April 29, 2011

I did a stupid thing today: I visited my ex-firm’s website.  When I got there, I checked out the Community section and realised that I had been erased; unsurprisingly, all references to me have been removed.  And the Community News page, which provides short updates about recent projects and activities, featured several initiatives that I had dreamt up.  It’s really true: that isn’t my job anymore.  The world keeps turning.

It sounds daft, but I almost feel like I’m in mourning for my lovely job.  I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to work there and develop the community affairs strategy into something that is now a source of great pride for the firm.  It was wonderful to do something that ticked so many boxes that are important to me: it made me happy; it gave me the chance to use a wide range of my skills; it enabled me to spend every day dealing with fantastic people, both in the firm and externally; and it made a positive difference to the world, helping the schools and charities that we supported and, by extension, the people that they were set up to support.

I am going to set up a community engagement initiative of some kind in New Zealand, and I know that it will be amazing to be able to use my expertise to help people in my own country.  However, this will take time – the kind of things that I want to do are likely to be different to what is already happening here and I will need to get myself organised.  For now, I’m left missing the day-to-day ritual of my job.  I honestly don’t know how people can choose not to work.  I can understand it if you’re at home with little kids or something (far busier than any job, from what I’ve seen), but aside from that… no.  What do people who don’t work talk about when their spouses come home in the evening?  I miss talking to people all day.  I guess that I could fill my day with coffee dates and the like, but I fear that I would discover that I only shared a surfeit of leisure time with my fellow coffee-drinkers and had little else in common.  I guess that I could go to the gym every day and fill my hours with exercise classes.  Actually, I should do something like that – this enforced idleness is a good opportunity to get in shape once again.

Essentially, I miss having that sense of shared purpose with my colleagues.  I went to work every day feeling fortunate to have that job and I was never sad when holidays ended: there weren’t enough hours in the day to get through my wish-list of new projects.  Now, I miss contributing to something more meaningful than cleaning this shoebox of a serviced apartment, or making dinner.

It isn’t a surprise to me that I’m feeling this way.  In a couple of weeks we should have our rental house organised, and then I will start making my plans.  For now, I think I should call time on the whole ‘exilednzer’ thing and stop thinking about my old life and, by extension, what I am missing about it.  Time to hit the reset button and focus more fully on my new life – after all, it’s going to be awesome!



December 7, 2010

I’m sure that I’ve had a big rant about the ‘pinkification’ of girls in the past.  Catriona just posted this link in a comment yesterday, so I wanted to share it with you.  This is awesome and I am so in favour of it.

And now I need to do a mountain of work.


December 6, 2010

The BBC has made a three-part series called ‘Age of the Do-Gooders’, presented by Ian Hislop (who I love).  I watched part one over the weekend, having recorded it during the week.  It was splendid – all about Victorian philanthropists and social pioneers: people who totally changed the world by refusing to acknowledge that, as individuals, they may not be able to address huge problems and help other people.

What struck me was the way in which a few modern people, when interviewed about the various Victorians Hislop was discussing, commented along the lines of ‘of course, that would never work now – people are so different/selfish’.  It wasn’t pointed out that this is exactly what would have been said to the original Do-Gooders when they announced that they were going to tackle the problem of slum housing or whatever. 

And it’s obviously not true of the modern world, either – there are any number of modern examples of people who, through their individual endeavours, manage to improve considerably the lives of those less fortunate than them.  I think that people like to believe that problems are unsolveable and situations are hopeless because it makes them feel better about not taking action themselves.  I also think that people don’t believe that their individual effort will make enough of a difference.  But it’s like my homegirl Mother Theresa said:

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

And also:

“Let nothing perturb you, nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything.”

(that last one quote is apropos of nothing, but I think that those are good words to live by)

And let’s not forget the wise words of the main man, Mahatma Gandhi:

“We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

Anyway, I don’t usually favour the literary spin-offs of TV programmes, but I hope that there’s an Age of the Do-Gooders book coming out.  It’s all very inspiring stuff.

Giving What We Can

December 6, 2010

Unsurprisingly, given my bleeding heart tendencies, I’m quite taken with the idea of Giving What We Can, a movement that encourages people to make a public pledge to donate at 10% of their income from now until the day that they retire, in order to fight extreme poverty in the developing world.  10% may sound like quite a lot, but I’m certain that I could do it without missing it (although it would mean fewer magazines and items of clothing, neither of which would materially reduce my quality of living).

I like that the focus is squarely on the developing world, and not just charitable support in general.  As the website explains:

Giving What We Can focuses exclusively upon the world’s poorest nations because that is where a donation can do the most good. For example, suppose we want to help those who are blind. We can help blind people in a developed country like the United States by paying to train a guide dog. This is more expensive than most people realize and costs around $50,000 to train a dog and teach its recipient how to make best use of it. In contrast, there are millions of people in developing countries who remain blind for lack of a cheap and safe eye operation. For the same amount of money as training a single guide dog, we could completely cure enough people of Trachoma-induced blindness to prevent a total of 2,600 years of blindness. If you look at the charity comparisons section of this website, you will see many more examples like this about how a given donation can achieve vastly more in developing countries than it ever could in developed countries. There is thus a very strong argument in favour of giving to those living abroad.

Moreover, waiting until we fix our own problems may mean waiting forever. Compared to other parts of the world, we have been experiencing unrivalled prosperity for a very long time. If we can’t help those far less fortunate than ourselves now, when will we?

Although I’m still working my way through the website, it looks to be very well thought-out (and, reassuringly, well-written).  The idea is that it’s an honour system, pretty much: you make the pledge, your name is published, and each year you send the founders of GWWC confirmation of your income and the amount that you’ve given to relevant charities.  And that’s it.  And really, it’s the oldest philanthropic idea in the book, isn’t it?  The concept of tithing lasted for centuries and there’s no reason why it couldn’t be made relevant to the modern world.

Anyway, I obviously don’t know whether this is something that I will do (living, as I do, in Joint Finances Land), but it’s good food for thought.

There and back again

November 9, 2010

Hola!  Did you miss me?  I’ve been to New Zealand and come back again.  I didn’t intend to be so silent for the last couple of weeks, but my parents don’t have internet access at home and this cramped my online style.  It was quite restful, though. 

I am so pleased that I went home, albeit for a very short trip.  My grandmother was delighted to see me and I visited her three times during the week or so that I was there.  She’s absolutely fantastic and I am lucky to have had her in my life thus far.

Speaking of fantastic: my family rocks.  It was SO nice to spend some time with them.  I stayed with my parents for most of the trip and although we didn’t get to have a vast amount of time together (Dad was travelling around the country with three Brazilians and Mum was pretty busy with work), the time that we did spend was good.  I also got to hang out with my sisters and my nieces, which was lovely.  We played a bit of Singstar and also a fantastic game called ‘Buzz’.  Does anybody know it?  It’s a TV/playstation music quiz and it’s great fun.  I got beaten at the last moment a couple of times by my sister, the dastardly Vickie.  Damn her and her fast reflexes.

We also visited my Auntie Jen and her lovely partner, Denise, on their cool lifestyle block and witnessed a calf being born!  It was the miracle of life in action, people.  Money can’t buy that kind of excitement.  I also got to hang out with my mother’s first cousin (which makes her my second cousin, I think), Janet – such a nice woman.  I had crashed her holiday somewhat, as she’d organised her trip out to visit Mum and Dad a while ago and I then turned up at the last minute, but it was cool to spend some time with her and it meant that Mum was able to crack on with some work, safe in the knowledge that Janet and I were pottering around.  Mum, Dad and Janet are off to Fiji later this week, the lucky sods.

Although my trip was so short and I spent most of it in my home town, I did manage to see quite a few friends.  My friends are awesome.  They’re the most low-maintenance people I know, never inclined to cause drama and always happy to see me.  My sister Pip and I went to Davey and Carla’s house for a BBQ and some rugby-watching on the first Saturday that I was in the country and it was great to chill out and shoot the breeze.  Davey is a legend and I’d consider him to be one of my best mates.  His friends are cool, too.

Towards the end of my trip (last Thursday, in fact), I headed down to Wellington and had dinner with Matty, who had moved back to NZ from London last year.  And I had a coffee and a catch-up with Amy, a friend of mine from way back.  And I had a cup of tea and another catch-up with Melissa, another old school friend.  And I sat in the sun with Davey and co, drinking beer and shooting the breeze.  And I watched a great fireworks display over Wellington Harbour on Guy Fawkes night. 

My last day in NZ was spent in Auckland, where the sun was shining and the world was looking good (I’ve discovered that I quite like Auckland, much to my surprise: all non-Aucklanders are raised to think that Auckland is pretty sucky, but it’s actually a nice city).  I spent the morning with Anthea, who used to range around the Manawatu countryside with me on horseback, causing mayhem.  We sat in the sun in her garden and watched her husband, the lovely Greg, assemble a new barbeque.  The afternoon was spent catching up with Anna, one of my dearest friends and the person that I would love to live next-door to!  She took me to the airport and we spent some time planning a brilliant long weekend in Melbourne – a trip that we will take whenever Tristan and I move back to NZ for good.

I also loved being at home, in general.  I just love that country.  The people are super-chilled, everybody is easy-going and friendly, the food is great, life moves at a nice pace – it’s great.  I am very happy to be living in the UK, but every time I travel home it reminds me that, in the long term, NZ is where I’m going to want to settle down.

I’ve got to rave about the service I received from Air New Zealand on this trip.  I’d decided to mention the circumstances of my trip when I checked it, which paid good dividends.  On the way out, they made sure that I got the window seat I’d requested and marked all my luggage as ‘priority’, which helped me to get my connecting flight from Auckland to Wellington without a hassle.  On the way back, the lovely check-in lady heard my tale of flying home for a very short trip and having to go straight back to work the day after getting back to the UK and did the best thing ever: she gave me my window seat and blocked off the two neighbouring seats, ensuring that I had three seats to myself for the first leg of my flight home.  This meant that I got around seven hours of sleep while flying from Auckland to Hong Kong, which is, I’m sure, the reason why I haven’t suffered from any jet lag.

I slept really well on the flight to NZ as well, come to think of it.  This is a first for me: at my height, a long period in an economy class seat usually means that I get no sleep at all.  The magic formula was: lots of high pressure work for a week before the trip, wearing me out; two double vodka and tonics at the airport; a glass of sparkling wine with dinner, on the plane; two Night Nurse capsules (a fantastic cold remedy that makes me super-drowsy); an inflatable neck support thing; an eye mask; and my own pillow on the flight.  In each of the two flights (London to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Auckland) I slept for at least five hours.  It really helped me to get to NZ without feeling like a zombie and meant that I didn’t waste any time there, being knackered.

By this stage of the day you may have realised that I’m in a fine, chipper mood.  As past blog entries have suggested, I have had a fairly hard, long, stressful year – and I was feeling sorry for myself and downtrodden for the first part of my trip home.  However, for various reasons (and after some good conversations with lovely family members and a telephone call with Tristan), I decided that enough was enough.  Sod being stressed out and miserable!  I’m over it.  Although I know that I have valid reasons for feeling that way at times, I’m afraid that it has become a bit of a lifestyle choice recently.  I refuse to accept that I don’t have any control over the way that I view the world, so I’m choosing to be positive and optimistic from now on.  I recognise that I may still have hard days, but I am DETERMINED to keep things in perspective and just get on with it.  Life’s too short, etc.  Yay!

Token effort

October 6, 2010

It might just be because I slept badly and am feeling a little worn out and grumpy, but I’m getting annoyed with friends’ facebook status updates today.  Specifically: I’m seeing a lot of female friends who have agreed to ‘increase the awareness of breast cancer’ (as it was described in a message sent to me) by posting, as a status update, the place where they like their handbag to be located.  In other words, my news feed is full of status updates like ‘Mary likes it by the front door’ and ‘Jennifer likes it on the sofa’.  A similar viral ‘awareness’ thing took place last October and a lot of women posted a status update which said nothing more than the colour of their bra.  As that same message to me pointed out, ‘the bra game made it to the news’.

Now – of course – I’m all in favour of people raising awareness of important causes.  What bothers me is the idea that doing something like this is a worthwhile activity in itself.  ‘Raising awareness’ is only worthwhile is something happens as a result of the awareness being raised.  For example, most charities try to raise awareness of their cause because they want people to donate money to that cause.  My concern is that 99% of the women writing these ‘I like it’ status updates are doing nothing more than that: if they were ‘raising awareness’ AND making a donation to a good breast cancer charity, fantastic.  But I fear that this probably isn’t the case (although I’m still resisting the urge to actually ask some of them outright, in a comment under the relevant status update.  I don’t want to embarrass my friends.)

I’ve noticed this kind of thing before on Facebook – in particular, people ‘liking’ a charity’s page, as if that’s the same thing as supporting it.  It isn’t the same thing.  The entire world could write ‘I like it’ status updates to raise awareness of breast cancer, but it wouldn’t make an ounce of difference when it comes to actually discovering a cure to the disease.  And really, does the Western world need their awareness of breast cancer raised?  Surely everybody knows that breast cancer is a horrible thing and that money and time should be devoted to researching treatments and cures?

When it comes to things that are commonly considered ‘good’ I think there’s a real danger of people mistaking token efforts for proper efforts.  The entire ‘supermarkets discouraging customers from using plastic bags’ situation is a good case in point.  I remember watching a news story about Sainsbury’s supermarket trying to phase out plastic bags and encourage customers towards reusable bags.  The BBC couldn’t find an environmental charity willing to come on screen and endorse the initiative and for good reason: it doesn’t actually make a huge amount of difference to the state of the world and the relevant charities fear that people will think, ‘oh, I’m using a recyclable bag at Sainsbury’s and that means that I’m environmentally friendly’.  In other words, it’s a token effort that tricks people into thinking that they’re saving the world: it doesn’t encourage the real behavioural change required (in the case of environmental stuff; driving less, flying less, not wasting water, not buying crappy, disposable products, etc).  It’s like people who give money to Oxfam and then buy their clothes from Primark.  A small gesture doesn’t make a blind bit of difference if your wider actions lack thought.

To avoid writing a scathing facebook comment and risk losing half of my friends (hey, what can I tell you?  I like being liked!), I’ve written this status update:

Jacquelyn loves facebook user-led initiatives to raise awareness of certain causes. However, it would be even cooler if everybody who takes part also made a financial donation to a good, relevant charity: raising awareness is fab, but funding the research needed to cure diseases is even better!

Maybe a good way forward would be for every woman who has posted one of the ‘I like it’ status updates to donate the value of their monthly broadband subscription?

Gender stereotypes

September 22, 2010

This is such a brilliant article.  Please read it, particularly if you’re a parent.

Over the years I’ve been driven mental by the difficulty in finding presents for my nieces that don’t fulfill the idea that all little girls love pink, sparkly stuff.  Some girls do like it very much, but I suspect that many girls like it because it’s all that they’ve been given and because they have already been made to feel that they ‘should’ like it.  I really applaud parents who let their kids develop their own preferences.  My older sister Pip has five children: four girls and a boy.  Two of the girls are twins and I think they demonstrate the value of child-led preferences very well – Jaime has always been a girly girl and a big fan of pink, and that’s fine – but her sister, Olivia, spent her childhood obsessed with Bob the Builder and with no real interest in stereotypically girl-friendly stuff.

A few years ago I fell out with a friend because of this kind of thing: he couldn’t get over the fact that I didn’t agree that it was ‘right’ for the mother of a child to be the primary child-rearer and the one who stayed at home.  My view was that each couple should decide this for themselves and that, in many cases, it could be that the father is far better suited to the role.  I don’t know why my former friend was so threatened by this concept, unless it was because he and his wife had a very traditional arrangement and he didn’t like the thought of it being questioned.  I have little time for the argument that small children always prefer their mothers in times of strife – logic suggests to me that this may well be because they’re accustomed to their mothers being the first port of call, hence the preference.  If the mother wasn’t there I’m sure that the father would be equally capable of providing comfort. 

And I really, REALLY hate women who deride their husbands’ attempts to do child-related stuff: all the ‘oh, he’s hopeless and he can barely change a nappy’ comments.  Such a load of rubbish, and usually the strategy employed by women who are a little defensive about ‘only’ being a mother (which is nonsense in itself – being a full-time stay-at-home parent must be flipping hard work and nobody should feel defensive about making that choice).  Those comments are a great way to make a man feel like he is totally incompetent and shouldn’t get involved – and then the women in question complain because the parenting load isn’t shared.

I often think about gender issues (yeah, I’m a real bundle of laughs, me).  For example, I would love to raise a daughter to believe that, despite popular opinion, a woman’s value isn’t calculated by judging her appearance.  However, how would I reconcile that when I’m the one who wears makeup every day, and not Tristan?  Perhaps I’d have to convince Tristan to wear makeup as well, or give it up myself?  I don’t think Tristan will ever agree to that, although I’ve held suspicions about him being a secret eyebrow plucker for a very long time.  Seriously, his eyebrows are perfect.  It’s not natural.  He must be ducking along to a beauty salon when I’m at work.

Anyway, I was not a very girly girl as a child.  I had one big doll and one Barbie-type doll (and I insisted on the horse riding version), but my favourite toys (before I got a pony and everything else was left behind) were a wooden train set, a set of Lego (hospital Lego, which was awesome) and my teddy bear, Little William.  And I have grown up to be a woman who is very feminine, so it’s clear that I didn’t need to be programmed from youth.

I’m rambling now.  But this is interesting stuff, I think.