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!


Leaving the firm

March 31, 2011

The hardest thing about leaving the UK is leaving my lovely, lovely job.  I would never have thought that I would have thought twice about the opportunity to return to NZ, but when it came to the crunch I really did need to think about what I would be giving up here.  Tristan first heard about the job opportunity in November, but we talked about it and decided that it was too soon for us to leave – we’d thought that we would think about making the move in 2013, so it all felt a little too soon.  And I knew that my area of business (corporate social responsibility) was fairly low-key in NZ – it seems to be a few years behind what’s going on in the UK.  So I thought that I would benefit from another couple of years of experience before heading back and trying to change the world. 

Anyway, it soon became apparent that the job opportunity for Tristan was just perfect and would not necessarily become available again for several years, so we had to go for it.  And I’m really glad that we did.  I am so sorry to leave the firm; I’ve loved every day of the past four years there and have been so fortunate to work for one of the best organisations in the world, surrounded by brilliant colleagues who treat each other with kindness and respect.  But the prospect of being able to ply my trade in my own country is just fantastic.  It’s daunting to think that I’m leaving behind a role where I’m liked and respected, where I’ve built up credibility and been able to make a real impact, both for my firm and for the charities and schools that we support, but I have had the opportunity to learn so much, and now I’m ready to push myself a bit further and see what I can really achieve.

When we arrive Tristan will start work straight away, but I’m going to take some time off.  To begin with, we’ll need to find somewhere to live, and then I’ll need to do some networking and planning.  I have a couple of ideas of what I might do next, but I will have a lot of leg-work ahead of me.

It’s scary, but it’s very exciting!

Anthony Horowitz

March 6, 2011

Earlier in the week my firm hosted a fantastic event for the National Literacy Trust (one of our main charity partners); a fundraising lecture delivered by Anthony HorowitzI’ve written elsewhere about the palaver surrounding the dinner we also hosted and my dress-buying carry-on, but I didn’t actually say why the event was being held in the first place and what it was like.

The NLT has known for a while that it needed to develop some additional funding streams – it’s received some good government grants in the past (and quite rightly so, given that the Trust’s work has mirrored very well the various policy aims regarding literacy), but all of its funding has been cut.  The people who run the NLT are not the type to sit around and bemoan the facts, though; instead, they’ve been hugely resourceful and have started finding revenue opportunities and other ways to find financial support for the charity’s great work.

The event we hosted was designed to launch a new and pretty cool-sounding fundraising strategy, so the charity wanted to do it with a bang; Anthony Horowitz was the man for the job.  He delivered a 40-minute lecture entitled ‘Literacy: The State of the Nation’ and it was fantastic: really entertaining, but also challenging and thought-provoking.  He certainly didn’t feel obliged to toe the NLT party line: the charity is unashamedly populist when it comes to encouraging people (and young people in particular) to read, reasoning that the act of reading can be encouraged through many media.  Horowitz was completely frank in his opinions of ‘junk’ books (Dan Brown came in for quite a caning), although he did acknowledge later in the lecture that authors like Brown, for all their literary flaws, do know how to tell a good and fast-paced story.

More than anything, the Horowitz lecture was properly inspiring.  I have loved working with the cause for the past few years because I believe passionately that literacy is the cornerstone of a happy, productive and engaged life: reading sparks our imaginations, enables us to participate fully as citizens and provides us with the most basic tools we need to support ourselves.  Adults with poor literacy – and in the UK that’s one in six adults (with a reading age of no greater than 11 years old) – are virtually disenfranchised; unable to debate issues, read the considered opinions of others, or play any active role in the running of a country.  If you talk to those who are represented in the worst statistics in society – prison populations, communities surviving on benefits, the unemployed – the chances of encountering people with literacy problems are very high.

Horowitz spoke so eloquently of the purpose of literacy and – equally importantly – the pleasure afforded by literacy.  He described the joy of curling up with a good book, or discovering a new author that you love and then discovering that there is an entire body of work with which to acquaint yourself, and the entire audience sighed in recognition.

Anyway, the lecture seemed to serve its purpose: there were a lot of filled donation envelopes handed in at the end of the evening!

Social secretary

December 8, 2010

I had no choice but to organise the firm’s annual community affairs Christmas party, but I can’t explain why I volunteered to also organise my department’s Christmas event, or why I’ve taken it upon myself to boss everybody regarding our Christmas lunch.  Am I a glutton for punishment?

Anyway, the department’s Christmas event took place last night and was a great success.  We have an evening function every Christmas and every summer, and it’s always the same: a three course dinner at a nice restaurant.  That’s all very well and good, but it’s a bit dull after a while and it tends to mean that you can only talk to the same two people all night.  Past dinners have been livened up slightly by holding a quiz, but the questions are set by the partner responsible for our department and his tastes are slightly more intellectual than I would prefer: at the summer dinner, questions included ‘name all the double land-locked countries in the world’ and ‘what where the first five countries to give women the vote’.  Rock on.

Determined to do something different, I formed a small party committee and we designed an event that was as far from a semi-formal dinner as we could manage: a children’s party, with balloons, streamers, party bags, games and ridiculous dancing.  It was always a bit of a risk, because it was the kind of thing that would only work well if everybody got into the spirit of it, but I’m pleased to report that it was a stonking good night.  In total, 25 of us drank a lot, played musical chairs (very competitive – the partner was sent flying at one point), had a distinctly low-brow quiz about childhood music and TV (my team won because we were awesome), ate canapes and danced like idiots.

I did drink too much, though.  It was one of those nights where you feel fine in the bar, but realise that you’re hammered as soon as you leave the building.  I nearly fell asleep in the taxi to the station and it was only through a herculean effort that I avoided nodding off on the train and waking up in the middle of Norfolk at midnight (my biggest commuting fear).  There were no taxis at my home station, so I had to traipse through the frosty streets for ten minutes – I didn’t want to wake up Tristan on such a cold night.

This morning I have felt fairly rough, but I think the lack of sleep has been my biggest problem.  I did have my failsafe hangover breakfast, though, and that helped to sort me out a bit.  You should try it if you’re ever hungover: it’s a bacon sandwich on white bread with butter; a banana; and some freshly-squeezed orange juice.  And a couple of headache tablets.  I don’t know why that particular combination of food and drink works, but I have tested it many times over the years and it always makes me feel better than anything else.

I think today’s hangover is the worst one I’ve suffered since the great Wine Tasting Debacle of 2006: the only time that I have had to call in sick because of a hangover.

The final event on the list is the Christmas lunch, which takes place in our staff restaurant next Monday.  The restaurant serves the lunch for a week and each departments books its own table.  In the past we’ve done Secret Santa and given each other fairly mundane presents, but we’re all a bit bored with it (and skint, after a deluge of birthdays, weddings and new babies recently), so I’ve decided to shake things up a bit.  Instead of buying stuff, we are having a re-gifting Santa sack.  Each person will contribute a wrapped present and they will be distributed at random.  The twist is that no money is to be spent: everybody must find the present in their own house and wrap it with whatever they have lying around.  I’m sure that everybody, like me, has books they’ve bought and never read, things they’ve been given and never used, or items they bought themselves and have barely touched.  I reckon that we will end up with some decent loot.

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.

Weekend at Strattons

September 27, 2010

Party people, we had such a lovely weekend away!  We went to a hotel called Strattons in a little market town called Swaffham, in Norfolk.  To date my only experience of Norfolk was a visit to the outskirts of Norwich to buy Tui, early in 2007, but I’d heard good things about it.

The hotel was pretty fab, actually.  I’m not sure that I would stay there again (mainly because it doesn’t take long to suck the marrow from Swaffham), but we had good dinners in the hotel restaurant on both Friday night and Saturday night and our suite was gorgeous.  It was also open-plan and this led to Tui the Wonder Dog ruling the roost.  Ordinarily the only time that Tui sleeps on a bed is when she stays with the dog sitter – we have schooled her to regard ‘upstairs’ as a mystical land that she has little hope of visiting – but at Strattons she slept on our bed for both nights.  Both mornings I was woken up when she decided to ‘visit’ me at 6.30 and loom over me at the head of the bed, wagging her tail excitedly.  She was absolutely delighted with this new development and the Tui-shaped marks on the bedspread suggested that, whenever we left her in the room, she spent all of her time lounging around like a little person in furry black pyjamas.  But rest assured that this doesn’t indicate a general softening in Tui-management standards: we put her to bed in the conservatory again when we got home last night.

We spent the weekend doing a lot of lying around and a lot of pootling around.  Norfolk is absolutely beautiful, with pretty villages that haven’t been ruined by high street blandness.  The only bummer was the dreadful weather.  We went to the beach on Saturday because we thought that it would be nice to take Tui for a run, but the wind coming off the sea was so strong that we could barely walk upright.  After 20 minutes of battling we gave up and went to a local deli for hot chocolate and cake instead.

The location and the company were, of course, brilliant, but the best thing about the weekend was the opportunity it gave me to switch off.  Tristan confiscated my Blackberry at bedtime on Thursday and I wasn’t allowed it back again until first thing this morning.  In the two or three years since I’ve had a Blackberry I have never gone for a day without checking it, so to leave it behind for three whole days was splendid and definitely helped me to unwind.  This has been a really hard year for me, for a variety of reasons, and my stress levels have been very high.  Although I have had some dramas at work, they really shouldn’t have caused me such angst: it’s more that, when really stressed, I struggle to cope with anything more taxing than getting dressed in the morning.  But by forcing myself to ignore work for three days I realised that I had lost perspective, big-style: Tristan commented that he was finding it difficult to grasp which of my work problems were ‘big’ problems and which weren’t such an issue, and I replied that I wasn’t surprised, given that I was finding it difficult to separate the two categories myself!  Having the space and time to realise this has already made it easier for me to take a step back.

So, it was a great weekend and three days off felt as relaxing as three weeks.  Many thanks to everybody who urged me to take Friday off!  It reminded me that I shouldn’t take it all so seriously and that I’m very lucky to have such a lovely and supportive husband (and a lunatic dog).

Progress: 17 September

September 17, 2010

First things first: don’t worry about me.  I’m fine and yesterday was just a bit of a bad day.  Today is much better.  I still have shedloads of work to tackle, but I’m not feeling as freaked out about it today.  And that’s quite remarkable when you consider that a certain Wonder Husband of my acquaintance accidentally woke me up before 5am today and I didn’t manage to get back to sleep…

Anyway, progress:

Breakfast at home: I was nine for nine on the 13th.  Now I’m 11 for 13: on Tuesday I had breakfast at a meeting and today I bought porridge at work.  I needed that porridge very badly.

Packed lunch: again, I’m now 11 for 13: on Tuesday I had lunch at an event (Tuesday was a busy day) and on Wednesday I had to be sociable and buy lunch in the restaurant because it was Emma’s first day.  And I’m going to have to buy lunch again today because I simply couldn’t be bothered foraging in the kitchen this morning.

No-spending days:  On the 13th I was up to six no spending days this month.  As of today I’ve managed eight.  My target for the entire month was for three no spending days each week: 12 in total for September.  I should be able to manage it, I think.

Weekend plans:

  • Lots of sleep, including one or two afternoon naps
  • Some quality sweet eating
  • Possibly a film
  • More work on Charlie’s embroidery (it’s so cute!)
  • Reading and – possibly – some writing
  • Walks with Tui and lots of hanging out with Tristan
  • Using that magic Colour B4 stuff to see if I can sort out my current hair colour issues
  • Cleaning the house
  • A bit of cooking, probably
  • Posting birthday presents to two nieces
  • Hopefully a chat with Anna
  • Hopefully a chat with my mother
  • An expedition into the loft to retrieve some warmer clothes (boo)

And that’s it!