Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Daddy's Girl

I’ve got his super quick temper and patience so thin
His slightly squashy nose and over oily skin
His always in the right attitude which sometimes causes strife
Like him, tending to think I know best about most things in life

When living at home our similar ways could cause us to clash
Exchanging words often harsh and brash
Both eating food too fast and enjoying our booze
As I’m getting older, both of us are now prone to an early snooze

But we are also quick thinkers and like to work our hardest
Problem solving and keen to make sure we’re always doing our best
Proactive and ambitious, we’re quite academic
An office related job more suited to us than something manual skill specific

Not a DIY extraordinaire or a football loving fan
He’s much more of a holiday-going and F1 sort of man
A life to be proud of – having worked his way up from humble beginnings
But not smug or a show off about his life and job winnings

He is always there to advise on finance, life and career
No matter what’s going on I know he will be here
Ready waiting with a list of points to run through
He will research hard and without fail do his best to help you

Always ready with a story – sometimes some which might drive you mad
He’s often cheered me up and given me a boost when I felt sad
I would never want to change him, he is the only one I’ve ever had
I love him with all my heart and will always look up to him, he is of course my number one man, my wonderful, amazing and super Dad

Monday, 26 September 2011

Gender Tender

We don’t need to have people escort us out on dates, we’re allowed to vote, we don’t need to burn our bras in protest, we are free to choose what to wear and we’re allowed to have our own opinion. Things have moved on so much for women right?

Well yes, in many ways they have, but if you expect to have equal rights when it comes to pay – think again. Us ladies are still bottom of the pile when it comes to wages – men are still earning more. I can’t even believe I am typing this to be honest.

According to a poll by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), on average the difference between what men and women earnt for the doing same job between February 2010-February 2011 was £10,031 (based on the private sector and 34,158 male and female executives).

Surely if you are doing the same job as another person – be they another gender, race, age or religious belief to you – you both deserve the same salary. Now if you outperform someone, show you are more committed or achieve more for a company then clearly you deserve a bigger cash reward. For being born with breasts and not a penis however is not the same. In any way.

What exactly is the reasoning behind this pay difference? Is it because companies feel women aren’t as committed because we’re off with ‘women-related’ troubles or that we’re all desperate to run off and have babies? Are we too sensitive to deal with the same big issues as men? Or is it that we can’t down as many pints with the lads in after work drinking sessions perhaps?

What was the point of the 1970 Equal Pay Act exactly? Why did the world of tennis listen and start to pay women equally in Wimbledon, but sadly the business world did not?

Some would say there is some hope however, in the fact that the research also showed that junior female manages for the first time earnt more than men. No. This isn’t good. In the same way I don’t want us girls to get less than the boys in work, I also don’t want men getting less than women. We should just earn the same. Why is it so difficult? Moreso, why is it still in this day and age still an issue?

Many companies encourage people to keep the pay they receive to themselves, we assume in a bid to stop us demanding more money if we discover we’re not all getting the same. What would you do though if you did discover somebody in your team doing the same job as you was earning more as you – the only difference between you being that you are female and he is a guy? Would you go and complain and demand more? I’d like to think I would. However, findings suggest – and the fact that we’re still experiencing such a big gap – that women don’t. We just sit back and work hard and get on with it, not stopping to demand why this is happening and fighting for what we rightfully deserve.

Nowadays so many of us are just so grateful to even be in employment we don’t feel strong enough to question things – after all we should feel lucky we even have a job right? When does this current climate of fear stop though? If the tough economic times continue when will we ever feel able to argue against things we feel are unfair? In fact what lies ahead of us if hard times keep going? A company needs to make job cuts – do they get rid of the women as they are the timid ones who don’t argue back? Or do they keep us and work us until we make ourselves ill because we’re cheaper to keep on board?

Perhaps it’s time us ladies go back in time - like those people paying our wages seem to be – and take note of the bravery of those women many years ago who really did fight for our rights? That washed out, aged, greying bra you’ve found in your cupboard? Keep hold of it, who knows, you may well be needing it to burn sometime very soon…

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Managing to manage

All of us throughout our lives will encounter a manager of some form, they come in all shapes and sizes and their capabilities in their role also vary…a lot!

Having been a manager in charge of a team myself at one point I feel I can now identify with both sides of this relationship, as both the employee and the boss. I also have experienced my fair share of managers, many of which I have to say were not a pleasure to experience.

Some of the examples of jobs I have had include:
Part time checkout girl at Sainsbury’s – in two separate locations
Part time worker at Argos
Office temp
House of Commons admin assistant
Team leader
Head of Client Support team at an online news company
And more, but this isn’t a place to showcase my CV!!

Anyway I don’t feel it would be right to be open about what manager from what exact job was good and those from the selection who I feel were bad. People that worked with me in any of the jobs I’ve had may well know who I mean, but I’m going to keep it anonymous.

My working life started at the tender age of 14, nearly 15, I remember because I temped in an office in Holborn and my Mum came to meet me with my GCSE results one lunchtime! Throughout this time I have unfortunately recognised a key theme amongst a lot of managers is to believe if you treat your staff like rubbish it teaches them to ‘behave’ and do what you want. I strongly disagree.

If I were to describe my management approach I would say I am firm but fair. I like to treat those in my team with respect – be there to manage them when needed and give support, but let them work in a way that suits them. However, because I let people manage themselves I expect them to perform well and match my fair approach with a hardworking attitude. If somebody thinks they can take advantage of my way of managing, just wait and see just how hard I can come down when needed.

I discovered this was the best way to manage – in my opinion anyway – after a number of years experiencing others ways and deciding what I liked and didn’t like from their example. From managing a team myself I have also seen what worked and also again what doesn’t.

Some examples of the managers I have had include:
The boss who treated you all as individuals who mattered, who valued your hard work, but when they were stressed you all were, the environment in the whole office would change.
The manager who couldn’t decide if they were your friend or the person in charge, who taught me it was okay to be a bit more laid back at work, but who also was prone to ever-changing moods.
The one in charge who thought everyone was a number on a sheet, was extremely inappropriate in the way they gossiped about other staff members and came out with the most awful jokes and lewd comments.
A lovely lady who wanted you to do well and was full of praise, always trying to please everyone.
Another who was always miserable, didn’t want to do anything themselves and in fact liked to bully her staff.
One who you respect as your manager but who you can have banter with and share similar interests, knowing they are there to support you and that you need to do your job properly, but they will always have their friendly face there when needed too.
Or that boss who liked to belittle their team whenever possible and instead of helping them learn from any mistakes would rather show them up instead.

Quite a mixture as you can see. One thing I feel is key is support for the manager – it is important to let staff know what is expected of them to allow them to perform well and the same needs to be done with managers themselves. I will openly admit when I was a manager in previous roles I never had any management training and was left to teach myself and just try things out and see if they worked. This is not something I think is a great idea and feel this is often why we end up with such bad managers, because they’ve never been guided on how they should be.

I don’t really want to start blogging about my current boss, as everyone knows I am still in my probation period at a new job and anything positive I say is going to look like I’m trying to win favour in said role. However, if anyone reading this does work in the same team as me, or works in my new company, they will know for themselves what sort of manager my boss fits into. That is all I need to say, and that I hope you are all lucky enough to have a manager who knows how to manage.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Tough Twenties

This year a lot of my friends have or are turning 30. Interestingly, quite a number of them have found this a time to look at what they’ve achieved – or haven’t – in their lives at this point. Those friends who feel they have completed a number of the expected goals in their life by this point don’t seem so concerned about the big 3-0. However, those who are under the impression they should have somehow done more by now are not quite so keen on reaching three decades on this earth.

I too have found I’m starting to look at where I am in the walk of life and was interested to read a magazine article recently (Stylist of course!) that argued your twenties are the toughest ten years in your life.

The main things that seem to concern us are relationships – are you in one or are you married; career – how far have you progressed; children – do you have them yet; home – do you own one yet or money – do you earn enough/have enough of it?

It seems that perhaps nowadays we are having a crisis in our twenties, perhaps the days of the mid-life crisis are over? When young I can remember joking about men having their mid life crisis and having a young blonde bimbo on their arm and driving around in a flashy sports car. I associated being in your twenties as the time to have fun and be comfortable in life, not a time to start worrying about things!

Apparently eating disorders are getting more common for people around this age group and us girls are more likely to binge drink at this time in our lives. Rather than enjoying what we have got we’re worrying too much about what we haven’t!

This week my boyfriend, in his early thirties, lost his job. This was a career he was completely committed too and seemed a natural in. One of the first things I noticed he looked at was what he felt was a lack of achievement at this point in his life. A point I completely disagree with I have to add, but the point remains that we really do seem to set the bar high for ourselves nowadays and perhaps lose sight of how much already we have done in our lives.

I could sit and blog all day about how unfairly I think they treated him and what I now think of the London Ambulance Service, but don’t worry I won’t bore you all on that one…

This is when I think we need to listen to the older generation and gain knowledge from those who have been there and done it already. Your life is never going to be perfect, what will be will be and things happen for a reason. So rather than sitting there and getting depressed about what could have been, how about we all just get on with living our lives and see what happens?

At school I had decided I would be married at 25, have a nice big house and a successful career and by 28 I would have children. Hm, now at 29 I have my own property yes – a 1 bedroom flat and I am happy with my career. There is no big house though, I am in a 6 year long (so far) relationship and we aren’t engaged and don’t have any children. Not quite on track then.

To be honest though I’ve decided I’m just going to get on with it, you could depressed by facts such as those that claim we reach our physical peak at 26 (American Aging Association), or you can just live your life and take it for what it is.

Apparently we mentally deteriorate from the age of 27 (according to University of Virginia research), but I argue at 29 and in a new job I am learning more skills nearly every day. So I spent my school years wanting to be old enough to go clubbing, I spent college wanting to be older with my own place and in a cool job and now in my late 20s I’m starting to think perhaps your 30s could be where it’s at. Many women say they feel at their most confident at that age – you know who you are, you don’t need to impress anyone anymore and your life is on track. Or is it?

We always say in life the grass is greener on the other side, it also seems that in your age group life always looks more promising in the next decade.

Nasty Factor

I am sitting here watching X Factor on a Saturday night – sad I know and even sadder that I was pleased I am in tonight to see it. However, I am just so annoyed I had to blog about it.

Recently in the press I saw reports where the X Factor was criticised for an older woman having gone to the auditions four years in a row and always being rejected. People suggested she may not be mentally stable, others hinted that in fact the programme was behind her repeat visits because it was ‘good TV’. I admit I laughed it off and thought it was just another silly story for publicity.

However, on watching tonight’s show, ‘Bootcamp’, where people had been told at their audition they were through to this stage, things have now changed. Before Bootcamp started the judges actually went back and looked through audition tapes and realised that in fact around 40 or so of those they put through, actually weren’t up to the challenge.

Clearly this is a decision to make ‘good TV’ and cause controversy, but surely it gets to a point where people’s lives and feelings need to be considered somewhat? I’m not an actress, singer, or in any way an entertainments type of person. I do however recognise this sort of industry is tough and people need to be prepared for it.

Getting all those people in front of one another and then humiliating those individuals that for some reason all of a sudden aren’t good enough anymore in my opinion is just not right.

Yes in that sort of industry people have to go through various stages of auditioning, tests, callbacks and more. From my knowledge though they are aware of those stages? They have not been told they’ve reached another stage and then before that stage begins they get cut, without any explanation and without a chance to fight for their place.

Three of the judges are in musical groups – do they not remember how tough it was for them and that one person in their life that gave them a break or a chance? No, it’s all about what outfit to wear this week and how many front covers they can get on ready for next week’s show. As each group is coming on stage what is it they are asking – has anybody had any fights over the song choice! Another group sings and one young boy who they all clearly love has been deemed the stand out of that selection – he was so weak!

Already you can get a good idea of who they are looking at to put through – they are smiling at those people within seconds of them singing, or in some cases as soon as they walk on stage or in the room. Not a very fair competition then in my eyes…

I know X Factor has always been – and likely always will be – a show for entertainment and people have complained about it for a long time. I too am now feeling myself join the camp of being anti this show and understanding although people with talent will also feature in it that’s not what the show’s producers are interested in. They want people who are prepared to be humiliated or one side, or on the other be someone who will allow themselves to be moulded and modelled into the exact robotic replica star Mr Cowell and his team need to make their bank balances even bigger.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Mirror mirror on the wall…

Don’t judge a book by its cover? Good luck with that. It may not be very ‘PC’, but one of the first things you notice about a person is how they look – smart, scruffy, ugly, beautiful, skinny, fat.

You judge your future partner on how they look when you first meet, or whether you feel attracted to that stranger across the dancefloor on an evening out. Should this extend to work though? I remember at one point watching a documentary about bigger sized people that were disciminated against due to their weight, with employers admitting they assumed those people were lazier and not as able.

Is the same true if you’re considered more an ugly duckling than the beautiful swan?

There is a new book out called Honey Money, where the author Catherine Hakim argues the importance of good looks. She does combine it with some other factors which make up what she’s termed ‘erotic’ capital. These include sex appeal, how lively you are, your style, beauty and social skills you have. Apparently the better looking you are the better you are in the workplace.

Really?? Surely this can’t be true.

I know from past experience of cases where certain females did get hired based on their looks. Not naming any names here…This was something I found so shocking and really inappropriate. Don’t get my wrong if someone looks like a supermodel and has the best CV and skills, yes they deserve the job. However, hiring someone because they tickle your tastebuds really doesn’t cut it for me. In fact for some working alongside an uber attractive lad or lady may well put them off their own work, it can be very distracting you know.
Should people who are not deemed traditionally ‘beautiful’ miss out then and not be given a chance? Janet Street Porter is hardly the most attractive woman out there but she’s good at what she does, Mo Mowlam – should she have been stopped from getting anywhere in politics due to her less than perfect appearance in the beauty stakes? What about people with deformities and facial scarring? Are they less deserving to do well because they don’t look right? Where does it stop?

I agree with Julie Bindel, talking to Stylist magazine she says that “women should neither need nor desire to use their looks to get ahead in the boardroom”. It feels like we are taking a big step backwards if that’s how people feel they need to be to get ahead in their career.

Taking pride in your appearance is a different story, of course you should be dressed appropriately for work and greasy hair and dirty fingernails is not acceptable in a corporate environment. In the same vein though if you are a genius in your field and you’re not client facing does what you look like really matter?

I’ve never really found somebody’s looks to be an issue and that’s being completely honest. I don’t find I work better with people who are conventionally pretty than I would do those who are perhaps more in the ‘plain Jane’ category. I’d hate to think I’d ever be turned down for a promotion or a job role because I wasn’t deemed good looking enough.

However, it does appear that looks are an important factor in employment. According to new research you can earn approximately 20% more if you are good looking, well mannered and well groomed. I don’t know, perhaps people trust you more and feel you represent the company in a better light. Who knows.

Why is it then we wonder why women (and men of course) have such extreme body image issues, our children start to have weight concerns when they should be still playing with toys and having sweet treats and plastic surgery is so popular? If looks are now becoming important in your career what sort of message does that convey? Are we going into a future where people become perfect replicas of the ideal man and woman to get that relationship and secure that dream job? I’ve already blogged before about being able to pick and choose ideal features in your babies, could this be another reason parents might decide to pursue such an option?

Perhaps I better get back in that gym and invest in some more makeup, I don’t want to be left behind in the ugly corner at work…

Girls on girls

Recently on TV a – rather poor to be honest – film from a couple of years back has been shown – Bride Wars. The film tells of how two former best friends fall out and become enemies when their upcoming weddings are accidentally double booked at their same dream venue on the same day. Although rather extreme for the purposes of movie entertainment, it’s not really too shocking to imagine two women doing such things to each other.

Us ladies aren’t always that nice to one another and are very quick to judge it has to be said. Recently I read an article in Stylist magazine about how women look at others around them and rather than coming together in some form of ‘sisterhood’, we go into competitive mode and to put it bluntly ‘bitch’ about one another instead.

I remember years back on one of my many journalism-related work experience placements, I ‘worked’ on a girls magazine. Well that sure set my mind straight that I probably didn’t really want to be getting a role on a female magazine anytime soon. Everyone walking into the room got the once over by their ice-cold eyes and knowing looks and supposedly discreet nudges were followed not long after.

If you think of a girl with tanned skin, a large chest and fake nails – what thoughts come into your mind? Or on the other hand someone with puffy hair, bad skin and no make up on? A confident, attractive woman in a high up role in a company with a male boss? How about that woman who has a child and soon after rushes back to work and starves herself in a bid to lose the baby weight? Any positive thoughts or terms coming to mind? Thought not.

Why is it then we treat our fellow females in this way? According to a psychologist from Queen’s University Belfast, talking to Stylist, it can be argued our behaviour is “mate competition” and we are trying to beat our way to the front of the queue for the hottest male specimens. Hm…so why do we still judge one another when we’re in happy, stable relationships then?

Judi James, author of The Body Language Bible (again courtesy of Stylist – told you I love that magazine!) seems to think we judge others on those things we’re insecure about.

I’m just as guilty as the next person in judging other women and like most of us have also been at the other end and found myself being judged throughout the years. It’s not nice.

Lately I’ve had an eye infection and for some reason it just won’t shift. This felt like the end of the world when I woke up to another day at my new job and discovered my eyes were puffed up, gooey, red, sore and itchy. There was no way makeup could get anywhere near my freak face, oh no. So I had to go to work with no makeup on, in fact for a number of days now I’ve had to go to my new job wearing no eye make up whatsoever. For a girl addicted to her kohl pencil and liquid eyeliner this is not a pleasant experience. I’ve realised too that the main reason I felt so insecure about it was in part due to judgements I myself have made on others about lack of makeup/looks in the past.

A girl has a baby before she gets married or when she’s still very young, who’s to say whether that is right or wrong if she brings up the child well and with unconditional love? Someone wears a gypsy-wedding style dress on their big day, why should they be labelled a ‘chav’ and attention seeking? A woman goes back to work after having children despite not needing the extra money, she just wants a career – why shouldn’t she? An extremely successful lady in the company who is very attractive and all your male colleagues like her – why do you then conclude she must have ‘slept her way to the top’?

On the flip side I can remember at school being very conscious of praising another female or expressing a positive opinion based on their looks. Why? Because you’d be accused of being a lesbian. How ridiculous are we??

As everybody knows a lot is judged on looks – something I plan to blog about at a later point. Really then I shouldn’t be all that surprised that when I find a female I do comment on now it tends to be on their looks? Shallow? Just a little. For example of late I’ve been saying how I’d love to look like Mila Kunis – just focussing on her big Bambi eyes and enviable figure. No, no mention of her acting abilities or anything of achievement, just that she is attractive.

We argue we don’t want men to look at us based on appearance and as sexual objects, but sometimes I wonder what do we expect if we do the same thing ourselves to each other? Someone has plastic surgery, the majority of the time you presume they are a wag wannabe, you don’t stop to think perhaps that area of their body genuinely did cause them extreme unhappiness.

In this digital age where social media seems to have taken over and we have access to images, information and opinions from anyone, anywhere and at any time it’s no wonder we all have our own opinion on everything. When Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a neuroscientist, spoke to Stylist magazine, she stated how we have no time to “fully digest and process” a whole story and the emotion behind it because before we know it we’re “bombarded by the next bit of information”. Are we just too busy then in life to be kind and caring and supportive? Is empathy and relating to your fellow females just too much to worry about nowadays?

A while back I talked about politeness and trying to treat other people how you’d like to be treated. Maybe before we judge someone we need to start thinking about how we feel, how hard it is to walk into a bar full of well-dressed attractive women and feel you don’t quite match up – your original night-out confidence gone. Or doing well at work and receiving praise only to be met with snide remarks whispered behind your back about just how you got yet another payrise. Next time, before you look at that girl on the train and her chipped nails or not quite perfect hair, or that woman feeding her child greasy chips not fresh fruit and vegetables, have a think about how you often feel around other women and just stop to think.

Sorry then to any men who clicked on this link hoping to read about or perhaps even view evidence of some girl-on-girl action. I’m afraid yes it just about us ladies and how we should come together instead of making life harder for ourselves going it alone. In fact, look there I go again – prejudging the male viewers of this blog and presuming they would read a sexual theme into this post. I’m a woman alright? I just can’t help myself!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Olympic letdown

I could well be feeling a bit bitter (to say the least) about my impending 30th birthday next year, but I’m just not feeling this whole London 2012 Olympic malarkey. You know what I think of when I think of the Olympics? Of what a dump of an area the main centre is based in and what a nightmare it’s going to be getting into work.

Maybe if my boyfriend had managed to get through the joke that was ticket allocation and secured us some tickets to see just even one of the events, then I might be more excitable.

I’m not really a particularly sporty person so I guess that doesn’t help. Getting on the DLR from Stratford to get to my last job in Canary Wharf and now getting a mainline through from Liverpool Street from my current job, I’ve seen the site develop and come together. Do I feel any excitement when I see the swimming area or main stadium? Nope.

Of course it’s argued this will bring the country together, revamp the area of Stratford, create huge employment opportunities, get West Ham a new ground, bring in lots of money from tourism and more. To me it equals travel chaos and messing up my birthday plans. Selfish? Me? Never!

When I was looking for work I even put myself forward to some Olympic-related employment, didn’t hear anything. Charming!

However there is a beacon of light, I’ve seen my friend has been nominated to be a torch bearer which is pretty cool I’ll admit. The best thing I’ve discovered though? Westfield Shopping Centre.

I’ve not been there yet – it’s been open less than week I know – but when I go past Stratford now on the train I stare out at that huge shopping mecca and get butterflies. Ooh all those shops, and restaurants… Apparently there are around 300 shops, the UK’s biggest window and approximately 70 restaurants. Wow.

I heard when it opened they were giving out goodie bags to the first lot of people in the door (well obviously only a set number), that it has a cinema, hotels and a bowling alley. You know what else? I’m prepared to go to Stratford and grin and bear it to experience that shopping area too. Well it does look like there is a huge walkway from the station to the shopping area anyway so perhaps I won’t even need to set foot in Stratford?

You all go and enjoy the Olympics next year now though won’t you. I’ll be the drunken, sobbing woman sat in an empty bar surrounded by endless shopping bags in complete denial of my age and moaning about our capital’s crap transport system, while you all get patriotic, witness some star athletes and are too busy to ‘celebrate’ my birthday with me.

Okay, so I originally wrote this post last night but couldn’t get online to upload it. Today by pure coincidence I actually did go to Westfield Stratford. To go one from one extreme to the other, on maid of honour duty myself and the bride-to-be ended up on a journey which switched from Camden to said shopping centre.

We were shopping for shoes – anyone who knows me and indeed the bride-to-be will know shoe shopping is not often a fun experience for me anyway – I have big feet for a girl and I am super tall so I can either not get shoes that fit or heels that are a good match for me.

Thankfully the focus was not on my footwear today, but alas we were still unsuccessful in our ventures. Anyway, back to Westfield. Hm, well okay perhaps it was slightly misguided to go to visit this mammoth mall on the first weekend of opening, but it was madness. The amount of people that had been allowed to enter that place was ridiculous – it was so busy. I hate to say it but as I mentioned above, the area Westfield is based isn’t the nicest of places and I haven’t always had the best of experiences sharing a train platform with its inhabitants. Unfortunately the shopping centre was pretty similar. Obviously I don’t know who for a fact who there was local and who wasn’t but a lot of people that were there were so rude!

Maybe it’s me and we were a bit tired by the point we reached there anyway but it almost seemed too big there. There is a lovely little market area downstairs where you can enjoy a variety of authentic cuisines – Italian cafĂ©, Japanese sushi, traditional Lebanese, coffee shop, French macaroons, Indian delicacies and lots more. Lovely. Yes it is, apart from the fact these places have like two tables at them for people to sit at and not a lot more, so if you want to rest your weary feet in an authentic environment good luck.

There were lots of areas in the middle of the floors too but due to the crowds of people you couldn’t really see what they were/enjoy what I assume are opening events/displays because there were just too many people around. Myself and others I know have already concluded weekend visits are a no go – for the timebeing at least – and as for Christmas, I don’t think I’ll be braving the queues, crowds and barging shoppers.

That said don’t get me wrong it looks good and there is a nice selection of shops there and I’m sure it’ll be very popular. Next time I walk Westfields fancy floors it will definitely be a weekday and when the initial excitement has calmed somewhat. The cappuccino and Italian biscuits were pretty scrummy though!

My guilty garage pleasure

I arrived home one night last week to find a parcel had been delivered for me, excitedly rushing into my flat I ripped open the packaging to open up the musical purchase I’d ordered online only a matter of days before. A garage CD. And now over a week later I am listening to it. In fact it’s playing on the laptop whilst I type this blog post.

The reason? My boyfriend has been round my flat every evening since then and - although he’ll argue against this point – he really cannot stand garage music. Therefore as he’s just popped out I’ve realised I can now finally get around to treating my ears to my music genre of choice (well one of).

I’m only on track one, but already I am thinking of getting made up, dressed up and getting out to a local bar and club for a night of drinking and dancing. The next track mixes in and I literally get a little flip in my stomach. I am like this nearly every time I listen to garage – whether in my flat, on my mp3 player or in the gym working out.

It’s funny how they say certain senses can trigger memories and feelings within you, and without a doubt music has this effect. I also find I can normally associate different music to different people in my life. In particular, men in my life.

For example, one of the key people that come to mind is one of my first boyfriends – a mixed race guy I met on work experience when I was at school. I remember sneaking to Limehouse to go and meet him with friends on a Saturday afternoon, when I’d tell my trusting parents I was going to look round the shops with school friends in Romford. At this point I guess I was around 14 or so, I’d gone through the phase of listening to more pop style tracks, the Britpop/Indie era and doing dance routines to boybands, by now I was discovering more urban music and this ‘love of my life’ was the guy who got me into R&B.

I still have my first ever Smooth Grooves album by Kiss 100, I would religiously listen to the CD over and over and even now I haven’t tired of many of the songs on there.

As I started to go out in the evenings my tastes expanded again, we were under 18 but like everyone else in school and college liked to go out in our local area for nights out and indulge in some booze and a good boogie. This is when I enjoyed more cheesy tunes and danced on the floor, tables and stage of our local ‘Jaks’ to 80s classics, singing along, following the moves and generally having fun.

After a while most of us in the group preferred to go to clubs and bars, here I enjoyed my dance music and I guess this is also when I first got into garage. Even now I smile remembering dancing with a particular friend of mine in what we described as the ‘podium’ of our local club. I never seemed to tire, just wanting to dance to every song that came on. I always remember what was once called Time & Envy opening – people on stilts, fire-eaters, fire grinders. Me and some of my close friends would go without fail every week to the club, we knew the DJs, some of the bar staff and we loved the music they played, sometimes now snubbing the venues that played more cheesy tracks.

When I went to University I met one of my closest friends and found we shared similar tastes in music, we often text each other now on hearing a song from those days and reminisce. I also met my previous boyfriend, who happened to DJ when he wasn’t studying at Uni or doing his part time job and I got even more hooked on garage. I’ll be honest the guy treated me like rubbish, but I worshipped the ground he walked on and he liked garage so I soon loved it even more. Thankfully our breakup and bad memories of that relationship haven’t impacted on my musical tastes.

Then more recently – well six years ago – I met my current boyfriend and that involved another expansion in my musical tastes. I started going to gigs – no I really hadn’t been to one before him (ha! Well unless you want to include a Blue concert?...No thought not). I got more into rock music (nothing too heavy mind) and as my boyfriend would argue less ‘chavvy’ music, I absolutely love the Foo Fighters now for example. Before meeting my man I hadn’t ever heard one of their tracks.

There are songs that make me sad, those that remind me of people I’d rather forget, tracks that remind me of nights/people I shall never forget, songs from amazing nights out clubbing with friends and Uni days, people’s weddings…I won’t go on, you get the picture.

When music stars set out on their dreams, I imagine they too obviously have former talent that have inspired them. But with the increasing popularity and general number of TV talent shows – Pop Idol, Britain’s Got Talent and of course X Factor – are we moving into a time where most music sounds the same? People miming, being churned out like factory models who all fit the same mould and will make millions for music moguls such as Mr Cowell?

I’ll admit I do indulge in a bit of X Factor if I happen to be at home and have nothing to do, particularly in the initial episodes where all sorts of people are there to audition. However, we all know if they’re a bit different that even if they get put through at first, throughout the show when they do the themed weeks gradually those with something new to offer will drop like flies.

Of late I’ve noticed though these ‘stars’ aren’t lasting as long in the music world or the charts. Are people starting to rebel? Do they want something different? For instance JLS never won the show and have had huge success. I only read the other day that the excruciatingly annoying (sorry!) Leona Lewis has decided to take her own route and veer away from the Whitney-style warbling she pursued at first.

I think it’s important to have a variety of music out there – so people can expand their musical tastes and develop their own music memories. Over the years just some of the selection I’ve seen live are Kasabian, Oasis, Foo Fighters, Take That, Muse, James Blunt, DJ Luck & MC Neat, Faithless, Kaiser Chiefs, Dizzee Rascal, Scissor Sisters, Alanis Morisette and Blue – a real mix, some at festivals, some at huge arenas, others in University venues or in small scale music halls. What’s more I hope to enjoy an even greater selection moving forwards.

I’m going to continue sitting here indulging in my guilty pleasure now and fight the urge to go out and party instead of staying in saving my money and watching the rubbish on TV.

Perhaps I might even do something I always like to do every once a while and flick through a mixture of songs from past and present that are some of my favourites. Who knows what memories I’m about to come across…

Friday, 9 September 2011

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn - how do YOU use yours?

I’ve noticed something lately. When I wake up, or on the route into work, I can’t help but pick up my phone and get on Facebook and Twitter. This is pretty normal behaviour to be honest. You know the drill, you get a bit of spare time at work you might have a quick Tweet, you take a seat on the train home and feel the urge to enjoy a bit of social networking, you know it’s somebody’s birthday so make sure you write on their ‘wall’.

However, although I’d still say I’m pretty much addicted to social media – not a day goes by when I don’t visit Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn – I am starting to use it differently.

It seems to suggest to me the power of social media. At first I thought perhaps my interest in said sites was starting to wane, but then I realised I wasn’t actually spending less time, in fact my usage was just changing.

I first joined Facebook years back after a friend suggested I join it because I always sent my holiday photos round for them to see, she explained how this site let you share pictures with friends easily and quickly. I thought I’d give it a go. Already on Friends Reunited, I already enjoyed finding out about school chums and their lives, but what you could see and do was limited.

With Facebook gradually I added colleagues to my network and as I noticed my friends started to learn of this site I built up my group of ‘friends’. From then on over the years I was hooked – at first having a quick nose to see what people from school were up to, to bombarding everyone with my array of photo albums, updating my status so that people soon knew pretty much everything I was up to and getting on chat to talk to friends far away.

Yet since joining the site 5 years ago I find I am using it differently. Although I still share far many more pictures than those around me, I am doing it less than I was and I used to religiously update my status every single day (at least), not any more. No of late I’ve found I’m mainly going on Facebook to catch up on what people have been doing and nosing at their pictures.

Take Twitter, at least half of their users don’t actually Tweet. To be honest I’ve gone the opposite way. I joined Twitter in line with some social media changes at work and wasn’t a huge fan, finding Facebook a much better option. However, I’m finding I’m more likely to Tweet these days than update my status. Why is that? What makes us change our habits on social media?

It seems rather than get tired of these sites after years of using them, we just find new ways to use them and with more features being offered constantly it seems we may never run out of new things to try – games, celebrity accounts, new photo tagging features, company pages, events, special Facebook related offers, access to breaking news, linking between accounts, targeted ads, the list goes on and on…

I feel the fact my Mum, my boyfriend’s parents and many of my friends parents are set up on Facebook now is evidence this is not just a fad for the younger generation. A relative of mine who turned 67 this year has expressed her craving to get a laptop, get online and what is one of her top priorities? Get on Facebook. A recent infographic highlighted just how widespread social media usage is – everybody is at it!

How did I end up getting a new job? On LinkedIn – a networking site. Social media is so big now, as part of your role in most online companies you’re expected to have at least one account and to help reflect your company positively keep your LinkedIn page up to date – because of course you’ll have one as a given.

I’ve banged on before about how important social media is, like most people out there. However, it’s pretty clear that as well as making sure they have a social media presence (and the ability to manage it in case of crisis), companies need to be aware of people’s changing habits on said sites and adapt accordingly. As someone recently said to me on Twitter - when I tweeted about Tweriod being a useful tool – if you don’t know yourself what time your followers are on then you don’t know them well enough. In turn, suggesting you won’t have many of them for much longer if you’re not delivering on why they originally started following you.

On starting this blog I found my usage also changed, most obviously with a lot of posts relating back to my blog. In turn I am also interested in how many Twitter followers I have and patterns and stats associated with this blog. A key example of this is the fact I’ve logged into/signed up for Twitter Counter whilst writing/researching this blog!

There is a lot more awareness in the user themselves too, with recent events such as the riots and high profile figures getting themselves into trouble making people think twice what they Tweet. You want to have more followers on Twitter, lots of friends on Facebook, more connections on LinkedIn and increasing numbers of fans of your blog. Rather than just using social media for fun I find – and I’m sure others feel the same – it is becoming a much more considered act.

So as the ever-growing number of users changes, so too must those people out there trying to benefit from its increasing popularity – bloggers, corporates, B2C companies, brands, entertainers – like most things online it is a never-ending road of discovery, change, development and opportunity, so make sure you’re keeping up!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Technological tantrum

Mobile phones were invented in 1973, the internet in 1969, computers have been around since the 1930s/1940s and mobile internet appeared in 1996. All things that have clearly had a huge impact on how we live our lives. You could also argue that these developments in technology have helped us, given us more freedom and ensured greater access to a wealth of information.

However, there is also the downside, which recently I have been experiencing. Although I am generally interested in technology, mostly through the path I have taken in my career, I don’t consider myself a techie geek at all.

I do, however, have a handful of tech toys, which it is safe to say I couldn’t live without. I own a Smartphone (Android I must add, not an iPhone), an mp3 player (although it is a rather aged iRiver, rather than an iPod), a Kindle and I have a laptop (well my boyfriend keeps his laptop at my flat and I tend to use it most of the time!)

In terms of the smartphone, I avoided getting one for quite a while, preferring to get a new mobile phone each time I could upgrade. However, then my addiction to social media grew, I got internet as a bundle on my phone and then started to realise why everyone was making such a fuss over smartphones.

When I first heard of the Kindle I loved the idea of not having to pack a ton of books in your case on holiday and only needing to take one item and a small charger. Although I love reading a good book, picking what to read from the cover and the satisfaction as you get nearer the end of the book. I look at a computer screen all day at work and the thought of yet another screen to view put me off. Eventually I decided to give it a go though and was pleased with the way the screen works, how light it is and how easy it is to use.

I don’t need to go on about how easy having a mp3 player is and the benefits it brings – push you further in the gym as you run to your favourite track, drown out the annoying morons on the commute and allow you to have numerous singles and albums in one compact place at any time.

As for a laptop – well you can sit watching TV and type away (as I’m doing now), you can surf the net, watch a film in bed when poorly, download music, shop online, do your social networking, store all your photos somewhere, and I could go on…

So far so good right? Well yes, when all these things work. But the downside of technology is just how much you come to rely on it and how frustrating it is when it goes wrong…

Smartphones are great at seeing what your friends are up to on Facebook – when the app loads properly and doesn’t take forever to display up to date results, when you want to Tweet on the go – if the app doesn’t crash and save most of your Tweets in drafts. How about when you want to just use your phone to make a call, oh sorry your battery is so low from actually using the smartphone it’s not really going to be able to allow a call, or you put someone on speakerphone because – how strange – your face leans on the touchscreen buttons and causes all sorts of issues.

You settle down to enjoy the latest eBook you’ve purchased on the train into work, relax on your lunchbreak by reading that new novel or buying a new option by using the wireless built into your Kindle. It’s great the battery lasts forever! Yes that is true, however there is also some odd bug that means it also decides – at random – to freeze and not allow you to login, switch on or reset the thing whilst you’re on the go. Over the last week or so my Kindle has decided to do this little trick at least five times or so and the only way to fix it? Well I took the advice off a forum recently and found if you hold the switch for 15 seconds and then connect the device to a power supply hey presto it resets and works again! Not so handy if you find yourself sat on the train or out in a park with no plug socket in site…Oh and it then goes on to conveniently forget the last page you were on.

Laptops then? They’ve been around for ages now, surely they are more reliable? Well yes, unless the keys decide to get loose, the internet dongle freezes/crashes regularly or the mouse out of the blue no longer works and you have to work out a way to go online using the keypad. Oh what fun we have had…

I could go on – the mp3 that freezes or won’t charge up fully anymore so doesn’t stay switched on, the Oystercard that randomly stops working and you have the pleasure of paying out for a new one, the digibox for your TV that doesn’t display all the information properly or freezes if you channel hop too quickly…

Technology it has to be said overall is in the main to our benefit, of course it is, it would be silly to argue otherwise. But lately with all these mishaps, I have started to wonder if the ‘easy’ life I now ‘enjoy’ thanks to technological developments might actually be outweighed by the stress and anger I feel when the things don’t work properly…

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Summer Sulk

Er hello? Where has the Summer gone?

I’m sorry, but I can’t let this go by without commenting on it. I love the sun and like to get out in it as much as I can. When we decided to save up this year to get some cash in order to get a place together I braced myself for the fact this would be another year without a holiday.

Now, I apologise to anyone who doesn’t holiday that often and for sounding like a spoilt little madam, but I admit I am an annual leave addict and like to get on a plane and go relax once a year without fail. The only year in my life – which I guess shows I have been pretty privileged on reflection – I didn’t go on holiday was the year I purchased my flat. Every other year of my life I have been on holiday and abroad at that.

The only downfall with this is you come to expect a holiday, your skin is used to getting the sun and you crave it. The weather forecasters – as per – predicted scorching temperatures and an ‘Indian Summer’ this year (hmm sounds familiar...) and so I tried to reassure myself I could cope if the weather was holidayesque in the UK at least.

But no no no, not England, no it couldn’t be a nice Summer could it. Oh no, I’m not going away so in fact let’s make it one of the coldest Summers instead. Great. I love waking up in August to grey skies and goosebumpy skin.

So now today we found ourselves in September – how on earth did that come around?? September, i.e. kids go back to school and Autumn is meant to start. What happens? We go to work in covered-up-clothes and sensible shoes and are met with a boiling hot lunchbreak and sweaty commute.

I’ve also chosen to start a new job in the month when everybody knows people go away, so not only am I met with a probation period without annual leave allowed, but also the fact that seemingly everyone else is going away. Those empty seats taunt me every time I look round the room! The joke is even if I was allowed annual leave (which I’m sure wouldn’t be totally frowned upon seeing as everything so far seems really fair and friendly), I can’t jump on a plane anyway as I’m supposed to be saving.

I’m not too good at the whole being happy for those going away either – my parents are a great example of this, they basically spend their retirement going on holiday. I don’t like this and find it hard not to get jealous! As the bank holiday approached and I looked forward to my plans, I soon felt my mood come crashing down as friends and colleagues took days off to extend the long weekend and went abroad instead.

It’s funny though how when we do get the odd sunny day we quickly forget them and complaints of ‘We’ve had no sun’ or ‘no Summer’ are quickly thrown around. I am just as guilty of doing that.

I’m just going to curl up on the sofa, in my cardi, with a cup of tea and console myself by giggling at Celebrity Juice. Ah Mark from Only Way Is Essex and Rochelle from the Saturdays (also from Romford) – a good bit of Essex ‘talent’ will keep me entertained I’m sure!!

Not dressed up, but somewhere to go

I’ve got a bit of a dilemma on my hands, I have a fancy dress party to attend. In two days. My outfit? Still undecided.

I am normally super organised, at everything, yet for some reason I felt it’d be alright to not bother with my outfit until last minute. I have been feeling a bit rough this week – I still don’t quite know if I’ve got a cold or if this is just hayfever – and so my enthusiasm for said party is a bit lacking I admit.

Embarrassingly my boyfriend had his outfit picked weeks ago – he is recycling an ensemble purchased for a stag do a few years back and was only worn for all of an hour, but still… Being beaten on outfit planning by a man – a very masculine, not-that-into-fashion one at that – is not good.

The problem I also have is I’m feeling a bit porky at the moment (my own fault for lack of gym and stuffing my face for the last few months) and so I don’t want anything too revealing. Try being female and searching for fancy dress – ‘sexy’, ‘skimpy’, ‘fun’ (aka bordering on slutty) are what you face. Dressing up and trying to keep a bit of dignity do not go hand in hand for us ladies.

Granted, only recently I purchased a 1960s outfit, some have suggested I reuse this, but thanks to Facebook and me being a typical girl, there is just no way I can wear that again so soon. Plus I don’t think my hair would forgive me if I backcombed the hell out of it again already.

Although I thought it’d make things easier going to a party without a theme (after a 60s party and an upcoming 80s dress-code this was welcomed) I actually find the sheer volume of choice completely daunting and I’m getting so confused.

The host/birthday boy has also told me what he is going as and so I’m very conscious to make sure I don’t go as something associated with his attire/character as that’d look a bit weird. His girlfriend is not matching with him, so if I did, well, it’d just look wrong I feel.

Just when I think I’ve found something I like though I’m hit with the extortionate price tag accompanying it. What is this fascination with fancy dress parties anyway? You buy an outfit, you wear it once, you put it in the back of the wardrobe and never see it again. After all no matter how much you like your selection it feels wrong to wear the same thing to another fancy dress party and almost like cheating. Well for us girls anyway.

To make matters worse, last time I went to a fancy dress party for this guy me and his Mum ended up going in exactly the same costumes – Snow White. He also has them in a proper hall and people always make an effort and look good, so I can’t really go for a half-arsed homemade effort. Oh god, the more I blog about this, the more I am getting stressed out!

I’m going to get back to my searching –the adult mermaid costumes, sexy cop outfits, shipmate sweetie, kinky nurse and naughty nun, the list goes on and on and on. And the options get dirtier and shorter and more expensive.

Fancy dress? Bah humbug! …Oooh…what about Scrooge??