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:

BAKING

ESTABLISHED BUSINESS

FAMILY

PUBLISHING

SWIMMING

PEOPLE

MY SKILLS

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.

Favourite outdoor swims of the year as I swam redundancy out of my system – Gospel Oak, Scotland, River Thames & Yorkshire

I love, love, love swimming. I’ve been a fan of Gospel Oak lido for years – it’s a stainless steel-lined 60m x 27m temple to swimming. It’s walking or cycling distance from home, so when I left work the lido – and the sport – were the obvious things to focus my day on. I’ve swum in new places and made new friends – and swimming has been a fantastic way to shed the stress of being made redundant.

photo Lido start

The photo above was take on day one – 14th May 2014. I shed the wetsuit 2 days later.

photo lido winter kit

This year my outdoor swimming season spanned May to November, last week I reluctantly wimped out and moved indoors. I’ve packed away my essential lido bag of wetsuit, neoprene booties and gloves, thick hat, googles, thermos and tea kit. When the water temperature – it’s unheated – dips below 10’C I find I can’t swim for long or far enough for it to count as proper exercise. I’ve swum elsewhere too, and here are my top 5 outdoor swims of the season. I’d love to know yours as well! Another time I’ll dip into my favourite swimming books.

Gospel Oak Lido

I really used my membership to its max this summer – with 21 swims in June alone. The water temp maxed out at 24’C when the air was 29’C – it might have gone higher later but by that stage you can’t see the water let alone find space to spread a towel to sit on. Our ten year old twin daughter loves the water as much as me. She has grace, speed and superb technique – I don’t. My best swim of the year was without a doubt matching her stroke for stroke as we ploughed up and down side by side in September, her in a brand new long-sleeved wetsuit me just in my swimsuit.

photo Alice lido floatphoto lido water

Fort William

I arrived in Fort William one July morning via the sleeper train  from London Euston. With 2 hours to kill before the Fort William to Mallaig train departed what could I do? I took a wander along the shores of the loch. How inviting the water looked; crystal clear and fresh. Did I have a towel on me? No. Did I have my costume? Yes. What was stopping me from having a quick dip? Nothing. So in I went, for my first Scottish swim of the decade. Bliss.

photo Fort William

Isle of Eigg

I spent 2 nights with a friend on the Isle of Eigg. We stayed in a B&B www.lageorna.co.uk run by the extremely good cook, and very hospitable Sue Kirk, half a mile from a beautiful beach. I swam before breakfast and supper – and if I could’ve swum more I would have. The water was warm, almost balmy, thanks to the Gulf Stream.  The sun was so slow to set and cast a silvery spell over the water. On my last evening swim I went back in three times, loath to leave its magic.

photo Eigg

River Thames, Pangbourne

Three adults, four children and one enthusiastic black Labrador got the urge to swim. So off we went, OS map in hand, to find the perfect spot. We tentatively waded in and swam back and forth across the balmy water, chatting to various boat owners or captains who invariably raised their glasses and told us we were mad. Such fun, and a real highlight of our summer.

photo Pang

East Yorkshire

I’m not revealing the exact location of this beach, but it’s near Sewerby which is a couple of miles from Bridlington. Fine golden sand is exposed at low tide, whilst at high tide you step over milky white pieces of chalky rock. The water has always been calm in August, and you swim out to the headland then dash back in time to pick up fish and chips. Perfect.

One child’s take on mum losing her job

We’re very lucky to have two smashing kids, our almost eleven year old boy girl twins. Their reactions to me being at home and not going out to work have been completely different – which stands to reason as they’re about as different as boys and girls can be. One day my son sat down and spouted out a whole list of reasons why he was glad I wasn’t still commuting to the job. It’s really good to remember this list; it helps me feel less guilty for not being out on the coalface. Also reminds me that I am a mum and I have two little people and a husband in my team in the kitchen – and that perhaps sometimes I’d let them slip down my list or let other things get in the way. When I get back into work I’m going to try hard to keep an eye on this list.

Here is his top ten with my comments in brackets:

  • I get a lie-in every morning (no more hurtling downstairs for family breakfast at 7am, he didn’t mention the massive morning cuddle we have too now)
  • Having delicious food, not the au pair’s (if I’d had time to guide their cooking it would have been better, so black mark for me)
  • You’re never late home from work, you’re always at home (hmm the ‘traffic’ was often worse than it was as I used every excuse in the book for not leaving when I should’ve)
  • We see you much more (love this one)
  • I get time with you when my sister’s at swimming (yes I am able to do the back and forth to the pool 3x a week so we get new time together)
  • Less tense and no shouting (well there’s less of both now, I was not very good at the work – home transition, flying through the front door Blackberry flashing)
  • More time to make our packed lunches (hhhm why won’t you have school dinners?)
  • I’m not bored in the mornings (that’s because homework’s replaced boredom)
  • You come to things at school now (he even gets the dates in advance to make sure I have 100% attendance at events)
  • You don’t miss breakfast (ironic isn’t it – I was travelling to events at other kids’ schools)

His final comment was, ‘Anyway Mummy you’ll just get another job and we’ll get a new au pair, so it’ll all be fine.’ Top boy, eh.

Baking and butter were great therapy as I clung onto the redundancy rollercoaster

I was really taken aback by the reaction to the first post I sent out tentatively on Thursday night from the kitchen table. Thank you so much to everyone who took a peak, shared and commented.

Cooking is the most fantastic creative outlet for me. Kneading bread is very therapeutic and icing is plain good fun. Time in the kitchen really does have the power to make me feel good. Early on I discovered The Hairy Bikers’ Big Book of Baking in my local library. I had the book for so many weeks, renewing – and failing to remember to renew it – I finally took it back when I realised popping out to buy butter twice a week as I worked my way through the European recipes wasn’t sustainable long term. Our favourite recipes (so far) are their Scandinavian Tea Ring (160g butter) which tasted divine – photograph below before it went in the oven – and Romanian sweet bread (just 100g butter – my standard loaf only needs 20g butter so that puts the measure into perspective). There is a reason why Si King and Dave Myers went on to produce diet books. I find making something new intensely satisfying, and if I get any compliments from the team at home then up soars my morale. Now that you have time on your hands, can you spend some of it doing things you enjoy and know you’re good at? Would it help you get recognition from your friends and family?

Scandinavian Tea Ring
Redundancy made me feel lonely, guilty, resentful, envious, angry and very sad. It made me cry a lot. The feelings of rejection were overwhelming. People pointed me in the direction of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages of change, which shows what a rollercoaster it can be like and how it’s likened to bereavement. I had to smile and grit my teeth when what seemed like scores of people said it was the best thing that ever happened to them. When you’re in the throes of it all it might feel absolutely awful. A lot of people have helped me through. I bought a Moleskin book and asked colleagues to write a comment about something I’d done or said in the past that I could look at when I wasn’t on top form. It sounds naff I know but it really worked, and I’m so grateful that people took the time to do it. The darker days have passed for me and I’m enjoying looking forward to the future.

kubler-ross-stages-of-grief-diagram-214

Remember what I loved about my job. I kept a notebook on me and wrote a lot of things down after I left about the things I really enjoyed, and tried to work out from this what I might look for in a future role. Being a member of a team was a big part of my life, I was fortunate to lead a department and sit on the senior management team of the division. I realise increasingly that I flourish when I’ve people around me, to feed off, share snippets of excitement and good news with and I hope guide, inspire and energise. So both working for myself and on my own isn’t an option, I need to find a shared space and surround myself with creative people.

Surviving redundancy – chapter one

This week marks six months since I was made redundant. After 15 years I left a job I adored, bid farewell to colleagues and clients I admired greatly, and was asked to quit a company I was proud to have been part of. I’m starting out on the blog by sharing some things that I wish I’d known on 13th May.

People are very kind. From the colleagues or distant associates or authors I worked with who took the time and trouble to get in touch, to the member of staff in Pret who gave me far more free coffees than I’m sure she should have, to the trio of librarian friends who took me to lunch, to the neighbour who left an enormous parcel of wine, chocolates and flowers on my doorstep thank you all very much. It’s made me think what I can do when people I know are ‘let go’. Get in touch, don’t be embarrassed, it’s so heartening to know other people are thinking of you.

Get your statement ready so when someone asks ‘how are you?’ or ‘what do you do?’ you can reel it straight off. I can’t emphasis enough how much this matters. This really helped me not to be quite so emotional when I set foot in my former workplace during my consultation period. There was a ghastly time, later, when we were having a drink with a couple on holiday and after my husband spoke for some time about his job – it just so happened the other couple are in the same industry as him – they turned to me and asked what I did and I completely fudged my reply. It made me feel hideously inadequate. Now I say, “I’m really enjoying taking a break whilst I work out my next move, so I’m going on cookery courses, visiting museums, swimming and being a present rather than absent mum”. Confident eh?

Grab the bull by the horns and just do it. I admired the Chair of my former employer very much, so when I left I asked to have time with her. I exited her office a foot higher, head held high, full of advice to: read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, try out a portfolio career, write for the trade press, be with my kids. She also suggested I write a blog; stupidly I let my earlier efforts be derailed by a well-meaning mum who said ‘Oh, don’t, it’s all been said before’. It did my confidence no end of good that she and I had that conversation.