1 year back from Maternity Leave

Let’s ignore the fact I haven’t blogged for almost 4 years. I have been busy – not least producing a tiny human. Which is what made me think about writing this blog post. A year ago today I returned from Maternity leave back to a job I love from another job I loved. The two jobs – shared a common factor. Both involved a lot of cake but otherwise being on maternity leave was quite different to being at work. My days were completely controlled by another human being, there was not a break from them, even at night they could call me to duty and sometimes I didn’t get a legally required lunch break after 6 hours. Saying that being Evan’s mum full time was also fun – baby sensory, long walks with friends and watching Hey Duggee (and every episode of Grey’s Anatomy). He is awesome.

Evan was almost 10 months on 2nd November 2015 when I headed back into work. I had been in for keeping in touch days about once a month from when Evan was 5 months. This is something I can’t recommend highly enough. I was also doing something a lot of women don’t get to do – I was sharing my parental leave and for 2 months Evan was at home with my husband. I might do another post on sharing parental leave but again I can’t recommend this enough either.

Before you wonder, yes I did go back full time. Now if you were wondering this can I ask – would you have wondered this if my husband was writing this? Something I have realised since going back is that until we change the assumption that if someone works part time it will be the mother we won’t get very far at increasing the number of women in  work (We also need to get away from assuming either will have to be part time).

I have friends who work part time and love it, some are stay at home mums who love it or stay at home mums who hate it or working mums who love it or hate it – every mum has their own story and they don’t need to be asked about their decisions. They can also change their minds on their decisions.

For me I love working, I loved my job before I had Evan and I still love it. At first being back was a shock to the system. I had to get to know my job again, after it had been someone else’s for 8 months but getting in my car every day and being Helen Rimmer, Librarian rather than Evan’s mum felt good. I could make tea and drink it. I was connected with the world again – gossip and news coming to me through work and Twitter. I had a professional identity again. I also remembered I was quite good at my job. People asked me my opinion on things and listened, they trusted me and I work with brilliant people.

It hasn’t all been easy, some things had changed and some things not happened all of which I then needed to either live with or change. It probably has taken the year to really feel that my job is my job again but I have a supportive manager and a great team. These are two vital ingredients to successfully heading back because sometimes being a mum will be the priority. If Evan is ill that trumps anything else.

I’ll admit the hardest time was when Evan started nursery just before his 1st birthday but within 3 days he no longer cried when my husband dropped him off and clearly loved it. Last week twice when I picked him up he cried because he didn’t want to leave. He has done things there we would never have had the inclination to do with him – mainly the really messy things. He is also a lot tidier than either of us – this has to be down to nursery. He gets to eat a huge variety of food and generally wolves it down.

He gets time with us after work (and with my husband before work – I leave before he gets up). Generally almost 2 hours of undivided attention every evening, where we talk to him, play with him and sometimes when he lets us just cuddle him.

I am definitely a better mum for working, I am more patient with Evan and happier.

If you are a mum and reading this – whatever your decision work wise, make sure it is yours and it works for your family. You don’t have to go back to work, you don’t have to work full time or part time but you need to do what is right for you. Everyone who isn’t you needs to stop asking stupid questions about your decision and support it. We are in 2016 – it shouldn’t be a surprise that a mother works and is happy about it. Equally it shouldn’t be a surprise if a father stays at home or works part time.

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Leaving a job I love

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, I told him, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”
― Azar NafisiReading Lolita in Tehran

This quote pretty much sums up how I am feeling today as I leave my post as Subject Librarian at Cass Business School, City University. I love this job, I love the people here and I love the life I have had whilst working here. Yes, I even like the commute.

Obviously if our lunches were like this we probably wouldn’t have laughed so much.

There is so much I will miss from my time here. This is probably best characterized by the laughing lunches – so often laughing so much we cried at topics as varied as Benedict Cumberbatch, board games representing people, people’s personal yoghurt eating habits and on more than one occasion my eventful love life. In fact even on the days when I felt a bit heartbroken my colleagues have, without fail, made me laugh with kind gestures and jokes. For example Sam’s note on my desk after another dating drama or Chris’s theories that I have been dating a series of spies (it makes sense when he says it).

The same sense of camadarie also made it so much easier for me to return to work after my jaw surgery as did the support of my great manager.

Every body I have worked with is excellent – I daren’t start naming people as I’d probably forget someone and lose a friend!

But it’s not just the people I work with but also the job itself, I have had such great opportunities to be innovative, to build on existing skills and develop new ones. Not least with the great MA in Academic Practice Programme. The staff and students in the school are also brilliant. It has been great to work with such motivated people.

I am not just leaving a job or the people but a chapter of my life that really started at the job before this in Middlesex Street near Liverpool Street. Until then I’d worked 5 minutes from where I lived for 9 years with many of the same people. Being the new girl was a shock but now I’ve done it twice in less than 3 years (soon to be three times) I can assure anybody who is worried about moving on because of meeting new people that it isn’t that bad. A bright smile and being yourself is the key (but some people might need to tone themselves down at first). Also don’t worry about leaving people behind – you’ll keep in touch with people if you want to. I’ve got close friends from every job I have ever done.

Working in central London is amazing and this week as I’ve walked around and met with friends all over I have really appreciated it. My walk to work took me through Borough market, past the Golden Hind, the Globe theatre, Tate Modern, Over the Millenium Bridge, past St Pauls and through the Barbican – what a walk! I will miss being in the greatest city in the world. The pay off from commuting every day is that I get the best of both worlds – I live in the prettiest town, am 10 minutes from the sea but have access to London at the drop of a hat. I’ll still get a bit of it as I travel to Surrey and will come into town for the BFI and other delights but I will miss being here so much.

My new job as Head of Academic Liaison at Royal Holloway is truly my ideal job. I can’t wait to start and get into it. I’m looking forward to working with a wonderful team. I’ll be working in a beautiful university and the next chapter of my life will begin. I hope it will be as happy as the last one but right now I know I will never be the person I am right here right now ever again and that makes me a bit sad.

Returning to the quote at the start I am who I am because of the people who I have met, who have been my friends and who have challenged me, the jobs I have done and the experiences I have had up to now. The people I meet in the future and the jobs I do will change me more but hopefully future me will be a credit to present me.

We all take different paths in life, but no matter where we go, we take a little of each other everyhwere.
― Tim McGraw

Librarian Day in the Life 8 – Tuesday #libday8

I did a session on referencing with final year students. It was good and to my relief they seem to have grasped the basics and their questions were the more complicated how do I reference a graph from Bloomberg … I think sometimes these sessions are as much about telling people where they can find the answers as they are about giving them the answers.

I then checked the new financial databases suite we are opening – it is a room with Bloomberg and Datastream terminals in the University Library. It is pretty much good to go. I am really excited about this as our undergraduate students will be pleased to be able to use them on site rather than having to go to the library at Cass Business School (our undergraduates are taught at the main campus).

The afternoon I had a meeting with my manager and an academic about embedding information literacy – lots of good ideas and really good to have academics getting behind us!

I then caught up on emails and had a chat with my manager and Carolyn (the Electronic Resources Manager) about the card sorting yesterday.

 

Why I went on strike – it’s about us all not just the public sector

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Today I took the decision to strike. This wasn’t easy. I am a good worker who feels guilty I have had to let colleagues and students down by not going in. I will also lose a day’s pay which I can’t really afford to do. Nobody takes the decision to strike lightly. The people I marched with through Eastbourne were teachers, nurses, university workers, midwives, probation officers to name but a few. Every single one of them would rather have been doing the job they care about, serving the public but they were out in force. By virtue of working in public service you have often chosen a job for which money is not the motivation to go in.

I believe this strike and the campaign it supports are both vital and it isn’t purely a public sector issue. Many people around the country who work in all sectors face the same problems with salaries shrinking and cost of living increasing. I know the government has done all it can to pit the public sector workers against the private sector but I hope that we can get the message across about why it is a fight for all pensions, workers rights and fair taxation. Just because people in the private sector have poor pension provision doesn’t mean the public sector should join them. In fact surely the opposite is true, public sector workers should have excellent pension provision but so should private sector workers. If they erode public sector pensions then the private sector have no hope of regaining good pensions.
My pension contributions have already increased by 1.15% in the last 2 months which relates to a real decrease in my take home pay by £25 a month, I will get less money at the end of my career than I would have done when I put less money into it (the government has changed how it is calculated from RPI to CPI – a 15% cut) and I will have to work longer than I did before. My pension is part of my pay and the package I signed up for. If you sign up for £X salary and your boss announced you would lose a percentage of that for no reason, you wouldn’t be very happy. Well that is what the government has done to 6 million public sector workers (and to those who haven’t taken up their pension. Why? You are giving up part of your salary as the employer isn’t giving you their contributions. In my pension’s case the employer puts in 16% of the value of my salary).
On top of this I haven’t had a pay increase for years and won’t have one for years to come, inflation is at 5% and I have to pay to travel to London as there aren’t enough jobs in my local area my ticket is going to increase by 6%. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that there will come a point where I will have no disposable income after rent, bills etc are paid. IS it a surprise retail spending is down? This will effect every retailer and small business owner as the erosion of wages an pensions will mean less money to spend. This is why everybody needs to support this strike as what the government is doing will effect everybody.
The BBC compared public and private pensions yesterday. Amongst the pertinent facts are that of the 29 million people who work in the UK 23 million work in the private sector and only 3.2 million of these are in a pension. Surely this is a bad thing? What will the 19.8 million without pensions do in retirement? Especially the younger ones who also can’t buy property and who’s savings are getting 0.5% if they have any. Won’t we all have to pay more taxes to support all the people without pensions? In the public sector 5.3 million (ish) have pensions, a massive 88% of public sector workers and that money will allay some of the pressure on the state in the future.
Unison have an excellent page which debunks some of the myths and I urge everybody to read it before they believe what the government and Tory press have to say.
I hope that this will be resolved and we won’t have to strike again but if we do I hope that the propaganda against public sector workers will be debunked and that people will take the time to understand why we’re doing this. If you are against the strike or think you have the right to shout abuse at us then remember it’s not about us versus you it is about us all fighting together. When we win our battle we can fight with you to win better rights for you and your fellow workers. Maybe one day there will be fair pensions for all.
Finally, If you are wondering what the Union movement has done for you (even if you aren’t a member or don’t think you can be) here’s a few things:
  • Paid holidays
  • End of Child Labour
  • The minimum wage
  • Maternity Leave
  • End of discrimination because you are pregnant, got married or are ill.
And here’s an Australian video to illustrate the point (some examples are a bit Aussie-specific):
Maybe we’ll add – saved our pensions to this.

What is bravery?

Yesterday in my post about Facebook I touched upon comments that had been written in response to a story I had posted about a friend’s brother. It reminded me it is easy to make comments on news stories without reading them and without thinking about the people involved.

The original article I posted gave the news that Royal Navy medic Michael Lyons had been sent to prison for refusing to undertake rifle training. His wife Lillian wrote a moving piece last year for the Guardian explaining some of his reasons for wanting to become a conscientious objector and both I feel deserve a wider audience and more understanding.

I’m not posting this as an anti-war post. Personally I believe that in the 21st century the best defence we can have is one when the forces are informed and where moral as well as religious objections can be raised openly.

I understand every member of the armed forces have their own internal battles about war. A few years ago a friend in the army desperately wanted to go and fight but for medical reasons wasn’t able to. If he had had to go to court or been bullied I would have stood up for him because in his heart it was what he wanted to do. He eventually was able to go to Kabul in a non-combative role and I some idea how hard it is waiting for news and hoping that everything will be ok. My friend came home, changed but alive for which I am thankful. At least if something had happened I would have known he was doing what he wanted to do. I think both my friend who went to Kabul and Michael Lyons are brave for different reasons as are all the men and women who make up our armed forces.

My friend Calie is Michael’s sister and has written a strong and powerful piece which I have offered to post here about her brother and what the last few days have been like for the family.

“Family eh? You love them, support them and (hopefully) believe they are good people with a lot to offer the world.

I have three siblings, two sisters (one older, one younger) and a brother. I am proud of all of them, for many different reasons. My sisters are both strong, beautiful women who have the kind of enviable poise and grace that someone like me (messy, disorganised and crumpled) could only ever dream of.

My brother is a man who is guided by the strongest moral compass I have ever known – from the years that I have known him, I have never seen him do anything other than follow a path of true North. With humour, determination and intellect, I have watched over the last year as he has been taunted, bullied and humiliated even as he has fought to shed light in the darkest of corners.

And it is this very same brother who is currently imprisoned in a military facility in England, having been punished for refusing to hold an assault rifle (designed, remember only to kill or maim), because he is a medic in the Royal Navy.

In the hours following the news of my brothers imprisonment, I read, and was in some cases personally targeted with, comments from members of the public who crowed over his sentence, insisted he should have had longer in prison, screeched that he should have been shot instead.

Some commented on his appearance, some expressed joy at the idea that he could be beaten while in jail. Many uttered that they had no ‘sympathy’ for him (I wasn’t aware anyone had asked for it!), and asked why did he join the Armed forces if he didn’t want to fight? Nearly all those who felt the need to log onto news stories such as the Daily Mail and write hateful things about him called him a COWARD.

I would like to explain to you why he is not. Why I believe him to be one of the bravest and most inspirational men I have ever had the fortune to meet, let alone call brother.

Michael Lyons joined the Royal Navy as a medic at 18 years old. He completed his basic training in April 2005 having commenced it in February 2005. He was subsequently posted to undergo medical training in the autumn of the same year. He qualified as a medic and was posted to submarines in a medical role. He is at all times a medic and as such has the protection of the Geneva Conventions.

At no time since completion of his medical training has he has been required to take a weapon handling test or an Annual Personal Weapons test. Since attending the range in basic training to fire a weapon he has only attended the range in a medical capacity and has not had to or been required to handle or fire a weapon.

His own grandfather, a pilot in the RAF, died in the early 60’s in Cyprus during a training exercise, leaving a young wife and baby (Michael’s mother). So Michael (who is named after his granddad), from the youngest age has understood the true cost of fighting for your country and the ripples of loss that can go through a family because of this.

In this knowledge he was a proud but fully informed recruit and decided at the outset that he would join to help and to heal but never to harm.

In the many years since his training, he has not handled a firearm, and that has never been a problem – as a medic he is not required to and may choose to go unarmed to carry out his role if he so wishes. During guard duties, Mike would carry a torch but never a gun. This, to me, takes more bravery.

However, last year – when attending a briefing meeting for his deployment to Afghan, he was told in no uncertain terms that he would have to carry an assault rifle, and if ordered to do so – to shoot ‘enemies’. he was also informed that he would not be allowed to treat women and children casualties with anything other than very basic aid – if that.

He applied to leave the service as a Conscientious Objector following that briefing and then many more weeks of moral heartache and diligent research into the war he was being asked to fight and maybe even kill in – despite his status as medical personal.

From that moment onwards, he has been bullied, intimidated and humiliated. While still waiting to hear if his CO application had been granted on appeal, a superior officer – along with military police, marched him to the weapon store and tried to force him to hold an assault rifle, and learn to shoot it.

This was done in the full knowledge that Mikey would refuse – as he was unable to do so, because of his pending CO application. Essentially, they have engineered a charge so they can imprison him and strip him of his rank, rather than allow him to leave as CO.

A man, in this country, can be imprisoned for refusing to shoot an assault rifle. Sobering isn’t it?

Luckily, Michael will be out in time to start his medical training to become a doctor next year (the Navy knew this) and intends to work for Medicines San Frontier in the future – being able to do exactly what he wanted to here- to protect and give aid to those who need it, without a weapon

So let us define bravery – a Greek philosopher said ‘The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it’. This, we may all agree is brave.

Let us be clear here, Michael was aware when he began his journey that he faced jail.

He knew that he would be treated with contempt by strangers and even some friends and workmates. He understood he would lose his career, his livelihood and that his wife, and family (who have a long and varied history in the armed forces) may suffer also.

But Michael could not find any just and noble cause to carry out the orders that he was being asked to do; and I must ask, would you – Reader – agree to sign away your conscience? Would you sacrifice your belief that you should not kill another human being to order? Michael couldn’t, and I doubt you could either, if you were ever really tested.

And in fact, what Michael has done is totally legal and enshrined in law. The definition of conscientious objection officially broadened on March 8, 1995 when the United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution 1995/83 stated that “persons performing milit…ary service should not be excluded from the right to have conscientious objections to military service.” That definition was re-affirmed in 1998, when the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights document called “Conscientious objection to military service, United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/77” officially recognized that “persons [already] performing military service may develop conscientious objections.

In Germany, the rate of those claiming CO stands at around 50%. A country whose history has been marked by the terrible legacy of Hitler’s ‘Final solution’, now allows any serviceman or woman to stand up and say with ease and acceptance that they no longer wish to fight on moral grounds, if they cannot find a just and noble reason to do so.

So where do we go from here? Well, it is no wonder that those who know nothing of the facts, of the history of CO nor of Michael as a man, may feel ready to stand in judgement of him. In these circumstances it is not surprising that people might call from him to be jailed for years, or shot, or forced to carry an assault rifle and shoot a person against his will.

However, to those of us who are proud (as I am proud and Michael is proud), of living in a country that allows freedom of conscience, that embraces the rights of others less fortunate and more vulnerable than ourselves; it is a devastating blow.

In may areas the UK is at the forefront of progressive rights (…for women, children, animals, workers, ethnic minorities, LGBT communities…)and yet we would see no immorality in imprisoning a medic who is living by the very ethical standards that define his chosen profession – Do no harm.

Do you think this is right? I don’t.

Michael is not a martyr nor a militant. He is not a coward or an idiot. He is man; a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend. He is just like you and me.”

 

 

The power of twitter

Recently I had trouble cancelling my account with a well known DVD rental company. It seemed I had been one of the unlucky people (of which there seem to be a lot) who had trouble with the timing of cancellation and the fact that this company then claim the DVDs were either returned late or weren’t returned. (Both in my case …).
 
Anyway I’d emailed and called and then I posted about it on twitter. Friends replied including one saying she wouldn’t sign up (see below – I’ve blanked out the name of the company and my friend’s details as I’m over it now) and another from a friend offering good advice at what to do about them by contacting my card company.  tweet
 
It was only after all this that I received a non-standard more personal response and a refund for most of the money although not all of it for some reason which I don’t know about because obviously that would be too much to ask they refund the additional £30. 
 Surely I shouldn’t have had to resort to publicly naming and shaming them to get money back which they shouldn’t have taken in the first place. They did still refunded it begruddgingly as a “goodwill gesture” (hey! guess what as a goodwill gesture I won’t sue – was what I felt like emailing them back) but the point is if their systems and customer service hadn’t been so bad then I would have left in July last year. I wouldn’t have had over £80 taken and I may have considered rejoining at a later date. As it was they were so bad I would never consider using them again and several of my twitter followers won’t join in future because they all know about it now.
 
So right now I’d like to thank Twitter and the twitterati for helping me acheive a small victory. When people ask what the point of twitter is – I think I now have a good example!
 
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Commuting

Following this great post from Katie Piatt on commuting which illustrates the strangeness of seeing the same people everyday but ignoring them (amongst other things) I commented there was another side – the people who seem to have formed a clique. This passage from J.B. Priestly’s The Good Companions shows what a commute in 1929 may have been like and how some elements of commuting have changed radically but still the commuting club can exist (I like to throw these cliques by sitting in their seats, after all it is public transport!). 

“The London express offered him breakfast as soon as it left Birmingham, and he accepted its offer with alacrity. It was full of people who appeared to be old friends. Even the ticket-collectors and dining-car attendants seemed to know everybody. Men leaned across Inigo to ask one another where old Smith was. He had hardly begun his porridge before the man sitting next to him and suddenly turned and shouted: ‘Hello! Wondered where you were. I say, is there any truth in that story about Bradbury and Torrence?’ Inigo, startled, was about to stammer that he had not the least idea, when he discovered that his neighbour was not addressing him at all but a man busy chipping an egg at the other side of the aisle. And thought the ticket-collector examined his ticket and the attendants brought him food, they did it impersonally, without any of those remarks about the weather and the number of people on the train that seemed to be offered to everybody else. At first he felt as if he had blundered into a party given by a complete stranger, perhaps the Lord Mayor of Birmingham. After a time, however, he merely felt he was not really there at all. The train and its passengers did not believe in him.”

(Priestly, J.B., 1962, The Good Companions, London: Penguin, p.509)