People overwhelm – time for a big change

Back in 2013 I began house sharing as a way to not be alone. My daughter had left home rather suddenly – a job offer – and I found myself alone for the first time in my life. I did not cope well. Since then I’ve house shared continually, now in a house with 9 other people. They are all a similar age to myself, we’re all very respectful of each other and it’s a quiet household. It could be a lot worse.

This year however, I’ve begun to feel crowded.

Being surrounded on all sides – above, below and to three sides of me – living in one room is claustrophobic. When watching TV you are constantly aware of potential noise intrusion, so I often wear earphones if I am still up after 11pm. My toilet is so noisy, I don’t flush it after midnight. Even boiling the kettle resounds around the house late at night and I’m very conscious of it.

Additionally I live in a small town where everyone knows everyone else. Odd as this may sound but there is no privacy. Couple that with working in the largest hotel/pub in town where there are 40+ staff and I feel like I have a very small life, surrounded by overly familiar people.

As an ambivert, I need equally time on my own to relax and be myself, as I do with other people. I get my people ‘fix’ at work; even then, on particularly busy evenings or weekends, I am mentally exhausted from people overload by the time I finish work. When I get home, I am still surrounded by people which means that sometimes I don’t feel I ever recover from the overload.

It’s time to change jobs to one with greater income, move to where I want to be and no longer house sharing.  This will mean moving away from my daughter, potentially 5+hours away but I am sure she will cope; she knows how unhappy I am here and has my best interests at heart.

 

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Being single – why do I need to explain or justify myself?

I have been single now for 11 years so pretty much my entire 40’s. I’m quite happy being single. In fact I’m not sure I could ever share my bed again and if I’m being honest, I don’t think I ever did enjoy sharing my bed. I don’t and never have slept well with another body by the side of me.

But there is an assumption that because I am single, I cannot want to be and I must be looking for a relationship, or at the very least sex. This could not be further from the truth. What is wrong with choosing to be single and why is it so astonishing that someone isn’t interested in sex?

The result of this is that I seem to spend more time than I should have to explaining myself.

I enjoy the company of human beings, male or female. I like talking to people, I love to learn about them – what makes them tick, where they come from, how they got to this place in their lives, what obstacles they have overcome, what makes them happy, what they do for a living and so forth. I am fascinated by other humans.

Just because I enjoy talking to a person, who might happen to be a single male, that doesn’t mean I want an intimate relationship with them. So why do so many jump to that conclusion? Don’t assume because you are single and don’t want to be that everyone other single person feels the same.

Here’s the thing though: we all like someone else to show an interest in us. Most of us are more than happy to talk about ourselves; so when someone is asking questions and sharing experiences, we like it. We are hard wired to be part of a tribe, to make connections with other humans. It’s natural.

I have raised my daughter to see people as, well, people, not necessarily male or female. There are people in life she will make connections with and some she won’t; those she does, some connections will be deeper than others and that’s ok. As a result, her best friend growing up was a boy and they were inseparable. He spent more time in our house than he did at home. They are still friends now albeit he lives a considerable distance from us but they chat on facebook and keep in touch. None of his friends understood how he could be best friends with a girl but her friends were far more accepting.

In this 21st Century we are supposedly more enlightened yet I am still encountering out dated social views amongst my age group. Luckily I think (hope) my daughters generation are more enlightened and finding friendships with both genders equally keeping the sex part out of it. This makes me very happy as I feel it brings harmony to the world. Men and women, whilst very different beings, when connected in mutual friendship, bring a balance to the workplace, to our communities and within our individual lives.

Am I mellowing with age or have I lost confidence?

As a youngster I was quite volatile at times, quick tempered and not afraid to speak my mind. If you annoyed me, well, you knew about it. It didn’t take too much to rile me.

I’m now in my early 50’s and find myself wondering if one really does mellow with age. These days I seem far more chilled, far less prone to flying off the handle and a lot more accepting. Even to the point of shrugging my shoulders in the manner of ‘it really doesn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things’.

Whilst I commented in my previous post that my life had created a more tolerant, resilient, contained me and that is still true, certain life events have knocked me for six as happens with all of us, and sometimes we don’t fully recover from them.

So I’m left wondering if these events have dented my confidence and done so enough to have caused me to actively avoid confrontation.

I don’t like confrontation, never have but in my bullish youth, it came easier. Now, with the value of life experience, I know that confrontation doesn’t make me feel good; my body and emotions go through the ringer if I do confront a person and it can take quite a long time to shake it off.

I turned to google, typing in ‘mellowing with age’ and the results show that a number of studies have been done that clearly demonstrate as we age we have lower levels of anger and anxiety, and greater acceptance. Another theory is that our hormones change over time and the knock on effect of this is that we live with less fear as opposed to youngsters.

Great, so I probably am mellowing with age, which is not a bad thing; it’s quite nice not to have anxiety coursing through your body or feeling like a coiled spring all the time. Feeling chilled most of the time and more smiley as a result is a nice way to be.

But I cannot shake this feeling that somehow I have lost the confidence to stand up for myself somewhere along the line.

For example, there is one member of staff I work with who has a patronising superior attitude, actively looks for ways to get other team members into trouble and likes to think she runs the place. Her actions annoy me greatly but I find myself unable or unwilling to challenge her.

Why? I know that the moment I challenged her she would crumple.

One of the guys in our house is another example: he can be as nice as pie but in a split second can change to being confrontational and aggressive. He’s caught me off guard a couple of times.

Yet afterwards I’m questioning why I didn’t give back as good as I got because I am certainly capable. That fiery youngster is still in there somewhere even if she doesn’t show herself very often!

I don’t know what the answer to any of this is; sometimes writing things down help me to think things through or cement my thoughts.

 

 

Have you ever thought……What If?

In those quiet moments, when you’re having a cuppa, have you ever reflected on what if you had done this instead of that, where would your life be now, what would you be doing?

It may not be a moment of solitude that those thoughts creep into your conscious. Often they appear when we are in stress, having difficulties or just terribly unhappy.

When I was younger, I really wanted to live in New Zealand. In my reflective moments, I wonder why I didn’t. I was living at home and working full time, so a decent income but no real responsibilities and no major financial expenditures except to enjoy my life. So why didn’t I go then?

The immigration rules were far more relaxed to most countries back then, 30 years ago, I could have gone to NZ or Canada – my second choice of place to live – or anywhere, with ease. But it simply never occurred to me that I could and should follow my heart and leave. And I’ve often wondered why.

How would my life have been different?

Parenting would always have been on the cards, I know that for sure because I wanted to be a mother more than anything else. Marriage probably wouldn’t as I never wanted to get married and indeed I haven’t.

What I do know is that the 11,500 miles between me and my family (NZ to UK) would have been a godsend, enabling me to walk away from them and not look back. Emotionally and mentally my life would have improved 200% on that front. Without the control they had over me and the constant public disapproval of everything I did, I think many things would have come to fruition that I dreamed of achieving.

Who would I have become though without the life I’ve lead here? All the strife in it’s many forms and my ability to overcome it has made me the person I am – strong, resilient, more patient and tolerant, experienced, independent, self-contained.

But would I have had all that strife if I’d not been here? I’d have had different challenges to overcome of course, that goes without saying.

I know deep down that these ruminations on the ‘what ifs’ are fairly pointless except perhaps to help us focus on what we haven’t done with our lives and question whether we still want to do it.

To answer that partly, yes I would still love to live in New Zealand but at this juncture, I simply couldn’t be that far away from my daughter and I know she would never move there.

The British high street loses more shops

The decline of our high streets continues with more big brands going under: Countrywide Farmers (agricultural merchants), Prezzo (a restaurant chain), Toy R Us, Maplin (electronics) and New Look, a huge fashion retailer.

Our continued thirst for online sales is being cited as the predominant cause and I can’t argue with that. We have come to expect everything now: I order online, it arrives within 24/48 hours. Not every high street retailer can compete with that. Big companies that have deliveries every day maybe and those that are prepared to send out individual orders via mail to shops, yes, they can compete.

But if your company will only send a customer request via your next scheduled delivery, then no, competitive advantage lost because the customer will walk out the shop, get on their smartphone, order it there and then, and bam!, it arrives 24/48 hours later on your doorstep.

That purchase is not attributed to the P&L of the shop but the internet arm of the business.

Couple this with high leasehold rents per square foot and high wage bills, particularly since the national minimum wage came into being which is due for another increase in april this year (I’m not complaining about that to be honest), and you have a need for doom aversion tactics.

I postulised many years ago that the face of retail would change where shops would become a showroom, a walk in catalogue you could browse. You wouldn’t actually buy goods and walk out with them in a bag, you’d look at what was on offer, then purchase from an in-store computer which would deliver either direct to your home or the store for collection within 24/48hrs.

Life seems to be all about destinations these days so the high street needs to be a destination, not just a place to go shopping. Hence the rise of the coffee shop. But for people like me who loathe shopping, don’t drink coffee (or tea or milk or anything but water), the high street has got to do something to entice me there.

If customers are just going into a store to browse with every intention of buying online later, then retailers need to do something to get and keep them in store. I’m not going to suggest that all stores have coffee shops in them but a fashion retailer could have monthly fashion shows to highlight their new products, demonstrations on how to dress for your shape and how to put together a flattering capsule wardrobe from their product range.

An electronics store could run short demonstrations on internet security. A garden centre could run courses on container gardening for those with small outdoor spaces but who still would like to grow food at home.  A health food store could give talks on supplements and health foods for particular illnesses. The list goes on.

I hope the high street doesn’t continue to decline, that the government and other powers that be step in with practical solutions to revitalise it. We are living in a time of greatest creativity so let’s harness some of that to think outside the box and get creative with the high street.

 

 

 

Did I make the right move?

In November 2009 I made the decision to move. This wasn’t going to be a down the road move, this was going to be away from an area I had known all my life, all 40+ years of it.

I was living in a town that my grandparents had lived in, where my father had grown up which was all of 5 miles from where I grew up and my parents had lived. The house I had bought as a 25 year old I had then owned for 19 years.

My daughter had been born whilst living there, we had had and lost pets whilst living there, I had suffered severe and at times suicidal depression whilst living there. I had home educated my daughter there, been well off financially briefly and almost broke during those years.

When my daughter was 2, we had moved out of the house for a few months, back in with my parents, whilst the house was ripped to bits. That was a trying time and I don’t recommend moving back in with parents when you left home many years previously and then have a family of your own.

There were a lot of memories in that house. So the decision to move wasn’t taken lightly. But both my parents had died, my relationship had come to an end and my daughter was reaching the end of her home education, ready to start college.

Initially I wanted to move north, to Yorkshire, but the stroppy teenager I now had wasn’t having any of that. So we moved south west, as a compromise. The plan was to go to Devon but for various reasons we ended up in Somerset where she went to college and we settled down to make a life for ourselves. Us, the dog, the cat and 2 horses.

Leaving the house wasn’t the heartache I thought it was going to be but then again, life hadn’t been going well for a while before so I was glad to be heading to pastures new. Leaving the nieghbours I had known for just shy of 20 years turned out to be much harder. Tears flowed in some cases and most were very very sad to see us leave.

Since moving down here 7.5years go, I have lived in 8 different homes with a period of almost 6 months abroad in amongst that. One might say that I’ve not settled. And I really haven’t. I haven’t found anywhere that truly feels like home.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love Somerset, it is a beautiful county, as is Devon and Dorset around us. Whilst I love that Somerset is made up of so many little towns and large villages with small populations there are some downsides.

I grew up in a city then moved to a large town between two cities, surrounded by excellent road and rail links. Derbyshire is the most landlocked county in the country but is also pretty much equidistant to N, S, E & W.

If I couldn’t get what I needed in our town, within 20 mins I could be in an out of town retail park which had exactly what I wanted. Here isn’t the same and I have come to rely more and more heavily on internet shopping. Don’t get me wrong, I loathe shopping but there are times when you want what you want NOW and by that I mean you want to nip to the shops to pick it up. The internet is fabulous but there is something to be said for brick and mortar retail.

I also miss the great road infrastructure and public transport which is appalling here. Where I live in particular it’s terrible but save for living in Taunton, public transport in the county isn’t brilliant and it’s quite expensive.

I have been back to my home town since moving down here; it was 2 years after we moved that I had to return to the general area so of course I detoured to my old street and town. My first reaction was “oh dear lord how did I live here so long!” and on my return to Somerset later that day, I was thrilled to be surrounded by so much countryside and not the noise of the city.

Since then though I have spent time in cities and even 3 days in Paris, during which my daughter said I seemed my most relaxed since moving, made me stop and think. Yes Paris is noisy, as is any big city, but I loved there being a metro station on every corner or a bus stop with regular cheap buses which go everywhere you might even think about going. I loved having the shops on hand too. Same with London.

I often think about our house and miss it more than I probably should though I suspect this is very much a view through rose tinted glasses. I know for sure that I wouldn’t want to move back there. But it does make me think.

Did I move too hastily, did I think it through sufficiently? Did I believe that moving would delete the past and give us the fresh new start away from the sadness and everything else we were supposedly leaving behind?

We really didn’t know Somerset at all when we chose to move here; it was a place we drove through on the motorway towards Cornwall to visit friends. Hand on heart I can honestly say that if we’d spent time here, we probably wouldn’t have moved here. I think we would have moved to another city within the midlands and not down to the rural south west.

Which is all food for thought. I’ve known for a while, quite a long while if I’m honest, that it is time to move on from here and back to a city. Where that will be who knows. As much as I love being in the countryside, it’s a joy to visit but perhaps not for me to live in. And maybe, as I get older, being in a city with good public transport, shops, facilities, healthcare etc is a better option.

 

It snowed, the locals panicked

So thursday it began to snow along with strong winds. My front garden:WP_20180301_001

The street outside:

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Friday it turned into a blizzard but even so, it was manageable. The roads weren’t great, lots of people couldn’t get their cars out of drives and so there were a large number of staff who called work unable to come in from the surrounding towns and villages.

I only have to walk to work. Not a problem, it only took a little longer than usual but I’m not the steadiest on my feet on flat ground in dry weather. I half expected to be falling on my backside. Thankfully, the universe was on my side.

We had snow drifts in the front garden:

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and the big bush round the side of the house was laden with snow, making it look and feel very much like christmas.

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There were many cancellations in the hotel which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as our laundry delivery couldn’t get here which meant no clean bedding! Any rooms not already booked were blocked out of service until clean laundry arrived monday.

But what stunned me is the reaction of people. Anyone would think a few inches of snow equalled armageddon! The shops were bought out of bread and milk! Even now, when the snow has all melted, people are still buying out all deliveries of bread and milk the moment it lands on the supermarket shelves. I’ve not had any for three days now because I’m simply not quick enough to get to the shops before the hoards.

Admittedly we don’t get this kind of arctic weather down here very often but even so, the reaction has been quite extreme. How would the locals cope if they lived in Sweden for example. Doesn’t bare thinking about.

Russia, you can keep your weather thanks

It is absolutely baltic here right now. There has been a few weeks of cold nights but the last few days when a weather front from Russia has invaded our little island, has given us sub zero temps and a bitter wind chill factor. We simply don’t get this kind of weather normally, and certainly not down here in the south west of england.

My walk to work is 5 minutes, very conveniently. I leave my lovely warm centrally heated house to step out into the freezing cold only to walk into a lovely warm centrally heated hotel not long later. The trouble is, that short walk is enough to chill you to the bone.

Snow has been predicted for the next few days. I love snow and after the first fall, there is a silence and peace that befalls the world. Not so much fun when it begins to turn to grey mucky slush.

When my daughter was little and we lived in the Midlands (right in the centre of the UK), if we had snow fall after she had gone to sleep, I used to go wake her up. She’d get her wellies on over her pj’s, thick woolly jumper, coat hat and scarf and off we would go to the park across the road. We just wanted to be the first footprints in the new snow.

We would make snow angels, snow men, throw snowballs at each other. The dog  would run scooping up snow in his mouth and only stop when he had ice balls between the pads on his paws. It was such fun!

Sadly though, my closeness to work means my boss won’t accept the plea that I’m snowed in and can’t get there 😆

Fingers crossed I wake up to a white out.

When drinking to excess becomes dangerous

Working in a hotel with a large and active bar that is a hub for not only locals but also holiday makers, you really do see some sights. This weekend has been an adult weekend, one of the really busy ones as it was 80’s themed. Guests at the holiday camp were out in force today.

Including a group of lads who were ‘encouraging’ (pretty much bullying) their friend into drinking to excess. And by excess I mean this young man should have been taken to hospital really. He messed himself, he couldn’t stand up as his legs would not hold him, his eyes were rolling in his head.

Eventually he threw up all over the public pavement opposite us and his ‘friends’ had to carry him back to the holiday camp. I would not class these people as friends, that is not the behaviour of people who like and care about you.

What made it worse was they left him in his room on his own and came back to the pub! They were refused entry.

If people want to spend their money on drink then go for it. It’s not my place to dictate what people do with their own time and money. But I cannot see how drinking that much, or indeed forcing others to drink that much, is fun.

It’s downright dangerous.  This kind of binge drinking ends in tears.

How much are we as a business to blame for his well being? We contributed and despite being very busy today inside the pub, we probably should have monitored the outside too a little more closely.

But that said, each of us are responsible for our own actions. That young man could have stopped drinking at any point, he didn’t have to keep drinking even though his friends were encouraging him. His mates should have used some common sense seeing that he clearly couldn’t take it.

Here’s hoping he’s ok.

 

Back in retail and training management again

I have been very quiet for the last few months since being made redundant last july. It took me five weeks to secure employment, part time only, doing something completely different: hotel receptionist. This isn’t a job that stretches me or challenges me in any way. I go in, do my job and go home. Stress free. No thinking about work the moment I put my coat on. And to be honest I’ve really enjoyed that.

However, as much as I can survive on part time wages, they only cover the necessities of life. No treating myself. So, fortuitously I got offered a part time job in a shop on the sea front through someone I know. It’s an aspect of retailI I don’t know anything about as we are selling mostly gifts and toys, candy and confectionary, beach products eg buckets/spades, sun hats, beach chairs etc. We also sell cider and quite a lot of it.

The owner would like me to take on the role of manager but I have refused because that would mean giving up my hotel job which I like very much. Plus, the retail job is only full time over the summer months; during the winter it is only financially viable to open at weekends and he closes for a whole month in january. I need my hotel job to sustain me over the winter months. Which means that I am available to work between 16-24 hours a week in the shop to complement my 24hours a week in the hotel.

A young girl of 20 has been appointed manager; she is familiar with the shop having worked there before but her management skills are lacking and there is lots about retail she doesn’t know. Now I do not profess to be an expert but I have worked in retail for large companies for decades, giving me a fair amount of knowledge to pass on.

Today she got a taste of that. After looking round the shop yesterday with a critical eye, my brain spent the evening doing it’s usual – playing a game of ‘shop chess’. My staff at the clothing store were used to this; they recognised the stance I had in the middle of the shop, arms folded, mentally shuffling the shop around!

This morning I put my plan into action. I can only do one section of the shop at a time because quite frankly it has not been shown much love over the last two or three years, so it all needs changing. After purchases at the wholesalers for sweets and candy, that’s what I focused on. It looked fantastic when we’d finished but the new manager doesn’t understand certain principles which I had to pass onto her.

1. P & P: price and presentation. If goods are at the right price they will sell but a huge part of their appeal will also be the presentation. There needs to be a consistency to the presentation of products, it should flow ours did not, it was inconsistent and disjointed. Shelves should be full and always faced up ie products brought forwards. No one wants to bend over to reach what they want at the back of the shelf, shoppers are essentially lazy and often won’t buy an item if it requires too much effort. Empty shelves also do not give a good impression.

2. Psychology of retail. I don’t know if any of you have any knowledge of this (and mine is not expansive by any means) but shelves in supermarkets are set out so that the primary products – the big sellers (and the ones the manufacturers have paid good money for placement) – are always found at eye height. The middle 3-4 shelves of a unit are the biggest sellers; those on the bottom aren’t and those where you have to raise your eyes/head to view them aren’t either. Goods need to make an impact when customers walk in so in our shop, the long gondola shelving unit right opposite the door is now full with all our best sellers, presented well. They flew out the door today.

3. Constant change. This is one of the basics of all retail. It never stands still. As a retailer you are always assessing sales and particularly in relation to location changes within a store. This is what KPIs are all about. So if my changes don’t improve sales of these key products, we need to look at why and what we can do about it. To be honest though, you don’t need figures on a piece of paper to tell you what sells well; if you spend enough time on your shop floor, you will just know.

And some management nuggets of wisdom

4. Organisation. Know what you are doing ahead of time:
Day: spend the last half hour to an hour of each day planning for the following day whilst it is fresh in your mind
Week: know what ordering you need to do, on what days for which suppliers. Know when deliveries will come in which might mean an extra pair of hands required.
Month/Year: with adult weekends (at Butlins here), school holidays, bank holidays, local events and notable dates ie mothers day, have these diarised so you can order specific related goods and have sufficient staff to cover at busy times

5. Know your staff. I’ve talked about this before but knowing what their capabilities are means giving them jobs to do they will be successful at. Having a good team with a range of ages, experience and aptitudes will mean a more successful cohesive team, leading to greater profitability.

It has been a busy day with lots of physical hard work and much learning for this young manageress. She will get there with my help and I hope by the end of the summer she is shining, confident in her own abilities and won’t need me to guide her. For my part, well I will have earned more money (big bonus!!), learnt another retail environment that is new to me, will have been busy so no chance to get bored and made new friends. Win win.