Blue Smile – Cambridge Children Need Your Support!

If you have read this blog before, you will know that education and giving children from all backgrounds a fair start in life is a topic that is very important to me.

That is why I wanted to write about a wonderful charitable organisation in Cambridge called Blue Smile. Blue Smile is a new Cambridgeshire children’s charity that provides counselling and therapy for pupils in schools between the ages of 3 and 13 during a critical window of opportunity for change.

I realise I usually write about Bristol companies, events and general goings-on, but you can still show your support from Bristol, you know.

Location, in fact, plays an important part in the necessity for support provided by Blue Smile. Outside Cambridge, most people’s immediate thoughts about this lovely area are to do with its prestigious university and its affluent and well educated inhabitants.

Cambridge is quaint old England, the England that the tourists visit and the spectacularly clever move to in order to study.

That is exactly why children who come from difficult or impoverished backgrounds that live in the area are overlooked.

They are overlooked when it comes to governmental and local area authority provision of funds due to the prosperity of the area as a whole. They are also often overlooked by independent parties who would be happy to provide support for the same problems in other areas.

The fact is that (as is the case in all areas overall affluence) there are pockets of deprivation. And it is because of this necessity for help that Blue Smile was set up in the first place, and it is why I am writing this post to try and help publicise the great work they are doing.

Blue Smile was born out of increasing requests from head teachers for support for emotionally vulnerable children. The charity was set up in 2010 by a local child psychotherapist seeking to address the lack of local children’s health provision – a lack which was identified by the director of children’s services for the local NHS trust. He is now chair of Blue Smile’s trustees.

The wonderful thing about Blue Smile is that the organisation started on the foundation that it would address a genuine need – children were consulted about what they needed and wanted from the service, and also decided on its name. An anonymous donor believed in the cause,  and provided £50,000 to launch it – which sounds like a huge sum – but given the growing need of children in a climate of recession, and the shrinking of statutory funds, that set up money was put to good use very quickly. It also means that Blue Smile is reliant on donors, sponsors  and volunteers in order to keep the charity going.

Among the world’s richest nations, the UK has the highest number of children living in poverty (second only to the US). This seriously affects educational attainment, mental health and well being in general. And if these problems are not addressed at an early age, they pose much more long term and serious threats for both the individual and society in general.

80% of adult crime is committed by those who had behavioural problems as a child – and it is these problems and countless others that can be addressed early by charities like Blue Smile.

They provide therapy and mentoring to children aged 3 – 13 in Cambridgeshire, and rely on fundraising, donations and corporate sponsorships to survive. The charity has kept going due to the dedication and very hard work of a few passionate people who really care about their cause. But, obviously, dedication and hard graft alone can only go so far.

In the next 5 years, Cambridgeshire County Council is required to make savings of £160.6 million (the £50,000 set up seems pretty small now, right?) £44 million of which is being cut from children and young people’s services.

That is why Blue Smile needs support, sponsorship and donations. Whether you want to make an individual donation, help with fundraising events, or provide much needed corporate sponsorship , the dedicated team at Blue Smile would love to hear from you. Even if you can’t donate, you can raise awareness.

So pretty please, spread the word, and get in touch.

You can follow Blue Smile on Twitter @BlueSmileCam


Here we go again… 2013!

So here we are…with the usual drunken fanfare and the inevitable hangover having subsided, slap bang in 2013.

Once again, the usual deluded resolutions are wearing thin (yes, I’m drinking a glass of wine and smoking as I type, even though it’s a week night – oops) and the glance-back nostalgia is wearing off, leaving the realisation that, as has ever, another year has dropped off the calendar.

I’m feeling pretty positive.

Now the difference this year is that the positivity isn’t sprung from a hope, it’s born out of a resignation. A happy resignation that, wherever I try to be, I will always be myself. And I don’t mean that in a happy hippie, bullshit sort of way.

I just mean that at 16 I thought I should be doing something ‘better’, and at 20 I felt out of my depth doing the ‘better’ thing I aimed for, and at 25 I had big plan for a fancy career in this or that (hadn’t quite decided) and… I just mean that now I’m quite happy being a bit of  juxtaposition between what I was and still am, and what I thought I wanted to be.

I have realised that you can be six of one and half a dozen of the other. I have realised that the fancy city stuff I wanted to leave the country to do will always be something I lovingly mock myself for, because a lot of it is ridiculous (fucking about on Twitter all day? With a wrist rest?* – Seriously). But the operative word is lovingly. And that’s new. Additionally, whatever that part of me thinks, I really enjoy my job, and I enjoy doing it well.

Basically, I could descend into a self- indulgent over analysis, and being in marketing now, I could even make it sound fittingly meaningful, but this is my blog, so I’m not going to.

Rather than explain myself in a wordy, well put together heart-string pulling, emotion inducing justification, I will sum up my 2013 revelation, moment of clarity, whatever you want to call it, in a small and short anecdote. I shall entitle this blandly as; ‘My lovely Saturday with Dave’.

We built a rabbit run. And a new door for the hutch. (If you have read this blog before, you will know I have a pet rabbit called Mischief, and once again, yes, I am a grown up).

I have forever wanted to have a ‘proper’ job. And now I do. I get to write, which I love. I get to work sensible hours. I get my opinions asked in earnest. There’s no innuendo. People don’t expect me to flirt with them or clean toilets. I get to wear nice clothes without getting them covered in ale when changing barrels while some racist arse demands to know “Are Muslims are allowed to work behind a bar”. (I am not Muslim, I am half Caribbean, but if you’re serving casually racist drunks, this doesn’t really factor in – foreign is foreign after all).

However, last Saturday, I put on a football shirt (for comfort, nothing else) bought a crate of Stella, and went to Bishopston Hardware (who I would very much recommend if you are doing DIY – very friendly and reasonably priced. N.B., this link is to their postal address, it’s one of those old school shops with no website) to buy wood and chicken wire to make Mischief a run for the spring – and a new door as the crafty little bugger had eaten through the wood, and managed to escape into next doors veg patch.

They were less than impressed.

Me and Dave spent the day sawing, drilling, making smutty and inappropriate jokes and getting quite tipsy (whilst wielding power tools and shooting at each other with a staple gun – health and safety!!) and I realised I missed it.

As much as I wanted a city job, (and as I said, I now have one I love) and as much as I hated the bar work, and living in the country, I realised you can’t just swap one for the other.

You are always you.

I’ve grown up working with men and being a little crass. And I love that now I don’t have to. But that doesn’t mean that on occasion, I don’t want to.

I love and get irritated by both sides of the coin in equal measure.

And – shock horror – I think that’s all right. It’s so easy in your twenties to mistake having a career goal with actually and irrevocably putting yourself in a box.

So chill the fuck out you marketing wannabes in the wonderful outfits. That’s the kind of thinking that leads to a mid-life crisis, too many gins, an affair and a divorce/breakdown by 40.

You are who you always were. And that isn’t at all bad.

So in conclusion, the rabbit run looks ace. I’m very impressed with mine and Dave’s efforts. I enjoyed it because it was a break from the norm, and a nod to what I am familiar with. But you need the knowledge of, and the comparison between each experience to make either enjoyable. And so to 2013. Realise who you actually are, then think about what you actually want.

I don’t mean the you in your head with the immaculate hair and amazing outfits. We both know come February the ten minutes in bed will seem much more appealing than super straight hair. And no one notices that your earrings match your skirt anyway.

And if they do I would advise you speak to someone else immediately.  Those people are clearly wankers.

Happy New Year!

*I need the wrist rest. RSI is a real thing. It hurts!

Lovely picture courtesy of The Gatehouse.



Don’t Blame Each Other

I have been thinking a lot about education recently.

So much so that I just sent an impromptu email to my old high school with the hope of thanking my English teacher for putting up with the amount of crap me and my teenage group of friends caused her, and for getting us to actually learn something.

I wanted to thank her for encouraging me to stick with English (which I really enjoyed, but wasn’t a ‘cool’ interest to have at the time) something that, among other things resulted in me going to university and led me to pursue a career in writing.

And it wasn’t an easy job I’ll bet.

The school I attended was a pretty good one for the county. And I remember clearly kicking up hell when my parents suggested I attend.

I was leaving all my friends, who were going to the comprehensive in the village.

However, I thank them greatly for it now – despite feeling at the time out of place in a ‘posh’ girl’s grammar.

The thing is, there were plenty of those friends I left whose parents did not suggest they do anything out of the norm. And I’m not saying they necessarily should have, simply that the educational standard provided should be good for everyone, no matter what school they attend.

I know that sounds idealistic, but I believe it is an attainable goal.

But only if people really want that to be the case.

I genuinely believe that it is that desire to give kids from all backgrounds an equal chance that is severely lacking. In the government, and consequently in many members of society who have bought into the blame culture both the government and the media foster.

After reading SecEd’s article, The Postcode Lottery Laid Bare, which confirmed many of the views I have held for a long time concerning education (some of which I have written about on this blog) I started thinking about my own education, which is what led me to try and get in touch with my old teacher, and to write this post. (If you’re reading this Mrs Perry – drop me an email!)

Despite growing up in a small village in the North East (which I’m sure falls into the lower average bracket concerning educational attainment), I did get good A-Levels and go to university. And I now, after many years doing menial and terribly paid jobs, have a job I enjoy.

But it was bloody hard work, and no doubt some of it was luck.

Firstly, I managed to get into a decent school without having to pay to do so as good old-fashioned Lincolnshire still had the 11+ system in place when I was 10 years old.

This was a system which meant that being the youngest in my year, I got good enough grades to get in, despite some of the older students who got the same grade failing to meet the required level.

This in itself made no sense to me, even as a child. However, similar tests are the basis for entry to many ‘higher class schools’ to this day. And I know many parents who pay for extra tutoring so their children will do well in these tests.

Not only do the parents who enter their kids for this kind of obligatory and meaningless testing believe in it, they often by default raise kids who continue the believe those who fail at this early stage are below them intellectually.

Even at ten years old I was confused by this. We had all been taught the same curriculum, so what on earth did a few months difference in age make?

Secondly, as I said, I had parents who really (and immovably) encouraged me attend.

Also, I did go to university, but it was really was difficult, and that was before the government in their infinite classist wisdom decided to raise tuition fees to a level that only the best off could afford.

I worked throughout my degree in pub and service industry jobs. I also worked for free for breakfast radio shows, newspapers and local magazines to gain experience.  And I think it was that experience that allowed me to be considered for the kind of work I wanted, not the degree.

Despite the wonderful job prospects the university promised me when I was thinking about enrolling, and signing myself up for the following debt plagued years.

I’m sure I would have got a better grade if I hadn’t had to do some much work outside my course. If the work experience roles paid even a little. If I had parents who could afford to pay my rent.

I realise it’s much easier to say this is a resentment issue than admit there is a fundamental inequality in opportunity here.

But it’s not.

If I had the money, I would most likely pay my children’s way if it meant better opportunities and prospects for them, despite my moral objection to situation. But not everyone does have the money. And it is no way fair to penalise those poorer kids who have aspiration for their parent’s economic failings. It’s not fair to blame those parents either.

Poor kids aren’t stupid. They are no less deserving of a good education. They are no less hard working. In fact, in all likelihood  many are more so, despite the current government trying its damndest to convince the better off that the poor have brought it on themselves.

Where would this government be if they hadn’t happened to have had parents with money?

People often state that we shouldn’t resent them for having a great education – after all, you want someone with a great education to be in charge of the country, it makes sense.

But what is to say these privileged politicians are right for the job? There could be many people, far smarter and more capable given the chance.

Maybe that is what scares them.

If everyone had a genuinely equal chance to gain access to educational attainment – to the level they had so easily bestowed upon them – I’d bet my student debt that they would come up short.

So go ahead students.

March. Protest.

Why the hell should a rational, intelligent person fork out nine thousand a year that they don’t have, without even the guarantee of a job at the end of it?

I finished university in 2008, and only this year found a job that I enjoy or has anything to do with my degree.

And again, this involved an element of luck.

I started in my current position as a part time administrator on minimum wage.

I worked my ass off to incorporate some of my writing skills into the role, and I am now working as a full time copywriter.

But it was not simply my skill or hard work that got me there. I have been lucky enough to find a company that dares to employ non-graduates, and people with proven, not paid for, skill.

They also encourage and train their staff, and give opportunity and promotion where it is due.

But I was lucky to get them to take me on in the first place. Having spoken to my boss since, he admitted that he was genuinely surprised and a little depressed by the number of graduate applicants applying for such a menial and lowly paid role.

I am still hugely in debt, not just from the fees, but because in addition, despite having worked as much as I could during study, I had to take out student credit cards and student overdrafts to get through.

And with no guarantee of a job afterwards, that’s a heavy burden – even more so now.

I would like to make clear I am not putting people off gaining a degree.

That is what the government is doing, and very well I might add. Anyone with an ounce of sense would think it is a good thing to have an educated nation.

But not if you are scared of a real democracy, not if you are protecting your own privileged position. And, as is the case with the current government, certainly not if your only strength lies in having PR skills barely able to hide your lack of strength in leadership.

Making education unobtainable to the majority simply demonstrates that the small elite are sacred they will be shown up for the ignorant, selfish charlatans they are if they were to award everyone equally that privilege.

And this (as ever) is only my opinion, but these aren’t the sort of people I would trust to run a country, or represent the requirements of the majority.

Michael Chessum wrote in the Guardian about the student protests this week;

“It is becoming increasingly clear that this situation is fundamentally about class. The system being designed by the coalition – which rewards prestige, high tuition fees and research concentration – will strip funding away from universities that are disproportionately populated by working class students, forcing them to close and cut student numbers”.

And I couldn’t agree more.

Students can’t let the government continue to crush the ambition and prospects of the less well-off and unfairly reward privilege.

Surely they are too intelligent to believe that, after having been denied the opportunity to gain a degree, and consequently failing to find work that they deserve to be branded as lazy, or scroungers when they have to claim benefits as a result.

No matter how little or how much money we have, and despite what the government and media tell us to believe, we can’t blame each other.

We must blame them, and hold them accountable.

Otherwise the potential talent that could change the situation will remain in the gutter, and the pool we have to fish in for the next leader will be a shallow one indeed.


Art Review – Paulo Cirio’s ‘Street Ghosts’: A fleeting glimpse at the world.

I came across Paulo Cirio’s ‘Street Ghosts’ on Creative Review’s blog  and they intrigued me at once. My very initial reaction was that they were eerie. The aptly named street art project initially confuses the eye, and there is something of an odd combination between the lasting nature of the digital image and the fading and ephemeral appearance of Cirio’s reincarnation of those images that feels slightly uneasy.

Cirio, in his own words, describes the exhibition as ‘a performance on a battlefield, playing out a war between public and private interests for winning control on our intimacy and habits, which can change permanently depending on the victor’.

He describes the spectral figures as ‘casualties of the info-war in the city’.

The purpose of the exhibition in the artists mind is to make a point. Google appropriated these images without public consent and has since copyrighted the content which Cirio has claimed back, he says, in the public interest. It’s a war on advertising, on the ‘exploitation by a giant social parasite that resells us what was collectively created by people’s activity and money’. (You can read the full artist statement here).

The idea behind the exhibition is a noble, and an interesting one. There has been much criticism and global concern over the issues Street View raises with regard to privacy.

However, there is also something more interesting and unsettling at play here. My immediate reaction to seeing the pictures was one of unease, but a similar unease to that which I felt when seeing some of the images in their original form.

For example, some pictures have appeared in the media that inspired in me the same reaction, simply due to their unexplained nature, and the feeling of their being the just the tip of an iceberg, a tiny part of some larger story, which we will never get to hear. For example, pictures like the ‘horse boy’ are most likely to have a very dull back story in reality, but an unknown quantity is always more interesting than one that we know.

However, more than the ‘strange’ figures captured on street view, there have been others; from prostitutes, to drug gangs to corpses. And via Street View, these otherwise unseen, macabre, melancholy and hidden everyday occurrences have been ‘reported’ in a way that is both totally unbiased, but also totally unfeeling.

Although Google has algorithms that can blank out the identities of the people it records, it cannot monitor what it sees. The best it can hope to do is to remove the images as they are reported - but given the immediate response and share rate of internet culture, those pictures are still available to anyone at the touch of a button.

And that is why Cirio’s exhibition is so interesting.

Whatever your views on the morality or privacy issues surrounding the images Google collate, they are a window, a tiny glimpse, into the lives of others that make you aware of just what a minute piece of humanity you are.

And to my mind that is not a negative thing.

We are all creatures who inhabit such a small fragment of a greater surrounding, and there is some merit to having the ability to venture into areas; neighborhoods, countries and lives, if only for a fleeting second, that you would never normally encounter. It is the beginning to a larger understanding – an awakening of an intrigue that goes further than voyeurism.

It is the same feeling I got as a child when I first travelled on an aeroplane.

I remember vividly looking down at the houses getting smaller, and the roads stretching out further than my little head had ever imagined, looking like a toy landscape, and for the first time seeing how big the country was. I remember realizing that no matter how important my life was to me, there were so many other people, who felt their lives were just as important as mine, who would never know I existed, and who would struggle on, each with interesting stories, to tell, stories I would never hear.

We would both live and die, none the wiser of each other’s existence. And there was comfort, tolerance and intrigue in that fact.

That is what I find so interesting about Cirio’s exhibition. It’s not the privacy issue, but the fact that, like anyone captured in any photo to which the context has been lost, there’s just that hint of a story. Of tragedy, struggle, and of the commonality of living.

The difference here is that technology has eliminated the possibility of a context. It is the unfeeling chartering of a land, a moment captured, a brief moment in time frozen and now available forever. A moment full of people living, dying and muddling through in a million different ways.

We can’t ever know them all, but the ghostly apparitions trapped in that one second of un-posed, unplanned recording proves that we are all here. It makes us wonder about the stories behind the blurred faces. Whether it’s a man waiting to cross the road, a hooker hustling for business, or a man shot dead in the street, the intimate knowledge that the whole world is not so distant after all, and that it’s just full of people trying to exist makes me feel for all those people.

And that makes me aware that my selfish needs are just a tiny part of many.

One day, I, like everyone in Cirio’s exhibition, and Googles comprehensive archive of fleeting souls, will be nothing more than a shadow on the wall, with a story that people can only, (if they even have the inkling) guess at.

Film Review – Twilight – not completely crap.

Mean, Moody, and really twinkly in the sunshine. Terrifying.

Firstly, I realise this review is at least a couple of years late. Secondly, it’s not really a ‘review’ as such, but more an answer to earlier reviews and a shameless nostalgic trip for my former sixteen year old self. Thirdly, and look away now if you can’t hack it, I’m going to say nice things about Twilight.

Oh Yes. You heard me.

Fan of Horror. Fan of, well, good film in general, but I have my reasons, and I shall stick to them.

The reason this review is so late (I believe there have been other Twilight’s, in fact, a whole ‘saga’ so I hear) is that I only watched it recently, and the only reason I watched it is because it was my little sisters birthday, and she insisted (I should also add, my ‘little’ sister is twenty-six, so shame on the pair of us). We got a couple of bottles of red, some stilton and crackers (see, we’re grown-ups!) and got ready for some vampire action.

Now I had expressed my reservations about this a number of times. Having read reviews such as  this one by Charlie Brooker, I was ready to hate every minute. In addition, I really do like ‘proper’ horror. You know, the scary stuff, the classics. So much so that I’m quite excited about this film about The Shining, as well as loving the actual film, so I really was pretty sceptical about the whole thing.

And I remained that way until about a third of the way through. Pattison is a chump. He looks like a cheap version of Robert Smith from The Cure. With worse lippy. Also, what happens to these vampires when they get out in the sun? They go all sparkly. Like they’ve been dipped in glitter. How shit is that?

However, the reason I stick up for this epic pile of twaddle is that it’s not a horror film. It’s like Dawson’s Creek shagged the X-files and you get this weird looking, but oddly attractive offspring. A bit like Steve Tyler.  I defend it, despite all this nonsense about films like this being ‘the beginning of the end for horror’, due to the numerous complaints that horror is full of these pouty, angsty, whiny little bastards. Vampires used to be cool, and scary, and now modern cinema has ruined that.

It hasn’t.

Because it’s not horror.

It’s not meant to be scary, and films like this have been around for decades. And when I was sixteen, I loved them. They’re basically as much sex as a teenage girl can see, obviously, without seeing any actual sex. Ooh, he’s a bit bitey. And he’s really strong. And he’s been alive forever, so he’s wise. That’s pretty sexy when you’re a teenage girl, although you don’t yet really understand why. And given how crap real teenage boys are, you can completely forgive the appeal.

I would like to furnish you with a list of similar films, which I have also thoroughly enjoyed and which, by and large, are no less crap than this. Pattison will in time I’m sure, also be remembered fondly by grown women for all the same reasons as this lot. (Seriously, all the hot men are the same – and if you haven’t watched these, you really should. Trust me ladies). The Crow’s Brandon Lee, Blade’s Stephen Dorff, The Craft’s Skeet Ulrich, The Lost Boys Keifer Sutherland…

The list could go on infinitely.

None of these films are going to win an Oscar, and they’re not really very scary, but they all have those wonderful screwed up gothy guys that teenage girls go daft for. And as a side note, I’m also pleased to know having watched Twilight, that goth music hasn’t changed at all. It’s still pretty good.

So don’t be so bloody judgemental. Take Twilight for what it is, a bit of a laugh, and a film aimed at teenage girls. And I’ve warmed to Pattison. He looked pretty good dancing with what’s-her-face under that nice sparkly gazebo thing at the end. Even if he is seventeen or whatever.

And don’t judge me for that, either.

HR & Hospitality can mix – I just wish I’d known that when I started in the pub trade!

Strangely, this approach to management doesn’t work.

As I have previously mentioned on this blog, I am currently working for Carbon360, in a role which requires that I do a lot of research and reading about the world of HR; whether that be news, best practice, emerging trends or employment statistics. I also do a lot of research into company missions and goal setting in order to see what is working best for various organisations. I read an awful lot about what it means to be a leader, to manage effectively, to get the best out of, and respect from, your colleagues and peers.

What occurred to me today was just how useful this information would have been a year or so ago. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I used to manage a pub where I was responsible for around twenty or so employees, mainly men. And they weren’t an easy bunch to be responsible for.

I took the job on after having worked there as a barmaid for a few years, as a way to (partially) pay my way through university, and was suddenly landed in the position of managing around thirty staff who had previously been friends.

The trouble with the pub trade (and this I’m sure is less true in the larger chain pubs) is that there is no established process, no mention of HR (that in itself would be laughable) and a lot of sexism. And the hours are long. Any trade that regularly uses AFD (All Fucking Day, if you haven’t worked the trade before) as a regular acronym on a rota should give you an idea.

When I accepted the role, I really did work incredibly hard. I thought it would be a bonus to work with friends – after all, they liked me and would know I was trying hard and try to help me out.

Naively, I assumed I wouldn’t have to shout at them as they would want the business to work – after all, it was their job too, and we all needed the money. But that was not the case at all.

I can see now that despite good intentions, in many ways I was a terrible manager. I simply didn’t know how to go about being a leader from the start, I had never tried before, and there was no one to back me up. I also put a lot of faith in people wanting me, (and the business) to do well, but who were in fact were rooting for me to fail, and fail I did.

By the time I handed in my notice, I was exhausted, and utterly depressed after just over a year in the position. Towards the end of that year there were screaming rows with staff, and their lack of faith in me had really worn me down. Customer and cash-flow-wise the pub did fine, I was still on top of that side of the business, but behind the scenes and despite smiling throughout, I was a frazzled mess.

I tried to do everything myself – I didn’t want the staff to think I expected them to do anything I wouldn’t do. But I couldn’t do it all. Yet I tried, and ended up doing it badly. Rather than chastising people when a job wasn’t done, or wasn’t done correctly, I would simply sort it out myself in order to avoid an unpleasant altercation.

I tried to keep all the staff happy, but that meant agreeing to all their (often daft and selfish) requests, which I never should have done. I should have listened to them, decided what was best, and stuck to it, rather than trying to please everyone. I was just so worried that they would grow to dislike me.

I should have stepped back, and made clear that I was the boss. That sounds as if I am being awful, but I’m not.

What I mean is that I learned a lot about the way people work, and the way they respond to being led. Some people work creatively, and are at their best when you give them the space and freedom to use their initiative to see what needs to be done, and let them get on and do it. And some of my staff were like that, and with them, things worked brilliantly.

However, some people need to be micro-managed. And they respond best to having distance placed between them and their boss, as whoever that boss is, they will want to complain about them. They need to be told what to do in a structured way, without any room for initiative.

At the end of the day, I should have accepted that as a manager, people were obviously going to complain about me, and I should have not let it get to me. It isn’t personal, it is just part of the job.

Communication with your staff is very important, but a leader makes sure that communication is professional and that while they listen, they make clear that they are still in charge. A manager should never raise their voice, and if a member of staff treats you in an inappropriate way, you should deal with it immediately, or the situation will snowball.

Shortly after I left, the pub was sold to a chain, and new managers came in. The staff who worked best under micro-management remained, and although they obviously still moan about the long hours and the bosses, they would never dream of doing it to their face. And I’m sure the managers are aware of it, but don’t let it worry them in the way I did. Those staff, to their credit, have also apologised to me numerous times for various behaviour, but only after I left.

I ended up quitting after sister’s boyfriend found me crying in the back office with a glass of wine (although despite various male staff shouting at me, and throwing things at me a couple of times, I never did cry in front of them!) and realised I had had enough. Once I had got to that point, there was no way to go back. The thing is, it needn’t have got so bad. If I had known some of this HR best practice then, I would have done things very differently.

Obviously, having previously been friends with the staff made it difficult, but the principals are still relevant. And I genuinely believe if I were put in the same situation again, I could see the signs and handle it. The hospitality trade is notoriously bad in terms of things like political correctness, gender equality, reasonable working hours and pay – and also with things like performance management. These things simply aren’t a consideration. However, they could really make a difference, without changing the trade.

So if you are working in the trade (and especially if you’re a woman) and you take on the position of manager, here’s some advice, combining what I leaned in that role, and what I know now.  I hope it helps, because I really is a fun job if you do it properly!

  • Let them know who is boss. And quickly. I don’t mean be a bitch, but look uncertain at the start, and they wont forget it.
  • You’re not their mate. You can be friends outside of work, and friendly at work, but basically, it’s an extension of number 1. Buy them a drink as a boss, they’ll be grateful. Don’t buy them a drink as a mate and they’ll pinch one anyway, and moan about you while they’re at it.
  • You don’t owe them anything – except to be a fair boss. They should know you will assess the situation and reward them time off/ extra hours/expect you to tell them when they have worked hard and deserve any bonus. They should not have any expectations to ask for/demand it.
  • They should speak to you like a boss. Despite it being a pub, swearing at you or treating you with any less respect then they would a man/a boss in any other profession is not acceptable
  • Never let them see you sweat. Even if you are unsure, don’t let it show. They won’t help, they’ll see it as a weakness, and despite no evidence, will assume they can do the job better. Again, I think this applies especially if you are a woman.
  • Stick to warnings and keep your temper. Verbal, written then final. Then out. Do not deviate from this rule. And gross misconduct is as it sounds. No excuses.
  • Be professional. And this is a really tricky one in this trade. You will regularly work 15-hour shifts, and you will always have to be sociable. The customers will want you to sit and drink with them. Fine. Just don’t do it with your staff. Again, especially if you are a woman. A man gets really chatty after a few beers, he’s sound. A woman does it after more than 2 glasses of wine, she’s either looking for a man/has a drinking problem. Sorry girls, it’s true (in most, obviously not all, men’s minds).
  • Do not listen to gossip. Again, very difficult in the pub trade. You made a decision, you made it for a reason. Stick to it, despite what anyone says (think it through first, obviously). Punters are fickle, and staff are quick to criticise. This also applies in your favour. They’ll get used to that ‘terrible’ thing you changed, and fast. They’ll forget it was ever any other way. It’s just often they don’t like change.
  • Say little. It’s a sociable job, and everyone who has ever drunk in a pub thinks they can run one. Don’t defend what you do, or try to explain it. Just do it.
  • Most importantly, remember that you have the job because you deserve it. Men especially in this trade will assume they can do better. As will the regulars who will remind you, repeatedly, that when they first started drinking here/when John used to run it etc. etc., they did things another way. But that’s why they aren’t managers anymore, and that’s why you were hired. If the people who make sarcastic comments could do the job, they would. But it’s much easier to hang back and criticise.

So I hope that helps, and I must stress, bar (ahem, no pun intended) the last couple of months when I had really lost my enthusiasm, I really enjoyed it. So good luck, and believe in yourself. It really can be a fun job when you’ve got the hang of it. Honest!

My humblest apologies

Mischief. The dippy rabbit I mentioned.

I would like to apologise and explain my absolute slack lack of effort in blogging of late (I know, it’s a sin. Be consistent. I know the rules.) but I have a number of reasons.

No, wait.

Don’t go.

Just listen a minute… OK, they are pretty lame reasons, but I’ll tell you anyway.

Firstly, and try not to gag…I’m happy.

And we all know contentment is the enemy of invention.

Secondly, I work in a job where I look at a computer screen all day and I can’t bare to get my face back at the screen when I get home. My evenings of late have been spent with a glass of wine, in the garden watching Mischief, my pet rabbit run about with the same docile content look on her face as I have.

Yes, I told you, try not to gag. Or laugh.

OK, well maybe laugh. Scoff, if you will. I would.

However, it gets worse. Oh Yes. This happiness thing, as someone British, (and not just your average British malcontent, but one who actively enjoys ranting, complaining and getting on my high horse about all sorts of things, from the mundane to the politically and socially infuriating) has perplexed me.

I did the two bad things. I fell in love…heave, gag, vomit…and I like my job.

I’m so ashamed.

That’s probably the problem with politicians.

Not the love part, obviously, I assume that’s all for show to win votes in the main (have you watched Mitt Romney and the missus lately), but the content part.

They like power. They have it. They like money. The current crew has it in spades. And therefore fuck the rest of us.

That’s at home and abroad.

In fact that’s pretty much anywhere outside their own home.

Ah, hang on… maybe the writer’s block is lifting after all. This feels more comfy, now maybe just another glass of wine and a ponder. I mean this fuzzy cheerful nonsense can’t last, it wouldn’t be right.

It’s not natural. In summary, apologies again.

God, I’m as crap at apologies in writing as I am in person. Interesting.

In defence of trying to understand

I have a friend who I love dearly. Not that I would ever tell him so to his face, I don’t need to.

Our friendship is one that is hard to explain, and I sense often confuses people who witness it from the outside. In fact it often perplexes me myself. You see we irritate each other more than most of the people who regularly cross paths and resign themselves to agreeing to tolerate each other for the sake of convenience.

Most of our conversations consist of bickering, bossing each other around, talking over each other or full on shouting, and if not shouting, at least taking the piss with just a hint of cruelty. This person is over thirty years my senior, and I think a lot of people suspect there is something slightly bizarre about our friendship. But there isn’t.

The thing is, we both irritate and love each other so fully because we have many of the same faults, and the same defences. This is also the reason that we feel we need to look out for each other, as we can both see the motivations behind acting the way we do.

In his long life, he has had some truly amazing experiences, and some truly tragic ones. He is still single, and has three children, the eldest being in his forties and the youngest, seventeen. We have known each other for about five years. Raising teenage kids in your sixties must be hard enough, but I can only hazard a guess at how uniquely bemusing it must be if you are a single man in your sixties who has, by choice, and for numerous reasons, not contact with their mother. The eldest child’s mother is no longer alive.

However, I have huge respect, and a strange understanding of this person, despite knowing little about and having no experience of the vast majority of his life. I think it is because I can see the ease with which things have just happened.

And somehow he makes it tangibly apparent, without really explaining anything, how things just happen to everyone. How despite planning, and all the things that people my age do to map out and envision their future, that things will just occur. And those are the things that make up the majority of someone’s life.

I hadn’t seen this man for a while, and I popped in after work a few days ago for a glass of wine. His eldest son was there, and I soon as I came in there was an odd atmosphere. However, we all sat down for a drink, when out of nowhere, a row broke out between the two of them. It was the kind of row that I felt I shouldn’t witness, but there really wasn’t anything else to do.

When it ended, and the son had left, strangely there wasn’t any awkwardness. Unlike the reaction most people would have had, an embarrassment followed by stream of apology for behavior, or my having to have witnessed it, we just both sat and drank our wine.

I could sense something strange, and despite the lack of context I had to the argument, I felt no need to ask. There was just a feeling of the years of history behind it. An inexplicable glimpse into so many years of someone’s life that had all simultaneously been apparent in that short exchange of heated words. The look of a frustrated teenager on a forty-year old man’s face, and the look of confusion, hurt and lack of understanding on the face of a man of sixty.

It wasn’t awkward because my friend is much like me. We find it difficult to, and are often unwilling to explain our situation, and this experience had done the explaining for him.

I suddenly realized from that look that despite age and experience, there is so much that is out of our control. There is so much that happens, despite what we intend, that we are unable to change. And no matter what face we put on to encounter the world, there is so much about life that we will always be at a loss to, or loathe to understand.

But the reason I wanted to share this is that there was something positive about the whole experience. A feeling simply in a look and sharing a drink, that we are all in it together, and that both the arrogance of youth or the sometimes condescending facade of old age are misplaced.

It is easy to judge, but it is impossible not to make mistakes. And it is often equally impossible to explain those mistakes to anyone else. That is why we should be alert, and make it our business to look after each other, no matter whether you can understand the motivations of others or not. A life is a difficult thing to manage.

Bristol News – Liam Loves Life Fundraiser

Guide 2 Bristol article writen to raise awareness about the Liam Loves Life Event, Sat August 4th at Blue Mountain, Stokes Croft, Bristol Click to Read News Preview
By Natalie Burns

Bristol News – Liam Loves Life @ Blue Mountain Bristol – Sat 4th August

I wanted to write an event preview for a great night at Blue Mountain this weekend. The line-up is wicked, and I’m really looking forward to it.

It’s only £5 Entry and that’s 15 DJ’s and 12 MC’s…

However, before that I want to explain a bit about why the night has been put on, and about the woman, Laura, who has been tirelessly and amazingly working to put this event (and many other events around Bristol) together.

Laura’s son Liam was unexpectedly diagnosed with Freidriech’s Ataxia a few short months ago.

Laura Rice is a good friend of mine, and an amazing woman and wonderful mother to three. We met working in a slightly dodgy pub in Fishponds – my first job in Bristol – so it was great to meet a friendly face! We have worked together in various other pubs since. She is a hard worker, and one of the most caring people I know.

This February, her son Liam was diagnosed with a rare inherited disease caused by a defective or mutated gene, causing damage to the nervous system.

Freidriech’s Ataxia is hereditary, but the chances of an individual being affected are tiny (about 1 in 50,000) as in order to contract the disease both partners must unknowingly have the same defective gene. Neither parent is affected by the disease, they are simply carriers. Even in the rare case of both parents having the defective gene, there is only a 1 in 4 chance of the child being affected.

Freidriech’s Ataxia initially leads to impaired muscle coordination, impaired sensory function and eventually to loss of feeling and reflex, heart problems, scoliosis, and the slowing and slurring of speech.

The disease does not affect the cognitive functions, i.e., the sufferer’s thinking is not impaired, but they can be left totally incapacitated.

There is currently no known cure for the disease, however advanced research and understanding of genetics is leading to breakthroughs in treatment.

The life of the sufferer can however be vastly improved in various ways. Clinical trials, physical therapy, braces and surgery on the spine and feet, speech therapy and medication that treats heart disease and diabetes (which is a common complication of the disease) can all help to extend a functional life.

Liam is ten years old, and without raising money for these treatments, as well as enabling his family to support him and make life as comfortable as they can, he may be wheelchair-bound within ten years.

Laura and her husband Matt (with help from many of their friends, and despite the recent and obviously devastating news) have been concentrating on the organisation of events and working tirelessly to raise both awareness and money for the condition.

The biggest event so far is being held on Saturday August 4th at Blue Mountain Bristol. All the DJ’s, MC’s and the venue have kindly donated their time, talent and effort for free, and as I said, the night looks great.

All you have to do is come down, have a wicked night, and chuck some money in the collection. What could be easier than that?!

So…now I’ve done the explaining, let’s tell you about the night!

Liam Loves Life Fundraiser, Sat 4th Aug @ Blue Mountain

Tickets £5 from Bristol Ticket Shop

Jungle, Drum n Bass, Oldskool, Hardcore headlined by Nicky Blackmarket & Joey Riot


Kickback & Vinyljunkie/Chris Fear/Rusher & Fox/Ineffect/Dyson & Chewy/DJ Probe to name just a few…

As well as twelve MC’s.

That’s a lot of good stuff for £5, and it really is for a good cause.<p

Tickets available at Bristol Ticket Shop