Monday, August 26, 2019

Redundancy update

It's about 6 weeks since the news that our shop was being closed with jobs going in November, and it seems like time to write about it again. I've been in two minds about posting about this because there's quite a lot of emotion wrapped up in it, but it's also hard to really think about much else at the moment so it's the honest thing to do.

The problem with a relatively long notice period is that after the initial shock has worn off there's quite a long period where it's more or less business as usual. It feels like a particularly unpleasant limbo; however daunting the future looks I want to be getting in with it now. I'm tied into quite a long notice period, there are financial upsides to this, but it also means I'm committed to this job until it's gone.

We have those finish dates, have gone through the group consultation, and are now in individual consultation meetings. We have an estimate of what our redundancy payouts will be, and for those who want to try and stay in the company there are daily updates on available jobs.

At the moment I'm not seeing any opportunities for redeployment for my quite specific role and anything less specialised would mean a pay freeze. There are also less jobs than people. We also know more branches are slated for closure next year, and probably the year after (we had people come to us from branches that closed in June who found out weeks later they were in the same position again). Non of that is making the prospect of trying to stay on very appealing.

The hardest thing to deal with though is the range of emotion from our customers. There was an excellent article in last weeks Sunday Times about the importance of weak social links and how casual acquaintances are important for our health and happiness which has helped make sense of the reactions we've been getting. It doesn't make them any less exhausting to deal with.

It's an excellent illustration of the emotional labour people who work in retail are expected to do (not in the least reflected by wages). There are customers who I've known through 4 jobs and 20 years of selling wine, people I like, and who's conversation I enjoy. There are customers who are not so delightful. We see literally thousands of people come through the doors each week and individually only build links with a fraction of them.

When it comes down to it we don't really care where the majority of people are going to shop when we've gone, not when we don't know how we're going to pay our bills or how long we might be unemployed for. we really don't care what this might do to local property values, so the man who was angry the community hadn't been consulted - frankly it was. But every time you chose to shop somewhere else you made us less viable - which is fine, it's you're choice, but you can't have it both ways.

The sight we're on has been sold to Lidl, and judging by the number of people who are convinced this is some sort of German revenge for World War Two, or will never shop in a German supermarket because 'they tried to bomb our house' how Brexit is happening is starting to make a lot more sense. I wish I were joking about this, but people around here can clearly hold a grudge for generations because non of them have been over 70. It's irritating.

Worse is the open racism - we're closing because there are to many of Those sort of people who have moved into Our community. This is nonsense on every level. Workmates have been asked where they were born, with customers demanding to speak to someone born in Britain. It is hateful behaviour (the management position on this is one of zero tolerance, they will call the police if they're made aware of it at the time, the police do take it seriously).

As for the rest of it, there are customers, especially elderly ones that we are worried for, we're part of their support network even if only in a small way. There are people who've been really kind, some have made enquiries about jobs on our behalf, sent cards, bought biscuits, and otherwise made us feel genuinely appreciated. Which makes being constantly asked if we have another job to go to easier to cope with when none of us currently do.

So there you go, there's all this and more to deal with in temperatures hot enough to make wine expand out of the bottle (if you shop with me avoid the Gigondas, it's been comprehensively cooked) and I feel somewhat better for having written it down.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Sanditon - Jane Austen

I'm not sure if I'll watch ‘Sanditon’ yet or not, but either way I'm pleased to have read it, even if doing so is a slightly bitter sweet exercise. There are 12 short chapters here which do little more than introduce us to a cast of characters - maybe not even all the characters that Austen intended - but it's enough to feel the loss of what we don't get.

I've always been an Austen fan, happy to explore the limited social worlds that she describes, because when it comes down to it that's more or less how we live. I'm always a little bit surprised that she's associated more with romance than satire and social commentary (which is one reason I love the Thomas Rowlandson image on the government of this Oxford World’s Classics edition).  More than anything though, I think it's ridiculous that we don't view her as part of a rich and varied female cannon of writers - because that's exactly what she is.

Some popular tv adaptations of Maria Edgeworth for example might go a long way to shaking up how we think of Austen. Fanny Burney gets a mention in Sanditon (as do Burns, Scott, and Richardson, people ought to read a bit more Scott too) and now I want to re read her books again (I remember enjoying them in my late teens but not much more).

 But back to Sanditon. We meet the Parker family - Mr Parker (and his meek wife), he’s determined to make Sanditon a fashionable resort and is risking his fortune to do it. There are also 2 extraordinarily active hypochondriac sisters, a brother who shares the hypochondria but not the activity, and another brother who we don't learn so very much about but was surely meant to be a significant character.

Mr Parker’s partner in the speculation of Sanditon is Lady Denham, a woman of means who married more money the first time, and a title the second time. She has 3 sets of possible heirs headed by Clara (beautiful but poor) from her own family, the Hollis family that we don't meet (but I would guess we're to be introduced) that belong to her first husband, and the Denham’s.

They are a brother and sister with more pride than means, and look set to be a bad lot. There's also mention of a mixed race Miss Lambe. She’s a considerable heiress in delicate health, in the company of the far less well off and much more forward Miss Beaufort’s. They're all being observed by Charlotte Heywood.

The problem with watching an adaptation of this is that I want to know what Austen intended for her characters, not what Andrew Davies thinks they might do. What was she going to make of Miss Lambe, would Mr Parker’s speculations work out, and what kind of personality was Lady Denham going to prove to be? Part of this is because based on the existing 12 chapters both Mr Parker and Lady Denham seem more nuanced characters than Sir Walter Elliot or Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Mr Parker might go off unchecked on his enthusiasms, but he has an obvious care and affection for his family, and the wider community he's part of. Lady Denham loses Charlottes sympathy when she declares she doesn't want more visitors in her home because it would make to much work for her servants, and if they had a harder place they'd want higher wages. Charlotte considers this a mean attitude, but it's not clear to me where Austen stands on it.

It's impossible not to anticipate the book this could have grown into, the suggestion is that it would have been something new for both Austen and the English novel. This fragment is enticing, but it's also deeply frustrating we don't get the rest of it.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Uradale Shawls - Marja de Haan

Impending redundancy isn't doing much for my concentration when it comes to reading which is a shame because I've got a small stack of books I really want to read right now. I just can't decide which one to get on with first, so instead I've been knitting.

My stepmother gave me 'Uradale Shawls' when I was staying with her in June, the Scalloway pattern looked like a good project for getting through some of my yarn stash, and uncomplicated. What I hadn't quite appreciated is that in terms of yardage it's the biggest thing I've knitted so far, progress is slow, but it's also been a blessing.

I'm a big believer in the therapeutic qualities of knitting as a hobby. It gives me something creative to do which is always a positive, is absorbing enough to stop brooding, but still lets me listen to podcasts or half watch trashy tv (some of) which makes me feel even more productive, and is just generally calming. The size and nature of the Scalloway scarf is especially perfect - it's a really simple shape, with stripes that keep the endless stockinette interesting - it doesn't make unreasonable demands on a mind inclined to wander a bit.

I have never bought any of the Uradale yarn (it's an organic farm near Scalloway in Shetland) although I have seen the odd bits of it around in Lerwick, so I'm mostly using Jamieson's Spindrift with a bit of Jamieson and Smith's jumper weight in the closest colours I had.

Most of the patterns in the book are for large triangular shawls, and now I'm working out how much yarn you need from the given weights I'm realising just how big they really are, they're mostly stranded too, so they'll be warm. The given instructions suggest knitting in the round for most of the shawls with a steek you cut at the end. I think I'd rather knit purl rows and do them flat even if it would take longer.

Otherwise this is a really nice collection that reflects the landscape and yarn that inspired it. There's only one pattern that really looks like fairisle, everything else has motifs that pick up on local wildlife and landmarks. It's a lovely book to have as a souvenir, and the shawls themselves would be something to treasure.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

East - Meera Sodha

Blackberries are ripening on the hedges, and in a few short weeks (on September 5th to be precise) half the books I've been anticipating since spring will be published - Autumn is coming. Half the books I've been anticipating are also coincidentally cookbooks, and then there are the ones I didn't even know I wanted... awkward at a time I need to be saving against the impending redundancy.

Meera Sodha's 'East' was one I didn't know I wanted until both my Twitter and Instagram went crazy for it on Thursday (it's publication day). If it hadn't been for the recommendations I wouldn't have picked this up - I'm not good with chilli (it's a heat that registers with me as pain, M&S roasted red pepper hummus turned out to be hotter than I like). The chilli thing is a pain in the arise when you live in a city like Leicester.

I tend not to buy vegetarian books either, I have an uncomfortable suspicion that because I'm not a vegetarian I feel like they're not for me, which is silly. Anyway, a proper look at 'East' persuaded me that it would be worth the investment, so here we are. 

It's a 120 vegan and vegetarian recipes from Bangalore to Beijing, and also "fuss free food made from British ingredients". The second part of that is particularly attractive. Because of where I live Chinese and Indian ingredients are easy to find. Korean and Thai not far behind, some things (like black Venus rice which sounds delicious, and spelt flour) might be a bit harder to find, but everything else ought to be more or less on my doorstep. 

The joy of this book is that it's full of flavours and combinations that I wouldn't normally cook, because of that when I'm reading through them I don't find myself thinking about meat, or feeling that it's in any way missing (that's decades of conditioning to think of vegetables as a side dish rather than the main event, I know it's not true, but it's an unconscious bias I'm finding hard to shift). More than that, things just sound delicious.

Beetroot and ginger soup, overnight soy eggs, paneer spinach and tomato salad, caramelised fennel and carrot salad with mung beans and herbs, udon noodles with red cabbage and cauliflower and so much more. The desserts look amazing as well, with some beautiful sounding vegan cakes.

Given that my whole frame of mind is focused on change at the moment, this feels like the perfect cook book for my current mood. So much of the food sounds fresh, vibrant, (though I will probably scale back the chilli somewhat) and colourful. Just browsing through it makes me feel optimistic. 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Deep Water, Mysteries on the Waves - edited by Martin Edwards

I've always found August a strange sort of inbetween month. Growing up in Shetland, August could throw some distinctly autumnal days at you, the long twilight hours of midsummer are going, and the new school year loomed. Even as an adult it's a month that makes me think more of endings than beginnings. In retail it's when Christmas planning starts in earnest. Looking out the window the landscape has an overcooked feel, and altogether my current employment status is all of a piece with how I see this month.

I can't settle to much, I'm finding it easier to knit than read, and when I am reading I'm drifting towards short stories. I actually read 'Deep Waters' whilst I was on holiday back in June. It was the perfect book for the ferry journey to and from Shetland - not least because much of the water involved was river rather than ocean (there's even a swimming pool).

It's an enjoyable collection - as I would expect from the crime classics series, with plenty of variety. I love these for holiday reading because there's something for most moods, nothing demands to much attention, and short stories fit so well into the odd pockets of time when I actually get to read in (rather than the weeks of uninterrupted reading time I still sometimes imagine I might get).

'Deep Waters' gives everything from the pulpiest of efforts involving piranhas trained to kill on demand (sort of) to Kem Bennett's masterly 'The Queer Fish' which perfectly draws the line between comedy and drama. A couple of the stories flirt with suggestions of the supernatural before resolving themselves into something closer to science fiction.

There is also the last appearance of Raffles (E. W. Hornung's amateur cracksmen - gentleman cricketer and burgler) in 'The Gift of the Emperor'. I read a collection of Raffles stories in a cheap Wordsworth Classics edition one August well over 20 years ago, but not this one. I'm not sure I'd ever given it much thought, but this isn't the end I would have imagined. It was unexpectedly melancholy, more so in an anthology that separates them from their previous exploits (in which setting it would sound more like just desserts). As it stands it's another example of how well Edwards puts together these collections.

They're beautifully balanced, and together his collections are always more than the sum of their parts. That piranha story that in another setting would be to silly for words is the perfect seasoning in this book, as is Raffles last adventure. Perfect summer reading indeed.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

A Spirited Guide to Vermouth - Jack Adair Bevan

I've been hoping for a good book on vermouth for a while now, and been working my way through this one since the end of May. So far it's the best book on the subject that I've found - although as my search has mostly been an occasional browse in a small Waterstones the competition has been limited.

It's taken me a long time to come round to vermouth as a category to get excited about, and there are reasons for this. Vermouth generally was not fashionable 20 years ago when I started out in Wine, and neither were the drinks it goes in. It's also quite a complicated set of drinks - Vermouth means all sorts of things from sweet to dry to bitter, white through amber, rosé, and into red. Once open it also needs to be drunk reasonably quickly - you need to commit to that bottle in a way you just don't with most other things.

My preferred kitchen vermouth (something good for drinking and cooking with) is a dry white, but it turns out my preferred cocktail vermouth is a rich red (either for Manhattans or Rob Roys, also with gin as a Gin and It. It's what you want for a Negroni too, although I'm not such a fan of those). But that barely scratches the surface of possibilities out there.

Vermouth's fortunes have changed considerably over the last few years, the ever growing popularity of gin has a lot to do with that, as do changing tastes for cocktails - although it's still not the easiest thing to buy around here. Choice is slowly improving but it is slow. I personally think that a growing interest in lower alcohol drinks is what will really help the spread of vermouth across the country.

It makes a brilliant long drink with tonic, and at less than half the abv of gin it's a much lighter alternative with even more complexity of flavour. This book does an excellent job of explaining the different styles, introducing some key producers, looking at the culture and history of Vermouth, thinking about matching it with food, and giving recipes.

The recipes are for both cocktails and food - which is really useful because you want to get through a bottle within 2-4 weeks so the more ways to use it the better. There's also a recipe to make your own vermouth (tempting). Jack Adair Bevans vermouth credentials are impeccable so you're in good hands - especially when it comes to the bar craft and cocktail bits. He's also drafted in some excellent writers to contribute recipes.

The one thing the book really needs is an index. Not having one is slightly irritating especially for cross referencing products. A glossary of the vermouth's used in the cocktails (and maybe some alternatives) would also be useful. Most of the vermouth's need to be ordered online (or at least they do if you live in the midlands) and represent a reasonable investment, the obvious place to start exploring from would be the most mentioned products.

I like the mix of cocktails in here, they start at relatively simple and go up from there. I could wish that some weren't quite so product specific, but that's a personal prejudice mixed with a pedantic nature that makes me want to follow a recipe exactly, rather than a criticism.

Altogether it's an excellent book, and an excellent place to explore vermouth from.