Thoughts on a first day
Well… not quite the start to my first day in a new job I was hoping for. I arrived at Slough train station in plenty of time only to find that all trains running between London Paddington and Reading were suspended. Roughly 90 mins later I was finally on a train and, nearly two hours late, I rocked up to the office, tail between my legs. Luckily everyone was very understanding and from what I can tell, it seems like that was just rotten luck. It does remind me though of some of the memories of commuting into London from ~9 years ago that I had pushed to the back of my mind.
I’ll be honest, it felt like a huge culture shock to go into a new office and meet lots of new people. It’s not so much that the culture of the new office is fundamentally different from the old one (although there are some notable differences), it more that I just haven’t regularly ‘worked in an office’ for nearly two years. Even when I was in the office in my old role it was with only a handful of familiar faces and it felt rare to be working with anyone as apposed to just sat near them. It very much helped that I was greeted and supported by a familiar face, someone I used to work with a few years ago and have kept in contact with since.
It’s far too early to pass comment on what it might be like working there but the initial signs are positive. People seem interested in the knowledge and experience I bring from the last role and the culture is friendly and inclusive. My laptop and phone worked from the get-go which is always a bonus! I’ll admit though, I was shattered at the end of the day. It hadn’t been particularly stressful or taxing (I’m very much just getting my feet under the desk at this point) but I guess it was a lot to take in. I really struggled to get back out of the bed after lying with Dragon to get her to sleep at her bedtime!
One thing that was really odd was being back in Oxford. I’m working only about a 10 minute walk from where I lived for the first 17 years of my life and I probably walked past the office front door hundreds of times as a child. It’s a sign of my age that I spent much of the time outside (we walked to a restaurant for lunch) commenting on how it had changed and pointing out what this building used to be and why that place had nostalgic memories. There are probably more people I know in Oxford than in any city/town in the country despite having moved away years ago – with many of the people now there having also returned after periods elsewhere. Having two small children is far from conducive for a post-work social life but I hope I get to use the fact that I’m in Oxford and not driving to make the most of catching up with people for drinks now and then.
Two weeks later…
Well its fair to say that that first week ended up being a bit of a whirlwind and I haven’t had a chance to add to this blog post since that first day. The commuting problems of that first day, it turns out, are not so unusual. I think 3 of my first 4 train journeys were fairly significantly affected (i.e. more than just a delay to the one train in my journey). But at least by then I had the laptop and the ability to work from home on the days I could see that it was going to be a problem.
I’ve also started cycling to and from the station – an economic necessity after the luxury of a taxi in that first week to minimise the things that could go wrong. That too it turns out was misplaced faith with the taxi for last Friday being an hour (60 minutes!!) late. Once again I was fortunate that I was on an online training session that morning so I could join it from anywhere but it starts to take its toll… Cycling does feel like it makes it a long day though – although probably providing some much needed exercise which I otherwise am struggling to fit in. Today I left the house at 7am and the earliest I’ll be home is 6:30pm. I guess this is just how the other half live after 6 years of being able to just pop across the road (well, river, but you get the point).
This week has been difficult for entirely different reasons though. It’s half term for Piglet (a week earlier than a lot of the other schools for some reason) and so it’s the first time that I’ve had to leave the three of them all day without really being around to help. Dragon is teething so she’s grumpy at the moment and not sleeping particularly well either, and so my wife is more tired than usual too and up to her eyeballs looking after two little ones (of considerably different needs) for 24 hours each day (granted some of those are sleeping but still…). But the hardest bit is Piglet’s reaction. For reasons I do not fully understand, he seems to be really struggling with his anger and temper. It’s not a completely new thing and in some ways it’s a continuation of his adaptation to being a big brother and sharing the attention of his parents. By all accounts he’s absolutely fine at school; a model student as far as I can tell. There is always the possibility that he’s just bottling it up at school and letting It out in his ‘safe space’ when he gets home. But I think he’s just really frustrated at home at way he isn’t at school. I suspect patience and time are what’s needed here and to be supported as best we can with the most efficient use of our limited supply of empathy towards him in the face of red-blooded anger and fury. He is still adapting, he is still getting used to having a baby sister and he is still learning to find his new place in this family of now four. But I do hope it comes sooner than later as the prospect of an entire Easter and Summer holidays of arguments is more than I can face right now, and I’m not even the one at home with him all day!
His fits of anger are so intense and so (seemingly) unprovoked that I did find myself looking online for coping techniques for such childhood anger. I found some suggestions that I thought were nonsense, some that I was already familiar with, and a few points that I hadn’t considered. But reading around child anger, it did occur to me that he could be starting to show signs of Asperger’s. He does struggle with changes to routine and gets irrationally (at least to me) angry about things I struggle to see the significance in so there were a few common traits with aspects of the autism spectrum. However, he shows no signs of the social awkwardness or lack of social cues and introspection that might also be expected. And so I don’t think that really fits. But it’s something we should keep an eye on. Apparently most diagnosis of high functioning Autism occur between about 5 and 9 years old.
Meanwhile, while my wife has been struggling with an angry 5 year old and a teething 6 month old, I have been making the most of office life in the (well ‘a’) city. I am enjoying being back in an office more than I expected. There are undoubtably some benefits to working from home and I am very lucky that I seem to be able to choose on a daily basis which works best for me. But there is a stimulation and a focus from being in a room with a group of people with similar tasks that I have missed more than I realised and I am choosing to be in the office – despite the fairly long door-to-door commute – more than I would have expected.
Some of the perks are fairly minor but hold significance when stacked together: The office has a good capsule espresso machine which provides reasonable quality, low fuss coffee at the press of a button. I’ve really enjoyed making coffee at home recently and I will continue to do so when the part that I’ve waited so patiently for eventually arrives, but it’s time consuming and messy and not particularly conducive to a day of meeting deadlines. My best home coffees are far better than I can get at work but too many of my failed attempts are far worse.
Another benefit is just being directly in the centre of a metropolitan city like Oxford. It is very different to working on the outskirts of Windsor where the only ‘local’ food offerings was a Harvester pub. I can go to the food market Wed-Fri and order any number of delicious cuisines from all over the world in the centre of Oxford and when I find myself needing to buy another work shirt or even a pair of smart shoes to live at the office now I’m cycling I can pop into the brand new Westgate shopping complex for pretty much any high street shop I can think of. It’s funny we call them ‘high street’ shops but so few of them are now found on the high street of towns given that most city centres have now converted to having some sort of centralised shopping complex. I suspect there may be downsides: it’s certainly much easier to spend money on food and occasional items than it was before; but actually I’m not really buying things I wouldn’t have needed to get at the weekend otherwise and the food is so much better and only slightly more expensive than I would have been spending in the canteen at my last place. I do still try and take a packed lunch most days as well.
One thing that surprises me about buying food at places like the food market in Oxford is that it is really easy to choose milk-free options. Nearly all of the stalls have several vegan options and I haven’t yet any any awkward or unconvincing discussions about whether items would contain milk or not. I don’t want to always eat vegan food but its helpful when you know you could fall back on that option if nothing else turns out to be suitable. I haven’t tried asking about soya yet but I would like to bring the family along at some point so I’ll need to find out how easy that is to avoid as well. I suspect a bit harder but I’ve been impressed with the awareness of allergens so far.
I was much busier at work today and I suspect this will be a sign of things to come as I get up to speed. But I take it as a very positive sign – in terms of my mental health at very least and more widely of whether I did the right thing to leave my last job and start this one – that I was out of the house for 12 hours today, I’ve cycled 10km+ and I’ve walked over 13,000 steps today and yet I still have the energy and enthusiasm to finish this blog tonight. Granted it helps that Dragon and Piglet are sleeping happily away – surprisingly so on Dragon’s part – but actually I can see it in things like my resting heart rate which has fallen over the last few days. I have a renewed sense of purpose and I feel important and needed in a way that I probably hadn’t for a couple of years, professionally.
Now just the kids to help, the house to fix up and sell, the housing market to pick up so we can buy somewhere, a new school to find and my wife’s business to set up… Where was that coffee machine?