Month: November 2015

It’s not Christmas yet. Stop it.

Over recent years, I’ve been getting more and more annoyed at Christmas starting earlier. Some people around here started putting up their Christmas decorations in October. October!!!

It’s insanity. I love Christmas decorations as much as anyone else – they’re shiny, glitzy and wonderful. But this whole ‘start earlier every year’ just smacks of feeding into a celebration that has become crazily consumerist. November is apparently the time to start showing Christmas films on TV.

I’d have no problem if we could stick with doing all of this shenanigans in December. The main problem I have with Christmas these days is that I’m already kind of fed up with it by Christmas day, as I’ve had Christmas rammed in my face everywhere I go for 3 months prior to the actual event.

I get why the shops do it – by starting earlier, they get more time to sell over-priced glitzy tat in the run up. It’s a shame that few have clocked on to this – buy all the things like wrapping paper and decorations in January at a discount, and you’re all set for next Christmas. Save yourself money, and feel smug as you get to avoid the screaming hordes of people doing their Christmas shopping.

The other thing is presents. We get encouraged to spend a crazy amount to prove our love for the people in our lives. I stopped buying into this idea quite a while ago. The people I buy presents for often have most of what they need, so I tend to buy practical things that don’t cost an arm and leg. Last year, I brought my Dad a new frying pan. Seems boring, but it’s what he wanted, and he’ll get to use it for years to come. This year, I’ve put money towards a new vacuum cleaner for my sister.

I may be seen as somewhat ‘Bah, humbug!’, but I’m not actually too concerned about that. I’ve been getting overdosed on Christmas. Whilst I’ll never pack it in completely, I do find that each year I’m caring less and less about it. Mainly because the focus has shifted away from spending time with loved ones, and more to buying shiny expensive things.

I guess the main message I’m trying to get across is that I think it would be pretty awesome if we could go back to keeping Christmas to December. I also doubt I’m the only one who shares that sentiment.

5 Silly things I did this week

I occasionally do very silly things. This week has been worse than most. I’m not sure why.

  1. When making custard tarts, I carefully measured out the butter I needed, and went to put the remaining butter back in the fridge. Except I didn’t put it in the fridge. I put it in the bin.
  2. I went to empty the bin, and forgot to take my keys out with me, locking myself out. Luckily, I had a window open, so I was able to get back into my flat. I got covered in cobwebs and all sorts, and sprained my wrist with this little adventure.
  3. Put the timer on my washing machine so that it would do a load over night. Neglected to check the program, and woke up the next morning to washing that had only been through a dry cycle, and nothing else.
  4. Neglected to check if the bloke actually likes custard tarts (since he generally eats everything). Later found out that of all the sweet things out there, he actually has a hatred of custard tarts. Oops! More for me, I guess!
  5. Forgot to add the tuna to the tuna pasta bake. I realised half way through, and added it later. Thankfully, it still tasted good.

The actual annoying things about Cambridge

I came across an article on the local news site this week – 13 annoying things about Cambridge.

Whilst I can agree with a few of them, things like punt touts have never bothered me – I moved to Cambridge from a city that is more obnoxious for it’s slew of charity chuggers. Which are far more irritating. The punt touts have never bothered me, since a short ‘Thanks, not today’ generally results in being left alone. Not so with charity chuggers. Really, until you’ve been practically chased down a high street by a monk shouting ‘Gurangha!’ at you, I’m not sure you can claim annoyance at punt touts. Then again, the southern end of this country does have a strange attitude in talking to strangers – as in, you do it rarely, if at all. Strangers are scary, or something. The north end of the country is much more likely to want to know your business and get in your face about it. Maybe that is the source of the irritation.

Many of the other problems are down to the local council. Whilst they get many things right, they are incredibly anti-vehicle. So it’s no surprise that parking becomes an issue. Take away the majority of free parking spaces, build housing allocated with 1 1/2 parking spaces (how do you get half a parking space? Seriously…), and poor public transport options, then you’re going to end up with overpriced parking, and people parking inconsiderately due to lack of options. Supply and demand, that has been artificially created by a council that seems to think that a bike is the answer to everything, without considering that people need to do things like carry shopping around, or deliver goods to the businesses in the area. Frustrating does not begin to cover it.

The other side of the problem is that Cambridge is actually a nice place to live, regardless of the problems. It’s close enough to London (whilst still being cheaper) that it is viable for commuting. Which of course means that the price of housing is incredibly high, and getting higher. That said, money is tight. More houses get built, but it’s not enough. The knock on effect of the extra housing is that more people live here – meaning the traffic gets worse. The infrastructure of the area is only now being considered (improvements to the A14 and updating a woefully inadequate train station). Of course, these things take time – but at least these kind of improvements are actually happening now. It’s frustrating, sure, but at least there is a light at the end of the tunnel. One day, the work will be completed.

In terms of things that are actually annoying about Cambridge for the average bod though? When I compare it to where I grew up, I find myself counting my blessings. It’s a vibrant area that does not get neglected in terms of government funding, and it shows. Try visiting some of the northern cities, and you’ll find a hotbed of supermarkets and call centres and little else – because their industry was closed down and sent abroad. The lack of investment up there means that first world problems such as pretty buildings is put on the back burner while they try to keep on top of such things as keeping the bare minimal public services running with minimal funding.

A lot of the annoyances listed in the linked article are annoying, yes – but it’s not all bad. At least the money is there to build the new houses, sort out the train station, and faff around with things like parking machines and ‘customer satisfaction’ surveys. As someone who grew up in a place that didn’t get this kind of investment, I struggle to get too irritated by these things. I guess it’s hard to appreciate just how good it is here if you haven’t seen the sheer ineptitude or lack of interest in other cities in this country. That is what irritates me.

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.