Eight months? Really?

It’s not even funny, it’s embarrassing. It’s eight months since I blogged. Eight months! I could have almost had a baby by then. Or renovated a house, or rowed across the Atlantic a couple of times.

I’ve no excuse, I’m just lazy. Since I last blogged last April I’ve started and quit a job, started and sustained another one, and put together plans to create a whole business empire (honestly, I really have). Yes, 2012 is the year I hope to get back to self employment and can’t wait to be mistress of my own destiny.

It’s not scary, I’ve done it before. In fact, around a million years ago I was forced into freelancing when the magazine I worked on folded suddenly. As the editorial team stumbled in a collective state of shock back to its desk, my phone rang and an ex colleague was calling to ask if I knew anyone who was available for a freelance production editor gig. And so, without any planning, thought or even effort, I was self employed.

Over the years I worked for all sorts, from computer mags near Liberty (great lunchtime shopping) to architectural and design publishers in fabulous Georgian offices. There was a spate on a new financial magazine in the city and then on to the wilds of west Gloucestershire to the world of regional newspapers where I worked for the loveliest editor ever. Sadly it all came to an end when, putting my ex husband’s career first, I packed it all in and moved up north and over to the dark side. My heart was never really in marketing and PR but I had some good times flogging washing machines by flamming up superbug stories.

Now I’m full of new year’s resolutions and my list is as long as a sloth’s arm, stuff like lose weight, exercise four times a week, go blonde, check my blood pressure more often and make a living working for myself. Mr F and I have some joint projects which I’m excited about and he is about about to unleash his wonderful first novel onto Amazon while he starts on a second. I have some ideas for some passive (ish) income and an old friend has asked me to help her market her book in the US.

It’s going to be a busy year and we’ve spent a few days getting new diaries organised, planning our time and scheduling in all kinds of exciting things for the coming months. I’m convinced it’s achievable but it’s scary as hell. Exciting and thrilling and can’t wait to start, but scary.


Revolution and the working classes

If you read my last blog you’ll know that of late my life has been entirely about work, or at least the attempt to get some. Looking for a job in one of the deepest recessions in living history has not been easy and there are times when it’s impossible not to turn one’s thoughts to one’s inadequacies, point the finger squarely at one’s own chest and spit, ‘it’s all your fault’.

Maybe I don’t have what employers are looking for, maybe my resume sucks, maybe HR people don’t like the cut of my jib. Then there’s the big filter in my job search – I simply won’t apply to companies that ask for eye-wateringly high qualifications with little in the way of recompense. I worked hard to get my degree and my post-grad, and I’ve worked hard through my life to learn new skills. You want all that for nothing?

While the leftie in me snarls at these unacceptable faces of capitalism, I have admiration for many entrepreneurs. The last couple of years have been so hard for so many and I have read some truly disturbing accounts of folk for whom the recession has been a living hell.

These are the people who had previously danced a light foxtrot through life, their small businesses ticking over effortlessly, having nice homes and being thankful they could afford to send their children to university and buy them cars. All was well in their lives and every month, give or take, they took a peek at their retirement funds and smiled a quiet smile, knowing they would soon be kicking back on the beach and pulling the cork on a good bottle of champagne on high days and holidays.

When you’ve had an idea, worked hard to get that idea turned into a business, put your entire financial self on the line to get it up and running, and keep it there, and employed other folk, and paid your taxes, and spent your considerable earnings in other people’s businesses, and in turn made them successful…well, it’s not just about sitting in your counting house, counting all your own money, is it?

So to all those risk takers out there who have got off their arses and done their own thing, or even those who took over the reins from a rich mummy or daddy, but who are keeping their corporate heads above water, you have my admiration. The responsibility of running a business is considerable and you have probably made decisions that none of your employees would ever wish to make. Growing overheads and falling turnover may well be with you night and day, seven days a week. I do not envy you.

But remember this: times are hard and employment is unbearably high. Don’t be tempted, even for a moment, to exploit it. Think twice before you post that ad asking for a post-grad or an MBA at minimum wage. Don’t be looking for someone to organize your working day, market your company and run your national PR campaigns for a salary so low that I make a note of your name and will be asking my friends to join me in boycotting you.

I’d rather be asking my customers if they’d like fries with their order than take my qualifications and experience to an outfit that cares more about the quality of padding on their office chair than they do about their staff.

Jumping off the hamster wheel

I can hardly believe it’s two months since I wrote anything in my blog, very bad. However, I do have the excuse I have been job hunting, and that takes up a lot of time, In fact, it’s almost a full time job.

If you haven’t applied for a job in ten years, you’re probably rolling your eyes and mouthing the words, ‘drama queen’. But consider for a moment how you actually do the applying these days.

When I was in my 20s, applying for a job meant whipping up a brief list which included your job history, your qualifications and your contact details onto a piece of paper that you grandly called your CV. That was it, no frilly stuff and it took about half an hour to type up and run off 50 copies on a photocopier. You slammed a general cover letter in with your CV and pushed it into the post. If they wanted to call you in for an interview they wrote to you and set a date and time. You turned up, if you were unlucky you had to go through a second round of interviews, and then you sat back and waited for the yea or nay letter to arrive in the post.

Oh my, how things have changed. Firstly, you need to take into account that these days most recruiters, whether companies or agencies, will use scanning software which will search your cover letter and CV for key words. These are the words they have used in their job ad and if your missive doesn’t include their key words, chances are your application won’t be seen by the human eye.

So this means you have to go through every job advertisement and make a note of the words they have used, and change your CV accordingly. It doesn’t matter if you just use different terms for the same thing. They will want to see that you are an exact match.

It helps if you have done some research on the company too, as mentioning something about them in your cover letter can help make you stand out amongst your competitors, such as the fact that you know they have a new product launch, have recently relocated, or opened a new office.

Then you send it off, and after a few days send a gentle chase-up email, just to show you’re really keen.

If you’re exceedingly lucky you’ll get a phone call which is from someone fairly low down the human resources ladder who will conduct a mini telephone interview, sussing out if you are sane, articulate and available, after which they will set a date and time for an interview, and confirm by email.

You email them back to thank them for their call and to confirm the appointment. You spend days preparing by researching the company and making a list of interesting questions, you have your interview and the next day you thank them for seeing you and confirming you are still interested in the job. You wait.

You send them another email telling them you are still interested in the job. If you get a second round interview, you go through the same process. If you hear nothing, you continue to chase them until you give up and realise they really don’t want you to work for them because they’ve already employed the CEO’s sister-in-law who had been told the role was hers before the position went onto the careers page of the company website, but of course they had to go through the motions and make it look as though there was an element of fairness in the selection process.

And so, gentle reader, thus have I spent my days for the past six weeks. It’s tedious and frustrating, it’s soul destroying and demotivating, and is the main reason why I have decided to give it up.

What, I hear you gasp, not working? Not wanting to join the rat race, the dreaded 9 to 5? And surely not planning to sponge off the state?

Well, no. I’m desperate to earn some money and can’t wait to get back into the commercial world where I can use my brain and skills that have all been on ice for a few months while I waited for permission to work here. But I simply can’t play this recruitment game any longer.

I’ve decided to be more in control of my destiny, maybe get some temporary or part time employment for now, but also spend my time building my business instead of researching those of others. I’m launching myself on the world as a marketing and communications consultant, where my enthusiasm and skills work for me and not for someone else, where if I decide to work from 5am to 2pm I can, and where any money I make is for me and not to contribute to the salaries of various colleagues who laze around updating their Facebook status all day, playing fantasy football or feigning illness.

It’s both scary and exciting and frankly, I can’t wait to get started, so you’ll have to excuse me while I go and build myself a website.

Rusty bendy yogi

Last night was my first yoga class in three years. Great excitement in the Mr & Mrs F household. Mr F, bless his warm heart, because he loves to see me get enthused and he’s so generous in his sharing of someone else’s happiness, and me because, well, if you do yoga you’re a sylph, right?

I got a briliant deal through Groupon for ten classes at a yoga centre about 15 mins from here. It got good reviews on Google so I booked a basics class and turned up last night.

It’s the first time I’ve ever done yoga anywhere other than a school gym or a church hall. As you can see, this was lovely, calm, beautifully lit, and I felt at ease as soon as I walked in. The class was pretty big, there must have been 35 to 40 of us in this huge room, mats all lined up beautifully, and soothing, subdued lighting. I identified myself as new, went through my yogic background (which didn’t take long), was checked out for any injuries or illnesses which might affect my performance (I was tempted to lie so I could wimp out if necessary), and was welcomed by the teacher as a rusty yogi.

Of course the peaceful feeling engendered by the soft lights and nice smells soon passed once Ariel got us going. She’s about 30, lithe and supple and strong as a favourite leather belt, and softly spoken, and didn’t let us get away with a thing. Once we got into the class we were doing down dogs for what felt like four months, and today my shoulders are yelling almost as much as my legs were last night.

It was a great class though, invigorating yet calming. I’m definitely going back.

So different from my last yoga class in West Yorkshire, where Mary, a spritely 80 year old, took us through our postures in the local junior school hall. Some days it smelt faintly of school dinners, which wasn’t great, so she used to bring some incense along with her. She had one leg longer than the other and walked badly, and at snail’s pace, when standing up, but once in her leotard and tights and on that mat, she was pure bendy magic and I loved her to bits.

Yesterday was also the cause for some major celebrations as my employment authorization card arrived, unexpectedly, in the post. Today has been a happy slog through job sites, loading on my CV and applying for positions. Fingers crossed someone will want to employ me. More on this topic to follow…

The best orange juice ever

There’s few things more satisfying than growing or making your own stuff. Double whammy – grow AND make. So it’s with great excitement that I’ve been out gathering oranges off the tree to make my own juice.

Yes, I know, juicing oranges isn’t exactly brain surgery, but you have to get all the elements right. Firstly, what species of orange tree do you have and is it suitable for juice? After some research I realise my tree is a Navel, so it’s perfect for juicing.

As a northern European I know F all about citrus growing, so I check them out to see if they’re ready to pick. Back in December they looked fine to me, but after a trial run I discover that they aren’t quite ripe enough, the juice is a little more tart than I would like, so I leave them on the tree to ripen a little longer.

This week, the sun began to shine again in earnest and the fruit had changed to a deep orange. It was a sign. Earlier today I gathered a supermarket bag full and got pressing.

I have a very basic model, a gift many years ago from my ex sister-in-law. I think she got it from Divertimenti, but I’d seen it elsewhere too. It’s slow progress but satisfying to be doing something using a gadget that doesn’t plug in.

I’ve also discovered that, with the hand model, I get one pint of fresh juice from eight navel oranges. I don’t think that’s a bad ratio, but I’m a novice and think I might be able to improve it with an electric juicer. I’m off to Amazon to see what’s available. Next week, more juicing and some trial runs of freezing it, as those oranges won’t last on the tree forever. The possums are out there most nights, so I have competition and no toothy little rodent is getting its hands on my navels.

Christmas is all about…

Spending time with friends and family.
Missing the friends and family you couldn’t be with.
Being silly and acting your shoe size, not your age, and playing with your new BB gun in the garden.
Yummy turkey and trimmings on Christmas Day.
Feeling obliged to eat leftover turkey for days afterwards. And not finding any leftover recipes appealing.
Loving your gifts and being delighted when others like yours.
The smell of the tree and the wreath every time you come into the house.
Lots of evenings sat around the fire pit, and smelling deliciously smokey afterwards.
As above, plus cigars.
The glow of the tree lights and the sparkle in Mr F’s eyes because he loves Christmas too.