I am a 48-year old woman. I live in Brighton on the south coast of the UK with my husband and 11 year-old daughter. I work as a Marketing and Communications Manager for a small charity which builds civic tech - websites and online digital tools that enable people to get things changed and wield influence on the people in power.
12th May, a Thursday, was a reasonably normal work day for me. In fact, it included elements from all the main parts of my day-to-day life currently: work, parenthood, art, running, and the community group of which I am a member.
I wake up at around 06:00am. I could easily go back to sleep, but my daughter has woken up too, and let two of our three cats into the room, and now there is no chance of dropping back off. As usual, I spend this first portion of the day looking at my phone, checking Instagram, Facebook, LiveJournal and Twitter to catch up on real friends and also those I have got to know online, without ever meeting face-to-face. My daughter plays 'Animal Crossing' on her DS, a small portable gaming machine.
The cats jump up to the windowsill: there is a seagull nesting on the roof of the house opposite ours on this small terraced road, which they watch while emitting small chirrups of excitement. My husband leaves the house, as normal, just before 7:00 to take the bus to his job in a children's nursery in Mile Oak, on the other side of town.
Shortly after that, it is time for us to get up. Normally, we get up between 07:20 and 07:40 - this gives us plenty of time to get dressed, have breakfast and get my daughter out of the house to be at school on time. We are a little ahead of ourselves today, having woken so early.
My daughter chooses her own outfit: not always the case, but it's not uncommon for her to do so. She wears a light cotton tunic which we bought at the airport on the way to holiday in Jersey a couple of years ago, white with a hot pink design of small pineapples on it, over tight stretchy dark blue trousers with a subtle leopardskin print (not as garish a combination as it sounds!); then, when I tell her that the forecast looks rather cloudy, she adds a grey sweatshirt with a design of a Lisa Larson (the Swedish designer) cat on it.
I put on running clothes, as I normally do four times during the working week - that's how often I spend my lunch hour on a 5km run. In this springtime weather, that means three-quarter length running tights and a t-shirt, and then a sweatshirt over the top which I wear at home, but take off before I actually run. I really appreciate the benefits running has brought to me, though I do sometimes look sadly at my wardrobe of 'normal' clothes and wish I had more chance to wear them!
Unusually, I have missed a couple of days running this week, due to feeling ill. I'm not ill very often, but I have been trying to cram many activities into my days recently, and I think I must have just tried to burn the candle at both ends a little too often.
We find a blanket which my daughter can take to school: it is the last day of her SATs exams and once her morning test is over, her class is going to the nearby park (just a couple of minutes from school) for a picnic, as a treat for working so hard.
Many parents across the UK (and especially strongly in Brighton) have been protesting about these tests, which affect Years 6 and 2. New content has been introduced which makes them harder than in previous years and these changes seem to have been rushed in. There has been a one-day 'strike' in which some parents took their children out of school to show their displeasure at the changes.
School and parents both say that my daughter's year have had it particularly hard: they've only had a short time to get up to speed, while the years below will be able to spread the curriculum out more before they are required to take their SATs.
For example, we have, since about Christmas time, been working through a list of around 200 words which they will be required to spell properly by year 7, and from an outside perspective of what my daughter tells me about her school day, it sounds as though they have been doing nothing but test maths and SpaG (spelling and grammar) papers all term. Gone, for now, are the jolly days of topic learning through arts, acting and reading activities.
The tests, as I understand it, measure the school's quality as much as the child's ability. They will go towards the school's OFSTED report but will also accompany my daughter as she transfers to secondary school, informing which level classes she is placed in.
While I totally sympathise with the school and the parents' antipathy towards the new SATs content, I must say that my daughter seems to be doing ok: she certainly hasn't shown any of the signs of distress that have been reported in the press and on social media, and has come home after each day of tests seemingly content that she has done her best. Unfortunately (I speak as one who is very against the current government and pretty much every policy change they have made since they took power) this might be seen as one data point that backs up the government's stated line that it is good for children to be measured according to high expectations. I suspect that there are duplicitous purposes behind the changes anyway, and the party line is just there as a smokescreen, because that is very much what I have come to see as this government’s modus operandi.
Downstairs, I feed our three cats (a handful of dried kibble each), put the radio on (pretty much always Radio 4, except on Sundays when we switch over to R6 to avoid the religious content), and take advantage of our small amount of spare time to put a wash into the machine.
My daughter gets her own breakfast, a bowl of granola with milk, while I make myself stovetop coffee and toast with peanut butter. We brush our teeth and hair, I put my contact lenses in and switch on my desktop computer.
At 8:40 my daughter leaves for school: she walks the 7- or 8-minute journey by herself. I worry a bit about one particularly busy road with poor sightlines which she has to cross, but she will soon be going to secondary school so it is time she gradually started having a little independence. She'll be travelling to and from that school by herself everyday, and it is 2.5 miles away.
I still have a little time before my normal work hours are due to begin. Work is very flexible, so I could start, then allow myself a longer lunch hour or an earlier finish time, but today I google to try and find a pair of glasses that I like the look of - frustratingly, I need to replace the pair I managed to lose while in Barcelona for work a couple of weeks ago. I haven't had time to sort out a replacement yet, and I'm aware that I would be in a pickle if I lost one of my contact lenses now. I can see without them, but increasingly my sight is very blurry. In any case, my optician urges me to wear my gas permeable lenses for fewer hours per day so that my eyes don't become too dry.
I work for a digital democracy charity, doing all of their marketing and communications. In practice, this means dealing with occasional press enquiries, writing web copy, blogging, social media, managing our Google Adwords, responding to user support and a myriad of other small jobs throughout the day. I enjoy it for three main reasons: the work is very varied; I have a lot of autonomy; and my colleagues are very agreeable.
As I have mentioned, we work from home. I have colleagues across the UK, from Devon to Wales and Scotland, and we work together daily via various online tech. This is still not the norm for most working people: having been in this job for more than five years, though, I can see the benefits and it seems crazy that more companies don't work this way. For us, apart from not having the overheads of an office, the main advantage is that we can recruit the people most suited to the job, not the people most suited to the job who live within a commuting distance.
At about ten to nine I log in to our chat room which we all have open all day so that we can communicate. Conversation tends to be a mixture of practical messages and silly jokes. To me, it feels as if we all catch up on one another's important news, gossip and day-to-day frustrations or joys just as much as we would if we shared an office together.
I always begin my day by checking email, and dealing with any urgent enquiries. Often much of my inbox is filled with notifications from Twitter and I respond to enquiries from our users there. Typically they might want to know how to use one of our codebases, or have a question about what content our parliamentary monitoring website covers, or why such and such a feature isn't working. Often, too, they have an idea for a project that they’d like us to build (due to the way we are funded, this isn’t generally possible, though).
Once I've checked my main email inbox, I flip over to the inboxes of our various projects' user support email addresses. Sometimes there are many emails to respond to. Sometimes they are complex and take a long time - for example when someone is asking about how the voting stances for each MP are calculated, or how to find a specific speech from history on our Parliamentary Monitoring website. Sometimes there are few emails and they are simple: if a query falls into one of the most common categories (eg the user has lost their password, or wants to know why our sites work in a certain way, or thinks that by sending an email to us, it will go to their MP - a persistent misconception which nothing seems to solve) I have canned replies that I can send out with just a couple of clicks.
Today, a lot of people - some members of the public, some council workers - have emailed to provide the contact details of local councillors after the recent election, so I spend some time putting them into our system and thanking the people who sent them in.
User support done, I publish out a blog post on our main website, about how a user on one of our sites, the one which makes it easy to make a Freedom of Information request, has been systematically using FOI to discover which UK councils aren't paying minimum wage to care workers who have overnight shifts.
At 11:30, I run a 'virtual' meeting with some of my colleagues: it's the fortnightly communications meeting during which I go through my recent tasks and share my to-do list, while they can request any communications actions they need, such as proof-reading, composing a blog post or putting out a press release.
We've used Google Hangouts technology for meetings for years now: you sit at your desk and see the faces of everyone you're speaking to on your screen. So, through common use, it feels very mundane but at the same time I still feel a small appreciation for the fact that we're using technology that was a regular feature of science fiction fantasy during my childhood: "Imagine a phone where you could see the person on the other end!". Of course, it hasn't come about quite in the way it was envisaged in those days, but it is still quite a mind-boggling leap when you stop to think about it.
Having all this cutting edge technology at our fingertips these days, what do we use it for? Well, we spend the first few minutes of the meeting asking who has a pet cat within reach of the screen, and one of my colleagues obligingly goes to find his and hold her up for us to see. She's not a cat who takes this sort of thing well, and she soon bolts.
When the CEO joins us we get down to proper business. Apart from the other more regular actions, it becomes apparent that I should get a planned blog post and newsletter out ASAP, because they will cover how to use our sites (and some other sites belonging to partner organisations and friends on the civic tech scene), to inform yourself in advance of the European referendum on 23rd June.
One of the suggested actions is to use our Freedom of Information site, or its European equivalent, to make an FOI request, and by law this can take up to 30 working days in Europe, hence the rush to get the information out.
Composing this blog post, and finding a Creative Commons image to accompany it, then sharing it with some of my colleagues to get their feedback takes longer than I expected, so by the time I go out for a run it's 1:00 pm rather than my usual 12:00.
Having been ill I decided to take it easy, and I run 2.5km eastwards along the mainly flat Brighton seafront, and back again. Normally I listen to music while I run, via an app called Rock My Run, but since I'm in no hurry and don't need a beat to match my speed to, I listen to a podcast instead. It's the very popular "This American Life" and this particular episode is interesting but shocking. A woman explains how she found out she'd been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation as a girl (obviously she knew what had been done to her, but she didn't have the context or vocabulary around it until she started googling when she was at university).
The run is ok: I wouldn't call it particularly enjoyable, but then again the enjoyment that comes from a run is often in the subsequent few hours, when you feel well-exercised, calm and clear-headed. I've been running for quite a few years and I've come to understand that it doesn't exactly become easier or more enjoyable, although there is the occasional occasion when it's both of those things. I still generally find the final half a kilometre hard work.
I am writing this entry up in the evening. By this point, I can't even remember very much about the run, which is surprising to me and I think probably an indication of how absorbing the podcast was. I often run this route, so there's a degree to which all the runs dissolve into one another, but by evening I can normally recall a few of the people I passed, or things that I saw. Not today, really.
My Fitbit, a small clip-on pedometer that 'speaks' to my iPhone records the distance and time in the Fitbit app. Despite my tiredness and lack of pushing myself, I complete the run at pretty much my standard pace. I don’t generally care very much about my speed: so long as I know that I have exercised my heart and lungs, that’s enough for me, though I have noticed that my time has bettered of its own accord over the past few months, just from regular running.
I stop at the grocers on the way home to buy some fruit, a bit embarrassed to be so sweaty. But practically speaking, it is the most convenient time for me to pick up some food shopping, and obviously I can’t do it before my run, unless I want to take it all with me!
It is a fairly warm day, and one of the first in the year when I wish I had brought a water bottle out with me, as I am very thirsty.
As I walk the small distance home, I pass a truck. Sitting on the back there is a roofer, stirring a big pot of melted tar, one of my very favourite smells. I am sure it’s not good for me, but I take an enormous sniff.
I eat at my desk: some of the grapes I have bought, and a bowl of brown rice, sweetcorn, kidney beans, onion, garlic and padron peppers (these brought back from Barcelona) that is left over from yesterday. Actually, it is not very common that I have a home-cooked meal at lunch time: it’s only in the fridge because I hadn’t been running the day before, so had been able to use my lunch hour to make it. Much more often I just grab a sandwich, or buy a pot of salad from the deli on the way home.
I check my email again, then spend most of the rest of the afternoon looking at advance statistics for our league table of how well MPs respond to constituents' messages via one of our websites. My job is to look for news stories around this: for example, are the newest MPs, elected last year, better at replying to constituents than those who have been in the job for years and are perhaps more jaded?
I jot down some thoughts on a collaborative Google document and invite my colleagues to comment.
At around 3:25pm my daughter comes home. I answer the door to her and she then goes downstairs to our basement kitchen/living room to snack and watch videos on YouTube while I carry on working. She says her final SATs test was ok, and that she spent the picnic mostly lying down, wrapped in her blanket and watching while others played cricket.
At 5:30pm my husband comes home and I finish up work, say goodbye to colleagues and take a bath. Normally on a Thursday I would go to a life drawing session from 7:30 to 10:00pm, but having been ill, I am trying to take things a bit easier and so I stay home.
I’ve already sent my apologies to the community group I'm a member of, thinking that I’d be at life drawing - we're trying to get a local pub changed into a community space via the Asset of Community Value ruling we’ve managed to acquire.
Instead of either of these activities, I spend the evening making price labels and small signs for my stall at the London comics fair I am going to on Saturday, Comica. A friend and I will be selling our own self-printed comics as well as stickers and postcards featuring our illustrational designs. Drawing has been a hobby for me for a long time, but recently I have had a renewed drive to try and get my work seen. There is quite an established scene these days, including these fairs or festivals and plenty of online communication, as well as specialised comic shops and speaker events.
As I make signs saying things like ‘Postcards 85p each or 6 for £4.50’, I have Radio 4 on in the background (first the Archers, then the culture review show Front Row and a couple of business programmes).
My daughter loves all aspects of playing shop and she would have liked to help me, but unfortunately I am rather precise about exactly how I would like these signs to look, so I need to do them all myself.
The first one, painted in acrylics, takes much longer than I’d anticipated, so I try much simpler pen designs for the others. My husband has been baking a cake, which he does every Thursday: he tries to take a different flavour to share with his work colleagues each Friday. For that reason, he calls me down fairly late for dinner, and it’s also something rather simple: filled pasta, bought readymade. It’s still nice, though.
At 8:00 my daughter has her bath. I have sprinkled the water with pretty purple and red petals from some flowers we had worn in our hair at the weekend - we had run a teadance event to promote our project, part of which was a lady giving people 1940s hairdos.
At 10.00pm, I stop making signs, clean my palette and get ready for bed myself. I am definitely an early to bed, early to rise person. I take my laptop to bed and start typing notes for this account, though I am too tired to write it out in full -- that will have to wait until the comics fair is over and I have more time and energy.
And that is my day. I drop off to sleep easily.
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