A couple of years ago, I discovered a simple truth about sympathy. It doesn't have to be eloquent. There's no need to spend hours trying to find the right words, because there aren't really any right words out there.
Just say something. Say anything. Say you're sorry to hear that. Because hearing something means so much more than hearing nothing.
When I was growing up, I was lucky enough to have three living grandparents. for a while I had six, although two never really counted, and now - as far as I can tell, I have two.
Sadly, at the beginning of the week, my grandfather was taken in to hospital. An x-ray of his lungs revealed a quantity of liquid there, so he's been in the hospital ever since. I went to see him yesterday. It was - frankly - gut-wrenching.
This is the man who taught me how to play Backgammon. This is the man who told me that if the wind changed, I would be stuck that way. This is the man who took me to his church carol supper and was pleased as punch when I sang my heart out. But he's not that man at the moment.
He looks much the same. A little paler, a little frailer, but he's scared and confused. He's in a new bed in a hotel somewhere. His memory is there, but it's like a badly reassembled jigsaw, odd fragments connecting with each other. He tells stories that are related to the bible, related to his time in Africa during the war, related to events in his life that are suddenly important when for years they were little more than signposts.
His family are around him - his wife, his son, his daughters, his grandchildren. The Doctors don't know precisely what's wrong with him, and they're treating him with antibiotics while they wait for the test results to come in. Every day, his status changes slightly, and every day we silently brace ourselves for the fact that today's news could be THE news. We're all prepared for the worst, even though we fervently hope that he gets better.
I look at him lying there, and everything drains from me. I listen to him talking - always talking, as he has something important to tell us, something important that is just beyond his ability to express, and our ability to comprehend. I worry about the sheer number of people sitting around his bed. I catch my grandmother's eye, and she shrugs and rolls her eyes, as though to say that he's just putting it on, and talking complete rubbish.
This man smoked in his car, and I hated that. He gave up on his 70th birthday, and never touched another cigarette after that. This man took me to pick elderberries. We walked along the Antonine Wall (I suspect that he walked and I ran). I went to stay with him when I had the measles. He was born in 1915, and he loves mustard.
You never realise quite how much you need a holiday until you are on one.
Officially, I'm probably not on holiday. After all, I worked on Friday, it's now Saturday, and part of me probably thinks that I could be going back to work in about 33 hours.
My entire body knows I am on holiday. I'm in complete holiday 'mode', if you will. This is what it's all about.
It helps that I'm staying at my parents' home. This is one of the few places where they take me completely for granted. Of course, they take me for granted while feeding me, looking after me, and keeping the wine flowing. You can't really beat that, can you?
Tomorrow, I get up at five in the morning, fly to Scotland for a meeting, and when it's over, I'm on holiday. For over three weeks.
Part of me is completely unaware of this forthcoming period of rest. I'm working my proverbial off, and have been for weeks. I don't know if I know how to wind down.
Part of me realises that although I'm not at work, I'm not entirely on holiday - I'm going home to see my parents and my family, but I still have obligations. I'm determined to help out rather than get under their feet.
And then there's the part of me that has been thinking all week that it feels like Friday, and that a great pressure is about to be lifted.
We'll see how I feel tomorrow afternoon!
If the stories circulating in our office are to be believed, at least one in three nativity plays in Dublin features a small child who is disgruntled at not being chosen to play Joseph, and feels slighted to be relegated to the role of Innkeeper.
When the happy couple turn up at the door of the Inn, and ask if he has any room, his response is that they are in luck, and they have one last room for them.
At this stage, the story stops - which is a big clue as to the authenticity of the tale. Doubtless, hilarious consequences are had by all.
I was awake at some ungodly hour this morning, and I had a lyric in my head. I can't remember the lyric.
The lyric wasn't
And my dreams would be the colour of your car
But, I think it came from the same CD.
I've looked for help on the interweb, but it's not very good about obscure trivia from the mid to late 80s. Brilliant for obscure trivia from 2002, obviously, and there are huge web sites devoted to The Mighty Aloud, probably. But nothing on the colour of your car, and no way to find the annoying lyric from last night...
You might barely believe it from the scathing comments I've made about The Lord of the Rings, but I'm looking forward to seeing the next one in just over a fortnight.
This is largely due to the pomp and ceremony associated with our regular trip. We go in a group - myself, Mr Twinky and the mysterious Z, and we always go to the same cinema.
This cinema teems with memories, for me. It's the cinema where I queued around the block to see Star Wars. It's the cinema where I saw The Spy Who Loved Me, twice. It's the cinema where I got very very drunk in the bar, and was barred from. It's the Odeon in Clerk Street in Edinburgh, and it closed down in September.
I toyed with going to the Odeon in Lothian Road, formerly the magnificent ABC, where I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture and its five sequels, back to back, one particularly wet afternoon. But that is apparently a shadow of its former self, unfortunately. So we're going to the Warner Village.
It's not the same.
For reasons of cost (I suspect), we would always stay in the middle of (or just west of the middle of) nowhere. This meant day trips, sat in the car with a bag between my sister and myself, defining our territory.
Tip for parents: This works moderately well.
Wherever we were going, no matter how crazily early we would set off in the morning, we would always arrive at 11am. Without fail. It is perhaps my least favourite time to arrive anywhere these days, and I do wonder if the two points are related.
As a result, we never got to see medieval villages in their full splendour. They should really only be seen empty (as here) or full of medieval peasants.
Medieval peasants are few and far between, these days.
Couldn't sleep well last night, panicking about the momentous and potentially important conference call I've got at half ten this morning. When I did drop off to sleep, I was all in a tizzy because my flight tickets to somewhere in Russia hadn't come through.
I had the ticket to Moscow okay, but to get on the connecting flight I needed a ticket that I couldn't buy on my credit card - someone had to open a special account for me and I had to buy it through that. And finally, an hour before my flight was due to leave, the details of the account came through. I was confused by the amounts... there was something going on.
It turned out that the dream bank was the same dream bank I'd used when I purchsed my apartment in Tokyo, which was in a dream four or five years ago. Impressive record keeping, I thought.
Bloody difficult, really.
First things first. Just like finding your perfect mate, finding your perfect job is never going to happen. So don't wait for it to happen.
Decide what you want to do. It should be something that you're good at already, but something that you could do better. So you've got the skills to do the job well, and the ambition to excel.
Put yourself in a position where you're aware of what jobs come up in that sort of field.
When an opportunity arises, grab it. Don't be scared, because you've got nothing to lose. Don't talk yourself out of it. I had a mortgage, friends and family nearby. I moved half way across the world, and I still have the friends and family (although further away, obviously), I have new friends also, and a new mortgage. It would have been easy to cling on to those comforts, but I was prepared to let them go.
If the job you're thinking of applying for means an extra half hour on the train every morning, and you're having serious difficulty in working out how you're going to manage, then you're probably not as interested in the job as you think you are.
So you've got the interview. Go to the interview. Sell yourself. Don't sell someone you're not, or someone you want to be. If you act a role at an interview, and you get the job, you've screwed yourself. You've lied your way in, and you've got to either keep up the lie and make yourself unhappy or be yourself and make other people realise that you were faking it at the interview. So sell yourself, but be honest while you're doing it. And make sure they realise you can do the job as it stands, but you've got ambition to improve things.
And remember, they're always going to ask what your biggest weakness is. So have an answer for that in advance, and make sure it's a good one. So, your weakness is a tendency to focus on work that is interesting, rather than your weakness being a tendency to pick your nose and examine the contents.
So you get through the interview. You've sold yourself, and hopefully your prospective employer has sold itself to you, and you actually want to work there. My favourite ever interview ended with me having a tiny tiny opinion of the company that had interviewed me, and the good thing about that was that when they turned me down for the job I was actually relieved.
They tell you if you've got the job. If you haven't, and you've picked the job properly (remember, it's got to be something you're already pretty good at), then accept that, work out why you didn't get it, and remember that for next time. But hopefully, you've got the job.
Remember, however, that this isn't your job. Not yet. This is someone else's job, someone that you're replacing. You need to shape the job and mould it. And this takes time.
You can do the job you've got, but you need to make sure that the right people know this. Your strengths and weaknesses will hopefully become obvious, and hopefully your strengths are also the things you enjoy. There's a plugging away phase. In general, I've found it's often about a year.
That's how long it takes for people to realise that your strengths, and realise that they can employ them more profitably. So come the next reshuffle, your job should edge closer to being one you love. This works even better if you're involved in the discussions about the reshuffle.
Well, that's pretty much how it worked for me. But I was very lucky. The next job move I made was full of compromises, which is why my job now is kind of moderately sucky, although the consequences for my private life were all highly beneficial.
At the time I accepted this job, I just wanted a job. In the two years I've been here, it's changed dramatically, but every time it changes I make damn sure that I'm pushing it closer towards being a job I can love.
Because, as they say, I'm worth it.
Well, that's not strictly true. Let me explain.
I used to care too much. I used to get all concerned about my friends' problems, and I suspect I thought that a problem shared was a problem halved. In practice, it tended to be a problem that had nothing to do with me, and although I may have felt closer to whoever it was who actually had the problem, I probably tied myself up in too many knots at the time.
Somewhere along the line of my twenties I stopped doing that.
My flat was a bit of a disaster. It was lovely in many ways, but two of the ceilings fell down, two more threatened to, the stairwell was inhabited by a feral chihuahua and the central heating failed and I just let the whole thing get on top of me.
There was a bit of shock tactics needed for that one, but I don't do that any more.
I used to be worried by peer pressure. People with less experience, clambering up the career ladder, and overtaking me. I went through a brief phase in my mid twenties when that didn't bother me, then it did. Now, I haven't thought about it for years, mainly because I dropped a whole load of emotional baggage that wasn't helping anyone, back in 1997.
As a direct result, when an opportunity for real change came along I grabbed it. I've significantly increased my salary, I've travelled the world doing a job I loved, I've broadened my mind, and I've fallen in love. Not bad going, really.
I'm lucky, though. I like who I am. That lets me look at all of the people I've been in the past, all the people I've known in the past, and be grateful for them. They were steps on the journey, and I wouldn't be where I am today without each and every one of them.
I hope that's enough to see me through the curves and twists that the rest of my life's going to throw at me.
Walking to work this morning, I had a burst of realisation. I've had a few of these in my life, little moments when suddenly I've realised something that should have been blindingly obvious. Today's realisation was:
Live every day as if it were your last.
Trite truism, I know. Often used as an excuse to justify bingeing.
I was coming at this phrase from a new angle, thinking about regrets and living in the past. I was thinking about knee-jerk reactions, and personal and social responsibility. And I think where I got to was an understanding of my own personal stance on life.
Life is a series of decisions. Some are large, and some are small. As I go through life, I try to avoid making snap decisions about things where I feel there is a chance that I will regret making the wrong choice. That way, if I get it wrong - and, of course, I do - I know that my intentions were sound and consistent. I aim to behave in a manner which I hope I can look back on with respect. And if I die tomorrow, I would like it to be known that I am happy with everything I did today.
God, I could write a self help book. I'm like an ex-smoker, preaching my own experiences as a cure for the world. Ignore me and find your own way.
Is sponsored by Cadbury.
Cadbury is going through a branding nightmare, sacrificing all its different brands for a uniform style and size across all its chocolate bars.
For example. Wispa. Much vaunted when it first arrived, hugely popular throughout its life, dumped unceremoniuosly and with little hype for its successor. Welcome Dairy Milk Bubbly, a brand of chocolate which plays on the history of the chocolate used, rather than the bar. Gone is the distinctive shape, replaced by a uniform size, to fit in with the rest of the Cadbury selection.
By doing this, Cadbury are implying that their chocolate bars are uniform - they all have the same size, they all have the same type of chocolate in them. And if you're not enticed by the wrapper design, your eye will skip across the display, looking for something new. They're targeting a single market, and I know all about the pitfalls of doing that. I saw it on a property show on Channel 4.
I care about this a bit. Don't know why, but I do.
These are the things he will miss, he thinks.
He's standing on the edge now, and he knows that the wind could take him at any time, lift him up and send him on a brief, final flight. He's not ready yet, and he wills the wind to hold back, to give him a few more minutes.
He'll miss the wind on his face, and in his hair. He'll miss the knowledge of the past and the uncertainty of the future. He'll miss the moments like this, the moments of anticipation before action, the brief seconds when he can feel alive.
He closes his eyes, bends his legs, takes a deep breath
and steps backward.
A major insurance company in the UK has just announced the creation of 2350 jobs in India. There is an expectation that there will be a reduction in staff numbers in the UK. Why is this a good thing?
It's a loss of British jobs, the quality of the service will go down, it's just to line the pockets of a few fat cat directors and it won't be passed on to the customer
Slightly better thought out reactions
It's a loss of British jobs, at a time when the government is eagerly touting the ease of getting a job and the low unemployment rates. The jobs that are going are mainly in areas where staff turnover is high anyway, and the jobs that are being created will bring wealth and resources in to a more deserving market. Of course, there will be people directly affected by this for which it is significantly more dramatic than I've presented it here, but on an international scale this is an equitable move.
Of course, the quality of service is an important consideration for any business. The use of an Indian call centre brings with it a number of risks, but the vast majority of calls can be handled effectively and efficiently. There will obviously be occasions when the call centre fails to be effective, as is the case with any British call centre. However, the market experience tends to be that there are more satisfied customers with an Indian call centre. That's not to say that complaints go down - if anything there is a decrease in number but an increase in severity of complaints. That's good for companies, if they're driven by the current regulations that focus on number of complaints rather than average levels of customer satisfaction. These regulations are driven by the British consumer, so this move is in the interests of consumers.
If the move lines the pockets of a few fat-cat directors, then that is probably because their remuneration is linked to the profits of the company. That's a fairly common approach, and while there will undoubtedly be some money going the way of the directors, most will go to the shareholders. The shareholders tend not to care too much about the operation of the company in question, being evil money-grabbers, focused on getting as much money as possible out of their investments. Yes, shareholders are evil. Just like property owners who want the value of their property to go up, shareholders are gripped by a need to get some sort of return out of their investment. Of course, the major shareholders in the UK are pension funds. So the major beneficiaries of this move are pensioners. So surely, that's a good thing?
The cost reductions won't be passed on to the customers, if they're already going to pensioners, will they? Probably they already have been. It's a competitive market out there, and the chances are that an increase in costs should have been passed on to the customer ages ago. It's very hard to do that, though, mainly because of all of the consumer protection in the UK. So given the alternatives of creating new jobs in an underdeveloped area or telling a million or so customers that their premiums were going up, there was probably little discussion. Always protect the consumer.
I won't argue any of these points. I know that I have not fully followed some of the arguments through. Fortunately, though, I didn't have to.
I've had run-ins with a number of people who call it a Holiday.
Fech, I say to them, fech and pschaw!
I see no reason to call it a holiday. None whatsoever. It's not a day off work. Not like any real holiday. In fact, almost by definition it can't be a holiday because it's not a holy day at all. It's the epitome of unholy days.
When we were in Hong Kong, though, we did the whole Hallowe'en party thing. Specifically, the whole gay, fancy dress, Hallowe'en party thing. Which was great, largely because we never dressed up ourselves. It was great to go out to the middle of nowhere, spend time with our charming hosts, and then get all cliquey and bitch about various other people at the party and how awfully cliquey they were. Ah, happy memories.
Today, I saw some pictures from the 2003 Hallowe'en party. Lots of memories flooding back. Not all of them good, but lots of memories nonetheless.