Word on a Whim

Archive for the category “Life experience”

Twelve Weeks

My twelve weeks redundancy notice has been the longest time ever, and it’s not over yet.  In the new year, I found myself sharing my colleagues’ enthusiasm for future projects but then had to remind myself that I wouldn’t be around to be involved with the development, which has led to boredom and general lack of interest in any of the tasks I am given.  Although there are a few of us leaving the IT department, I am the only one from this site and have noticed that some people have started to speak to me differently, with a tinge of sympathy in their tone, as if there is something wrong.  It makes me think there must be.  Others keep asking if I have got a job yet.  No, I haven’t.

I got as far as a second interview and the guy from the agency named the day when he would phone and let me know … and then never phoned.  That was two weeks ago, and I have just about stopped carrying my mobile phone around everywhere.  I thought about phoning them but left it, thinking maybe if no-one else accepted the job they might come back to me.  Now I think I have seen it re-advertised with a more specific description of the role and the skills required.  I don’t want it any more though, I’ve moved on from that.  I said originally I didn’t want another job in IT – but this was close to home and appeared to fit.  I have applied for several other jobs that are not ruled out by my lack of experience or wrong qualifications, but other than an automated reply from a couple, I have heard nothing.  When people advise me to apply for anything, as I have nothing to lose, I am inclined to agree – I’ve probably told other people the same – but I do have a tendency to completely see myself in the particular role, so there is an emotional investment, and this is what gets lost when I hear nothing.

I have filled in a form to apply for voluntary work at a wildlife sanctuary but have not sent it off yet, in the hope that the offer of paid work might be just around the corner.  The thought of having nowhere to go, and not ‘belonging’ to anything scares me slightly. I started work straight after school and am lucky enough never to have been unemployed and, other than holidays, scheduled appointments, or working from home, I have never had time off.  I even have an award for attendance – a little plastic gold cup on my desk; an award for being a bum on a seat and for my mild OCD about being in the right place at the right time. Now at that age where bits might start dropping off, I am looking for some wood to touch in this office, but it is all plastic or formica.  I guess I’m also a little worried that if I end up out of work for a few months I will adapt to enjoying the freedom and will resent it being taken away again – but then  adaptation must be the key, so  it will work both ways.

The IT manager just made me laugh.  He was faffing around in the meeting room, setting up a projector.  Satisfied everything was ready to go, he walked across the office, stood beside my desk and said in his most polite and deliberate voice; “I have been tasked with presenting to the department a video about the state of the Company, and where we are now.  Would I be correct in assuming that you don’t give a rat’s arse?”  Bless him!

So, whilst everyone was watching telly I wrote this.  I’m glad I decided not to try to stick to writing about writing as I now have far more scope for writing – and no-one has to read it if they don’t want to!


Mad World

Yesterday morning when I was driving along a country road, a car appeared sideways from round a bend – the back end overtaking the front end as it drifted across my side of the road.  I swerved to the other side of the road to try to get round it but there wasn’t enough room and the rear end caught my front nearside wing and wheel.  Crunch.  The other car drifted along gracefully for some distance, thankfully losing momentum, so that it finally settled into the grassy roadside rather than hitting it with a bump and landing upside down in the ditch.  For the driver and his passenger, it must have seemed like an eternity before it came to rest.

Someone who saw it happen stopped to check that everyone was okay; delivered gratuitous male banter to the other driver, “You lost it there mate, didn’t you, ha-ha,”  then went on his way.  We then set about getting the cars off the road so as not to cause another accident, and exchanged details.

I phoned work and told them what had happened and that I would be ’working from home’, and everyone I spoke to asked if there were any witnesses.  Yes, someone stopped.  “Did you get his name and address?”  No.  The driver who skidded was a really nice guy.  Ashen faced, he had taken a brush from his car and swept all the debris off the road, and given me a card with all his details on.  “Did you take photos of the scene?”  No.  Our priority was to get the cars off the road and into nearby clearing as they were a potential hazard.

I knew they all thought I was daft, but sure enough, yesterday evening I had a call from the guy’s insurance company who said he had reported the incident and accepted full liability.  So there!  He’d probably gone and done his day’s work before going home and reporting it.  I wish it didn’t have to be anyone’s ‘fault’.  None of us really want to be driving on black ice in the weak early morning light – it’s just that we have to keep our hamster wheels turning.

Today I am ‘working from home’ again and will be collecting a hire car this afternoon that I will use until my car is fixed – but how silly is this:  The car rental firm is coming to collect me to take me back to their office to complete the paperwork so that I can bring the car back here.  Bearing in mind that the main road into the village is closed again due to flooding and we will have to go all around the Wrekin, why can’t they just deliver the car here and complete the paperwork on the kitchen table, saving everybody’s time and thirty-odd miles of fuel?  No wonder all our insurance premiums are so high.


After a few weeks of ‘consultation’ I have today been given notice of redundancy from my job.  The consultation process has been a charade – a procedure that was necessary to safeguard the company from any possible litigation.  I believe they had already decided on the outcome, but we had to have meetings to put forward our ideas as to how the redundancy might be avoided.  The timing surprised me;  I was half-expecting it a few months ago when the legacy system I had developed and supported was finally laid to rest and I was struggling to learn the new programming languages, but this has happened just as I was starting to be useful.  There are a few of us going from IT and many old colleagues from other departments.  Budgets have been tightened and the company is cutting away some old wood.  The bugger of it is that I have to work twelve weeks’ notice, so I won’t finish until mid-March.  Traditionally in IT, anyone made redundant has their access to the systems revoked instantly and is escorted from the premises.  Unfortunately, that rule has just been changed here.  Maybe if I rant at my screen and say “delete” as people walk by they might let me go?

It has been a funny few weeks.   That initial meeting so suddenly called – and the first formal letter informing me that my job was “at risk” came out of the blue at a time when from my point of view we were particularly busy – so it came as a shock, followed later by a vague sense of bereavement at the thought of parting from my colleagues.  I have worked with some of them for almost thirteen years.  Now I am trying to focus on the things I won’t miss such as the bizarre heating system that blows hot air from the ceiling – drying out your eyes whilst your feet freeze beneath the desk …

I have been lucky with managers in that those I report to have always told me the truth as they saw it – but the truth has mutated with the passage of time and the failing economy.  Our project plans – all that future work – has suddenly lost its priority.

I have always believed that things happen for a reason, and was tentatively hopeful that my screenplay might make it through the BBC Writersroom and I would suddenly have loads of time to write scripts.  Not expecting to hear anything unless I was successful, I was surprised to find an email from them this morning – but it turned out to be a rejection.  By no means the first rejection I’ve ever had – it is something many writers get used to, and at least I know now, and I can knock that little fantasy on the head.  It means a lot to me to have dates and times, and to know what’s what.  I really wish it didn’t.  I wish I could be more laid back, and ‘take it as it comes’ but this is the way I am and yes, I know it is only a job, and losing it is way at the bottom of my list of the precious things in this life that I constantly worry about losing.  But yes, I was grateful to receive the email from work this afternoon.  I am on holiday this week – I was advised to use it!

So, what next?  Preferably something different – something that doesn’t necessitate sitting at a desk for hours on end … but what?  I am determined to be optimistic that this change is for the better.

Happy Christmas!

Love xxx

Old Dog New Tricks

This was supposed to be a blog that was mostly about writing – only I haven’t written anything recently, nothing in English, that is.  At work I write computer programs but the switch from iSeries RPG to web front-end C# with Sequel Server has resulted in me coming home feeling utterly mind-fucked; my head a cage-full of monkeys as the ideas of the fiction I might write come and go amidst the frustration of knowing exactly what the system I am working on is supposed to be doing, but not having the language skills to make it happen.  Then the nights are full of mind-loop dreams of unsolved and surreal problems that I would never get to the bottom of, if I tried all night, because they do not exist!  And there is the nuisance of Christmas approaching.

I don’t really have the aptitude for C#.   I believe it was created by a bunch of … gents who were concerned that higher level languages were a threat; opening the IT doors to none-IT staff.  Unfortunately, it has also closed doors for some veteran programmers, and I thought I was going to be one of them.

The transition from ‘top down’ to ‘object oriented’ programming has not been sudden.  The system I had worked on for hundreds of years was decommissioned some time ago and I expected to go out with it.  I was glad to be kept on but the deadlines for the latest project were particularly tight and I found I was doing extra hours at home, weekends and evenings, in order to just about keep up.  I am lucky enough to work with a small team guys who are not only technically brilliant but good friends too, and supportive – but I am determined I will not be carried by them.

I am picking up the new skills, slowly.   If you throw enough mud at a wall some of it will stick, but all the mud that has hit and slid away has been depleting, and all I have done in my spare time is easy-reading and nosying on friends’ Facebooks.   I am tentatively confident that this is about to change so that work can stay at the office and I can put some disciplined thought and time into another writing project.

Keep warm, and try not to get too muddy 😉


Sunday Evenings

I always feel ‘down’ on Sunday evenings.  I think it must stem from hating school. What didn’t help at the time was grown-ups saying that schooldays were the best days of your life. Just as well I didn’t believe them!  But then I was miserable in the first job I had straight after school – I simply could not please the boss and dreaded every day.  Only after I got another job and moved on did I learn that this woman had a reputation for bullying the ‘office junior’.  Fortunately, most were more resilient than I was.

Even if there is no school or work on Monday, that Sunday Evening feeling is always there.  Sunday: the worst evening of the week.

Things that have, over the years, shaped the Sunday evening:

  • “School in the morning” (said by a parent or grandparent)
  • Homework that has somehow been left until Sunday night
  • Double maths first lesson on Monday
  • Having to go to bed early when you got up late
  • Sunday dinner’s lingering smell – especially cauliflower which somehow manages to lurk half way up the stairs
  • Leftover cold chicken carcass, smelling like a dead body in a morgue (not that I’ve ever smelt one)
  • Depressing TV programmes that other people like to watch
  • Making sandwiches for tomorrow
  • Setting the alarm for the morning
  • Wondering what to wear and wishing I’d done some ironing
  • What if it’s snowing in the morning?
  • What if the roads are flooded?
  • Remembering I’ve forgotten to check my oil, water and tyres
  • Lying awake reuniting with Friday’s unresolved work issues
  • Lying awake yawning and getting cross because I’m not asleep and the alarm will go off in less than two hours
  • Getting cross because I had to look up whether ‘lying’ or ‘laying’ is correct and I’m still not convinced 😉
  • All that writing I thought I would have done, and I only did half of it …
  • Urm … Any that I’ve missed?

I guess Friday evening is the compensation.

Happy New Week!


Writing under the alfluence of incohol

I have always been unusually attracted to alcohol to the extent that I must discipline myself to abstain for a while when guilt starts to override the pleasure.  I buy ‘Every Day’ vodka and, whilst I realise that’s a brand and not a prescription or a recommendation, I do find it’s the best thing for easing aches and pains or picking me up when I come home knackered and still have stuff to do. Most people I know would only have a drink with a companion, to be sociable.  I have never had a problem with drinking alone. I have been on the wagon for seventeen days and I look forward to starting to drink again at some point in the future, but with a little more reverence, and certainly not Every Day.  I don’t particularly feel healthier for not drinking … there are still days of feeling tired and crappy, which I might have put down to having one too many the night before, except I haven’t had any the night before.  Not that I do very often have a hangover these days – I am careful to get the ‘dosage’ right since ageing makes hangovers worse and longer lasting, and during the week I am conscious of early morning driving.  Maybe the aspartame and sucralose in the soft drinks I knock back to quash the cravings at my habitual drinking time are doing more harm than the alcohol?

So, where is the connection with writing?  I’m getting there but you can see how fixated I am!

Last weekend I was looking forward to starting to write my new novel.  It was the Jubilee weekend so I had two extra days off work to get stuck in and expected to have it well underway by the end of Tuesday … only it didn’t happen.  I spent hours staring at the laptop screen and then wandering off; finding no end of distractions to avoid writing.  I would rather have scrubbed the kitchen floor (it needs it) than start the new novel – but I didn’t do that either (maybe tomorrow).

Now, I’m not saying I write well when drunk – the reverse is true – but at least I would have written something. Alcohol loosens up my keyboard like it loosens some people’s tongues, and my fingers would not have been able to keep up with the flow of narrative – and I would have felt good for being on a roll and for getting so much done.  Then the next day, sober, I would have tightened it up by deleting a fair portion of superfluous waffle but at least I’d be much further on than I am now.

At least I’ve written this, on a Saturday night, without booze … so I have written something.  Hopefully I will make better progress with the book tomorrow.  I might even clean the kitchen floor.

A new mission

I have rejected the idea of rewriting my old novels in favour of starting something new.  Freshening up the old stuff would be a much quicker way of getting some more titles on my list but I really don’t feel like going back over old ground.  A lot of it was written during dark times and, although the subject matter is not a reflection of the ‘darkness’, looking back at it stirs up memories and feelings that are unwelcome now that I am happier than ever before.  Whilst not all the chapters of ‘The Rise of Serge and the Fall of Leo’ are entirely cheerful, I hope that the light tone of the narrative keeps the sad parts from being too heavy.

I am still at the research stage – making sure that the new story is plausible before I start writing it.  This makes me appreciate how lucky we are to have the internet with so much information so readily available.  Past projects involved Saturday morning visits to the library in a bid to get my facts right and I can still remember the satisfaction of coming home with a book that had a page or two on the subject I was researching.  Now I have too many pages than I have time to read; about any subject under the sun.  The sun is still shining.  Pity about all the flies that come with it ;<)

Appreciating modern materials

At work but away from my usual desk, I must have done some sort of nervous tucking hair behind ears manoeuvre, which resulted in my glasses flying several metres through the air and bouncing across a concrete floor.  These were new glasses (which probably explains why they weren’t in precisely the expected place on my head!) so I was particularly pleased to find they had survived the ordeal,  although  since I’d got a buy-one-get-one-free  offer it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if they had broken.  But it did make me appreciate how much lighter and tougher and probably cheaper glasses have become over the years, and it made me think about Dave – who was my boss about twenty-five years ago, who had severe myopia.  I once tried his glasses on and apart from them weighing a tonne; it was like looking through one of those bees-eye kaleidoscopes things they sell in retro toy shops.

Dave was an unknown quantity, recruited from outside.  He didn’t say much to anyone for the first week or two, so none of us quite knew what to make of him.  He was probably just ‘finding his feet’ but I warmed to the guy the first time I heard him speak.  He had left his goldfish bowl office and was ambling between the desks of our open plan department towards the exit when his fit, young secretary called him back because there was someone important on the phone.  He rolled his eyes and said, “Fucking hell, I was just going for a crap,” and back-tracked to his office to take the call.

Anyway, about the glasses.   He had called us all into his office for a meeting.  He started by asking the lads to tone down the innuendo; the school-boy humour … but there was a wasp buzzing around and people were flapping at it.  “Just ignore it,” he said.  “If you ignore it, it will ignore you.” He went on to explain that he enjoyed a joke as much as anyone, but it was going too far when no-one could say anything without it being turned into something smutty.   Then he moved on to the next item on the agenda – except he couldn’t find his agenda – it had been misplaced.  “Where’s my secretary?  I need my secretary in here.  I need my secretary screwed to the wall …”

Our raucous hilarity must have made the wasp panic.  It did a crazy circuit of the small office we were packed in, and dived for safety behind the thick lenses of Dave’s glasses.  He reacted – like anyone would – by flinging the glasses from his face so they hit the desk and shattered.  Poor Dave, he was an ‘occasional’ contact lens wearer but had to wear them for about a fortnight with streaming red eyes until his glasses were fixed.

Thank goodness for modern materials and BOGOF’S.

Who judges a book by its cover?

A short time spent researching the subject suggests that people do judge books by their covers – but the majority of these were selling their book cover design services.

Having access to a PC with Photoshop CS3 installed, I decided to try saving a few bob by making my own book cover.  I had never used Photoshop and mistakenly thought that when I opened the package it would be obvious what I was supposed to do with it.  It wasn’t.  Not to me, anyway. Fortunately, people have taken the trouble to put helpful tutorials on the internet, and after chipping away at my project over the last few weeks, I have a book cover that looks okayish on the screen.  But it has taken me far longer than I expected and has eaten into my precious writing time.  And I couldn’t reproduce it – I have no idea really how I got it to this stage.

There are in fact two covers, one for the Kindle version, which is just the front cover, and one for the paperback, which from left to right, has the back cover with the ‘blurb’, followed by the spine, followed by the front cover.

I decided to print a copy of the paperback version, and now I have a dilemma.  The small print on the back cover, which looks fine when viewed on the screen, is quite blurry on the paper.  I googled and found that other people had the same issue, and took advice on using the sharpening tools and so on, but it still looks rubbish on paper.

Could it simply be that our little inkjet printer isn’t up to the job, or is this how the cover will look when the books are delivered from the printers? Perhaps I could email my image to a printing firm and get them to print a copy on a decent printer. If this is as good as it gets my book will have a very ‘home made’ look. I would expect anyone to judge the book negatively by this cover.  I do hope I haven’t wasted my time.

Black silk underwear

Sorry, I tricked you.  This is a post about fonts ;>)

I spent some time trying to decide which would be the best font and font size for my novel.

Research on the internet into people’s preferences (for fonts!) revealed conflicting opinions.

One view was that nothing smacks so strongly of self-publishing as the Times New Roman font; yet every novel I have opened appears to be in Times New Roman – or some font with serifs.  Another opinion was that Arial should only be used for IT text books.

I learned that the idea of serifs is to make a page of text easier to read by guiding the eye across the page, whereas a font without serifs is more readable for text on computer screens. Arial was the font I had chosen to work with on my laptop, and I felt it had a more fresh and modern feel than Times New Roman, but I was swayed by the explanation of the serifs.

To get a quote from a printer you have to state the number of pages in the book, and the more pages the higher the price.  Different fonts require more or less pages, so to keep down printing costs I need to format the text into as few pages as possible but without compromising readability. So that the quote would be more accurate, I emailed a printing firm, asking if there was any particular font that worked best for digital printing, and although they did not state a preference I was told that most of their customers use Times New Roman in size 11 point.  I printed off a few A5 pages in different fonts and sizes, and this did seem the most readable, so that’s what I am going to use.

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