Blowing the whistle at the wrong time: mentoring in the workplace & poolside at swimming galas


I passed the first stage in my effort to become a British Swimming Judge Level 1 and am now a Qualified Timekeeper, pretty much all thanks to a lady called Jane. There was just the one very audible hiccup along my way. I’d donned my white kit and was poolside at Southbury Road. I’d had it explained to me twice what my role would be as guardian of my lane for the 1500m race. The second the distance came up I thought ‘Help, how many more than a lot of lengths is that?’ and scrambled to check on my phone. Of course it’s obvious, but if you’re at the end of the lane with the stopwatch in your hand you need to know for sure if it’s 60 lengths or not. I was stationed at the start / finish line / ‘evens’ end. My job, beyond timing, was to check turns were all legal, and to blow my whistle for a very loud and long time as the swimmer approached the turn into and out of length 58, to tell them they’re into the home straight. Clutching a lane countdown sheet, numbered down from 59, which was confusing as I was at the evens end, I was ticking the lengths off. Quick it’s time to blow I thought, how odd no one else is blowing, well I’ll just get on and BLLLLLOOOOOOW. I’m not sure why I peaked and blew two lengths early, but everyone poolside sure did hear my loud and long blast on the whistle. Mortifying, yes, very mortifying, yes. I didn’t dare ask the tired swimmer if I’d confused them. Lesson learned: work out your own system, and if you normally count up not down then do that.

For the afternoon session – yes quite a full-on long day by the pool – I was mentored throughout by the best possible person. I know only that her name is Jane. She is fully qualified. She stood beside me through the racing peppering the afternoon with questions, what are we looking for in a butterfly stroke, what should we watch for on a breaststroke turn, is it legal to stop during freestyle (yes, but no steps may be taken). Mentoring is an essential part of training to be a qualified official, as a newbie you get to learn from someone who has days and weeks and years (not hours) of poolside experience, knows the rules backwards, and understands what’s an infringement and what’s not. Thanks also to the day’s referee who coached and coaxed me along as he questioned exactly when to blow the blooming whistle next time.

I asked another club parent about mentoring and volunteering for the club, and he explained how he thought it was his way of giving back. Someone else’s parents or guardians have watched over your child at galas and at training, and here’s a chance to pass on your thanks through your own time. It’s very simple, if a club doesn’t field officials (qualified / trainees) then it can’t enter swimmers to race in a gala. Having been to many galas I’m very conscious of the need now to give back. But at the same time I have to remember that I have two children, not one, and a husband, and only two of the household are Really Into Swimming, and sometimes the footballing team need the car and we all need family time.

Mentoring is all around us: in the workplace on a formal level, when you’re matched with A Mentor, and also at a very informal and unofficial basis with people – or perhaps one person – helping a new starter, showing them the ropes, guiding them as they start out in new surroundings, with new colleagues and unfamiliar systems. I’ve been really lucky embarking on my job to be guided along, no more so by the person who suggested, ‘Make a difference with little things before beating yourself up about big things’ and the other who told me it’s ok to feel a bit like a fish out of water as you start adapting and learning, as everyone does.

At home I suppose we’re trying to mentor our kids through their transition into secondary school and beyond. When we’re not over-parenting or nagging that is.

Bravery, confidence and cake led me to a new job

This blog has been resting, waiting for me to get on and share my news. A clutch of people have kindly asked what’s been going on, where the next post is, and I do have a bank of drafts waiting to go up. But I need to share my big news first.

I had really good fun going on various cooking courses last year, some of which featured here and some of which didn’t. I baked breads, filled tarts, tasted a lot of icing, went gluten free for a night and adorned cakes. All absorbing and unadulterated heaven. One of these courses has led me back to the workplace.

So what’s the story behind the Cooking Class = Job equation?

It’s definitely not the Advert + CV + Job Interview = Job one is it?

There’s a list of ingredients, and here goes with some of them:

Balls – Yeah, a bit masculine but perhaps sometimes we need to be a bit more like the boys eh and just go for it

Skills – Almost 20 years of PR & marketing know-how to share

Confidence – I summoned it up from pretty deep inside, and held on tight

Enthusiasm – Needed oodles of this

Passion – Feeling a genuine love and admiration for what this company does, and all that its team has achieved

Willingness to Learn – Realising how much I have to learn

The story I’m telling here will helpfully show how being really open to opportunities and being very bold can take you places. A few weeks after the course I got an email from the company, saying an agency was holding a focus group on their brand and would I like to go. I jumped at the chance, not least to be on the other side of the table answering rather than asking the questions. So I went along and talked ideas and ate a lot of very delicious cake. It was fascinating hearing from the other 13 people – why did they keep returning to buy the cake, what did the company mean to them? We were sent home with a heavenly box of goodies. Yum. Yum. Yum. My only frustration was having more ideas than there was time to talk about them. I mulled this over and decided to look up who the MD was, and get in touch with them asking if I could come in for a coffee and perhaps share some thoughts. I wasn’t sure I’d hear back, but I did, and along I went. It seemed to go quite well – bearing in mind I had nothing to lose, just an enthusiasm and desire for the company to grow and succeed.

The tone of our informal coffee changed when he said they might be looking for someone to do Marketing and PR.

HELP HELP HELP flashed through my mind, this informal coffee has morphed into a FULL-ON JOB INTERVIEW.

The MD said they’d be in touch when they’d written the job spec, in case I wanted to apply. All I could think was I REALLY REALLY WANT TO WORK HERE.

The job description wasn’t forthcoming, hardly surprising as it’s a small and very busy business and we were in the throes of autumn. I decided I’d have a go at writing it instead, so I did, and sent it over with an apology for being quite so audacious and saying I wouldn’t expect to hear back til after Christmas. Two days later I got an email asking me to pop in and see them again. We had another chat, then an email exchange, followed by a ‘when can you start?’ and so I moved into the world of food; scrummy cakes, beautifully iced biscuits and chocolaty creations.

The two industries have much in common, both revolve around people and their experiences. A publisher’s life is centred around literature and selling books, building lasting relationships with authors, agents, booksellers, librarians, journalists and readers. When it works then authors and agents sign repeat contracts; booksellers, journalists and librarians recommend the books and readers share the buzz amongst their friends and beyond. It’s easy to see the parallels isn’t it? A happy customer who visits a food shop and enjoys the warmth and welcome from the staff and setting, and then gets a rapturous reception for the cake they’ve bought, is going to go back again and again, and the food shop will get the sales it needs and the word of mouth recommendation it relies upon to succeed.

And how’s it going? I am having a ball! Two to three days a week my mind is filled with buttery copy lines, cakes, ideas, biscuits, mailing lists, challenges and a whole new team to get to know – and I couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s not goodbye books as I’ve publishing projects on the go too – but it is hello food.

Regaining my work self and moving on: looking for work and an outdoor swim at London Fields Lido

‘Mummy’ said my ten year old daughter (aka the Speedy Swimmer) ‘you need to get a job as otherwise you might lose your work self.’

Next week marks 7 months since I was made redundant, and four since I started the blog. It’s the perfect time to take stock. The Speedy Swimmer is absolutely right. I am itching to get going and get back into the workplace. The last ten days have been focused on contacting people, arranging meetings, booking onto courses and sending off applications. I am positively looking forward to January.

So whilst I might sometimes feel nostalgic for the job and the things I loved about it (and grrr every now and then still be a bit cross) I am channelling my enthusiasm for swimming, books, baking, people and communicating into making a new working life. I have been in limbo and now I am moving on. Rather than missing and wondering about the people I worked with I’m jolly well going to get in touch with them. I need to make new networks and new connections rather than harking on to myself about the old life.

The sun was shining, which pool to choose? Good intentions buzzing in my brain I caught the train mid-morning to London Fields to the glorious 50m lido there. There were 4 wide lanes in operation which means there’s plenty of room to overtake without bashing into other swimmers. I like the fact that the Very Fast Lane (their underlining) states no breaststroke. It was glorious. Proper sunshine glinting on the water and a nice temperature of c21’C found some swimmers in their bikinis.

photo  London Fields map

Longer pools mean better rhythm. I find it much easier to lock into a rhythm in a big pool. Every time I get into a pool I turn my swimming engine on, but I sometimes struggle to keep in gear and end up ploughing through the water. Today, with a six strokes per breath cycle I quickly got into my stride gliding through the water.

photo 1 London fields kit

My swim kit for today’s swim on a nearby bench. NB I was wearing a costume too, and the hat was much needed afterwards. Flip flops are essential, however strong the winter sun it never warms the pool surround and your feet get cold walking to and fro the changing rooms. Actually although the water was warm, and the poolside showers scorching hot, my hands stayed chilled for a couple of hours.

Today’s swim reminded me what a friendly sport outdoor swimming is. For some reason people are much chattier. I don’t mean in a standing around clogging up the shallow end gossiping way but in a smiling at people in the shower way and comparing notes on swims way. You’re pretty unlikely to strike up a conversation with the person next to you in an indoor changing room, whereas it’s a different story out of doors.

I got talking to one lady about her swimming hat, it was bright blue, with ‘WORLD’S BEST SWIMMER’ on it in white writing, with a line above saying ‘it’s not easy being the’…. and underneath ‘so let them enjoy it’. Cool present for a proper swimmer eh. Someone else was sporting a yellow ‘Dart 10k’ cap. I’ve met two other Dart 10k swimmers who run the consultancy Tinder Box and am slightly, actually no a lot, in awe of their swimming prowess.

I still think my ‘home’ lido at Parliament Hill has the edge for its shiny stainless steel casing, extra size, absence of rules and location, but after today’s swim this comes a close second in London. Both pools feature in Jenny Landreth’s excellent book about swimming in the capital ‘Swimming London’ – and she’s blogged about winter swimming events too.

Post redundancy crossroads: navigating myself and my skills round diversions towards baking, swimming, publishing and people

I am supposed to be preparing for our after-school cookery club which we hold every week in the kitchen. This involves:

1. cleaning the kitchen

2. removing all papers – odd pieces, old homework, newspapers, written-on post-it notes – to recycling bin or into a neat pile on the stairs for ‘sorting later’

3. preparing surfaces for their weekly shroud of icing sugar and flour

4. geeing myself to be really calm about ensuing mayhem

I am also meant to be making fish pie for supper, and need to get a move on as the kitchen will need fumigating of fishy smells before the quite-fussy-fish-eater returns from school

But hey fuelled by the seriously good and very strong coffee at my favourite café, The Spoke, I’m ignoring everything and embarking on a new post. This morning I’ve thought a lot about the crossroads I’m at. I’ve wondered how best to represent it here, the sketches in my notebooks are garbled maps of balloons, scribbles and jottings.

There are seven roads off the junction leading to:








and some of the routes overlap. At each destination there are shiny things, and bright lights beckoning me. I don’t have an A-Z, SatNav or Google Maps to help me navigate my way. Sometimes one route seems best, other days another, and some days there are diversions blocking each way. I’ve popped the page from my notebook at the foot of this – you can tell it’s genuine as it’s not very legible.

Above it all there’s a signal gantry – a bit like on motorways, with three routes off it.

photo signal gantry

There’s a voice in my head that’s getting louder and stronger, boosted no end by my husband’s unswerving presence at my side, and the voice is urging, ‘Just do it all. Go for it.’ So that’s exactly what I am doing. And I’m hoping not to get lost along the way!

photo notebook December 2014

PS Whatever you’re doing and wherever you are (waving hello to readers here in the UK, in America, Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan) thank you very much for following my adventures.

Applying for a job: acceptance or rejection, negative or positive outcome?

I applied for a job. It’s a very formal process, isn’t it; reviewing and tailoring your CV and sculpting a corking covering letter that really sells your skills and attributes to the role and company. This is my second go, I applied to something else earlier in the summer but the role was withdrawn before interview.

I went for the interview feeling upbeat and positive. I really enjoyed it all, relishing the chat about the trade and talking through campaigns and challenges.

Today I got the email saying sorry, they’d chosen someone else. Instead of feeling rejected – quite a common sentiment this year – I felt very positive. It was extraordinary. I felt a very strong ‘not-right-ness’. I know I have worked with words for years, and that’s not a proper word, but it does sum up the feeling perfectly. I wasn’t right for the position and I wasn’t right for the company – and they clearly felt the same. And do you know what, that’s absolutely fine.

I’d been approached earlier in the day with another possible opportunity, so perhaps I received the later news better as I’d been buoyed up by this, I don’t know.

I remember very clearly the feelings of rejection in the publishing workplace. When we’d bust a gut to put together a pitch, line up in beauty parades or design stunts to win new business – and then for whatever reason the author and their agent decided our offer wasn’t right, the territories were wrong or that they simply preferred a competitor’s team. Although being turned down didn’t get any easier, I did learn that perhaps the particular publishing house and team might not always be the best fit for that book or that author – and as children’s publishing is swings and roundabouts we’d win another pitch another time, and perhaps work with the chosen author on another book. There was always another opportunity around the corner.

So I know that if you or I apply for something, and don’t get it, we need to remember it might just be a case of not-rightness too.

The ten year old footballing son’s reaction to the news? ‘Don’t worry mum you’ll get another job.’ A good lad to have on my team.