How women on TV shape my career goals

Now that D is three- and will be starting school in September 2017, eek!-I’ve started to think more about where my career is and where I would like it to go. At the moment, I’m happy where I am and what I’m doing, but there are things I would like to achieve (if I had a Five Year Plan, this is where it would come in.)

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I LOVE TV. I like to say it’s because I teach Media Studies, but it’s really just that I’m a telly addict and have been forever. I love Netflix and I love a good binge-watch. What’s surprising is that I’ve found career inspiration in some of my favourite shows and that by watching these four women, I’ve started to think differently about my own job and the way that I work.

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Leslie Knope- Parks and Recreation

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Leslie Knope is a ball of contradictions- sometimes she’s brimming with self-confidence, other times, she’s on the floor with self-doubt. And although Amy Poehler (one of the greatest comedians of the 21st century, IMHO) plays Leslie for laughs, there is something in her character that most women can relate to; she’s a visible embodiment of someone with imposter syndrome. Leslie’s key strength, though, is her love and support for her colleagues. Yes, she looks after herself, but she cares deeply for those around her- and not in a self-sacrificing way.

Dana Scully- The X Files

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Scully (and Gillian Anderson) has been a heroine of mine since I was twelve. Although I’m not very good at emotional detachment, I’ve always admired Scully’s dedication to her job, her dry humour and her dogged pursuit of what she thinks is right. At work, next to my desk, I have a poster with a picture of Scully, reminding me that if I have a bad day I should think about what she would do. It stands me in good stead.(I also like Stella Gibson, Anderson’s character in The Fall, but don’t really feel the same connection to her. Did I mention I just really love Gillian Anderson?)

Viv Deering- No Offence

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If you haven’t seen No Offence yet, I urge you to seek it out (the series is on All 4). I loved Viv as soon as I saw her- northern and bold as brass, obsessed with clothes and very, very sweary. She’s sort of like the old stereotype of the northern, working class matriarch but updated and promoted to DI. She presents a tough-as-old-boots persona and won’t take nonsense from anybody, but isn’t vile to work for. Her sense of humour, ruthless determination to do her job well and her ability to stick up for those working for her make her an excellent, if occasionally slightly scary, boss. I want to be more self assured and trust my judgement a bit more- Viv’s the woman to look up to. (Also, when the young PC answers the above question with a hesitant “..Seven?” Viv replies “Oh, good. I do love a man who isn’t bothered about career progression.”)

Alicia Florrick- The Good Wife

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The Good Wife is my current obsession. I love it because it’s full of interesting female characters in addition to Alicia (Kalinda, Diane and my personal soulmate in the world of work, Elsbeth Tascioni), but my focus in terms of career is Alicia. She mucks it up sometimes, she often feels like she’s struggling to parent her kids and she has to deal with an on/off husband who is a bit of a git. Yet, she manages something that resembles a work/life balance (she also drinks a lot of red wine) and looks amazing at all times. I am currently debating whether I am going to grow my hair into an ‘Alicia’. But it’s the way that she negotiates her career that impresses me. It doesn’t always go right, but she brushes herself off and starts again- and this attitude is one worth holding on to at times of disappointment.

I guess all these women have a lot in common and represent idealised versions of women in the workplace. However, I reckon if I can channel just a little of what they have in my own job, I can see improvements. We’ll see.

Tell me- who do you admire in a career sense?

 

Some thoughts on detox teas

A few years ago, I had a nerdy tea blog (you can read it here.) It really was the start of my tea obsession- I mean, I reviewed sixteen types of Earl Grey as an experiment- and it’s really interesting to note how massive tea has become since I wrote it.

Every now and then, though, I find myself going back to it when I see the expensive detox teas doing giveaways. I did a detailed breakdown of what went into these teas and why they really aren’t worth the money; they are pretty much the modern equivalent of snake oil in some cases. The case I looked at back then was a spectacularly dodgy-looking outfit (there were accusations of fraud and over-charging) and, while I’m not accusing any of the newer brands of doing anything like that, I do think it’s important to research what goes into this often very expensive, highly marketed teas.

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If you want to see my whole post, it’s here– but I’ve also cut and pasted the breakdown of ingredients in that particular tea, which are pretty common in the ‘detox regime’ teas. You could have similar effects with bog-standard (read: cheap) herbal teas. The teas promise fast results for a very expensive system (this one was offering a two-week course for £40); in fact they won’t do much.

BTW, I’m not a scientist. I Googled. Check with your doctor if you intend to do anything health-related, obviously. I’m just trying to save you some money.

Oolong tea: on its own, oolong is used as a weight loss aid. So you could pick up a decent packet of this for around four quid (you’d get more than thirty cups out of it too…)

Hawthorn: Again, another ingredient that is used in Eastern medicine for digestion. You can buy tablets from Holland and Barratt if you really want to try this (but fennel and peppermint are much cheaper and nicer as teas)

Lotus leaves: basically another digestive aid, with added roughage.

Alisma rhizome: stimulates the kidneys and makes you pee. So you’ll lose water weight. Which you would put back on really easily. You could just drink more liquids (including green tea and water) if you want to cut down on  bloating.

Cassia seeds- most commonly used in laxatives.

Gynostemma Pentaphyllum- this may lower cholesterol. But so do apples, brown rice and avocados. Still not seeing how this tea is worth eighty quid a month.

Poria- another pee-inducing ingredient

Anyway. Nothing will ‘detox’ you except your liver and kidneys. You could have these effects by eating better, upping your water intake and exercising. I get it that these are attractive (I would love to be able to not worry about my weight!), but please think before you give up your money for a silver bullet that just isn’t worth it.

Musings on a mural

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The day after Boxing Day, I needed to get out of the house for a bit. I wasn’t up for a run (I haven’t been for a run since my ill-fated attempt at Hove Park Run last month…), so I decided to go for a long walk around where I live.

I found myself in a tiny graveyard. I was half looking for a particular grave that I knew was there but, like most of December, the day was damp and gloomy- and it wasn’t a good day for a grave hunt (I’ll probably blog about the hows and whys of my search in a future blogpost. It’s a writing related thing.) I also felt a bit odd, wandering around a graveyard on my own, dressed ever so slightly like Justin Bieber. I appeared a bit weird, if I’m honest. And then my eye was drawn to the little church that sits by the graveyard.

I’ve lived near this church, on and off, for most of the time I’ve lived in Brighton, but I’ve never been in. I only found the graveyard about ten months ago, by accident. I noticed that the church was open, so I stepped inside. It was a welcome respite from the weather and I was curious to see what it looked like in the actual church itself.

What I found was a small, pretty church with three thirteenth century murals- the picture above is the best one and it tells the story of the murder of Thomas Becket. It fascinated me and I sat there for a while, just looking at it. I’m not religious, but I found myself sitting in this deserted church (it’s no longer used for worship, but is open most days for visitors), deep in thought. I mean, it’s not every day that you unexpectedly come across a mediaeval religious painting about a mile from your house, is it?

The thought that struck me was that the mural was nearly 800 years old. Somebody at that time painted these pictures on the walls, with no idea that some weird girl, 800 years in the future, would sit there thinking about it all. I thought about all the people who had sat in the church over the centuries, looking at the paintings- whether through devotion, boredom, curiosity or a mixture of all three. Inrealised that the existence of the paintings means that the area where I live has been inhabited for nearly a thousand years and that the church has seen plague outbreaks, survived Henry VIII’s reformation of the church, civil war, a massive fire in 1906 and everything else. It’s slightly mind-bending. I’ve looked at a book that was published just after Shakespeare’s death and the park that contains the church has two ancient elm trees which have stood since the time of Elizabeth I. Both of these thungs impresed me with their longevity. I feel it whenever I go to a museum. Time is everywhere.

I found that I thought a lot about that mural and about time in the days running up to new year. We all get wrapped up in thoughts of ‘new year, new me’ and become focused on stuff like that. But we’re just specks in time, aren’t we? We all think, thanks to stuff like Doctor Who, we’ve become more confident with stuff to do with time and space and history and science, but it’s funny how one thing-in my case, a picture of a martyr- can make you really stop and look hard at your life and your place in the world.

 

 

Ten years in Brighton

Ten years ago today, I packed a few bags and a couple of small boxes of belongings into my aunt’s teeny tiny hire car and drove from Lancashire (I’d been at my cousin’s wedding the night before) to Brighton, unsure of what would happen to me once there. I’d had a really rough couple of months- the details are not interesting- and had managed to get a compassionate transfer to the Brighton office of the arm of the Civil Service I’d been working for in the six months since I’d left uni. I started applying to study for my PGCE at the Brighton universities. I was certain this was what I wanted.

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Brighton had seemed, to a lot of people, an odd choice. Surely I should have gone to my other favoured city, Manchester? It was near to my home city of Leeds and it was just, well, northern. But I’d been to uni in the North West and, although I’d enjoyed my visits to Manchester and generally loved everything about it, I didn’t know anyone there. I also didn’t know it as well as Brighton, where my aunt had lived for a few years and where I’d been on holiday a few times. I also knew I wanted to live near the sea.

I came down here with a vague idea that I’d stay for six months. I’m still here. I have friends, family (my aunt is still here!) and a whole support network that I’ve made from scratch. I met Benn on my first day in the office and in two weeks we’ll be celebrating being together for ten years. I no longer recognise Leeds when I walk around and feel like a fish out of water whenever I visit; I used to be able to navigate its streets at 3am on a Saturday night with no problem, no matter how much I’d had to drink. I could only do that now in my adopted city.

I’ve lived a third of my life by the sea (although, ironically, I rarely get to go and actually look at it!) and my life has changed completely and utterly. I’m still sometimes as sad as I was when I arrived, but I know that I have so much to help me get through it. If you’d have told me, when I moved here, that I’d be married with a kid, a job I’ve been in nearly nine years and a group of excellent friends, I wouldn’t have believed you.

And although the city sometimes drives me mad and I threaten that I’m going to move back up north, I still love it.

Here’s to the next ten years, Brighton.

 

The terror of toddler night terrors

As it’s a week from Halloween, it seems appropriate that I take to the blog to discuss one of the scariest, most challenging things we’ve been dealing with since becoming parents. Are you ready?

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D has recently been experiencing night terrors. And there is virtually nothing we can do except hope that he grows out of them- a phrase that brings dread to all parents of toddlers.

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They really are vile; D, halfway between sleep and wakefulness is clearly terrified. I can see him fighting something off and his body tenses. I can totally understand why people in the middle ages thought those experiencing night terrors were possessed. D arches his back and sort of lifts his legs too. He screams and shouts. He will try and fight us if we are in his way at all. It’s pretty scary.

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Websites are not much cop, either. “It’s really rare- only 1-6% of children get them!” they trill. Which is fine, unless you’ve got a kid in that 1-6% band, which we do. “Don’t try and wake them!” Which is sensible, but is totally alien; after all, as a parent, your first instinct is to comfort, right? But we learnt quickly that it makes it worse. D is clearly fighting something and if we try and intervene, it makes him more scared. So all we can do is sit with him and… wait.

This is hard, and Benn generally has to do it. I find it too distressing and I’ve cried more than once. Also, if D senses me in the room, it upsets him, sometimes to the point of trying to go for me. Benn seems to be the best, most calming presence and so we’re sticking with the plan that he will be the one to go in. I just lie there and will for it to be over (in about 25-30 minutes.) The other night, he had three bouts. I suspect it might have been because I’d been at work all day and he hadn’t seen me. Apparently night terrors can be linked to seperation anxiety (which he has a bit of, since starting nursery) and a break in routine (me not being home when he gets back.)

The worst thing is that there’s nothing we can do- there’s no point taking him to the doctor, as they can’t do anything. Thankfully, D doesn’t remember anything in the morning, except maybe a fleeting sense of a bad dream and a sore throat. I’d say that Benn and I are more exhausted the next day than he is.

So what are we doing? We’re making sure that bedtime is calm- we talk about all the people D likes and loves, we read stories, we keep the house quiet. I’ve been to explain to the next door neighbours that we’re not murdering him and we’re sorry if they can hear it (they’ve been wonderfully British about it and claimed not to hear a thing, which I know is a complete lie, but sweet of them all the same. I’ll definitely drop a Christmas card round this year.)

And now, we just wait for him to grow out of it. There’s nothing else we can do.

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Why I am all about hygge

I’ve been reading quite a bit about the concept of hygge lately- there was obviously a press release recently sent out, as both the BBC and The Pool have had features on their websites. ‘Hygge’ is apparently the Danish word for coziness and I am all. over. it.

If you follow me on any social media (particularly Instagram), you’ll know that my life generally revolves around books, tea, the odd bit of baking and knitting-particularly handknitted socks. So I’m not sure whether I was made for hygge, or it was made for me.

Take this blurry snap of me in the jumper below, for example:

My favourite scruffy jumper is out of its summer hibernation #helloautumn:

I cannot explain to you the EXCITEMENT I felt when the first chill of autumn appeared I could legitimately get this out of my ‘winter clothes’ drawer (we had a spare drawer. Don’t judge.) It isn’t great quality and I keep promising myself that I’m going to knit myself a nicer version out of some good quality wool, but there’s something about this one that makes me happy. In fact, I love it so much, I’m currently wearing it as I type.

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Hand knitted socks!:

Every article I have read about the idea of hygge has been illustrated by the feet of smug people which are smugly adorned in handknitted Scandiweigan socks. These were knitted for me by my friend Jan and I love them. I do knit socks, but no one knits a comfier sock than Jan does. Ergo, these are my favourites and very ‘hygge’, despite me not having an open fire to display them next to.

Obviously, I am well suited to this idea of hunkering down for a long, cold winter. The holly tree out back is already festooned with scarlet berries, which I am told is a sure sign of a long, cold winter. I don’t mind. I grew up in the wilds of the North (er, Leeds) and I have a hardy constitution. I dress my child like a sherpa at the merest whiff of cold weather, so I imagine he’ll be fine too (he is desperate for snow, as there hasn’t been any since he was teeny tiny, so he can’t remember it.)

So if embracing hygge is an actual thing, rather than a clever marketing ploy- and if it’s the latter, congratulations! I’ve generated some content! Please feel free to offer me an all expenses paid trip to Denmark- I am quite happy to participate. As long as I can stay indoors, have the heating on, drink tea and read a good book.

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The Bronte Project 2016

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I’m currently reading a book about the lives of the Brontes and I’ve been thinking about their novels quite a bit. I grew up in Leeds and frequently visited Haworth as a kid- I’ve been to the Parsonage a few times too, the last time about eight years ago.

When I first moved to Brighton, I was a bit homesick. I turned to Wuthering Heights, with its familiar dialect and even more familiar landscape, as a way to re-connect with my home county. (I still have students at work coming to me to ask for help with some of the servants’ dialogue, a thick Yorkshire language that reminds me of old men and tradition.) Later, I read a few more books, but I’ve never read all of them- and certainly not all of the poetry.

(c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

So, here’s what I’ve decided to do: starting in January, I will read all of the Brontes’ novels, in order of publication- although I am planning on starting with the collections of the stories written when they were children first. I’m also going to watch adaptations. I’d also like to re-visit Haworth. I’m planning on blogging the whole lot across both of my blogs, this one and The Bookish Badger.

If you’d like to join in, I’ll be reading in the following order:

Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte

Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte

Agnes Grey- Anne Bronte

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall- Anne Bronte

Shirey- Charlotte Bronte

Villette- Charlotte Bronte

The Professor- Charlotte Bronte

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I’ll also read biographies, poetry collections and other works I can get my hands on. I’d love as many of the books to be Penguin Clothbound Classics as possible, but otherwise I’m going to try and invest in as nice editions as I can afford. I’m also going to read the collection of stories written before the novels were written, Tales of Glass Town, Angria and Gondal.

What I’ve been up to lately

To be honest, not tons has been going on- getting back into the swing of work and getting D settled into going to nursery (I think Benn is on the verge of some kind of breakdown some mornings.)

Last Wednesday I found myself on the Guardian website; I’d volunteered to give a response to Jeremy Corbyn’s first PMQs. The next day I was the only one of the panellists who had their face in the paper:

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All I can say is that my mum’s collections of clippings of me in newspapers and stuff is getting extremely eclectic.

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Also in the last week, my blackberry jelly recipe was published on Bluebird Tea Co.’s blog– if you’re not keen on the idea of adding the tea (although it’s lovely), you can replace that with water. It’s up to you; it’s a recipe well worth trying, even if I do say so myself! While you’re there, maybe try some of the new autumn blends. I was sent them to try and, along with the always popular Spiced Pumpkin Pie, I’d definitely recommend the Nuts About You rooibos, which I’m planning to try as a latte in the very near future.

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I’ve also been reading a very good biography of six notable women who forged remarkable lives in the 1920s called Flappers (if ever you feel your life is in stasis, read about someone like Josephine Baker or Tallulah Bankhead and feel quite inadequate…!) One of the women featured is Zelda Fitzgerald, pictured above with Scott. A review will follow on The Bookish Badger soon.

Anyway, I don’t mind being busy- at least I’m kept out of trouble!

The Thrifty Knitter (and Reader… and Other Things Too)

I am at that awkward stage of the month where I have enough money to get to and from work-with maybe the odd Diet Coke thrown in- and to pay my phone bill. It’s OK, though, because I don’t need anything extra and the house bills are paid; I know I’m in a fortunate position. I have started thinking though, because D is now in nursery, which is more expensive than our previous childcare and we don’t get the extra help that comes when he turns three (in October) until January. So, with birthdays and (whisper it) Christmas on the horizon, I’ve been thinking about how to save a bit of money. I have form for this- when on my maternity leave three years ago, I had to do some financial gymnastics- but now we own our own house, have a car and live further out of town, so things are a bit more complicated. I’ve written in the past about my love of eBay shopping for clothes, but here are some more ideas I’ve had.

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For example, take knitting and my other crafty pursuits. I have loads of basic materials- yarns, needles, fabric, patterns and books. Do I usually buy more without too much thought? Yes. Could I instead think about what I have and use that instead? Yes. I have tons of knitting books and yarn stashed in most rooms of the house (and garage). I need to start using this up instead of automatically going on Ravelry to find something and then buy new wool. If I don’t have the wool, I don’t make it. Simple. I am going to finally start knitting the jumpers I’ve promised D and finish off a few WIPs.

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I am a huge believer in libraries. I credit them with helping me through the dark days of early motherhood, when often the library was the only place I could get to. Most of the books reviewed on my book blog are library books and I’m lucky that Brighton and Hove has a brilliant library service. I also have TONS of books on my shelves that have yet to be read. But still, I am a compulsive book buyer and I buy every book with the intention of reading it. People buy me books too, as they know how much I love them. So my goal is to read more of what I have. I’m thinking for every three of my own books for every book I bring into the house- library or new.

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One of the hangovers from maternity leave is that my makeup budget is still quite modest. I generally buy cheaper brands (but, oh, I dream of owning a Chanel lipstick in the ‘Pirate’ shade, because who wouldn’t?) I do have a tendency though to go a bit mad when the new A/W shades are released though… so this year, I have decided that I won’t buy anything new until something is used up. Also, one of the first things to go in any lean period is my Lush habit. I can forgo bubble bars!

These are small ideas and kind of buy into (ha! PUNS!) the idea of consuming less, which is always a good thing. I’ll also be thinking about when and why I go into town- if I want to see friends, can I invite them here and bake a cake, instead of going out and buying a slice for the same amount it would’ve cost to make a whole one? Do I need more tea if I have some at home? I’m finding myself questioning whether I NEED or WANT stuff and find that, often, I can take or leave what I’m looking at. If I can leave it, then I can save a bit more money.

What are your thrifty tips?

Pause. Reflect. Remember.

Today would have been my Grandma’s birthday; instead, it’s the day of her funeral. So I decided to post the poem that I’m hoping to read later at the service. I chose it as it sums up her attitude to life- and death (I cried the first time I spoke to her after her diagnosis of liver and lung cancer. She told me, not unkindly, to pull myself together and keep my chin up.)

Christina Rossetti is the poet I turn to most frequently at times involving family; I wore a pendant with a line from Birthday on my wedding day and it feels right that she’s with me again today.

Remember

Remember me when I am gone away,
         Gone far away into the silent land;
         When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
         You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
         Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
         And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
         For if the darkness and corruption leave
         A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
         Than that you should remember and be sad.