I am away from home on a work conference this week and I am hankering after a bit of routine this morning, if just to overcome the feeling of discombobulation I have. I arrived in the dark last night and the moon was amazingly bright, so I could tell we were near a lake, there was forest. But that was about it. In the way of work conferences, it seemed important to get to know the people before the lie of the land, but I regretted that decision once everyone was heading to bed.
The evening had consisted of a couple of glasses of wine and way too long in the bar putting the world to rights – I should remember that if the world is not right by midnight, it is probably not going to get sorted at 1.30am – but I have been trying to remember that for decades now!
Inevitably, the wave of homesickness engulfed me as soon as I was alone. Interestingly, I was fairly detached from it – a new thing for me. I observed the homesickness, put it down to tiredness and discombobulation and went to sleep.
My brain woke me at first light and I got outside to explore straight away. The homesickness has completely gone. Knowing where I physically am helps to settle me down, definitely. I am reaching for routines that are familiar, hence the blog. Now, I need to remember that morning-after wisdom of not staying in the bar until 1.30am.
I am an organised person, I like lists, I like thinking through processes. But the more I think about it, the more I realise that I don’t get any energy from that part of my work and play. It’s the people part that I love.
Last week was a combination of work meetings and evening meetings for various volunteer roles and little time in between. I was filled with a rising sense of panic that all the many meetings I have attended this month have needed some process before and afterwards, but I couldn’t find the time for the process.
I possibly don’t plan for the process, but will always say yes to a meeting. Why? Someone said on Thursday “it’s all about just sitting down for a chat and listening to each other”. It really is, isn’t it? I have met so many genuinely interesting people, with interests, skills and expertise so far removed from mine. I find it fascinating and energising and I am a bit addicted to “just having a chat”.
The week culminated in a lovely day of “Just chats”, one with a colleague in an informal meeting, just chatting about stuff at work. It was potentially the most productive meeting of the week. Swiftly followed by just chatting with offspring about how the week had gone, which led to a bit of a light bulb moment for me. Then a bottle of wine and a chat led to some other ideas of future projects. And culminating with a meal and chat with the husband I have barely seen this weekend, which prompted some other plans.
So many thoughts and ideas and plans. Now I just need to focus on the process to make them happen. If you are waiting for an email from me, I am spending the weekend catching up, but do feel free to nudge me. Plenty of good intentions here, but you know what they say about good intentions. And if anyone suggests a meeting, you know I’d much prefer that to an email.
It is one of those weeks where I am doing consecutive travel days, it doesn’t happen too often thankfully, because working in London when I don’t live in the south east of the country feels like hard work. I am always comforted by the fact my commute is possibly easier than for many who do live in the south east though.
However, as well as extra travel, there seems to be a bit of extra everything. Why does that happen? A few years ago I came across Laura Vanderkam and her book I Know How She Does It which is a fascinating study of the time of high earning women who happen to have children. Vanderkam’s premise is that we do all have more time than we think – each of us has 168 hours per week and a few things are true of us all. Apparently, we spend more time with our children than we tend to think – we tend to discount mornings for example, or the time spent in cars taking them places. And we generally sleep more than we tell ourselves we do. And, this is fascinating, we tend to work much less than we think we do. The key to her work is asking people to track their time for at least a week, but preferably more. It’s something I have tried to do and am tempted to for the next month or so.
Does this week just feel busy, or is it busier than usual? Do I just notice it because the travel saps energy, possibly more so than usual because I am struggling with the tail end of a virus? Or is it because I am getting stuff done, but less time means I am not getting it done perfectly? My email inbox this morning contains various correction to the notes of Monday’s meeting – not even close to perfect apparently.
So in an attempt to discover whether this is sod’s law at work actually piling everything into one week when my offspring are lounging around on holiday, or whether it just feels like that, I think I need to write it all down for a few weeks.
I know this is not a topic that will win me many friends, but the truth of it is that I don’t work full time. I don’t think I have ever had a full time paid job.
That has been partly by chance and partly by design. I made a conscious decision to work part time when the children were very young and I have never changed the decision, or rather, I have never needed to change the decision.
Until a few weeks ago when for various reasons I ended up working some extra hours. So, I now work five days a week. Possibly for the first time ever. Technically it is still not full time – I work two half days. But still, every week day is a work day.
The most surprising thing is how long it is taking me to settle into a routine. As I have not worked on two days a week for a long time now, I maybe ought not to be surprised. I suspect I haven’t quite accepted it either – part of me thinks it should not affect the amount of other things I do in my week, but the reality is that I am not quite as available as I was.
It’s turning into another project in a year of ‘slower’ – allow myself time to just settle. I am reminded in this process of why I found working a term time only contract so very stressful. It takes a while to feel comfortable in a routine.
It is a travel day for me, specifically Birmingham to Plymouth and back. Fortunately, by train, I think a road trip there and back would finish me off. It is a journey I do frequently enough and I enjoy it. The views are stunning, there is enough coming and going at each station to enable people watching to not veer into stalking (glancing surreptitiously at one person for three and a half hours is not a good plan).
All that said, I don’t use my time wisely. I tend to work hard, my laptop being bashed at a great rate of knots. Well, I say work hard, work busy more like. A stretch of over three hours sitting at a sort of desk is such an unusual occurrence that I do that thing of thinking “oh I’ve got ages” and so all prioritising goes to pot. And those people and views I mentioned? Nah, rarely even see them. I try and make myself look up through Teignmouth – a Birmingham-dweller needs to see the sea whenever she can frankly – but I often miss the whole of Somerset.
So today I am practising being a wise traveller. For a start, I am not going to work the whole way there and back. A wise friend of mine will be pleased to hear this. Instead I have a book to read and a blog to write and some Scouting to do (subject for another piece, but my Scouting is pretty much emailing).
This is being written on first leg of the journey, so I am feeling smug already. Technically I should not be starting work until about Tiverton, but I shall allow myself to get cracking by Bristol I think.
I also need to keep swapping seats – my ticket splitting shenanigans (I use Raileasy TrainSplit) have saved me money as always, but I have four different seats reserved, so that will also force me to stretch my legs and move my spine a bit.
Many years ago, I made a decision not to live and work in London. It’s hard to remember making that decision, it was a long time ago, but I have never regretted it. This week I remembered one of the big reasons I left. It is the sound of silence in commuting London.
I work relatively frequently in the capital and enjoy it, there is a great feeling walking from the station to work seeing international landmarks. People travel all over the world to see the Parliament building or St Paul’s Cathedral, I gawk at them on my way to a job I enjoy.
I have a relatively smooth commute, which involves lovely walking when time allows and only rarely does it involve sighs of despair as I face a sardine-like tube carriage.
This week I walked from Euston to Waterloo. Along with possibly thousands of others. And the reason for that decision to leave London flooded my senses. As I walked down a busy thoroughfare it was hard to find a good pace as there were just so many people walking along the same road. All of us walking quickly and purposefully. And in total silence.
The road was of course noisy with cars, busses, motorbikes, building work. But absolutely no human noise at all.
That was it – that sound of silence. It brought back memories of arriving at Charing Cross station on my way to work in the early 90s and hundreds of humans marching in silence. I felt a feeling of real horror at the silence. At that time I thought it was because of the contrast with my childhood in a quiet corner of Wales where silence was because of a general lack of humans. This was silence with more humans than I had possibly ever experienced.
As it happens, all these years later, I still feel a sense of horror, real anxiety when immersed in this strange silence.
I was so grateful for it being broken this morning by a bird singing, by someone on a phone call and then a colleague called me and I felt a real relief at having someone to talk to.