Month: November 2015

Film Review: Christmas with the Kranks

Last weekend, I ended up watching ‘Christmas with the Kranks’ with the bloke and his kidlets.

To say I found this movie pretty awful is an understatement. IMDB rates this film at 5.1 stars, which I’d say is pretty generous. Rotten Tomatoes is somewhat more accurate with a rating of 5%.

The synopsis of this film is as follows:

With their daughter away, the Kranks decide to skip Christmas altogether until she decides to come home, causing an uproar when they have to celebrate the holiday at the last minute.

Which doesn’t quite cover it. Here’s how I viewed the whole thing:

The Kranks decide that with their daughter flying the nest, they will take themselves on a cruise instead of staying at home to celebrate Christmas. Much of this is due to their impeding sense of ’empty nest syndrome’. As such, they decide that going through the effort of putting up Christmas decorations is a bit wasteful, so they decide to not bother. They also opt to forgo their previous donations to various entities, as they have also decided to save their cash.

As a result of this, they are then hounded mercilessly by their neighbours and colleagues, because the lack of Christmas decorations and donations means that they are scrooges. Because of course it is everyone else’s business what they do with their time and money. Duh.

This is all going well and good – my sympathies are firmly with the Kranks at this point, as they’re not doing anything unreasonable. However, this is where the film gets really stupid. Their daughter phones up at the last minute to state that she is coming back for Christmas with her new fiancee. Do her parents at this point tell her that they have made other plans?

You’d be right to guess nope. This news causes a mass panic to get their Christmas decorations and party all arranged in the final hour so that their daughter will not even know that they were going to do Christmas a bit different in her absence. Of course, this involves the previously arsehole neighbours chipping in to help them pull this off, with no one actually pointing out that they were complete arseholes. That is all glossed over, because Decorations! Food! Presents!

Now, Mr Krank is still eager to do the cruise. Mrs Krank is hearing none of it, because apparently they should be happy their daughter is home because Christmas. So ultimately, he ends up giving his cruise to another couple, on account of it possibly being their last Christmas together due to the wife having terminal cancer. This is bearing in mind that the man of this neighbourly duo is one of the people who was incredibly awful to the Kranks throughout the film.

I can’t decide, after watching this film, if the underlying message is that you should conform to please everyone else around you, or if it is trying to subtly point out just how overboard and consumerist Christmas is these days. Either way, it left a bad taste in my mouth. I fail to actually see anything positive in how this turned out.

The Kranks should have stuck to their original plan, without all the fanfare, and told their daughter they had made other plans when she dropped her last minute change of plans on them. Mainly because part of growing up is that you start making your own Christmas plans, and partly because it is selfish to the extreme to expect that the people in your life will revolve their own plans around yourself, as daughter Krank does.

This would have made sense, but then there probably would not have been a film. Which in this case, would have been a service to the film industry.

My final verdict? This was 1 hour 34 minutes of my life that I won’t be getting back. I wouldn’t even watch this when bored.

I’d like my news unbiased, and to stick to actual news, please.

As an incredibly nosy person, I’m a big fan of knowing what is going on in the world. As such, I spend an inordinate amount of time reading various news websites. Being UK based, my main reading material used to be that provided by the BBC.

Now, a level of bias is always to be expected here, given that the BBC is a state run corporation. However, their bias over recent months has reached new extremes. More and more, I’ve found myself reading websites from further afield just to try and get an un-jaundiced view on what is actually happening around the world.

The BBC isn’t the only news source guilty of this. I’ve taken to reading news sites from around the world with a pretty even mix of left-wing and right-wing bias, with the theory in mind that if I take on board what both say, I can look at the middle ground and figure out what is actually happening that way. I do not think this is a good thing. You’re left with the feeling that you can’t really trust what is being reported on what should be a respectable outlet of information. It’s even worse when that feeling is proven with minimal internet searching.

It’s a pretty sorry state of affairs that I’ve concluded that the most unbiased source of information is RT.com (Russia Today).

Now, I get why this is the case. With current events as they are, there is a very genuine concern about a backlash happening against certain cultures. That said, I’m not sure that misreporting events, or flat out not reporting events, is the way to prevent this happening. I’m pretty sure that those who would be involved in such a backlash gave up reading media from the likes of the BBC a long time ago *because* of their current style of reporting.

The bias isn’t the only problem I have, though. In a culture where breaking news from across the world can be an instant thing, the ‘on’ switch is glued down. If there is currently nothing happening, interviews are conducted just to gain soundbites that can be misquoted again and again out of context. If there is no one relevant to the event to interview, Random Joe off the street is pulled aside to give his views on the event.

Now, call me whatever you want – but I’m not all too interested in what Random Joe off the street has to say. All I actually want to know is very simple – what happened, why it happened, and what is happening as a result of what happened. Random Joe off the street is unlikely to know this. If I want to know what Random Joe thinks, I can just search the most popular tag on twitter, and find out that way.

While I’m having a bit of a rant about this, I may as well add – I don’t care if a dog can skateboard while performing back flips. This should not be a front page thing unless you are having a *really* slow news day. Stop it.

So, to sum up – it’s pretty much as the title of this post states. I’d like my news unbiased, and to stick to actual news, please.

I miss the playground.

One thing that I’ve been thinking about since my post Cardio – Playground Style is that being a child on the playground was fun.

Loads of running around, playing games such as Tag, Kiss Chase, Stuck in the Mud, British Bulldog, etc. Not only was it active, but it also appealed to the part of me that just likes to run.

Now, one of the reasons I don’t bother going to a gym is that it is a very boring experience for me. I cannot justify paying money to do an activity that bores me – even if it is good for me. Many of the people who are signed up to more competitive activities are so far ahead of me in skill level, that I’d affect their workout by wanting to play with them.

But you know what? If a gymnasium was to schedule adult playground sessions, I’d definitely go. Give me the opportunity to play the old playground style games with other adults, and I’d be there in a flash.

I’ll probably just have to send out a hopeful invite to my facebook friends to see if they’d be up for coming out to play. I suspect that for the most part, we’re all too busy being adults and stuff though. 😦

The Perils of Gossip in the Workplace

It seems pretty harmless at first. A small rant about a co-worker by the water cooler. A sarcastic remark behind someone’s back. Most of us have been guilty of it at some point. I’m certainly no saint. It doesn’t take much for it to get out of hand, though. I have in the past had first hand experience of this that at the time was incredibly hurtful.

This happened a while ago. I’ve mentioned before how I’ve been prone to making mistakes, which is why I have a healthy respect for any QA team who has picked them up before it got dangerous. I’ll quite happily hold my hand up to that, and accept that as a mere human, I’ll continue to make mistakes whether I’d like it to or not. Whilst, of course, trying to get better.

So, it started off quite simple. I was making mistakes, and it was being discussed in derogatory fashion behind my back by a very small group of peers. While I would have preferred to have had it raised to my face, not everyone has the backbone to give that kind of criticism. Anyways, as is the case with most gossip – I found out what was being said. Word has a way of getting around, be it through over-hearing a conversation, or someone ‘letting you in’ on what is being said.

So, how to react to this? Well, the complaints were fair, in the context. I opted to say nothing, and to work harder on taking more care with my work. Unfortunately, perfection does not come overnight. This is still an area that I am constantly attempting to improve on. I ended up at a point where I could freely state that I still had a lot of work to do in this area, but I could also point out that I had actually improved – and prove it with my results.

Sadly, the talk continued. With some added embellishment. In addition, everything I was doing was being nitpicked to death just to find a problem. Which astonished me, as surely there was enough there to talk about already, without exaggerating it? Plus, nitpick anything closely enough, and you will find some kind of fault. It was like these people were looking for something to bitch about me for, given that I was slowly giving them less ammunition to work with. It was unfair, in my mind. I chose to deal with it by having a polite chat with the people involved (and even those not involved), hoping that would help. I even asked for help and advice on how to improve.

It turns out that I was being somewhat naive in my approach to the issue. Over the course of a couple of years, this kind of thing continued. The help and advice I’d asked for was not forthcoming from the people involved. All throughout, I was aware of what was being said, and getting more irritated. Not so irritated that I felt it worth making a scene though – in my performance reviews, it was always noted that I was improving, with an acknowledgement of there being room to continue to improve. I never scored badly on any of my performance reviews, so I wrongly assumed that this would be held up in the face of any derogatory comment about me if it ever got to that point.

The situation was irritating, but not hurtful – yet. I’d already acknowledged to myself by this point that these people weren’t interested in helping me (or any of the people they were discussing, as I certainly wasn’t the only person on the receiving end of this treatment) to fix what they perceived as a problem. They just wanted to bitch about someone. I wasn’t too concerned, as this kind of talk had been going on for around three years, and I hadn’t been so much as put on a performance review because of it.

Shortly after being given an asked for pay-rise (I couldn’t have been as terrible at my job as I was being made to feel, with this being the case), the political landscape changed, and things got much nastier. I was also having my own issues with depression, which didn’t help. My usual rock-coated skin disappeared at around the time the gossip turned to outright untruths about myself. The stuff being said – and believed by others – had me in tears on the way to and from the office. In addition to other things going on, it was a perfect storm to drive me to the brink.

Here’s the thing – by the time it had gotten to this stage, it was too late to put in a complaint about the people talking about me like this. The atmosphere was flat out toxic for a whole host of reasons at this point, and the stuff being said had already floated up to the upper levels of the management by the time I became aware of just how nasty things had gotten. It was common knowledge that I was depressed, so anything I said to try and report the issue with an aim of having it dealt with was treated with an attitude that I was taking things the wrong way because of my depression. I confronted some of the people involved with varying degrees of success. It didn’t solve the problem by any means, but it did make me feel more in control of what was going on. Strangely enough, that helped. Ultimately, I accepted I was in a fight I had no hope of winning – and fled to a much healthier environment.

So there you have it. I’m past the whole thing enough now that I am finally able to write this post about (hopefully) coming across as too bitter about what happened. Something that started off as a fair criticism turned incredibly nasty. It would be remiss of me to go through something that, at the time, was flat out horrible, without taking – and sharing – the lessons from it.

All throughout this, I wrongly assumed that my results would speak for themselves. In trying to think the best of the people who were involved in the situation, I also failed to confront the issue as aggressively as I should have done. Sadly, left unchecked, dishonest gossip will adversely affect the perception others have of you. Ignoring the issue won’t make it go away – it will just get to the point where it’s not even worth salvaging it.

Above all, the lessons learnt here come back to things I have said before – you can’t change people, you can only change how you react to people. Most of all, you are in charge of your own situation. I attempted to fight what was happening at the expense of my own mental health. I didn’t start getting better until I got out.

As for not being bitter – well, I wouldn’t be the person I want to be if I was still letting this get to me. I don’t think badly of the people involved – it’s just not worth the mental energy. If I let myself be consumed by bad feeling about this, that would affect my ability to examine the situation logically, meaning that I would lose sight of any lessons to be learned. In addition, this post would have been a rant instead of an attempt to share some (hopefully useful) lessons.

So, to sum up on how I’ve learnt to deal with office gossip:

  • Gossip never fixes anything. Don’t get dragged into gossiping about co-workers. If you have a real complaint, take it through the proper channels. Bear in mind that the people talking like this will probably have no issue talking about you in similar fashion. Stay clear of them, lest you be tarred with the same brush. Say nothing that you wouldn’t say to the face of the person being discussed.
  • If the gossip is about you, talk to the people involved – see if they actually have a point, and act on it. Bear in mind that some people just don’t have the backbone to be upfront about things. Don’t be a pushover, though. Let this be their only chance. See below.
  • If that fails, let the people higher up the food chain know what is going on. You’ve attempted to address the gossiping with the people involved already. It’s apparent at this point that the issue has less to do with your work, and more to do with their personal dislike of you. That kind of thing has no place in a workplace.
  • If that still fails, get out and don’t look back – because odds are you are in a toxic work environment, and nothing is going to get better any time soon. The only person who can ultimately look after you is you.

Cardio, Playground Style.

Part of this last weekend saw me re-living my playground days as I took to the back garden with the bloke and his children.

First off, we played Masked Stranger, which is a game that my own father used to play with my older sister and I (and our friends). The underlying purpose of this game is that it has a lesson (namely, Stranger Danger!). Someone takes the role of the stranger, and hides in the garden. While the stranger is hiding, the ‘children’ hide at ‘home’ (in this case, in a natural den made from the drooping boughs of a large tree in the garden). After an amount of time, the children loudly* come out to play. After this point, the stranger will then attempt to capture the children. Sneakiness is encouraged here. The children can escape by running back home.

As you can imagine, this all involves lots of running and screaming.

We all took it in turns being the stranger. The kidlets both got a bit too excited at the prospect of being the stranger, and had a tendency to jump out when the ‘children’ were ‘playing’ half way across the garden. I suspect that the gleeful trepidation of imminent jumping out on people is hard to bear when you’re younger! I also found out the hard way that the bloke has a real turn of speed on him when he decides to sprint. I think I took the sneakiness crown by sneaking behind them into ‘home’ after they had run out to play, and surprising them all from behind.

After we got bored of this, we ended up playing the game that I’m calling ‘Virus’ in my head, mainly because I can’t remember what I used to call it when I was little. It’s like ‘tag’ on steroids. One person starts off as ‘it’. That person then needs to infect the other players by tagging them. When a player is tagged, that person is also also infected, and must help to tag the other players until everyone has been tagged. I guess I call it Virus in my head due to how you spread the epidemic of ‘itness’ to all players. The last person standing becomes the new ‘it’ on the next game.

Playing Virus gave me first hand knowledge of how exhausting it can be attempting to evade a fully grown man and two rather speedy girls. The former was into it enough that I had a genuine concern about being rugby tackled. This morning, my legs hurt. Lots. But yesterday was hands down the most fun cardio workout I’ve had in a while – and I kept it up for a few hours, to! I’d recommend it.

* Traditionally, my sister and I used to come skipping out singing the following (to the tune of Boys and Girls Come Out To Play):

Boys and girls come out to play! The stranger’s not around today!

Of course, you can make whatever noise you want. But I have passed this tradition on to the Blokes kidlets. I’m sure my Dad will approve! He was an awesome Stranger. 😀

5 Awesome Cover Songs

Some cover songs are so awesome, they just deserve a mention. Here are my current favourites:

When Netflix goes down

The only responsible thing to do is panic.

Ok, maybe not. Still, the first thoughts that go through my head when Netflix blips out on me are generally as follows:

Darn, I’d better do that housework instead. No point ordering pizza. Anything on normal TV?

I experience a sense of slight disappointment, then conclude that the universe is telling me to play a game on my playstation instead.

In large part, this is because normal TV is overwhelmingly disappointing. The only thing left for me to watch on the BBC is Dr Who, which is only once a week.* All too many channels are overtaken by reality TV, Then there are soaps. You can only watch repeats on Dave so many times.

Sometimes, I’ll check out what I could be missing on paid channels, and I then feel smug with my freeview when I realise I’m not actually missing out on anything that Sky or Virgin could provide. I then promptly feel sad, remembering when I was younger how TV was actually far more entertaining. Tuesday nights would find me and my sister huddled up with my Dad on the settee, watching Red Dwarf, followed by Blackadder. I miss TV nights like that. I think they’re gone forever. Maybe because of services such as Netflix.

It’s moments like this that make me realise that I’m probably not as much of an adult as I pretend to be. And that’s ok, because gaming is awesome anyway.

* It is getting more disappointing every time I see it. Which will probably be a blog post all on its own.

Money Talks – Know your worth

This is a topic that seems to pop up fairly regularly in various media – how much you get paid.

Some companies out there publish this information, to demonstrate how fairly they are paying their staff. Others don’t, and occasionally, the employees will start discussing this amongst themselves.

Both the above approaches always lead to the inevitable – people comparing how much they earn to how much their co-workers are (possibly) earning. One thing I have seen when this plays out is that someone always seems to decide that they’re being shafted, and they let jealousy take over. Things can often go downhill from there, depending on the personality involved.

I am of the school of thought that says I do not tell my co-workers how much I earn under any circumstances. While I may tell them how much I was getting paid in a previous job, my current salary is my own business, and no one elses. When co-workers start discussing their current salary in front of me, I keep my mouth firmly shut and attempt to evade the discussion. Even when it becomes apparent that they are being vastly underpaid.

That probably seems quite unsociable or even unfeeling of me. But here’s the thing – what I earn has no bearing on what anyone else earns. Just like what they earn has no bearing on what I earn, for one simple reason – I am in charge of my own situation. I can’t say I have ever found myself staying too long in a role where I feel undervalued. I keep an eye on the market rates in the area for my chosen profession, and I have no problem with asking for a raise if I feel it warranted. If the raise is not forthcoming, I choose to take myself – and my pay negotiations – elsewhere.

At no point in this process have I ever looked at my pay in comparison to someone else’s and thought ‘That person is being paid more than me, and I don’t think they’re worth it’. Again, this comes down to an acknowledgement that people are in charge of their own situation. If someone is actually being paid more than me, my first thought is that they made a better job of negotiating their salary than I did – in which case, good for them.

In my not so recent history, I found out that some co-workers were discussing my salary with a view to envy. I found out the figure that was being bounced about, and found it amusing that it was quite a bit lower than what my salary actually was. If the figure had actually been correct, then I would have been concerned how that number became public knowledge, since my salary is between me and the entity paying it. And as mentioned before, I don’t share my salary with co-workers (much like I don’t share my plate of food).

So, here are some lessons I’ve picked up about this kind of thing over the years that I’d like to share:

  • Just because you don’t discuss your salary with co-workers, that doesn’t mean that they won’t discuss it – and probably have it wrong. The office politics around this kind of thing can get very intense, but it’s not really something you can control. Accept that, and try to not get sucked in. I’d say the rule here is to keep out of it – joining the fray will not help you to take control of this. If you’re approached or confronted by people who are unsatisfied with their own lot, point out how they can always ask for a raise.
  • Know your worth before entering any salary negotiation – be it for a new or existing job. There are so many websites where you can check out the market rate for your role and position in your area. Don’t undervalue yourself when it comes to this. Be sure to check out this information at least once a year. This will help you to figure out the ballpark figure that you want to ask for, and shouldn’t be used as a hard and fast figure that must not be deviated from.
  • Don’t be afraid to move on to a place where you will be fairly valued. As mentioned in this post, you know how much you are worth. If you really are being undervalued, no company worth their salt is going to say no to a reasonable request to be compensated fairly.
  • Bear in mind that what your co-workers earn has no bearing on your own situation, and more importantly – is none of your business. Envy and jealousy are not healthy. For anyone. One of the worst things you can do here is try to justify your pay raise based upon what a colleague is apparently earning. Leave that kind of thing out of any salary negotiation.
  • Companies are there to make money. Which means they will go for the best deal to cut their own costs. It’s a pretty rare case that you will be given a significant raise without actually asking for it. If they can get your services for cheap, they’ll more often than not keep being cheap. After all, the reward for digging an awesome big hole is a bigger shovel, and very rarely a bigger bag of money. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Simples.

The main lesson here, however, is something I’m sure I have mentioned before – you are responsible for your own situation. Don’t like your situation? Then take control and change it, or get into a new situation. If you choose to bleat about how unfair everything is without doing anything about it, then you’ll find that any sympathy you were getting will slowly disappear. And at the end of it, you’ll still be miserable.