Wednesday, 5 November 2014

A Driven Woman

I decided recently to get my German driving licence exchanged for an Irish one. Now that we in the EU are all one big happy family it should be easy peasy, I thought.  I checked out what I'd need in the way of documentation on the online website and made my appointment.  So far so splendid.  The lady on the other side of the desk looked through my stuff and picked up my tatty, dog-eared German licence.
'I've never seen one of these,' she said and up she got and walked away with it to confer with her colleagues.  I would have thought that in these days of data share the information should only have been a mouse click away.

Now, admittedly the licence is 30 years old and I never had it upgraded to one of those smart cheque-card-like jobs.  And I do look a bit older these days - yeah, OK, I look like the mother of that lady in the photo.  But it is me, I swear.  I remember exactly the day I got it.

It was Ash Wednesday and city traffic was light.  I didn't make too many mistakes following my first disastrous test a few weeks before on which I shall be discreetly silent. The driving inspector looked deeply into my eyes and said - wait for it - 'shouldn't you be wearing glasses?'   I hastened to assure him that I was wearing contact lenses and he really had no option other than to believe me.  He then signed the licence and handed it over to me, shaking hands with me as well.  It had all been prepared in advance and only needed his signature to make it legal.  I was so relieved I could have kissed him, well maybe not but I felt as if I'd been given a gold medal at the Olympics. I'd finally done it.  And thus I embarked on a fraught relationship with my driving and the realities of traffic and road signs, kamikaze pedestrians and your-driving-sucks-other drivers.

So how could this lady say she didn't accept this piece of paper which is proof positive that anyone can drive if I can?  That's what she did, though.  She advised me to contact the German driving licence people and get confirmation that they did issue me with this document 30 years ago.  So I went home, wrote a humble email to the people in Flensburg and now await their reply.  Maybe they'll be sympathetic, maybe they'll laugh their heads off, maybe they'll ignore me.  My driving future rests in their hands.  If they don't cooperate I won't get issued with an Irish licence.  I could of course sit my driving test here but I doubt if I'd pass it.

So will I be a driving woman or a driven woman?  I'm not taking any bets either way.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Is having it all possible or even desirable?

Some time ago I read an article about career women "having it all".  Indra Nooyi, chief executive of PepsiCola, was interviewed on stage at the Aspen Idea Festival and she related what happened on the day her appointment as chief executive was announced.  She was overwhelmed (who wouldn't be!) and decided that instead of working until midnight (clue to being appointed here perhaps??) she hurried home to tell her family.  When she arrived she didn't get a chance to tell her news immediately because her mother asked her to go out and get some milk as there was none left with the remark "your news can wait".  This throws up a lot of questions (why had no one thought to stock up on the milk?  couldn't someone else have got it?) but it illustrates a point or at least the point that she was making "I might be chief executive in the office but I'm mom at home." Does that mean she doesn't really have it all?  How do you define "having it all"?

The average working mother knows that when she comes home there will be a dozen different things calling for her attention.  She will have to cook the evening meal, touch base with the kids on homework/school, most likely put a load of washing into the machine, maybe iron a few shirts/blouses for the morning.  And she has to keep juggling dentist's appointments, sports days, shopping, birthday presents and birthday celebrations with all the other things on her agenda.  Even if she has a child minder or a cleaning lady she still has to organize things around this.  The kids get sick and she works from home if she can or has to work round the problem. Men, on the other hand, take out the rubbish and do all the DIY jobs around the place, maybe a bit of gardening too but do not put in as much time on these chores as women and are not responsible for the overall running of the household.
I know, I know - there are exceptions to this where the man of the house shares in all of it and is a tower of strength, it's just that I never met such a paragon.

Mumsnet, the largest UK website for parents and a terrific place to visit as it has just about everything, recently surveyed 1000 working mothers.  The survey showed that women spend 10 hours a week on housework and men spend 5 hours.  A separate survey by the BBC's Radio Four Woman's Hour ( and look under the letter "W")  presents more or less the same picture.  The programme is launching an online "chore wars" calculator intended to enable couples to settle who does most around the house. I am inclined to think that if you have to start checking off on a calculator what each partner does, then you don't actually have a partnership.

So that's it.  You might have it all at work but when you come home it's all gone.  Or you might decide that having it all isn't what you are about and take on a less demanding job.  This has to be decided on an individual basis.  Currently, women are the ones who give birth and by virtue of that fact they automatically become "homemakers".  This is an honorable profession - and profession it is, to be ranked right up there with running a company.  So you can have it all once you have defined what "all" really means.  The main thing is you feel comfortable with your chosen role whether that is full time mom, career woman who is also mom, or more mom than career.  It's your decision and you don't need to explain it to anyone.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

A Sunny Morning

It rained all day yesterday and most of the night so it was a pleasant surprise to wake up to a sunny morning.  I went for a walk to the beach as soon as I had done my shopping - 6x apples, 6x pears and a small bag of potatoes all for €2 on the SuperValu 3 for 2 offer, I added unsmoked bacon and a head of fresh cabbage - that's Sunday dinner and my fruit for most of the week sorted. 

The sky had that it's-going-to-be-showery-later blue look and there was a brisk wind so it was ideal for my half hour walk to the beach. As I passed the quays I noticed that Rebecca was gone from her moorings, no doubt off on one of her deep sea fishing expeditions. A few boat owners were pottering around either getting ready to go out or just coming in, a group of young men were readying their sailing boat, the sails cracking in the wind.  It was all pretty exhilarating and made me wish I could be off somewhere too. When I reached the beach the tide was coming in, the sun glittered on the water and I thought of Shelley's description and how aptly he described it all:

I see the waves upon the shore,
like light dissolved in star showers, thrown

Isn't that just beautiful?  OK, OK I'm getting carried away.  The poem was written in dejection near Naples and I have often wondered how you could ever feel dejected when you sit and watch the sea and write such beautiful poetry.

I watched a sea-gull strutting around in the shallows all on his lonesome.  Every time a wave engulfed his feet he moved back further apparently not wishing to be drawn into the ocean.  Eventually he got bored and flew away.  I envy the sea-gulls, the way they ride the waves or simply take off over the water.  A few families with children and dogs were taking advantage of the small strip of sand left before the tide reached it.  It could have been high summer except that everyone wore jackets and no one ventured into the waves.

That walk has set me up for the day.  I come here nearly every day and every day I find something new to discover.  I hope the sun is shining where you are!  Happy weekend everyone.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Padlocked Bridges of Paris

Paris is for lovers and indeed for anyone else who has a romantic streak or simply loves old cities and their culture.  This picture shows a bridge spanning the river Seine which is groaning under the weight of padlocks left here by lovers over the years.  Paris officials are in the process of putting up plastic panels on the Pont des Arts bridge near the Louvre in an effort to stop this practice.  In June a section of the footbridge collapsed and in fact serious damage is being done to all the old bridges of Paris (and no doubt in other cities, too).  According to City Hall over 700,000 padlocks were attached to bridges in Paris this summer alone.  The City fathers are appealing to lovers to simply take a selfie on the bridge but many tourists reject this idea.
Maybe I'm insensitive but I cannot see the charm or indeed the significance of putting a padlock on a bridge in Paris or indeed any other city.  What happens if you split up?  Do you just shrug your shoulders and obliterate from memory the day you and your lover were so sure of an enduring passion that you just had to lock it up - symbolically - on a bridge in Paris?  Do you even remember that you did it say five years down the road?  And if the break up was particularly acrimonious do you grab a hacksaw and cut through the ties that bind the lock to the bridge? I am sure the City Fathers would approve of that idea!
I love Paris, I must admit.  If I ever win a few billions in the lottery I would buy an apartment in one of those lovely old buildings not too far from the river. I'd spend part of every year there, sipping coffee at a street cafe or wandering along the river bank or around the back streets and soaking up that special Parisian atmosphere.
 I am indebted to Messynesschic's blog to keep my love of Paris alive and kicking.  Take a look at this MessynessChic's hideaway hangout in Paris, for example, and you'll understand my fascination.

I hope tourists and lovers of all nationalities will realize that a padlock on a bridge in Paris is not going to guarantee enduring love.  It might guarantee the closing of ancient bridges which are crumbling away under the load.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Selfish Herd Theory

We take so many things for granted, don't we?  Mother knows best, swallows fly south before winter sets in, the cuckoo comes to our shores in early spring, the fox is a sly animal, red sky at night shepherds delight.  That kind of stuff, based on decades of observation which is passed down to us, we believe it or most of it and feel a certain sense of security.

I was a little taken aback by a new study which says there are two simple rules to explain sheepdog behaviour. Now, I have always understood that a sheepdog rounds up the sheep for his master because that's his job, and the sheep are duly grateful to him because if the wolf knocks at the door of the fold, the dog will protect them.  But maybe I got that idea from one of the many fairy tales I was told as a child, a sort of mixture of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. 
Be that as it may, research published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface and remarked upon by several learned publications see link to Science Daily for example, tells us that they have found the key to the sheepdogs' behaviour.  I, for one, am totally disillusioned and not for the first time in my life.  It seems to me that you just can't believe anything any more or if you do, some one (usually a scientist) will come along and explain the whys and wherefores of it and ruin the magic.  But I digress. 
Here is the substance of the study:
GPS devices were strapped to sheep in order to track their movements and a GPS device was also strapped to the dog (I bet that was a hard morning's work but no reports of anyone falling asleep as they counted how many sheep they'd GPS'd).  Researchers claim that this procedure helps to explain why one shepherd and a single dog can herd an unruly flock of more than 100 sheep.  It doesn't say they put a GPS device on the shepherd but maybe they simply forgot or he got lucky, who knows? 
To continue: The first rule (remember there are two rules according to the scientists) is the sheepdog learns how to make sheep come together in a flock.  The second rule:  whenever the sheep are in a tightly knit group the dog pushes them forwards.
Does that all make sense to you?  I mean, supposing the sheep are near a cliff and the dog "keeps pushing them forward"? 

The scientists remarked that one thing sheep are good at is responding to a threat by working with their neighbours.  (NATO please take note).  This behaviour is known as the selfish herd theory:  put something between the threat and you.
I, for one, will never be able to watch the English sheepdog trials with the same amount of pleasure I have in the past.  And all because a couple of scientists couldn't leave it alone and let me believe that sheepdogs are highly intelligent and it is their nature to look after sheep - you don't see a poodle rounding up a herd of sheep, now do you?  (No, I have nothing against poodles, I love all animals.)
So there it is.  Another illusion gone belly up. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Paper Clip Chains and Other Tales from the Office.

Back in the Sixties my big ambition was to be a high-powered PA or at least an executive secretary to some important company director.  The first step in my not-so-logical plan was to learn how to type so I hired a rickety manual typewriter and a friend gave me a book on the art of typing letters.  I learned to touch-type (more or less) and then another friend said I should learn shorthand so I did a Teachers' Diploma in Pitmans.  It was a struggle I will admit, a struggle I never really won despite achieving the Diploma.

Armed with this dubious qualification and a professed, though somewhat false belief that I could type, I set off from Ireland for the fleshpots of London. In those Swinging Sixties days you could earn double the normal hourly rate for office staff if you went temping.  The downside was you weren't paid if you didn't work.  The upside was the hiring company didn't test my typing or shorthand skills.  I went temping.

My first assignment was in a big advertising agency in London's West End.  I arrived neat and clean in the invoicing department and was asked if I preferred a manual or an electric typewriter?  I was gobsmacked because I did not know there was such a thing as an electric typewriter.  In answer to my undignified splutter they told me they only had electric typewriters and suggested I sit down and play around with one until I felt confident enough to do some real work.  It took me a week to get one puny invoice correctly typed up.  The supervisor was a lovely lady and I think she knew from the start that I hadn't a clue but she let me soldier on and by the time I moved on to a permanent job in the autumn (temping jobs were mainly in the summer months) I could type reasonably well. 

In my next job I had to use my shorthand skills and here I think my first spark of novel writing was ignited because most of the time I couldn't read back what the boss had dictated so I had to be creative.  I made some huge howlers but most of my bosses were both patient and amused and only occasionally irritated.

I was reminded of all this a few weeks ago while reading in The Sunday Times about the "score-settling memoir" The PA by Victoria Knowles which has received mixed reviews.  To be honest I haven't read it so can't comment on the actual memoir.  It seems that Ms Knowles has been very unfortunate in the bosses she encountered.
All I can say is that any boss I worked for as a secretary deserves a round of applause for overlooking my lack of secretarial skills.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

You talkin' to me?

How often have you talked to yourself? Pretty often?  Hardly ever?  Ashamed to admit how often?  According to recent research talking to yourself in the second person is highly motivational.  If you tell yourself "I can do it" it is not half so compelling as saying "you can do it" to yourself out loud or in a whisper or deep in your mind  That might be why President Obama's "yes we can" slogan has faded a little -'cause no one was specifically delegated, now if he'd said - but I don't want to go there.

I read an article on the findings of some research for this on the Forbes magazine website. Apparently some research results were also posted in the European Journal of Social Psychiatry.  I'll be honest, I skimmed through the article in Forbes and I didn't read the other one. The study was not considered complete because it was not known how this approach actually affected the carrying out of tasks. So your guess is as good as mine as to whether this really works. 
My guess for what it's worth is that it will work sometimes and other times not simply because in our deepest depths we know what we can and can't do.  I do not have a head for heights so it's no good me psyching myself up to climb a mountain by repeating "you can do it".  Sure I could do it - if there were 10 hungry grizzly bears on my tail and even then I have my doubts I'd get beyond the first ledge. But I wouldn't need to talk to myself about it, I'd just run and start climbing and that would be adrenalin and the determination to survive which is inbuilt in all of us.

I talk to myself about all sorts of things.  "Now where did I put that?" is a very frequent question.  It's normal and it does help.  I don't think we needed a clinical study to find that out.  Either it works for you or it doesn't.  With so much written on human behaviour, how to understand it and get the best for yourself out of it, you'd think we should be beyond all these new ideas and concepts.  The first work of this kind which I ever read was the Dale CArnegie classic How to Win Friends and Influence People.  I find it fascinating to this day.  Nothing has really changed in human nature since he wrote that book all those years ago.  The basic principles still hold good today.  It's both a sobering and a comforting thought.

So keep talkin' if that's what works for you.