{29/11/2012}   Snaffling pens

I have become a pen thief … well, actually I have been one for quite a few years.  I have loads of them and just can’t stop myself pilfering more.  I am referring to freebie/advertising pens, which I get mainly from hotels and offices, I do not take pens from shops or other people!  There is something strangely satisfying about secreting pens about your person to later fill your bag with and it’s unexpectedly thrilling (I don’t get out much, except to pen-snaffling places, clearly!) to try out the new pens, with an additional bonus if there is also a notepad in the offing!

Yesterday I worked at a solicitors’ office, a very nice building with lots of friendly staff and a ready supply of pens and a variant on beloved millionaire’s shortbread (but more on that would be a confession too far!).  I only discovered the pen supply as I was leaving but I’ll be back tomorrow.  It’s advertising, right; I’m doing them a favour.  The immediacy with which I felt my thieving paws lunging for the pen pot yesterday was rather alarming.  It was then, having secured the goods, I contemplated my pen collection.  In the bag I had with me yesterday, I had a pen from Hilton, another from a random company I don’t remember going to and a Barclays pen.

I know someone who has probably hundreds of pens from hotels, often taken by the handful. I am not that bad but I do feel I’ve missed out if I leave a pen-supplying venue pen-less. What is it about pens? I think it’s in part the fact it’s a freebie that’s worth something to you, after all there are few free things these days.  I don’t ever feel smug for having “stolen” from, particularly, a lawyers’ office as the pens are clearly there for the taking, I just find it incredibly satisfying.

In my younger days I collected erasers and bookmarks, all paid for I hasten to add.  Maybe pen snaffling is my adult collecting habit? Mind you, I do not revere them in the same way I did with my eraser and bookmark collections, I merely look at the name on the side every now and then and give myself a little smile, sometimes remembering a good hotel/job/experience, sometimes just appreciative if it’s a particularly good pen.

In addition to the pen thing, I do also have a good line in post-it notes, notepads, pencils and two-biscuit packets of biscuits, which, incidentally, at my current job are exceptionally posh (lime chocolate organic being one pack – v limey, not too much chocolate … mmm, they were good, though looking forward to trying the lemon melts tomorrow!).  Anyway, I say all this as a bit of a confessional, but I just know I am far from being alone on the pilfering front!


Yesterday, as with many days of late, I found myself in a work-induced rage.  My current issue is regarding the repayment of expenses.  It’s not my chuffing fault Switzerland is so expensive or that I am unaware of arbitrary rule changes.  However, this is not meant to be a specific rant, more an airing of views where work stresses are concerned.

Speaking to friends who do different jobs, it seems that everyone I have spoken to of late has issues with work, usually around the inappropriate/unprofessional behaviour of fellow employees or, more often, people’s bosses.  Recently I have heard of bullying bosses who have got away with it, people blacklisted from work for completely unjustified reasons, glory-seeking bosses, idea thieves, delayed payment, undue pressure to work long hours, not treating people according to their role and position, corporate hurdles that are more like brick walls and unreasonable demands about work location and changing shifts/work patterns, often accompanied by pay cuts.  Seriously, I’ve been shocked by how many of my friends are stressed at work because of some of the above issues and stresses.

It’s a really rubbish time for most of us financially and diminished job security doesn’t help.  But all the above issues are unnecessary additions to our already stressful working lives.  I find it infuriating that so many people seem to have dreadful bosses, whose rise through the ranks is unfathomable.  For these people, the issue seems usually to be around their people skills, not always just their work-specific skills.  But it is people that can make a job or work ok.  I mean, I can have a really awful day but when everyone you work with is friendly, considerate, chatty and amenable, things don’t seem as bad.  But the bad day coupled with even just one “bad egg” can make things so much worse and so much more consuming.

I resent finishing work, getting home or going out and feeling a need to rant to anyone who will listen.  It is not nice for your friends and family who endure this and it is also not nice for them to see how stressed you are.  I am not referring to me now, though that has been the case in the past; fortunately, I finally came to my senses and changes were made.  But for a lot of people, it seems their hands are tied behind their backs and they are worried about rocking the boat of their already shaky job security.  These are things that make me incredibly angry.  A friend the other day was telling me how her boss has essentially managed to drive out half the work force, albeit of a small group, with her disgraceful bullying and lying tactics.  Somehow this person got promoted to a job with power and a good salary and even higher powers seem to be turning a blind eye.

I wish I had suggestions or could lead a revolt against poor, challenging and thoroughly unacceptable management and undue work stresses put on people.  It is horrible to spend your free time consumed by work stresses that just shouldn’t burden you outside of work.  But from all my rants and moans of late, it seems you are not alone.


I have found an old notebook starting in August 2000 in which I stuck the job adverts for the jobs I applied for at that time, having just got back from two and a half years in Japan.  Among them: publications assistant, European research and sales for business to business services (like I knew what that would entail!), something in newsdesk production, conference producer, editorial assistant, new media sales, reservations/retail travel and website design sales.  I didn’t get or do any of those jobs but it has reminded me of a lot of other jobs I applied for and how completely unprepared I was for a career at that age.

Two jobs I applied for that I wish I’d got were as a writer on Top Gear magazine (I had an interview and then went there for a week’s work experience, which I loved, but to my dismay didn’t get the job) and as a trainee tea taster for, as I recall, Tetley.  The years when I “should” have been searching for a career were punctuated by bouts of time working abroad and it wasn’t until I was 26 that I stopped travelling/living abroad and had made a conscious decision to look for “a proper job”, still none the wiser as to what I wanted to do.

Interestingly now I think about it, it was then that I got interviews (maybe TEFL and travels did make me more employable, I’ve always thought of it as a hindrance as the only other work experience I had was looking after horses, waitressing, fruit picking, credit control and basic office temping) and for the first time in my life (it so wasn’t a recession then!) I was even being offered jobs that I turned down (I can think of three off the top of my head but I think there were more).  It was during this laborious round of job searching that I applied for a job as an editor (with training beforehand) but got interviewed for the training to be a stenographer (at that time I had never even seen a stenotype machine and was not remotely interested in doing a year of training – I wanted to get on with working and earning money) and that is what I’m still doing, a staggering ten years later.  I never, ever thought I’d do a job for longer than about four years and when I first started I was still lamenting a perceived missed opportunity to be travelling to tea plantations or driving supercars!

I also found what is probably a copy of the first post-education CV I ever wrote.  It’s made me feel a much more rounded, interesting and experienced person and it makes me wonder how new graduates will find jobs this summer and into their early working years; I guess for graduates/school-leavers it’s all about getting training, ideally on-the-job training, and I can see how or why that would appeal to big employers.

What worries me though is that when I want to find a different career (when my fingers finally do seize up, among other reasons), applying for jobs as random as those I’ve mentioned above is unlikely to result in interview, let alone a job, because … well, I have my theories.  But what really irks is that I am convinced I would be a far more productive, enthusiastic and confident employee now than I would have been at 22 or 26, my two main job-application ages, but employers might not see that or that my ten more unconventional years of work do have transferable skills.

My mum has a habit of cutting out newspaper articles that she thinks will be of interest to me.  I often roll my eyes and pretend I’m not interested, harking back to my youth when articles were usually ways of educating me about sensible things that I didn’t want to be educated about.  But in actual fact, they’re always well-chosen and of interest.  One of my friends also has a habit of doing this.  I have just cut out some recipes from a Sunday newspaper and I am poised to put them in my newly established cuttings folder.

My cuttings folder is thing of fascination to me.  Well, I have one for recipes and another for everything else.  Prior to the introduction of these files, I would find scrunched up bits of newspaper and magazine pages shoved in a variety of illogical places.  I love it, it’s becoming like a magazine designed just for me, it’s full of relevant and interesting information and articles.

The other day I cut out an article that I really enjoyed reading.  A friend gave me some information about an RSI hand exerciser (which looks like a torture device!), my mum gave me an article about Oxford, Mississippi, where I lived for a semester’s study.  There are nostalgia articles, health articles, some pieces that I think are well written/funny/interesting and a lot of recipes.

I have found myself tearing things out for people as well, but I don’t think they’re always that well received.  I think there has always been a sense of, “Ah, thanks for thinking of me”, but bits of ripped or cut scraps of paper can be a nuisance.  Maybe it would be different if I’d emailed them?

I guess sometimes, you read something and it piques your interest or you want to act on it, because you are in the right mood.  But sometimes, you are just not in the mood to absorb information, however interesting or relevant it might turn out to be.  Some of the articles my mum gives me, I don’t read straight away.  I have been known to unearth them years later and read them with interest.  I find it bewildering that I am not always open to digesting information.

Back to my clippings file.  It’s got clear pocket pages and I love flicking through it.  It returns me to a long-held interest I have in having my own magazine.  I like random things, I would love to create a magazine that doesn’t have regular topics or columns but is varied and haphazard.  That is how my life is and how my interests, conversations and thoughts flow and I know there are a lot of other people out there like that.  Magazines always seem to be quite niche: hobbies, interests, fashion, gossip, news or trade; it’s only really weekend supplement magazines that are varied, but each week you know what subjects will be covered and often by whom.

I wonder if my clippings folder will ever become the start of my magazine publishing empire.  Meanwhile, anything I might be interested in, cut it out and pass it on, you will then see it in my clippings folder, which is currently the bathroom read!

{20/06/2012}   Repetitive Strain Injury

                I appear to have increasingly bad RSI.  A doctor has suggested I change jobs, indeed I will in the not-too-distant future, but what’s become of us all?  So many of us work at computers, operate machinery or vehicles and generally lift/carry things far heavier than we are designed for.  I’ve spoken to quite a lot of friends recently about RSI and it seems that most people have at the very least twinges.

                So when do you listen to your body and make changes in the hope of easing your aches and pains, when you know they’re caused by RSI?  I spoke to someone who said that when she failed to pick up a frying pan, she realised her RSI was a lot worse than she’d acknowledged so made big changes to her lifestyle.  As for me, my hands ache when I drive for more than about 30 minutes.  Maybe when they ache as soon as my hands clasp the wheel I’ll stop?  I should stop my work now really, shouldn’t I?  But I have friends with no jobs at the moment and they are all struggling to get work.  Being “out there” right now doesn’t seem like a good idea.  But neither does restricting the use of my hands.

For the past ten years I have usually worked in courts or in meeting rooms.  Neither workplace, about 95% of the time, is suitably equipped for seating comfort.  This is an ongoing issue.  I guess if you work in an office you can make a plea to have a proper supportive chair, a desktop PC (or iMac if you must!) and any wrist supports/pads that help.  But when you essentially work in hot desk type environments, there’s nothing you can do about chair choice.  I know there are a lot of stenographers and editors out there who would have a thing or two to say about seating in courts; generally, a good day is one where you’re not cramped in a corner with a defective chair.

I have always had bad posture, even worse since doing steno and using laptops, but my concern is more about my hands and wrists.  I have pains in specific places in my hands, eg my left index finger and right baby finger.  I fear I have ruined my chances of being a surgeon!  As is often the case with my blogs, there isn’t really a point.  Maybe writing this is my way of beginning to address the potential impact of continuing with work that gives me RSI, in fact has given me RSI, for I fear it will not just go away if I stop stenoing.  But typing, texting, writing, driving, in fact most hobbies I dabble in, all require use of your hands.  So, any job suggestions where hand usage is kept to a minimum?  But isn’t it stupid that we tend to persist in doing things that we know are giving us RSI?  I wonder if, let’s say 20 years from now, I will wish I had paid more attention to getting a comfortable work space, to changing sooner to a job that didn’t knacker my hands (and shoulder and back) and generally looking after myself better.  Maybe I’ll update this blog every ten years on the matter!

{16/06/2012}   Judges

Are judges out of touch?  Should they know about popular culture?  Should there be an age limit?  Why are there not more female judges?  Why are there not more non-white judges?   How many, if any, judges went to state schools?  What makes a good judge?  Would a judge make a good Head of State?  Is it possible to be impartial?

I work in courts and have encountered more than my fair share of judges.  I find them strangely fascinating, a little bit intimidating and I always wonder what they’re really like and how much they understand of what’s going on outside their spheres of expertise and knowledge.  I know it’s unfair to refer to “all judges” as there are so many different characters, but the odds are that everyone will encounter at least one judge at some point in their life, most likely sitting on a jury.

If someone says “judge”, I picture an elderly man wearing a ridiculous wig who mumbles as he speaks.  As it happens, the case I’m sitting on now (admittedly a Deputy Master not a judge) has a fairly sparky female in her 50s presiding.  I needed to speak to her so had asked the clerk to ask her, but instead I was called into the back corridors of the Royal Courts of Justice, Rolls Building, to ask her myself.  I was ridiculously terrified and resorted to my meeting-a-celebrity-trying-to-be-witty-and-cool gabble.  She was very calm and eventually got out of me my simple question.  But it did make me think how people in such a position of authority have a certain air about them

There are times when judges ask about popular culture things they don’t understand, I find it sniggerable.  They also lose a degree of respect, though at least they are not embarrassed to ask.  I’d like to have the internet available so I could Google Atomic Kitten rather than have to ask, in open court, what “it” means.

Many years ago I worked quite a lot in the Admiralty Court.  There was a long-running and tedious case that was presided over by a rather elderly judge.  The court’s air conditioning was set to deep freeze.  I mean really, really painful-nose, hands-freezing-up cold.  It got increasingly cold and unbearable as the day progressed.  In the morning there was usually live witness evidence, with the odd interjection by the judge.  In the afternoon, it was usually legal matters, no interjections by the judge.  The judge was behind me.  While counsel made submissions and addressed the judge, occasionally they would share a look, a sense of camaraderie unusual between counsel during a court session.  It took me some time to realise what was happening.  It transpires (or so I was told) that the judge was known to enjoy the odd tipple, to put it mildly.  The arctic court temperature was an attempt to keep him awake.  He could just about function in the mornings, but by the afternoon was largely asleep, having had a longer than necessary (liquid?)  luncheon adjournment!  Hence the less important matters dealt with in the afternoons.

I asked lots of questions at the start of this, I hadn’t intended to address them, they are just questions that seem to repeatedly spring to mind when I think about all things judgy.  But as for impartiality and their being a potential head of state, I think for the latter to be achieved, you must possess a brilliant mind, and I do believe that some, actually quite a few, judges do.  Though I do believe there should be some sort of age limit.  A judge becoming Head of State?  I think the right judge could make a brilliant Head of State, though it would have to be one, in my mind, who had a grasp on the modern world, common sense and an understanding, ideally from personal experience, of your average Joe Bloggs.  These skills I don’t encounter as often as I’d like, maybe even expect.

{26/04/2012}   A plan B evening

Work didn’t go to plan yesterday.  Neither did the trains.  But my treasure of a mum drove over to my flat in the early evening to stay with my cat and Chris had almost ready my perfect dinner: bubbly followed by chicken kiev (a recent obsession) with spinach, potatoes and oyster mushrooms.  Then key lime pie.

Fortunately I was working with a friend yesterday, though unfortunate for her as my day started with aches and pains and I never got into the steno zone for the entirety of the day’s c230 pages.  The job sat from 10-6, our highspeed trains had been electrocuted (or similar) so there was commuter carnage and I have another job at 10am today.  I would have been at home for a mere nine hours and I was shattered anyway, hence my plan B.

I ended up with a cracking dinner, chirpy company and a lie-in before work.  Admittedly I have a lot of plan b stuff here … but no work tops.  My choices were yesterday’s slightly (very) whiffy top or an XL man’s t shirt.  But then I found the sad remains of my squash kit, and a clean black polo style top.  Clean and my size is promising, though hardly smart!

Unsurprisingly I have no point to this post and it is not going to suddenly become engaging.  Hold on, I’ve thought of a point!  Normally I pack too much for overnight stays but this last-minute plan has made me see excess packing is unnecessary!  I had borrowed night clothes, a borrowed laptop for work, my HTC charged on a spare BlackBerry charger and I am writing this, with some difficulty, on said HTC.

So thank you to all the people who helped me out last night.  It is also nice for me to have managed a bit of overnight spontaneity, I feel marginally exciting!  Hurrah for plan B being better than plan A!

It would appear that I am becoming more cynical. I think in part this is because I realise that not only have I rose tinted certain events or periods in my life, I have bigged some things up, whether in conversation or on my CV. So I guess I assume other people do the same thing.

Not so long ago I heard myself telling a relative stranger I was going to be a professional tennis player when I was younger but I just hadn’t been commited enough to the training. I think I blurted it out without considering he might be interested enough to quiz me on it. I excused myself before I could get myself in deeper lying water by bringing my Annabel Croft “connection” into it (I know, I know, not a hugely successful tennis player but my dad did meet her and got me a signed poster – see, I could’ve drowned in the deep water of lies about our playing tennis together, etc, a massive leap from the truth!) The reality was I did a tennis summer school while I was about 11 and I was unexpectedly proficient so the coach had offered to give me extra coaching. He phoned my parents quite a few times to convince them to convince me to do it but I was painfully shy and not remotely enthusiastic about the prospect of being singled out so it never happened.

Likewise, there are people in this world who think I used to do high jump for my county. In reality, I was good at it but I was so nervous during the county selection trials that I couldn’t even do the warm up jumps and was so horribly embarrassed at not even jumping the first jump that I don’t recall ever doing high jump again.

I sometimes think these exaggerations, which usually develop while under the influence of alcohol and/or socialising with over-achievers, are purely to make you sound like a more interesting, skilled and rounded character. My problem, I now realise, is that I can’t go beyond a slight exaggeration because I am rubbish at lying convincingly with authority. A little exaggeration is probably fine, there’s just a danger of ending up out and out lying then getting rumbled, usually by a friend who overhears and utters the death knell of, “yeah, right”, without realising you’re in the throws of trying to impress someone and are now reduced to looking like a bit of an idiot. I have so been rumbled like that before and it’s not pretty, especially if you’re trying to woo or impress.

But is it ok on a CV for example? I decided to update mine about a year ago; you’d be impressed, perhaps a little surprised, by some of my skills and achievements, but if I shuffled the chronology and collated all one-off (some maybe two-off!) experiences, it’s certainly not fabricated.

I mean, if photoshopping celebrities in magazines is acceptable, surely tweaking my skills and experiences to make me more appealing is perfectly ok. I quite like the idea of “upgrading” the truth! I expect one day my childhood experience of winning a story competition to watch jousting will be upgraded, in over-achieving company, to, “Oh yes, I used to joust, it was most thrilling”!

{23/03/2012}   A day of two halves

Do you ever have a really rubbishy day that at first glance appears to have had no highlights? I did yesterday (it wasn’t a hugely bad day, it just felt that the tedious and uncomfortable (back issues) working element of the day eclipsed any nice things that may have happened without my really noticing them). So I am going to tell you about my day as if only the good things happened, a bit of spin!

I got into London unscathed, I had a double seat to myself for my 55 minute high speed train line and the mixture of sun and mist was quite enchanting. I am reading a book that I’m increasingly getting into (David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas) and the journey went quickly. I detoured to Soho Square on a coffee bean mission. For every bag of coffee you buy you get a “free” coffee. I bought two bags. Maybe a bit sad but I sort of made out that I was giving a friend a coffee so I asked for a cappuccino and a flat white to go. Research. I have always been slightly unsure as to the difference in taste between the two and think of myself as a cappuccino girl.

I took my coffees and sat on a bench in the sun in Soho Square. My verdict was that the flat white is the way forward: stronger coffee taste and less milk. They were from Nude coffee, one of the few cafes I seek out and whose coffee I really like.

I walked to the Royal Courts of Justice (work) along Drury Lane, thinking how nice it was to be in the sunshine and having a different walk to work. I took a cut through LSE and wondered if I’d like to be a student again. I decided I wouldn’t but that I like the idea of studying again and challenging my brain.

By lunch time I was ravenous so I took my stinky egg sandwiches into New Square (behind the RCJ) and sat on a stone bench overlooking the beautiful gardens and buildings in that square. I eavesdropped on two girls who were talking about a missing pen and how the one who had lost her name-engraved pen ended up emailing all 400 London-based lawyers, etc, within her office asking if anyone had seen her pen. For completeness (this was an extraordinarily long story!), the pen was mysteriously left on her desk while she was away from it. She was wondering whether to email everyone again to ask about it/thank someone but her friend thought it wise not to pester everyone. Again. Egg sandwiches were good too. If I ever come into lots of money and want a flashy car, I will go to QC car parks to get an idea of what car to buy. Bizarrely, I saw a Maserati (yes please, though not that model, it looked like a flashy Mondeo) parked next to a white heavily pimped-up Corsa, go figure!

It was home time just after 5pm, which was unexpectedly early for a full day’s very interrupted submissions. Due to unforeseen transport problems, I ended up at Stratford’s Westfield and as there was time before my next train, I popped into M&S. I was drawn to “Offers” and there, tempting me delightfully, were chicken kievs. I’d not had them in ages and I really, really fancied chicken kievs for dinner. Very exciting!

As ever, I got a seat on the rush hour high speed train home and continued reading my book. There is an area of Essex within the M25 where there are marshy looking lakes. There was an early evening fog/mist that in the dark looked very Wuthering Heights, strangely mesmerising. Saw the standstill of traffic on the M25 QE2/Dartford Crossing and felt thankful to be zipping along at about 140mph.

The chicken kiev, peas and carrots dinner with a glass (two?) of wine hit the spot. My cat sat on my lap, I chatted to a friend on Facetime (Skype type thing on iPad) and had two phone conversations. Feet up, bed reasonably early. Ahhhh, not such a bad day after all!

{26/02/2012}   A poem about stenography

Off to lunch and out to play

Are mid-week treats, I’m bound to say.

But then I’ll have a chunk of work

And then there’ll be not time to shirk.


I moaned a lot about last week

But sympathy I do not seek

For at the moment work is sparse

And I’m just glad to make some brass.


Here’s my day on Tuesday last,

A worst-case-day I’m pleased is past:

We need laptops, mics and stuff;

Without this back-up our work’s more tough.


But customs had not let it go,

Our day ahead was full of woe.

Polish names and accents strong;

Half past 9 to 5.10 long.


About my job more should be said:

We are a team of writer/ed.

What I write the ed will see,

Checking what’s wrote, she’ll edit me.


Sometimes it’s hard to catch a word;

We oft in error things have heard.

Our audio synchs with what is wrote,

So if it’s wrong, the ed will change the writer’s note.


Sometimes it’s fast or hard to hear,

Often speakers just aren’t clear.

On days like that our job won’t end;

Court will stop, yet hours more we’ll have to spend.


When names come up I do not know,

I use phonetics for the word to show.

But when the names are English not,

They almost never can be got.


So that is why this day was fraught,

For every word could not be caught.

But still we got a transcript sent

And 9.45 to dinner we went.


But the clients were great and many breaks we got,

Fab warm lunch half 12 on the dot.

One read the transcript and next day said,

“T’was so good I read it all in bed.”


So foul and tiring though it was

There were some highlights, these were because:

Annette the ed was super great

Despite no equipment being our fate.


She helped to keep me slightly sane

When my sense of humour was on the wane.

At times this job is challenging, tough,

I oft proclaim, “I’ve had enough.”


Sometimes I love it, a lot of times not,

I’ve laughed and cried and good friends got.

But ten years now I’ve been at this gaff,

A voyeur in a room with a Stenograph!

et cetera