Why working from home is both brilliant and rubbish

working from home

I have spent a lot of time working from home and its good. But not that good.

There’s a lot of crap talked about home working, the main one being that you can work in your pyjamas and set your own hours. Neither of these has been are true for me.

I started working from home when we wound up with four children in four different schools across two counties, with varying hours, start and finish times. Before then I did evenings and weekends – I know the bleak horror of the Sunday night 2.30 – 10.30 shift.

How Ikea think your home office should look…

My (childless) boss, while cheerily agreeing to me doing a couple of shifts from home, remarked that it was a good idea as I wouldn’t need to pay for childcare.

This ain’t happening.

It depends on your job, of course, but if you are looking after a child and attempting to work you aren’t doing either of them properly.

Working from home isn’t the answer to your childcare problems. What it does do, though, is enable you to juggle and balance like a circus acrobat.

messy desk

… how it probably actually is

Working from home means you can:

  • Take your kids to school and be there when they get home. This is the main benefit of being at home, the one that wipes out all the disadvantages.
  • Do the washing. I do at least one, sometimes two load of washing a day. Washing is really important.
  • Not commute to work. You save on petrol and stress and spend your time more productively (doing the washing).
  • Not commute home. You finish work and walk straight into the kitchen (and the washing up). If you value family life, this is bloody brilliant.

Additional benefits:

  • You never have to give to leaving collections.
  • Office politics passes you by.
  • You don’t waste time in meetings.
  • There are less distractions, so you actually get more done.
  • You don’t have to make tea for the whole room every time you want a drink, or put up with someone else’s vile attempts at a brew.
  • You are always in when Amazon call (v important).
  • It is company for the dog.
  • On slow days, you can paint your nails at your desk (though I did actually used to do this at work).
  • You can knit while reading emails and not look like a weird cat lady.

But it can also be shit. Here’s why:

  • You are isolated. Don’t underestimate this. You don’t get to hear what’s going on at work, little things can get blown out of proportion because you have no context, you feel out of the loop. There is no ad hoc learning – picking stuff up from colleagues – and you miss out on the camaraderie that can make a shite day at work just about bearable.
  • Office politics. Good to be out of them – not good to realise you have just asked for advice from the biggest arsehole in the office, only you didn’t know because you are not there.
  • You daren’t complain about old equipment or being overlooked because you know everyone thinks you are on a cushy number working from home anyway.
Fingerless gloves

The chilly plight of the home worker…

  • Heating bills. This was a genuine surprise. In the House of A Thousand Draughts, I need the heating on all day, and still have to type in fingerless gloves. The office is a tropical haven by comparison.
  • Agoraphobia. You get so used to not going out and talking to people you forget how to do it.
  • Disturbances. If something happens, you have to deal with it. Once a pigeon got stuck in the chimney and I spent half an hour trying to get it out before it flew around the room, scattering soot everywhere. Another time, someone had a heart attack outside my house just as my shift started. I spent an hour on the pavement waiting for the ambulance.
  • People thinking because you are at home you can be interrupted, chatted to, called on etc. They would never call into your office and start doing that.
  • The fact your home is your work, so you never leave it, and the area you work in becomes tinged with work dislike.
  • You work when you are ill. Employers are often oblivious to this, but you are much more likely to work when you are poorly or in pain if all you have to do is drag yourself downstairs, instead of cope with a stressful commute and an unsympathetic office.
  • No office lunches, and breaks are spent unpacking schoolbags and emptying the tumble dryer. I used to love office lunches – big breadcakes squeezing out Coronation chicken and salad (‘do you want onions with that love?’), followed by a curd cake or a Russian slice. Now it is a packet of own-brand tortilla chips dropping crumbs into the keyboard.
  • You are reliant on your tech, the IT department is 35 miles away and you only have one computer. I once had to drive into work to finish my shift, and go in the next week because pikies had nicked our village’s cable and we had no broadband.

Myths

  • That you don’t have to pay for childcare. Eh? Looking after children is a full-time job. Doing your paid job is a full-time job. Two into one doesn’t go, unless you have a baby who sleeps eight hours solid or a toddler who will play alone silently, get its own meals and change its own nappy.
  • That you are sat in your dressing gown. I get up at the crack of sparrow to organise my many children and walk my needy dog. Can’t do that in slippers.
  • That you are sat in bed. Maybe some people do this, but I’d end up with a cricked back and cables everywhere.
  • That you are simultaneously holding a coffee morning/going to the supermarket/renovating your kitchen. Yeah right. I get so paranoid about workmates thinking I’m not pulling my weight I take the phone into the toilet with me.
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Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #15: The Rain

Bunker door

Apparently the British don’t like dubbed dialogue – I think it must be childhood memories of The Flashing Blade which was first terribly and then hilariously dubbed.

We prefer to struggle with subtitles, meaning you can’t take your eyes off the screen.

But Netflix have now decided that reading is just too much of a drag and have dubbed their Scandi thriller The Rain, claiming people only notice the dubbing 20 minutes in.

Alba August as Simone in The Rain

Simone (Alba August). Good to know you can still get your highlights done in post-apocalyse Denmark

This isn’t true – you notice straight away, because it is so awful, but forget after 20 minutes, because the rest of the show is even worse.

It does mean though that I can iron and still watch, without burning holes in the laundry.

To be fair, the first two episodes of The Rain are pretty good. It kicks off straight away without any tedious scene-setting. Within the first ten minutes our heroine Simone is hustled from school by her father and into a car with her mother and younger brother Rasmus.

As they head out of the city, escaping an ominous rain cloud, she demands to know what is going on and her parents don’t tell her.

Why do they do this in dramas? Why the hell can’t the grown-ups just say ‘we have to leave because blah blah so we are going to blah blah and then blah blah will happen’. Is it supposed to create tension? Because it doesn’t.

Instead, they all shout and argue and have a car crash, luckily very close to a secret underground bunker her father knows about. The father immediately heads off, but refuses to say where he is going, why, what for etc.

Then, basically because she hasn’t been told what is going on, stupendously stupid Simone opens the bunker door and gets her mother killed. Which kinda serves Mum right for trying to make hot chocolate instead of explaining to her panicking kids WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON.

What is going on is that the rain carries a vicious virus that induces fits, vomiting and death within minutes. And Simone and Rasmus’s disappeared dad has something to do with it.

Rasmus (Lucas Lynggaard T√łnnesen). Surprisingly buff after six years in a bunker

Fast forward six years – yep, SIX YEARS – and the food is running out so Simone and Rasmus – now a sulky 16-year-old – have to head out into the forest. They are found/capured by the inevitable band of hard-bitten survivors, and so the fun begins.

Or it would, if the stroppy teens did anything else other than bicker, look soulfully at each other, have shouting matches, discuss whether they are virgins or not and do utterly stupid things.

Thing is, unlike Walking Dead, which is set in America, where any kind of madness goes, this is set in Denmark, where they are into pastries and good coffee, not brutal torture or callous killing. We like the Danes – they are civilised. So the sense of real menace that hangs around other post-apocalyptic stuff just isn’t there. We know they will be ok, because it is Scandinavia.

After six years there is going to be no food left – nothing – yet no-one has scurvy or appears anything other than buff and healthy. And, except where it helps the plot, no-one seems that hungry either. The gang move from place to place because Simone wants to find her dad, when surely staying in one place and planting something would be the clever thing to do.

But clever thinking doesn’t feature much in The Rain. Why do they wander through the streets with bulging rucksacks in the open in broad daylight when they know people are going to be a mite peckish? Why don’t they have any weapons apart from a single rifle (which, to be fair, does have infinite ammo)?

This is the gang. They are hungry and angry but at least they have shiny hair

Why are massive buildings still standing? Nothing is overgrown or collapsed, there are just a few badly parked cars (it is a rule in post-apocalyptic dramas that all the cars must be badly parked) and a bit of rubbish blowing about.

The storyline is a bit barmy, but you can forgive that if everything else – characters, dialogue, setting etc – is up to scratch. But by the time we finally get answers we don’t care much, because none of the characters are worth caring about.

Things I shouted at the TV while pressing creases into skirts

  • Don’t open the door! Don’t open the door! Why did you open the door? Close the door! Close the fucking door!
  • Why did the missing father plug in his phone to recharge it and then walk off without it? Just to leave a great big humungeous clue behind? Surely not.
  • OK, so everyone needs a back story, but does it have to involve some naive Christian getting drugged and raped by her classmates at the first party she ever goes to? Couldn’t the writers have come up with something more convincing and a damn sight less cheap and lazy?
  • That dog that was sniffing around minding its own business. Is it ok? Did it find something nice to eat?
  • Why is everyone’s hair so shiny? How do they wash it when the water is all poisonous?
  • How come no-one has a beard, where are the razors? How come they are all so clean when the water is poisonous?
  • They just shot a woman because she put one foot in a steam and the water is poisonous. Yet earlier, how come they all tramped through a forest where it had been raining and no-one got a drop of poisonous rainwater on them?
  • Don’t go on the roof, it’s just been raining! There will be rainwater everywhere, on the railings, on the floor – and the rainwater is poisonous. Oh. You’ve gone on the roof.

Lard and laudanum – a taste of the past from old family recipes

Two family recipe books

Cooking makes me anxious. All that time and effort poured into something that could so easily go wrong. Mistake salt for sugar, use a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon and not only is your afternoon wasted but everyone goes hungry.

And you serve up your very soul when you dish up a carefully crafted feast only for everyone to say ‘it’s nice, I’m just not very hungry for it’ or ‘actually I don’t like curry/baked pasta/anything that isn’t cured ham’. Brrrrr.

Apart from the great goddess Nigella, whose recipes I treat like commandments (at least they always work. And she has such good hair) I would never pick up a cookbook out of pleasure.
Apart from scrappy handwritten ones belonging to long-dead relatives.

Two red family recipe books

Dunno why they are red. Was it a regulation?

My Grandmother was born in 1913 and died 20 years ago. My Great-Grandmother was born in 1883 and died in 40 years ago. Both kept handwritten recipe books, recently uncovered during a house clearance (don’t get me started on the house clearance).

Grandma was a fantastic cook. She had the arms for baking, the cool hands for pastry, her roast beef is one of my best childhood memory-smells.

I never tasted any of Great-Gran’s cooking; she was, my mother said, a woman who pleased herself. Her idea of a quick supper was to buy a tin of salmon and make fish cakes with it DURING THE WAR.

Cough tincture recipe

Take opium; add some opium. Flavour with peppermint

But she came from an era when printed cookbooks, espcially ones with tried and tested recipes, were a rarity. She also spent two-thirds of her life without an NHS, hence this gem from the back page of her book:

Cough Mixture
1d Laudanum
1d Paregoric
1d Diluted Acepic Acid
1d Aniseed
1d Peppermint
1lb Black Treacle
Pour 1 pint boiling water over the treacle and when nearly cold add the ingredients. Bottle and take in spoonsful.

I don’t know what acepic acid is – I think she must have meant citric acid, not acetic acid, or she’d have just put vinegar. Not that you’d care what it was after necking a couple of spoons of this – both Laudanum and Paregoric are tinctures of opium. Not just one dose of a grade one narcotic, but two!

Here’s another, for a bad chest:

Embrocation
Half a pint turpentine
1 oz Rock camphor
Quarter a pint of vinegar
1 egg well beaten
Add the camphor to the turps and shake until dissolved then add the beaten egg, lastly the vinegar. Keep the bottle well corked and label it Poison.

Why bother? It would smell so much no-one would go near it, let alone try to drink it. And don’t, whaever you do, light up a fag to clear your airways after rubbing this on, you’d go up like a Roman candle.

Anyone for a pint of nettle beer and a gherkin?

The rest of the recipes are less jaw-dropping, but still fascinating.

There is a plethora of Christmas cake and pudding recipes – everyone must have had their own variation. And so many have an attributions: Parkin (Mrs Hudson’s); Plum Cake (Mrs Arthur’s); Date and Walnut Cake (Mrs Bright); Cocoanut Slices (Grace’s); Crunch (Mrs Bill Wood).

It is a salute to these long-dead women, measuring out flour in teacups and slicing up marg (rarely butter), passing the recipes on on the back of postcards and exercise paper after Grandma admired their bakes at a church fete or a wake.

Instructions can be sort of fluid – ‘Bake in a slow oven’ – no gas marks for the days when Agas and Rayburns were standard and no timings either. Or a recipe for nettle beer stipulates ‘One basket of nettles’. How big a basket? A fancy Little Red Riding Hood type of basket, lined with a spotted handkerchief? Or a massive log basket, hauled over the side of a donkey? How can you know?

Fanny Cradock in the Radio Times

The Nigella of her day, Fanny Cradock tells Radio Times readers how to prepare for Christmas 1966

The oldest recipe I can find is one for Plum Cake, made with lard, that is attributed to ‘Rothwell’s Mother’. This was Great Gran’s mother-in-law, my Great-Great-Grandmother, who was born in 1856. EIGHTEEN FIFTY-SIX.

Meaning she was probably baking this plum cake at the height of the Victorian era. It must have been be massive – it uses 1lb of lard, 2lb of flour, 1lb of sugar, 1lb of currants, 1lb of sultanas, four eggs, six teaspoons of baking powder and a teaspoon of allspice. Where would you get a bowl, a tin and an oven big enough?

The logistics are incredible – to say nothing of your biceps, after stirring it – but much as I dislike baking, I am tempted to try it. I can’t resist the idea of making – and tasting – something my Great-Great-Grandma made.

And, seeing as Boots doesn’t sell opium anymore, I think I’d better stick to lard.

Handwritten recipes

Typed onto the backs of Christmas cards, written onto scrap paper, building up a volume that lasted decades

Torn cuticles and Tipp-Ex – A return to old-school typing

A return to old-school typing

Been clearing out my aunt’s house as she has moved to sheltered housing. That’s a whole other post or ten, but we have come across some stuff that belonged to my late Grandma, who lived in the house all her life.

One of them is her typewriter.

Oh wow, a typewriter. Who can’t, upon seeing a typewriter, have a little play on the keys?

I set it up in the kitchen to see if the ribbon was dry and by the end of the day the paper was full of random sentences. No-one who came in the house could resist it.

Imperial 200

Look! Aren’t the keys BRILLIANT!?

My children love it. When asked why, my daughter replied “it’s such fun!”

“Hmmm,” said my son. “There’s no delete key is there? Don’t you need Tipp-Ex or something?” as if he was talking about needing a button hook to do up his boots before going out to the pump for water.

It also came with two sheets of exciting carbon paper, which I had forgotten existed (originator of the cc – carbon copy – command in emails for you millennial kids out there).

Grandma was a shorthand typist, and once retired she was secretary for various groups, taking minutes and typing them up, sending off letters booking tearooms for forty loud Yorkshire women in flowery dresses on day trips to Chesterfield cathedral and Little John’s grave.

So the typewriter is a good one, an Imperial 200, and has been looked after and well-maintained (there would have been a typewriter service shop somewhere nearby, probably Barnsley, where she would have had it looked at regularly by some ink-stained little man called ‘Mr Spickley’ or something).

Imperial 200 typewriter

You want to start clacking away on it, you know you do

And little did I know, but typewriters go for about twenty or thirty quid on eBay, plus postage.

You can still buy ribbons for this model, including those half black, half red ones, for writing final demands, and even a ribbon of groovy purple ink.

My first newsroom had typewriters the size of mini-diggers, and it was so noisy on deadline day you could hear it on the street. When we finally upgraded to computers (lovely Apple Macs) it was better in every way.

Yet…

It is such fun, clattering away on the keys, jamming your fingers down and ripping your cuticles, waiting for that lovely little ‘ding’ to say you only have five characters left, getting ink all over your hands when you have to change the ribbon, pissing around with Tipp-Ex whenever you made a mistake, typing over it too soon and getting white stuff all over your keys, having a couple of keys (usually ‘e’ and ‘t) that are so worn down you had to hit them with a hammer to get them to register on the page…

My daughter was thrilled to discover how it works. You press a lever, it hits a thin ribbon of ink, and a letter appears. Easy to see, to comprehend.

Unlike a computer, where the keys have had special springs put in so you feel as if you are doing something but it has nothing to do with levers and ink. No matter how hard you bash the keys, the letters look the same. Nothing gets stuck and you don’t break any nails. There is no ding.

And typewriters aren’t connected to anything. So what you write can’t be traced, as long as you wipe the fingerprints off.

Back in the day, Scotland Yard had typewriter experts (I may just be making this up) who could look at ransom demands and anonymous letters and say ‘the fading on the letter s and the fact the letter p falls below the line indicate this typewriter was bought in a second store in Brighton and is used by a woman with an arthritic hip’.

What can they say now about anonymous Hotmail emails and Twitter trolls? That the writer’s use of Comic Sans indicates they have only a basic version of Windows 98 installed?

Imperial 200

These things make the letters on the paper. It’s so steampunk

You had to think what you were writing with a typewriter. With news stories, you wrote it in your head first, then bashed it out on paper. It was a bloody pain, but it was brilliant training. And you couldn’t write too fast, you had to think about every letter, or your keys got jammed.

When something has been written by a typewriter, it doesn’t have the transient quality a screen, or a sheaf of laser-printed graphics and fancy fonts. Typewritten papers are really written; they stay written.

So what am I doing? Am I looking up Imperial 200 Typewriter 1970s Original With Case on eBay? Yes, of course – in order to buy a replacement purple ribbon and some Tipp-Ex.

Things I Watch When I am Ironing #14: The Shannara Chronicles (Series 1)

The Shannara Chronicles series 1 is on Netflix

I read the Terry Brooks Shannara books way, way back in the dark and misty age of my teenage years.

I can remember little about them apart from a lingering preference for carrying marbles in my pocket and clutching them in times of strife hoping for elfstone-like powers.

So, out of all the fine fantasy that is out there, I think dramatising this was an odd choice.

Shannara always was little more than Tolkein fan fiction, and while there is nothing wrong with that, why not just watch The Lord Of The Rings on repeat?

The producers would have been much better served launching into Scott Lynch’s genius Gentleman Bastards series or Joe Abercrombie’s definitive grimdark First Law world (please please please).

Not enough magic in them for the special effects fans? Then how about VE Schwab’s Shades of Magic series – all those other Londons would be mindblowing.

The bad guy. You can tell by the piercings

But they didn’t, ‘they’ went for tired and tested tropes – elves, magic swords, an ingenue farmboy who is actually the son of a great magician, some sort of tricky quest, demons plotting to take over the world because, y’know, they are angry and evil and it’s something to do while they wait for the piercing shop to open.

This could have worked, if it wasn’t for the similarly tired and tested script and staging and costumes and… everything really.

The demons had voice changing machines so they all sounded like something off the Exorcist. Human baddies could be sussed by their bad hair decisions – pink stripes, unlikely up-dos, random scalp shavings.

Female characters had figure hugging outfits, long loose hair and bare arms, no matter how much fighting they were doing or how many scratchy forests they had to battle through. And they all look the same. I never managed to tell the difference between the two leading women, apart from when I could see the pointy ears on one of them (elf princess).

And the elf blokes all seemed to be princes and all looked the same. I can’t even say how many princes there were, and I watched the whole damned series. At least three of them got killed, none of them had hair that moved an inch and all of them wore super-tight elven t-shirts to show off what buff elves they were.

The elf princess one and the one who isn’t an elf princess. Can you tell them apart?

You know what it was like? A 1960’s American serial, when the Yanks did it all so much better and more slickly than we did (apart from The Avengers, obvs. And Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased). And The Prisoner) Think Rawhide or Batman or Lost on Space or Bonanza or Gilligan’s Island – cliffhanger endings, reprobate reoccurring characters, unsmudged make-up and terrible dialogue. Really terrible dialogue, like ‘Let’s go save a tree!’ ‘Are you hurt?’ ‘It’s just a scratch’. ‘So-and-so – Wait!’ ‘Why should we trust you?’ ‘What choice do you have?’ ‘We’re gonna make it’ and ‘Er, guys…’.

This was distracting, amusing TV but an opportunity wasted. If you want a compelling, original story involving a giant, dying tree, then read The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams – I’m devouring it right now and have started rationing my reading time as I don’t want it to finish.

It has blood-drinking elf-types, green-fire blasting witches, beetles that eat you from the inside out, weird and hideous monsters, well-rounded female characters and giant bats. Imagine that on screen.

Things I think about when I press open seams

Read this instead. It’s good

  • When they say ‘trole’ they mean troll. Took me two episodes to realise this.
  • If it is thousands of years since a nuclear holocaust wiped out our world, how come there is still air in the balloons the elf and the other one stumble across in that ballroom?
  • Why doesn’t the blond half-elf whistle for that elf he saved (Pluck?) and his big bird when he gets in a jam?
  • What was with the hoe-down party and the big hats? I really lost the thread of it all in that episode.
  • The horses. They appear and disappear every time someone has to hide in a secret cave or underground tunnel. Who feeds them? Are they ok?
  • Is Eritrea a country or a person?
  • The San Francisco sign turning into ‘Safehold’. I quite liked that. It was all a bit Planet of the Apesy but I liked it.

Time… to publish another book

bits_and_bobs_by_forestina_fotos-dbmvqkl

As you already know (don’t you? DON’T YOU?), myself and a writerly chum wrote a time travel novel, Clock Box: Day & Knightley, and published it on Amazon.

(That single glib sentence hides months of late-night typing, hours of arguing discussion, and barrel-loads of stress-induced drinking. Self-publishing is frustrating and tricky and weird.)

Well, we’ve written another one.

When we dreamed up the Clock Box we had so many ideas it had be a series. We started writing book two (Caine & Abel) as soon as we finished the first book.

The author name – Pat Cardy – is a pseudonym (obviously), because putting two names on a cover looks stupid, and hides the nice clock pictures.

It is now safely nestled on Amazon, where you are encouraged to buy it, read it and give it a wonderful review.

Save Dirk Gently!

While writing my last post about the buzzy, Technicolour, non-stop-funathon that is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, I discovered it isn’t being renewed for a third series.

This caused me much more anguish than it should have, but DG is a brilliant needle-sharp, blood-splattered romp. Without it, my ironing sessions will be forced back onto dismal Scandi-noirs and A Place In The Sun (my lowest point).

There is a petition on Change.org, which I urge you to sign. Even if you haven’t seen Dirk Gently, sign it. You will be doing a service for mankind, and, as everything is interconnected, think of the karma!

You can also contact Netflix on this form apparently – you know it makes sense!