What happened to the world of work, or how I wish I was a chicken

Today I want to talk about work.  What happened to the world of work?  It’s had its ups and downs for centuries I know, but why, when we live in one of the richer western so-called democracies, is it becoming such a hideous trial for so many?  At what point did we start seeing people as tools again and allow the tick box to become king?

Recently I was telephoned out-of-the-blue by a regional manager, who was approximately 4 minutes drive away from me at the time, to tell me my job no longer existed and I must move to an entirely different service immediately.  There was no induction or introduction to staff.  Everyone is grumpy.  All my questions are met with rolling eyes and sighs, like I should have somehow learnt my new role by osmosis and I am now a constant disappointment to everyone.  This is so commonplace in this organisation that when I try to object I am met with confusion and disbelief that I might imagine better treatment.  My new workplace is completely toxic.  I have been with this organisation less than a year and I’ve had seven line managers and not once had any supervision.  This, by the way, is a major player in the UK care industry.  Meanwhile the intranet of this same organisation is now advertising a new initiative for ‘employee of the month’ called ‘Little Acorns’.  The first sentence (which I admit I didn’t get past after laughing too much) reads something along the lines of ‘The most important thing at work is to feel valued’.

This is not the first time I have come across such blatant hypocrisy. Indeed it seems to be increasingly the norm. Where do these layers of bullshit come? When did we again start using people as resources to be manipulated and discarded at will, whilst simultaneously portraying an image of corporate caring.  Everything seems cloaked in a veneer of empathy and understanding but it’s so thin it doesn’t last out the length of the first questioning look.

I increasingly feel that my stubborn adherence to an ideal of truth and purposefulness is completely out of step with the current work place.  These are not ideals to be valued but things to be scorned.  To be able to waffle and boast, and better still outright lie, seem to be the attributes that are most rewarded.

Why have we allowed this to happen?  Do we all have Stockholm Syndrome? Has the pursuit of money and stuff finally melted our brains?

Recently I’ve begun asking myself do my chooks have a better work life than me?  Do they work hard?  Hell yes (you try pushing something the size of your lower leg out of your ass every day).  Do they get bothered by a boss trying to blame them for everything? No.  Are the products of their labour appreciated?  Yes, positively and resoundingly yes.  Do they pretty much get to decide how they go about their business every day?  Yes.  Do they get to hang out with gossipy and amusing friends all day long? Yes.  Are they worried about money?  No.  Do they want anything further than their basic needs fulfilled?  No, I don’t think so.  Except maybe their corn, sunflower and meal worm treats.  Do they rush to get out of bed in the morning? Yes, undoubtedly yes.

Do I sometimes wonder if life might be a whole lot less stressful as a chicken?  Yes I do.

But then I think, why aren’t they stressed by the same things?  It’s because these things don’t matter to them.

And that’s really the secret.

I must stop letting it matter to me.  It’s only work.  It doesn’t matter if people are dishonest, deflective, deceptive, disarming.  It’s just work.  I just need to go there, get some money to pay the bills, come home and forget about it.  I need to enjoy the countless blessings that I do have.

But then I start arguing with myself, am I part of the collective apathy that’s allowing this to continue, to get worse?

Oh to be a chicken………

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Gone to Ground

As some people may have noticed I haven’t been showing my head above ground for some weeks.  I’ve been in hiding.  From the world, my neighbours, my family, everyone.  But not the chickens.  Although I may sometimes be annoyed at the chores they generate, especially when the weather is grim (which it often has been just lately), I’m always grateful afterwards that they have dragged me from my stupor and back out into the light and the air.

I’ve not been sleeping well. There are several things that explain this including the state of the world, village relations, my work acting like complete asses, but mostly it’s because I’ve started to see a psychologist to hopefully help me get over this hump.  I have so far had three sessions.  The first one, she said, would be an assessment, only she kept opening other doors with her questions and scribbled sketches of family trees, and three sessions in we have only now finished (I think) the assessment.  Next time she says we’re going to start pulling all this together and plan a way forward.  Which sounds reasonable, I guess.

The problem is that a whole lot of shit got raked up and is now floating around outside of its carefully constructed boxes.  I’m like Sylvia when the buzzards start circling above our yard.  First she freezes, then she starts bekerking for all her worth, then she runs for cover, wings all a flap and little legs pumping like Roadrunner (remember him?).

Even in this though, my girls have been helping out.  As mentioned earlier, autumn has not been kind so far, though thankfully we have not had the full force of nature thrown at us like so many unfortunate souls this year.  But my god it’s been wet.  The chickens’ little run began to turn into a quagmire.  I started to worry they might get trench foot.  And where they’d been merrily digging for bugs for months had turned into little reservoirs.  Drastic action was needed.  Someone needed me.  I had a project. So I went online for a solution.

The genius answer I found involved removing the worse of the poo and then bringing in soil to even up the ground again, sanitising the soil, laying turf protector and topping the whole lot off with a 2 inch layer of play-grade hard wood chips (only the best for these girls).

As I’ve said before, this run is quite small.  The biggest stretch is only two metres long by one metre wide with a sloping roof that’s only one metre high at its highest point.  Now picture the scene.  There’s me, not exactly sylph-like, crawling around in this rather snug space trying to push soil around to make the ground flat.  And there’s all three hens in there with me, digging up every newly flattened patch for all the lovely protein-packed goodies within.  Each time I moved on to a new bit they moved in behind me. Round and round we went, with me laughing more and more.  Then Doc decided that the toggle dangling from the neck of my hooded top was starting to look appetising and she kept lunging for that while Sylvia and Rita undid all my good work behind me.  I must admit to finding something intrinsically amusing about chickens. Which is probably just as well…..

Over £100 and many hours work later they now have a perfectly dry run. We currently enjoy some of the world’s most expensive eggs along with the satisfaction of seeing happy hens.

As for the chicken-keeping experiment, I would have to say that the results are pretty positive so far.  Am I cured? No.  Am I now a self-confident and stable human being?  No (but then who is?).  Do I smile every day?  Yes.

And that is surely a good measure of success.

Know Thy Chickens, Know Thyself

Sometimes, not very often, life develops a wondrous smooth surface and glides along in a silky flow. At other times there are exhausting swamps or seemingly infinite mountains to cross.  But most of the time life is some measure of grainy.  And just like sandpaper, there are different levels of friction.

Here’s how this works.  Fine grain is when most things bumble along quite well but maybe there’s an annoying boss, or some apparently endless road works that you have to traverse every day.   Medium grain is when a pile of things are getting much less than smooth but still manageable and with places to find respite.  Then there are the times when the grain can turn coarse, relentlessly scraping over your mind, stealing your sleep and your equilibrium.  There are myriad stages in between these three.   You could probably place where you are right now on this scale.

Currently I’m slowly retreating from the coarse again and yes, the chickens are helping, but not in the way I had imagined they would.

How funny the world and this life is.  I have just listed the things that had recently happened to me in a way, I suppose, to justify why I had been feeling so stressed.  Whilst not decrying myself for feeling stressed at such a line-up, I also saw the list from the point of view of others.  How whiny and boring it looked.  How indescribably insignificant when measured against, say, a Sudanese or Syrian refugee woman fleeing violence with her remaining children.  I have so much to be grateful for.

But where do the chickens come into all of this?  Well, hang on and I’ll tell you.

When I returned from my trip (reported in my last post) and Rita, Sylvia and Doc (especially Doc) ignored me, I stopped feeling affectionate towards them.  I retreated from them just as they retreated from me.  I even, dare I say it, wondered if perhaps we could eat them after all.  The business of looking after them became another chore to add to the list.  I wondered about how this had so quickly come to be.  There was something in this behaviour of mine that wasn’t right.

My chickens have highlighted something that now I look at it is blindingly obvious.  I have developed some form of attachment issues.

When I look back over the years since those horrible events there is a pattern of retreat, of running away, of withdrawing at the smallest sign of hurt.  Thankfully, I’ve never before considered eating those from whom I flee, but the withdrawal of affection is a repeated theme with my family, friends and partner.  That’s not to say that feeling hurt was unjustified, it’s just that I could have handled many things much better.  My life could have run much smoother.   In other words, I have often created my own sandpaper.

Having seen that this is so, I have set about trying to rectify my behaviour.  I cannot undo my past but I can change the present.  I am consciously reinstating affectionate behaviour towards my partner following our last round of arguing some weeks ago.  And guess what?  When you behave affectionately you start to feel it again.  So here’s a corny line (please forgive me) whose sentiment you’ve seen repeated in so many sayings and quotes but which I have only belatedly really understood. Opening your heart opens up the love.  And love is the world’s number one best cushion against the frictions of life.

But the chickens, I here you ask.  Are they still alive?  Are they in a pie?

I’m happy to report that relations with Rita, Sylvia and Doc have been rebuilt.  Ascending the steep hill to take care of their needs every day drew me out of the house and into the glorious green of our valley when I might formerly have stayed in bed.  It was during these walks up and down our garden that I began to unpick my behaviour, to see my actions more objectively.

And slowly the chickens began talking to me again.  Now when I sit in my favourite spot I have again found peace there.

Fickle Feathered Friends

I’ve been away on a trip, both physical and psychological. The former to visit family and the latter it’s bewildering after effects.  And then when I returned my hens behaved as if they did not know me.  I was once again a stranger to them.  They were not the only ones.  I didn’t know who I was either.

What is it about being around families that makes us slip into the old patterns?  It doesn’t seem to matter how old we are, once we’re back it’s as if the intervening 20, 30, 40 years simply haven’t happened.  We take up our former roles like old timer’s claiming their chairs in working men’s clubs.  There can be no deviation.

I come from one of those families that express any affection they may or may not feel through ridicule and sarcasm.  I also had the misfortune to be born into this environment sporting huge, sticky-out ears.  I’m sure you can already see where this is going.  Each time I entered a room it was like ringing a bell and lighting up a huge neon sign with the legend ‘mock me’ flashing in time with my blushes.  It didn’t help that I became a stressed child and would clench my fists and shake uncontrollably when under persistent barrage.  This, of course, was hilarious to my older siblings who would try even harder to get big laughs at my expense (I’m fairly sure I would have joined in too if this had been anyone else but me. It was a dog-eat-dog world after all). They probably have very fond memories of all of this.  My ears were pinned back when I was eight but patterns were set.

As we grew up, this mockery turned into a kind of blanket dismissal.   This is probably understandable too, why would you take seriously anything that such a ridiculous person said? I combated this by leaving home at 17 and building my life at a comfortable distance of at least 100 miles, usually more, and often putting oceans between us.  In this way I became someone I was ok with.

But I still can’t help feeling disappointed and hurt by my family’s absolute refusal to see any kind of mental ill health as anything but malingering and whining.  I cannot tell them any of the things I have written in this blog because they invariably dismiss anyone who doesn’t display the same fake happy-go-lucky persona they work so hard to portray.  This has continued even with the most benign of my remaining family.  It means that I stay silent about my history and feelings in their presence.  Now that I’m finding my voice elsewhere, this proved to be incredibly disorientating.

Then I came home and Doc, Rita and Sylvia wouldn’t come near me or speak to me.  I wasn’t permitted to stroke any of them.  They all ignored me.  This too was disorientating.  Like Dr Who, I’ve been trying to regenerate but the world around me seems unwittingly set on impeding this transformation.   It wasn’t until they got used to me having the food again that their attitude began to change.  They are only chickens after all.

So what have I learnt from all this?  I’ve learnt that a sense of identity, even one built through the hard slog of childhood bullying, once lost through trauma is hard to rebuild.  No matter how diligently you try to stick together the pieces they can never go back how they were and any new shape is vulnerable to knocks from the people who surround you.  But the new shape can also be bolstered by others.  The trick is to try and spend more time with people who hold you up.  My partner, my children, a few select friends and, lately, the kind and fascinating WordPress writers who visit this confessional, are all in this group.

Chickens, I guess, are an optional, if joyous, amusing and sometimes confusing, extra.