Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My cubicle pitch

I love people. I'm happy chatting to old ladies on the street, little children, teenagers, men on building sites. I can chat to anyone, make friends with people easily and find people warm to me quickly and me to them. Why then do I hate networking so much? Isn't 'networking' just a posh name for chatting?

The song 'You will always find me in the kitchen at parties' pretty much applies to me. Despite having a very gregarious, warm nature (I flatter myself), I find parties nerve wracking and my coping strategy tends to be to get as drunk as possible. The same goes for networking where, in the absence of an opportunity for drinking, I usually just hide in the toilets.

I think the difference between my happy interactions with random people on the street and my nervousness at parties and networking events is that talking to people in an everyday setting is serendipitous whereas you go to parties and network with a mission to 'meet' people. At parties I often feel as though everyone is far cooler and more interesting than me and are no doubt finding me deadly dull, actively plotting their escape from me to be reunited with their fascinating friends. Similarly at networking events I always worry that the other person is far too important to talk to the likes of me and is probably looking over my shoulder for someone more worthy.

Interestingly I often meet some great people in the toilets and while I may not have the much vaunted elevator pitch taped, I may just have a 'cubicle pitch'. There's something very levelling about meeting someone in the loos. No matter how glamorous or successful you are, we all need a wee. Similarly at parties, there's often a more relaxed vibe in the kitchen and it gives you a reason to be there, eg: refilling your glass or searching for the Twiglets,

The fact that there are 'gurus' out there earning a fortune out of telling others how to 'network' indicates to me that I'm not alone in loathing and fearing the whole thing. Personally I find professional networkers annoying. The most successful and delightful networkers seem to be those people who look as if they're not even trying - and probably they're not.

So if you want to speak to me, come and meet me by the wash hand basins in the ladies. I'm bound to be there. Bring your own Twiglets.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Where is my Wales?

As a very small child, I knew where Wales was. It was the coal yard down the road from my little Welsh grandmother's house. Even as an under five I associated Wales with coal even if my geography was somewhat parochial - the coal yard was in North Watford!

As I grew up I had a slightly more accurate idea of Wales athough it remained for me a mythical place. It was the location of my grandmother's stories of washing her brothers in tin baths when they came up from the pits, of speaking only Welsh at home and learning English at school, of people with mellifluous names and tragic stories. My grandmother was a great story teller and prone to repeating herself so that the stories, the mythology of her Wales, became part of the warp and weft of my life. My Wales, her Wales, was no doubt the Wales of the 1920s and 30s and for a child with hopelessly romantic soul her tales were irresistable.

It was this week, now in my forties with my grandmother dead for almost a decade, that I visited the village of her childhood: Tumble, the place with the slightly comical name that literally is/was the Land of my Fathers. I was on my way home from Pembrokeshire, a place of pure soft light, glittering seas and secluded inlets. Tumble is on the way home and I felt a real desire to visit this place that was so much part of my life yet which I had never seen.

So it was that at about half past eight on a Sunday morning I parked on the steep high street. I so wanted to love Tumble and yet I was filled with a terrible sense of sadness and, dare I say it, disappointment. This was not the staunchly working class mining village with bucolic tendenies of my imagination. It looked bleak, the houses were grey and eyeless and my overall impression was one of a place that had been a victim of de-industrilisation as much as its people, and my relatives, were a victim of the mines that once supported it.

I couldn't wait to get back in the car and leave. It's the people that make you love a place and for me whereever my dear grandmother was it was 'Wales', with whatever that meant for us as a family. We definitely had our own culture, our own mythology, words and ways and she was the centre of that and so much of what I am today is because of her influence and loving presence. So I'm going to content myself with the Tumble of my heart but I do hope that behind those early morning windows there was warmth and happiness and maybe people with whom I share the odd gene!