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…

On death and dying

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When you know someone you love is going to die it’s a strange thing. When you spend time with them they seem just the same, aside from their illness. You have to try and put it out of your mind, when you’re with them, that they won’t be with you for much longer. But it’s there, that knowledge, and it makes every moment with them so much more special. Every spoken word, every idiosyncrasy, is precious and treasured.

My Dad was a story-teller. His stories were famous. He would deliver them with enthusiasm, suspense, these incredible tales. When he was ill he would get tired and breathless, but he still told a few stories. I wanted to learn as much as I could about his life, so at every visit I would ask a question and type away as Dad slowly recalled and shared.

Over those months I wanted time to stand still. Work, family responsibilities, all these things vying for my attention. Like the sand in an egg-timer, it runs out fast, and doesn’t stop.

In the last few weeks he was really suffering. I offered to massage his feet. He was so grateful. Being bed-ridden meant muscles didn’t get stretched and used. Feet, then the calves of his long legs, once so strong now just skin and bone. Then hands, and fore-arms. Finally he asked me to do his back. Gently, gingerly, as his lungs and chest area were the source of the pain.

The last couple of visits with my children he spent time with my teenage girls on their own, dispensing advice, final words of wisdom. Harry read his poem. He recited it stood next to Dad. Dad made him recite it again, after giving him some guidance in how to project and slowly deliver. Just like Dad to give some direction to get the best out of someone.

My last visit with Dad was on a Sunday. We instinctively knew he was near the end, although it was the next day the nurse at the hospice told Mum he was in the ‘dying phase’. I had a good visit with him that morning, just him and me. He was mostly sleeping, brought on by the heavy drugs to control the pain. When the nurse came to check his medication he grabbed her hand so he could introduce her to me. That was my Dad. Always keen to connect people together. I fed him some soup. A couple of spoonfuls. I was glad to do it. He was not so glad. ‘Like a baby’ he said bitterly. That made me sad.

He asked after the children. I reassured him that everyone was fine, all was well. That seemed to put him at ease.

The next few days were hard. I knew I wouldn’t get to go and see him again until the Friday, which was Christmas Day. My mum was visiting every day, and other family members went on the Monday. My nephew sang to him. My sister accompanied my mum those last couple of days and said that when they left on the Wednesday he asked Mum for a kiss. We marvelled how such a small thing can bring comfort to someone when they are in so much pain. It’s a reminder to me of our humanity. The human connection which is still there right until the end. My sister also described to me how he had been moving his arm in a particular way whilst sleeping under the morphine-based drugs.  The arm movements were reminiscent of his casting action for fly-fishing, and we hoped he was dreaming of fishing a beautiful river.

My mum went every day, all day. It was my turn to go Christmas day. He passed away at 5:50am that morning, so I never got to see him again. It was a relief on that day. He had been suffering. His discomfort was visible to see, sleeping with his mouth wide open the whole time. It was a blessing.

I know people talk about ‘dying with dignity’, and choosing when to go. I’m not sure how one does that. It was hard seeing him suffer, but he was still there, and which of those final precious moments would we have wanted to curtail?

Life is precious. It is a gift. It is also not meant to be pain-free or devoid of suffering. We were born to die. We were born to struggle and have pain. It’s what makes us value life, and breath, and our human connections.

I don’t know why my Dad, or anyone in that situation, has to go through what he went through. To lose one’s independence. But that’s part of life too. Caring for one another. It’s what we do for those we love. Accepting that care and that gift of service, and allowing others to do that. We are all beggars in God’s eyes.

Letter to my Dad

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My Dad, Alan Carter, passed away Christmas Day 2015, aged 69. He had been diagnosed with mesothelioma (cancer caused by asbestos exposure) earlier this year. This is the letter I gave to him a couple of weeks before his death.

Dear Dad

I want to take this opportunity to tell you how I feel about you and the role you have played in my life. I am very grateful to have had you as my Dad – I really do think I have had the best Dad in the world. I have so many memories – family camping trips when we were young (and older), I remember you making Christmas presents for my brothers – a wooden fort, something that looked like the surface of the moon, the train set that pulled down over Jason’s bed.

I remember you taking us out early in the morning before school to collect conkers, then putting them in your vice later so you could drill holes for us to put the laces through.

I remember the first go-kart you made, and how we would take it to Selsdon recreation ground and fly down the hill.

I remember the year we had loads of snow, and your home-made wooden sledge that had metal runners, and how we would lie on your back and hurtle down the hill head first.

I also remember how every Christmas we would always have other people from church at our house for the day – you were always very open at inviting others into our home.

I remember the tree house, with the trap door (just a plank that lifted) and the rope ladder, and the tyre swing.

I remember my summer birthday parties, where I would be swaying in a long floral dress that Little Nanny had made, while you would entertain my friends singing with your guitar.

I remember the church camps, where you were a leader, and would whip everyone into shape.

I remember my teens, when you gave me and my friends lifts just about everywhere. Every church dance, convention or anything, we would have a car-full in our 15 seater people carrier. I remember you took us to Birmingham, for the ice-skating, and on the way back you were game enough to allow us, whilst driving on the motorway to pass a note out the window to some guys in another car that wanted Hayley’s phone number.

I remember the roadshows where you 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, you would make sure there was organisation, that every prop and piece of scenery would be set up on stage in the time given.

You were master at putting up a huge 40 foot canvas back-drop, up a ladder. Nothing phased you, 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.

I also remember the extra activities and events you organised, not because you were asked to, or because it was scheduled in a calendar, but because you cared about the youth and young adults and wanted to provide them with what they needed.

The Isle of Wight Easter weekends were fantastic. There was that legendary moment at the dance on the Saturday night that you leapt off the stage blocks and attempted the splits, but I’m not sure now if that actually happened or has just gone down in folk-lore. These events, and others like the Anglo-French conventions were unique, enriching and inspiring to those that attended.

I remember these things, and I have long-since marvelled at your ability to conceive and create innovative events.

You had the same flair when it came to your other church responsibilities – arranging a weekend mission opportunity not only for the youth, but challenging all the High Council members and Stake Presidency to do a weekend mission. Creating lifelong memories and special experiences for all those involved.

Mission farewells in our home would see non-member friends and neighbours invited. You would go out of your way to connect with people and were never embarrassed to talk about the Church.

I remember you paying me for doing little bits of financial admin in your office when you had your consultancy at home whilst I was 16 or 17 – mainly so I would be able to put it on my CV. I remember when I was studying for my Business degree and you arranged for me to interview all the directors where you worked.

You were always looking for ways to help us and providing opportunities for us to work and learn.

All my life lessons I have learnt from you. Anything is possible. Doing new things. Making things happen, and not being a passenger. Also being calm, and kind. I have seen you help many people over the years. Not once have I head you complain or moan about helping someone. You always did it because you genuinely wanted to help. You also helped me when I went through challenges over the last few years. I couldn’t have made it through that without your support. That meant so much to me. Thank-you for forming a special bond with Harry. He is very lucky to have had so much time with you.

I remember all of it, I am so grateful for it. I really do think I have the best Dad in the world and I will spend every day for the rest of my life trying to follow your example.

Forever grateful

Love

Rachel

 

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Time management for working mums

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A coach once told me, I have a strong ‘achievement driver’ meaning I enjoy the process of setting myself stretching targets and then achieving them. Henceforth my interest in reading and learning from those that are the so- called achievement gurus, how to do more with less, how to prioritise your time, how to be successful seems to be the order of the day. I often find myself quite deflated though, after reading the latest person’s secrets of success.

Their lives are not like mine, I think.

It was on perusing James Clear’s website that the contrast struck me. I read and loved his blog on creativity, dipped a little into his one on maximising use of time – and therein lies the challenge. Time management and prioritisation written from the perspective of a man is different to that of a woman. Why? Because as a mother, and a working mother, my time is rarely my own to choose how I spend it.

Only last week I went to bed feeling super-motivated, I planned to get up early, (6.00 am) spend a couple of hours working from home on some key projects where I needed thinking time, and then by about 8.00 am I would then be in a position to help the children get out the door for their respective college and school activity, and then I could go to the office already feeling like I’d had a head start on the day.

So what happened in practice? Just as the time to wake came, so did my 8 year old, with complaints of not feeling well. For a few moments I had that conflict between my business-like, efficient alter ego who is keen to get to work, until I realised she had to be replaced by my mum persona, who needed to focus on my son and his needs. It only took a couple of moments for this to happen (I am highly trained in this particular scenario – it has happened many times before…). That realisation that whatever work or personal goals you have set yourself that day, they all have to be set aside at a moment’s notice – that’s what mothers are expert in – that’s real time and priority management

So this is where I am at odds with the current round of guru thinking. Take James Clear for example – it is clear (no pun intended) that his articles are written for the average working male – one that is supported by a loving wife who takes care of the school run, the homework, the sick child. Or no dependants at all. I almost had to laugh, perusing James’s website – his little article on his new eating regime, 2 meals a day only and fasting the rest of the time, which he describes as a time-saver, less time preparing and eating…. I wonder how that would go down,’Sorry kids, no dinner today, I’m saving time!’

Incidentally I wrote this on the plane whilst on a short flight back from Helsinki recently – in an effort to use my time wisely…

girls shopping

mother-daughter birthday shopping trip – after a morning’s work

It is something I do continually, all day every day, juggling work commitments and family commitments. The trick is to not sweat the small stuff, never get stressed about not being able to complete something you had decided you wanted to complete in your head when there is no real deadline.

So when are we going to get a really good book on doing more with less for working parents? At a guess I’d say all the successful working parents were too busy juggling to write it….

Other blogs from me you may like:

The great childcare debate

The ‘Get-It-Done’ Mum

Having your cake and eating it…

Techno-travel

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A recent family trip to Helsinki, Finland, found us taking advantage of the new apps that assist travellers when away from home.

The occasion was my brothers Stuart’s wedding to his Finnish fiancee Helianna. As there was a large number of us attending – I thought I would take advantage of airbnb to book our accommodation. This wasn’t the first time I had used this service. Rather than booking a traditional hotel, airbnb is an online portal which allows anyone with a spare room, house or apartment the opportunity to let it. This is handy for travellers as with the traditional mini-break you are only away for a couple of nights at a time. Having a house or an apartment to stay in can give more flexibility than a hotel, having kitchen facilities etc, and usually works out more economical overall, depending on where you stay.

View from our apartment window

View from our apartment window

For us we found an apartment in central Helsinki. The apartment was in the old industrial sector, and was eclectically furnished, featuring a curious blend of functional IKEA, antiques and modern art adorning the walls. The owner, Mikael was obviously well-travelled, and that whole-world influence was felt in the apartment.

ready for the wedding!

ready for the wedding!

My pre-arrival communication with Mikael, was all done by email and text, with detailed instructions concerning the apartment issued up front. The key was available for collection from the airport, meaning we didn’t meet the owner. All in all it worked for us, and our central location meant it was very handy as a base and a drop-in point for other family members staying in nearby hotels. It also made getting ready for the wedding fun, with a few of us together – my sister was certainly in demand as chief hair-stylist!

Helsinki harbour - 5 mins walk from apartment

Helsinki harbour – 5 mins walk from apartment

Getting around Helsinki itself was straightforward. There were several in our party all arriving at different times, and a myriad of different transport options were used, from trains and trams to the airport shuttle bus. When we had to travel out of town we used taxis. This is where my tech-savvy brothers showed the rest of us how city travel should be done, by using the uber app.

fantastic local restaurants on the same street as our apartment

fantastic local restaurants on the same street as our apartment

Instead of ringing a number, or flagging a taxi down, you use the uber app from yourphone to book a local uber taxi. Much like airbnb these are people using their own cars to provide a taxi service, often undercutting the local taxi firms quite considerably. The advantages are the payment is automatically taken up front via the app, as your payment details are preloaded. You can request a journey estimate in terms of time and cost before you book, and you can see exactly how far away the nearest uber taxi is from you in terms of time via the app. There is also the option to use a sliding scale to select what kind of vehicle you want to pay for – the more expensive you go the more impressive ride you get. We never had to wait more than 5 minutes for an uber taxi, didn’t have to worry about paying as that was all done. It worked for us, but others in our party spoke of a few hair raising rides they experienced! Apparently it is not legal yet in Helsinki for uber to operate, and there are other cities where the local taxi firms are working to prevent them from operating, but the simplicity of booking and paying online and the price saving indicates that this is one service that won’t go away.

Both airbnb and uber operate a rating system so customers can rate the service they get.This works both ways – airbnb hosts get to rate their guests – so any bad behaviour and they can be disallowed from using the service. The same applies with uber, drivers can rate their ride. This form of self-regulation and transparency is the web’s most powerful tool as it is instant and immediate and provides protection for both parties.

Family dropping by our airbnb apartment

Family dropping by our airbnb apartment

Placement Student meets the Prime Minister

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I chose to do a sandwich degree at university, which meant I spent the third year working before returning for my final year. I remember seeing the jobs posted on the noticeboard (yes they were real noticeboards not virtual ones back then). Even though my interests lay in marketing (as did most peoples) a placement in HR caught my eye. The opportunity was working for an oil company in London, manageable for me as my parents live on the outskirts so I would be able to live at home for the year. But what struck me the most from the ad was how organised and structured it was, the successful candidate would spend a few months in different parts of the HR team, and therefore get a really insightful placement.

I applied and was delighted when I got the job! I had a really great year and it was certainly interesting to be part of a huge international organisation. I spent time with the Employee Relations team, where my tasks, among others, were to organise the monthly company induction for new starters and to arrange the annual recruitment for the next years 20 or so placement students across the whole business. After a few months with this team I spent time in the salary survey team. This was the most interesting thing for me. I had no idea that all the oil companies worked together to set salaries, so that they didn’t lose skilled professionals to each other. I attended meetings at Shell-Mex house in London where they would go through every individual job role to ‘match’ or otherwise and score where their salaries were positioned. Of course all the information was anonymised, so anyone picking up a copy of the report would not be able to tell which companies were paying what. My role with this team was to print off all the graphs that would go in our own company report, using a fabulous piece of software called Graphwriter. I bet they don’t use that anymore. My time with this team taught me when working with numbers or details to check, check and check my work again (not my natural strength). I then spent time with the Training team – this was interesting as I had not really ever been aware or thought of in-company training before. The trainers were all seasoned professionals (men) that flew all over the world doing outdoor leadership events. It seemed very glamourous.

Conoco were really generous. I was able to attend loads of training courses such as Recruitment & Selection, which I needed as I had responsibility for recruitment of the next year’s placement students. I still remember today the series of career development workshops that I attended that used a workbook format and guided discussion from an HR Manager, something I have since introduced in my current role.

One stand-out event for me was the annual company day. I remember a team of volunteers in HR getting together to decide what our ‘stand’ would be for this day. Unlike any business I have worked in since, we had an unlimited budget, and a firm of consultants ready to arrange/create whatever we came up with. We decided to re-create an old fashioned barber-shop, as this fitted with the idea of HR providing good customer service. So our stand was fitted out with a proper barber’s chair, and a professional barber-shop quartet (they were the guys that did the Tetley Tea TV ads…) were hired to sing a song about ‘Good old employee relations…we’re hard-working, friendly and fair…’. Those of us that manned the stand on the day wore stripy aprons and straw boaters.

The day was simply jaw-dropping for me. I was blown away with the scale of the event. The PR team had arranged a ‘surprise’ visit from the then Prime Minister (or his lookalike!) John Major. Somewhere there is a picture of me in my boater and apron shoe-shining John Major’s shoes while he is sat in our barber-chair! The IT department had a ‘roaming’ robot wandering around the stands – a scale R2D2. The coolest thing was whoever was ‘controlling’ it remotely had a camera and a microphone so it would scoot on up to you and say something….

This was my first taste of an employee engagement event, and while I may have since missed the kinds of budgets they had in that sector, it did all seem a touch excessive at times.

At the other extreme, I remember a fabulous team-building afternoon that was put on for the entire HR team (around 30 people) organised by the team.

Our office location being just off Marble Arch, London (they have since re-located to Warwick) – our team event took place in Hyde Park. I remember a glorious sunny afternoon running around London searching for clues, doing school ‘sports day’ style races with eggs and spoons and sack in the park, and ending up in a Greek restaurant complete with plate-smashing and dancing. So much fun, and zero cost to this event completely. I have used the treasure hunt format several times as a team-building activity.

The whole placement was a successful experience for me, and this, coupled with a great lecturer who had negotiated with the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) that I could get student membership from having done my year’s placement, if I then took all the relevant modules on my degree course. This meant that I very easily obtained my membership, a pre-requisite for any job in HR, and which usually entailed lots of additional study and exams.

I do remember it being quite a push to cover the cost of the annual membership whilst still a student, however I took the view that this was an investment, and I was right, my membership opened the door to job opportunities almost as soon as I had graduated.

Other blogs from me that you may like:

Mentoring: a formal arrangement or an informal conversation?

Having your cake and eating it…

Having your cake and eating it…

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The first instalment in my recollections charting my career journey of the last 20+ years.

It is only now with all the talk about generation x, y and z that I realise I am just a typical product of my generation. The 80’s, my teenage years were characterised with success stories of women ‘breaking through’ into business, Anita Roddick with the Body Shop, Debbie Moore, founder of the Pineapple Dance Studios and Sophie Mirman of The Sock Shop. I remember keeping an article about Anita I found in the newspaper magazine, the story of her traipsing into her bank, child in pushchair, (while her husband travelled the world) asking for a loan to set up her new business. That was it, I thought, there are no limitations placed on a woman once she becomes a mother, only those she puts on herself. I liked her approach, the disregard for convention and rules, triumphing in the face of gender stereotypes and gentlemen’s clubs.

I knew I wanted to be a mother, but I also knew that the fire I got in my stomach when I read about the Branson’s of this world meant I would be seeking to combine the world of work with domestic duties.

It was like a problem needing to be solved, how to combine the two. I lapped up all the articles I read about women breaking the glass ceiling, about equality legislation, and about how the tide was changing. I really felt as if I was on the periphery of great opportunities that would be there for my generation.

Hence my choice to study Business at University was no surprise, I was interested in entrepreneurs, the boom generation all around me.

The question of how I would combine a full-time job with being a mother still niggled away at me though, as I could see a traditionally corporate role with the long hours not being a good fit. I remember coming across some talk tapes (yes, on cassette!) – my first experience of motivational speaking, that were delivered by a woman. While her messages were inspirational and impactful, it was the first seed that was planted suggesting that THIS may be a good career path. I knew I could present, and the idea of not working every day, but when I was working, doing something amazing that would command high fees – that would fit with my aim of combining a family with work.

Satisfied with this potential solution to my problem, I kept on with my studies, and waited for an opportunity to present itself…

I knew I wanted to have my cake and eat it.

Things I’ve learnt about dating the second time around

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Author note: No real dates have been harmed in the writing of this blog 😉

So once over the initial shock of finding the rules of engagement in dating had changed – I was delighted to have a co-conspirator.

Many a time in the last couple of years I have expressed that I felt like a teenager again – with all the angst, drama and agonising. Oh, the joy then to have my very own BFF to share it all with.

When life got ridiculously hard and beyond crazy I had someone that I could say what I wanted to, that would listen and be there for me. Right there from that first Saturday night when I was home alone I had a partner in crime. She comes round – on goes the laptop – and we start looking at ‘what’s out there’ on the internet dating sites.

When my ‘actual’ teenage daughter walks in the room, we close the laptop real quick and say ‘Hi sweetie, we’re just, erm…..shopping?’

The beauty of internet dating is it’s like a sweet shop. It costs nothing to look. And can then provide a source of constant entertainment. OK – soapbox moment – if all you have is a few lines to ‘advertise’ yourself – why would you put your profile name as ‘Alphamale’ or say ‘I’m rubbish at this sort of thing….’. There is an art to internet dating profile writing. Read what Amy Webb has to say about it in her TED talk.

https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_webb_how_i_hacked_online_dating?language=en

For many, intelligence is attractive, for me, personally, literacy is a must – any spelling mistakes meant the person would be instantly dismissed.

One profile I really liked the guy had written it as if it was the opening chapter of a book….about a boy meets girl (or man meets woman) blind date moment…..written beautifully, with wit, great descriptive language etc etc I thought wow this is one smart guy. Then when I initiated contact he was straight into a slightly inappropriate comment……so there you go. A brain isn’t everything.

So – looking is free. You don’t have to sign up, subscribe, show your personal profile or anything to begin with. A few hours of gawking however leaves you wondering…..what if.

Too scared to ‘sign up’ myself initially my BFF did this for me – and those first few tentative likes were clicks from her mouse, not mine. Then the waiting…will they respond…

Lesson No. 1. If you sleep with your phone next to you, turn off the volume when you go to bed. Nothing worse than being woken in the night to find ‘Tom’ has send you a smile – because you know curiosity will get the better of you and you’ll want to read his full profile.

Lesson No. 2 – Turn off all your email notifications. Slightly embarrassing to be sitting in a meeting at work and your messages ‘pop up’ on your phone for the person next to you to see ‘You have a flirt.’

Lesson No. 3 – Close all your browser windows on your work phone/tablet before you hand over to the IT guy to fix something – or you’ll have a slightly embarrassing moment as they see what you spend your lunchtime doing…

Follow this blog for the next instalment….