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Friday, 28 November 2008

Reasons to be grateful

Yesterday was for me, one hell of a day. By the time I got home, I was almost crying with exhaustion, to the point where I could not sleep. I finally did get to sleep, but it was very fitful sleep, filled with dreams of work.

It has been a strange week, with visits from bosses, late nights and even later lunches. By the time I got my lunch break yesterday it was 2.45pm and I was faint with hunger. The other day, my boss noticed a carton of rice milk in the fridge and asked me if I was diabetic. I was tempted to say yes to make sure that I got breaks at decent times, and regular intervals. A diabetic would probably have ended up in a coma if they had to go that long without food - it was more than 7 hours since I had breakfast, and with the frenetic pace as Christmas approaches, I am expending more than my usual amount of energy.

The visit from our Area Manager came and went without incident - much to my annoyance. I was hoping that after the fiasco at my old store (it was the only one in his area that he never bothered to visit - not even once), I may have the chance to talk to him and air my views, but he never even looked my way. It was almost as if I did not exist, which I have noticed seems to be happening a lot lately. I am sure that Mercury must be retrograde, as there are definitely problems with communication, with wires crossed all over the place.

I am not sure how it happened, but on Wednesday, the day of the visit, I had just got in the car to go to work and was leaning out the windows to clean the wing mirrors when I somehow managed to dislodge the rear view mirror. My partner tried to prise it back into place, but had to use such force that in the process he cracked the windscreen. My car has been out of action for three days now, with him ferrying me back and forth while I wait for a new windscreen and mirror to be fitted. It was due to be done today, but the glass people ordered the wrong one, and it was raining anyway, so could not be done. The insurance will pay for the windscreen minus £60 excess, but the new mirror I was shocked to discover, will cost me £65. This was an expensive mistake that I won't be making again.

Every day the news gets worse and worse, and I seem to read about more and more retailers going bust. At times like this it is difficult to keep a level head and not get sucked into it all, especially when one reads that the parent company that owns your own employer is £30 million in the red, and tipped to become the next casualty. The company of course tells us nothing, so I would be the last to know if anything serious was afoot. One thing's for sure - trading conditions are not good, and the worst that I have witnessed. There is still though money about, as we have plenty of customers still buying the larger items.

My partner and I were talking about the situation today over hot chocolate, and suggested that to take our minds off the crisis, we each thought of 10 things that we are grateful for. Top of my list was him, and to my surprise, my job, for despite the problems, at the end of the day, it does pay the bills. I am luckier than most in that I can just about afford to work four days instead of five, have no debts (other than the monthly credit card bill) and at the age of 43, am mortgage free. I also, thanks to my parents, have at least some savings to tide me over if need be. There is a lot to be said for all these things, and I realise that I am far luckier than most.

Here then is my list in its totality:

1. Coran - my life partner and greatest supporter.
2. My job - for all the reasons above.
3. My home.
4. My car.
5. My relatively healthy finances.
6. The opportunities and learning that publishing my book have brought me.
7. My health.
8. Lundy.
9. My spiritual beliefs, which help to keep me sane.

and last by no means least, God.

Amen to that.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Nice of them to ask!

Just as I thought that things were beginning to settle at the new store, we got the news this week that we were to have visit from our Area Manager (who never once bothered to visit my old store following his promotion around 6 months ago). We spent the next two days running round like blue arsed flies getting ready for his visit. He cannot possibly see it like it, as that way he would have to give us more help and support, and that would never do. Yesterday night we did not leave until 7pm. I wouldn't have minded if I had been warned in advance and asked if I could stay, but I wasn't, it was just assumed, and because of this, I was forced to cancel my appointment with the Icelandic travel company to visit their open evening. This would have been a great opportunity to meet them all and discuss my plans for next summer, but I guess I will have to go and see them during office hours instead.

On top of all this, this morning just as I was going to work, I leaned out the windows to clean the wing mirrors, wacked into the rear view mirror and snapped it off. When my partner tried to fit it back into place, he pressed so hard that it cracked the windscreen. We could not get the mirror back into place, and so I could not drive to get to work. He then had to take me in, which was not good, since he had an appointment in London to get to. By the time I got out tonight it was 6pm again, and so for the second night in a row we have had to cancel our plans, because both of us were just too tired to do anything.
I am sick and tired of this happening - all I want is a stress free job near home where I can earn what I am worth. It is clear to me that I will not get this in retail, and so on Friday, my next day off, while I wait for them to come and fix my windscreen, I will spend the morning searching for something eminently more suitable, and all likelihood, a lot better paid.

After all that running around, and wondering what I would say to the aforementioned Area Manager, when he did turn up, with four other Managers, including my own, not one of them spoke to me at all. I had been debating what I would say to him, had I got the chance, and how truthful I should be. Should I do as one of my colleagues suggested and say "Who the f*** are you?" or be ultra sarcastic and say "Nice to meet you at last" emphasising the "at last." In the end I didn't get the chance to say anything at all, but that is the story of my life. I don't suppose he is sitting at home wondering about me, and my crap summer and how his lack of support affected us all, so why should I? Compared to MFI and Woolworths employees, I am lucky to have a job at all.

When I get customers like the couple who came in late tonight and will be back tomorrow (I hope) to spend over £1000, you wonder whether the credit crunch exists.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Back from Lundy

Almost a month has gone by since I last posted on this blog, and so much has happened that I hardly know where to begin. I have been meaning each day to write something, but somehow the impetus has not been there - maybe because so much has been going on, not least of all the new job - more on that later on.

Last time I was on here, I was about to depart for a weeks holiday to my favourite island of Lundy - well, what a week it was. I kept a diary during my stay, as per usual, which I post here:

"November 7

A new day, a new beginning

So much has happened this past week that I hardly know where to begin. Following the store closure and everything that has gone on these past five months, I am an emotional wreck. When you go through something like this it certainly takes its toll, and now that the store has finally closed, I am finally able to let go and deal with the aftermath. It has not been a pretty sight.

It has been a difficult week at work, since the new store is so vastly different to what I am used to. They have had more than their fair share of problems these past three months, with the Manager running various training courses and hardly ever there, and the Assistant Manager on extended sick leave due to an operation. Both are back at work next week, so things should hopefully be back on a much more even keel.

Although I had spent a couple of Saturdays working there, because the roads are quieter at the weekends, I did not realise how difficult the journey would be. The week started badly when I was late on my first day. I have had to make sure that I am out of the house by 8am in order to get there on time, and even then it has sometimes been touch and go. This is ridiculous when the new store is only one mile further than the old one, which was an easy journey of no more than 15 to 20 minutes. Still the universe has dealt me this hand and sent me to this store, so I guess I shall just have to make the most of it.
The problems are exacerbated by the fact that I do not know the town, or the short cuts from the various side roads that I have been parking in, in to town. With the help of a map and a bit of lunch time exploring, I am beginning to find my way around, but it has not been easy. Thankfully the journey home doesn't seem to be as bad, since most of the morning traffic is generated by nine to fivers, who finish half an hour before I do, not to mention the school run. Even so, the earliest I have been home is 6.10pm, when we have been out at 5.30 on the dot.

Things came to a head on Thursday, the day that I was due to drive to Somerset as the first leg of the journey to Lundy. I had a cold all week, which I seemed to catch almost as soon as I lost the previous one (a definite sign of being overloaded and insufficient clearing), and a croaky voice (I felt as if I had lost my voice in more ways than one). When I awoke that morning, I was a physical and emotional wreck, and really did not feel that I wanted to go in. I phoned in sick, to be told that they were so short staffed that they could not possibly manage, and if they paid for some hot lemon could I try and struggle on. Much against my better judgement, and after a few tears (my partner's shoulder was soaking wet), I made it in just after 9.30am.

What didn't help was some comments made the other day during our morning briefing, to the extent that this store might too close down. When I got to work, I had a long chat with the acting Manager and laid all my cards on the table - about feeling overwhelmed, the problems with travel, my lack of knowledge; he said that it was natural to feel like this, after everything that has transpired, and that he understood that it was not going to be an easy transition. As a first step he has worked out a training plan and asked the others to be gentle with me. I expect I will have a long chat with the Store Manager when I back from Lundy. Boy do I need the break !

That then was Thursday and this is Friday. Twenty-four hours on, everything has changed. I am back on my beloved island after a three hour, somewhat hairy (I was very tired and almost fell asleep at one point) drive to Somerset after work, continuing on to Hartland at 7.30 this morning. I stayed at the Travelodge in Ilminster last night, and it was not the best nights sleep I have had. A lorry woke me up at 4.30 this morning parked outside the bedroom window with the radio blaring out. Don't these drivers realise that people are trying to sleep?

The journey on to Hartland was thankfully a lot better; it always helps when you can see where you are going and it is daylight. I was on helicopter no. 4 and got to the island around 11.45 am. As soon as I walked into the Tavern,I was greeted by Liz, one of the ladies who works in the servery. As I was walking to the cottage after lunch, there too were Roger and Patrizio, who were leaving the island for a weeks holiday. Roger is signed off work at the moment due to some chemical burns to his leg that he sustained while mixing concrete. He does this all the time, but thinks the manufacturers may have changed the ingredients and whatever it was that caused the irritation got in through cuts in the skin. Thankfully he is better now, but still not well enough to go back to work. It was lovely to see them both again, catch up with Patrizio and share a hug.

By the time I got to the cottage I was so tired, that I went to sleep for an hour. I woke up in time to get to the shop, and struggled home in a gale force, bitterly cold westerly wind with two bags of shopping, made some hot water with lemon and phoned home. My partner is missing me more than normal this time around and was quite tearful himself. Whatever it is he is going through, he evidently needs to go through on his own.

I am feeling better now, having spent a hour walking to Punchbowl Valley and back via the south west field for a quick look for some mushrooms. There are a few still around, but I am not sure how edible they are, so decided not to indulge, just in case. I didn't think to bring my mushroom book this time around, but it doesn't matter, I can get some cultivated ones in the shop.

I think it will be an early night tonight.

Sunday 10 November

Reading through my last entry, it seems like a different person must have written those words, as work seems a dim and distant memory, a million miles from where I am now. Where am I now - is the Lundy me any more real than the me that I am at home, is there a difference, and does it matter? I have pondered on these questions ever since I first came to the island, back in 1995, and am no closer to solving them than I was then.

Of course a lot has changed in my life since that first visit. Back in 1995 I was living at home and working for Boots. I had not long met my first spiritual teacher - and a few weeks after I got home, I met Coran, who was to become my life partner, for the first time. Of course I did not know this at the time, as it was not until 1997 that we finally got together. I look at him sometimes even now and wonder what strange force it was that brought us together - in the same way I often wonder what it is that compels me to visit this island time and time again.

I have never been to any one place as many times as I have now been here - this is my 26th visit. I cannot explain what it is about this island that I find so compelling - I just know that I feel instantly at home when I set foot on Lundy's soil - it is food for my soul. The island is my refuge in times of trouble and despair and I know will always be there for me when needed, wrapping her arms around me in a gentle embrace and soothing away my cares.

I had tears in my eyes as she came into view on the helicopter flight over, which may seem silly to some. This place represents so much to me - the opportunity to immerse oneself in silence, nature and walks, with nothing but my own thoughts for company. I can come and go exactly as I please, not dictated to by timetables or breaks, doing exactly what I want when I want and beholden to no one.

This may sound selfish, but it is a symptom of how my life has become - dictated to by other peoples rules and routines - get up for work, go for lunch, finish work, drive home, eat dinner, watch television and go to bed, what an endless repetitive routine - no wonder I need a break. The real slave is the voice in the head - the ever present pain body, beguiling its way into my thoughts with its insistent whiny voice that begs and pleads to be listened to, charming its way in. Here I can listen to it and understand it for what it is, and it begins to lose power, but out there in the real world, surrounded by ego driven customers wanting their fix, and the incessant pounding beats from the loud speakers, it becomes just another form of background noise.

The only background noise here is the sound of the wind and the rain as it pounds against the walls, and boy was it windy today - gusting up to force 9. Several times I was forced back further inland away from the sea, literally pushed by the force of the wind, so fierce it was that I had to stand on my backpack to stop it from blowing away while I zipped myself into waterproof trousers to keep out the cold.

I finally got home in one piece, exhilarated and cold. The wind has died down now (it is always worse out here on the west side of the island), and will cease hopefully by morning, as I need a long day outdoors walking and photographing my beloved isle, and revisiting the seal pup that I found washed up on the beach this morning, having hauled itself out to lose its beautiful baby white coat. The mother was swimming anxiously up and down keeping a watchful eye on her offspring, as it tried to haul itself further up the beach to avoid the encroaching tide. What a beautiful site it was, and one that I shall forget, triumph over adversity. It reminded me of myself and the challenges that I face - I too am shedding my coat in my more ways than one, and maturing and metamorphosing into the person that I was meant to be.

November 14th

When I arrived it was brilliant blue skies, but this gave way to blustery winds and showers. As the winds blew, I felt them gradually taking all my thoughts with them, leaving nothing but empty space. Looking up at the stars, one cannot help but feel small, but also very large. To know that one is part of this infinite universe helps one to feel that anything is possible.

By Tuesday the winds gave way to some beautiful late autumn days, just right for visiting the beach. A seal pup washed up and has been there all week, gradually shedding its baby fur - a beautiful sight. I am sad to be going home as always, but return relaxed and invigorated and ready for anything that Christmas can throw at me. Will hopefully be back in February/March."

Relatively short entries this time then, and vastly inadequate to sum up my thoughts during the week. It was a strange week for me, filled with bitter sweet memories. I say bitter sweet, as I detected a change in the island, or perhaps in me, that if I am honest, I first became aware of last summer. As that trip approached, I began to have cravings for Iceland, and felt that I should have been going there instead. I enjoyed the summer trip, don't get me wrong, but somehow things did not seem quite the same. It is almost as if I was suffering from overload, having visited too many times, and needed a change. Things have changed for me so much this past year, that perhaps I am beginning to outgrow the island completely.

I hope not, but feel that I do need a break from it and to go somewhere else - during the summer at least. I have booked to go back for a week in March, but next summer plan to make that trip back to Iceland - a country that I have also visited a few times - five times in fact - 2009 will my sixth visit, the the first since 2001. The company that I plan to travel with, Discover the World, who are based not far from here, have an opening evening tomorrow night that I hope to go to and get the ball rolling.

Yet at the same time, upon my return I was hit by this enormous sense of grief and the most intense longing to go and live on the island permanently. I experience this to different degrees each time that I go, but this was by far the most intense. It was all that I could do to stop myself from picking up the phone, calling Derek, the Island Manager, and asking him for a job. It passed, as it always does, leaving me wondering what it had all been about.

What it is about, as always, is wanting to run away and leave mainstream society. I have never really felt like I fitted in, and most of my life have felt like a fish out of water. Would it be running away to go and live on Lundy, or would it be running towards who I really am, and embracing the real me? How do you tell? Only by embracing that dream, and seeing what happens. That is not going to happen as long as I am with my partner, for although we have much in common, Lundy is not one of those things. It has always been the one thing that set us apart - I have a longing to travel and to experience new things, but he does not. He is sea sick and has a fear of flying, and does not even have a passport. If I choose to remain with him, I choose to remain on the mainland, and that is the choice, being ever practical, and loving him to bits, that I have to make. It does not make it easy, but since when has life been that anyway? We simply do the best that we can and muddle through.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Going, going, gone ...

It was a strange feeling to walk out the doors at work for the last time tonight at the end of quite possibly the longest day I have ever worked there. The time seemed to go extraordinarily slowly, yet at the same time, extraordinarily fast. We managed to sell almost everything apart from a few smaller items, keeping the discount well under control.

I am glad that I had the opportunity to be there on the last day, as it was necessary in order to gain closure. Despite the problems, I am grateful for the opportunities that working here has given me. I have grown enormously as a person during the last year, especially so since April. Yes the company could have handled things better, and yes it was hard, but what is done is done, it does no good to dwell on what could have been, for it changes nothing.

So, on Monday I transfer to the new store. I am looking forward to a fresh start with people that I am at least a bit familiar with, but I am looking forward even more to going to Lundy on Friday. The timing as always is impeccable - four days in the new store, and then I am off to the island for a week of well deserved rest and relaxation - long (slightly shorter at the time of year) days spent walking the island in all weathers.