28 December, 2013

Before Sunrise/Sunset

A couple of my all time favourite films are "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset", starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. For those of you who don't know, these two films are set ten years apart. The first, "Before Sunrise", sketches the two protagonists who, in their early twenties, meet on a train travelling across Europe and, strongly attracted to one another, alight together in Vienna. They have a few hours in one another's company--before sunrise--before Hawke has to board a plane back to the States.

They spend this time wandering the streets of Vienna, getting to know one another, weaving in and out of music shops, parks, and bars. At the end of their few hours together, Hawke sees Delpy onto a train home and they hurriedly agree to meet again in exactly a year's time in the very same place (no texting or Facebook in those days!).

"Before Sunset" catches up with the couple ten years later in Paris when Hawke is doing a book signing at Delpy's favourite bookshop. Delpy turns up at the signing and surprises Hawke (predictably, they didn't manage to meet again in Vienna). Both are unhappy--Hawke trapped in a loveless marriage and Delpy still seeking that elusive perfect relationship.

This time they wander the streets of Paris and talk. The attraction is still there. The film closes with Hawke in Delpy's apartment, laughing, already having missed his plane back to the States and his wife and son.

What I love about these two films is the dialogue and the oh-so-recognisable depiction of how people change over time. In "Before Sunrise" you can really see the couple becoming closer and more relaxed with one another as they talk about anything and everything. In true twenty-something fashion they cover the 'big' issues -- the environment, women's lib, the nature of love, reincarnation. They are open, optimistic. They have nothing to lose and everything ahead of them.

By the time we meet them again, they have lost that optimism. They have become jaded; they have acquired some hard edges. They have come to realise that life is not that easy and that whatever they thought at twenty-one, life is no longer their oyster. They can still talk, though, but this time their conversation is more direct, more gritty. The romanticism of early youth has dissipated.

I recently liberated my Before Sunrise/Sunset box set (yes, sad, I know!) and watched the films again. I still love them and my husband and I got talking about what might have happened to Hawke and Delpy next. I did a quick bit of internet research the next day and was delighted to see that another film has just been released--"Before Midnight"--in which we meet the couple another ten years on, in their early forties. "Before Midnight" went straight on my LoveFilm list and I can't wait to see it!

I wonder whether there will be another film in another ten years, when the couple are in their early fifties--and what the title of that one might be?!

22 December, 2013

A grand day out at the National

Last weekend we (my husband, myself and our kids) had a treat and were taken to see 'Emil and the Detectives' at the National Theatre by my parents in law.

The play was very good -- fairly low on plot complexity (which is what you'd expect from a children's story, I suppose), but extremely well directed. Lots of clever scenery, the inevitable chase through the audience, and a huge cast of children with excellent acting ability displayed by those in speaking parts.

After the play we were spoilt even further and taken to the Mezzanine Restaurant at the National. We had a lovely meal--the food there is always first class, especially the freshly baked bread--and the kids benefited from the new children's menu. They chose chicken and chips followed by ice cream, which suited them perfectly.

So, we all had rather a grand day out at the National!

15 December, 2013

Nightmare month at work

I've had a nightmare month at work. There have been many things that have been irritating, but the worst has been the new release of my work's purchasing system, which was introduced at the beginning of November.

You would think that this might be a relatively straightforward exercise--simply transfer the users on the old system to the new system, ensuring that they have the same access rights and responsibilities as previously. But no, no, no.

Some people were OK and could use the new system no problem. But many were not OK. Take my situation--I was a shopper and an approver in the old system. In the new system I can approve (but only by clicking on the 'approve' link in the automated email that the system sends, not by actually going into the system itself!), but I have no shopping responsibility whatsoever.

I have been chasing this up tirelessly, as has the Head of Finance in my department, but to no avail. The systems team simply come back each time saying that I am not a migrating user, i.e. was not a user on the old system. BUT I WAS! Can't they just look at the old system and see that?!

It seems that the solution for me to be able to shop is to do lots of classroom-based training (I've already done lots of online training), including the training for new users -- WHICH I'M NOT!!

So, in the new year, rather than getting on with any real work, I'll be attending various training sessions which I don't actually need. What a ridiculous waste of time!

08 December, 2013

Job interviews

I have a lot of experience of job interviews -- both experience of sitting on interview panels and of being interviewed myself -- and they always strike me as distinctly weighted in favour of the employer.

Clearly, interviews provide an opportunity for employers to decide whether or not a candidate is to their liking and whether or not they want to hire that person. But I'm also of the opinion that interviews should provide an opportunity for candidates to find out whether or not a hiring company is to their liking (and careers advisers and the like will certainly tell candidates that they should treat interviews as such).

Of course, you can often get a pretty good idea of whether you want to work for a company from  the interview. However, it seems to me that it is nearly always the company, rather than the candidate, who retains the power in this situation. For starters, the company will be interviewing several candidates, not just the one--and in this climate you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be more than one candidate who the company considers 'appointable'. Secondly, interviewers (and others) may encourage candidates to ask questions, but in my experience certain types of question are often not welcome. At interviews, I make a point of asking the questions 'What's it like to work here? What's the culture like?' in an attempt to understand what the people are like and whether the company would be a congenial place to work. Yet these questions often meet with looks of surprise or indirect, meaningless answers. They are simple enough questions and my sense is that (many) employers simply don't like being asked such things. It is, however, considered perfectly acceptable for an interview panel to ask a candidate very similar questions. 'What are your three strongest and your three weakest points?' is a good example.

And then you come to the business of informing candidates of the panel's decision after the interviews. The successful candidate is informed very quickly, of course, but those who are unsuccessful can wait several weeks before being informed, and then this is usually via a standard email from the HR team with no opportunity given to seek feedback. I can't imagine that it would go down too well if a successful candidate kept a company in suspense, taking several weeks to respond to their offer of employment!

When I sit on an interview panel, I do my best to answer candidates' questions as openly and honestly as I can. I also let unsuccessful candidates know the outcome quickly myself, ahead of the impersonal email from the HR team. Not only is this the decent way to treat people who have taken the time and trouble to attend for interview, but it also gives the company the reputation for being decent and honest.

It's just a shame more employers don't seem to see things the same way.

03 December, 2013

Seven day price drop for "Travels on a Greyhound Bus"

My novel "Travels on a Greyhound Bus" will be available for just 99 cents/99 pence for a seven day period from 6--12 December.

This is an easy, fun read about how relationships change over time and how people react when those relationships come under pressure. It has some good independent reviews from Laura's Book Reviews and Kirsty I Heart Books, as well as good reviews on Amazon.

You can download  "Travels on a Greyhound Bus" at Amazon UK and Amazon.com.

The blurb follows below:

People change. Relationships evolve. But sometimes by too much...

Hip students Araminta Stewart and Giles Richmond meet entirely by chance when travelling around the USA by Greyhound Bus. They hit it off. Some twenty years later, they are married with three children and have reached a crisis point in their relationship.

Araminta thought she knew what she wanted all those years ago. But now she’s got it, is she really happy? Or could there be more to life than this?

Told from Araminta’s point of view, "Travels on a Greyhound Bus" follows the couple as they navigate these two very different periods in their lives. While their early relationship flourishes, their later relationship appears to be disintegrating.

Faced with disappointment, frustration and the biggest challenge to their marriage yet, the question is: will Araminta and Giles’ relationship survive the journey of a lifetime?