Category Archives: Personal

New beginnings

It’s hard to believe that 2 years ago I was working as an accountant in a small local, family run practice, happily going from home to school to work and back again, never imagining that big changes were just around the corner. Less than 3 months later, I was made redundant overnight, quite literally, and unexpectedly found myself back on the hunt in the job market, not quite sure where I was headed, but knowing I wanted something new.

I decided to make what felt like a strategic decision about a change in my career path and chose to move into the charity sector. My new job was with a local museum, which was moving from being purely a project to becoming a successful operational business and it has come with a series of challenges, ups and downs, long hours and late nights. I have had to work out a way to deal with the unpleasant reality of workplace bullying and have come out the other side, hopefully a stronger person for it.

All things considered, the last 18 months have stretched and developed me in so many ways and I have had the pleasure of working with some of the loveliest people I have met in my working life. So, tomorrow is going to be a tough and no doubt emotional day. Back in January, for a number of reasons, I decided that the time was right to move on and tomorrow is my last day at the museum. I am taking up a new role as the Head of Finance and Premises with our regional Air Ambulance charity and I can’t wait to get started. I have been privileged to be a part of an exciting new venture and I will miss massively the people who have supported me, laughed with me and had the odd drink or 3 with me since I began. I wish them all every success with their future careers, wherever their paths might take them and I’m looking forward to embarking on the next part of my own adventure.

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And I’m back!

You might have noticed that my blog has been quiet for a few weeks and, in time, I will explain a little more about the need…my need… for an extended silence as life has happened around us. However, we’re home after some family time away from home over the Easter holidays and I’m back with a vengeance with just so many reviews, recipes and photos to share from the last month or so.

But, before I get to the fun bits, I thought there was a much-needed health update, which is desperately long overdue. On the medical front, things are still ticking along without much intervention from anyone other than us. We haven’t been seen at GOSH for over a year and I have no idea when or if an appointment will come through the door. The gastro department there are very much working on moving patients back into local care and whilst I have steadfastly refused to let them discharge M from their care fully, they have definitely taken a step back and are in the background in an advisory capacity only should we want or need to call on them.

It also feels a little as if our local hospital has shrugged their shoulders with something of a “…we don’t really know or understand what’s going on with him…” attitude and are touching base with us on a fairly infrequent basis. I don’t really blame them as, for the most part, M is just going along as always and frankly I’m certain that I know far more about managing the ups and downs of his EGID on a day-to-day basis than anyone else. The one biggest change that has hit us has been the confirmation that there is almost definitely a mast cell problem lying alongside the EGID, but as the treatment is more or less the same for both, that diagnosis hasn’t made a difference to him or us in any way.

Food-wise, we’re now tentatively up to around the 9 or 10 food mark, having introduced onion, bacon and bananas on a regular basis and allowing the occasional other food creep in when circumstances call for it and we can be reasonably confident we can manage the outcome. These 3 foods have really added to my repertoire of recipes and make cooking so much more interesting and flavourful for M. Holidays continue to be the time when we really stretch our boundaries and whilst there are always consequences to live with – some of which are easier than others – our approach has led to a much happier M.

Both children are doing well at school with glowing “short” reports and parents’ evenings for them. G has selected her GCSE options with relatively little fuss or argument or discussion and we’re heading with a little trepidation into the wonderful world of humanities combined with dance. She recently took and passed her Grade 3 clarinet exam, a day I wasn’t sure we’d ever see and is also teaching herself to play the keyboard, guitar and ukulele in any spare moments she finds at home. G and M also recently took part in a regional Stagecoach performance celebrating 30 years of Stagecoach and loved every moment of it. It was great to watch them from the wings (I was back in chaperone role once more) as they danced and sang with enthusiasm on stage. As you can see, it’s been a busy few weeks and there’s just so much to share that I’m not entirely certain where I’ll begin!

Marking 100 years of Votes for Women

2018 is an important year. This year marks the centenary of the end of World War 1 and there are a number of events planned across the UK to commemorate the occasion, including the ambitious plan to recruit 1,400 new bell-ringers – the number of ringers lost during the war – to allow church and other bells to ring out on November 11th, just as they did to mark the end of WWI in 1918. Nearly two years ago, young men across the UK remembered the start of the Battle of the Somme in an incredibly heartfelt way and I am certain that this year will see similar shows of respect and passion as we remember those who sacrificed so much for us all.

However, today marks a different centenary, one that is just as significant and whilst not many of us would argue to know much about the passing of the Representation of People Act 1918 per se, I’m certain we all understand what that Act achieved – allowing women to finally have the vote. This Act was an important first step in the journey to equality for men and women and whilst there continued to be a number of restrictions on which women could vote until the passing of the Equal Franchise Act in 1928, when finally all men and women over the age of 21 had the vote, 1918 was the recognition of the hard work of the Suffrage movement, both Suffragettes and Suffragists, and the irreplaceable contribution of women during the years of WWI.

G spent time studying the Suffrage movement during her History lessons last year at school and I was delighted to discover that she was asked to research and learn more about this fascinating era of UK History. She had to explore the arguments for and against the actions of the two groups fighting for women’s votes: the Suffragettes, those who were prepared to fight hard, sometimes through violent demonstration; and the Suffragists, a group who fought just as hard but through using non-violent tactics; and then consider which group she would more likely have joined.

I cannot stress how important I think it is for girls today to be taught about the battles fought, both figuratively and literally, to achieve women’s votes. Since I turned 18, I have actively made an effort to vote in every local and national election and will encourage G to do the same when she reaches her majority. It is a 100 years since women won the vote in the UK, which may seem like a part of the dim and distant part to my 14-year-old and her friends, but the reality is that, even during their lifetime, there have been other women fighting this battle and the women of Saudi Arabia only achieved that right just 7 short years ago.

Reaching our majority

Another year on and we’ve finally reached our majority! 18 years of marriage, which according to this website, requires a trip to either China or Denmark. We enjoyed our nod to the first when we ate dinner in Chinatown, London on Saturday evening, but today will just be about a meal at home once the children are in bed, a glass of something cold and probably not too much else!

Happy Anniversary Mike – love you always

On the 5th Day of Christmas…

There’s nothing I love more than decorating the house for Christmas, although the last 3 years have each carried their own challenge to being able to achieve that, with admissions to GOSH 2 years in a row followed by a health scare with my eyes last year. This year we’ve all been at home, all been in reasonable health and have all had a part, however small, in bringing the Christmas spirit into our home. Sunday was the day to “deck the halls” at home and M in particular couldn’t wait to get started on trimming the tree. With Christmas carols playing in the background, mulled wine warming on the stove and the advent candle burning down on the mantlepiece, the Christmas season really has begun.

I always feel particularly nostalgic when it comes to pulling the decorations out for our Christmas tree as each bauble evokes its own precious memory. Every year we buy at least one new decoration for each child for the tree and frequently they end up with more than one depending on our travels and on friends and family members who also buy and add to our collection. By the time G and M are ready to fly the nest and have their own homes to spend the festive season in, they will each have a boxful of decorations to trim their Christmas trees. As we unwrap each ornament, the memories of time spent together and journeys made wash over me and there are often stories to share as we reminisce about times past.

It’s hard to pinpoint my favourite decoration as there are so many happy memories encaptured in the beauty of our tree. There’s the small gold bauble with a red ribbon that marks our wedding as I hand-wrote enough for every guest to have one as an alternative wedding favour to celebrate the day. I have 2 handmade snowflakes from a German Christmas market, which my Dad brought back from a business trip and that have a special place in my heart. There are many from our holidays both before and after G and M arrived in our family – China, Australia, Ireland, Canada and even Greece to name but a few. Amongst the most precious are those the children have made over the years, from simple paper and sparkles in their nursery days to the hand-decorated ceramic ones that M made during his last hospital admission.

Today is the 5th day of Christmas and I’m looking forward to the memories we’ll be creating this year as we count down to the big day itself.

FFEOA 2017

This week has been a busy week for me and, for the first time in very many months, my focus has all been on my blog and the allergy and freefrom community, rather than on my day-to-day job. Much to the disgust of both G and M, I abandoned them to my Mum for the week and headed off to London, on my own,  to the Foodmatters Live conference. My planning for these 3 days away was incredibly well-organised, though I suspect I actually have my Mum to thank for that, as I missed out on attending last year and so had apparently looked ahead 12 months and had put the dates on her calendar to make sure I could go. I had then promptly forgotten all about it until she pressed me to confirm whether the children would be staying with her for the week or not.

My main focus was the Awards ceremony on the first night for this year’s Free From Eating Out Awards (FFEOA 2017). Despite the chaos of our household right now as Mike and I are both trying to find a work-life balance that suits us all, I had been keen to be a part of the Judging team again this year and M and G were just as excited by the possibility of finding some new places to eat that would suit us all. Luckily for us, we were able to find a couple of restaurants that we felt could cater for M in particular and were delighted to put them through their paces and see just how well they could meet their allergy and freefrom promises.

The evening kicked off with a quick overview of the plans going forward for 2018, which included some new categories, a simplified entry process and the promise of a monthly newsletter. They also revealed the new interactive map, which shows all the bronze, silver and gold award winners for the last 3 years and links to the all-important judges’ comments, which can help any discerning freefrom diner decide whether to eat there or not. I think this will be a great addition to the FFEOA offering and certainly will be something I recommend to those I come into contact with in the allergy community.

Despite my best efforts on the night itself, my fingers weren’t quite nimble enough and I just couldn’t keep up with tweeting the impressive number of gold award winners that were announced in each category. For any I didn’t manage to congratulate then, my apologies, but from the sounds of it, each and every award was well-deserved. I must make special mention of the wonderful Cafe Nouveau in Frome that we judged last year, who succeeded in achieving another gold award this year and also the Bangkok Canteen in Gloucester, who also won gold this year. Mike, the children and I visited there as part of this year’s judging stint and a review will follow in due course. For a full list of this year’s winners, please visit the FFEOA website.

As ever the best bit of the evening came after the awards had been announced. I was able to spend some time chatting with a few of the lovely friends I’ve met through the allergy world over the past few years, including Natalie of Intolerant Gourmand, Ryan of Borough 22, Ruth of What Allergy? and the Free From Fairy herself, Vicki. All in all, a wonderful evening and a great start to 3 days of learning more about all aspects of the Freefrom and allergy world.

Workplace Bullying

When you hear about bullying, what does it make you think of? Does it bring back bad memories of your time at school?

According to research carried out in 2016 by one of the largest anti-bullying charities in the world, Ditch the Label, between 50 and 60% of young people aged between 12 and 20 in the UK will have experienced some form of bullying in the last year. That, to me, is a frighteningly large percentage, especially knowing that both G and M form part of those statistics; and so do I. Any child who has experienced bullying hopes that it will end when they have new friends, or find themselves in a new class, or when their time at that particular school draws to a close. You also assume that once you’ve grown up and have left education behind you, the bullying will stop, but sadly that’s not always the case. The statistics regarding workplace bullying are much harder to pinpoint, but a Forbes survey in the USA suggested that up to 75% of workers are affected by bullying and a 2015 ACAS study here in the UK revealed the undeniable truth that workplace bullying is on the increase and that many people are too afraid to talk about it.

Having struggled with bullying throughout my school years, I never dreamed that I might experience it again in adulthood and when I came up against workplace bullying the first time, it took me a while to realise and acknowledge it and then to find the courage to deal with it. M had just been born and, due to the difficulties of my pregnancy and his subsequent early arrival, I wanted to work closer to home, finding what seemed to be the perfect job in a small accountancy practice almost literally across the road from where we lived. Unfortunately, the reality of being verbally belittled and my capability as an accountant questioned in front of my colleagues on a daily basis was destructive and I eventually found myself seeking to escape that unhealthy work environment. It was only at the point of handing in my notice that I felt able to be honest with my boss about his bullying behaviour and whilst he was apologetic as he hadn’t realised his words were so damaging, that work relationship had been destroyed and I needed to move on.

I’ve been lucky since then to find myself in jobs working with some truly lovely people, who have been there to build me back up and consequently I have seen my confidence and self-belief soar. Despite what people might think, I am naturally an introvert and am most definitely not a fan of confrontation, but I’ve learned to stand my ground, speak out for myself and defend not just my decisions, but also those of my children and my colleagues. That shy, insecure little girl who wouldn’t say boo to goose still hides inside, but I’ve discovered a strength to speak up and speak out even in situations where my more natural instinct would be to run away and hide, hoping that someone else would be the one to voice their opinions.

Which is why it’s so difficult to believe that in the past year, I have found myself a victim of workplace bullying once again and in a position where it has been much more difficult to address than I could ever imagine. Sly comments questioning the professional ability of both me and my staff, carefully cloaked in phrases that could be excused away as being mis-construed by the individual they were aimed at as well as more blatant challenges of my financial decisions for the business in management meetings that have been ignored by our Executive Director have become an unavoidable part of my working week. Added to that is the deliberate exclusion of me and my team members from a number of workplace events and meetings, some far more significant than others. Exclusion is, without a doubt, one of the hardest types of bullying to deal with and whether I’m my insecure 12-year-old self or a more confident version at 40, it still eats away at what little self-belief I’ve managed to hold on to over the years.

These behaviours have left me struggling to be my usual positive and sunny self in the office, as inside I’ve been slowly crumbling to pieces. I do have a tendency to believe the very best of people, so it’s no surprise that initially I genuinely didn’t think this was a deliberate attempt to whittle away my self-esteem. The gradual realisation that nearly all of these actions have been carried out intentionally, although I still wholeheartedly think that they are reflective of the individual’s own insecurities and a need to defend her role in the business, means that I have distanced myself as much as I possibly can and will not leave myself vulnerable if at all possible.

Of course, my response now is far different to what it was as a child and yet the effects of those experiences are the same. I have been left feeling ignored, belittled and unappreciated and the deliberate decision by my direct line manager to whitewash over what is going on and excuse the behaviour of this bully as being stress-related has naturally impacted on the ongoing working relationship I have with both him and this workplace bully. I feel as if my concerns have been deemed ridiculous, unimportant and as an over-sensitive reaction on my part, which leaves me questioning just how long I can reasonably remain in this post. Unbelievably our workplace policy on bullying requires that “….Initially a member of staff should request that the bully should stop, explaining how it makes them feel either face-to-face or by writing a personal letter or email…“, something I honestly believe no-one being bullied would be able to do, especially when the most senior members of management so blatantly excuse and support the bully along the way.  It takes unbelievable courage to be able to talk openly and honestly about how you’re feeling about decisions being taken in the workplace and, in my opinion, remarkable cowardice on the part of management to dismiss what’s being said as an irrational response.

I don’t know what the next 12 months will bring when it comes to my career, but finding the courage to speak out both in the workplace and on my blog has empowered me more than I ever thought possible. Workplace bullying is real and we should never forget or ignore that truth.

All Different, All Equal

This week is Anti-bullying week and this year the campaign has adopted the tagline “All different, All equal” to promote difference and equality in schools. As the Anti-bullying Alliance’s website states, the idea behind this is to “…help children and young people celebrate what makes them, and others, unique and help them understand why it’s important that every child feels included in school able to be themselves without fear of bullying...” This has struck a particularly resonant chord with me as feeling different to classmates is something that not only do I recall from my own school days, but something I am aware both G and M have felt over the years.

For me, and let me be brutally honest right now, I hated every moment of living with T1D as a teen. Not only was I having to deal with the challenges of impending adulthood and puberty like all of my peers, but my T1D added another layer to the emotional mix that I really didn’t want to have to face. At school I felt like the odd man out. I didn’t really know anyone else my age with T1D and I was the first diabetic in my school. I suffered extreme teenage angst about not being able to buy sweets and chocolate from the break-time tuck shop and that seemingly small thing became a massive problem that I struggled to overcome. My friends accepted my differences far more readily than I did and yet I felt alienated from them. My own anxieties and poor self-image became mountains I just couldn’t scale, particularly when some of the other girls in my school year began to exclude me from friendships that had been there since I was little and threw cruel words in my direction which hit incredibly deep.  Whether they had truly identified my lack of self-esteem as an easy target for their unkind comments and actions or not, I can still recall just how devastating that time in my life was for me. I’m sure that I was not on my own with those feelings, but I felt isolated in a world that seemed to be quite happy without me.

Sadly, G struggled similarly during her Infant school years when so-called friends who had helped ease her move to a new school, discovered that her health issues could be used as a taunt against her and caused her unbelievable emotional pain. Thanks to a fantastic and supportive Year 2 teacher, G was encouraged to tackle the bullies and their behaviour head-on and she learned to stand up for herself, something I didn’t learn until I was much, much older. I know that her gluten- and dairy-free diet still makes her feel too different to the rest of her tutor group for comfort and she has struggled with sticking to the restrictions, especially when her friends are enjoying treats that she would love to be able to eat. We’ve worked to fill her lunchbox with foods and snacks that make her feel a little more “normal” and a part of the crowd, and I will continue to hope that this doesn’t become a cause for bullying as she moves her way through secondary school.

Likewise, M’s complex medical needs have left him being subjected to cruel words and unkind actions in the past, something that is not unusual in the world of chronic illness. Whether it is an obvious physical difference, or something more hidden like T1D or allergies, the sad truth is that children can, and will, be cruel. All children are fighting to find their place in the world and will look to find their footing without regard for those surrounding them and especially not for their feelings. As parents we need to teach our children about the beauty in diversity and encourage them to be kind in their thoughts and deeds. My children are wonderfully unique as are their friends and that is something to embrace wholeheartedly and without reservation. This year I will be making sure that they understand the truth in these words: All different, all equal.

I Am Not a Badge of Honour

I am not a badge of honour,

I am not a racist smear,

I am not a fashion statement to be worn but once a year,

I am not glorification of conflict or of war.

I am not a paper ornament or a token,

I am more.

I am a loving memory of a father or son,

A mother, a sister or daughter each and every one.

I am paper or enamel,

I am old or shining new,

I am a way of saying thank you,

To every one of you.

I am a single poppy, a reminder to you all,

That courage, faith and honour will stand where heroes fall.

– Paul Hunter –