Monday 29 September 2014

The Importance of Real Flexible Working

A Very Pleasant 10km Stroll
Autumn. It's that time of year where we can renew workplace resolutions and make a fresh start with a metaphorical new pen and a nice crisp piece of blank paper. Given that law firm trainees traditionally join in early September and newly qualifieds join their departments, there is more than a mere hint of new term atmosphere. Naturally if you're starting a short course, embarking on a career enhancing degree or any type of further education, then the new term is very real indeed.

If you are starting something new, how do you remain energised and enthusiastic? And if like me you are not starting anything new, how do you capture a 'new term' feeling? I want to draw together a couple of things that occurred to me this morning. Firstly, about the idea of remaining as energised as possible for the rest of the year, and secondly, being as healthy as you can be in an office environment.

What if the sunny endorphins of the invigorating holiday you had early in the year have faded, and the year is stretching away into the dusk of a late November evening? The thought of baked puddings, custard, and sitting in the warmth with a good film feels rather inviting. The swimming, cycling, walking of the summer gets packed away along with the bikinis and beach towels, not to be thought about until the weather emerges with the lighter days of spring. But what are we missing in the midst of our inactivity?

Today it was reported that children who do at least an hour of exercise after school are far better at concentrating the rest of the time. This is just as true for adults, and it reminded me of how I felt when six months into my 9-5 desk job, where I was distracted by the shininess of my new profession by the strange twinges in my back and legs. Not only that but I was tired all the time.

The physio asked how much exercise I got and I realised that I had gone from running, riding, cycling and walking regularly to...well, nothing. Walking round with a library trolley, an early morning/late evening trot to the station, and the weekly shop was the sum total of my physical exertion. Despite my youth, my back was protesting at this change in circumstance and the sciatic nerve was screaming, not for rest, but for a return to mobility.

As time has gone on, I've kept most the back trouble under control. For ten years or so I've perched on a gym ball at my desk, causing hilarity and some rude comments. I don't care, it works for me. Further more, I've been a fan of yoga for years. Although I'll never be a flexible willowy yogi, the postures suggested by teachers familiar with the physical stresses of office life have ensured that I remain reasonably pain-free. The jogging is intermittent but I know I feel much better when I am on a renewed push.

Therefore I wanted to make a suggestion to people who are fresh out of university/college and new to the office environment. It doesn't make a difference if you ran cross-country for your school, or hated any kind of physical activity, it will prevent an awful lot of pain and inconvenience if you maintain a certain level of physical activity. Find something that suits you, whether Bollywood style dancing in the evening, or walking marathons at the weekend - most importantly, stick to it.

You don't even have to spend any money if you are broke. Free apps can shout instructions if you have a convenient place in your home/park, and Micoach can put together a training schedule for all abilities. Council pools remain surprisingly cheap and a Boris Bike is a couple of pounds for a day (keep changing the bike every half hour...). Walking around London and the paths along the Thames has the added bonus of being attractive and educational - all for the cost of a shandy 11km in!

As the nights draw in, it can be harder to maintain the exercise. But when you have a satisfying glow from a cycle along the river, or even a calm, warm feeling from an hour's yoga, you can feel the strength and optimism returning to your tired body. As a school teacher once stressed to me; Mens sana in corpore sano and there you go, you're ready for another new term, regardless of the time of year.

Sunday 7 September 2014

An unknown V&A Cabinet - some thoughts

I'm on the cusp of handing in my dissertation and to both my delight and dismay, I'm still finding potentially relevant interesting additions. As I explained to the lovely assistant curator at the V&A last week, it's as if the bench has provided the key to many doors and I'm being invited in to explore. Two items have come to light this week and I wanted to  quickly get some thoughts down on paper. The first is related to my V&A visit, and the second is a Jost Amman woodcut which I have just discovered. I will be focusing on the first below.

On Thursday afternoon we went down to the old post office which serves as the storage for one of the most interesting museum collections in London. As we were issued security passes, the AC was there waiting to escort us upstairs to a massive lumber room with the most interesting rolling shelves contents I've ever seen. As she identified the right shelf, we looked around us, taking in the stag horn mirror, a golden bed stead, 1950s sofas, and various interesting shapes covered in white dust sheets. Like an attic of sleeping beauties, waiting for a visit from someone who knows where to find them.