Tag Archives: work

Taking Back the Streets



I was walking to work the other day when just in front of me I saw a woman handing out flyers to people who crossed her path. I wasn’t in the market for a flyer that day as I already know everywhere and everything I like so there isn’t any point in showing me a new thing or place because if it was that good I’d already know about it.

The thing was she wasn’t stationary like flyer people normally are. Instead she was sauntering up the street and then pausing to give a flyer to a person who was too mentally weak to say no.

Not me! I thought. I’m taking control. There is no way on earth I will take one of these bloody flyers because if I do I will have to hold it all the way to work and I don’t need that kind of responsibility.

I was catching up to her. Every time she stopped I got a little closer, and because I was walking quickly and she was walking relatively slowly I was making gains all the time. My heart was beating faster in anticipation of turning down the flyer. I practised my lines in my head, No thank you! Not today thank you!

For a while I walked not far behind her. She seemed to speed up and I thought I would be waiting for ages until I got to turn her down. She veered into my path and in order to pass her I had to step onto the grassy verge at the side of the pavement but finally I found myself walking next to her.

This is it! I thought. This is my moment.

I turned to her, NO THANK YOU! I said to the back of her head. She stopped and turned, a confused look on her face. I paused and looked her in the eye, No thank you! I said again, pointing to her flyers.

I started walking, faster than before, leaving her in my dust. Well we sure told her! I said to myself inside my brain. Yes but…my brain started. What? I asked it. Well, you kind of messed up the timing and it made us look like idiots.

I had to admit my brain had a point. But I found the whole experience very exhilarating none the less and with practice I am becoming an expert at saying, No thank you! to all those street people asking for things.

Spare a moment to talk about our saviour- NO THANK YOU!

Hello madam, would you like to try- NO THANK YOU!

Would you like to help children with cancer? – NO THANK YOU! Although you’ve phrased that in a way specifically to make me feel bad and I think that is a bit unfair.

This is a Step Forward for me. Until recently I have wrestled with these people endlessly. It has wasted their time and mine. Rhys once came home to find a strange charity man taking my bank details, drying out from the rain with one of our towels draped over his shoulders. Now I have found the power. NO THANK YOU! I can say. NO THANK YOU!

Assertiveness Training – Part 2


Soar means Situation, Objective, Action, Result, Reflection. There are too many Rs for this to work properly but no one minds.

Lunch. This morning I made the decision that today was the first day of the rest of my life and so instead of having Greggs for my lunch I have packed an elaborate meal of salmon and broccoli and wholewheat noodles. Because we only have half an hour and we are all the way up on the 11th floor we have to stay where we are or we won’t have time to eat. By now I am tired and a little grumpy and I wish today wasn’t the first day of the rest of my life because then I could have a steak bake and a fondant donut.

As I am the most popular people immediately flock towards my table where I am sitting, leaving the only other available table for the less popular people. I have been hoisted by own petard because though I crave solitude I now have to spend my half hour of lunch talking to everyone. When I open my lunchbox everyone makes impressed noises like, ‘Oooh’ and ‘Aaahh’ and I tell them what it is and how today is the first day of the rest of my life. I am glad they got to see that I am Eating Well because unless people actually see you eating this stuff you may as well not bother.

They ask about my book and I tell them about it. Irene – who does not need an assertiveness workshop and we don’t know why she is here – tells me if it isn’t any good in five pages she won’t even bother. Irene tells me I need to make it free to read on Kindle or she won’t bother reading it. I tell Irene that I am Poor and there will be no freebies until I can afford it. When everyone laughs I tell them, There will be no ‘lending’ or ‘borrowing’ of Red River until I am rich! And we all laugh again, except Irene who now has to find a new way to subtly undermine my achievement.

But I am tired and my food tastes horrible even though I’ve told them all how Really Nice it is. Luke is eating a Kit Kat and I want to slap it out of his hand and eat it from the floor. I am sick of talking about myself and so I ask everyone what books they like or what TV they enjoy but everyone is shy and says only the bare minimum. It turns out we have very little in common except for that we are all pushovers (not including Irene).

Luke talks about Game of Thrones and I make the obligatory joke that there are a lot of boobies in it and we all laugh until Irene says (quite inexplicably), I HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT SEX SCENES IN GAME OF THRONES AND I AM LIKE NO, NO, IT IS A RAPE SCENE NOT A SEX SCENE.

We sit quietly until it is time to go back to the classroom.


An eagle soaring confidently.

Sunita separates us in to groups for more role playing. This time we are given a scenario and must act it out, taking it turns to be the one who needs to be more assertive. For our group we need to ask our boss for time off in lieu because they’ve made us come in over the weekend. It is my turn first and I am the employee and I am reasonable and assertive and do a good job. When I’ve finished someone gives me feedback and says, I just didn’t feel like you were invested enough. I nod and agree although feel this feedback is more about my acting skills than the content of my answer. Next, Luke is the employee and he goes from 0-100 and immediately starts threatening his boss with official complaints about his incompetency and selfishness. I say, Okay this was good but maybe you need to be a little less defensive? Luke agrees and has the look of someone dazed, as if he doesn’t know what came over himself. The woman who told me that I wasn’t invested enough praises his performance.

Finally, it is the turn of the quietest person I have ever met to be the mean boss and I think, Ugh this’ll be tough. But she surprises us all by suddenly becoming a total bitch and we all make noises like we are a Jerry Springer audience when she says things about being a team player and saying, Well you did ask me for more responsibility but now that you have it you’re asking for time off! It is a remarkable performance and when it’s over I tell her that she is a Secret Bitch and hides it well. We all clap.

The classroom is now hot and stuffy and there is a brief Palaver when we try to work out the air-conditioning and fail. A man from the office below is summoned to switch it on and then we all complain that it is too loud and the air is too cold. We are tired and don’t want to be here any more. Sunita asks two people she identified as the Best at the role playing exercise to show the class how it’s done. At first I think, Whatever, this will be totally boring. But it turns out they really are good at it and in turns I laugh and become angry and feel great pity for the one playing the employee. It is so good that it goes on for ages and we could all watch them for a long time but Sunita tells us we must get back to work.

I am given a piece of paper with a Feelings Wheel on it and we are asked to identify how we feel in the situations where we need to be more assertive. It feels like the kind of exercise they might give to children who have violent outbursts in classrooms. Nevertheless, I obediently write my situation down on my notepaper and consult my Feelings Wheel to choose my emotions when I’m in that situation (Anxious > Insecure). Then, we choose alternate feelings that we aspire to in that situation. I choose, Happy > Confident and we write down a way to get to those feelings by acting differently.


We are all desperate to leave and cannot remember what it felt like to have the wind in our hair and the rain on our skin. All we know is the whir and clunk of an aged air conditioner and the smell of Nescafe on each other’s breath. We have already played so many roles today that we have forgotten who we are and why we are here. Am I a mean boss or am I an overworked employee? Did I just dream that I was an author?

A girl next to me opens a can of Coke and I whisper, Where did you get that? Is there a vending machine? And she tells me, No I brought it with me. My heart sinks. I sip the lukewarm water from the broken water cooler and remind myself that we can finish at 4 because we only had a half hour lunch. At least, I think, the role playing is over with.
Sunita claps her hands together once, There is just ONE more exercise I want to do today, she says, and we all die a little inside. This time, we must be interviewers and interviewees. We must use a technique with the acronym SOAR(R) when we give our answers to the interview questions.

Exhausted, our group dutifully interviews one another and provides feedback. This group is lovely and we all lavish one another with praise even though by now none of us give a shit. But when someone finishes speaking we all say WOW! You are SO GOOD. I can’t believe how good that was! And it’s so sweet and kind that I am buoyed for a while by the generosity of human spirit we are all showing. However, we all decide we can’t be bothered when we have ten minutes left and instead we just sit there and talk about our jobs and how stupid job interviews are. Sunita comes in and expresses disappointment that we have given up on the task but I tell her, We are tired, We have pushed ourselves all day and now we have nothing left to give.

So she gathers everyone back to their desks and starts to round up the day. I am so excited to leave that I can barely understand what she’s saying. Only ten minutes left, only six minutes left, only four minutes left, only one minute left!! Okay, I think, we have overrun by two minutes now. Five minutes. Has she forgotten her promise? If we had a half hour lunch, she said, we could leave at four. But now it is twelve minutes past and we’re still here. Quarter past. Twenty past! By now I am apoplectic. I have not refreshed my email for several hours and this is something I like to do at least every 3 minutes if possible. I think of that blissful few seconds between refreshing and loading where there is a possibility of a new email with exciting news before the disappointment of seeing that there’s no email or only junk email and it is like actual drugs to me. I am jonesing for a refresh and Sunita has lied in order to con us out of half an hour of our precious lives and none of us are saying anything because we are all total pushovers and the whole day has been completely useless! Is this another one of her Derren Brown mind experiments or is she just pure evil?

Soon it is 16:34 and she is handing us more pieces of paper and everyone is shifting in their seats and when I am about to scream she finally says, Thanks everyone! Have a lovely evening and when you get a chance please fill out the online questionnaire that I’ve emailed to you all!

Chairs are pushed back and everyone crams their handouts in to bags and says goodbye even though we all get stuck in the lift together anyway and have to make small talk all the way down eleven floors. There is no signal and I cannot refresh my email. When I am finally outside I have to put up my umbrella because the drizzle is turning to heavy rain. We all say goodbye and I enjoy the fresh air, taking big gulps and remembering what it is like to be a real person again. I look at my phone: no new email. If I was to check my feelings on the Feelings Wheel I would say I was Happy > Cheerful.

Assertiveness Training – Part 1


Write on indeed. Yes, I am holding a pen.

It is the other week now and a rainy morning and I am on the eleventh floor of a building that is eleven floors high. I am holding a flat white and I am feeling grumpy because I have been made to go on an all day assertiveness training course. This is because when I am on the desk and people ask for things that they are not allowed to do, I say, No, and if they ask again I say, Oh go on then, because it easier than arguing with them.
The view out of the window is quite good and in the distance I can see the building where I used to work and I think about how I miss it but also how I am glad I don’t work there any more because it was a Nightmare. There are already six other people in the room but no one is talking and it is eerily quiet. At the front a woman who looks like she should be the Sexy One on The Apprentice is writing things in felt pen on a flipchart.

In order to get to a seat I have to scooch behind people and as I do this I say, Sorry, and they say, Sorry, and I say, Sorry, and they say, Sorry and I think, Ugh, a whole day with people like me. This will be unbearable.

Like me, everyone has brought their own pens and notebooks. In the quiet we all smile sheepishly at one another, and slowly more people start to enter the room, apologising as they scooch, and sit in silence.
Eventually the quiet becomes too much for me and I say, Isn’t this weather awful? And this makes everyone giggle in relief because someone has finally spoken and a woman (we are almost all women in here) starts to reply when The Apprentice lady says, Right! And we know it is about to begin.

At this point I get a few butterflies because I have been on other training courses and this is when the trainer asks us all to introduce ourselves. This is my opportunity to say, Hello, I am Amy and I work part-time here and outside of work I am a writer and my book is coming out in January. People are impressed at this point and so they will ask me what it’s called or how I ‘got in to that’ and I will tell them, It’s called Red River and I won the Daily Mail First Novel Competition. This is great because it means that I am the Centre of Attention and that’s the best part of the day.

But instead, this lady asks us to write down our first impressions of the person opposite us.

Well, this is terrible. I may not get to mention my book AT ALL today!
I glare at the nice man opposite me and I write down:

Smartly dressed
Brought own pen

Then I wait while everyone else finishes their own lists. There is some confusion as to who is opposite whom because of the way the desks are laid out and so it is some time before everyone has put their pens down.

The Apprentice woman introduces herself as Sunita. She tells us she is a Business Psychologist and I think that is pretty much perfect. As she talks she paces back and forth and I am distracted by how well her hair stays where it is supposed to. She says, Now when we got in here you were all very quiet and I was waiting to see who would speak first and I believe it was you, (here she points at me and I feel like the person being chosen to assist a magician at a children’s birthday party), who said something about the weather? Well, she continues, I stopped you there and had you all do this exercise because I didn’t want you to get too comfortable with each other.

What is this Derren Brown nonsense? I think to myself. I will be on edge for the whole of the day now, wondering what is a test and what isn’t.

Sunita tells us about the day ahead and promises us that if we only take half an hour for lunch instead of one hour then we can leave half an hour earlier. I cling to this as I write my name in colourful felt tip pen on a white label and stick it to my chest.

Then she asks who would like to be the first to read out their first impressions of the person opposite. Predictably, not one of us raises our hands and I think again of what a long day this will be. Eventually, Sunita resorts to picking people and when they read out their first impressions I realise that I have done it wrong. They are saying things like, Her body language suggests that she’s an introvert but I can tell from her eyes that she’s kind.
I cross out ‘Smartly dressed’ and ‘Brought own pen’ and write, Looks approachable but not as though he would readily approach people. Seems well organised (has his own pen). Why am I so obsessed with him having a pen? I wonder. I have sweat on my brow. I decide it would be better to get this over with and so I raise my hand to speak next. I find myself babbling a little because I feel like I haven’t said enough and need to fill the silence. People laugh when I say things that are supposed to be funny and so I only act up more and then I am overexcited and find it hard to listen to other people when they speak.

It comes to the person opposite me, Asif, who says, When I first saw Amy I put down that she seemed friendly and shy but now that she’s spoken-

He thinks I’m horrible! I say and everyone laughs.

No, he says, Now I don’t think you’re shy.

I am a terrible show off, I think to myself, but it is too late because now I am everybody’s favourite and I cannot let them down.

The morning continues with various exercises. We are asked to rate ourselves on a scale of 0 – 10, 0 being passive and 10 being aggressive. Most of us have written ‘3’. We are asked what we believe ‘being confident’ is and everyone has a very hard time describing it including me. The best I can come up with is, Not being nervous and sweaty all the time.

At break I look at my phone and out of the window and I think about what freedom feels like and I feel strung out as the adrenaline from being Centre of Attention wears off.
Now, Sunita says, We are going to do some role playing. Everyone in the room goes red and tries to turn invisible. She continues, I know you’re all introverts and this will be like drawing blood from a stone but these exercises are fantastic for building your confidence.

I wonder if I would die instantly if I jumped from the eleventh floor or if it would be slow and painful.

Sunita tells us all what an Elevator Pitch is and then says we will be Speed Networking


Picture of an elevator with words ‘elevator pitch’.

for five minutes at a time. Then she becomes distracted and asks us all if we’ve ever seen the Amy Cuddy TED Talk. No, we say. Or rather we all shake our heads and silently mouth the word No because none of us want to commit to anything unless we know the whole group is saying the same thing. Stand up, Sunita says. She explains the concept, about body language and influencing the way we feel by using poses. How does Wonder Woman stand? She asks so I cross my arms like it’s the X-Factor until I realise everyone else is standing with their hands on their hips and apparently that is the right answer so I quickly change my position.
She makes us hold this for a long time until we feel sufficiently powerful enough to start our role playing exercises. I am still DREADING this and have noted the windows do not open just in case people throw themselves out. Touche, architect.
What I’m going to ask you to do, she says, Is talk to the person opposite you for three minutes about what your greatest strength is and give us examples of how you’ve used this strength, how you’ve succeeded with it.

I perk up. Until now, there hasn’t been an organic way to mention my book and how great it is but now…yes. Yes this might work very well for me.

When the time starts I say, Hello, I’m Amy and my greatest strength is my creativity. In 2016 I won the Daily Mail First Novel Competition…

My monologue continues for three blissful uninterrupted minutes. The person opposite me makes impressed noises and their face does all the things I want it to. At the end they are allowed to give me feedback on my pitch and they say they want to know more and they can’t believe how great it all is.

I have perfectly masked my extreme narcissism with enough modesty that they tell me I should be MORE PROUD of my achievements and not diminish them. Ha-ha, I think, but I am proud! In fact I think I am SO great and even more great because you fell for the fact I don’t think I’m totally great!

The best part of this is that after our time is up and I have listened to their pitch (we will skip that bit here as it’s not as fun for me to recall) I get to do it ALL OVER AGAIN. I get to do it about 5 times but at the end of the exercise there are still 9 people in the room who do not know about me and Red River and this bothers me until Sunita says, Now did you all hear what Amy said? And asks me to repeat it for the whole class. I pretend like this is slightly embarrassing but that I am rising to the challenge in spite of my great humility. People gasp and say how wonderful it is. I say, It is a dream come true.


Evolution in three simple images. Man expressing my thoughts exactly.


Lovely canteen in the workplace

Lovely canteen in the workplace

You can stop your incessant emails and comments, a new blog has arrived. It isn’t that I have forgotten about this but rather because I have recently re-entered the workforce and have been very busy.

Sometimes I stop and I think, This is absurd. I think this because of times like five-thirty a.m on a Saturday, which seems like such an unfair and unnatural time to be active. Also, moments where I catch my eye in the reflection of the computer screen and stop to consider for a while that I am in a place I do not want to be, where I can’t read a book or have something to eat until I’m told I am allowed.

There are good bits, like when I get paid and I can buy things. I’ve bought a lot of great things and also some great stuff so far and I look forward to buying more.

But it is still weird. In work, I had to have an unflattering photograph taken and now I have to wear it around my neck all day when I am there. If I was to do this outside of work I would be labelled eccentric or even a narcissist, but in work it is just normal.

This isn’t one of those jobs where you have to wear smart lady trousers with no pockets. Here you can wear whatever you want so long as it is appropriate. If you’re confused about what is appropriate and what is not I have an anecdote which will serve to illustrate the difference. So here is the anecdote then. (Please skip ahead if you feel confident with appropriate casual work attire.)

A woman who works with my mother once arrived at the office wearing a t-shirt that said, simply, DYKE, in rhinestone lettering. Though this sounds like a very nice t-shirt and shows she is comfortable with who she is (right on, sister!), it is actually inappropriate. It is not the rhinestones that are inappropriate – they may seem more suited to evening wear but it is actually acceptable to wear them on a casual t-shirt in the daytime – but the word DYKE. There are many other words you can have on your t-shirt if you want to make a statement, perhaps test these on friends and family if you are unsure.

Because of the loose guidelines I start every morning wondering if I am dressed too casually. See, it is important to me to feel as though I am wearing pyjamas, as this reminds me of being at home and watching TV. That is where I am happiest.

I miss this at work. I sit back and think of my cats, lying in rays of light on the carpet, half asleep. I miss them so much. After work I buy them gold tins of cat food with fancy names, Ocean Fish in a White Sauce with Spinach, because I love them and I can afford to now. At home I serve it to them like a waiter, saying the full title of the dish before placing it down. They do not leave a tip.

After a long period of unemployment, it is normal to become accustomed to your own company. Also, it is normal to become unaccustomed to other people’s company. You spend so many days talking only to yourself and your cats, doing a fart whenever you have to, that it can be difficult to re-assimilate with society.

A heron, free to spend his days however he wants.

A heron, free to spend his days however he wants.

It is strange to suddenly spend up to nine hours a day surrounded by people who are forced to be in your company. In many ways this is a good thing and you realise that despite our differences we are really All the Same. Except for people who are Just Awful, and you must spend time with these people too. You must smile and talk to them even if they have just slagged off all cats.

You must be nice because we are all a team and we are working toward a common goal. You may not care about the goal, it probably isn’t what you planned for in life. Your own personal goals might include being a best selling author and marrying Ryan Gosling when he stars in the adaptation, but while in work you must pretend you care about Their goal.

This is a good starting-off point for any working relationships, knowing and accepting you are all pretending to care about the same thing, you will always have this in common. If you need to engage with someone while you are waiting for your sports bottle to refill at the water cooler, try asking them about themselves. If they reciprocate, respond enthusiastically about their life! Not too enthusiastically because this can be frightening to more timid colleagues.

Several times a day you may ask yourself, Am I weird? because often you will say something and you will notice that your conversational partner has pinched their eyebrows together in a quizzical manner. Most of the time this will be about nothing and you will determine that you are not weird but everyone else is. But once in a while you will think you are weird and you will have to tell yourself to tone it down until you get home and you can fully be you again, talking to your cats and farting, happy in your DYKE t-shirt.