Friday, 27 April 2012

The Here and Now

I am a very disorganised person.  I am also untidy, but I suspect that comes in part from being disorganised.  I have never developed a place for most of the things in my life.  I mean, I have a cutlery drawer, and an underwear drawer (although my undergarments often sit in the clean washing basket until worn again), but most of my possessions stay where they land, which is not ideal and really needs to change.

Take my crochet hook for example.  I have hundreds of the things, but only one that I use almost every day.  It is a satisfyingly red aluminium 4.5mm hook, and it is the exact right size for Stylecraft Special DK yarn, which I also use almost every day.

You will notice that it has a cork skewered onto the end.  This is because I lose the damn thing almost as often as I use it.  Now that it can't easily fall down the side of the sofa, or roll underneath it, or be picked up unnoticed in a large piece of crochet work, I lose it (and therefore swear) far less frequently.  Of course, it is the only 4.5mm hook I can find, despite having bought three complete sets over recent years, because I only caught on to the cork trick after at least two other hooks vanished into the ether, never to be found again.  Or at least, not until I rake some of my unfinished projects out from my home's various nooks and crannies.

My mother says that I have a grasshopper mind.  Which might go some way towards explaining how I can spend hour upon hour making a blanket, then find a photo of it on my camera a year or so later and wonder what it is!  After a few seconds staring at it vague bells started to ring at the back of my mind.  I sort of recall making it as a blankie for a toddler, when I fancied a shorter project than the 2 kingsize granny stripe blankets I had made in succession.  I also decide to do a colour repeat, to see whether I liked it.  The jury is still out on that.

I've seen worse, but it doesn't wow me.  The point is, though, that I've put it away somewhere and completely forgotten its existence.  It's not so bad that it deserves never to see the light of day again, and it's a waste of time, money and effort if it is never to be used.  This "losing" of things is not deliberate, it's my disorganisation again.  I need to come up with a strategy.  Actually, I need to declutter, because if I didn't have so much stuff, then so much of what I do own would not be out of sight behind newer stuff!  I dare not show you my bedroom.  In fact, I'd not dare show you any room in my house.  I'm not so bad that I'd set any records for filth on "How Clean is Your House", but House Beautiful it is not!

And disorganisation has other, less frivolous consequences.  If I am to be un(der)employed, then I have to cut back on my outgoings.  That has to start with not wasting food. I'm normally not too bad in this area, being a great leftovers consumer and food recycler. (Last night's lefotver soup becomes today's shepherd's pie with the addition of a tin of lentils and some frozen veggie mince).  But I shocked myself earlier in the week when I opened my fridge's veg drawer and found almost the entire contents beyond use.  Including a whole bag of spring greens, not even opened.  This has to stop.  Apart from the financial consideration, it's just plain wrong.

To my shame, I can see carrots (black spotted and slimy), white cabbage (black spotted and dehydrated beyond use) a whole red pepper (wrinkled and with great slimy patches), the two heads of spring cabbage gone yellow (look, the one on the right's starting to flower, bless it) and part of a celeriac root which is pretty much fossilised.  There are a couple of apples lurking in there, too, out of sight.  Ack.  Awful waste.  All headed for the compost heap, which is my only consolation - at least it's not all going to landfill.

After that depressing image, here are a few other, more cheerful aspects of my life at the moment.

I love my garden.  Not to work in, but to look at from the kitchen window as I wash up, and to sit out in with some wine and music and Husband (not necessarily in that order of importance) when the weather is kind.  At the moment it's looking very overgrown, because Husband (who is in exclusive charge of grasscutting) has a note excusing him from heavy work due to a recent hernia repair.  The grass is becoming very, very long.
Here my senior cat demonstrates how far up her side the grass currently reaches.  You can tell from her half-Siamese frosty glare that the current state of her domain is not appreciated.  She is doing her best to help us with this situation by chewing off, eating, and then throwing up on the dining-room carpet as much grass as she can manage, but she's only one cat, dedicated though she may be.

Not all of the garden is looking so neglected.  We also have riots of wallflowers in two old half-barrels.  They perfume the garden with scents of my childhood and delight me whenever I go out there.

And the lilac bush is in flower, proving that I was wrong and Husband was right when he pruned it back so hard last year that I predicted he'd killed the tree.  I only photographed the top part of it, official reason being that it looks wonderful against the current old-jeans colour of the sky.  Real reason is the lower half is obscured by an unlovely rotary clothelines that I can't reach over the long grass to dismantle.

To finish on, here's a photo of my one and only white camelia that's not been rendered brown and crispy-edged by the wind:

Please ignore the two flies inconsiderately bonking on the leaf to the left.  It is spring, after all.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Looking back

I went on a weekend course in 2010, to gain inspiration and encouragement to take the step that I am only just now, 2 years later and no further on really, starting to take.  I wrote this about it just afterwards:
Dial House in summer.
  They usually leave some of the grass to
grow, meadow-like, these days.

"This weekend just gone I went on a short residential course at Dial House in Essex, "Ditch Your Day Job, a Permaculture Approach to Quitting the 9 - 5".  The more time goes on, the more desperate I am to escape, so I booked myself and Husband (with his agreement) on the course, and we got back last night.

The course was run by Graham Burnett, Permaculture guru, and Tom Hodgkinson, editor of The Idler magazine amongst other enterprises.  I've met Graham before and like him immensely, but Tom was a new acquaintance and I was very surprised by how young he turned out to be.  It took me until middle age to decide that the rat race is unendurable (although I've never liked it, I've never discerned any practical alternative).  Tom picked up on this piece of wisdom in his twenties, and thanks to a fortuitous sacking, put his ideas into practice and has been gainfully "idling" ever since.

The atmosphere of the course was pretty pragmatic.  We can't do without money altogether, but maybe we can do with less, and earn that in an enjoyable way.  Many of the things we buy, commonly, are to reward ourselves for doing our crap jobs.  If we don't have that aggravation in our lives, then quite possibly we don't need so many of these little rewards.  This habit is so common we've even coined a term for it over recent decades - Retail Therapy.  How grim that we are living lives that require such a panacea.

Freeform beret, made for a friend's toddler
grand-daughter, subsequently passed on to her sister.

Another consideration - so much of my spending actually supports my ability to do my eight to five.  That's potentially money I don't need to earn.  My car, for example.  I've been taking notice lately, and I doubt that I do 5 miles per week that isn't to work and back (80+ miles each way, thankfully not every day!).  I have a bike, and for the odd occasion (maybe once a month if that) when a bike won't do, there are always taxis.  How much do I really need a car if I'm not commuting?  That has to reduce my outgoings by £2-3,000 pa, and that is taxed earnings, so I can probably afford to earn £3-4,000 pa less gross if I don't run a car.

We were encouraged on the course to take stock of our talents and experience in things we actually like to spend our time doing.  On from this, the one point that set off rockets in my head was the concept of multiple income streams.  I have mulled for many, many  hours over recent years, ways in which I could earn money that would involve me in activities that I already enjoy rather than sitting at a computer from 8am to 5pm each day.  But none of them would provide a living wage, even a modest one.  So, why not do several?  See what works, what doesn't, and whilst I'm going through this learning period hopefully the things that don't work will become obvious quite quickly and the ones that do will prop up my optimism whilst I develop more ideas.  If I can accumulate a number of revenue streams then I will never be dependent upon just one which may collapse at any moment.  I've been made redundant once in my life and although it wasn't the tragedy for me that it is for a lot of people, it left me with no income and led me into a job that not only did I not enjoy, but which swallowed up 4 hours of each of my days in sitting either on a train or behind the wheel of a car.  Awful, awful.  I'd panicked, and taken the first job I was offered.  I wish I'd had Tom's foresight then.
My first commissioned piece - a cloche with a tiny brim,
freeform scrumbles and beads attached.  Great fun to make,
and I am told, well received.

I dabble in crochet, (also freeform knitting and crochet), and I have a number of ideas surrounding this particular subject, including making things for sale, maybe running short courses on freeform (bit ambitious, that), and preparing kits for sale with materials and an instruction booklet to give newcomers to freeform a head start.

I have also cherished a desire to write for publication - mainly fiction although I'm open to suggestions - for many years.  Since my teens, really.  I have had one timid effort at submitting a story for publication (rejected), but now I'm going to push at that door more firmly.  That is so scary.  (Note - have tried again twice since.  Both rejected.  Getting used to it now!)

Which brings me to the barriers, of which fear is of course the biggest.  Fear of personal failure that may diminish me, but also fear of letting Husband down and leaving him the sole breadwinner - I am BAD, I am LAZY, I am living off SOMEONE ELSE, I can hear the gremlins shrieking in my head, and I've not even started any of this yet.  The next worst barrier is a dreadfully unhealthy attitude towards money.  I'm fine with my employer putting a lump of credit into my bank account each month.  We don't talk about it at all, and usually each January it rises by the inflation percentage of the time - although not for the past 2 Januaries due to the credit crunch.  But taking money from individuals for my time and efforts makes me cringe.

Gordon, my toy baboon, fetchingly modelling the beret.
I'm told it looked a lot better on the child!
To illustrate this unhelpful trait of mine - a couple of people at work saw some of my crochet work and each asked me to make a hat for them to give to a relative as a gift.  I was delighted and flattered and I spent many hours making those hats and each was well received.  When those people asked me how much I wanted to be paid, I went bright red and refused point blank to take anything.  It was an act of friendship, making those hats, and I could not have thought of taking money from a friend.  Which was all very nice, but it did mean that for one thing they'd never ask me to make any more for them, and for another, that I didn't get any concrete reward for my efforts.  That's fine all the time I still have the day job, but if I want to diversify then I have to get over the abject horror of taking money for my work.  It was the same when I did house cleaning for a friend when I was unemployed a few years ago.  I nearly died of embarrassment when he handed me those three five-pound notes.

So I have some big hurdles to haul myself over if I am ever to make the break with full-time employment.  But my mood post-course is positive and warm inside, which is a big improvement on my average mood of the last few years.  I am so sick of whingeing.  I don't what to moan - I want to idle."

I still do!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Getting in some practice

My boss knows that I want to leave; we have been discussing this on and off for several months.  There is a degree of reluctance on both sides to accept this.  It's a family firm, and I've become part of the furniture, and though we both agree that I have my down side, I am dependable and I am the person they call when anything computer-related goes wrong, and thus far it has always ended up being sorted.  For my part, despite my desire to change my working life completely, I am very fond of some of the people there, not least of all my 80+ year-old Chairman who still comes in from 7:30 to 12 each day, rain or shine.  Love him to bits, have for years.  I go back a long way with this firm, to my early twenties when the software house I worked for sold them a computer system.  Even when that firm went bust, I still used to swap Christmas cards with Chairman and his secretary.  And eventually I ended up as an employee.

I am used to having some money plop into my bank account every month.  That is going to be hard to give up, emotionally speaking.  I have been used to defining my self-worth by the status of my job, and my attitude towards it.  I don't think that this is healthy, and it's one of the things I hope to change.  I genuinely believe that any job well done is something of which to be proud, but I don't seem able to think that way about myself, only others.  I sometimes wonder whether I may have tiny self-esteem issues.

Other revenue streams need to be found, so that when my company finds my replacement I stand a chance of continuing to eat - something of which I am overly fond.

King-size Granny Stripe Blanket, original pattern courtesy of Attic24
Loads of yarn!

As previously mentioned, I crochet.  Of course, so do a lot of people, and I can't claim to be any sort of genius in this area, but I do quite like some of the things I make, and at some point I hope to open an Etsy shop (or similar) and see whether maybe anyone else likes them too - enough to actually pay for them.  This will bring in peanuts at best, but that might be ok, I can live on a lot less than most people, I reckon.

Then of course there's the idea of buying cheap and selling a little less cheaply.  I've made a bit of a start with this original drawing, purchased on eBay for £3.  I collected it, avoiding postage fees.  It is of a boat called "Vere",  and was drawn when it was moored in Birdham in 1984.  I've done a bit of Googling, and apparently Vere was built in 1905 and was one of the flotilla of small ships that went across the channel to rescue soldiers stranded in Dunkirk.  Despite breaking down twice on the way, she is credited with bringing 346 men home, probably saving their lives in the process.  Since then she has served as a house boat to three successive families, and at some point sank at her berth in the Chichester Canal, passed through the hands of the Official Receiver of Wrecks and one other owner before transferring to her present owner.  In July 2007, Vere underwent restoration at Cowes, Isle of Wight.

My thinking is, if I can find out who owns this boat now, they might be interested in buying my picture for a little more than the £3 it cost me.  In the meantime I have it on my wall, because it is a jolly nice picture and I've always had a lumpy-throated soft spot for the Dunkirk evacuation.

So a very small start, both of which ideas may of course come to nothing, but my outlay has been modest (although I've drawn a line under how much I've spent on yarn in the last few years.  I don't buy expensive, but I have bought lots).

There are a number of other issues that I have to address if I am to take this monumental step.  But for today I'm happy that I at least have some ideas to follow.  I won't be leaving my present job for at least three months, so that's a minimum of  three more paydays' worth of money off the mortgage before I have to worry about how on earth I'm going to keep up the payments on it!

It's a nice sunny day and I'm now going to sit outside without a glass of wine, because one day soon I hope not to be able to afford such luxuries.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Outlook uncertain

Well, the time it has taken me to set up a Google account and this blog proves to me once and for all that computers and I are not suited. 

We used to be.  In fact I have earned my living for more years than I care to admit (more than twenty, less than fifty) in IT, or "computers" as it was known when I started out.  I was a Computer Operator, then a Computer Programmer (much to my father's surprise, who never made it past Operator and couldn't believe I had the brains to do so), and have now reached the lofty and uncomfortable heights of IT Manager.

Surprisingly, I am not rich.  You'd think I would be, wouldn't you, with a job title like that and no children?  But no.  Some dodgy career moves by both me and Husband, plus a tendency to go for jobs that appealed rather than job that paid, have seen to that.  I'm not starving, but I certainly don't have the sort of financial comfort that is generally associated with my calling. 

Luckily this is not a huge problem.  I'd sooner be happy and interested and optimistic about the future than rich.  It's therefore a bit of a bugger that at the moment I am neither.

I've been in my current job for 15 years in June.  It is a good company, with some lovely people, run by a wonderful family.  Should be idyllic, but I am jaded and stretched beyond comfort, and the older I get the more of a Luddite I am becoming.  I won't even use a mobile phone except for emergencies, because I don't want to be available 24 hours a day.  And if truth be told, I spend so much of my time fiddling with technology trying to get it to do what it is supposed to, that the last thing I want to do is more of the same in my spare time.  So it is Husband who has wireless broadband and a smart phone and laptop and a tablet - or whatever the squitty little things with no keyboard are called.

So - it is time for a change, which will of course not be easy.  For a start I am on 3 months notice at work, which means that I can't look for a new job until I have resigned the current one, because who is going to consider - let alone interview - a woman of my age who can't even start for 3 months?  So I will be launching myself into the unknown, and scouring the local paper for anything that I can do which will pay.  I will likely end up self-employed, doing a mix of lealet delivery, temping and trying to sell stuff online that I have made or renovated.  Although I've done a fair bit of crochet in recent times, selling it (or trying to) will be a very new experience.  I also still have a mortgage, so on paper all this is complete madness.  But if I am to remain sane and the carpet unchewed, it has to be done.

Wish me luck.