Engagement!

Continuing the theme of exciting news, Chris and I have got engaged!!! Its been about two weeks now so we’re just about getting used to the idea, and using the ‘e’ word which for the first few days just sounded a little odd.

We went for a weeks holiday to Chris’ parents house in France, and spent the time reading a lot, eating and drinking a fair bit, and doing some walking too. One of these walks Chris took me up a hill (well, kind of a hill, he wasn’t impressed when I said it was more like a bump) and popped the question! Cue lots of grinning and ‘ooh wow is this real’ type comments. Amusing reactions from both sets of parents, finding out we’ve been the subject of at least one sweepstake, and lots of friends squeaking down the phone. As well as a few ‘its about time too’ responses. You know who you are.

Anyway, we’re now fully into the wedding planning stage, where not an evening goes by without thinking about something. Ideas are being discussed, hymns suggested (although we already have a pretty good idea, the problem is going to be keeping the list from getting too long!), and budgets agreed. All in all, an enjoyable and slightly surreal experience. Its another of those events when you step back every now and then and think ‘blimey, is this actually happening?’ When it feels like playing at being a grown-up, like you did when you were in school. But when do you ever not feel that way? I don’t think you do.

Some of you will have known all this already, for which I apologise. But if this blog is about my life and everything, then big events just need to be recorded!

Employment!

Today I got offered a job, working for Natural England, the countryside conservation agency who are the advisers to government on matters of conservation. These are the people I have been wanting to work for for a long time. And while this is only temporary, its a really good start, and a very exciting job.

Technically the job is doing condition assessments of Sites of Special Scientific Interest. These sites are protected as the best examples of certain habitats in the UK, and are monitored on a regular basis to see if they are meeting their targets. However, as the field season will be on its way out soonish, I could be doing all sorts of other stuff as well. All in all, very exciting indeed. I think I’m going to be based in the Cambridge office, which is easily commutable from London, and a lovely place it is too.

In the last 6 months I’ve had an interesting relationship with Natural England recruitment. I applied for, and was interviewed for, a job back in March which I didn’t get. I asked for some feedback, which I got about 2 weeks ago. Yes, about 4 months later. After not getting this one, I applied for the same post in another region, had a telephone interview in May, and had heard nothing (except many promises that I would be ‘kept in touch’ and would ‘hear soon’) until today (yes everything happens at once) when I got home to an email thanking me for my patience, but they would ‘not be running any more assessment events for this campaign’. Not only very bad to keep people waiting this long and then ditch them all, but also the lack of contact and information the whole way through was pretty shocking.

If they hadn’t just given me a job I might be even more unimpressed 😉

Inertia

Last weekend I was on a course in Yorkshire for the weekend, learning how to identify grasses, being geeky about botany and generally enjoying the outdoors. It was fun, which was no surprise. I always enjoy these courses, the people are friendly, and I love the challenge of learning new things. Spending time with a group of like-minded people, even if I don’t know them to start with, is refreshing, inspiring and strengthening. It reminds me there are other people struggling with the same things I am, working towards the same aims. And also that those that have made it aren’t super-human geniuses but ordinary people like me. I always return feeling like I can get there, and that all these things are possible.

However, when it comes to actually going, to packing my things and leaving home for a few days, I always wish I wasn’t going. It suddenly feels like the worst thing in the world, which this time was a bit harder because instead of just leaving my own flat I was leaving *our* flat, and Chris, for the weekend. Its something that I wish I didn’t have to do, and I’d rather be doing anything else.

But then, if I know its going to be really good when I get there, why is this? I guess its the fear of the unknown. Even if its not a big fear, and its not a big unknown, its still something I can’t anticipate and there’s a part of me which wants to stay with what I know.

Human nature. Its a funny beast.

News

All sorts of other stuff has happened since I last posted, I’ll maybe get around to that some other time. Right now, I have a sermon to write, but I’ve been meaning to post this for about a week..

I’ve spent a fair amount of time hanging about in London since I finished work, partly for the purpose of finding us somewhere to live.. which we now have 😀 😀 😀 After much slogging round the streets of north London wearing myself and the soles of my shoes down, we’ve managed to get ourselves a rather nice little flat in Tufnell Park, in Camden. It would have to be the first one I looked at as well wouldn’t it?! But that aside, its very exciting. Its a lot more spacious than most for the same price range, due to it being an ex-council flat in a not very inspiring large block, but the area is nice, quiet and green, and very close to Hampstead Heath. There were estate agent photos, but I think its been taken off now, but we’ll get some once we’re settled.

Now begins the manic-ness of organising and trying to ship me and all my stuff down the country.. so far we have a van and a merry (or at least willing) group of helpers. This Sunday is my last service in Shrewsbury, so once the sermon-writing is out of the way, the packing shall begin in earnest.

Excitement, madness, occasional panics about practicalities, and just wanting it all to be done, but definately excitement still. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve said ‘one day..’ I don’t think its going to sink in properly till we’re there together surrounded by boxes and realise neither of us is leaving to go home..

Bank holidays

In wanting to update everything about the sticky work situation, I have neglected to write about the lovely bank holiday weekend we had, and lovely it most certainly was. For a start, this was the first year I’ve been able to fully appreciate a four day weekend for what it is, being the first year I’ve been working full time either side! It just seemed to go on forever, despite being filled with enjoyable stuff!

I made it down to London late on Thursday night, and on Friday we spent the day with Chris’ older brother and family, chatting, eating, drinking and all that stuff. As well as a rather entertaining trip to the Natural History Museum at Tring. Think lots of stuffed animals and you’re about there. Very odd to see all sorts of animals we encountered in Kenya stuffed and behind glass. Friday evening saw us return to London to meet Never Conforming and her missus, have a nice dinner in the crypt at St Martin in the Fields, and then a trip out to Greenwich on Saturday. A good amount of time to chat and catch up on the various happenings in each of our lives, of which there seem to be many! Nice to have a few days to chew the fat when recently we’ve only had one or even just an evening.

Saturday evening some of us, along with some other friendly folkie types went to see our favourite Barnsley lass in a rather nice venue. Kate was on good form, but also well matched by the accompanying Red Skies string ensemble. Difficult to find a website for them, but suffice to say, if you get a chance, they’re worth a listen.

After Easter Sunday service at Hinde Street we headed out on our travels again, this time in the direction of Leamington Spa for Chris’ brother’s 21st birthday. One night staying in a student house reminded me just how long it was since I was one, and that single beds are definitely only made for one. On Monday, Joe’s actual birthday, we went out for a rather posh meal at a restaurant nearby. You can tell its posh when you have luncheon not lunch. But the place was quiet and sophisticated, the boys (mostly) wore jackets, and some had fun trying to decipher the menu! French speakers are handy to have around. The food was lovely, the setting very pretty, and the company wonderful. Some photos in the grounds while the sun was shining to show the gallivanting parents that their sons do scrub up well when pushed!

All in all, a jam packed but relaxed and easy weekend. A perfect introduction to the delights of double bank holidays!

The beginning of the end

Things have progressed since my last post, although not really in the way I might have liked. Things are now more or less resolved in one way or another, in that I at least have answers to some of the uncertainties.

In the last week, I;

  • submitted my application for voluntary redundancy and was told it had been received
  • found out (the same day) that I hadn’t got the other job I had been waiting to hear about
  • had my application for voluntary redundancy accepted
  • was told I will probably finish work on the 17th (this Friday)

In exactly that order.

This left me with around a week left of one job, and yet no other job to go to. Unsurprisingly this led to a night or two of complete despair, worry, and so on. These feelings aren’t gone, but they’re more under control now. I know we’ll be ok, and I just have to hope that as well as that, I will be able to get back into this career I was trying to build at some point.

So now, almost a year to the day after I started this job, I am facing my last four days of work. The day I finish will be three weeks to the day since we got the email saying the process was starting. Fast just doesn’t cover it.

I’m now left with a bizarre mixture of emotions. Sadness at not really having anything meaningful to do, worry about not being able to get something else, and disappointment at things not working out properly (we’ll probably have to look for a smaller cheaper flat than we’d like due to me not working). These are balanced with excitement at the challenges and opportunities that this might bring, the new things I will experience and the different possibilities before me, relief that I won’t have to endure another season of newt and bat surveys, and unbelievable, indescribable happiness that sometime very soon we might actually not be many miles apart. There are no words for this, but its that which keeps me going.

Also, their were enough of us that opted for voluntary redundancy that no one else is going to have to leave without choosing to, which makes a big difference to how I feel about leaving and what will happen afterwards.

Results

So the meeting on Wednesday went as well as these things can do. There was at least a reasonably cheerful atmosphere among the team members there, and a kind of nervous humour which was better than everyone being glum or grumpy. The end result of it all though, is that of the number of us being reviewed, they’re looking to lose two thirds to a half, which is no small amount. And we were told we had untill tomorrow at 5 to apply for voluntary redundancy, or reduced working hours etc. 

So I’ve done it, I put in my application for voluntary redundancy this afternoon, after having mentioned it to my collegues last week, and then told my boss that I definately was going to do it just before I did. So there we have it,by the end of this week I’ll probably have a leaving date agreed, and very soon I won’t work there anymore.

The thing thats getting me down now, prompted by being about to go out to do my first newt survey of this season, and feeling tired to start with and having no idea when I’m going to get back, is that I still have to do all this, for I don’t know how long. Now that I’ve done it I just want out. Having been told at the meeting last week that the timescale for voluntary redundancy was likely to be measured in a number of days rather than weeks, my boss is now saying he’d want me to stay around for longer than that, which means more of this. Although on the other hand means more money which is not a bad thing either considering.

Add to all this that I’m still waiting on that job, and apparently will hear this week sometime. Thats definately not helping the frayed nerves.

Reviewed

A little while back I wrote about a friend of mine at work who had gone through a not very nice redundancy process.

Well, on Friday I found out that I am now essentially going to go through the same process. Our team is being ‘reviewed’, which is a nice way of saying they can’t afford to keep us all on, and so something (or someone) has to give. Not a very nice thing to read on a Friday lunchtime, but then, when is a good time come to that?

Having had a weekend to let it settle in, to talk about our options and to work out as much of a strategy as is possible with this many unknowns, I feel at least a little more prepared, and a little more able to think and talk about it.

Firstly, we don’t know if it’ll be me or not, but looking at the criteria that they use to decide, I think I can make a pretty safe guess that it will. Then there’s what ‘options’ I get given, which I’ll find out on Wednesday at the consultation meeting. Yes, its all that quick. They reckon three weeks and it’ll be pretty much there.

Secondly, there’s other jobs. The one I had the interview for the other week is not lost yet. I was told at the time it would be a few weeks, so still waiting on that one. Was trying not to pin too many hopes on it, but I think now thats gone out the window. If I get that one, all will be well, or at least, it will be a lot sooner. If not, there’ll be others. And meanwhile we’ll manage for a bit on a combination of payoffs and savings, I’ll blitz temping agencies and whatever else in London, and keep at it with the ‘real jobs’ till I get somewhere.

Also, one thing that struck me straight away with this is that, even though its pretty crappy, I’m in a far better position than many of the others. Among this group of people many have mortgages, children, one has a child on the way in the summer, and another, my colleague here, is getting married on Saturday and then off on honeymoon for two weeks. Not to mention being settled here where his wife-to-be has a steady job and where both their families live. And if the jobs market isn’t great at the moment, its probably none existant round this way.

I think I’ll be ok, at least, at the moment I’m not too worried. This may well change if I find out tomorrow that I didn’t get the job and on Wednesday that the situation is worse than I thought. And last thing at night when I can’t sleep it doesn’t seem so easy. But it’ll be ok, and I know I’m not doing this on my own, this is a ‘we’ rather than a ‘me’ thing, and just that makes it all seem a whole lot less scary.

Although I am of course terribly disappointed that I may miss out on a whole lot of newting 😉

Seek and ye shall find

I’m not really a believer in those ‘open up the bible at the right page and it will answer your question’ theories. Quite honestly, I think if I’m going to get an answer to my question, its going to come when I don’t expect it, not on cue because thats when I want it.

But. This lent I’ve restarted the words for today daily readings, partly in an attempt to pull myself out of a kind of spiritual wilderness of only ever really thinking about faith as part of writing sermons. Anyway, I also decided I wanted to read Marks Gospel, cos I never have and people say its a good one to read, and its one of the modules on the LP course, to name a few reasons.

The chapter I got to today had the story of the storm at sea. The disciples are caught in the most terrible storm, the boat is rocking and they’re all about to be tossed overboard. And Jesus is asleep. Nevermind how is he sleeping through that in the first place (doesn’t anyone else ever think that?), the disciples are yelling at him to wake up and sort things out.

Jesus, for goodness sake, what are you doing just sitting by and letting this happen? Can’t you see things are really difficult here? We’re going to drown in a minute if you don’t do something! And he stands up, and stills the storm. And asks them ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’

Well that told me. I’m not sure I always believe it, like the disciples I frequently doubt and think I’ve been forgotten, that he ought to have done something by now. But maybe I need to hear those words more often.

This week I have a job interview. The right job, in the right place, at what is pretty much the perfect time. Very soon things in my current job start to get crazy again, I lose my free time, and probably my mind. People expect me to start committing to other things here, which are made harder by the hours I work. This is it, and the prospect of not getting it is scary. And I’m tempted to yell at God ‘why haven’t you sorted it out yet?’ Today I think I needed to hear those words.

Gender liberated?

How many aspects of our lives are gendered, tailored towards one sex or another, without our even realising it? What makes me think that Chris’ shaving gel smells masculine while mine is ‘girly’. What told the young girl we saw in WH Smiths that she wanted a globe in various shades of pink (wrong I tell you, so very wrong) rather than a ‘normal’ one?

While this question itself wasn’t one asked at this weekend’s SCM conference on ‘Liberating Gender’, we thought a lot about how the ways in which we are categorised and stereotyped based on gender extend into pretty much every aspect of our lives. Whatever your interest or personal perspective of gender, from feminine ideas of God to exploring Queer theology, there was something to inspire and make you think. For me, the roles of masculine and feminine resonated most with my own experiences.

In exploring ‘masculinity, men and violence’, I realised that, to start with, whenever we think of ‘gender issues’ or ‘gender inequality’, the immediate focus is on women, but that the same things apply to men also. We looked at the roles we push men and boys into, which force them to conform to the ‘tough macho man’ image, and leave no room for individuality or vulnerability. Society has forced ideal body images, attitudes and personalities on men just as much as it has on women, and they are no less difficult to ignore or stand against.
Scanning the BBC news website as I do, an article prompted by Barbie’s 50th birthday on Monday, caught my attention, looking at whether the Barbie figure is possible if scaled-up to life-size, and the possible effects of having this kind of ‘role model’ for young girls. I imagine it goes without saying that such toys create unattainble standards for young girls, but the responses from women and girls who honestly can’t see the damage this causes, and think that “there’s nothing wrong in using her as a role model when it comes to looks, as well as attitude to life. it’s empowering for women”. This from the woman who has had plastic surgery to make herself look like Barbie. The mind boggles.
We need to ask ourselves where these gender stereotypes come from, what tells us that conforming to these ideals is necessary. We need to realise how damaging they can be, how easily they are perpetuated, and how important it is that we challenge them.