Routine Again

The holidays are definitely over. And how. Going back to work after 2 weeks off was a real thought last night. Its not that I don’t like my job – I do – but like most people I enjoy my time off. Signs of normal routine were evident last night. The boys had their bath, bedtime preparations were complete by 8pm and the boys were settled down. Jane had prepared my packed lunch for today, and it was in the fridge. My work clothes were looked out. The last week or so, Jane & I haven’t settled down until well after midnight – as an offshoot of the boys not being settled until 1030pm most nights – which ended up in all of us sleeping until 830am or beyond during the holidays. Well, last night, we were settled down ourselves by 11pm in preparation for today.

Of course, its never as bad as you think. I was up by 625am, dressed and ready to head out by 635. I’ve only got a few minutes walk to get the bus into town. Predictably it was late, but I was still at work by 750am. Once I was there, I was chatting with colleagues, and was quickly back into the swing of it. Like the boys, I quite like a settled routine, and that’s what Monday to Friday work does. It was good to catch up with colleagues I’d not seen for a couple of weeks, and it was good to get back to the routine of work.

We work flexible hours at work, and one of the benefits of that is being able to leave early, and by 345pm, I’d had enough and headed off for the walk back into town for the bus home. One of the things Jane, the boys & I are looking to do this year is get back to healthy eating and exercise that we managed so well for part of last year. That’s another part of my normal routine – walking 2 miles back into town every evening. I was actually looking forward to it. I’d got by new Beats earphones I’d bought with vouchers given as Christmas presents, which is why I was particularly looking forward to getting back into it.

Some people like unpredictability and chaos, but I love routine and predictability! There’s something reassuring about it. I’m not a big fan of the unexpected, and having the normal routine return is no bad thing. Maybe after a few weeks back at work I’ll be craving some time off again, but for now, the usual routine is good!


Holidays Almost Done for the Year

I love my time off. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy my job, because I do. Its just that I enjoy time at home with Jane and the boys more. Whether its going away, or having time in the garden in the summer enjoying a barbeque. I suppose I’m quite lucky in that I get 32 days annual leave a year, plus 5 public holidays. Add the fact that I can take 2 days every 4 weeks as time off in lieu – at work we don’t get those unless we’ve got sufficient hours. I’m often in at 7am so end up with quite a few additional hours over my contracted hours. We’re not paid overtime, but can take the additional hours as time off.

Given that the leave year runs from January to December, I’m almost out of holidays. I’d already booked 2 days off at Christmas, leaving me with just half a day to take, which I did this afternoon. Overall, I think I’ve made good use of the holidays. We managed to get away at Easter and October for a few days, and in the summer for a week. Odd days have been dotted around the year to fit in with various family commitments – and the odd day when I’ve woken up and just wanted a day off! Fortunately they are few and far between, and my line manager is great – very understanding!

Already, thoughts are being turned towards next year’s holidays. We’re already booked for a few days at Haven Haggerston Castle ( at Easter, and are planning a break in the summer. Odd days will be put aside for when Jane is in hospital for her tonsillectomy (that’ll be a few days off in January) and for when Daniel has his knee op ( Time off is precious, so although there may be 1 or 2 days a year that are taken to “slob” but I always want to make full use of them.

For the last time this year, its Happy Holidays!

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.

All in a Day’s Work…

As many of you will know, being a parent is hard work! Being a special need parent, that’s even harder! Our day can begin as early as 430am and sometimes end as late as 10pm. It can be a thankless task, as our children can often take things we do for them for granted, although it can have its moments.

The weekend just past was the weekend of Daniel’s birthday. His actual birthday was on Friday, so of course he was on a high the whole day. He was ecstatic at all the Star Wars toys and DVDs he landed with. It was lovely to see him so happy, that we knew it was all worthwhile. The 36 hours from Saturday lunchtime, well, that was a day’s work and then some!

First of all, the new bed we had ordered for Daniel arrived on Thursday, so Saturday afternoon was spent dismantling the old one with Daniel and Matthew’s help. Of course, all of the heavy work was left to me! I didn’t mind that though – at least the boys knew when something was too much for them, and it helped keep them safe. We were hard at it for the better part of two hours, because it needs breaks for bouncing on the trampoline. Next up was taking all the cardboard we’d piled in the car round to the recycling centre to make room for the dismantled bed, old dishwasher and assorted junk so we could take that round to the household waste/recycling centre in Tullos. Of course, that mean lugging the dismantled bed downstairs and into the car. The weekend was involving just a little but too much hard work!

It continued with Star Wars day on Saturday. I’d promised Daniel (and Matthew) that we’d watch at least a couple of the movies to mark the big day. Their Granny (Jane’s mum) doesn’t like Star Wars at all, and will often be incredibly negative about it in front of Daniel. Its something he enjoys (much to my delight) and he shouldn’t be so discouraged from following one of his passions. Well, after a few minutes of Star Wars, Granny disappeared upstairs, and we were left in peace to enjoy Star Wars. It was like being re-introduced to an old friend. We usually watch Empire Strikes Back, but as it was Star Wars day, we kicked off with the original movie. I’d almost forgotten how good and enjoyable it is. The scene where it cuts away from the impending torture of Leia, using the clanging shut of her cell door and the guard’s footsteps – superb. But that’s well beaten by Han Solo flying in out of the sun to save Luke’s neck at the last second. I think we almost cheered! Granny re-appeared by about 830pm, but by then, it was onto Empire Strikes Back! I think she gave up after that! The evening was a real boys get together. Matthew, Daniel & I lounging on the sofa, drinks, some snacks, and Star Wars on the TV. This was work? 11pm, and it was bedtime for the boys, which left Jane & I with Star Trek on Film 4!

The Sunday though, we that was hard work! Mandatory trampoline bouncing invariably gets a Sunday underway – after the boys have me make them soft boiled eggs! We’ve been getting eggs direct from a local farm lately, and they are lovely. Even though I say so myself, they were beautifully cooked! Yolks only just set, they looked great. That and trampoline, it was time to get going on putting Daniel’s bed together – after the task of getting all the million pieces that go to putting it together upstairs first of course! That done, work progressed fairly well, It was a two person job, but I decided that the boys and I could pull it off. We’d gotten about half way when it was time for a break for more work – Daniel’s birthday party at the soft play room of a local restaurant. They were brilliant and Daniel and chums had a great time ( Its harder than you think when you’re supervising about a dozen or so kids! The staff were great though, and Daniel loved it.

Back home then, but no rest for the weary! Back to Daniel’s semi-constructed bed. Its harder work than you think holding pieces in places while you try to use a screwdriver that should be held in a third hand! Push, pull, lift, hold, screw in, thump, unscrew, thump again (swear words optional) then screw in once again. Still, by 730, it was all done. Daniel helped me finish it off, so he had a big hand in it. The mattress went on, and he could try it out. He was thrilled. It had been a long 30 hours or so, full of hard work, but all of the things were more-or-less just another day’s work at home. We do these things, but sometimes we get thanks for it, and its worth it all. Daniel – unprompted – drew me a card with hearts & kisses all over it with the message inside reading, “To Daddy, I love you from Daniel.” Yes, it can be hard work, but its all worth it.

Back to Work Eased by AFRTS

The worst evening of the week for many is upon me. Sunday evening is bad enough knowing that the next day its back to work again. This time its worse as I’ve been off for over a week. Not only that, but we’ve been away for the week at Haven Haggerston Castle. What a thought!

The end of the weekend coincides with one of our TV high points though, Hawaii Five-O. Its a good way to end the weekend and for an hour banishes thoughts of Monday morning! In years gone by, Sunday evenings were spent listening to the NFL on American Armed Forces Radio. Whether it was school, university or work the next morning, that didn’t matter as I battled with the radio to try and improve the crackly reception. Fortunately by the time the west coast games came on (I’m a Seattle Seahawks fan you see) reception was pretty good, so by 9pm, it was in bed, lights out and listen to the NFL. With Satellite TV now beaming 4 NFL games into my living room every weekend, there’s no need for AFRTS, but it was an integral part of my Sunday routine, and I look back on it fondly. Even when the Seahawks weren’t on, I’d listen, waiting for the gamebreaks when the link man (usually the superb Marty Bonderoff) would give scoring updates on the other games going on. At least when the Seahawks played on Monday night (Tuesday morning for us!) it meant a very late night but guaranteed Seahawks! Monday night games in particular were a wonderful listening experience thanks to the commentary team of Jack Buck & Hank Stram ( . Both had a fantastic turn of phrase and were welcome companions in the middle of the night even though I knew I’d be tired on Tuesday morning.

Still, my experiences of AFRTS are fond memories. It didn’t take long to realise that they did more than the NFL on a Sunday evening and Monday night. I soon discovered college football on Saturday evenings. Here’s how exciting my younger days were on a Saturday when college football would be broadcast from 530pm to 4am Sunday morning. The late game (1am start) would often involve South Eastern Conference games with LSU, Georgia, Alabama, Clemson and Auburn featuring. If I got lucky, Washington would be involved in the mid-evening game, but the college games on the Saturday were great entertainment. But when summer came along, I encountered baseball on radio for the first time. I’ve got family in Toronto, so naturally became a Blue Jays fan although any game on radio was welcome. I think that part of the enjoyment of the NFL and baseball on radio was the image it painted of what it was like in the days before wall-to-wall TV coverage for millions of Americans.

Those days may have passed now, but I still get my fix of sport on the radio broadcast from North America. Many years ago my Toronto links led me to become a fan of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Before the advent of ESPN America on our screens broadcasting live NHL (which took the feed from CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada on a Saturday night, which always involved the Leafs) I listened to Leaf games on radio via the internet through the NHL’s website. ESPN changed that of course, but now they lost UK broadcasting rights, its back to listening to the Leafs on TSN1050 featuring the fantastic commentary of “Voice of the Leafs” Joe Bowen. They really bring the game alive, and again created the image of Canadians gathered around the radio on a Saturday evening to listen to the hockey. There’s something special about listening to these games on the radio. I still get the impression that its just me and no one else listening to the games. Thoughts of a bygone age maybe.

Generally I think that the Sunday night routines are centred around extending the weekend as long as is humanly possible. That has to involve something we enjoy, and I’ve had plenty of things to occupy my Sunday evenings. So, its back to work tomorrow, but until then, let the weekend continue as long as possible.

Shame on Workshy Stay At Home Mums!

Before you vent a spleen, the headline is very much tongue in cheek. It refers of course to David Cameron’s attack on stay at home mums not deserving childcare support as they “don’t work as hard, or try to get ahead as the rest of us.” Just how outrageous and provocative is that? More evidence that the Tories prefer the divide and rule tactic. Up until now, its been the unemployed against the employed, welfare claimant against non-claimant, rich against poor. Now Cameron is trying to pitch working mums against non-working mums? Beggars belief.

The government clearly sees it as a black and white issue regarding mums going back to work. It isn’t. The early years are crucial in any child’s development. Its a time where mums – or dads – should be able to be at home as much as possible with their children, not dump them off with a childminder for hours every day as soon as they can – because the pressure is on many to do so. Financial pressures force many back to work, having people work extra hours just for the childcare – where’s the point in that? Then there’s this government’s obsession with getting people into non-existent jobs, no matter what the cost is to family life. They’re of the view that money is the most important thing in everyone’s life. Its not.

I think of our own experience. When Jane had Matthew, we made the decision that despite losing a wage, Jane would stay at home with Matthew (her choice) as she had left her previous job thanks to them forcing her out (more-or-less) after they’d piled pressure on her while pregnant, not carrying out a risk assessment – which all led to a miscarriage. After being off sick for months, she packed it in. (PS, it was Greggs, a pox on their pies!) I was (and am) in a fulltime job, so that made the decision as to who would work and who would stay at home easier. But because this country values slaving away at work as being far more important that the welfare of children, things were tight. I suspect it was Tax Credits that kept us afloat at the time. This was all before we had the diagnosis for Matthew & Daniel that they were on the Autism Spectrum. They’re entitled to DLA, which means their is much less pressure on Jane regarding work. She can be there for them all the time. Matthew can’t cope with school lunches, so needs to come home at lunchtime. In many ways, they are reassured by their mum being available for them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The government doesn’t see it like that of course. As soon as possible, mum should return to work! Special needs children in particular benefit so much from one of their parents not working. Its crucial for their development and security that they know mum or dad will be there. And what about the more severely disabled children? Are parents meant to seek professional specialised childcare to enable them to go to work? At what cost to the state? Surely paying a parent to stay at home to look after the welfare of their own children is much more cost effective. It leaves jobs open for those who REALLY need them.

As for Dave’ assertion that stay at home mums don’t work as hard as the rest of us, is he trying to be deliberately insulting? When Jane worked as a manager at Greggs (spit) she would often see 70 hour weeks. Now? A 14 – 16 hour day is normal as Matthew can be up as early as 5am (or sometimes earlier) and Daniel can be agitated at bedtime meaning in him not settling down until 9pm. Add in the washing, cleaning, cooking and a thousand other household tasks EVERY DAY, that’s 98 to 112 hours A WEEK. Doesn’t work hard? Pull the other one Dave.

Its time that stay at home mums (or dads) got some recognition and help to allow them to be at home for their children – should they wish to do so – to reduce the pressure to get back to work. Surely our children deserve better?

Working for what?

Times are hard. Unemployment is high, despite government statistics. Its easy to massage figures it seems, and one of the government’s favourite methods is the much maligned Workfare. IDS is vitriolic in signing its praises, but given his increasingly critical rhetoric towards those not fortunate enough to have a job, it seems to have nothing to do with increasing employment, and everything to do with fixing the stats. Given how the mainstream media aren’t keen on doing any real work to get to the truth, the headline unemployment figures go unchallenged. Who cares that a Jobseekers Allowance claimant is still out of work – they are on workfare, forced into slave labour, so that’s one more off the stats.

This week’s publicised court case brought it into sharp focus, and continued to show Iain Duncan Smith’s disdain for the unemployed, and it seems, the courts. The legality of workfare has been brought into question. Its morality – of which there is none – has always been evident. But it can’t been seen as fare to force a JSA claimant into work that they’re not getting paid for. If its a job that needs doing, take them off JSA and pay them a living wage. The Welfare State is there to protect us should the worst come to the worst. Despite the misinformation in the Daily Mail, not working isn’t a lifestyle choice. I recall being unemployed. I hated the perceived stigma of going into the Job Centre to “sign on”, I hated having hardly any money, I hated seeing people have things I couldn’t. I was delighted to finally get paid employment.

Now, it seems that odds are stacked against the jobseeker. They are being castigated for the pure misfortune of losing their job. That can happen to anyone through no fault of their own (HMV, Blockbuster anyone?) But if losing their income wasn’t enough, if having to live on £71 a week (without the benefit of having a grocery allowance, second home allowance, expenses claims running to tens of thousands), they are being threatened with having that meagre allowance removed should they refuse to partake in what is essentially slave labour. It now seems that its not enough if claimants are already engaged in unpaid voluntary work that is relevant to their qualifications (surely making entry to the labour market more likely for them.) Apparently, they must engage in work that will have little relevance to their qualifications and experience. Could it be that a JSA claimant engaging in voluntary work that isn’t arranged through workfare isn’t helping government statistics? It seems IDS has given the game away. A JSA claimant is essentially working for nothing, but is criticised. What’s the difference between that and unpaid workfare labour? None!

The scheme has nothing to recommend it to JSA claimants, but everything to recommend it to private sector organisations, notably the supermarket giants. Why pay staff a living wage, when they can sack them to be replaced by free labour provided by the government. Argument is that it will make them more employable, while the truth is any company will just wait for more unpaid labour to be supplied, increasing corporate profits at taxpayer’s expense. Workers in paid employment are at increasing risk of being fired because their employer knows they can be replaced free of charge.

The bottom line is if companies have jobs going, then by all means target JSA claimants, but if the government wants to reduce the benefits paid to the claimants, then they should be paid to do the work they are being “employed” to do. But I’d not expect any decency from a government that sees statistics as being a greater priority than people.