Thursday, 24 May 2012

Flapjacks and nuisance calls

If you are coming to work with us in Clearing you will need to be very careful about switching off your phone before starting work.  If it rings you are fined cake!  That means bringing cake for the whole office and if you leave it too long it turns into a pizza debt.
The most unfortunate timing for me occurred on the day I brought in a cake just because I felt like it and then my phone went off at 5.29pm – a minute before the office closed. We are not allowed to ‘bank’ cake points so I still had to bring in a cake my next shift.  Even worse was finding out that it was an unsolicited call – aaahhhh!
We were talking in the office about making all potential candidates bring in a cake as part of the interview process to assess their suitability for joining our teams but then thought it may be a little mean. 

Last week I paid my fine with flapjacks.  They are incredibly easy to make and contain lots of goodies.


75g (3oz) butter or block margarine
50g (2oz) soft brown sugar
30ml (2 level tbsp) golden syrup
175g (6oz) rolled oats

Grease a shallow 7” (18cm) square cake tin
Melt the butter, sugar and syrup together in a saucepan over a low heat, then pour it onto the rolled oats, Mix well, turn the mixture into the prepared tin and press down well.
Bake in the oven at 180c C (350oF) gas mark 4 for about 20 minutes, until golden brown.  Cool slightly in the tin, mark into fingers with a sharp knife and loosen around the edges.
When firm remove from the tin, and cool on a wire rack, then break into fingers.  The flapjacks may be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.

I added a handful of coconut and another of raisins – quite delicious!
As I was searching for pics of flapjacks I came across a great article entitled “How to cook perfect flapjacks” by Felicity Cloake.  For any aficionados out there I would thoroughly recommend it as a sound bit of research (see link below).

…and speaking of unsolicited calls I was watching an item on the news about it last week and viewers sent in various tips for dealing with them.  My favourite was from the viewer who hands the phone to her toddler who enjoys a good chat.

When I am not highly irate at being interrupted once again, I may decide to have a little fun with  my responses.  These are some:

If they ask for Mrs ……. I may reply that “Sorry she’s dead” – a bit macabre but it works!
If they ask if I am the householder, or Mrs …., I say “Sorry I’m only the cleaner”
If they want to repair my computer I ask what a computer is and say I haven’t got one.
If they want to double glaze the house, I say that I really like it cold.

Flapjack recipe:  Good Housekeeping Cookery Book (1992) Ebury Press
Flapjacks research: 
Flapjack pic:

Friday, 18 May 2012

Working in Clearing

You may have been attacked by the Clearing recruiters on campus lately just when you thought it was safe to settle down to a lovely meal in the café or a stroll on the lawn.

When I applied to join the Clearing team two years ago, mine was one of 600 applications.  Luckily no one told me until after I got the job or I would have given up any hope of being considered!
At the interview I was asked a few questions about working in a team, working under pressure and being reliable.  I wondered if running a midwifery practice as a single parent on call for home births and dealing  with emergencies on a fairly regular basis while juggling  quite an erratic lifestyle was sufficient.  We then had skills testing where we had to do data entry, sort a list of names into alphabetical order and then do a phone test.  My hair kept flopping in my eyes during the data entry making me so much slower than the person sitting next to me, then the sorting into alphabetical order seemed okay but when it got to the phone test any sense of calm just flew out the window.  We were given the prospectus to look through and then told that we would be phoned up and asked questions about the courses in them.  I was sure I had done everything wrong and convinced myself I had failed so it was quite a surprise to receive the acceptance letter.

I attended the three day training in August and by the end of it I felt that my head was bursting with information.

 The first person I met on the course was Nicola and we have both now worked together for two Clearings and we often meet up for lunch on the days we work in the Enquiry Unit together.
Everyone is allocated to a team with a leader and the newbies all have special buddies to help and support them.  These ‘buddies’ are fellow students who have already worked at least one, often two Clearings and are invaluable to the whole team.  As the weeks progress, the members of each team became closer and closer and a fierce rivalry develops. It is very hard work and we are trained to always respond courteously no matter what mood the caller is in.

 The phones ring constantly with anxious callers worrying about finding a place at university or the progress of their applications so working closely together with team mates is vital.  In between all that hard work, we do have lots of fun and a sense of humour helps tremendously. It all culminates in our Theme Your Team event where, in between calls and during our breaks we decorate our team bay ready for judging on the last day.  Our team came second last year with our Twister Party theme.  You can read all about it and check out the pics in my August September 2011 blogs. Here is a reminder:

Team Uzma: 
Our Clearing 2011 Early Clearing team

Twister Party theme

 The winners:  Pac man theme

The recruitment drive is for the main clearing period starting 13 August and ending 7 September. During A Level week there is overtime available especially on A Level Results Day when the phones are going from 8am until 10 pm.  We oldies will be working in early clearing from June and late clearing closes at the end of September. 

This work has been so welcome to help pay the bills and my tuition fees.  I have also learnt a lot.  I had been self employed most of my working life so it was quite strange to be employed and working as a team in an office.  I enjoy the interaction with the staff and my fellow students and, having grown up with quill pens and being chased by sabre tooth tigers, find myself on the receiving end of much hilarity in the office when I discover a new amazing thing about computers that is second nature to the younger ones.  My latest was finding out what the print screen button was for.  The ‘reference’ tool in word that Katrina taught me was almost life changing whilst learning about the tab key increased my data entry timing from stone-age-slow to almost bronze-age-meandering pace.

That weird button I have been ignoring for so long
…so you see working in Clearing that first summer not only left me with money in my pocket but helped me acquire  loads of new skills and led onto two years of regular part-time work that I could fit in around my studies. 

Sources: Phone instructions

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Simple Things in Life

I am sitting here on a Sunday afternoon feeling such a sense of achievement.  I had three pieces of work to complete before the end of the academic year, two due in this Tuesday and one the next.  The first was writing up the feedback from my case presentation last week while the other two were self assessment reflective pieces – my least favourite sort of writing! These are part of my clinical file which includes placement reports from supervisors and managers, feedback sheets from skills training in college and self reflection sheets.  Everything has to be done in duplicate and if I am not careful, I end up feeling like I am drowning in paperwork and overwhelmed by it all.
However I spread it all out across two rooms and sorted it into neat little piles and labelled each one.

It is now 4.15 pm and it is all done – all three written, one submitted electronically as per instructions, the others all ready to take in tomorrow, one day ahead of one deadline and eight days ahead of the other.  That is how I like to work but have rarely achieved it this year so I am really thrilled.  I also had on my list to write this blog but before I could start just had to do some clearing up first.  I tidied up my office, got out poor neglected Henry Hoover and just about blew him up with the amount of dust and rubbish he had to contend with.  I swear my rug has changed colour – I forgot how bright it is!

Whenever I complete a deadline I feel like this.  Before I can settle to anything new I need to do a clear out – as though  I am changing the energy of the room and preparing for the next task.  It has become a sort of lovely ritual for me and I am sure my little office is breathing a sigh of relief and saying “Whew I needed that!”  Now that I have finished this work I can focus on my final 8000 word project due in on October 1st.  I do not want it dragging on over the Summer so after I have a bit of a break this week I will begin to seriously plan it and let you know how well I do it.

Last weekend when I was feeling bogged down at the prospect of this work Him-at-Home and I went for a walk to Greenwich and back.  It takes an hour each way and we have a special route so I can look at all my favourite things.  About ten minutes away is Manor Park.  In the middle of the lake is a beautiful old spreading willow tree.  Up in the branches are several nests occupied by families of herons.  It is characteristic for herons to build nests in a group.  We call it a heronry – I don’t know what the herons call it!

Anyway, it is a local tourist attraction and we are always joined by others when we to stop to count the babies and watch them grooming each other and stretching their wings, strengthening them ready for flight.  Sometimes we catch the parents fishing in the lake or returning from raiding someone’s pond for fish to feed their youngsters.  At the last count we could only spot three babies. Then we wandered through to Black Heath via my favourite houses/gardens route (favourite stained glass route if it is at night!).  I am terrible for peering into people’s houses to see how they are decorated but I figure it is fair game if there are no net curtains. 

After wandering through Blackheath Village checking out my favourite shops (kitchen, stationery, chocolate, shoe, coffee) we get to Blackheath proper. Lots of things happen here – kite flying, circuses, fairs, parties, football and people just hanging out.  Last weekend was very exciting because we came across the rocket launches in position ready for the Olympics. 

Rocket launchers

The gun bits seemed to keep rotating as though they were following us and I wondered whether they knew something we didn’t.  Crossing the heath we wandered down to Greenwich past the free Fan Museum.  As I have never been to it, I wanted to drop in but thought it would be best to go without himself – who was so NOT interested!
The market in Greenwich was in full swing and wandering down to the river we got to peer in through the new glassy bit round the Cutty Sark to admire the amazing restoration work.  A bit further on we encountered another crowd all watching the aircraft carrier berthed in the river practising manoeuvres ready to deal with any probs at the Olympics.  It was ever so exciting – and really noisy - watching the helicopters take off from the deck and the fighters roaring past overhead.

Aircraft carrier
We wandered back through the market stopping for a perfect cup of coffee and truly scrumptious cake in a new coffee shop just off the main market square.  Refreshed and rejuvenated, we hiked up the hill to the observatory noting how poshed up the park is looking.  Up at the top we had splendid views of the stands being built in front of the Queens house ready for the Olympic equestrian events before we wandered back to Hither Green taking an alternative route to peer in different people’s windows and gardens.

This is one of my favourite things to do – just go for a long walk and find pleasure in simple things.  It costs nothing (except for the coffee and cake!) and is good for the soul!

Rocket launcher: