Tag Archives: work

The Hidden Army

Image result for working from bedroom

Candice: Six months ago on this date we were told that the UK was to be locked down. A lot has happened in that time.

I’ve been reading a lot of reports in the news about how the economy is struggling, the number of people unemployed, generally how this pandemic isn’t really doing great things for the world of work.

Behind all of this are the people who are working away from spare rooms, kitchen tables, lounges, and probably toilets if they need to. People who are suffering from bad backs, eye strain, migraines from working in unsuitable conditions. Those who have to deal on a daily basis with frustration, loneliness, tears, and anger both from themselves and their colleagues.

I call them ‘The Hidden Army’. I’m one of them, as I have been fortunate enough to have been still in a job through the last six months. We don’t get a clap every Thursday night, or often get mentioned in the news. Everyone is too busy talking about how students are coping without socialising in their first term, or what job they will get when they graduate. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t envy those who don’t have a job and I sympathise with those working in the NHS. But there are a large group of people out there who are working hard to keep the economy going and are largely going unnoticed.

So this is my post for them, 40% of the population according to the Sunday Times, who have been working remotely for all this time, and don’t always enjoy it. Those of us who get fed up with looking at the same four walls every day, who miss interacting with their colleagues over the watercooler rather than by Teams, who find that some days they are frustrated or angry for no reason at all and often take it out on those same colleagues.

So I’m going to clap to my fellow workers and share some of my tips for keeping sane. Exercise is number one – talking a walk, going for a run, going to the gym, anything to clear my mind and get rid of the anger.

Talking to people – some times I don’t want to but the times I have I’ve always felt better. Its all about finding the right person to talk to, and not just talking about work or Covid 19.

Take some time for yourself – even a trip to the shops for 20 mins is a chance to remember what normality is and to escape the house, your partner/child/cat.

Keep firing up that laptop and slogging away. And when you look at that picture of the far-flung beach on your desktop just remember that our time will come. In the meantime take the time to explore the UK, take breaks when you can and look after number one.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Candice, Writing

101 days in Lockdown

Image result for female cyclist on road

Candice: So, it’s 101 days since the UK went into full lockdown. Since then I’ve:

  • got very familiar with the local park and housing estate, as I’ve walked around them about 100 times.
  • been very creative with card and tissue paper, coming up with ways to entertain a 6-year-old.
  • made so many cups of tea I’ve lost count, though I don’t think going back and forth to the kitchen counts anywhere near enough steps on my watch.
  • sorted through a huge box of old toys and dolls clothes delivered by my parents and discovered lots of memories (and some great things for my daughter to play with).
  • moved around bedrooms in the house as I’ve tried to find the ideal spot to work, or make it feel like I am going somewhere different each day.
  • tried not to become obsessed with the deliveries arriving for the neighbour who is doing lots of work on their house.
  • got used to one routine: child at home juggling work and school work, to now drop off and pick up at school, with what seems like a very short window between the two.
  • used my bike lots, riding back and forth to school, escaping on bad days for longer bike rides to clear my mind.
  • discovered I can work out at home, but it’s not as effective as going to the gym. (Joe Wicks, you’re good but it’s not enough to offset the sweets/biscuits/Haribo that is consumed when you are having a bad day.)

I’ve proofread two books, read at least 10 more; some good, some truly terrible (Phil, why did you make me read ‘The unbearable lightness of scones’, that is 4 hours of my life I’ll never get back!)

I’ve got frustrated, been in tears, and been angry with the stupidity of all this, and all the people who will insist on putting stupid comments on social media. I’ve turned off my social media and then slowly dipped back in, but once a day rather than every half an hour, to temper my anger.

I’m still not sure what the new norm will be. I’ve got used to only going to the shops occasionally and timing it for when it’s quiet – my bank balance is much happier for this. I now look up when I hear the sound of a plane going over, as this is a very unusual occurrence. I crave a holiday, but I have no idea what that will look like when it comes. I know I’ll be shattered when I eventually have to start travelling to the office, and I’ll have no idea what to wear. And the idea of having to do my face and hair each morning….

But I know I’ll look forward to seeing people. I have really missed socialising. I’ve been lucky and seen quite a lot of my family but, apart from school-related people, everyone else has been hibernating. I went for a run on Monday with a work colleague, at a distance of course, but it was so nice to see someone different!

And my writing chum and I – well we have our second meet on Friday. Coffee, cake, either end of a park bench and book talk. Sounds good to me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Candice, Writing

Still juggling

Phil: Apparently, there are people right at this moment who are effortlessly gliding between a morning Joe Wix workout, putting in a days work, knocking up some banana bread and rounding their evening off with some sort of quiz via Zoom. In a few moments downtime, they are learning Italian and to play the accordion.

Either that, or they are lying through their social media teeth.

We were supposed to be re-launching our first book tomorrow. The text has been proofed to death and a new cover is being designed. But that’s as far as we’ve got.

The new cover idea is coming together but slower than we’d like because our designer is juggling her life, and we are juggling ours so comments haven’t been fired back yet.

I’m supposed to be adding an interview with us to the text and to date, have amassed exactly two questions.

Oh, and the social media guru we’re talking too, well we’ve not replied yet.

I don’t get this. I thought removing any chance of going and doing interesting things would free up time but it just seems to be worse. Nolan and I have talked (via social distancing video systems) twice. I’m busy, she’s busy. I don’t have a small person to entertain or home-made manicures to perform, but I do keep getting tied up in other projects. Admittedly, one of those helped raise over seven grand for the NHS charities last weekend, so it’s not all bad, but still – time!

Neither of us is a key worker either, and so my lack of usefulness makes me feel even more guilty and useless.  I don’t care if Grammarly tells me that I’m more productive than 90% of users right now, it doesn’t feel that way.

One day though, we’ll be through this and one day we’ll get this book out. Then on to book 3!

Maybe it’s enough just to have a dream in these dark days. I hope so.

Stay safe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

13 home working tips for newbies

Phil: It seems that thanks to a virus named after a fizzy drink from my childhood, everyone who can is being advised to work from home. As someone who has been doing this for several years, perhaps I can offer some advice.

Everyone at home thinks you aren’t working.

If you share your home with other people, they will be utterly incapable of understanding that you are working, not just messing around on the computer. Requests to help, chats, suggestions of nipping out to a pub/garden centre/shop will be pretty much continuous and when turned down, resulting in a bit of a huff. After all, you’re at home, not work aren’t you?

Set up an office.

Pick a space and mark it out like a tomcat peeing on its territory. I know the adverts show people casually using a laptop while sitting on some stone steps in the middle of a busy city but that’s basically b****ks. Those steps are hard and cold. Get a proper chair or a sore backside and piles.

You’re going to generate paperwork and stuff. The same stuff that appears on your desk at work. The paperless office is a myth. Anyway, we all need our favourite pen pot handy. At least you don’t need to write your name on your stapler to stop it being nicked by a colleague.

Become task focussed, not time focussed.

The only way to work is to have a list of jobs. Write a to-do list. I have 3 – long-term, medium-term and short-term. I like crossing things out. I also like keeping them handy for non-work time so I can add stuff and then forget about it until work time.

When do you work best?

I used to think I was a morning person. I’m not. It takes me ages to get going, but after lunch and into the evening, I’m at most productive. If you are task-based, you can work when work works best for you. If that’s 3 o’clock in the morning, go for it. You are weird, but go for it anyway.

Take some breaks

One of the great benefits of home working, you can do other things at the same time. Want to put some washing on? No problem, it only takes a few minutes and provides a handy screen break.

Talking of breaks, all the trades, and most of the home workers top for Radio 2’s Popmaster quiz at 10:30. We all need a bit of a mental workout and what better than trying to name 3 Lloyd Cole hits in 10 seconds while making a cup of tea? Colleagues will probably try to organise conference calls at this time. Refuse those invites, they can take place anytime. It’s only work.

Turn the radio on. Turn the telly off.

I can’t work in silence, I need the radio. Generally Radio 2 (Candice prefers something rockier) but never at lunchtime when radio clickbait host Jeremy Vine fills the air with a phone in full of people that make you despise your fellow humans.

iPods for real concentration.

There is science to say that if you really need to concentrate, listen to music that you’ve heard many times before. It allows your brain to keep focus but lubricates your mental processes. Both members of team NolanParker find iPods ideal if we really need to get things done.

Avoid the news.

At the moment, the media are competing to be more apocalyptic than each other. Forget it. The temptation to dwell for hours on the BBC News website is strong, but it will only make you miserable. If you must look, try to keep it to once an hour.

Social media can be work.

Seriously, some of us have to use social media in our jobs. It’s not ideal as distractions are always present, but it’s part of the job. Maybe do friends stuff on your phone and work stuff on the computer. Or just get some willpower, something harder to find than hand sanitiser at the moment.

Get on the phone.

Working from home can be terribly isolating. Try to arrange phone calls with colleagues. This isn’t wasted time, you’d chat in the office, let yourself spend time doing the same remotely. We have the technology for video conferences and all sorts of ways to stay in touch too. Use it.

Mind you, most people e-mail each other in the office, so things aren’t that different…

Use local shops.

Getting out and about is important. Get to know your local shops so you have a purpose going for a stroll. Since you can’t carry a ton of stuff, there is an excuse to get out several days a week. Who knows, you might even get to meet the rest of the local community!

Set solitaire to easy.

The most popular computer game in the world is Microsoft Solitaire. It’s on your computer and perfect for procrastination or messing around with while on a less than a riveting phone call. Hard-core workers will delete it. The rest of us will play until we win a game – so set the level to “Idiot” so you win nearly every time. Try a harder level and hours will be lost as you decide “One more until I win”.

Bargain Hunt will become a fixture in your day.

Daytime telly. Just don’t. No-one needs the sort of show where Caprice is wheeled out as an expert on the spread of a virus. However, Bargain Hunt is perfectly situated at 12:15, about a quarter of an hour past the point you’ll decide it’s acceptable to eat your lunch.

The trick is to remember that the good stuff happens in the last 20 minutes. You can make something to eat while the contestants are arguing over ugly bits of china and then nosh while they discover how worthless the stuff is at auction.

2 Comments

Filed under Phil, Writing

World Book Day … or is it?

index

Candice: I’ve been derelict in my duty this week.  I promised to write a blog about World Book Day and then failed miserably to do it for the day or the day after.

Phil was the instigator of the idea, obviously thinking that there would be loads of child outfit picking fodder in the concept.  However, due to the fact my daughter’s school just asks you to bring a book along I get out of all that faff.  To let you know this year’s choice was ‘The Little Mermaid’ – as it has been for about the last four years. #easy

I don’t know if it was the topic or the time this week (I’ve been busy and quite tired, I’ve not made it through any 9pm programme) but I just wasn’t feeling it.  Coronavirus has also taken up my thinking time, to holiday or not to holiday.

He’s even politely hassled me about it.  And I’ve still failed miserably.

But to get my own back I have managed to top up Book 3 with an extra 1000 words.  So nur to you Phil.  I suppose that was where my inspiration lay and last night at 10pm I was finishing off something from earlier in the week in the book, not writing this blog.

I have to say we’ve both struggled to get into Book 3. That’s not to say it’s not a good book, when I opened it up the other day I was again excited by the story, but we’ve got some good set pieces we just don’t know how to bring them together.

However, a break, and avoiding writing about World Book Day seems to have done the trick and I’m off to add a few hundred more this afternoon.

Inspiration = Found

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Candice, Writing

Why I’m not getting anything done.

Phil: I’m busy. Very busy. But still, I don’t seem to get as much done as I think I should.

Fortunately, there is a word for that.

Ploiter – To work in an entirely ineffectual way, because your mind is simply not on the job.

That’s me. Too tired after a busy weekend. Brain fugg because there are so many things to do and I keep jumping from one to another.

All of which leads to,

Quiddling – Busying oneself with trivial tasks in order to avoid the important ones.

I blame the dopamine. That little hit you get when finding out something new, or achieving something really trivial. Yes, I know I’ll feel much better if I do something big, but my stupid brain doesn’t get it.

Still, back to work…

(Words from Susie Dent’s entertaining Twitter feed)

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

The value of an editor

Phil: I’m still working on the edits I mentioned last week.

Most evenings, after watching Space 1999, I settle down for an hour of approving, or not, corrections to our text.

The vast majority are punctuation. Spotting the red edit text and then zapping it with a right click of my mouse is an interesting game which demands pinpoint accuracy. Watching the little bars on the right-hand side getting smaller and then vanishing is satisfying. Once they are gone, I’ve got all the changes.

There’s a bit of text shuffling and tightening too. I don’t always agree to these changes, there are a (very) few occasions when I prefer our style and since it’s subjective, I let us win. Mostly, to be fair, the excellent Catherine is right and the story flows better for her efforts.

We’ve a few plot points to deal with, and I’ve sorted out a slot in the busy Nolan festive diary for us to go through these. I think she’s doing overtime in Santa’s workshop or something as shes very busy.

A few times though, I’ve read the text and thought, “How the heck did we let that one get through?” or even “How the heck did we write that in the first place?” Frustrating, but now these boo-boos are getting sorted.

The whole process is a bit like having your work marked by a teacher. I suspect everyone hopes their text is perfect, and no-ones ever is, but I can’t help feeling that “Must try harder” could be written at the bottom of this. I’m sure we were slicker when Kate vs the Navy was proofed.

What I do see is how all the work is making a better book. When you start to write, people go on about the importance of an editor, but it’s a bill no-one wants to think about if they are honest. The more I look at the plot tweaks and inconsistences picked up, I know we’ve spent our money well. Yes, we should have got most of them ourselves, and many people won’t spot the changes, but every one makes our story a more enjoyable read. Talking of which, I end up reading it too and it’s still a good story.

Anyway, I’ll continue plugging away. I’ve another part of the routine – claiming the days chocolate from my advent calendar only when I’ve done my homework. Everyone needs some motivation!

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Don’t forgot the support

Candice: I was pondering the other day about those people who do all the work in the background to keep us entertained.

I’d spent a very long day mainly sitting in a room having random conversations with people I didn’t know and wouldn’t see again.  No, I wasn’t waiting for a job interview but waiting to do some work as a supporting artist or extra.

I meet the most interesting people when I do my extra work.  One of the last jobs I did I worked with a Bollywood star, a property magnet, a judge in training.  Plus those who do background acting as a full-time job.

Being an extra doesn’t pay well, the hours are long and you often get treated like stupid sheep – herded from place to place and told when you can eat and go to the loo.  But it also gives all of us a buzz being on set, hanging out with semi-famous and famous people and then getting to watch yourself on TV or the big screen. I’ve always said that there is no other job where I would get up at 5am, sit around for hours, be treated like I am thick, and get home for 9pm for peanuts in cash.

But these are the people who keep our favourite shows going and make them believable.  There are a whole host of people who do TV work, or write for the love, not the money or fame.  And we if didn’t have all those people then the world of entertainment and escapism really wouldn’t work.

Phil and I definitely fall into this bag, as we haven’t certainly become millionaires from our writing but we’ve had fun along the way.  And the same is true of my TV work.  But I can say to my daughter, look that’s Mummy on TV. She still doesn’t really understand it at the moment the connection between the two, (though we did watch a ‘making of’ programme the other day for a TV show she likes and then she watched the actual show and was talking about how the doors weren’t real). And that’s something, plus my books that I can always have to say – that’s mine, I did that and I’m proud of that.

So lets not forgot all the unsung background people, pretending to drink and chat behind the main shot making it real and never being acknowledged or the thousands of writers out there creating something that a small number of people get enjoyment from.

Leave a comment

Filed under Candice, Writing

Cunning idea – The newbie

lonely lake/office chair, prescott, AZPhil: My writing other half started a new job this week. We met up in her last week of “freedom” and among other things chatted about the joys of being new at work.

This gave me an idea. Not one I can use at present, so I chuck it out there.

Writing from the point of view of the new person anywhere would provide an excellent vehicle for explaining a location to a reader.

Think about it – the reader is also new to the job/location, so everything going through the newbie’s head is the same as that in the reader’s mind.

OK, perhaps they don’t have the same “Where’re the toilets?” anxiety, but new people, a strange office to navigate around, unusual rituals at break times (does everyone go to lunch together?) and a thousand other questions need answers. There’s also the whole cliquiness of workmates to consider – who gets on with who?

The more I think about this, the more I remember why I hate changing jobs!

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

The great speed writing challenge

Phil: You might know that my job involves (cue eye-rolling from Nolan) writing and editing model railway (Candice: Toy train you mean) magazines. You might even know that currently, Channel 5 is running a TV show called The Great Model Railway Challenge.

At the mag, we thought it would be a great wheeze to write a summary of each episode, to be published as soon as possible after the show airs. It’s something that many newspapers do so they can pretend not to be interested in a reality show whilst grabbing as much web traffic as they can from leaping on the bandwagon (I’m looking at you the Guardian).

The problem we have is that no previews are available to us (The producer said no) so the job has to be done fast. Really fast.

Now, I quite fancied having a go at this so volunteered to give it a try.

Thanks to the joys of the web and catch-up telly, I had a practice run on an episode from the first series. It was hard work, but I wasn’t unhappy with the results.

I’m now two episodes into the current run and it’s still hard work.

As I watch the show, I take note of anything I think is worth mentioning. That’s 6-7 pages of scribble in my notepad. Scribble I hope I can read in a short while.

I also start typing during the advert breaks. You know how you wish they were shorter? Not me, I’d be happy with lots more time.

At the end of the show, I stick it back on catchup while I finish the first draft. Having the episode play away in the background keeps my memory fresh and augments the scribble. With the first draft finished, the whole lot is run through Grammarly to pick up the really big boo-boos and also allow me to re-read in a different format. After that, it heads off to our editor who has agreed to proof it properly. We did try to skip this step, but it turns out that you really can’t see something with fresh eyes when you’ve been so deeply embedded in writing it, at least not for a couple of hours, so a lot of rubbish slips through.

While the words are being proofed, I’m collecting screenshots to illustrate the article. I’ve noted down some times on my pad and use these as a guide, but always find others.

The end result, so far, has gone live about 90 minutes after the 75-minute show has finished.

You can see the results for episode 2, appropriately enough for this blog, with the theme “Classic Books”.

I’ve never done anything quite like this before. I have to write very fast, try to be interesting AND witty. The process is very intense and I’m glad it’s only once a week. By 11, the show airs at 8, I’m shattered mentally.

Still, this is an interesting challenge and it’s fun to do. Perhaps we all need to really stretch ourselves once in a while? Who knows what we might find out?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing