The Joys of Homeworking

Today is my one day of the week when I work from home. Its not fixed on a Friday, but is generally one day a week, which can be changed depending on the work patterns of colleagues. We started working from home about 2 years ago, and after a few teething problems (first time I worked from home I forgot the charger for my laptop which gave up at lunchtime!) it has been brilliant.

For starters, working flexible hours is a godsend when I’m in the office. It means early starts, and correspondingly early finishes! But at home, I often get up at my normal time – 540am – and get going as soon as I get downstairs and get set up. It can mean 6am starts ending with a finish at 230pm – or earlier. As long as anyone working from home lets those in the office know we’re working out of the ordinary hours. When the weather is good, it means we’re in the garden from early afternoon until its time to collect the boys from school.

Lunchtimes are often good when my working from home day is on one of the two days Matthew stays at school for lunch. There’s a couple of restaurants nearby, so it lets Jane & I head off for lunch out. Today has been one of those days, and it was our local Brewer’s Fayre restaurant that we headed off to. We make a point of not having Jane’s mum with us, and as a result of having no children (young or old!) its a lovely relaxing time Jane and I can share. A time we don’t need to be sure the boys are eating, or aren’t getting out of hand, and when we can talk freely. Its a nice treat to ourselves when we can enjoy each other’s company.

It also makes life easier for simple things like being able to do the school run (or walk for us), get to the dentist and doctor. Because we can change the day we work from home, it means I can arrange appointments for anytime, and can easily fit work around it. Such flexible working really does help the work/life balance. Most importantly, it means I’m at home for the boys as soon as they get home which they like. Today will mean getting on the trampoline from 330pm. With it being a Friday, we can all relax knowing there’s no work or school tomorrow.

Working from home is a productive experience that removes the need for the commute to work. There’s no need to sort out work clothes in the morning and the kitchen is just the next room! We’re free to come and go as we please – as long as we cover our hours, and sign in/out when we need to. If you get the chance to work from home, take it. I’d not want to give it up now.


Exercise? Healthy Eating? Progress!

Its now coming up to 7 weeks since Jane and I started being more careful about what we eat, and making sure we get more exercise. Progress is fairly slow, but progress is being made. What I’ve noticed is it seems easier – or is that less hard – to exercise. I started walking to work from the centre of town – its about 2 miles, mostly uphill, from where I get off the bus. It gives a great walk in the morning. Whe I started, I was making it to work in 38 minutes (about 3.3 mph)  – and it was a bit of an effort. Now, I’m doing it in 33 minutes, which is 3.8 mph. Basically, its gone from an 18.1 minute mile to a 15.7 minute mile. And when I make it to work, I still feel great. Legs feel brilliant!

Walking back down – well, that’s easier of course! But that too is getting easier – and quicker. I’ve started running at least part of the way and what took 38 mintues to cover 2.25 miles (a 16.9 minute mile) is down to 27.5 mintes (a 12.2 minute mile.) I’ve started getting off the bus home a stop early, leaving me a 10 minute walk to the house. All in all, its about 90 minutes walking a day. Its got to the point where I even look forward to it! Wii Fit and Zumba Fitness 2 is getting a go most days (finally managed the full length Zumba class – 60 minutes of torture!) And then there’s the demand from the boys for a bounce on their trampoline. That’s great exercise, but its also an opportunity to bond with the boys – we have a great time.

Its all progress on the exercise front all the same. I’ve been watching my intake more carefully. Gone are the days on  almost unrestrained evening snacking. Its being managed thanks to the brilliant MyFitnessPal app (its on android & Apple app stores, as well as at – my daily “allowance” is 1580 calories, and I try to live within that, although if I’ve done loads of exercise then I know I can have a snack and still remain with in the daily allowance as its net of any exercise. Its brilliant in that regard as there’s leeway to allow you to have a regular treat. However, we do know that we can occasionally go over board. No fun counting calories when you have takeaway curry!

Tomorrow morning, once the boys are at school, its Wii Fit time, which gives the all-important BMI and weight figures! We’ll see if this week’s efforts have made the difference!

Playground Politics

I read a piece in the Guardian today relating to a book centering on 5 mums and the politics of the school playground. The article  centered on the reality of the school playground during the school run, and what a treacherous it can be. That’s certainly my experience.

For starters, the school playground at school run time is a female dominated place. When I started taking Matthew to nursery, men in the playground were as rare as rain in the Atacama. It made for an intimidating place, and with so many cliques already formed, it didn’t take much to make me feel like a complete outsider. The mums in the playground were all in their little huddles, and I wondered if they were thinking, “what is a man doing here?” – despite changing times where many dads take a much more active role than may have  been the case in generations gone by. But I can count the number of people that spoke to  me in the playground during Matthew’s time on the fingers of, well, neither of my hands!

Parental playground cliques are powerful little things. Playground politics are a minefield to navigate. Anything out of the ordinary is viewed with almost suspicion. Its easy to imagine yourself being talked about. Jane has found it slightly easier – being a mum helps! – but even then, its a small circle of other mums that took more than two years to get into. There are a few mums that talk to Jane daily, and some of them even talk to me. Actually, when I think about it, I’m probably not that bothered. I’ve never found it particularly easy for form new casual friendships. As soon as the boys are dropped  off, I’m away from there as soon as possible.

But that’s not it entirely – not just the social interaction in the playground. The PSA (Parent/Staff Association) is a powerful body that admittedly does a huge amount of fundraising for the school. Still, too me its the biggest parent clique at the school. There are (surprise, surprise) mums involved that have been associated with the PSA for a number of years. I’ve no doubt they’ve got influence. Try being an outsider in a situation like that. I went along to a PSA meeting that was also a plea for Parent Council members. There were three men (me included) in a room full of women. Intimidating? You bet. Certainly intimidating enough to put you off having an opinion – or at least vocalising it. To be honest though, I don’t envy those on the PSA. They seem to have so much free time taken up with doing what they can for the school. But still, its easy to understand why in environments like that a small group of children will always seem to land major roles in school plays etc. Jane and I aren’t part if the big cliques at the school – we’ve got no time for playground politics – but I think that fact, and Matthew’s ASD will leave me unsurprised if he never is in a position to contribute to the school in a social sphere.

I did try getting involved in the Parent Council, but a couple of meetings convinced me I really was on the outside looking in. They who shout loudest are heard of course. I ultimately concluded that with Matthew and Daniel being our sole focus, it was time to ignore the politics, the cliques and concentrate on fighting their corner. But the article I read today certainly rung a bell!

BBQ Time

Finally, after weeks of waiting, we had a decent weekend with the weather. The sun was out, and the temperature picked up. I asked Jane if there was anything in the freezer we could barbeque as we had a disposable BBQ in the cupboard, but sadly not. We hadn’t told the boys of the idea, as with autistic children, any sudden changes to established plans can quickly lead to meltdown. So, we took them to their Saturday dancing with the promise of a trip to Burger King. After Matthew’s bravery on Friday at the dentist ( I thought we could sit in, let them have their choice plus ice cream. With the weather so nice, my thought en route to dancing was get takeaway and eat in the garden.

When we got to dancing, while the boys were just going into the studio for their class, Jane said she would pop down to the Tesco just a minute’s drive from the dance centre to see what they had for BBQs. Well, I was all for this idea! Any requests? Not really, just meat! When the boy came out, Jane was just coming into the dance centre car park. Boys were none the wiser! I said that I’d changed my mind, and we’d not go to Burger King. Their instant of disappointment vanished when we said that mummy had got a load of stuff for the BBQ, and that we’d do that instead. They were delighted!

When we got home, Jane started preparing the food for cooking, while the boys and I tidied the garden and cut the grass. Jane lit the BBQ, and had it blazing away quickly. The boys are usually fascinated by the flames, but they had flames of their own to keep them busy! I’d loaded our chimena with sticks picked up in the garden from our various jobs over the last few weeks, and I thought we’d burn them. They just sit entranced by the flames. But, it was time to cook! Jane had bought a great selection of stuff. Steak (for me!), maple glazed pork belly slices, chicken skewers, burgers, sausages, and Matthew’s favourite, king prawns. Out came a bottle of bbq glaze/sauce, and we were ready to go! Well, nearly ready. The prawns were individual prawns, but Matthew will only eat them on a skewer! So, first task of the afternoon was to skewer a bag full of prawns, put on a bbq sauce THEN they’d be ready for Matthew!

The afternoon passed in the laziest of fashion, with us lolling on the grass, cooking our food, and relaxing. The steak was a real treat, and Jane cooked in to medium rare perfection. Add the bbq glaze, and it was absolutely amazing. Unfortunately for me, the boys decided they’d like to try a bit – and they liked it! Still, I don’t mind. Its sometimes hard work getting them to like different foods. We already make steak casserole ( which the boys and I absolutely love. Its something that I can involve them in the preparation of. But, having it in a casserole is one thing. Steak out of a casserole? Well for Matthew, his ASD brain tells him everything in its place, and steak on a plate without a sauce isn’t right. But, he loved it.

We put away a decent amount of food, but didn’t overly indulge ourselves. It was the perfect way to enjoy the weather and take our ease, enjoying some family time. I suspect the boys will be looking forward to some more sunny weather and getting the BBQ out again.

Late Night Movies

We’ve just been watching Big Bang Theory that finished with Leonard, Sheldon, and Amy  at the theatre to see Penny in A Streetcar Named Desire. I remember that of course from the 1951 movie with Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden & Kim Hunter. It was noteable for being the first movie to land Academy Awards for best supporting actor (Malden) and best supporting actress (Hunter) – as well as best actress for Leigh. I first saw it maybe 25 – 30 years ago watching late night TV. I became enthralled, particularly at Vivien Leigh’s performance, and was desperate to find out what happened to Blanche & Stella.

TV then was very different from now. Late night TV 30 years ago generally saw some great old movies on at 11pm or later, usually on a Friday night. Classic movies could be enjoyed in solitude, letting you fully appreciate some of Hollywood’s finest offerings from its golden age. Another was The Asphalt Jungle. Another movie that maybe isn’t bursting with all out action as modern movies are, but it still manages to draw you in. Somehow, seeing it late at night made it a better experience than seeing in the day time. I suppose we’re traditionally used to seeing movies in the evening. Jane and I only go to the cinema during the week when I have a day off, and it seems strange and somehow decadent to come out of the cinema in daylight!

It was late night though that brought me face-to-face with one of my top five movies of all time. Its the great British movie, A Canterbury Tale, starring Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price & John Sweet. I had already fallen in love with the movies of the 30s and 40s before I encountered this gem. Its loosely based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tale (of course) and its setting in wartime rural Kent paints an idyllic image of rural England. Ultimately the central characters make their way to Canterbury on a pilgrimage for their own personal reasons. Its a lovely movie that I never tire of seeing. I’ve bought it on dvd, and enjoy it ( every time I see it. I’m not sure what it is about this film I love so much – and other movies of the 30s and 40s. Maybe its the image some of them paint like that of rural England, or the biggest of Hollywood’s stars from that golden age (I also love Casablanca) – but these movies are wonderful.

All of these movies were available to me before we had dvd (or a VHS player even in our house) and I doubt if I’d come into contact with them in today’s TV age of dedicated movie channels. There’s been a shift in late night TV with movies being given the elbow, more-or-less. Its a shame really that some people won’t be able to enjoy some of Hollywood and British cinema’s finest offerings.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll watch A Canterbury Tale and remember back to my late childhood and reflect on how good late night TV was in years gone by.