I’ve never had a profession, or a chosen career to have a pinnacle of, no shining goal of achievement at the top of the pile to aim for. Instead I’ve had a series of low-paid, low-status jobs, some full time and some part time, and intermittent periods of staying at home in between. I’ve been a mum since I was 18, and became a working single mum at 24 when my marriage to my kids’ dad broke up… or is it broke down?

Anyway, the point is, with no child maintenance paid at all on their father’s part, ever, I necessarily worked around whatever fitted in with the needs of the kids’ schooling to pay our way as best I could, so over the years I’ve worked variously in retail, hospitality, healthcare, the civil service, and education. And as a mature student I also studied for a degree, although I’ve never actually used it. My kids are long grown up, in fact two out of three are parents themselves, and I’m married again – happily, this time.

So here I am at 59, having been made redundant in January for the second time in two years, currently just a housewife. But I’m annoyed at myself for habitually using such a pejorative qualifier – ‘just’ is such a judgemental, limiting term, more of a dis-qualifier, really? I mean, what’s wrong with running a home, cooking and cleaning and nurturing and loving both a living space and the people who live in it?

For some working people there may be paid-for cleaners, or gardeners, or childminders to help them with the upkeep of their home and family, they may live off takeaways and home delivery services, or they may even rush around like lunatics trying admirably to do it all themselves. But the point is someone has to do it, sadly there’s no magic housework fairy that waves her sparkly wand and suddenly it’s all done for you.

Right now I’m in the lucky position of being able, however unfortunate the circumstances that caused it, to afford to stay at home for a few months and enjoy being a housewife for a while, so why do I feel the need almost to apologise for it? Even there I wrote ‘just’ again, so I went back and took it out. Why do I feel so guilty about it, and try to assuage that guilt somehow by effectively demeaning and negating my current life choice?

Who gets to decide which life choices are worth something, and which are not? There’s got to be more to societal value than monetary worth and financial gain, and yet those seem to be the only recognised criteria that count? It’s a bit of an uneasy bugbear of mine, reducing everyone down to a basic profit and loss measure and which side they find themselves positioned on in life’s arbitrary balance sheet? Especially when I’m the one effectively doing it to myself… Grrr…

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Profession

Word of the Day: Disqualified

Ragtag Daily Prompt: Bugbear


JusJoJan: Complaint

I used to work as a university administrator processing alleged breaches of academic regulation – plagiarism and the like. Having worked hard myself at university to complete all my coursework thoroughly and completely, correctly referenced at all times, I was really shocked at the extremes that some students would go to in order to abuse the system and basically try to cheat their way through their degree course.

One student I remember in particular had had an assignment blind marked, but had put in a complaint about the unacceptably low grade they had received from the academic marking the work. Their reason for believing that the coursework had been unfairly marked was that they had been given the essay by a fellow student who had studied the same module the year before as an example to help them understand how best to answer the kind of question asked.

Rather than simply using the essay as a study tool as intended, the student instead chose to hand in an exact copy of the previous student’s work as their own, expecting to receive the same mark as had been given before. However as the wording of the essay question had been changed slightly since the previous year, unfortunately the assignment no longer answered the question as exactly as before, hence the lower mark…

Of course the student concerned was given a mark of zero and now failed the assignment, which they then complained about because they felt it was completely unacceptable that the previous mark already given before the initial complaint was made was now rendered null and void.

Another student complained vociferously that they had been given far too low a mark for a difficult-to-answer assignment, and the ‘evidence’ provided along with their complaint was the invoice for the essay which they had bought online from a site where pass marks were guaranteed, leading to the hard-done-by student feeling justified in questioning the academic integrity and ability of the person marking the piece…

Seriously, you couldn’t make it up!

JusJoJan: Complaint

The Vicissitudes of Life

Anyway, two years on from finding out I was to be made redundant after department store Debenhams closed its doors for good when the company ceased trading, I’m being made redundant again – it seems here in the UK the bricks-and-mortar retail sector is still struggling after the Covid pandemic.

This time it’s not the whole company closing, just the particular store I work in, but the outcome nevertheless remains the same… I’m losing my job again. Even though I do realise that neither job loss is of my own making, I still feel inclined to misquote Oscar Wilde, in that losing one job may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two in a row looks like carelessness!

The store will finally be closing for trading on Christmas Eve, and apparently we’ll be working afterwards for about the next two weeks packing up any remaining stock and clearing out the premises, but however long that process takes, come the end of the first week in January I’ll definitely be out of work again.

So following our company-provided close-down schedule we’ve already made a start by decommissioning the window mannequins. The poor things look quite glum lining up here, awaiting their fate – what a hellacious start to the new year, not what we’d hoped for at all from 2023. Oh well, such is life, with any luck something else will turn up soon enough for all of us…

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Anyway

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Neither

Ragtag Daily Prompt: Hellacious

Word of the Day: Vicissitude

When I’m Sixty-Four…

This week Fandango asks us provocatively:

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Ha, that old chestnut! The favourite career-building interview question that opens up the way for giving some stock smart-ass sound-bite answer that trips off the tongue and tells the prospective employer just how committed you are to meeting their particular needs in the long-term… Well I’m not a career girl, never have been, but when it comes to my personal life maybe I do have long-term plans to think about putting into words?

In five years’ time I definitely see me still living here with my husband, in our lovely little bungalow we bought not quite two and a half years ago. Hopefully we’ll be a lot further along the road in getting both house and garden exactly the way we want it – we’ve done plenty so far, slowly but surely, and have plenty more to do. I find that plans change organically as time passes, imagined ideals are knocked off their perfect pedestals and their more down-to-earth replacements generally turn out to be far more realistic practicalities. And as we like to do the DIY stuff ourselves as far as possible, to date the transformation has not been a quick process, but I’m confident we’ll get there in the end!

In five years’ time I see me still in the pre-retirement stage of my life and still proactively planning for my post-retirement phase – currently I’m on course to receive my UK State Pension at 67, in 2030, so in five years’ time at 64 I’ll still be three years short of that goal. At that point I might still be working part time, health permitting, and I imagine I’ll either have a very crumbly old hip joint or a very shiny new hip joint, depending on the particular level of internal disintegration and current NHS waiting lists. Hopefully my Long Covid symptoms will be a distant memory by then, and surely this God-awful pandemic will have become endemic and managed by annual jabs, much like flu is now?

In five years’ time will I still be blogging? Not sure about that one, I might be, but then again I might not – watch this space, and we’ll find out! 🙂  

April A-Z: W is for Working from Home

Seems like working from home every day

Has become the new post-Covid way

But it comes at a cost

Work/ life balance is lost

Will it be the new norm – who can say?

For this year’s April Blogging from A-Z Challenge I’m aiming for an alphabetical exploration of my personal thoughts and feelings on the continuing Covid 19 pandemic one year on, using a mix of poetry, pics and ponderings…

April A-Z: K is for Key Worker

Our Key Workers have pushed through it all

Many struggle, some stumble and fall

Yet they keep going strong

Working hard for so long

Though exhausted, still answer the call…

Throughout this pandemic, some people have continued working as before, perhaps in an even busier environment than usual. Doctors and nurses and other healthcare workers are an obvious example, but what about teachers and supermarket staff and postal workers and refuse collectors, taxi drivers and bus drivers and train drivers and myriad others. Life behind the scenes and beneath the surface of lock-down has continued to function regardless, so I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has kept things going for us throughout – your ongoing contribution is much appreciated ❤

For this year’s April Blogging from A-Z Challenge I’m aiming for an alphabetical exploration of my personal thoughts and feelings on the continuing Covid 19 pandemic one year on, using a mix of poetry, pics and ponderings…

April A-Z: E is for Empty

By the time this Covid 19 pandemic is finally over – whenever that may be – I wonder how many previously busy retail stores will lie empty across the UK, how many High Streets and city centres will become facsimiles of ghost towns, how many other businesses will have failed? One way or another this virus has killed more than people; it has taken both lives and livelihoods.

I was made redundant last month as the department store I worked for has ceased trading for good, and so my last two weeks of work after my furlough ended (the first two weeks of March) involved packing up all the stock to be shipped out elsewhere. So even once lock-down is lifted there is no longer the potential hope of everything going ‘back to normal’ for me because like so many others in a similar position I now no longer have a job to go back to.

It was so strange and sad for us to see the store slowly being emptied department by department, but oddly enough the packing up process itself somehow helped give us all some closure on the final closure of the business – a bit like a funeral ritual, at least it gave us a chance to say our goodbyes…

For this year’s April Blogging from A-Z Challenge I’m aiming for an alphabetical exploration of my personal thoughts and feelings on the continuing Covid 19 pandemic one year on, using a mix of poetry, pics and ponderings…

Pottering, Pondering and Planning

I’ve spent a good few hours of every day this week outside in the garden, just pottering about, pondering and planning. I’ve been feeling really low lately after recently having been made redundant when the department store I worked for finally closed down for good due to ongoing financial difficulties exacerbated by continuing Covid restrictions.

So in order to try to keep any lurking depression at bay I’m spending some quality time clearing away the last of the winter debris and detritus in my garden, letting nature soothe me and start to heal my hurt, just thinking things through and letting my troubled mind wander, deciding as I go along where my garden plans might take me this year…

When we first moved in to this house in the autumn of 2019 we inherited a mature South-West facing front garden and North-East facing back garden that had previously belonged to an elderly man who had clearly loved gardening and had spent a great deal of time looking after his plants. But it seemed that as time passed he had also clearly grown too old to notice the slow decay of his pride and joy, or to care for it all properly by himself.

Family had kept it ticking over and tidy for him, stopping it from looking completely neglected and preventing it from becoming too obviously overgrown, but they had not loved it in the same intensive way he had in the past. On the surface and with only a cursory glance all looked fine. But behind the scenes the garden too was starting to feel its age, infrastructure crumbling around the edges, losing its integrity a little like a fading bloom. Recognisable still as the garden he loved, but no longer so robust.

The garden had been laid out to suit his personal planting preferences – formal rose-beds set around a rectangular lawn in the front garden, and in the back garden there were two sagging greenhouses for propagating bedding plants, a rickety old wooden potting shed, and a modern metal shed for storing garden implements. The pale ghosts of myriad circular marks on the patio and pathways showed a predilection for plants kept in large pots as well as in the flower beds edging the central grassy area.

Ornate painted but rusting hanging basked brackets adorned every possible surface. Four fruit trees of varying ages and sizes took up quite a lot of space, but there was no sign of any vegetable plot. There was a rhododendron bush and a large overgrown flowering cherry tree, a camellia, a fuchsia and a couple of unidentified bushes – at that point I still wasn’t sure what they might be. And oddly out of place, one large ten-foot-tall stark tree stump standing sentry to the no-longer-functional-but-full compost heap hiding in the back corner.

Moving in as we did at the end of the growing season, I decided just to tidy things up but basically keep everything as it was for the first full year, to see what the earth had hidden within, waiting for the garden to give up her seasonal secrets month after month. Throughout the winter everything inevitably lay dormant and dull, but sure enough by spring there were snowdrops and crocus and daffodils and tulips.

In the summer deep red peonies appeared along with yellow poppies and wild strawberries, lilies and honesty and golden rod. The roses bloomed and barren bushes became azalea and forsythia. Where clear empty dirt flower beds awaited their usual offering of annual bedding plants I instead added herb bushes – lavender and rosemary – and also a few heather plants to fill the blank space.

By late autumn we were back where we started, so again I cleared up for winter, with far more of an idea emerging as to how to begin to transform the garden to become fully our space, discarding what is not ‘us’ while still keeping as much of the original as we could. Winter passed cold and wet, and here we are in spring again. I’d carefully watched the position of the sun over the garden for that first whole year, to see where areas of dominant light and shade suggested one thing over another, and we’ve made some big decisions.

At least one of the greenhouses has to go altogether – perhaps both, as they are old and frighteningly fragile and we have young grandchildren who love to play in our garden. The old wooden potting shed is rotting away beyond remedy, the roof has clearly been leaking for years, and realistically the whole structure needs to be replaced with something dry and useful. We’re going to re-site the potential new replacement elsewhere, as the footprint of the current shed sits slap bang on the sunniest spot in the garden.

Plant-wise, we’ve sadly reached the conclusion that all four fruit trees will have to go. The two really old gnarled and twisted specimens, one plum and one greengage, are both too stressed and diseased with too much deadwood to be safe. Both trees have lost major branches since we moved in, crashing down into the garden with no warning – one see-sawing precariously across the garden wall, one breaking a pane of glass in the greenhouse below, having just missed hitting me on the way down.

Both large trees also badly overshadow the back garden space in too much of an overbearing fashion to be allowed to remain – making the most of the available natural light is so important to me. And the two small my-height apple trees, giving minimal inedible fruit, are just in the way, stuck into the middle of the grass like a poorly-played game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Not surprisingly the old tree stump needs to go. I’ve dug up the Goldenrod, as it was far too invasive and was choking the azalea bushes, and have tried to re-site some of the peonies, so we’ll see if that works.

I’ve always been a country girl at heart so really love having a garden again, and have always felt comfortably at home spending time outside, but I’m not a labour-intensive kind of traditional gardener. Ideally I like to work with and encourage nature rather than try to completely control and contain it in too orderly a fashion. I far prefer taming the random wildness of it all rather than planting stuff out in regimented rows like a formally set dinner table.

I like to do my bit to help out, but basically let nature have her way with a bit of guidance from me, creating an easy space for birds and bees and insects and people and plants to live together in harmony. Basically I garden to let me have a lovely outdoor space to relax in, not for the pure pleasure of the activity itself – I definitely prefer the enjoyment of the end product to the actual process of gardening, although to be honest I do enjoy the familiarity of routine tasks too.

So right now I’m off outside again with a cup of tea to sit on my garden bench in the spring sunshine, picturing in my mind’s eye how it will all look once we make all the changes we’re planning. As we haven’t got very far doing up the house yet, either, inside or outside, this vision may take some time to become reality, but I’m sure we’ll get there in the end – we usually do! 🙂

A Bittersweet Farewell

Even though lock-down here in Scotland continues potentially until almost the end of next month at the earliest, meaning all non-essential retail stores remain closed, I’ve found myself back at work this week along with many of my old colleagues. Thanks to ongoing Covid restrictions providing the final nail in the coffin, the department store I work for has now formally gone out of business lock, stock and barrel, so from 1st March we have been taken off furlough in order to pack up and clear the store of stock over the next couple of weeks.

As England is due to re-open non-essential retail at the beginning of April, all stock from the 15 Scottish stores that will now no longer be re-opening after the extended lock-down up here will be re-allocated in bulk to stores in England. And after we have cleared the stores here we will be made redundant immediately. The plan is for the English stores to re-open only to liquidate all residual stock over a 4-6 week period, and then they will be closing too, the end of a business that began over 240 years ago.

So it’s a sad time for all of us and yet there are still things I can find to smile about. We are physically back at work for now, masked and hand-sanitised and socially-distanced as before, and that is giving us the chance to spend time catching up with each other in the workplace when all forms of socialisation with anyone outside of our own immediate household is currently against the law. We find we can chat comfortably amongst ourselves while we work, gossiping and joking and laughing together again, and that feels so good after nine weeks of nothing.

We can once more feel the familiar companionship of being an efficient and effective team working purposefully towards a common goal, and with no customers in our huge still-closed-to-the-public multi-level store we can all spend this precious time tentatively talking through our communal experience of becoming unemployed en masse in the next week or so, discussing potential plans and possibilities and hopes and fears and so feeling less alone in our sadness.

It is a bittersweet farewell, and of course no-one ever wants to face losing their livelihood, but in a time of unprecedented social isolation and loneliness we are at least there in person to experience the store being ritually dismantled in real time, and in doing so we are able to achieve some sense of closure at its disappointing demise. And of course we are also ending our time together as an employee group by building good work-family memories to take with us into the future, and that is something for which I’m sure I will be eternally grateful 🙂

Weekly Smile

Frayed Around the Edges

When it comes to my regular blogging interactions I think I’m possibly going to lie low for the next few weeks…

One way or another 2020 has not proved to be a great year for most people, and as we see the end in sight I for one am feeling more than a little frazzled and frayed around the edges. Coronavirus fatigue is frustratingly real – I’m still following all local and national restrictions as required but to be honest I’m starting to feel resentful when I see so many others around me bending the rules, or in some cases blatantly breaking them.

And added to the usual stresses of working in retail over the Christmas period during a pandemic (including working longer hours all through December), the large UK company I work for is no longer doing so well financially in these Covid times and we found out last week that I and all of my work colleagues are now facing the painful prospect of potentially being made wholesale redundant early in the new year.

So overall it’s proving to be a really difficult time for all of us at work just now, but in the meantime we still maintain the polite professionalism of helpful sales advisors and continue to give good customer service to everyone. Still smiling while social distancing, while breathing through a stuffy face-mask all day, while sanitising our hands after every transaction and keeping our cash points constantly decontaminated.

Right now I feel like I’m running on fumes, and it’s all taking its toll on me far too much. I’m tired of all of it, so its probably best if I just take some time out…

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Fumes