Learning on the job

April 30, 2013

When I was a junior doctor I worked an average of 104 hours a week. Continually seeing patients and practicing medicine. And that’s what it was. Practice. Practice. Practice. The hours were awful, but it did mean I got to see a lot of cases and got lots of experience in a relatively short period of time so that I was able to make judgement calls on appropriate treatment for individuals. I also had to know when I was out of my depth and call for more senior help. There is no shame in that – it is considered a requisite that a doctor knows their limitations and asks for help. The more you see and discuss, the more you learn and your limitations lessen. And anaesthetics was the absolute dogs bollocks for training – one to one with a more senior colleague as I already talked about.

In contrast it seems to me that many organsiations do not use this ‘apprenticeship’ approach to training, but rely on the new incumbent to find their own way without the benefit of a wiser, more experienced pair of hands to call on easily and at any time. There may be a number of online training modules to click though. Perhaps even a live training session. But that’s it really. Their boss will quite often have no actual experience of the job that the new incumbent is doing, because he or she has been promoted from elsewhere in the business and is busy learning their own new role. Or even if they know their role in temrs of being able to ‘manage’ the team (what IS that exactly?), they don’t neccessarily have the requisite years under the belt or grey hairs on the head to have seen and done enough to advise on the actual job itself.

Organsisations often seem to value youth and ambition over experience and cynicism. I can’t think why. Well, youth are often cheaper. But they are nowhere near as valuable. Unfortunately organisations don’t ever have a space on personal development forms to say “I just want to keep doing what I’m doing. Hopefully getting better and better, but to be honest I’m pretty fucking good already.”

I have blogged before about us old dogs . A bit of dirt under the fingernails from scrabbling around to make things work, or repairing stuff after a cock up, means we know how to take safe short cuts and know when we are careering towards a cliff edge. We can pass all this experience on to those less well travelled so that they learn to drive their own paths whilst we sit in the passenger seat and give them the navigational options. And always have our hand hovering over the handbrake if need be. It allows them to develop in a safe environment and gives the business the benefit of our expertise coupled with their enthusiasm. What’s not to love?


Five star reviews

April 28, 2013

Today would have been my mum’s 83 rd birthday. One of the many things she gave me was a love of live performance, but particularly theatre. We only came up to London twice that I remember; once when our Australian cousins lived there for a while and once for my interview for medical school. Both times she made sure we saw a show. One was Billy Liar with Michael Crawford and the other A Chorus Line. I was blown away by both of them. Two huge production numbers in Drury Lane.
And I was reminded of them when someone asked me the other day if I ever give any theatrical production 5 stars. And I probably would have given them 5 stars at the time for I was not as critical as I am now, but neither am I a completely miserable cow who can never be satisfied. But I do ask pretty highly of my entertainment if it wants to get five stars. I do enjoy things that are less than tip top rating, and can have a great time at a three star production – it’s just that for me it could have been even better.
So I thought I would list the things I have seen in London that I would have given 5 stars to if I’d been blogging!

  1. Adele at Hammersmith
  2. Mark Rylance in Jerusalem.
  3. Our New Girl at the Bush theatre.
  4. Memory at the Bush theatre
  5. Billy Elliot the Musical
  6. Lion King the Musical
  7. History Boys
  8. La Boheme by Opera Up Close and also at Royal Opera House
  9. Madame Butterfly at Royal Albert Hall
  10. Pigeon Detectives at Brixton Academy
  11. Midsummer’s Night’s Dream by Propellor (all male cast), and at the Lyric Hammersmith and by an Icelandic gymnastic troupe
  12. La Fille du Regiment at the Royal Opera House
  13. Warren Mitchell in Death of a Salesman
  14. Madness somewhere in Camden. I want to say Dingwalls but I’m not sure . It was a loooong time ago.
  15. 42nd Street
  16. Imelda Staunton in Entertaining Mr Sloane atTrafalgar Studios
  17. Dead Funny at the Comedy theatre

There has been other stuff too but the details escape me – Janie Dee was in a fabulous production, as was Neil Pearson – I think it was Closer before it was a film. I have loved going to live performances – and even when they have been disappointing at least we were out and about seeing them rather than plonked in front of the TV being fed mostly pap. And seeing mediocre stuff does mean that when you see the great stuff it really blows you away and you realise what all the fuss is about. And how hard it is to get it right.
So thanks Mum. This has been a gift that has just kept on giving. Xx

The chemistry teacher at school was off on long term sick so I took chemistry as an option for O levels assuming it would be a bit of a doss with no teacher. It was the early 70s in the back of beyond in Mid Wales.

Suddenly a new teacher appeared. This hadn’t been part of our plan. We’d been happy mucking about, having cover teachers or the lab technician look after us. We certainly didn’t learn any chemistry.  And had enjoyed a full year doing absolutely nothing for three periods a week. Double chemistry on a Wednesday morning was a particular joy of attaching bunsens to taps and spraying them round the room. Or throwing wet cloths at each other.

Now we were given a textbook and our new teacher started working through it. Mr Ubibore was different from any other teacher we’d ever had. He was different from every other member of staff. He was different from every other child at school. Mr Ubibore was black. He had a soft African accent – Nigerian I’m guessing – and always wore a suit.

Mr Ubibore had two answers for any question that we had. One was “Because you eat too much mashed potato.” and the other was “Because God made it so.” Neither of these were particulalry helpful in clarifying what chemical reactions might be occuring in our crucibles and did not engender great faith in his ability. I would go home and tell my mother and she would be concerned about me being racist. I couldn’t get her to believe what was happening in every lesson. It was only when we all failed the O level that the school started to take it seriously.

Luckily for me I managed to get in to medicine without Chemistry A level (a pre-requisite in those days) because I went off and did a flashy Baccalaureate so the Universities were keen to find out more about it, but I would never have got in if I’d stayed at my school. But it did make me think it is important to talk to the sharp end when you want to know what’s really happening. We knew within the space of a couple of lessons that he wasn’t fit for purpose. Sweet guy yes. Chemisty teacher no. But no one came to watch him teach. No more senior colleague. No external Ofsted inspector. No Governor. And no one listened to us. No one even asked us how it was going.
And it reminds me of some comapanies where I work where you simply don’t see the high echelons of management on the floor at all. They don’t stroll around the office and ask how things are going. They don’t get a feel for it. They don’t know what the nitty gritty day to day stuff is like any more. The sharp end. They don’t make the opportunity to talk to the people doing the actual work who often have great ideas for simplification and improvement. A suggestion box on a website is no substitute for eyeball to eyeball contact with a big cheese and being invited to suggest ways to make things better. They talk to their direct reports who give them second or third hand interpretaions of what’s happening. Which will be coated with their own agendas rather than laid bare. And it can mean that by the time problems come to the attention of the higher echelons they are massive, whereas if they’d had their ear to the ground they would have heard the rumblings and been able to nip it in the bud. Not to mention the fact that if you see leadership physically around you, you know what it looks like. You get clarity of vision, you get inspired and motivated by good management. All that is lost if they are hidden away in offices talking to each other rather than the rest of us.

Lovely dinner party on Saturday night – 16 of us to toast a special birthday of a man I have known nearly all my adult life having known his wife since we were children. Her Mum and my Mum were at Cambridge together and then shared a flat as young teachers in Chester. And they were lifelong friends. Both of them great letter writers so that even when they lived at opposite ends of the country they still kept in touch. It is so much easier nowadays, but then it relied on letters and an occasional phonecall. But even phonecalls weren’t ubiquitous like they are now. We had a party line. It meant you shared your phoneline with someone else so if they were using it, you couldn’t. You’d pick up the phone and could hear them talking so you knew you had to wait. And if you wanted to call abroad you had to book a call in advance with the operator. How times have changed and everyone is in constant contact with everyone else. Not a minute of reflective contemplation on one’s own.
But I digress.
Saturday night was filled with chatter with lots of people I didn’t really know and was all going well until late in the evening someone said it was what the country needed; – the funeral of Maggie to celebrate her achievements. I’d drunk too much to just let it go. I should have known better. I was too pissed to be coherent, but she was astounded when I disagreed that she was the best Prime Minister we had ever had, a great female role model who transformed Britain for the better and of course the State should pay for her funeral.

I tried to move on to ‘agree to disagree’ but she wouldn’t let it lie and her uncritical adoration seemed to send me spiralling in to a red mist where I was unable to dig out any facts to throw at her. Just saying “Maggie Thatcher was a cunt ” doesn’t really hack it as a reasoned argument likely to persuade anyone of anything except what a complete twat I am. And of course I am not so blinkered not to realise that she had strengths, intelligence and a fearlessness and that something needed to be done. But the cost some people and communities had to pay was too much.
However, I had struck a lighter note earlier on by reading an Ode I’d written to the birthday boy.

Ode of the Occasion of Richard’s Birthday

I’d like to raise a glass or two,
To the birthday boy.
One Richard Drew.

I’ve known him all my adult life
From well before Ros was his wife.
He lost his heart to this young girl,
They were married down in Kent,
Thank God it still beats strong and hard
(More thanks go to the stent).

He’s always been so lovely,
Sophistication, charm unending,
And patience of an utter saint
When Ros goes full-on spending….

He’s always such a perfect gent
To his family loyal and true
I give you one of our Top Blokes,
The wonderful Richard Drew!

Woman’s Hour

April 14, 2013

At a party recently, a man I’d never met before was discussing Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Hey, that’s how we roll in West London. And he was having difficulty taking the programme seriously, or more to the point taking feminism seriously, because there would seem to be great articles about women striving for equality followed by half an hour on which shade of lipstick to wear. To him, these seemed incompatible. Unfortunately I only caught the tail end of that conversation and it had moved on to micromanaging of children by their parents so I wasn’t able to let him hear the benefit of my musings from my well glossed (using Giorgio Armani Lip Maestro in shade 504) mouth.
To me this is exactly why you need more women in boardrooms, in top jobs, in impactful roles. Because we do see the world differently. Our lipstick love is no different from your discussing the Arsenal offside trap. It is simply another facet of life. On its own it doesn’t define you, but helps form part of the kaleidescopic picture that is humanity.
To be honest I have difficulty in all sweeping gender generalisations because I am part bloke by many standard measures. I am loud, opinionated, decisive, independent, don’t like talking about my deepest feelings, like cars, am selfish, thoughtless, confident, swear, drink to excess, and vulgar. I don’t like housework, cooking, or animals and am not good at being lovey-dovey, sharing, fluffy stuff. I am not a high maintenance wife in the usual sense of the phrase. I cannot bond with women over the failure of their husbands to do the shopping or cooking or buy them flowers or remember anniversaries.
However, I do like children, lipstick, clothes, manicures, shoes, Downton Abbey, Suits and other rubbish TV, diamonds and being made to feel special.
None of those make me more or less suitable to be taken seriously at work. It just means I may have a different way of looking at things. Which could be an asset in any organisation. The value I deliver in the workplace is not solely a function of my gender. It is a composite summation of what I bring to work. Including and not despite my Mulberry handbag.

Starting early

April 10, 2013

It is 730 and I have just got in from a great day at work. I turned the kettle on, changed my mind, opened the fridge and poured out the remains of the Petit Chablis from last night. Bliss. Before the wine was even swallowed I was already enjoying it. And starting to wonder if I have a drinking problem. And dismissing it. But it set me thinking about the first time I got absolutely wrecked.
I was going out with a lad a couple of years older than me at school. I was 12 or 13 and he invited me to one of his classmates’ birthday party. It was in his house down the other end of town. I got there and was asked what I’d like to drink. They didn’t have vodka and lime (my tipple of preference at the time) so I didn’t know. My boyfiend suggested port and lemon. I had no idea what this even was, but apparently his mum drank it so he thought that would be appropriate. Why on earth did they have port but not vodka is an unanswered question even after all these years. It arrived in a white plastic cup and was an easy glug. Very sweet. Slipped down a treat. As did the susequent ones.
The next thing I remember is trying to walk home. Probably about a mile. And feeling fine. Hilarious. Everything was just hilarious. Got home and started feeling shocking. Violently ill. Vomiting red and yellow fluid. Disgusting. And the worst thing was that I still felt ill even after I’d vomited. A sure sign there was more to come.
My parents were out. My boyfriend must have taken me up to my bedroom and put me on the bed. I continued to vomit.And moan. I remember my parents coming home and coming in to my bedroom. My boyfriend (stupidly) was lying on the bed. I was unable to do anything about the panic rising in my chest so I shut my eyes and pretended to be asleep.
I could hear him saying “She only had one drink and then felt ill”. I recalled we had agreed this story at some point. My mother was shaking me, “Sarah, Sarah, are you alright?”. “I just had one drink and then felt ill,” I mumbled, “I must be allergic to it, like Nanny.” The latter stroke of genius referred to the fact that my grandmother got completely wasted on Pernod and my mother imsisted it was an allergy. It was no such thing I realised later, but my mother was very concerned about keeping up appearances and ‘not in front of the children’, that she spun us this yarn often enough for her to believe it herself.
I pulled on every performance bone in my body and continued the confusion and surprise that a mere sip of alcohol could do this to me. My parents couldn’t possibly have believed it, but couldn’t dismiss it or they’d have to admit my grandmother gets shit-faced on Pernod. And that doesn’t happen in my Mum’s family.
I am worried about the fact that my boyfriend is in my bedroom. Lying on my bed, cuddled up to me. This is probably more worrying than being pissed. But I hear my nice middle class mother thanking him for bringing me safely home.
Our kids would not have got the same reaction from me.

Sarah Pulls it Off

April 7, 2013



I am the younger of two sisters and spent childhood taking a stand against everything my sister liked. She loved horse riding so I hated it. She loved broad beans so I refused to eat them. She hated performing so I did ‘turns’ all the time. You get the drift. Presumably in an effort to be different from her, not just a younger, less capable version. But whatever the reason, and I have to say entirely subconsciously at the time, I never liked anything she enjoyed. Except ballet. She’d started before me and initially I refused to go, but somehow my mother got me there, at Miss Lawson’s School of Dance.
And I rather enjoyed it. I wasn’t in the same class as my sister so I never saw her whilst I did it, but I think what attracted me was the shoes. Black ballet shoes that my Mum had to sew a piece of elastic across to make sure they stayed on. I loved them. Soft soft leather like fairy shoes.
I was a sturdy child so there was nothing fairy-like about me, but I could learn the positions and fantasise. Our mother bought us the most glorious tutus. They were hand made especially for us. Shiny satin bodices, sticky-outy netting skirts and straps that were chains of flowers. I remember having a fitting in the beautiful drawing room we had which had been painted by Dad but designed by one of their artist friends to highlight the Robert Adam coving so it was pale blue, pale grey and white. I think of it as a huge room, where they held parties and entertained, so it was glamorous just being in there let alone in a tutu.
I was probably about 5 or 6 and went for my first ballet exam in Glenrothes. I remember a stage and three people sitting at a table in the hall, watching us. About 6 of us performed together, having all learnt “The Butterfly Dance.” We stood in a row and the music started. By which I mean someone started playing the piano. We all set off, sliding our right foot forward then hopping whilst pointing the left leg out behind us. Then the same using the left foot to slide and hop whilst lifting the right leg out behind us. There was a story to the dance; I was a child in a garden playing and then I spot a butterfly. I point to the butterfly with my right hand, looking at it with curiosity. The butterfly swoops to another resting place and my finger follows, as do my sliding and hopping feet. Then the butterfly starts flitting all over the place. My finger and eyes still follow but now I am running on the balls of my feet (“Tippitoes Sarah, Tippitoes!” I hear in my head). Eventually the butterfly lands on a leaf near me and I am able to gently gently cup my hands around it (whilst standing in fourth position), do a plie (bend my knees and rise back up), hold the cupped hands in to the chest and then lean forward and let the butterfly free whilst stretching my arms upwards, my left foot back and looking longingly as the butterfly escapes to freedom. And from that outstretched pose via position one to the bow to the audience.
Well, that was the theory and it is what every other little girl doing the Preliminary Ballet Exam with me did. But not me. Oh no. I got carried away with the excitement of being on stage for the first time and lived that dance. I could see that butterfly in my mind’s eye and it went all over that stage. I followed it with pointed finger outstretched and I twirled around to keep up with it. Yes! It was here! It was there! It went every-bloody-where. I saw it land and cupped it safely, holding it to my heart. I let the butterfly go and dropped in a triumphant bow. Slowly I lifted my head and looked out ahead of me.
Where was everyone? This was the end of the dance exam and I was meant to be taking a bow for my performance but I couldn’t see the examiners. I couldn’t see anyone. I was still bent over, arse in the air, when I looked between my legs. I could see the Examiners behind me. I suddenly realised all the other little girls were facing the opposite direction to me. I had finsihed my dance by displaying my arse to the audience.
There was no applause, but we were asked to come forward one at a time and told whether we had passed or failed. There were four gradings, Unsatisfactory (fail), Satisfactory (pass), Merit and Distinction. I got a Merit, for, as the citation said, “My artistic interpretation.”
Darcy Bussell eat your heart out.

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