1st May 2011
Magdalen College Tower
Happy May Day! This day always brings back fond memories for me of my university days. It is traditional at Magdalen College, Oxford for the college choir to sing from the top of the tower at 6am on May Day. Thereafter the college bells are rung for about half an hour. I was one of those people who climbed up the tower to ring the bells. Our efforts were always well-rewarded by the college who would lay on some “refreshment” for us once we had finished. After my friends and I had done our best to do justice to the “refreshments” we would inevtiably go back to bed. Alone, I should add. Just in case you were getting any ideas…
Another week has flown by. I have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed this last week away from work. My laptop has remained in its bag and my work Blackberry has been confined to its case. I have no idea what awaits me next Tuesday when I re-engage with the people who pay me, but to be quite honest… I don’t actually care!
There was a time when I would make myself available for work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. From time to time I would take calls from colleagues in the Middle East on a Sunday. My Blackberry was always on and I would frequently respond to emails on the Pocket Devil at strange times of the day and night. This enthusiasm and commitment has been well and truly micro-managed out of me over the last year. I’ve always been a very conscientious and dedicated employee and the transition from that to my current attitude has been extremely difficult. It’s not like me not to care and I think that I would probably be in the gaga-bin by now if it were not for the people in my life and TBK to give me focus and support. Now at work I just do what I’m told to do, but only between the hours of 0800-1700 and never on a weekend.
So this last week I have been very busy. A bit of gardening here, a few days out with Man there, and an awful lot of time building a new website. This is not for Titli’s Busy Kitchen (although I‘ve learned a few things this week that will help me improve the TBK website); rather this new website is for a new business venture which, God willing, will generate enough income to pay for the household bills and the occasional non-essential item.
Over the last few years I have come to understand that there is a point at which you have enough money to survive and a point at which you have enough money to live. I live a fairly modest life by the standards of some people. I don’t live in a big house or drive a big car. I don’t wear designer clothing. I don’t have a pile of “recently-discarded-but-very-NOW-a-few-months-ago” techno-accessories. Nor do I feel the desire to have any of these, even though I probably could afford them with the money that my employer pays me. To put this another way, more money does NOT equal more happiness beyond a certain point.
I’ll post the link to my new website here in a future blog once the website is almost complete. Until then, you’ll just have to be patient!
Man and I took a drive out to a small place called Devil’s Bridge (near Aberystwyth on the Welsh coast). It was a lovely sunny day and we took the “mountain road” there. It wasn’t quite on a par with the mountain roads in the French Jura, but it was quite impressive. Nothing there but bleak, tree-less open expanses of scrubland pocketed by large, bleak hills. The main feature was the sheep – lots of them!
Devil’s Bridge by contrast sits in a very verdant environment atop a deep gorge with waterfalls tumbling down it. We found an ice-cream shop right opposite the narrow gauge railway which runs down the valley into Aberystwyth. (That’s a journey for another day!). This ice-cream shop has apparently won awards for its ice-cream. We indulged ourselves. Utterly delicious! I had a scoop each of vanilla and mint-choc-chip, while man savoured scoops of “sticky toffee pudding” ice-cream and his favourite chocolate. Sitting in the sunshine, eating ice-cream and watching the world go by is such a wonderful pleasure!
I’m quite sure that some of you will have been watching your television sets on Friday. Maybe you sat in front of it all day. And all night. Maybe you even stood on the streets and waved! Don’t get me wrong – I wish the couple all the best for their future together – but did we really need to have saturation coverage in the UK? Just about every TV and radio channel presented wall-to-wall programmes which featured, at least to some extent, the events of the day. There was simply NO ESCAPE!!!! And it continued the next day with programmes filled with highlights (just in case you had been in a coma the day before) and endless coverage of where the couple were now, what they had possibly just done (“About this time the couple will probably have just finished breakfast“), and what they were possibly about to do (“I would imagine that the couple will be preparing for the day ahead now. Katherine has probably already chosen her outfit… “) I want NEWS, not speculation and desperate attempts to fill airtime.
The most amusing headline on the BBC News website (my homepage) was something like, “The couple fly from the Palace”. How? On a Magic Carpet? Unaided? Had they taken a few tabs of LSD?
As Gary Lineker said on Match Of The Day, “How are we all going to survive now that we don’t have a Royal wedding to look forward to?”
I think we’ll get through it, Gary. I think we’ll be OK…
8th May 2011
Just when you thought things were getting back to normal in the media, a bunch of Americans sneak into deepest Pakistan and shoot a terrorist… I can imagine the conversations in the White House.
“Do we go in today, Mr President?”
“Today? I’m sorry but you’ll have to wait. Michelle and I want to see Wills and Kate get married.”
“Well what about Saturday, Sir?”
“Let me see… Awww shucks. I promised Hillary she could come over for some of Michelle’s great popcorn chicken. I’m free on Sunday…”
“Sunday it is, Mr President Sir.”
Within milliseconds of the news breaking, Conspiracy Theorists everywhere were jumping out of bed and starting to rub their hands with joy. Theories ranged from “They haven’t killed him at all” to “Everyone knows he’s been dead for years anyway”. They demanded proof. The White House refused to publish pictures of a man with half his face blown off, thereby proving the Conspiracy Theory! But you know what? If they had published the photo the same people who were crying “conspiracy” would be crying “fake photo!” The White House can’t win…
I struggle to understand the Conspiracy Theorists. If I was sitting in my lounge watching endless TV coverage of how I’d been killed the first thing I would do is make a video of myself holding today’s newspaper and blowing a huge raspberry. Then send it to Al Jazeera. On the other hand, if OBL has been dead for years, why tell people now? Perhaps it was to spare us all the embarrassment of watching George Dubya doing his Victory Dance.
Now attention turns to Pakistan. How come they didn’t know he had been living there for so many years? The Pakistani response was to say that “everyone around the world was responsible for not knowing where he was.” Personally I don’t feel responsible. After all, he clearly wasn’t hiding in my back garden, and I think I might have noticed if a large house had been built there while my back was turned.
The fact remains that the guy has left this world and is facing his own Judgement Day. Unfortunately in this world I think the story will run and run.
I had some good news this week. I received an sms from my friend in Libya, except he wasn’t in Libya. He was in France courtesy of his employers. He’d managed to get to Tunisia with his eldest son and from there to France. He taken his son to prevent him from being conscripted into the military. He himself left to avoid issues due to the fact that he works for a French company.
I phoned Mohamed and over the course of about half and hour he recounted some of the horrors that he has experienced in Tripoli. On his way from Tripoli he had to stop at many checkpoints. At one such checkpoint the military searched the car in front of Mohamed’s and decided to help themselves to some computer games that the driver was carrying. He was a young guy, and when he asked them not to take the games because they were for his son, the soldier shot the guy dead.
Shortly after he left Libya his house was visited by the military. Since he wasn’t there they took his youngest son outside and beat him up. Each member of his family is sleeping in a different part of the house so that if the house gets hit by a mortar then the loss of life will be minimised. Mohamed tells me that the situation in Libya is desperate. Basic foods are in short supply and people are in fear of their lives. The place looks like a war zone, mainly because it IS a war zone.
Thankfully Mohamed is now in Tunisia and will remain there for a few weeks. But he longs to return to Libya and hopes to cross the border from Egypt in a few weeks time to make his way to Benghazi. I pray for his safety, but most of all that this madness comes to a swift end.
After a beautifully sunny April the showers have arrived. Good for the garden! I spent some time today thinning out and transplanting some of my vegetable plants. The consequences of not keeping the cat off the plot after I had sown the seeds was obvious. There were carrots in the middle of the spinach and broccoli plants everywhere. My visions of nice neat rows of veg was turned upside down until I went to work with my trowel today. Order has been restored. At least for now.
In the greenhouse my tomatoes, capsicums and chilli plants are coming on nicely. There are apples forming on the trees and it looks like there may be a good crop this year, God willing. The gooseberry bushes and blackcurrant bushes are already heavy with fruit and the rhubarb is producing yet more delicious rhubarb. Gooseberries. How do you say this word? I say “goozberry”, but Man insists it is “goose-berry”. But then he calls a “film” a “fill-um”…
19th May 2011
So where was I? (Reads last blog entry) Oh yes. I remember now! Good heavens, doesn’t time fly?
The main event since the last blog was a trip to the North-East of England to visit the in-laws and my step-daughter’s new abode. It’s a long drive – 5 hours on a good day, but this is England and motorway traffic can be very unpredictable. Actually its unpredictability is the one predictable thing about it!
We stopped en route at some motorway services for a snack. The total bill for two cups of coffee and two sandwiches came to £15. Fifteen quid! Next time I’ll make up some sandwiches and a flask of coffee before we go!
Seven and a half hours after departing our home we arrived tired and a little fractious at our guest house on the outskirts of Durham. Once we had unpacked the car we had to make a big decision – what to have for dinner. We jumped in the car and drove into a nearby village called Langley Moor. It’s a typical one-main-street old mining village and we were presented with three options – Chinese, Indian or Fish & Chips. We went for the latter…
On my last two trips “up north” I’ve noticed something a bit unusual. The Chip Shops have been run by Chinese and the shop doubles up as a Chinese Takeaway. This isn’t a complaint, but more an observation on the entrepreneurial qualities of the inscrutable Chinese. By the way, the Fish supper we had was one of the best we have had for some time…
We spent some time with my father-in-law. Ever since his wife has been moved into a nursing home he talks about anything and everything with everyone. The main topic on this visit was his diarrhoea (yes, I can spell that word without a spell check!). We had blow by blow (or more precisely “dribble by dribble”) accounts of the symptoms and the timings. Too much detail! Thanks to God that we didn’t pick up whatever bug was causing this particular distress.
We spent a few hours with Adelle and Will in their new home. Adelle had rustled up a mushroom risotto with garlic bread – very tasty – and we offloaded some of our surplus furniture to help them out. Henceforth the car became several kilos lighter and stopped rattling and jangling every time we went over a bump or round a corner.
Unfortunately over the weekend my 85-year-old mother-in-law had to be taken into hospital. One of her legs had doubled in size in comparison to the other. I’ve heard a lot about Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) but this was the first time I’ve ever seen it for real. It must have been very uncomfortable for her, but since my mother-in-law suffers from dementia it is difficult to know what is really going on in her head. Treatment is ongoing and God willing she’ll be back in the nursing home before then end of the week.
On the way back home we stopped in to see Man’s “uncle” John. He is a distant relative of Man’s who lives in a small town in the Yorkshire Dales. This frail, 97-year-old man lives alone in his own home. His eyesight has almost gone and his hearing is starting to fail him, but his mind is still very sharp. We sat and chatted while he poked his coal fire from time to time. I find it a great honour and privilege to be with such people. After an hour we left and continued our journey back home.
Finally! We have replaced the French licence plates on the car with UK plates. Hurrah! It only took about 6 months, so if anyone is interested on how to import a foreign left-hand-drive car in the UK the story goes a bit like this…
Change the headlights to point in the other direction = £££
Install a new fog lamp on the correct side of the car = £££
Replace the speedometer with one that reads miles per hour instead of kilometres per hour = £££
Get a “Certificate of Conformity” from the manufacturer = £££
Get a valid MOT = £££
Try and find someone who will insure the car = £££
Send off a bunch of paperwork to the DVLA together with more money = £££
Wait… = free
Receive paperwork to get new licence plates made up = £££
Install new plates, and you’re done!
I’ve sorted out a trip to Geneva for next week, mostly to say goodbye to a dear colleague who is retiring. However there is another reason for my trip…
28th May 2011
I have so much I could write about in my blog this week. I could write about the lovely weekend away that Man and I had on the south coast of Wales. I could write about the excellent curry we had on the first night we arrived. I could write about sitting on the pier at The Mumbles (near Swansea) eating scones with jam and cream. Or about the problems we have had with the car and how it will be in the garage for the next 2 weeks. Or I could write about my trip to Geneva this week and how half way through the 4 hour drive to the airport I realised I had forgotten my passport. But I’m not going to write about any of those things. My heart is heavy and I need to write what I am about to write.
At the end of my blog last week I told you how I was travelling to Geneva to have lunch with my dear colleague Raymond who is retiring. We sat outside in the sunshine talking about Raymond’s future plans, and also about my future plans. As we talked it became clear to me that I was not alone in my feelings about the American company we work for. It was reassuring to me and made me feel more sure of what I was about to do.
Later that afternoon I took the opportunity to have a meeting with my boss. We talked briefly about ongoing projects and then he started to talk about a new job he had for me. The company I work for has just bought a large Danish company with offices and factories all over the world. This company now has to be “integrated” into our company and part of that relates to the offices that they currently occupy. My boss had gained agreement from his bosses that I should lead the project to examine the new locations and work out what to do with them – should we keep these newly-acquired offices or should we move the people out of them to one of our existing nearby offices? With over 100 locations around the world this will be a big project and would require me to lead a team of people based all around the world.
My boss had pre-warned me several weeks ago of this potential opportunity. I had not pre-warned him of the letter I was about to give him. His face went white as he read the few short paragraphs typed on the single sheet of A4 paper.
I had resigned.
I have felt unsettled in my job for over a year and I knew that sooner or later I would feel the need to leave the company. I have been frustrated by the increasing bureaucracy, the lack of adequate budget to do the job my team is supposed to do, and the endless messages to do “more with less”. After many years of doing more with less you reach a point where “more with less” becomes impossible. If you take a camel, kill it, remove the skin and strip away every particle of meat from the skeleton you either bury the bones or boil them up to make glue. The company’s instructions, however, are to enter the camel in the next camel race. Oh, and anything less than first place is a failure for which you will be punished…
My decision to resign has not been an easy one. It’s very comfortable to have a large amount of cash injected into your bank account every month. It’s reassuring to know that when you retire there will be a reasonable pot of money in the form of a pension waiting for you. But there is a price to pay for this – steering through the minefield labelled “Corporate Politics”; dealing with uncooperative colleagues who want to play petty departmental power-games; personally taking the blame when a member of your team makes a mistake or upsets someone in another department. I have become quite good at doing all these things and everyone knows that as far as my team is concerned the buck stops with me.
But the older I get and the less life I have in front of me the greater becomes my desire to improve the quality of my life. Quality to me is not about money in the bank. It’s not about having a big car or large house or wearing designer clothes. None of these things have ever interested me. I had a very modest upbringing and was raised to understand the value of money. Quality of life to me means feeling that I have some sort of control of my life. Motivational theorists would call it “Being Free”. I cannot hope to achieve this while inside the confines of a large American multinational corporation where everyone is fighting to control whatever and whoever they can.
As someone wrote recently in another blog, “If you make money a higher priority than quality of life, then how can you complain when you get the former but sacrifice the latter?” I have a strong desire to work for myself and resigning is the first concrete step on that journey.
So why do I have a heavy heart? Telling my boss that I was resigning was easy. Telling my team was an altogether different proposition.
I love my team. They comprise seven women – one Brit, two French, one Czech, one Egyptian, one Russian and a South African – and one German man. Managing such a diverse group of people has been a real honour for me and they have taught me at least as much as I have tried to teach them. They are much, much more than just “people who work for me”.
During the early days of the Financial Crisis a few of us shared hotel rooms during our travels to keep the costs down. When you do that you form bonds which go way beyond a simple work relationship. I still remember watching the film Anger Management with Samah and laughing until we cried. I remember sitting up in bed singing Christmas songs with Sona. I have spent time with Irene’s family in Jo’burg. Karl, Teresa and I have spent years working together, discussing issues we have faced – work and personal. These people are not just colleagues. They are my family and I love them all to bits.
On Friday morning I began the phone calls to my team to tell them of the news. I had decided to keep the calls short, giving them the basic news and offering to talk in more detail next week when they had absorbed the information. Difficult as it was, it was very important to me that they received this news from me and not from anyone else. I also had to keep the calls short as the battery on my phone was getting very low and there was no opportunity for a recharge any time soon.
One by one their reactions were pretty much as I expected. Feelings of sadness, concern about who would be their new boss, and when was I actually leaving? Two of my team started to cry, and one phoned me back after 20 minutes to announce that they were going to start looking for another job. Between calls I had to dry my own tears and build myself back up to deliver the news once again. Towards the end of the final call the battery in my phone went dead. I too felt like the life-force had been drained from me. I don’t like to upset people, and I don’t like upsetting the people I love. But to have to upset so many people that I care about was very hard.
We have a team teleconference on Tuesday. I shall continue to be their “boss” until the end of June but my final working day will be sometime in early August. I have no idea what I will be expected to do in July. With any luck they will put me on “Garden Leave”.
I won’t miss any of the Corporate baggage like the annual rounds of performance assessments, Business Ethics surveys, Driver Awareness training and Legal Online Training. I won’t miss the bureaucracy of Business Objective Letters, Project Gate Reviews and Safety Approvals, all of which require ten or more signatures by people with large egos. I wont miss the daily Corporate announcements about how fabulous the company is and what our CEO is doing. But I will miss the people in my team. Very much.
So there it is. I’ll write in a future blog about my plans now. I’m probably going to be three times busier that I’ve ever been and earning one third of what I’m used to earning, God Willing. But do you know what? I’m going to enjoy every minute of it!
And on the day that I resigned it came to pass that Man was offered a job! Alhamdulillah!