Doing nothing much

December 3, 2010

Party people, it’s so flipping cold in England right now!  You know, just in case the pictures of snow didn’t give it away.  I was at home alone last night and was very well rugged up against the Arctic chill.  I’m talking woolly tights, socks, fleecy pyjamas, a hoodie, and a rug wrapped around me.  And it was still chilly.  This weather sucks the big kumara.

I made use of my night at home by writing an email to my friend Hugh.  He’d emailed me a mere twelve weeks earlier, so I thought that it was high time that I devoted some time and energy to catching up with him.  A prince amongst men, he responded straight away by sending me an outstanding photo of his Movember moustache, making me laugh out loud when I opened the attachment on my way to work this morning.  When I am President of The Whole World, I will make it a law that all men must participate in Movember.  Few things make me laugh more than a good comedy moustache on an otherwise-normal man.

Tristan’s back from Portugal today – hurrah! – and we’ll be able to collect Tui the Wonder Dog from Tina the Wonder Dog Sitter’s house.  After four days there, Tui will have gained a few pounds and will spend the entire weekend absolutely exhausted, sleeping off her excesses.

My rock star life continues this weekend: my St Vincent de Paul group has organised a mass for the sick and housebound of our parish, so I will be attending that and then helping with the tea and coffee afterwards.  The other thing I must do this weekend is make Christmas cards.  I bought the stuff to make Christmas cards two years ago, so it’s probably time that I got around to it.  If you would like me to send you a home-made Christmas card, send me a message at exilednzer @ yahoo . co . uk (without the spaces, obviously).  Having people waiting for the cards might spur me on to actually make them!


Christmas party no. 1

December 2, 2010

Last night the firm held its annual drinks party for Community Affairs; an opportunity to bring together all of the charities and schools we support and give them lots of lovely mulled wine and canapes.  This year we also made our volunteers a big feature of the event and told them how wonderful we think they are. 

The event went well, despite a few last-minute drop-outs because of the snow.  It’s fairly difficult to fail to run a good event when you have the following factors in your favour:

  • The 1 December date, making this the official start of the Christmas Party Season and ensuring that your guests are yet to get fed up with Christmas functions;
  • Snowy scenes outside, making everybody more inclined to drink mulled wine;
  • Lovely mulled wine (seriously, it’s such good stuff when it’s made well);
  • Tasty festive canapes, including mince pies for those weirdos that actually like them;
  • Two children’s choirs to entertain the troops with Christmas carols – how hard would your heart have to be, in order to resist shiny-faced youngsters, tinsel wrapped around their heads, singing ‘Away in the Manger’?;
  • Fantastic guests from schools and charities, all of whom love the firm because it supports their work with money and volunteers;
  • Fantastic volunteers who put in so much effort to support our projects;
  • Lots of partners attending and telling everybody how wonderful they are;
  • Christmas trees in the main client reception, covered in fairy lights and looking fantastic; and
  • An amazing in-house events team, who run things so effortlessly and efficiently that it’s as if there is a group of magic fairies at work.

I got a special shout-out from our senior partner for all of my efforts, and a few guests came up and told me how they’d been raving about me to every partner that crossed their path.  So that’s nice!

I’ve got to say, though; hosting an event like this is a bit like being the bride at a big wedding (and one that your managers are attending – eek!)  I feel so responsible with regard to our external guests, so I spent a lot of the time checking that everybody had somebody nice to talk to, which can be hard work when it seems that everybody wants to talk to me and, in some cases, engage me in long and intense conversations about specific projects.  But it all went smoothly and it was great to catch up with some of my mates from various charities.

And then I trekked home and ate a cupcake and some jelly babies for dinner, while watching Masterchef Australia and The Apprentice on Sky Plus.

London is fantastic

September 7, 2010

I went to a meeting in the Broadgate Tower on Primrose St and was bowled over by the views from the 32nd floor.

Looking south-east:

Looking north-west:


What an amazing place.  Not shown: the seething frustration of Londoners fed up with Bob Crow holding the city to random once again.

The meeting was to watch a new presentation developed by Advocates for International Development (which my firm supports – it’s the charity that organised the great Archbishop Desmond Tutu lecture that I was sad to have missed last year) and the Global Poverty Project.  The presentation has been designed to be delivered to lawyers within the firms and raise their awareness of, and appetite for, international pro bono work.  The two charities have done a great job and I’m looking forward to inviting them to my firm and getting everybody revved up.  The presentation we were shown is a tailored version of the GPP’s 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation and is so good: an engaging combination of a live speaker, whiz-bang slides and good film clips.  I think it will be highly effective.

It made me think about the basic things that people in the developing world want and how rarely we all focus on giving those things to them.    Simple things that we take for granted, like santitation and access to clean water.  I would really like to focus my philanthropy more on this kind of thing: I may not be able to make sure that everybody has a fully functioning loo (and I’m a total princess when it comes to bathrooms, so I would love to achieve this particular goal, if only to ensure that I wouldn’t have to deal with hideous loos when travelling), but I can buy one for £50 for people who need it.  And as I sip my third glass of filtered and chilled water in my office today, surely I could spare £26 to ensure that a village has a working well?  Or £18 to enable some farmers to collect rainwater efficiently?  All of us can do that kind of thing.

I’ll need to discuss it with Tristan, of course (we’re a joint income household in every way), but I’d like to make it a goal to save a little fund each month – using the money that I would ordinarily spend on breakfasts, lunches and stuff I don’t need that I avoid buying on no spending days – and do something helpful with that money, like some of the projects I’ve linked to above.  And I’d really like to become more involved with Plan International’s ‘Because I am a Girl’ campaign – I went to an event for this initiative last year and it was brilliant.  The impact of educating and supporting women in the developing world doesn’t just benefit them as individuals: it means that their children are healthier and happier, their communities are supported and, in many cases, the GDP of the country improves.  That’s an awesome return on investment.

As is so often the case, this post started off being about one thing and finished up being about something completely different…

Tony Blair’s memoirs

September 1, 2010

I have no great interest in politicians as individuals and am unlikely to buy any ex-PM’s memoirs, but in the case of Tony Blair’s effort (all over the newspapers today) I’ve come over all ‘literary critic’ because the extracts are a bit of a worry :

Despite their personal relationship, Blair admits that from the moment he was told of her [Princess Diana’s] death, he was “trying to work out how it should play”.

“I know that sounds callous,” he reveals. “I was genuinely in grief … but I also knew that this was going to be a major national, in fact global, event like no other … I had to work out how it would work out.”

‘I had to work out how it would work out’?  A firmer hand needed by the editor, I think: that’s a really clumsy sentence and sounds like it was written by somebody with a limited vocabulary (which obviously isn’t the case).  ‘I had to work out how it would unfold’ would have been better, or ‘I had to work out what might happen’.  Give me the manuscript and a red pen and let me get to work, Mr Blair.

Literary criticism aside; good on him for giving all of his royalties and profits to the Royal British Legion.  And to anybody who digs for an ulterior motive or sees the gesture a the sign of a guilty conscience at work (which certainly doesn’t seem to be the case, given that Tony Blair still thinks he did the right thing with regard to deploying British troops), I say the two things that I invariably say in the face of cynicism about the philanthropy of others:

Firstly:  Motives don’t matter when it comes to making a charitable donation.  If a celebrity donates money to a cause in order to get column inches or a company sponsors a charity to get positive PR, the result is the same – people get helped.  And people who need the help of charities couldn’t give a toss about the reasons why the philanthropic gesture was made.  People use this fear of how motives might be analysed as an excuse to do nothing.  In the UK I think that the horrible, cynical media has a big part to play in this – they love nothing more than to cover a silver lining with the grey clouds of their waspish criticism.

Secondly:  Nobody has a right to judge the philanthropic gestures of others.  In particular, I have noted a bit of correlation between cynical attitudes about philanthropy and cynical attitudes about charities in general: often, the people who bleat about the Beckhams giving money to a children’s charity because it will get them on the front of Hello magazine are the same people who will complain because the Chief Executives of large charities earn suitably large charities, as befits their role as the head of a large and complex organisation.  And in many cases I suspect that the cynics do nothing philanthropic themselves, and they make themselves feel better about their own miserable natures by criticising everybody else.  I appreciate that I’ve made a bit of a sweeping statement there, but (without naming names) I have personal knowledge of people who would fall into this ‘be critical and cynical about everything’ category.

Let’s face it, everybody could do more to help the less fortunate people in society.  Take me as an example: I donate money to charities on a monthly basis through my firm’s payroll giving scheme; I sponsor friends and colleagues when they take on fundraising activities for good causes; I’m a trustee of two charities; I’m heavily involved in the local operations of another charity; I’m a governor at a primary school; and I send my professional life encouraging other people to support good causes with their time, skills and money.  In many people’s eyes this might seem like a pretty decent effort. 

However, let’s not forget the following:  I get paid a decent salary for the work that I do; the volunteering I have taken on does not cause me any great inconvenience beyond giving up a few evenings every month for meetings;  the money that we donate to charities each money is a fraction of what we save into my pension and our ISAs (and a fairly small fraction, at that); and we don’t do anything more hands-on, like actually spend our weekends helping people.  I’m not down-playing what I do already – I know that it’s fairly respectable – but it shouldn’t give me the right to criticise what anybody else is doing or not doing. 

I know that I have made fun of celebrities for this very reason in the past, like when I read that the model Laura Bailey (who often mentions her charitable endeavours) spends £1,000 each time she gets a hair cut.  That’s a flipping expensive hair cut and she could do a lot with that kind of money, but again: I really have no right to judge her.  People could judge me just as harshly because I spent a lot of money on a posh handbag earlier this year and that money could have sponsored several children for the year, instead.  And now I feel quite bad about buying that handbag, thinking of it in those terms.  And also quite bad about judging Laura Bailey: after all, I don’t know how that compares to the amounts she might donate to charities every year, and in any event it’s none of my business.  And now I wish that I hadn’t written anything to out myself as occasionally cynical about the philanthropic gestures of others, but I’m going to resist the urge to delete the previous few sentences in the interests of demonstrating my point.  And as a lasting reminder to myself to not be such a dick in the future (in judging others, not in outing myself in this manner).

If anybody chooses to do something to help the wider world – by donating money, volunteering, working for a charity or whatever – we should collectively celebrate it.  We shouldn’t grumble about whether or not they’ve given enough money or why they might have done it.  That attitude is hardly likely to encourage more philanthropy, is it?