Back in the blogging lane

I started writing my blog about a year after we arrived in London. I started writing it for a number of reasons. It was mainly to do with catharsis. Little did I realise a new world would open up in front of me.Brighton.jpgThis week I met up with someone who follows my blog from South Africa. Sitting in a hipster little coffee shop in central London, and chatting to Jacqui from Africadayz  about why I started my blog, and hearing how it had inspired her to start hers, I realised how pivotal my blog had been to my whole London experience. It kept me sane, it kept me focused, it kept me hopeful and it kept me connected at a time when things could so easily have been so different.

I was job hunting at the time. The process was soul-destroying. It took so much of my time, with little if any return, and it was challenging to feel upbeat about making that the focus of my every day. With encouragement from friends across the world, I investigated starting a blog. I thought it would balance the tedium of seeking employment in the Big Smoke. And I hoped it would be fun.

I had no idea – and I still don’t – where it would lead. I just knew, on a gut level, that I needed to write.

I chose to call my blog ‘Sunshine in London’ for reasons you can read here. I remember the trepidation with which I pressed ‘publish’ for the first time ever. It was August 2010, and I was nervous as all heck to put my writing out in the public domain. It was the first of what became daily posts about my London adventure. I write about life in London, about job hunting, about being an outsider in the Big Smoke, about our now overflowing red box, and about everything that makes me laugh.

The process of writing a blog has been almost life-changing for me. I find I look at the world slightly differently, I’m constantly fine-tuning my observation skills and, while reading the outstanding, often exquisite, work of a community of writers I’ve grown to know and love, I know I’m learning from the best. Every day  brings the opportunity to read great work, and to sharpen my skills.

My now dear friend, Wendy, from Herding Cats in Hammond River, was the first ‘stranger’ to visit my blog and comment on a post I’d written. I remember how excited I felt that someone – who lived in Canada – had paid my blog a visit, and had liked what I’d written enough to comment. She and I would visit each other’s blogs every day and I loved discovering with her how much we had in common. I’ve not met Wendy in person yet, but I know that one day we will. We’re already friends.

Through meeting Wendy, I found other equally fabulous bloggers and connected with them. As my blog world grew, organically, I soon found myself part of a community of like-minded people from across the globe. I loved it. It gave meaning to my days, I read excellent and honest writing, and I laughed and cried with an outstanding bunch of human beings.

I’ve loved the sense of belonging I’ve felt. In many ways I’ve felt validated in my writing, and in my perspective on life. I had no idea writing a blog would do that for me.

One snowy day in December 2010, I went out for the morning and spotted someone cutting her finger nails, at my local bus stop. It got me thinking of all the strange and weird sights I’d seen on public transport. When I got home I wrote a characteristically light-hearted post about what I called ‘public displays of toiletry’ (PDTs). This throwaway post – Please don’t do THAT in Public – got Freshly Pressed and attracted the attention of about 5,500 readers and hundreds of commenters over the next few days. I was flabberghasted. I was also thrilled and slightly unnerved by this unexpected attention.

I’ve also discovered just how discoverable your online writing can be. As lovers of live music, Mr Sunshine and I go to many concerts and I write about them. One post reviewing a Van Morrison gig not only got picked up by a Van Morrison fanzine, but the chap I’d sat next to read it too! Equally, a blog about a Paolo Nutini concert got picked up by one of his fanzines too.

I found more new friends and blog followers after that. I have since met – in real life – two other fellow bloggers from North America: Renee from Life in the Boomer Lane  and Caitlin from Broadside. It was amazing to meet them and, as I did with my new friend last week, discover that friendship in cyberspace can easily translate into real life. I have a few other blog buddies I’ve connected with on social media too.

One of the most moving blog moments for me involved a post about language, and about sounding forrin here in London. In the post – So this is where I learnt to speak funny – I mentioned my Zimbabwean high school teachers, one of whom (Mr K) I reminisced about with affection. Through schoolfriends in Australia and Canada, I got in touch with Mr K’s wife in Cape Town, who read the post to an ailing-and-in-hospital Mr K. She told me it made him laugh. It was only a short while later that he passed away.

I did find a job after my seemingly endless hunt. That was five years ago. My blog took a back seat for a good part of those years, and I’m just starting to get myself back in the blog writing lane. My book is ever brewing in my belly, I have a constant desire to get better at writing, and I value the nurturing connection my blog writing has given me to a world of talented and remarkable people. What better motivation could there be?

Sunshine signing off for today!

 

 

 

 

 

Oh Happy Day!

Well, I’ve just got home from the first day at my new job. It was a really great day and I thought this song would express perfectly what my tired brain is incapable of letting me write. And know that I am swaying and clapping along with joy and gratitude for this day.

Sunshine signing off for today!

 

And The Winner Isn’t …

It’s awards season. Everywhere. The movie-loving eyes of the world have been on Hollywood and the Academy Awards over the past 24 hours and the news and entertainment channels are bursting with news of the winners.

My focus today is on those who didn’t win. Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled that Colin Firth walked away with the golden statuette for his title role in “The King’s Speech”, and I’ve no doubt that every other winner was worthy and deserving.

If you're not a winner (image via gabrielutasi.com)

Because of where I’m at right now, and where I have been, my heart goes out to those whose names were not written in Academy Award script and hidden away in golden envelopes. It’s hard to be magnanimous when your heart is bursting with disappointment, and when the cameras focus on the faces of the other four nominees at the moment they found out they were unsuccessful.

There cannot be a nominee who didn’t want to win. There cannot be a nominee who hadn’t planned an acceptance speech and imagined himself delivering it. And, watching the Oscar winner thanking the world and his pet for making this possible, there can’t be a nominee who’s not thinking, “that could have been me standing there”.

Spare a thought for sound re-recording mixer, Kevin O’Connell, who received 20 Oscar nominations between 1983 and 2007, and never won one. With his 18th nomination and non-win in 2006, he earned the unwanted moniker of “unluckiest nominee in the history of the Academy Awards”. He then went on to break his own record twice after that.

How many speeches did he write and rehearse in front of the mirror? How many years did he arrive on the red carpet and imagine himself walking away, statuette in hand? How much would he have longed for his status to change from Academy Award nominee to Academy Award winner?

I have grown to hate the word “unfortunately”. I can relate, in my own small way, to Kevin’s relentless seesawing of hope and disappointment. Until the one thing you’ve been waiting for comes along, it just doesn’t do it to be an also-ran.

Sunshine signing off for today!

The Otherness of Being

Our family moved around a lot when I was a child. Every new place we went to, I had to adjust to a new school and make new friends. My parents did the rest. I learnt quickly to adjust, to settle in and to feel like I belonged. It’s not so easy when you’re older.

Some years ago, I worked for a non-government organisation in Cape Town. I worked there from 1993 to 2000, straddling the regime change in the South African government to a welcome democracy. Apart from the work that the organisation did, it focused keenly on organisation development; ensuring that the work it did, as well as they way it did the work, transformed appropriately in line with bigger changes in the country. Change was something we could always depend on.

We did loads of workshops and bosberade (literally “bush councils” – meetings in isolated venues to focus on a particular topic), learnt massively about ourselves as an organisation and as individuals, and laughed and cried as we grew in so many different ways. It was an incredible time in my life, and I learnt much that I loved and hated about myself.

Accordingly I changed in ways I hadn’t recognised even needed changing. It was about shining the mirror clean to get a clearer reflection of myself. I will always be a work in progress, but having the opportunity to develop a consciousness of that is something for which I am eternally grateful.

One workshop we did was presented by a daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. An amazing speaker and awesome personality, she gripped our attention for the entire day. I don’t remember what the workshop was called but she delved into loads of different awarenesses of self.

The strongest learning point for me was in identifying my own primary identity. I am totally oversimplifying this, but she told us that once we understood our own primary identity, we could understand how we view the rest of the world. And we tend to view the rest of the world in relation to that identity. So if I see myself primarily as a woman, I see everyone else as the “same” or “other”. Equally, if I see myself primarily as white, I see everyone else as the “same” or “other”.

It’s something that I have regularly been challenged to look at afresh in my own life. As a Christian, I am secure in my identity as a child of God. It’s finding my identity in my humanness that is my biggest struggle right now.

It’s no secret how much I miss my sons who are both back in Cape Town. Being a mother is a huge part of my identity, as is being part of a loving and close-knit nuclear family. We speak often, our love for each other is unquestioned, but we’re far apart. A month or two ago, a young couple in our church had their baby son dedicated. Both of their extended families filled our church for the service. I looked at them all together and I wept like a child with longing for my own family.

It is a conscious battle for me to choose not to find my identity in my work. Having worked constantly since I graduated from university (apart from a few years when my sons were born), I find it difficult to reconcile my identity as an unemployed person in London. Because of my job hunting nightmare here, I tend to view others from that perspective, and I find I see everyone around me as employed or with an income or livelihood of some description.

Finding my identity as a friend extends me too. I have wonderful, close friends back home – ones I hang out with regularly, talk with deeply, laugh with incessantly. They know who I am; I share a history with them. I have lovely friends here too, but I’m only just beginning a journey with them. That’s not a bad thing; I’m just trying to find where it all fits.

Starting a blog has been an amazing and positive experience for me. I love to write, to tell stories and share experiences and adventures with a growing community of wonderful writers, many of whom have also become friends. I haven’t quite found my identity through this yet; sometimes I see myself as a writer until I read the work of real writers, and I realise I am just a blogger. That’s okay too, and it keeps me reading and learning and growing and honing.

As you well know, life is not all bad in London! It continues to be an amazing adventure for my husband and me; we explore the city; we walk and we talk and we laugh; we grow memories and share a life here that we could never have imagined for ourselves. I know there is a deeper purpose in all of this for me and only with hindsight will I recognise what it is.

I don’t really know where I belong right now; I’m an absent Saffa and a visitor in London. Mostly I’m okay with that, but this topic has toiled through my mind for the whole weekend, circling and circling like a dog in a basket. I think it has now found its comfortable space and is ready to surrender to welcome sleep. As for me, I couldn’t have found rest until I wrote this.

Sunshine signing off for today.

Now I’m the Cat’s Pyjamas

Last week, our church small group had a social evening where we played a bunch of games. One game involved passing a small, ticking grenade from player to player as you each had your turn. Yesterday, my “friend” Maura, threw me a grenade from Ohio.

Right. The game we played last week goes by the subtle moniker of Pass the Bomb. You have a deck of cards, each card has two or three letters on it, and you have to think of a word that uses those letters in order but not necessarily consecutively. You may not repeat a word – obviously, duh – but you may modify the word by making it a plural or adding –ing or whatever. Or you can be entirely original and think of your own word.

You have to think quickly; the grenade is ticking and you don’t want to be left holding the bomb when it explodes. Well, when it fizzles, really. Each time you set the grenade a-ticking, it ticks for a random length of time, so you never know when it’ll go.

The grenade got thrown around the circle at such pace, some of us got shrapnel injuries. It seems that the Memetastic award is doing the same.

So, thank you dearest 36×37 aka Maura (who is, in fact, one of the most gifted writers I know, disguised as a friend) for throwing the kitty-bomb my way. I am eternally indebted to you for passing this extraordinary honour to me. I am taking it back taken aback. I’m glad you think so much of me. Or not.

So here’s the deal. I’ve been Memetastic-ed. And read quickly, because I don’t want to be left holding the grenade.

Jill, at Yeah, Good Times, created this Award. Thank you, Jill. Thank you very much.

The Memetastic Rules

The Memetastic Award

1. You must proudly display the graphic (above), which Jill describes as “absolutely disgusting.” According to Jill: “It’s so bad that not only did I use COMIC SANS, but there’s even a little jumping, celebrating kitten down there at the bottom. It’s horrifying! But its presence in your award celebration is crucial to the memetastic process we’re creating here.”

2. You must list five things about yourself, and four of them must be bold-faced lies. Quality is not important.

3. You must pass this award to five bloggers you either like or don’t like or don’t really have much of an opinion about. As spoken by the great Jill: “I don’t care who you pick, and nobody needs to know why. You can give a reason if you want, but I don’t really care.”

4. If you fail to follow any of the above rules, Jill will hunt you down and harass you incessantly until, according to her, “you either block me on Twitter or ban my IP address from visiting your blog. I don’t know if you can actually do that last thing, but I will become so annoying to you that you will actually go out and hire an IT professional to train you on how to ban IP addresses just so that I’ll leave you alone. I’m serious. I’m going to do these things.”

5. Once you do the above, please link up to the Memetastic Hop so that Jill can keep track of where this thing goes and figure out who she needs to stalk.

Excited? I thought so.

Here is my offering:

  1. I have often been mistaken for a ballet dancer. However, when people study my style, they realize that my motif is more contemporary slash jazzart, if you will. Interpretive dance is my preferred movement.

    Dance (via societies.cam.ac.uk)
  2. I am easily bored and take little interest in anything around me. Especially other people.

    Boring (via jmorganmarketing.com)
  3. Nothing relaxes me more than sitting down with a mug of hot cocoa and a jolly good game of Sudoku.

    Sudoku, or as I say, "let the fun roll" (via stellalunaa.xanga.com)
  4. I wish I was funny enough and brave enough to be a stand-up comedian.

    To stand up or to sit down (via dailycomedy.com)
  5. I love applying for jobs and going for interviews. These are the funnest things you can do in London.

    Ah, mad fun at interviews (via utahtechjobs.com)

So, study these points carefully because hidden among them is a truth about me that you would never be able to guess.

Maura, you’re fantastic – thanks for sharing this award with me. Jill, you’re the bomb. Pleased to meet you.

I think I am going to cop out of chucking the grenade towards anyone in particular, as I know many of you have had this honour already. If anyone reading this feels so inclined and wants to grab the mic, or the grenade, or the kitty – knock yourself out. But beware … the ticking starts now.

Sunshine signing off for today!

How to win friends and interview people

I don’t know if it started with my sons’ response to me showing them my 70s disco dance moves. Or if I said it to my husband when he was trying to speak like a Jamaican. But somewhere along the line, in our family, we started to say, “Let’s not do that.”

Yesterday, I took great delight in unsubscribing from all the job alerts I had signed up for. My email inflow has dropped drastically but what a pleasure not to have to wade through all of those. It also got me thinking about something else I won’t have to do again (for a while, I hope!) now that I have a job: I won’t have to go for interviews.

Now that I am able to start reflecting on my interviews with a sense of amusement rather than failure, I thought it might be helpful – a public service, perhaps – to provide some feedback to interviewers, from an interviewee’s point of view. And I thought what better way to approach it, than to say, “Let’s not do that.”

1. Let’s not freak out the interviewee

I had an interview last year with an HR manager and a head of communications. The HR manager asked me a few random questions, then sat back, rested her chin between her thumb and forefinger, and gave me the hairy eyeball. She just stared at me. The head of comms grabbed the mic and asked me a few questions, but it was hugely off-putting to have another pair of eyes drilling into the side of my head. She was also the one who said, “Lovely to meet you.” Perhaps she wanted me for dinner.

2. Let’s not play games

A few months ago, I applied for a job and got short-listed. The recruiter called me to tell me I had been short-listed and invited for interview. I was thrilled (as I always was!) and, during the course of the conversation, I asked her how many people had been short-listed. She immediately said, “Ooh, I can’t tell you that!” O-o-k-a-a-a-y…

My interview was preceded by a test. I arrived at my designated time, was met by a frazzled HR person who failed to introduce herself but just dragged me upstairs to the test venue. She – seriously – kept the test paper face down as she looked at her watch and synchronised her time with the clock on the wall. She was almost hyperventilating and then told me she didn’t know whether she was Arthur or Martha. I said to her, “Have you had a busy day?” Her instant retort was, “I’m not going to answer that because you just want to know how many people have been interviewed.” How about, no? How about, that’s the question I would have asked anyone in a similar state of frazzled-ness?

She then waited for the exact second at which to turn the test paper over, and my 30 minutes began. Good afternoon, Miss.

3. Let’s not interview in a warehouse-sized boardroom

When my above 30 minutes were up, I was met by one of my prospective interviewers. He escorted me to the interview room, which was the biggest boardroom I have ever seen. The three interviewers were scattered around the table and I could have done with a megaphone to answer their questions audibly. Shouting through cupped hands seemed to do the trick, but I didn’t get the job.

4. Let’s not interview at the gym

A few months ago I was invited to interview for a job in an organisation similar to the one I worked for in Cape Town. The interview was to be held at a Club in Chelsea, near the Thames. It sounded like a maritime-themed Club, and I envisaged it to be a business club, where you can hire a meeting room for such occasions. I arrived at the venue, walked through the door and realised this was a gym. I panicked a bit as I thought I’d got the wrong venue. I approached the uniformed woman at the reception desk and said to her, with a question in my voice, that I was there for an interview and I told her with whom. She smiled and nodded and took me through to the coffee shop where two women were waiting to interview me. With the overwhelming aroma of chlorine floating through the room, people coming and going and meeting up after or before their daily workout, shouts and screeches and splashes all around, I had an interview at a gym coffee shop. Funnily enough, this was the job I didn’t get because I was “too nice”. Perhaps I should have walked in and said to them, “WTF, guys?” (Why The Funny-venue?)

5. Let’s not panic

About six weeks ago, I got a frantic call at 8am on a Monday morning. It was a recruiter who could barely speak through her worried breath. She told me of two jobs she was recruiting for, and asked if I was interested. I said they sounded interesting and would be happy for her to email the job specs through to me (as is usually the case). She said she needed to know that moment as she had to get back to the employers.  (They’d called her at 7 that morning to brief her on two jobs that needed responses by 8.30? I don’t think so.)

I then outlined my concerns about the jobs, given that they were looking for someone with local media contacts. I reminded her that, while I had media experience, I didn’t have local contacts. In increasing panic, she said she would get back to me. I never heard from her again. Ever.

6. Let’s not wander off the subject too much

I have registered with about a million quite a few recruitment agencies. Some of them ignore you completely. Some of them invite you for an interview to put you on their books. At one such interview, the agent spent more time talking about her upcoming holiday in Cape Town, than my job requirements. Hmmm, thanks for that.

7. Let’s not interview like David Brent

I can’t say I had an interview exactly like this, but I did often feel like poor old Stuart in this clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtfUn6b4NBY

8. Let’s not become a recruiter

Last year, I had an hour-long interview with a recruitment consultant. She had my CV in front of her, she asked me loads of questions, wrote copious notes all around the perimeter of my CV, gave me some useful advice about job hunting (I was new to London at that time), and said she would chat to her colleagues and get back to me about any job possibilities. I never heard from her again. Ever.

I know recruiters are inundated with applicants. But she never responded to any email I ever sent her, even when I asked about jobs her agency was advertising. To me, that was most bizarre. I would imagine that relationships are your stock-in-trade when you are a recruiter, and communication – and communication skills – should be a given for the role. If you don’t like dealing with people, find another career. Surely?

I met a woman at my gym in Cape Town a few years ago. She ran her own horticulture business. She told me she loved her work, she loved working with plants and the joy of watching gardens grow.

“I’m a plant person, you see. I’m not a people person. I like people, but I don’t think I could eat a whole one.”

Perhaps some recruiters should take note. And, interviewers, I hope you have found this feedback useful. You were all strong candidates but unfortunately you didn’t have the exact match of skills and experience that I was looking for and someone else gave me the job. Thank you for the time and effort you took in interviewing me.

Sunshine signing off for today!

The college type

Yesterday I applied for another job. Yes, I am still on the hunt. I still have the boring task of seeking salaried employment, with slightly less desperation but equal amounts of post-application stress disorder.

For yesterday’s application, one of the items on the person specification was “keyboard skills”. I wanted to adopt a Will Ferrell pose, hand on hip and one eyebrow raised, and say, “Yeah, I tinkle a few ivories, in my own classical, yet syncopated, infantile way.” And then I thought that would be super-lame. (And that’s different from everything else I say, how?)

I then realised that I do have some mean keyboard skills. I have worked on PCs, Macs, laptops, word processors, electronic typewriters, electric typewriters and, way back, I learnt to type on an ancient, massively heavy manual typewriter.

Working on those machines, I developed muscles in my fingers in places where I didn’t know I had places. When we made mistakes, we had to use typewriter erasers and backspace the heavy machinery before retyping the letter. When we typed to the end of a line, we would grab the return lever and push the carriage way to the left to start a new line. We had to take out indemnity insurance in case the machine fell and crushed us to powder. It would.

And all of that took me back to my year at commercial college after I finished my first undergraduate degree. I went, kicking and screaming, into that college year at the insistence of my parents. I honestly felt it was beneath me to do a course that taught me typing and bookkeeping when I had a university degree. How embarrassingly arrogant was I? My parents thought it would be a good and practical idea. I hate to say it, but they were right.

Not only did I have fun there, but I learnt skills that I have used in every job I’ve had. I learnt shorthand, which I still use today when I interview people. I learnt touch-typing, which has been useful regardless what machine I have been typing on. And I met two characters who will stay with me forever. Let’s call them Mr M and Mrs P.

Mr M was our book-keeping lecturer. He arrived at college every day in his smart three-piece suit and hair neatly parted. He had a gap between his front teeth that caused him to whistle every ‘s’ through the lecture room. He would close his eyes, nod his head slightly and say, “Ladiessssss, ladiesssssss, ladiessssss!” (We were only females in the class – it was the 80s and it was Zimbabwe).

He would explain everything to us in precise detail, and we would practise and practise until we got it right. In bookkeeping there is no room for error, so being kind of right was never an option.

We had no Excel spreadsheets or any other programme that would work things out for us. We had no calculators or adding machines. We had to work with ledgers and journals, make credit and debit entries, and make the columns balance. All by ourselves. In our heads. I know the accountants and bean-counters out there will be tapping and trilling the tips of their fingers together in delight, but really – it wasn’t as much fun as it sounds.

Mr M would get exasperated with us “ladiesssss”. And he would be delighted when we got things right. Then he would say, “That is execkle what I am tokking about!”

One of my classmates would get equally exasperated with Mr M. She would battle with the concepts and try and make her columns balance. And then she would yell out, “Yussussss, Mr M! I can’t do this!”

Our office practice lecturer was Mrs P. She wore faded cotton frocks that were tightly belted with full round skirts. She wore her hair in a bun and wore pointy spectacles. Seriously. She had stumbled across a fashion style in the 1950s and heck, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? She stuck with that fashion forever.

Her hair was so tightly squeezed into a bun, I was sure sometimes she had grabbed some scalp along with her hair and tied it right in with the bun. That usually explained the raised eyebrows and ears that moved round the back of her head. And a constant, scary grin.

She would totter around in her sling-back heels, occasionally tottering over, and tell us about what good office practice entailed. She would also regale us with tales of her and her husband’s other life in Spain, but that’s material for another day.

She would always start the day with, “A-kay, ladies! Today we’re going to talk about how to watch paint dry. A-kay? Any questions? Good,” and she would then ramble on and on. None of us really listened. We just watched. I think the tight bun prevented her from forming the letter ‘o’.

I left college that year with a diploma in hand, a bunch of valuable skills and a plate full of humble pie. I hated it when my parents were right.

Sunshine signing off for today.