of 17 as an Apprentice Heating, Ventilating and Fan Engineer. Once qualified Alan worked his way up through the ranks to becoming chief draughtsman. During this time Alan took up an exciting opportunity to work for the Department of the Environment in Gibraltar, moving out there with a small family which included Jason and myself. These 3 years were full of exciting fishing expeditions. One of Dad’s famous stories that we heard repeated often was of his first fishing experience in Gibraltar. He was excited to fish there, but after an unsuccessful first day approached a local chap fishing, who gave him some pointers, then as he caught a large fish and was struggling to land it, asked Dad to hold his road, while he grabbed his flippers and dived into the sea. Dad was left wrestling with this rod, watching a huge fracas of bubbles and flippers, until finally the chap emerges, gripping a huge fish by the eye sockets in one hand, and, over his other shoulder, an octopus. TIMG_0221hey became great friends after this first dramatic introduction.

Alan helped establish a small branch of the Church with a couple of other families whilst in Gibraltar.  Alan also had responsibility for the missionaries for the church that were sent there. The missionaries were often getting into scrapes, as things were sensitive as the border was closed with Spain, and dad would have to go and get the missionaries out of the police station were they had been locked up after wandering into the middle of a military exercise at night. Whilst in Gibraltar Daniel was born. A few months after returning, Gareth was born. The day Gareth was blessed Alan was called as Bishop of Croydon Ward. This chapel wasn’t built at that point so lots of early meetings were held at their house. of the Church in Gibraltar with the other couple of other families there.

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Jason and I with Mum and Dad

By Jan 1977 Naomi was born, taking it up to 5 children and Alan was released as Bishop. Dad started doing a degree course in Environmental Engineering at night school whilst working for the Department of the Environment. Dad did his studying in his bedroom using a piece of chipboard as a desk.  This was held up at one end by the windowsill and a chair at the other end. His hard-work paid off and he got top of the class with his degree. Through his studies and experience he became a chartered engineer, a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and a member of the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers.

I do recall around this time we had many fun if modest holidays, going to Cornwall, South Wales and Brittany.  Holidays were usually camping and we would set off with a 14 foot canoe strapped to the roof of our car.

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Dan,  Jason, Mum, Dad, Lorraine, Naomi & Gareth (I’m taking the pic)

In 1980 3rd daughter Lorraine was born, and in Nov 1982 Alan was called as Bishop of the newly formed Croydon 2nd ward. One of Alan’s counsellors at this time said he enjoyed the experience immensely and learnt much from Alan’s attention to detail, vision of, and drive for the Lords’ work.  Finally in 1983 their 4th son and 7th and last child Stuart was born.

Dad took the decision to leave the civil service and joined North Thames Gas, Special Projects Group, where he had interesting projects at properties such as 10 Downing Street. He then went on to a Director role with Dewest Limited, and then as Managing Director of his own consultancy firm. Alan’s firm was contracted by the church to work on the London Temple renovation project in 1990.

He then merged his business with ABS, a larger consultancy, where he spent time in

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Dad fishing the Zambezi river, Zambia

Lusaka, Zambia. Of course he made time to fish the Zambezi River while he was out there. He was then head-hunted to work for Trillium in various roles over 11 years, managing a team of 50 and running the technical services department for 40% of the DWP buildings across the UK. Whilst at Trillium Alan set up a fly-fishing club called the Trillium Drifters. On a couple of occasions they took wounded service men out on special boats. The HR department at Trillium said it was the most successful work social club they’d ever had.

Dad always found time to do other things than just work. He was involved with a political party for a time, and would have us help delivering leaflets. He certainly didn’t need any encouragement with the megaphone when it was time for canvassing. In later times he was involved as a parent Governor for our old secondary school, eventually becoming Vice-Chair and Chair. He served with the school for a total of 19 years and arranged community service projects and other things such as having a former astronaut come and speak to the school-children.

1040571_10153119777592303_3269156172232475914_oOnce Dad had retired from ABS he and mum enjoyed some great holidays in US with Daniel’s family, The also spent 6 months serving at the church’s Temple near East Grinstead, and also did the rounds visiting all of us children. Prior to each visit Dad would ask us what jobs needed doing, he would come and make himself useful!

In more recent times Mum and Dad were working at Hyde Park chapel as part of our church’s employment programme helping people into work. This was a natural good fit for Dad and even when he was ill at home he was still thinking of ways to help people that were looking for work.

I’d like to share some of my personal thoughts and memories. My Dad’s ability to lead has always impressed me, he was a natural, easy-going leader of people.

He was enthusiastic, energetic and effusive. He didn’t mind being a little bit controversial and rocking the boat if he felt it was needed.  I remember the roadshows where he would get everyone involved, it was a real bonding experience. He would co-ordinate – and ensure there was a director, a script, someone working on the scenery. You would be there at every rehearsal, not interfering, just supporting. And on the night, he was there to make sure there was organisation, that every prop and piece of scenery would be set up on stage in the time given.

He was a master at putting up a huge 40 foot canvas back-drop, up a ladder. Nothing phased him, not even the request one year to have a huge ‘computer’ the size of a person crash in from the ceiling. ‘Let’s build it with boxes, stuff it with newspaper to make it really heavy, winch it up with a rope’ you said, and at the right moment you let the rope go and it crashed onto the stage, achieving the desired effect.

He always had the respect of my friends and peers and could strike the balance between being firm but fair. I remember Scott Hawkins saying to me at one youth camp that my Dad had threatened him with a ‘clip round the ear’. He said that he wouldn’t take a clip round the ear off anyone but he would take one off my Dad. (I’m sure he did something to deserve it). Also his ability to be innovative and brave – he would come up with ideas for activities and events that had never happened before, and he would pull them off with flair, and minimal stress. He displayed many great leadership traits, and even today his example inspires me, and will do so for the rest of my life. He was an example of hard work, serving others, and being a high achiever in things that matter. I also have to acknowledge my mother who supported him behind the scenes and enabled him to get out and do all the things he did.

Dad’s natural desire to connect with people and to help others connect together was demonstrated to me on my last visit to see him a few days before he died. He was very weak and couldn’t speak much, but he still made the effort to introduce the nurse when she came to see him to me. It was always really important to him to help people connect. Nearly 10 years ago for Dad’s 60th birthday we did a ‘This is Your Life’ evening. The next day he called me to thank me for the evening. I tried explaining to him that we thought he was really special and had done some amazing things, he brushed it off and said he thought he was just ordinary.

Dad you were anything but ordinary. You were extraordinary. I feel incredibly blessed to have had the Dad I had. All my life lessons I have learnt from my Dad. He is my role model, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to be more like him.

 

Jason:

Having Alan Carter as your Dad was exciting and filled with adventures.  We had tree-houses, go-carts, hammocks and dens in the woods.  If there was a family walk it involved, some of us going ahead and ‘setting up an ambush’.

When Dad was a teenager he had a part time job as a plumbers mate.  He was told one time by the plumber to go and get some ‘elbow grease’.  So he went to the hardware store to the amusement of the shop keeper he asked for some ‘elbow grease’.  But through his life Dad worked hard and played hard so perhaps he found a hardware store that sold elbow grease.

At school Alan was a bit of a practical joker and used to throw tennis balls soaked in ink at the girls playing netball in the adjacent girls’ school.  Trying to hit the girls on their thighs.  He would still smile when he told that story in his sixties.

Dad was skilled with his hands and good at art at school and later in life continued that hobby.  As a child he used to make toys for me out of wood such as forts and gun emplacements that I would play with my toy soldiers on.  One Christmas I got a wooden glider dad made by hand like the ones used to capture Pegasus Bridge at D-day.  It was well made and hinged in the middle with a catch and made so that my dinky air-borne jeep and 6 pounder anti-tank gun fitted inside just like the real ones.  My brother Daniel got a landing craft with hinged ramp.  You could not get these in the shops.  These were toys that were put together in a garage in winter with great love.

Dad worked hard to make Christmas special for the family. Dad would to hate to think that anyone would be alone at Christmas and would invite them to our home.  He was naturally open and inclusive, inviting friends and neighbours to church events without thinking twice. When we were walking around Keston ponds there was an abandoned raft that was made out of what looked like plywood floor boards.  I remember it was winter and we had to get the plywood out of the ice.  The wood was strapped to the top of the car and it was taken home.  Dad worked on it and it became our trainset board that folded down onto my bed, a practical solution to space management in that I shared my bedroom with 2 brothers at the time.

Dad also had a strong work ethic, not only of hard work but also of the importance of career development. Dad always believed in people, that they were capable, and treated us as adults. By giving us opportunities to work for him. My brother Daniel said: ‘The opportunities I had as a child programming a ZX Spectrum and then using your Apple Mac doing CAD drawings and Excel Spreadsheets meant I had considerably more skills in computers than most adults at the age of 16. I didn’t really realize how advanced I was compared to others till I started working. Your active encouragement helped shape many of the capabilities I have today and gave me confidence.  Dad was a member of a committee in the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE).  He put my brothers Daniel and Gareth to work who wrote software to calculate Energy Demand on Buildings.  This was then published by CIBSE.

Dad got me a computer to use at University.  As this was back in the early 1990s it was an Amstrad computer.  We did not know that before you moved it you had to park the hard-drive.  So when Dad moved it to Bristol University, where I was studying it broke.  Dad took the time to work out why it was not working and got it fixed.  Alan Sugar for making computers like that – You’refired!

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Alan leading the youth on a camp on the Isle of Wight

This encouragement in careers extended to all Dad had contact with, to quote a few lines from some of my friends and peers in letters to my Dad:

Jamie : ‘At one point, early on in my working life, when I was unsure about which direction to take, he found me a job surveying the heating systems in the British Museum. I learnt that helping someone, with no expectation of reward, is in itself the most rewarding. I also found out that so long as you put your mind to the task at hand, it is remarkable what you can achieve. This gave me the confidence to successfully adjust my career on a few occasions, and be adaptable in my working life.’

Charlie : ‘Alan gave me my first song writing job. He paid me sixty pounds. I got quite a few song writing jobs from him and it gave me real experience. He got me in to listening to talk tapes and gave me my first book on how to start my own business.’

Michael Hunt: ‘Alan told me to leave my brother-in-law’s business and go and find a real job – I’m pleased to report that advice was followed and all is well on that front.’

My Dad helped a lot of people, and over the last few months of my Dad’s illness we have had many letters from people that he helped over the years. These are all very touching and moving.

He had a creative approach to helping people, wouldn’t just ask if people needed help, would figure out a way he could help them. He helped a lot of people. And as children we would see him visiting others and helping others. He did this because he genuinely wanted to help.

Dad was frequently involved in youth and young single adult activities in church.  I remember that when he was called as Bishop of Croydon 2nd Ward he took me to visit all the youth on the church records in the ward to invite them to be involved in church activities.  Dad as Bishop was actively involved in the youth programme.  We did roadshows which were like 25 minute plays that gave us all experience in acting, singing, dancing, scenery painting, costume making etc.  We even won the roadshow competition one year which was an achievement as we were a small ward in the Stake.

We also built a 2 man Kayak as a project that was made of beautiful varnished wood with clear fibre glass joints.  We kayaked in rivers and in the sea with it.

Dad would often take his children and friends to church dances and activities.  As a parent of teenagers now I am beginning to appreciate the time that this takes.  By actively being involved he knew what was going on and encouraged us to do wholesome activities.  Dad was encouraging the youth of the church to build a positive peer group that supported and strengthened each other.  Dad felt that being involved and joining the church when he was 16 was a pivotal moment in his life and wished to give others the same opportunity.

One young man wrote of my Dad ‘I remember my mother was worried about me one night as I hadn’t come home from seeing this girl in Orpington and it was around 1am and all the buses had stopped and so she called my Bishop (Alan Carter) and there he was at around 1:30 driving up to Orpington to go and find me and he met me somewhere in Penge. This was before the night bus routes started. He didn’t tell me off he simply smiled and told me to call my mother in future and or him if I got in to trouble again….. I made sure I also got the bus when dating that girl

I got in to trouble a couple of times and he told me off for skiving school and gave me a lecture about honesty and I never did it again.

He took me to an old ladies home with a bunch other young men and we cleared her garden and this kind of activity we did time and time again. I learned a lot about service because of him.

He took us into the woods near Selsdon and played all kind of games, throwing flour bombs and eggs at each other and I totally loved him for it.’

Dad would organise trips to Box Hill to do raft racing in the river Mole or climbing along a rope over the river.  He was involved in many church camps and was a great organiser.

Dad arranged the borrowing of tents from the Inner London Education Authority for camps.  When the Inner London Education Authority was closed by the government Dad got the tents rather than them being thrown away.  These were used by the local church Scout group and other church camps.  Dad acted as the church Scout Group Quartermaster looking after the tents and other camping equipment.

He organised youth Easter weekend trips to the Isle of Wight.

He put forward to church leaders that we could have a Young single Adult camp with the church unit from Paris in Normandy.  This was successful and there was a camp the following year in Kent.   There was a couple of weddings as a result of these activities. Sometimes Dad would get too carried away.  When giving a talk to young single adults in church he said that swimming was an appropriate activity because you could ‘check out’ members of the opposite sex in their swimming costume.  Dad later got a phone call that night from President Martin his church leader who had received a call from at least one lady that did not want to be checked out in a swim suit.

Alan was an exciting Dad to have.

Dad really liked his fishing, he did lots of sea fishing in Gibraltar and had a boat that had an unreliable engine.  He was in his boat in Gibraltar Harbour when he saw a sailor looking quite miserable by the side of the dock.  He asked him what was wrong.  The sailor said that he had missed the jolly boat back to his ship.  Dad asked him what ship he was on, when told it was HMS so and so and thinking it was in the harbour he said he would take the sailor to the ship.  Dad turned around and the ship was not where he expected it to be in the Harbour.  It was in ‘the cut’, which is outside the harbour and in disputed waters between the Gibraltar and Spain.  Dad was worried the engine would stop and he would be blown onto the Spanish shore as the wind was blowing that way.  This would mean he would be in trouble with Spanish Authorities as the border with Spain was closed and there was a lot of tension over Gibraltar’s sovereignty then.  So he said to the sailor I will not be able to stop the boat because if I do it might not start again and I will be blown onto Spain.  So he took his boat alongside the frigate and the sailor had to jump up to get his hands over the stern and pull himself onto his ship.  As Dad sailed back the officer on duty acknowledged my Dad.

2012-09-01 01.33.00In holidays we would go fishing and have the excitement of climbing along steep slopes loaded down with fishing rods and gear to get to remote fishing marks.

Back in the UK Dad took up fly fishing, it helped him relax and he enjoyed the outdoors.  Over the years he became quite a good fly fisherman.  He even did a bit of Salmon fly fishing and then took course to become a fly fishing instructor.  I remember fishing with my Dad in the summer on reservoirs such as Bewl Water in Kent.  In the twilight bats would sometimes go after the artificial fly as you were casting.  We still today have some frozen trout that Dad had caught when fishing locally to us.  He would take some of his grandchildren fishing which they enjoyed.  Dad enjoyed visiting Daniel in Seattle because of the good Salmon fishing there.

When I was small we would wrestle with my Dad on the lawn.  We always enjoyed his company.  Dad was really excited when I got my mission call to New Zealand.  He got me a referral in Christchurch 12,000 miles away, it wasn’t just a name and address to check but a dinner appointment from a couple that were expecting us.  As a good Mormon missionary my companion and I left our kind hosts with a copy of the Book of Mormon.

Dad was incredibly outgoing getting to know neighbours several doors away.

Dad really sucked the marrow out of life as he did so much. Whilst he passed away at the age of 69 he had achieved so much in his life.  We will miss all his expressions, ‘Freak out’, ‘B-E-D’ (when sending his children to bed), ‘it’s not a problem it’s only a challenge’, ‘Isn’t it exciting!’

If he had any regrets it will be that he went in buildings with asbestos.

I am grateful to my Mum and Dad for being such great parents and we love them both greatly.

We are comforted by the knowledge that, ‘As in Adam all die, so shall in Christ all be made alive again,’.  We will get to be together as a family again after this life.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

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5 reasons why I’ll never be a fashion blogger…

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I’ve been blogging for 3 years about lots of things – but not fashion. Recently however I started following a couple of fashion blogs for tall women that I came across, and there was a glamorous appeal to joining this world where one gets to attend fashion shows and waft around in the latest collection by whoever. So I thought about turning my hand to fashion blogging. For about 5 minutes. Then I remembered the following:

1 I’m hardly a fashionista – something which my friends and family will certainly attest. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate or admire style and form, however my comfortable practical gene often takes precedence, meaning I’d favour a waterproof anorak and comfy trainers on any scenic walk as opposed to the latest wedge heels and poncho any-day.

2 On the rare occasions that my ‘look’ is worthy of note there’s never a handy-photographer waiting to snap away. On the days that hair, make-up and outfit come together and I turn to my children to take a pic it’s one where they couldn’t be bothered to move off the sofa so I end up looking like I have a double chin.

3 I don’t have a cornflower field outside my house, or a trendy urban city backdrop. I have a garden, with a fence that looks like it needs painting. Not the best back-drop for a Vogue photo-shoot.

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Me trying to look sultry in the conservatory. My daughter telling me to hurry up so she can get back to the tv. Oh and the dress is from John Lewis.

4 I can’t be bothered. My recent foray into working from home gave me visions of experimenting with a new look, that of smart-but casual work-wear that wouldn’t look out of place on the school run or the office. Hail Capri pants and ironed fitted shirt look.It lasted about 3 days until I ran out of ironed shirts and opted for jeans and t-shirt again.

5 I would need my own hairdresser. Something that I think only women of great importance have. Notice the difference in Theresa May’s Barnet pre and post her PM role. She obviously now has a salaried hairdresser to pop in every morning to give her a quick blow dry. My hair regime consists of wash and go. Or wash and battle with hair-drier and go. Mornings are for making packed lunches, finding PE kits at the bottom of the laundry basket that I forgot to wash and remembering to charge up my work phone and switch on my laptop, not for any kind of styling that takes more than 5 minutes.

So I take my hat off to all you fashion bloggers that make it look so effortless – I will continue to be envious, and will keep trying to get a good pic of me on those days when it all comes together, but I think I’ll be sticking to the ‘harassed mum tries to make sense of life’ blogs – as that’s what I know best…

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And this cute dress is from House of Fraser – a real hit for those summer evenings! Shame about the bad hair and drain-pipe behind me spoiling the pic…

The great childcare debate

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After over 17 years, 3 children, and many thousands of pounds spent, I am now childcare free. When I say free, I mean free of a regular contract, thus marking a shift in my working pattern from office based to full-time home based. We’ll talk more about that later. For now, I want to focus on all the fabulous child-care providers that have enabled me to go to work.

I remember a time when child-minders used to get a bad press. I also remember when day nurseries would get a bad press. Or paid childcare in general. I have used them all, childminders, au-pairs, holiday clubs, after-school clubs and full-time day nurseries. I am what you could call a childcare connoisseur.

It was actually very emotional for me collecting my youngest on his last day with our childminder, Louise. We worked out he had been going to Louise for 5 years. That’s 5 years that I have turned up on her doorstep at 8am in the morning, nearly 5 days a week, and at 5.30ish in the evenings. I felt like we were part of her family, and her part of ours. Evening pick-ups would always involve going in for a few minutes, to a family home where there was always a friendly smile, a bit of chat and banter about everyone’s day. A successful childminder, I feel, is one that not only looks after the children well (which is a given), but also one that can master the art of having a great relationship and rapport with the parents. As parents that is what we are buying, peace of mind – and if you always feel welcome on someone’s doorstep then you have that.

In the years that I have been a working parent, I have used several excellent childminders. When it works you stick with that person for as long as you can. Only twice have I started with a childminder and then ended the arrangement very quickly. My rule of thumb is simple, if you have that peace of mind, in how they deal with you (you are the paying customer after all) then that is what is important. The childminder is there to give you less things to worry about, not more. Of course your child needs to be happy too – my rationale was always that my child would soon tell me if they were not happy with anything.

The other thing that is really helpful these days is flexibility. Childminding contracts are all about set times and days, making it tricky if you work flexible or irregular hours and want a flexible childcare solution. Having a childminder that allowed me to have some regular days set in the contract, and then the flexibility to just turn up in the morning on the other days if I needed her to do the school run, made a lot of difference. Mobile phones have made things so much easier with childcare too – a quick text when your meeting has overrun and you need them to do a school pick-up.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am for a childminder that was always accommodating, no matter how complicated my schedule or how many times it changed, and certainly never made me feel bad or stressed about being late. Anything can happen on a journey home from work, and the last thing you need to be worried about is a telling off from your childcare provider.

Ask my older children about their childcare experiences though, and they will have a few stories to tell.

My two girls have 3 years between them, so for a couple of summers we had au-pairs come and stay. All the au-pairs were lovely, but I soon realised having a young person in the house actually gave me more stress rather than less. The idea that an au-pair can do light housework is a myth. Young people that have not lived on their own have no idea about housework. Cooking a simple dinner for the children seemed something of a challenge also. I explained to our French au-pair, step by step, how to make beans on toast. She then proceeded to put the beans in a frying pan so all the sauce evaporated off as she cooked them. They were then served on a plate, with burnt toast on top. I came in the room at that point and just one look on my daughters’ horrified face said it all. A Swedish au-pair we had thought it was OK to go into town of an evening on her own and wander round the pubs and nightclubs. I couldn’t sleep at night until she was home and she couldn’t understand why I wasn’t keen for her to go out alone.

My middle daughter loved her day nursery that she went to as a pre-schooler. The development that my children got from being with other children, having organised activities and trips was fantastic.

My oldest daughter had a couple of spells where I struggled to find the right childcare setting, and at one time she was being collected from school and taken to an after-school club. She was the youngest child there and didn’t really fit in. It took me a while to find a better alternative, which we did eventually, but she still teases me about the emotional scars she has from going there. We found a childminder eventually and things settled down again.

So – it’s not often said, but I want to say it – to all the hard-working childminders, nursery workers, au-pairs, and others that enable people like me to go to work – thank-you. Thank-you for making a difference to me and my family, allowing me to build a career, and for all the love, care and kindness you show not just to my children but to me, giving me that all important peace of mind

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On Harry’s last day with Louise

Here are some of my other blogs you may like:

The ‘Get-It-Done’ Mum

Time management for working mums

Having your cake and eating it…

 

The ‘Get-It-Done’ Mum

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In an effort to use my ‘dead’ driving time more effectively, I have recently embraced the pod-cast for my journeys to and from work.

One of my favourite pod-casts is the ‘Get-It-Done Guy’ whose catchphrase is ‘work less, do more, and have a great life’. After a week of having my head crammed full of tips on topics like ‘How to Use your smartphone to organise receipts’ and ‘How to Hit Every Deadline Every Time’ I reached overload. On walking through the door after my 1 hour drive home, feeling the pressure of the need to be efficient always, I took one look at the basket of laundry, the pile of paperwork on the desk, the washing up in the kitchen, the dinner waiting to be made, and needed to go and lie down. Seriously.

After spending all day at work being productive, organising, making decisions, sometimes I just need a break when I get home. A nice lie down (ok I was interrupted every 5 minutes by my children that just wanted to see just what I was doing) can do wonders for the soul. Followed by a kick-a-bout in the park with my son, where I’m proud to say my football skills are coming along nicely.

Then some gentle reflection about the challenge in the work-life blend (we call it blend now not balance don’t you know!), and the difference between the lives of the Get-It-Done Guy and me, the Get-It-Done Mum.

So here are my tips for Getting It Done.

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Ever. Your child’s hair needs a cut? No problem. It can wait longer. You haven’t washed the school uniform? So what. Just wipe out the yoghurt stains with a cloth. You’re serving pasta for dinner 3 nights in a row? The kids love it so it’s fine. They can have vegetables at the weekend. The house is a mess? Get used to it. And the list goes on.
  1. It’s ok to have help. Why do women think we have to do it all? Work, taking the lead on child-care arrangements and the house-stuff. At different times in my career I have had help, e.g. a cleaner. This has always been a battle, as intrinsically it feels wrong to pay someone to clean my house, especially when there is always something else to spend the money on. The times I’ve had a cleaner have been great, as weekends are freed up to do fun things and not spend half a day making the house feel less disgusting. At the moment I have a gardener – which I am so happy about. I found a really inexpensive gardening service, a local charity that supports people with learning difficulties, and now I don’t have to dash home and try to mow the lawn before it rains, at the expense of cooking dinner. Find what it is that will help you, cleaning, someone doing your ironing, using internet shopping to have your shopping delivered, and don’t feel guilty about it.
  1. Invest in every labour saving device you can think of. Dishwashers, slow cookers, bread makers (yes they can save the day when you run out of bread the night before).
  1. Train your children to be self-sufficient. If they’re hungry, do they know how to make a sandwich? Can they do their own laundry (if they’re old enough)? Can they get themselves dressed/choose their own clothes? Can they get their own breakfast/make their own lunch? All these are milestones I celebrated and took advantage of as soon as they came.
  1. As a working mum, sometimes we’re home too late, too frazzled, forgot to get anything out of the freezer in the morning etc. Beans on toast is an acceptable dinner, so is egg on toast, cheese on toast, baked potato in the microwave, oh, and pasta.
  1. It’s ok to use your child-minder when you’re not working. This is one it took me a while to come round to. Probably earlier in my career when money was tighter, paying the child-minder seemed like an expense that I wanted to minimise. Plus for some strange reason I felt I had to demonstrate to my child-minder that I had been working, and turning up in my jeans when I’d had a work from home day felt like I was being deceitful. I have no idea where that thought process came from, other than I don’t have it anymore. I use my current child-minder to help me with my life (sometimes a necessity as a single mum). So if I finish work early and go for a run before collecting my child, that’s ok. If I use a day of the school holidays to do something for me and leave my child in a paid childcare setting, that’s ok too. He’s having a good time, I’m having a good time. It’s a win-win. Yes there’s the cost but sometimes it’s necessary.
  1. You’re not in competition with the other Mums. Whether its school cake-sales, children’s birthday parties, or school dress-up days. I pride myself on using my practical and my creative business skills to knock up any costume using what I can find in the house the night before whichever dress up day it is, Roman, Victorian, or World-Book Day. The rule of thumb is, the more time you allocate to one of these tasks, the more time it will take. If you only have an hour, you can do it in an hour. Fair play to Mums that are at home all day and choose to spend time buying yellow feathers or hand-stitching a Victorian pinafore, but it’s not essential.

    Proof of my 'costume in under one hour' skills, featuring cereal box as hat!

    Proof of my ‘costume in under one hour’ skills, featuring cereal box as hat!

  1. As far as work goes, it’s good to remember you are not indispensable, and do not need to be at every meeting, event etc. Over Easter I was desperate for a whole week off, but was due to be giving a presentation at an event on the week I wanted off. I weighed up the options, and decided someone else could do my presentation.
  1. Always have a backup plan for key events at work. In my job over the years I have often had days I’m meant to be delivering training or giving presentations. If your children can be sick on the day you have something really important in your diary, they will. Make sure you always have a second in command that can fill in for you, and that your team know what you are meant to be doing and where all the information/materials are. This also means having back-up childcare plans. Childminders can get sick too, and as I don’t have any family living near me to help out in emergencies, I have made use at times of my support network of friends. Yes it’s hard to call someone at 8am in the morning and ask them if they can have your child that day, but if you don’t ask you don’t get. I would always preface this conversation with, I don’t mind if you can’t and the answer is no, but I have to ask anyway, and then I would keep working down the list of people I could ask.
  1. Plan ahead and be organised as if something can go wrong it will. Last year I spent all night in the hospital with my daughter receiving emergency treatment, around 5am I realised we weren’t going anywhere and my thoughts turned to the presentation I was meant to be giving at work that day, with people from other companies travelling long distances to attend. I knew we could not cancel as we had no way of reaching all the attendees, so around 7am I called my second in command, who was due to be attending the presentation. Using my I-pad and the hospital Wi-Fi I was able to email her my presentation and talk her through it. Had I not been so organised to have had my presentation and a full set of notes prepared ahead of time this would not have been possible. Of course she was a little panicked but she stepped up to the challenge, the session went well and no harm done. And my daughter was fine J.

Well that’s it today from the ‘Get-It-Done’ Mum. I’m off to go do more stuff. Have a great day everyone!

Here are some other blogs of mine that you may like:

The great childcare debate

Time management for working mums

Having your cake and eating it…