Saturday, 19 August 2017

Post-holiday blues

Last weekend we arrived home from holiday. It had been a lovely (if damp) holiday, lasting two weeks for me and LittleBear. I went feeling angry, tired and stressed. I'd been fantasising about resigning from work, feeling desperate and over-whelmed. And a fabulous two weeks away from work changed that completely. I stopped thinking about work. I climbed rocks, I paddled in rivers, I dammed streams, I ate cake, I drank wine. I had a lovely, lovely time with friends, with family and with LittleBear.

And then we came home.

Within the first 18 hours I had done 6 loads of laundry.

The first morning I made the mistake of weighing myself and discovering the impact of a month of eating cake and drinking wine (because I started before the holiday, just to get in training).

The second night as I sat on the sofa, the walls felt like they were closing in on me. The bookcases loomed. Though our house is considerably bigger than a small, slate, former miners' cottage it felt confining, restricting and claustrophobic.

The email about (horrendously expensive) repairs to the back of the house lurked malevolently in my inbox. At some point it requires answering. And I've already deferred answering twice.

The last week of the summer holidays yelled at me, reminding me that I had organised nothing for LittleBear to do, and that we needed him to be looked after for 5 days*. BigBear has only 4 days leave left for the rest of the year. I have more than that, but I'd be taking the piss if I took any more time off right now after 2 weeks, followed by another week coming up in a few days time.

I wrote a list of Things To Do, and every Thing on my list felt like a millstone round my neck. I even ended up putting "have a conversation with BigBear" on my list. About the (horrendously expensive) repairs to the back of the house**.

I went round to a friends' house and felt envy at the elegance, and style, and calm of her home. It was light, and airy, and beautifully furnished, and clean, and tidy. Even with a young child. I came home and trod on Lego and glared at the heavy, dark, gloomy furniture that I own more by accident than design. Back in the mists of time I was left with no furniture and very little money. Ebay came to the rescue. And since there's nothing technically wrong with the furniture, and it fulfills all the requirements we have, it stays.

The cleaner came this week, and though, in truth, I am enormously grateful that I have a cleaner, not only because it means I don't have to clean, but it means I do have to tidy up at least once a fortnight. But the process of attempting to tidy up left me with a simmering resentment at all the stuff that doesn't have a home. The boxes of CDs and DVDs squatting beneath the sideboard that no longer have a shelf because we own too many books.*** The stashes of paper and card and half-completed artwork slid down beside the desk. The in-trays that are more "I don't know where else to put this" trays. The plastic boxes full of random, but apparently precious, bits of plastic tat.

So, here I am, home from holiday and restored to a state of not wanting to quit my job and live in a yurt. But I wish I was still in the Lake District, paddling in streams and scrambling up rock faces, instead of facing the tedious realities of daily life.

Mini Positive Posts seem like a distant dream at the moment, but for the good of my mental health, I might have to return them.

* We have a plan. It will probably all be fine.

** We've had a conversation. We've still not decided anything.

*** Technically there's no such thing. We merely own too few shelves.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Getting wet in the Lake District

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the weather and general topography of this country will be more than aware that going to the Lake District is an almost sure-fire way of getting rained on. You don't go to the Lakes for the sun. You go with head-to-toe waterproofs, even in mid-summer. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that I ended up wet through. It might come as more of a surprise that this drenching occurred when I was inside our cottage. And that it necessitated removing my trousers and paddling across the bathroom floor.

Let me introduce you to some basics of plumbing. Generally speaking, a bath is fitted with an overflow pipe. This connects to the main drain from the bath, and ensures that, should a tap be carelessly left on, the water will pour out of the overflow and not all over the floor. I bet you think you know what happened don't you? But no! The bath was not over-filled, it did not overflow. Or not exactly. It all started innocently enough. A child was bathed. The bath was emptied. All was well. Some time later a second child was bathed. All was still well. And then the plug was pulled out, and suddenly, and unstoppably, water streamed across the floor.

A properly plumbed-in bath has the overflow connected to the drain, thus ensuring all water exiting the bath by standard methods also exits the bathroom, thusly:

Perfect plumbing, imperfectly drawn

An incorrectly plumbed-in bath, where the overflow pipe is not connected to the drain, will function under certain circumstances. If one is parsimonious with ones water consumption, one will observe no adverse effects:

Getting away with poor plumbing

If, on the other hand, one is partial to a somewhat deeper bath, the irritating habit of water finding its own level may give rise to flooding issues, to whit:

The purpose of correct plumbing is revealed

We experienced both of the latter two situations. One was more tedious than the other and required the removal of clothes and the sacrifice of Towels of Desperation to staunch the flow of a rather large proportion of a bathful of water onto the floor. On the plus side, it's a downstairs bathroom, so there was no risk of bringing a ceiling down with the flood. It's always important to look on the bright side, especially when you're on holiday and paddling round a bathroom in your underwear.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Ginger pop and jolly good fun

I'm writing this post from a location firmly entrenched in the entirely fictional world of delightful childhoods of the well-to-do in post-war rural England. It is a world without telephones, without television, without radio, without central heating, and almost entirely without the internet (we'll gloss over borrowing the neighbour's WiFi connection through a couple of feet of slate wall that only lets some of the bytes through). It is a world in which Jolly Times are had in the Great Outdoors by ruddy-cheeked children who like climbing trees and having Splendid Adventures.

It is a world in which for one brief moment I felt a glow of triumph as I managed to do something properly old-fashioned and outdoorsy and three small children actually enjoyed it.

I set a trail of arrows for said small children (my own LittleBear plus GirlTigger and BoyTigger who are 10 and 7 respectively) to follow. It led them up hill and down dale, over walls, through bogs and under trees to a small treasure cache. I suspect I had marginally more fun making and laying the arrows than the children had in finding them, as at least two arrows were trampled on without being noticed, and there were repeated bleats of, "he found the last one", or "it's not fair", not to mention some minor caviling about rain and cold and an insufficient supply of chocolate, and the occasional request to return to the cottage for more iPad-time. I don't really think they'd have enjoyed the 1950s much...

However, since the children did, relatively rapidly, work out their own method of walking in a line, taking it in turns to lead and be Chief Arrow Finder, and since the treasure was chocolate, and since both mothers had had the wit and foresight to secrete extra snacks about their person, a Good Time was Had By All. Especially by me.

A fine selection of arrows

The Tigger family has now departed for parts further south once more, and I await the arrival of BigBear and GrannyBear later tonight. LittleBear has gone to sleep planning a treasure hunt to create for GrannyBear to follow, which may or may not be just what GrannyBear wants, but I think is probably a measure of the degree to which LittleBear thought it was a Splendid Thing To Do.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

MPP: Holiday!

So, here I am, sitting on holiday, glass of wine by my side, small boy asleep in bed, exhausted by running around in the rain. And I thought, "Aha! I shall write a blog about the soul-restoring properties of lovely holidays with lovely friends in a lovely place doing lovely outdoorsy things."

And then I realised I was still so tired from work, and life, and work, and wrangling small boy, and driving from one end of the country to the other, and work, and wrangling small boy, and, and, and, and... that I'm more or less incoherent.

So I shall simply put it out here that I'm very happy and very lucky to have the chance to climb cliffs, leap across stepping stones, eat chocolate biscuits while sheltering under a tree from a passing rain squall, run, jump, chase and giggle with the best and most beautiful boy in the whole world.

I might write more when I can make more sense.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Meeting an axe murderer

That got your attention didn't it?

I should probably point out at this juncture that I didn't in fact meet an axe murderer. I met a lovely woman who bore no ill-will toward me, and showed no violent tendencies whatsoever. The notable thing about this particular lovely woman is that I've known her for (I think) 12 years, and yet had never actually met her. Such are the wonders of the internet.

Back in the mists of time, I had a different husband, and he turned out not to be The Right One. In fact, he was categorically The Wrong One, and in retrospect did me an enormous favour by declaring that he was leaving. At the time, this was not quite so clear, and in my distress I found solace within an online forum, amongst a group of women in similar situations. We wrote screeds of heartbroken descriptions; we ranted and railed; we plotted elaborate (and unexecuted) acts of revenge; we offered advice: emotional, physical and legal. Time passed. Pain passed. Life continued. Our forum did not. It collapsed, only to rise phoenix-like from the ashes, a place to continue our friendships, to share our continuing life-stories, our triumphs and our tragedies. The reasons for our original coming together disappeared into the past. That was no longer what mattered most. We were just a group of women with a shared history.

Eventually, that forum sank into the depths too, as the costs of maintaining a website became too high in a world where we could have private facebook groups, and group emails.

But, through all of this, we remained friends. We shared the mundane details of our lives. We knew about each others children, grandchildren, graduations, jobs, illnesses, pets, partners and hobbies.

Here’s the thing though. Most of the women who were part of this group were in North America. There were a handful in the UK, and over the years I’ve met them, and made friends in person. But most of the others? They are only a virtual presence in my life.

And then, out of the blue, S, from Calgary, told us she would be in London for a week, and was there any chance of any of the UK people meeting her? So I did. And on my way to London to meet her, I realised that what I was doing was perhaps a trifle odd. Do "normal" people jaunt up to their nearest large city to meet virtual friends? And I had a slight sense of trepidation, not that she might be an actual axe murderer in truth, but that meeting someone in the flesh, and talking face-to-face might be slightly harder than knowing one another online. I've already mentioned here how much easier I find it to express my feelings in writing than in person. I had a sudden fear that I would clam up, not know what to talk about, discover we had nothing in common, or generally have some horrifically awkward evening. I wasn't concerned about whether S would be lovely - this is the person who sent me an emergency back-up penguin when LittleBear became utterly devoted to a cuddly penguin BigBear had acquired on his North American travels, and I feared for what would happen if we lost The Precious Penguin. S also sent a lovely National Geographic book about penguins at the same time, which proved to be a launch-pad for LittleBear's devotion to penguins (he currently takes five penguins and one dinosaur to bed with him). As I said, I had no doubts about S's loveliness. It was my own social eptitude that had me worried.

Naturally, I was wrong. Sometimes being wrong is the best thing in the world. I had a lovely evening, chatting about Canada, and Egypt, and families, and life in general. And because S is lovely, and has followed the goings on in LittleBear's life, she brought with her three beautiful books for him. We have already danced and giggled with the Dinosaurs of Drumheller.

Real friends aren't only the ones you meet in person first. Sometimes they're simply the ones who are in the right place at the right time, even when that place is the internet.

Monday, 17 July 2017

MPP: Always look on the bright side of life

Despite feeling thoroughly dejected (still) about work, there are some bright shining lights in my life.

My former colleague, and perhaps the man best positioned to know exactly how I feel at work, sent me a message sympathising and asking the Bear family round for a barbecue.

LocalFriend emailed me and empathised.

Tigger sent me a text message telling me how awesome she thinks I am.

Piglet phoned and suggested I pop round for a cup of tea this evening.

I must try not to let work dictate how I feel about all aspects of my life. I have a wide array of lovely people in my life, who reach out to me when I'm in need, who love and appreciate me, who pick me up when I'm down, and laugh with me when I'm not.

There is so much to be grateful for, and happy about.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Up and Down and All Around

Somewhere in here there's probably a Mini Positive Post. Somewhere in here there's certainly a Major Negative Post. There's also scope for a Rant. I've spent several days explaining, in my head, what exactly has irked and upset me so massively that I left work early on Friday and came home and wept for an hour. And it just all gets too complicated, and too technical, and requires too much of a long and rambling explanation of the curious personality-types I work with, and too much knowledge of 18 years of back-history of working where I work.

So, instead of trying to explain why I feel the way I do, I'm just going to say how I feel. No explanations, no justifications, no he-said-she-said, no rights or wrongs. Just feelings.

I feel disregarded, unappreciated and ignored. I feel as though my job title (R&D Manager) is simply a sop to keep me quiet, and has no real meaning or relevance. I feel as though my contribution, during working hours and in my own free time, is under-valued, even taken for granted. I feel as though the amount I'm paid for what I do doesn't compensate for the level of emotional and psychological commitment I make, or the stress I feel. I feel physically and emotionally exhausted from trying to do two full time jobs in one set of part-time hours. I feel like giving up on a project on which I've simply hit a brick wall, with no support, understanding or ideas from my colleagues. I feel patronised. I feel marginalised. I feel as though I'm being treated with contempt.

But I also feel, perhaps because of all of the above, as though I'm not good enough. I feel as though I don't, and can't, and never will, measure up. I feel as though I dare not speak up, to defend myself, or my ideas, because I'm probably wrong; I'm probably too stupid to have understood some subtlety or other that my colleagues have already identified. I feel as though I have to keep trying, keep banging my head against the same brick wall, because if I don't and someone else takes over, they might solve the problems that are stumping me, and might reveal my inadequacy and stupidity.

I feel isolated.

I feel trapped, because I don't feel competent enough, or clever enough, or brave enough to look for another job. I feel trapped because I have the world's best working hours for a mother of a young child, and a flexible environment for fulfilling those hours, and I'd never find anything quite as easy to fit around school. I feel trapped because though on paper I can make myself look and sound good, I feel inadequate. I feel like a fraud. I feel as though I'm only masquerading as a physicist and am getting away with it for now, but it wouldn't pass muster in the "real" world.

I feel as though I should speak up, should say, "enough", should explain that I cannot function this way any longer. But I fear for the repurcussions. I fear being told that I'm not good enough. I fear being told that I'm not worthwhile, that I'm not needed, that my opinions are not valuable. It's hard not to feel that way when the last time we attempted to recruit someone, one of the major criteria was that, "they need to be better than you, PhysicsBear".

I spent Friday afternoon weeping.

I spent Friday night lying awake imagining resigning.

I spent Saturday evening weeping.

I don't want to go to work in the morning.

I don't want to carry on as though none of my feelings exist, but I don't want to attempt to articulate any of them when I'm simply liable to start crying if I do so.

I bet you're beginning to wonder where the positive part of this post happens aren't you?

I'll replay those last few events in a less selective manner...

I left work early and spent Friday afternoon weeping.

While at home, I received the following text messages from my colleagues, referring to two separate incidents:

"<boss> asked where you were. I said nothing. I have thought about telling him. But the risk there is that he apologises and then your venom will be undermined and you would be obliged to forgive him"
 "Hi PhysicsBear. I'm guessing you feel pretty sore after this morning's episode with <boss> . Try not to let it get to you. Thank you for coming to help me and I'm sorry you got caught in the crossfire. The rest of us really do respect your skill and experience (if that helps at all)"

I spent Friday evening drinking wine and eating cheese with some of my friends, and we set the world to rights. We giggled, we bitched and we shared embarrassing stories.

I spent Saturday afternoon making paper snakes for SnakeWorld with LittleBear, and solving a Rubik's cube every time he messed it up.*

I spent Saturday evening weeping on my mother's shoulder, while she reassured me I was splendid.

I spent Sunday morning playing with LittleBear, and he made me a "certificate" that reads, "Thank you for being a great parent". (And I shall omit the fact that I'm 99% certain he did so to make up for yelling "I hate you!" at me in a fit of pique when I said we had to stop playing football...)

I spent Sunday lunchtime drinking and talking and laughing with old friends. Some of whom I first met when I was 4.

I am blessed with a lovely family, good friends both old and new, and the best LittleBear in the world. I'm going to go to bed and try thinking about those things, and not about going to work.

* I followed instructions on the t'interweb, I'm not a Rubik's maestro. See, I told you I was a fraud...