Friday, 12 October 2012

Single issue geekery

'I can't hear the protestations from over there'

Prior to this I'd been... accused of being a geek? Identified as being a geek? I was talking about dragon spawn points beneath desks, a thought process kicked off by meeting a dragon fairy landing on us at work and the dragon fairy apparently being gender neutral but bringing along a baby dragon with it.

I used to never think about geek. Never used to need to quantify it or put it under the microscope. I just was. Sometimes I'd meet other geeky girls, briefly our paths would across, and then they'd diverge again.

Then I had to work with 'normal' people for ages. Ages and ages. And the fun, curious, silly, laughter giving bit of me disappeared and got locked into a box because it wasn't appropriate, it didn't fit, and it wasn't appreciated.

I didn't twig until Tuesday this week that that person who actually has a sense of humour, and an ability to laugh, and an increasing sense of not caring, actually, whether anyone else could keep up with the random imagination and subject jumps and the constant playing with things was coming back. The trick is, there's a time and a place. But increasingly, I don't want to be in a time or place where it's not okay to just be me. What does it matter if shit gets done? What does it matter if I'm happy and not winding up other people or upsetting them, because I'm relaxed and happy and not stressing about missing signals or signs or not knowing the rules.

I'm a simple girl. I like to marvel at things. I like shiny things, twinkly things, pretty things, interesting and curious things. I want to be blown away by the amazingness of things, but I also want to be absorbed by their intricacy. I think too much, and don't think at all.

So the single issue for me, ultimately, is what do I do, what profession do I choose, which will allow me to be me. Just me. Bit silly, bit random, bit disruptive. But only when I'm relaxed enough in my working environment to be those things. Only when I trust the people around me to be okay with me with my walls down. And I think the only bits of life where everyone knows who Joss Whedon is, and quote off's are regular happenings, where having strange hobbies is normal and wanting to make all the things in the entire world is positively encouraged, are the ones other geeks are drawn to too.

So I'm going to learn to code. One hopes it's a more successful endeavour than the one where the author of the llama book sent me the llama book. Hopefully I'll be okay at it. If I'm really lucky, I'll be good at it. But I don't know how else I get to build shit and get to be me doing it.

I appear to be owing GDS an awful lot. Finding myself wasn't on the list. I hadn't actually noticed I was missing.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012


Disclaimer: For a while, what felt like a long while, but which was actually short by comparison, I thought I was going to need a wee bit of superhuman help myself as my legs took on a bit of a life of their own, wouldn't go the way I wanted them to go, went dead randomly, and frequently resulted in my not being able to walk if I did something as stupid as stop in one place too long.

I'm okay now. (I'm not but we'll pretend I am, as I am mostly, enough for no one else to ever notice)

I'd like to say that that experience opened my eyes to the frustrations of the unpredictability of your body always working when you asked it to. That I'd never noticed disabled people before that. But I'd be lying. What actually happened was that Channel 4 did a proper job of broadcasting the Paralympics in Beijing and I was hooked. That's what actually happened. Then I went to the velodrome in Manchester to watch some racing and saw one of the most fragile looking people I'd ever seen tear the track up.

Or maybe some of it is a healthy dose of wake up call.

What's interesting is that my experience is not the other 2,999,999 people who've bought Paralympic tickets experience.

What's even more interesting is the stealth marketing campaign we are all being subjected to. Because make no mistake about it, when it's a broadcaster driving a narrative, one must assume it is a marketing campaign in order to drive audiences to satisfy stakeholders that bidding for the rights to the Paralympics was worth it and not out of some sort of social responsibility. Though I'd like to think there was a wee dose of that among some of the decisions which have been made.


It makes me think of the augmented physicality of Oscar Pistorius. It makes me think about achieving magnificent things in the face of adversity.

That's not the story I'm hearing from the athletes themselves, however. Instead, I hear conviction that disability has unlocked something that was there but was not needed, or was there but never acknowledged, or was there but was buried. That for those who have become disabled in the time their memories were awake, it is not a case of exist, it is a case of exist, deal, assimilate and then continue, but with eyes on goals and new found determinations and passions awakened.

But we shouldn't forget that the journey can be difficult. We shouldn't forget the darkness and sadness that comes from losing what you were so used to having. Melanie Reid has been writing a visceral and sometimes tear inducing column for The Times for some time now as she documents her recovery from an accident involving her horse which has left her paralysed. We should not forget that to be #superhuman is not to simply achieve physically. It is to be where Melanie is, to hurt and feel destroyed and then to somehow move past that.

Now, some people move quick and some people move slow. Some people channel anger and some people need to deal with it. And I disclaimer all of this as I have never felt these emotions except in perhaps fleeting moments, so I assume. I jump to conclusions, and they may be wrong.

But it feels really important to me to not assume that someone like Melanie is a failure because she is not in a wheelchair flinging herself around a court with her elbows out. And on the flipside it's really important not to assume that those who do, have not been down incredibly painful paths to go there. And yet again, to not assume that they have.

Because, you see, disability is not a brush with only one pot of colour. There are people in those wheelchairs, in those pools and on those courts. Amazing people. Magnificent people. Awe inspiring people. But they're people.

Tomorrow, any one of us could find ourselves in a similar position.

So I don't think we should necessarily cling to the #superhuman tag too hard. I think we should celebrate all people for who they are and what they achieve, despite of something or because of something with one tag, and one tag only.


Isn't it flipping ace, this being human thing?

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Peoples Games

What makes a stadium great?

Is it the events which unfold within it?

Is it the track which is fast and sees World and Olympic records fall inside it?

Or is it the noise. The cacophony of cheering, the overwhelming, hair raising, goosebump inducing roar, that from outside sounds like a jet engine or 3 spinning up to speed.

Where does this noise come from? Is the acoustics of the stadium, the echoes, reverberation or the feedback and bounce back inside the human formed bowl?

Or is it the people. The 80,000 people. A large proportion of whom are partisan. Who will cheer everyone, absolutely everyone, who will even shed a tear for those who win and are proud, are emotional, have achieved great things, but who ultimately have discovered that right now, they are Team GB to the core?

Architecture is beautiful. Lighting is beautiful. Lines and curves and fancy planting are beautiful. But beauty is nothing if there is an absence of soul behind the facade.

Our Olympic Stadium has a soul inside it, a heart that beats in time to the applause. And that soul is us. All of us, who cheer from our sofas and our pub benches, our picnic blankets and our commentary boxes. We give   a Stadium life, and we will remove it once the Closing Ceremony comes to a close.

But these are our games, all of ours, not just Londoners, not just those lucky enough to get a ticket. Americans give interviews to camera telling us that we are a nation of sport lovers. We weren't. But we are now. Eyes wide open to possibilities that do not include football or rugby or cricket.

But what gives a stadium life? The people within it, and the people without it. All of us. Perhaps part of the legacy is to understand that for two weeks we were a heartbeat. United in beating. And no one, no one at all, will ever be able to take that away from us.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

On helmets

Once upon a time there was a girl with a mum.

The girl loved her mum very much. As she grew up she realised there was something slightly different about her mum, but she didn't mind because occasionally her mum hugged her and occasionally she sat and podded peas with her, and occasionally baked bread with her. They rode bikes together too. Lots of bikes. And they didn't wear helmets because helmets cost money and getting second hand helmets was less easy than getting second hand bikes which is what they rode.

Quiet friendship and quiet conversation happened on those rides and they happened in sunshine, winter or summer. Vivid memories of frozen fingers, wool ill suited to the speed attained whizzing down the gentle hills of Somerset.

More time passed. Mum left dad and life quietened and distance became closeness again. Trust gained and trust received and friendship reforged. A daughter understanding that in some things, protecting mother instead of seeking mothers protection is the way the world turns. No more hand holding across roads, no more assurance to be sought. Striking out in the world and making mistakes, always honest about the mistakes, and always accepted as simply being herself.

The girl left home and went to university. Moved a lot. Her mum moved a lot too. Time and energies focused on a sister with ME and a quiet backing away by the girl, independence compounded by distance and focus and more than all of this, simply life.

Time passed.

And then, one day, the girl received a phone call.

Mum had been riding her bike to work as she did every single day. She'd mostly always been a utility rider rather than a leisure rider. 3 speeds, and a basket on the front type of girl. She'd rode out of the flat and down the hill and some construction work had left some mud on the road. So mum, going downhill at the speed she usually did, skidded and went head first straight into a lamp post.

She wasn't wearing a helmet.

She had to call the ambulance herself from her mobile phone through the sheets of blood falling.

The girl went to see her mum. The phone call came 2 weeks after the accident. Mum hadn't wanted to worry the girl, conscious of being a mother, of protecting from the worst. Sister was given as next of kin to the hospital. The girl found her mother with a partly shaved head, and staples all across her scalp, huge staples, the biggest staples she'd ever seen, all the way across from ear to ear. The staples were so big she couldn't see past them, or maybe she simply didn't want to see what might be below.

The mum can't use her middle finger properly any more and she can't wriggle her eyebrows any more in the way  that used to make the girl giggle hysterically when she was a child. Mum can't move her left eyebrow very much at all. The nerve was severed. The finger is slightly confusing.

What is less confusing, and yet more confusing for the girl, is the way her mother isn't quite her mother any more. She can't quite put her finger on it and if you pushed and pushed she'd have to sit down and really really think about it. But she's avoided doing that the last few years because it's too painful. She talks like her mum but she doesn't laugh like her mum. The look in her eyes isn't quite that of her mum either. The cadence of her speech is off, she's slightly not quite right.

And she knows it.


I love my mum. And because I love my mum, don't ever, ever, ever talk to me about helmets. I will simply turn my back and walk away from you. It is not a subject that is up for discussion. I do not want to talk about it. But what I do want to say, very much, is that brain damage cannot be fixed, not with all the money in the entire world.

A decent helmet can be had for £20. It makes you sweaty and gives you helmet hair?

Try the shaved and stapled look.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

About being a girl

Until Brad Wiggins won a gold this afternoon in the cycling time trial, a very interesting tale was unfolding on the Olympics medal table, and it screamed 'here come the girls'. But it's not just the medal table that's telling a very interesting story during this Olympics.

First on my radar was Lizzie Armitstead using the platform of winning a silver medal in the women's road race to discuss sexism in sport and in cycling in particular. What she had to say was no surprise. That she said it, was. Unsurprisingly, in the process of becoming, for want of a better word, a pedaler, many conversations have centered around always being the lone female in a group of blokes out mountain biking, of the assumption always being that you're only there because your boyfriend is, of the dickheads shouting abuse out of car windows and the fact that boys don't buy cycling magazines with pictures of girls riding bikes on the front. But underlying all those conversations, every single one, has been the deep seated assumption that this is how it is, how it will always be, and that to 'whine and moan' about it is not going to get us anything but resentment from 50% of the population who when skewed participation is taken into account, are actually more like 90% of the population.

Except that's changing. And it's on the road it's changing, not on the mountain side. Girls mountain biking will, I think, always be a little bit unusual. But girls riding to work, commuting with the sunshine, that's 50%. Girls going on ride outs at the weekend and stopping for tea and cake, that's creeping slowly but surely towards 50% too. Serious girls in serious lycra competing in crits and sportives? Rising. As is membership of British Cycling.

It will be very interesting to see what response Lizzie gets. The lack of derision and instigation of serious discussion in various quarters gives hope.

On to women's hockey. Kate Walsh got smashed in the jaw with a hockey stick during the teams first game on Sunday evening. She went down, screamed, kicked, and then locked down and got it under control. Because female hockey players are built of teflon it was quite chilling to hear such an expression of pain, but she walked off the pitch with a broken jaw, bleeding but dignified and head held high. Why are women hockey players made of teflon? Because it's not been ruled out that now Kate has had a plate inserted into her broken jaw, it's not been ruled out at all that she will be back on the pitch and back captaining her team before the week is out.

It will be very interesting to see whether anyone registers exactly how teflon coated a woman can be.

On to weightlifting and one Zoe Smith. Don't piss her off. And certainly don't assume she's just some dumb ass idiot who took to lifting weights because her brain wasn't too great. The lady can write, and eloquently, and has done so about the ridiculous comments elicited by a documentary aired last week. But perhaps the surprise here is not the comments aimed at a powerful young black woman. Perhaps the surprise is the cacophony of agreement and cheering from the sidelines which her clear, simple and direct retort has received. Thanks but no thanks to the comments, perhaps, but I suspect thanks very much to the positive discussions it's kicked off.

Finally, the woman's football team. This image spoke volumes today, as did this one. They tell the combined story of 75,000 people trekking to Wembley, not the most convenient of destinations on a Tuesday night, to see a team of women who few have ever heard of, play football with the kind of joy, passion and freedom that I last remember seeing associated with football back in the late 80's/early 90's.   Even the coach is a star in my eyes, tempering joy at the first goal with gentle downward pushes of her hands, face solemn, message clear 'we're not done here yet girls, we're not done and you know we're not'. At the end, that same coach hugged the male Brazilian coach without affectation or showmanship, the simple but unfettered expression of appreciation at meeting an equal, beating them fairly, and giving respect but also thanks.

Last time we saw a coach of any male team hugging anyone at all? Last time we saw a female coach of a football team? Last time we saw a black female coach of a football team winning and winning well?

For me these are the stories. For me they are the hope. They are the little shards of light that say that girls have a place in sport in this country. That we are earning our right, not only to be sportswomen, but to be sports fans as well, that we are not just physios and masseurs but we are the smart, and the intelligent, the strategic and the teflon coated, the ballsy and the brave.

Someone just posted a message on Twitter. It said:

Thanks to the Olympics, our tellies and papers are full of talented, determined classy people rather than 'celebrities'. It's very nice indeed. @PoppyD

 For two weeks, every time any girl or woman turns on the television they will be bombarded with images of successful women of all ages, from 15 to 51, achieving the impossible, achieving the tangible, achieving the magnificent with bodies which are healthy, athletic, that curve differently, but that are resilient, that respond, that are capable, bodies which belong to people who are confident, passionate but most of all, very most of all happy and proud.

As far as I am concerned, the physical legacy of this games is already a deal done. It's the psychological legacy for this nation, a nation of women who have been fed celebrity at every turn, that is the one hanging in the balance. Will we understand, finally, the message being sent from every angle, or will we retreat backwards, after the games have gone, into our botox filled, intelligence mocking, make up plastered, always sweetly perfumed world we lived in before? Will we still believe size 6 is it? Will we abhor sweat instead of celebrating it as proof we tried our hardest for as long as we possibly could? Or will we rise to a legacy that says:

We are women, we are strong. We are women, we are team. We are women, we will try our damnedest. We are women, we are athletes. We are women, we are proud.

The lines are drawn. Only we can choose which side we choose to stand.

Monday, 9 July 2012

A Tube Noobs Guide to the London Underground

Or: how not to get an irate Londoner in the small of your back.

Entering the station

Do not:
Loiter in front of the ticket barriers so no one else can get to them causing a massive queue
Push in front of people to stay with your group. We don't care. Brits queue. End.
Go to the ticket machine with no idea of what ticket you want
Go to the ticket machine with no change if you intend to pay in cash
Go to the ticket machine have a chat right in front of it.

Using the escalators

Do not:
Loiter at the top of the escalators so no one else can get to them causing a massive queue
Push in front of people to stay with your group. It's a long way down. For either of us.
Stand on the left. They're not optional.
Leave your luggage on the left
Stop at the bottom to have a discussion about which direction you need to go in
Stop at the bottom to have a chat about your date last night
Stop at the bottom to snog your date of tonight

Getting to the platform

Do not:
Create a rolling roadblock with your family, friends or other group. Some of us are not on holiday.
Comment about how everyone is in a terrible rush. Fancy a 2.5 hour daily commute? We're hungry, get out of our way

Using a platform

Do not:
Stand in the middle of the platform, neither forward nor at the back but loitering vaguely
Stand in front of the yellow line. Tubes hurt far more than Londoners if they hit you in the small of the back.
Loiter in the entrance as you fail massively to decide which of only 2 options you will choose - left or right
Choose the entrance as a good place for a snog/hug/handshake goodbye

Getting on the tube

Do not:
Stand in front of the door so no one can get off. We will barge through you as if you were not there. Think we're too polite cos we queue? Find out how wrong you are.
Try and get on the train before everyone is off. It's permission for us to play rugby. We will.
Race to get in front of pregnant/disabled/children in tow in search of a seat. You look like a douche-bag.
Comment on how hot it is. It's hot. Get over it.

Riding the tube

Do not:
Think you're too cool to hold on. A smashed jaw or broken nose is not cool.
Try and continue reading your paper in a space a small shrew couldn't wriggle through.
Get uppity about your personal space. There is no personal space. Get over it. Or walk.
Look nervous or comment when a train stops in a tunnel.
Sing, talk loudly, argue or otherwise bring attention to yourself in rush hour. You'll know if its rush hour.
Abandon your humanity the second you enter through the doors. People sometimes need help. Help them.

Getting off the tube

Do not:
Dawdle. How long have you know the next stop is your stop?
Assume everyone is psychic and knows this is your stop. Excuse me works wonders.
Stop just outside the doors to sort your shopping/find your oyster card/chat to your mate.

Yours, a very tired, very irritated, dreading the bloody Olympics temporary Londoner.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012


I'm going to follow true DIBB (Disney with a British Accent Boards) tradition and do an attempt at a trip report of our trip to Florida over there which I'll link here when completed (which could be months judging by how long it takes everyone else to get around to it) but I wanted to chuck something here.

Before we went, I have to say, this was a trip for my other half. It's his 40th this year. When I asked him 'left or right?' he knew I meant US or Australia and he picked left. I wanted him to pick right. I don't think he knows that - he does now but it's okay to say it now. I am not a fan of humidity, I am not a fan of tat, I am not a fan of flying and I was not a fan of Americans particularly either with some very notable exceptions (yes, Ann, Hadley et al I am looking at you).  Go me with my tarring etc.

So I bought him a hol to Florida for his 40th. He picked the parks, we got Universal 14 day 2 park tickets for free included with the hol, bought 3 park Busch, Aquatica and Seaworld 14 day ticket and then finally added Kennedy Space Centre on top. Compared to most Brits on tour this is a small haul of tickets, trust me.

I spent the next year planning. Tripit filled up, Advance Dining Reservations were made (the one bit that was solely for me and selfish, I confess - my other half is a vegetarian who is allergic to cheese, food as a leisure activity is an alien concept for obvious reasons) - and I read other peoples trip reports, asked some dumbass questions of my own to contribute to the mass of dumbass questions on the DIBB (it's the nicest forum I know - peoples patience never seems to run out and its appreciated so much), and generally tried to keep the little aspie bit of me quiet by knowing exactly what was going to happen and when so there were no nasty surprises and I wouldn't end up in any stupid situations which would be difficult if it could be avoided.

As a result, I wasn't excited about going until the day before. At all. It looked complicated, difficult, challenging and the weather forecast was scaring me. Work hadn't exactly been a wind down the week before, I was finding it exceptionally difficult to switch off and was, honestly, a wee bit stressed truth be told.

Staying at the Radisson Blu at Manchester Airport the night before helped. Dinner at Nandos and a film (Avengers!) in the afternoon also helped as did booking the V-Room which is an oasis of calm in a sea of airport madness. Who the hell designed airports anyway? Cold, clinical, hospital like with all the bad associations which come with that, combined with sucky heating, crap loos, old lifts, crap signage and hard seats. To be fair, Manchester beats the hell out of Luton, Gatwick, Stansted and Liverpool (I've never flown from the same airport twice yet, bar Liverpool, don't ask).

After Virgin Atlantic delivered us onto the runway safely (lets just say it was the most scary rollercoaster of the whole trip, landings aren't supposed to involve more down than forward motion, I'm sure you're not supposed to turn right to taxi straight after coming to a screaming stop which threw us all forward in our seats really quite hard actually and the clapping was absolutely deserved for the pilot who I think was possibly right on the edge of what the plane brakes could do) it finally hit me. Bit weepy. Walking into holiday brochure moment for a girl who used to cut out images from Virgin brochures to make scrapbooks of all the Florida adventures she'd one day go on (ha ha ha didn't believe I'd ever go for a second when I was a kid). Serious 'moment'.

Orlando International is a beautiful airport. Our car was fricking awesome - we got a free upgrade cos we used the Brit Guide discount code and it was automatic this and really clever that with tonnes of storage and we only got it cos we were dithering so long over colours of cars in the lot and then 'our' one turned up and we practically snatched it out of the car hire delivery ladies hand.

Hotel was...what we paid for. Most people going to Orlando seem to end up staying in quite nice hotels. We stayed I think it what I would call a functional one. T'other half was lovely and went back to reception to ask for a view of Universal which they gave us which was really sweet of them. The clientele was this really odd mix of businessman, conference goer, local reveller and tourist. It made for some awkward lift moments. Brekkie was nice, pool was small, it wasn't somewhere we felt we wanted to hang around? I don't know, I wouldn't recommend it I don't think, but nor was it a disaster.

And what followed was two weeks of utter wonderment, bewilderment, confusion, gawping, magic, smiles, tears, fireworks, fantastic customer service, appalling customer service ridiculous amounts of food and a dalliance with Disney magic which we're hoping to fully immerse ourselves in next time we go back.

Yeah, there's going to be a next time. ;O))

The one thing I've taken away from our holiday apart from a tan and some freckles?

If imagination is not mentioned anywhere in your company or organisations mission statement, company report or vision, or whatever the hell you want to call it, you are not going to survive. Innovation is nothing, absolutely nothing without imagination to fuel it first. So don't go recruiting innovators, go recruit  some imagineers - for without them, nothing new would ever happen, no idea would ever be had, and no kid would ever stand on Main Street, on Universals lot or across from a launch pad and believe that absolutely anything was possible. For two weeks, I believed anything was possible.  Considering my job and where I would like my job to take me, I intend to hold onto that belief with absolutely everything I have.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

I'm not religious but...

I'm not religious but...

I don't think about religion much either.  I don't read Richard Dawkins and I don't go to church because I just don't feel the need to. I don't believe in God. I don't believe in fate. Or heaven or hell.

What I do believe in, absolutely and utterly, is other peoples right to claim the comfort, community and shared care which religions give to those who need it (as long as no harm is done).  I don't believe in attacking or intellectually deconstructing other peoples beliefs. I believe other peoples beliefs are their and no business of mine.

So why am I sharing this with you?

A footballer fell over on a pitch. Lots of people tweeted the hashtag #prayformuamba... and then the comments appeared, retweeted into my stream, that prayers were not what was needed for muamba, that medics were needed.

Well the thing is, how do you know for sure? In the same way I can't prove there isn't a god, I don't think anyone can prove there is one either. But I suspect the outpouring of tweets, well wishes and thoughts are singlehandedly improving the internal relations of the football fan community as we speak. If some of those fans choose to express their concerns in terms of religion because that is what they turn to for comfort in times when they feel fear, or grief, or sadness, then who are we to remove that?

You don't take a teddy off a 5 year old who's crying. And in my mind, having a pop at a bunch of people who believe prayers work right now, that's kind of akin to removing their teddy bear.

It's a pretty poor world we live in if we cannot allow adults the same warm comfort and solace at times when they feel they need it because of some weird innate sense in ourself that means we need to impose our own thoughts, belief patterns and superiority on others.


I used to work as a Court Officer in the Probation Service. I also was asked to be the Diversity Rep, in the absence of anyone else volunteering. One day, one of the Probation Officers came to me and asked me why some of the other Probation Officers were being so dismissive of her religion, explaining to her that 'they couldn't understand why someone so intelligent believed not even in one god but in many of them, like some kind of weird fantasy book'.

I didn't know what to say.  I was young, I guess, and I was the wrong person to be a Diversity Rep. I don't know why I was asked either, and part of me hopes the suspicion it was because I was the only white girl going to lunch with a bunch of black girls were completely unfounded. The lady whose beliefs were being questioned was a female Sri Lankan, a Hindu and still one of the most sparkly, vivacious and wonderful people I've ever known. In fact, coincidentally, I seem to only ever have crossed paths with utterly lovely Hindus.


She felt her intelligence was being called into question, but even more than that, her culture as well as her religion. For her, family, culture and religion were unquestionably intertwined. She did not question her heritage, she did not question her religion. This was because her religion was not something to be questioned - instead it was linked to spirituality, something she felt, not thought. Therefore, to her, it was completely bizarre for someone to question her thinking on the matter. It was like someone questioning where she was born, how she was born, and how she would die.

For some religions, culture and tradition entrenched within it are so closely linked to ones sense of self that to try and detach the two is simply impossible. To remove the religion would remove the need for the tradition and if you remove tradition from a life wrapped around it, then you remove the community from that person because that is where community crosses, where contact is made, where predictable paths cross and recross again.


I guess what I'm trying to say is, questioning someones religion? It's might look simple to you, from your purely intellectual point of view, but religion isn't intellectual. It's spiritual. And this little unlabelled person  aint messing about with no one else's sense of that.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

There is no I in Team

I don't agree with that statement. I don't agree with it at all. And here's why.

If there is no I in Team, then there is no Team. What constitutes a Team? A complex and fabulous mix of assorted talents, egos, sense of humour, backgrounds, loves, dislikes, musical tastes, passions and expressions - or not.

Each of those things, each of those little foibles are valuable to the Team. They contribute something fundamental to the 'dynamics' of the team - I hate the word dynamics but I can't think of a better one. So what is a dynamic? The thing that makes a team a Team. It's the way you fit together, the way you contribute together in order to achieve an objective, the way you are frictionless or frictionful, the way you trust and the way you hesitate.

If there is no I in Team, how do you know what someone will bring to your team life? How do you know when that person is likely to be sad and when they are likely to be happy? How do you know it's sunny so today is a good day to load Jo with some extra work because she'll be finished by 3pm and twiddling her thumbs and she doesn't like doing that much? How do you know that last night Sam went to a gig he has been looking forward to for weeks and this morning might not be the best time to tell him his workload for next week just doubled as a deadline shifted forward 5 days? How do you know that Ella went to a funeral on flexi time this morning and it might be best that everyone just left her alone for a while until she made it clear herself she was ready to join in again in her usual joke throwing pithy comment lobbing way?

There are multiple I's in team. Multiple personalities and multiple external influences. Lots of wrongs and lots of rights. Lots of conflicting pulls on time and thought and energy. Lots of fabulous energy which if harnessed at the right time can do simply amazing things. But simply amazing things are not achieved by one person alone - simply amazing things are achieved by pulling together, leaving the differences between I's at home and putting Team first.

But that does not mean there is no I in Team.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Ambition is a dirty word

Sarah Lay wrote this and it's brilliant. It's brilliant because it's true. All of it, from beginning to end.

My move to GDS has been greeted by a number of different reactions and comments. Some have been cutting and have hurt. Some have left me almost breathless with their kindness and belief in me. Some have been uncalled for, some have misunderstood entirely what my job role will be and who my stakeholders will be also.

I have found it very interesting. I have found that in the main, it is women who have been breathtakingly kind, positive, and fierce in their congratulations and vicarious excitement. This may be because I do not have as many male friends as I am used to having, I don't know. It may be because there is a perception among some men that I have stepped outside of the normal promotional path and somehow 'jumped the queue'. It may even be a complete lack of understanding of what I do, how I do it, where I do it and how well I do it - I couldn't possibly comment.

But there is a marked difference.

We are sold on the fallacy that women are evil to each other in the workplace. We are fed tales of horrendous female bosses who are cutting, sarcastic, box people in, never praise, lock the talented in a box and take all their credit. Just like the word ambition, there are so many negative connotations, stories and 'legends' which swirl and grow.

In my experience, they are not true. I would not describe any of the women I know as lonely, unfulfilled, without children or husband or family, as isolated or unhappy. Instead, I see a group of women who mentor when the men wont do it, who pick up the slightly knocked about and shine them up a bit, polish them, listen and send them on their way. I see women who listen, make time to nurture, who balance the requirements of being part of a family (they don't run them the same way they run organisations, or Departments or Sections), with the needs of the slightly nervous and timid, balanced with having a whole hell of a lot of fun for themselves.

I look at them, and I see women who are not ruthless. Not negative. Not soft. Not alone. I see empowered, in control, magicians with time who balance all the needs of everyone around them and manage, most of the time to do the impossible - be happy. Not all the time, not all the people, not all the requirements and needs, but most of the time.

I don't know any man who is happy all of the time, do you? So why do we expect women to be? We do more, are more, have more than we have ever had before, and slowly but surely more of us are accepting that it is okay.

But believe me when I say, none of us are going to be getting anywhere on our own, without help, support, nurturing and mentoring. Say the word nurture to a man in a work context and I suspect you'll get a slightly panicked response. Say it to a woman and there will be no blinks.

That's not to say, women are better than men. They're just different. But in my very short experience in life I have had as many awesome female mentors as male and they have brought very different things to the table.

But the women, to the last, have never tried to undermine me, cut me down, mocked me, ignored me, patronised me, pushed my buttons or locked me in a box. I am sad to say those accolades all sit in the laps of the men I have reported to in whatever capacity over the past 10 years. I may have been lucky and I may be about to be forced to eat my words in the next 10 but if today is stupid assumptions about women dispelling day then that's my contribution.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

JFDI > evaluation != lack of innovation

It's late. I'm tired. But this needs writing.

JFDI died a little when some people decided it wasn't the way to do things - too much rushing in, not enough evaluation of impact. Then we tried to work out how to evaluate impact and it all went quiet.

Well. I've come to my own conclusion and it's working out okay, I think. It's this. JFDI has its place. It really does. Experimentation leads to people using LinkedIn for slightly offball reasons which yield some excellent revenue results. When someone came to me and asked if I thought it was a good idea, I told her it was kickass. I didn't _know_ it was kickass but it made my tummy do that little jump of excitement it does when someone says something awesome - so off she went and it worked.

I could have said no. I couldn't set pre-emptive performance indicators on her actions. I could have decided that it was time ill spent and asked her to focus on the already not inconsiderable successes in social media she'd achieved. But that's not what this is about.

JFDI is not rushing blind. It's using all the informed knowledge you have amassed and at any given moment someone suggesting something and you using all that knowledge and experience to say yes or no. You might be wrong. Part of that momentary decision needs to be a risk analysis on that. Time invested, money invested, users time wasted. But, still, I believe there is a place for saying yes, go for it, lets see what happens.

On the flip of this, evaluation is necessary. Not as necessary as JFDI but still nearing vital. How do I know the experiment on LinkedIn worked? I can't tell you because it's not something as ridiculously simple as advertising a job post there and I'd have to be pretty dumb to not know how to pre-emptively set evaluation of success for that.

No. Someone decided to bend the rules slightly. And why does evaluation have to be positive anyway? I can say before actioning something with surety that it will be either a success, not a success, or a bit meh. If it's a bit meh, examine what went wrong, see what could be improved, re-implement, come back in 3 months time. If a success, yattah! If not, bin it. Lessons learned, move on. But without any measurement of outcome, how do I get to the lessons learned bit? If I never learn any lessons then what on earth is the point of doing anything? No one gets it right 100% first time.

Ah. But then we are talking about local government and public money. Not getting it right first time can result in job loss, public ridicule and all kinds of such mayhem. So we must temper all our innovation, our testing, our ideas and our curiosity. We have a responsibility to do so to the people we serve. And yes, we do serve them, they pay our wages.

So that momentary decision? Which needs to be momentary or else you're taking way too long and the digital world has moved on without you? Bit more tricky. Suddenly a lot more tricky. But if you made that decision in seconds, I'd argue it was too fast, and if you made it in days you were too slow. You've got hours and minutes to assess all the risks, dangers, opportunities and potential successes before you say go on a new idea.

Be quick or be:
avoidably contacted

No. If you can't evaluate fast enough, change something. Change your idea of evaluation, talk to your performance team. Because if you're flying on the seat of your pants without your performance team, my friend, you are doing it wrong. They need to be the JFDI'ers best friend. But you're going to have to explain to them why the evaluation matrix which didn't include blog evaluation 6 months ago needs to do so now and to do that, you kind of need to a) know where they sit b) know how to talk to them and c) understand they know more about evaluation than you could ever hope to.

JFDI > evaluation != lack of innovation.

Just be quick.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Grit and grind, baby

While I was growing up, neither of my parents worked. Various reasons. 

My first job was as a paper girl, at 14, carrying the Sunday newspapers back when you couldn't fold them barely to get them through the letter box. Paper list telling me who gets what in one hand printed on a dot matrix printer. Mint and white stripes.

My second job was as a Saturday girl in a bakery. Cleaning the bakery. Lots of lifting heavy stainless steel bits to get into other bits with big mixing blades. Lots of stainless steel counters. Toilets and cake baking studios. £10 for the mornings work, starting at 8am and finishing at midday. The same bakery my mum used to send me down to with 40p in my pocket to get a wholemeal loaf fresh out of the ovens - so fresh it was almost unspreadable.

Then I left school.

During college I worked at weekends at a local supermarket, shelf stacking and on the tills, sometimes standing for 9 hours in the cigarette kiosk, often working 12 hour shifts. In the previous jobs I'd had so little clue what to do with the money that I'd simply spent a pound on the luxury of a weekend newspaper for myself (back then there was no internet and knowledge cost a lot of money - even if it was a return bus fare to the nearest town to go to the local library once a week) and the rest would get used by my mum when she was short. Which was often.

The supermarket money funded new clothes. A novelty. Music, cassette tapes an even bigger novelty. Cigarettes and the odd drink here and there - for some reason because we knew we could get served, we always just ordered halves and never actually really got drunk. 

Off to university. Grants and overdrafts and credit cards because no one explained that a loan would be cheaper. No help from parents - what on earth would they help with and by that point mum was a single parent anyway. First year = debt. Second year = working 5-9pm every week day doing data entry and then 10pm to 3am Thursdays to Saturdays in a local nightclub behind the bar.

Leave university. Fail abysmally. You can guess why, right?

Get a job. Doing data entry at the same company but 9-5pm and then still working at the club but now 10-3am Thursdays to Sundays, supporting two of us on my two jobs, paying the rent, paying the bills, luxury in life being able to afford 10 proper cigarettes instead of smoking roll ups - my secret treat once a week and hidden from the non working partner.

Leave university. Go to London. Temp. Get a permanent job. Get promoted. Take voluntary redundancy. Temp some more. Do admin, do data entry at Loot at weekends, do admin during the week. Get taken on permanently, then apply for promotion and get it. Become a Probation Service Officer and hate it. Back to temping, back to admin.

I have never, not once claimed any kind of benefit. I got into a complete and utter mess with money while a student and just after and I have paid every single god damn penny off. My credit rating has one, count them one, late payment in 3 years across 7 different credit accounts (catalogue, try being a fat person and not shopping with La Redoute and Simply Be).

I have done whatever I needed to do, to pay the bills and keep a roof over my head. I consider myself lucky that I have never had to resort to anything illegal to do so. Instead, I have never turned work down, have never been too proud to take a job, and have used my typing skills to feed myself and often others too. 

I never once looked at my parents and felt disrespect. I never once felt scorn. I never once judged. Conversely, I never considered that that was a life that I wanted for myself, not one which I would have.

Instead, I have worked. Hard. At whatever I was lucky enough to be able to do to earn a wage, more often than not, not a decent one.

Is there a point to this post? Are things different now? Does drive and determination count for nothing? Who knows. But I know where I'm throwing my chips.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Pinterested irritations

I've got dragged into a conversation which is not suitable for 140 so here it is in long form.

Pinterest was, until last week, something I'd been banging on about for a year. I'd also been using it - to plan group holidays, to find weight loss inspiration and clothes to fit in when I'm smaller, to collect wise words and bits for my bike I adore.

Last week, the entire world suddenly went - 'Pinterest is awesome!'.

I had a conversation with a male friend last week which amounted to 'I had a dabble but it's 'too fluffy' for geeks like me'.

The inferences there are many. a) I am not a geek like him. b) it's for girls.

So when I saw the instagram floating around as linked to in the previous post I was annoyed. No, pinning is not just for girls, no it's not just about recipes and no it's not fluffy either. It's a useful resource for sharing and collaborating on design influences whether you're a web designer or trying to do an interior design for someone and want to share colour swatches with them from pinning paint swatches.

It's a brilliant way of sharing inspiration and smiles, of sharing with the world your hopes and dreams or keeping them private if you want to. It's very visual, something you'd have thought would appeal to boys as we are famously told boys do pictures and girls do words when it comes to certain things.

But no, What feels to be a predominantly female userbase find a social network all to themselves and it's dismissed in two words - fluffy or recipes.

Forgive me if the thought that now the world knows about it it will be covered in adverts and spam depresses me - but I'd rather be misunderstood and left to enjoy a lovely creative shiny space than have it descended on by idiots who can only ever see social media as a 'tool' and not something to be played with and enjoyed. Points are given, of course, for the ability to do both and not annoy the hell out of me.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

It's not about recipes damnit!

My antidote to the donut meme doing the rounds:

Twitter - I am eating a donut. Or is it doughnut? Whatever, I'm eating it.
Facebook - I'm eating a doughnut LOL I'm covered in sugar but my boyfriend says I musn't lick my lips. LOL.
Foursquare - Serve the best doughnuts evah.
Instagram - There's something slightly weird about this doughnut - look!
Youtube - This is my cat. Chasing doughnuts on a string. So cute.
LinkedIn - I sell doughnuts. I can sell doughnuts to anyone you ask me to (they've probably never even eaten a doughnut)
Pinterest - I want to make doughnuts that look just like this, look at the way the light falls on the crystallised sugar.
Last FM - I'm listening to something by a band who've cited The Doughnuts as an influence. They're crap.
Spotify - I'm listening to The Doughnuts and they absolutely rock.
G+ - I'm going to talk about doughnuts. I'm not sure what the point of writing here about doughnuts is cos I'm so confused by whose circle I'm not in but that whom I've got within mine I can't work out who I'm telling about doughnuts in the first place.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

SFX Weekender: Series 3 2012

I tend to remember in snapshots so this is a collection, if you like, or windows into my SFX weekend. Quick explanation: I'm a geek but a tech/digital geek, my other half is the sci-fi/fantasy fan boy of the two of us. However, after this weekend, I'm not so sure that's still the case.

Brian Blessed

I have never seen Flash Gordon, I didn't see his Everest programme. But somehow, this loud proud Yorkshire man managed to keep my undivided attention for an hour which involved Pavarotti impressions, the expected Gordon's ALIVE echoing through the 'shed' and the massive laugh. In fact the laugh and the voice and the singing are so voluminous that you get a sense he's larger than he is so when he said he'd climbed Everest I sort of boggled a bit. Turns out, he's all beard - he's quite skinny under there. And so he should be because as he explained in his Q & A masterfully unguided by poor old Jordan Filey (who eventually simply gave up trying to stem the stream of consciousness emitting from Brian's mouth and just let him get on with it), he's 1st reserve to go up on the ISS.


'Sick of this getting old thing, you're only as old as you are' he says. Well, quite. Had to leave early due to snow warnings and needing to get back to 3,000 waif and stray animals and for a centrifuge training session this morning. He left us with words echoing in our ears which I have to paraphrase as I can't remember the exact words 'you are all unique and you all have one thing which you are brilliant at, excel at. Find that thing and live the adventure and don't let the bastards get you down'.

Did we win?

A panel ably hosted by Paul Cornell (I think) about whether sci-fi/fantasy is now so mainstream we don't need to push any more for its acceptance in the UK.

The discussion was fascinating but I wanted to say something to the panel but failed on the bravery roll so here it is. Yes Dr Who contributed to it though I also agree it is now a 'family' show rather than being terrifying. Yes I agree Russell T Davies is a genius and he did the right thing in almost introducing sci-fi by stealth. But that's not where the tipping point came from, I don't think. I think it came from a period of time where almost every single person on a carriage back in the early 2000's had a certain hardback book open. Where almost everyone I knew had read or was reading Harry Potter and where for the first time in as long as I can remember, people queued at midnight for a book. Just a book. A bit of paper with some words printed on it.

That tube carriage reflected the demographic of this weekend. All ages, predominantly white but not all, and equal gender split. I believe the most important demographic swing of recent years when it comes to sci-fi/fantasy is the gender shift. I remember a time when it was seen as a predominantly bloke thing to read sci-fi/fantasy or to watch sci-fi/fantasy films. Not any more. The viewing figures for Being Human are what they are, the viewing figures for Dr Who are what they are, the success of the X Files was what it was because of it's fundamental  ability to appeal to both genders. We're half the population, we're half the income and you finally gave us something we could believe in, becomes fans of, love and adore.

You gave us New Who. And it was the gateway drug for me and a whole tonne of other girls too. So thank you, for that, but please understand this too. Don't ignore us. Ask us on to panels, ask us to contribute. And finally, read this lovely post from my friend Julie and understand this: how much money has that one woman spent on sci-fi and fantasy in her life? Keep all of us new girls and you're coffers will indeed be bulging. It's worth it in the long run because keep us engaged, keep us interested and give us something to talk about and spend money on and we'll be with you for a long old time.

Eve Myles

Funny, inspiring, humble and gives good interview - such a lovely lovely lady. Well okay pints of wine indicate perhaps not a lady but you know...

Just a minute

Involved verbal sparring of such epic proportions between China Meiville and Joe Abercrombie that half of us got left behind and the other half just sat open jawed. Paul Cornell coralled with aplomb and much humour and...I don't laugh much. I have a slightly silly but also leftfield since of humour and I was eye leaking at some points from laughing so damn much. It was childish, intellectual, silly and random and summed the weekend up perfectly. Simply epic.

The other bits

Pontins. Well, it's Pontins. If you're expecting luxury, you're in the wrong place, go stay in a static caravan or a cottage. You can't beat it for staggering distance back from the fun though and once we'd worked out how the heating worked, we were dry and warm if not a bit sore from the sofabed. Yes, it smelt for a while but once it had dried out it got better, and the logistics of checking in and the signing queues aside, the space worked really well. There were bottlenecks on the Friday but that seemed to reduce on the Saturday. There weren't enough seats but there simply wasn't enough space to add more. Pat Sharpe can't DJ for toffee but can for pretty girls which was a bit uncomfortable in places. I think dancing girls might need to cross with increased female attendance in future - the complaints and mutterings where more this year than last.

The food was dire, the queue for it more so. There really weren't enough staff and all of this I lay at the door of Pontins themselves and not the SFX team because they also host Hard Rock Hell there who eat and drink the same amount as us geeks do and it was nowhere near this bad when we went to that event.

The maps discussion was circular and badly moderated but turned out okay in the end. We didn't get a single autograph all weekend but we didn't much mind. We sucked at the Blastermind quiz but enjoyed it immensely anyway and the Awards ceremony excelled past years for the brilliant acceptance videos (but I also think that surely next year more stars are going to have to make the effort and actually turn up because it's actually getting insulting now that people wont). The production from the SFX lot is getting better every year and as per every other year their responses to tweets and questions were patient and helpful.

All in all I enjoyed this weekender much more than last. There was more 'intellectual' discussion perhaps, more passion and fire, more entertaining interviewees? I don't know. I loved that the chalet locations meant we didn't hear thumping music until 3am. I loved that the sunrise was beautiful. I loved the costumes and the friendliness. I loved being invisible to a lot of people, I loved the random acts of kindness. I loved the feeling of being able to just be silly and geeky and childish and it not being remotely frowned on.

My only complaint, really seriously only complaint?

Wi-fi. Seriously, really seriously, can you lot sort a wi-fi booster or something for next year or bring your own?

Monday, 30 January 2012

Smacking (personal opinion)

The law on smacking is there to protect those who are parented by people who don't understand too far. Don't understand the fine line between loving parenting and a quite correct intent to teach a child who is struggling with right and wrong via verbal channels and subduing and damaging. Who don't understand that leaving a red mark (or worse bruising) can leave damage years after the bruise has faded.

The law is there to protect the vulnerable.

If you remove that law, you remove protection and the line which has been drawn in the blurry murky water of what is 'acceptable to society' as punishment and what is 'acceptable within a family' as punishment.

I do not believe that the State should legislate against all eventualities when it comes to parenting. I do believe in protection for those unfortunate enough to be born to the wrong people.

We should be looking to teach those struggling with errant children and violent teenagers how to deal with them better, how to be better parents, without resorting to smacking. I believe there was a time when smacking was an acceptable form of teaching right from wrong. I do not believe we exist in that time any more.

I believe we should be offering parents who are honest and brave enough some form of assistance. We should be examining why social constructs collapsed and continue to collapse.

We should tackle the root of the problem. Not 'slap' a sticking plaster over the top of the bruising and hoping it all goes away.

Monday, 9 January 2012

The modern feminist

I consider myself a modern feminist, generally. What does that mean?
Well, it means I'm probably going to get shouted at for this post, but here goes nothing.

A modern feminist, to me, is:
Someone who recognises it is possible to be a feminist whether you are a mother or not
Someone who recognises that not being a mother is not dysfunctional or weird or strange; but that being a mother is not either.
Someone who understands that women are, on average paid less, but that there are contributory factors to this which need to be addressed as well as landing all of this in the laps of the 'patriarchy' including literacy and numeracy levels, combined with likely genders of carers of parents/grandparents mixed with part time working mixed get the picture.
Someone who understands bras are nothing to do with it.
Someone who recognises that women at the top (and at the bottom and the middle too) leads to a more balanced workforce with mixed outlooks, backgrounds and life experiences.
Someone who understands that sex can and is frequently used as a weapon, that situations that are not intimidating for men can be for women for this reason and that suggesting visiting a lap dancing club as part of business entertainment is so massively inappropriate it is not funny.

I deliberately didn't specify gender. Anyone can be a feminist. Anyone can have an opinion. We're all in this together, right?

Except then I come to read Helen Lewis Hasteley and Zoe Stavri discussing Steven Moffat and intimating quite strongly that he has a problem with women and I despair.

Of all the people to attack, for a start, for their attitude to women. Surely there must be better targets to devote ones time to in calling out on their attitude. Then there's the treatment of Irene Adler.

Irene Adler is redepicted in Steven Moffat's version of Sherlock as a dominatrix. Now, this profession comes in for some stick normally anyway, being as how half the feminists I know think dominatrices are a betrayal to the gender and the other half think they're taking power back and using it to have some fun and make some money while they're doing it. Lets not even get into a discussion about whether a dominatrix who is paid can ever enjoy her job - I'm simply not going there.

Where I do want to go is the assumption that switching Adler into this role took power away from her somehow. Did I imagine the scene where she beat Sherlock to the ground? Did I imagine the at least hour long sparring of minds as each tried to get the better of the other? Perhaps I misinterpreted the scene of execution as one where an agent who had failed was paying for her failure in exactly the same way as a male agent would be expected to do in that country. Was I not supposed to laugh at the changed ring tone which paid hommage to a certain film, was I not supposed to recognise the power struggle between two fiercely intelligent people, both striving continuously for the upper hand and both finding it amusing and satisfying both to be winner and runner up because neither is actually failure at all?

I don't think I have misread this episode. I have had, as evidently the two ladies discussing Moffat in the article have not, had the pleasure of adding Baskerville to my viewing arsenal when assessing Moffats attitude to women - is it accidental that the female main lead aside from the psychologist is yes, the one who is a mother and accidentally mixed up her glow in the dark rabbits but also, as it happens, is involved in unravelling the final solution to the tricky conundrum?

No. I don't think Moffat has an issue with women. I think Moffat actually understands women all too well. He paints them in variety, just as we are, as mothers, as smarter than some and less smart than others, as dominant women but also as biologists and psychologists.

What I believe requires more acknowledgement is that there is a very obviously Aspergers character on our screen being beautifully and eloquently depicted by someone who isn't, and who is being given lines and situations which highlight wonderfully the confusion, frustration and recognition of being 'other'.

I think that Sherlock is something to be celebrated, not berated.