Saturday, 28 June 2014

Nature (and I) abhor a vacuum

Yesterday while discussing weekend plans, a work colleague admitted that she had a cleaner. I was instantly intrigued. A cleaner, you say, tell me more! Two hours once a fortnight for a reasonable rate - this is fascinating. We can afford it and it would be such a luxury not to be staring at our filthy floor trying to muster the will to vacuum.

BUT. Should two able-bodied folk pay someone else to clean their small flat? Surely we should be able to handle cleaning a few square feet of space without having to hire staff! This brings up all my vague 'bleeding heart liberal' tendencies and also my Scrooge-like thrifty tendencies. I feel a bit uncomfortable about it all.

BUT we both hate cleaning while liking things to be clean.  And I'm sure the cleaner would be quite happy to have another couple of hours work a fortnight. We'd make sure we paid a fair wage so we're not exploiting them.

I don't know - what do you think? Is it immoral to hire someone to do something you're perfectly capable of doing yourself?

Friday, 20 June 2014

Oh for a room of one's own!

Dream dressing room

Dream dressing room by eleanorbirdy 

 We live in a small one bedroom flat. We love where we live, but after a couple of years here I find myself dreaming of space. Particularly the ultimate luxury of one's own dressing room. We find it pretty frustrating trying to get into the same places at the same time in our current bedroom. Wouldn't it be nice to have a whole room to spread out in?

I'm dreaming of two big wardrobes, just for me! With shoe cubbies and all sorts of clever shelves and hangers and wardrobe organisation things inside. 

I'm dreaming of a proper dressing table with a seat, facing the window so it's got lots of natural light. It's got a mirror and space to put all my make up and hair products. 

 I'd love a little slipper chair like the one above for putting on shoes and generally lolling about in. When I was a little girl my parents came across a little floral armchair. They said it was mine and they'd get it reupholstered to go in my bedroom but there was never room in my room. Eventually it got too dilapidated and went to the tip.

In my dream dressing room, the walls are an expensive shade of light taupe. The floor is plush cream wool carpet with the lovely big rug as shown above.There are several big windows with views of trees and rolling green hills. There's a gorgeous marble encrusted en suite bathroom (with a huge bath).  Sigh...

Monday, 16 June 2014

Four hours in Bath Spa

Last weekend we had some friends from New Zealand visiting. They only had a few hours in our part of the country so we suggested visiting Bath Spa. So, what to do with four hours in Bath?

Main pool of Roman baths
There are HEAPS of excellent touristy things to do in Bath (and Bristol, and the surrounding countryside), but with strictly limited time we settled on the Roman Baths. We'd never been but had heard that they were awesome. They were pretty awesome.

 Street level where the people are standing on the balcony is a storey above where the baths were. They had actors on the lower level by the pool interacting with visitors. These two were a wealthy Roman lady and her slave explaining about cosmetics and hair and the latest fashions from Rome. There was also a centurion showing off his armour.

Steps of Roman baths
One of the surprising things was that it was a huge place with lots of underground excavations and rooms full of Roman artifacts. It took us a good couple of hours to go around and that was travelling at a decent pace.

It was a massive complex in Roman times with a temple, bath houses, gymnasium and more.

Pediment of temple of Sulis Minerva
 This picture shows the ornamental pediment of the temple of Sulis Minerva with a fantastic Celtic-influenced gorgon's head. They projected images of what the whole thing would look like onto the remaining bits so you could really visualise it.

Head of Sulis Minerva
The face of the goddess Sulis Minerva was amazing - larger than life and so serene. Her gilt-bronze statue would have been kept in the 'holy of holies' by the sacred spring for only consecrated priests to see.

Pool inside Roman baths
The coins glimmering at the bottom of this underground pool make it look like the night sky. The Roman bath complex had a range of hot and cold pools and even a sauna.

The thing that broke my heart was that the water was completely untreated so it wasn't safe to swim in or paddle in or even touch. Coming from New Zealand where I frequently visited thermal hot pools, this made me sad.

You can buy an expensive 'Spas ancient and modern package' to be able to swim in the modern hot pools a few metres away from the Roman Baths (and you get lunch as well). You can also get a cheaper combined ticket to also be able to visit the Bath Fashion Museum. I got the combined ticket as the Fashion Museum is another place that I've heard is good but have never been. I'm going soon so I'll report back.

Roman baths overlooked by Bath Abbey
The Roman sacred place is now overlooked by a Christian sacred place - the stunning Bath Abbey. I highly recommend a visit here too. If you go for Evensong it's free to get in and you get to hear the choir of little boys in ruffs*!

*Evensong is a Christian service so don't go if that doesn't appeal. Also, the boys only sing part of the time, but there is always choral music and it's always lovely.

So that was our whistle-stop tour of Bath. A quick lunch and a dash into a couple of shops and our time was up. I think we made a good choice in our tourist attraction though, don't you?

Saturday, 14 June 2014

A princess among cats

champagne burmese cat curled up on a bed

She was a princess among cats. In fact, when he got her, my besotted husband (actually he was my boyfriend at that stage) named her Princess Mao. Her middle name 'Bitey' came a bit later and for obvious reasons.

When she arrived home from the pet shop, she was grey with flea dirt. She'd just been brought into the shop from a neglectful home. She looked about 8+ weeks old but was actually about 12+ weeks. My mother-in-law donned rubber gloves and washed the poor little scamp in the sink. The gloves were no match for Princess's needle-sharp claws. 

Husband bought Princess at cat bed but from the beginning she slept on our bed. I used to wake up terrified that we'd smothered her by accident. I'd put my hand on her belly to feel if she was breathing and try to wake her up. It's quite hard to wake a cat from a deep sleep.

When she got a bit older, she'd take a few weeks sleeping on one of us then swap to sleep on the other one. When I lay on my side, she sleep on the curve between my hips and my ribs. Rolling over was a major operation, but I didn't mind because I loved her company. She was also constantly on my lap as I sat on the couch at night. I generally had a lap rug on me to protect me from kneading paws. If I needed to get up, I could just lift up the rug,
cat and all, then put it back down on the couch.

She was a clever cat - she taught herself to play fetch with shoelaces or toy mice. We'd spend ages throwing these things and her pouncing on them then trotting back with them in her little cat yap.

Princess wasn't much of a hunter, though. In our first flat together, we would occasionally get rats. One time she brought in a lightly wounded rat and let it go to run around the lounge. She totally ignored it while husband and I attempted to catch or kill that darn rat. We had a similar situation with a mouse in another flat - it was obviously not a well mouse because it was really slow but she didn't bother to catch it, she just watched as husband and I flailed around with the broom. Maybe this was her idea of fun!

Leaving her with my mother-in-law after twelve years together was the hardest thing about emigrating. She was our cat baby. Skyping a blur of beige fur just wasn't the same, though it was good to know that she was well looked after. Recently her health issues became too much and she had to be put down. Rest in Peace, Princess 'Bitey' Mao.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

How to get ahead at work - part two

I'm feeling quite chuffed with myself. We've recently re-branded and I had a bunch of things to do with that - I got them all done on time*. We've got a big promotion going at a conference next week and I've got all the stuff ready and sorted now - the week before it's needed. I am crossing my fingers and praying that nothing goes wrong at the last minute, but so far it looks like it's all on track**.

So, with a startling lack of humility, I'm going to share my second lot of thoughts on how to get stuff done at work. (My first lot of thoughts are here.) My context is a medium-large organisation. If you're in a small organisation you've got some different challenges.

1. Plan small
I did a short project management course and one of the things that I took away from that (other than the fact that I really don't want to be a project manager) is how easy it is to underestimate the time things take. For example - it may take four hours of actual work for someone to design a leaflet. However, as the project manager, you need to allow about ten days so that a) they can get around to it with all the other work they've got on b) you can make changes to their original design and c) you can get feedback from other people on the design.

So, plan how much you'd like to achieve in the time, then cut your ambitions down by about two thirds. If you get more done, great! If not, you've still done what you said you would within the time frame.

2. Sign-off versus feedback
I've fallen into the sign-off trap many times so now I try really hard to get clear from the start who is actually signing off this piece of work. Then you can make sure they're on board along the way so that you don't get to the end and find out they have totally different which mean you need to radically alter your work.

3. Ask the end users (and staff on the ground)
This is part of the sign-off versus feedback thing and it doesn't really relate to getting things done, but more to making good things. You really want as few people as possible signing off your work, but plenty of people giving feedback. The most useful feedback I get is from front-line staff. I've had a few real 'a-ha' moments with insights that should have been obvious but weren't obvious to me in my blinkered context. 

4. Check, double check and triple check
I was getting things delivered somewhere. I asked the company when it would be delivered and asked them to let me know when it had arrived. I phoned and emailed the place where it was being delivered to let them know it was coming. Once I got the email saying it had arrived, I phoned the place and checked that it was being stored somewhere I could get to. So, I'm confident that this particular thing is ready to go for the conference. Overkill? It's much better than finding out at the last minute that something vital hasn't arrived.

Also, check and double check everyone else is totally aware of what they need to do and that it has been done.

5. Find efficient ways of tracking your tasks
Totally up to you how you handle this but do find what works for you and make time to use it.

For all the stuff I had to rebrand, I broke down each step in the process (there are about eight) and tracked each item through each step in the process, updating my chart every week. This way I could make sure that things were kept moving through to completion instead of being stuck on one step. 

 So - these are just a few things I've learnt so far but I'm sure I've got a lot more to learn. Any tips?

* Well, one bit didn't get done when I planned but it was okay.
** I feel like I'm jinxing myself writing this!