So long, farewell…

Today marked the end of an era.
At 1pm I walked out of the building that’s been my workplace for four and a half years. It was a strange feeling, made all the stranger because although I’ve worked there since January 2007, I’d worked there as a temp in 2005, been a volunteer in and out of the building throughout my student years and had been a regular visitor between the ages of 11 and 15.

In fact, my association with the building began back in 1982 when I was just a small baby. As my mother was once moved to inform during a meeting we both attended last year, she’d changed my nappy in the room in which we were gathered. (There are times and places for such anecdotes – that was not one of them.)

Because my world is small and bizarre, it should be unsurprising that I ended up working in a building that my mother had worked in for 6 years; the building from which my father was sent as a mission partner 30+ years ago. Because my world is surreal, it made perfect sense that my desk for the last 3 years was just metres (literally around 2) away from the spot at which my mother’s desk had stood.

Today, I left Methodist Church House.

It feels right to have gone and on the whole it’s been a positive experience. There have been ups and downs. Sometimes it’s been massively frustrating, sometimes it’s been fantastic – especially on the odd occasion that I’ve got to travel to interesting places.

I’ve been blessed with some utterly fabulous colleagues. In fact, so far my working life has always involved one person I’ve had to work with closely who has also happened to be someone with whom I’ve got on famously. When I started at MCH I was worried I wouldn’t find someone I got on as well with as my CMS companion; but found Abidemi who was a valuable ally and is still an excellent friend. When she left I was convinced I’d be stuck with someone awful, and Andy arrived. He wasn’t so awful, in fact, it’s kind of thanks to him that I got to spend last week in France. When he disappeared I was positive that the void would be filled by an utter nightmare of a colleague, but I was wrong again – C turned out to be an almost perfect partner in crime. Work is never so bad when it involves spending time with friends.

Generally, I don’t blog about work, but there have been some entertaining stories along the way – like the discovery of what the mysterious Railway Club Room contained; the ridiculous lengths I end up going to thanks to my big mouth and my colleagues’ non-appreciation of sarcasm; the vagaries of the kitchen rota; the trauma of moving floors; and the bonuses of being able to watch the Madame Tussauds’ queue from the office window.

It’s been good, but new challenges are ahead. Next week, I get to move house. Whoop!
It’s a time of great joy for someone whose recurring anxiety dream involves packing…

Secret Santa Fail

Secret Santa – the scourge of the office Christmas.

I’m no Scrooge and actually, I rather enjoy the challenge of buying a random gift for a random colleague, but generally I don’t seem to come out of these things well. I’m passing no judgement on the present I received today, and this is not necessarily a view I share, but C rated it as the ‘lamest Secret Santa’. Cheers. Even the giving element wasn’t particularly thrilling for me, as the name I picked was the one colleague in my team that I’d never met and worked out of the building. The only respectable thing to do in such a situation is to buy nice chocolates, which is what I did.

Annoyingly, I missed a really good trick this year. My first pick out of the festive bucket was my own name, so I put it back and chose another. When I told C this, he pointed out that I’d have been much better off if I’d simply kept my own name and bought myself something I actually wanted. (Though trying to explain to the team how my Secret Santa had miraculously chosen the exact volume of Orwell essays I wanted might have been tricky…)

This is probably a little late for most people (someone I was chatting to this evening needed his gift by tomorrow, so was off to Lidl first thing to acquire it – I pity the person at an anonymous office in Oxford who receives that one), but here’s a few suggestions of gifts for a fiver:

Penguin Great Ideas series These are £4.99 each and consist of a whole range of classic and not so classic texts. I discovered them via Nose in a Book and her rave review of Orwell’s Books V Cigarettes – possibly the first time I’ve ever read a review and literally gone straight out (within the hour) and bought it. The latest series has another Orwell collection and I’m all about collecting Orwell at the moment.

Boots 3 for 2 gifts. There are tons of these – perfect for anyone – and the bonus is that you get a freebie. This year I’m particularly loving a mug covered in useful information (formulae, random facts etc), so you can learn while you sip.

Miniature toiletries. I’m a sucker for these – in fact, I have a whole drawer in my bathroom devoted to them, mostly items purloined from hotels. Personally, I like a stock of Sanctuary products that can be kept in my gym bag. Always nice to have pleasant smelling shower gel after a workout.

A nice, reusable shopping bag. Who doesn’t like to have multiple bags? Many of these are £5 or less. Current favourites include this red Foyles number – at £2.50 you could buy 2 – or one jute Foyles bag. Continuing the bookshop theme, Daunt’s bags are also highly attractive and useful (if you buy a super expensive book there, you get their smaller one free – fabulous).

Failing those ideas, chocolate will always work (unless you have my friend Jo, who’s allergic to cocoa – travesty), especially those Green & Blacks selection boxes. Oh, it’ll work unless the person you’re giving it to has been on a diet for 9 months and obviously lost a lot of weight – I wasn’t overly impressed last year to receive 2 bars of (quite nice) chocolate and a chocolate recipe calendar, given as I was deliberately avoiding the stuff! And scented candles – who doesn’t appreciate a good scented candle?

I do hope, if you work in an office environment and are not the sole employee of your organisation, that you get a wonderful Secret Santa gift this year. (If you do work on your own, why not just buy yourself a treat?) Next year, why not up the ante and make it really challenging? My favourite experience of the tradition was with a group of friends where we set the amount at £7.77 and insisted that the precise amount had to be spent. Quite, quite amusing.

Oh, and if you happen to get my name next year – follow the above instructions and you’ll do exceedingly well. Thank-you in advance.

Oh Christmas twigs, oh Christmas twigs…

Remember my foraging adventure? Well, I am now able to explain its purpose in full, technicolour glory…

I have a big mouth and a tendency towards sarcasm – the combination of these two things often lands me in trouble, especially at work. Add to the mix a propensity for sporadic creative ideas and it results in my occasionally finding myself in odd situations.

A classic recent example would be a conversation I had with our administrator about our cluster’s Christmas Tree. For the last two years we’ve had a real one, which though nice and smelly, I’ve seen as just a little pointless – especially as someone who finishes work as early as possible before the festivities owing to travelling obligations. I shared this thought and then (flippantly) remarked that “a bucket full of twigs would be just as good  to hang decorations on”. Fast forward to our next cluster meeting and under agenda item ‘Christmas Tree’, the administrator said that she wasn’t bothered about a real tree, but really liked the sound of the twigs. The cluster then decided that I should be given the task of creating such an installation and that I should spend Thursday lunchtime foraging for suitable bits of tree.

To be fair, this idea has been in the back of my mind for some years – I just don’t live near enough a decent source of twigs to make it possible at home. But I do have a track record of coming up with ridiculous creative ideas in the middle of meetings, that then land me with a whole heap of unexpected work. Like the time I suggested a ‘mugshots’ photography project in order to identify which colleague owned which mug and how they liked their beverages served – I never actually completed it and it still gets brought up from time to time (much to my annoyance).

Thus, I found myself facing the prospect of foraging under a foot of snow for twigs on one of the coldest days of the year. (C was also meant to be helping with the project, but he declined to join me, citing the bad weather as his excuse – hmph.) After initial sceptism that I’d find enough of the right type of twig, I ended up with a huge armful, including some that could be better termed as branches – and over 4 feet long. This is me, half-way through my collection, but gives you an idea of what I looked like crossing one of London’s busiest roads on my way back to the office:

This is what I ended up with:

That’s practically half a tree! Thankfully, the colleagues were impressed.

Left to dry overnight, Friday’s lunch time project was to assemble the other necessary ingredients – silver spray paint, oasis (in which to arrange the branches within the bucket) and silver paper to decorate the bucket – and then get on with the creative process.

Step 1 was to spray the twigs. It would have worked if I’d left them au naturel, but who doesn’t want a bit of extra Christmas sparkle? One can of paint was just about enough – possibly would have been fine if I’d been less over-enthusiastic with the first few.

That second photo’s from after the newspaper was cleared away.
 I possibly could’ve done with more newspaper – oops. Still, nice for the back stairs to shine…

Step 2 was to prepare the bucket – firstly covering it in silver wrapping paper (to disguise the fact that it was a generic under the desk bin) and then making it ready for the sticks. It needed weight to stabilise it (I found a couple of old Minutes that finally came in handy), some plastic bags for added height, a plate for the oasis to rest on and finally the insertion of the oasis. 

Finally, it was time to arrange the twigs and then to decorate it. Somehow I ended up without photos of the pre-decoration phase, but you get the idea…

Who says you need an expensive tree to make things feel Christmassy? 

Intentional offence?

Sometimes I see something and my mind leaps to conclusions so absurd that I have to go back and take a second look. Like mis-reading words and inferring an inappropriate meaning.

Sometimes, it turns out that what I thought I’d seen was actually exactly what I thought it was…

Today I took a glance at the dummy page for our new work intranet (this has been a long time coming, so I was rather intrigued). One of the boxes on the side had a rather flashy gif that linked to our in-house e-mail guidelines:
“Lose friends and alienate people in one easy lesson – How not to e-mail” 

The gif moved from the image on the left, to the one on the right:

I looked once, thought that maybe I was seeing things, then looked again. Is it just me, or is that image giving me the finger? Is a Christian organisation’s intranet effectively swearing at its staff? Seems improbable, but it’s the only conclusion I can reach! Very bizarre.

Inappropriate? Possibly. But I still didn’t mention it when our team shared their feedback this afternoon. I think it’s likely that this little animation will bring a smile to my face for some time to come.

Working 9-5

Apologies for the absence of Friday Fun today. It’s entirely because I’ve been having too much fun of my own. Actually, I say ‘fun’, it was in fact flipping hard work. Today was 11 Million Takeover Day and our building was overtaken by children & teenagers (thankfully only 80 of them, not 11 million).

Because I am a fool and volunteer for crazy things (and can’t seem to say ‘No’), I had the responsibility of involving 30 of these invaders in a research project we’re doing on Climate Change (actually, specifically carbon reduction), so we came up with lists of things our building could do better to reduce our emissions.
It was fun, but I’m knackered and have a whole new level of respect for teacher friends. I promise, never again will I make comments about my having a ‘proper’ job!! You guys are amazing and deserve all the holiday you get!

Anyway, I have one final book recommendation for you to end the week:
I was lent a copy to help with the planning for today and loved it. It contains 100 suggestions to change your workplace, including a sizeable number of environmental ones, but also things that help create a better mood. Even better, some of the suggestions come with stickers (who doesn’t love a sticker book?!) – wouldn’t you like to compliment fellow colleagues with gold stars or show gratitude with Thank You stickers?
There are similar books by the same authors, but this is specifically for the workplace and the older reader. One suggestion that had me laughing out loud was #61: Speak rather than e-mail…
“It’s nicer.
It’s also better to see someone’s reaction for real.
Plus, there’s another reason. It’s also because your boss can read all your e-mails.
Didn’t you know this?
Why do you think he was looking at you so weirdly last Tuesday?
He KNOWS what you want to do with the office junior and a tub of low-fat yoghurt.”

If you want something a little less risque, there’s Teach Your Granny to Text (for children) and Change the World for a Fiver. Highly recommended.
I’ve now been allowed to keep the copy I was lent, so next week the lovely Children & Youth team will be getting a Thank-You sticker and gold star. Fabulous.