Dear Joe…

The below article (titled “Dear Joe”) was written for a work newsletter which is produced on a rotational basis by those on my finance development program. It’s a light hearted take on when I did something very crazy; telling the CEO of a top ten finance institution to improve his presentation skills.

***

‘You criticised the CEO? Are you crazy?!’

You know how in the movies the protagonist always has a life affirming moment on top of a mountain or in the pouring rain? Well mine took place in the West Swindon branch of Dominoes.

‘I didn’t criticise him, I just told him his presentation needed improvement.’

‘Oh Alice.’

And that’s when it hit me.

It had all started so well-meaning. Joe Garner had delivered a presentation to the 2017 Emerging Talent cohort back in November. All eyes in the room were on Joe as he tested his microphone on stage, it felt like I was at some kind of corporate Ed Sheeran concert. And yet, by the time it was finished I felt mildly disappointed.

Because no digital communication in the history of mankind has ever been misinterpreted, I decided to email Joe my feedback. ‘Dear Joe,’ I started, ‘thanks for taking the time to present on Friday. At the risk of sounding critical…’

Fast forward eight hours and there I was in Dominoes having the above conversation with my housemate.

‘I’m stuffed, aren’t I?’

I received a prompt reply from Joe the next day. Thankfully he’d seen the well-meaning in my email and thanked me for the feedback, whilst also responding to one of my points. ‘How can we expect people to magically buy houses when we don’t educate on finance?’ I ever so delicately put. Well, Joe says, funnily enough it was a topic currently being looked into by ExCo and something that I might want to be more informed on if I so wished.

Next thing I know, I’m outside the office Graeme Hughes, Relationships and Distribution Lead and ExCo member. He and Hannah Faulkner, Joe’s Executive Assistant, sat with me for almost an hour discussing past, present and future ideas for finance education. Graeme explained the different approaches Nationwide had taken in the past and why they hadn’t been as successful as hoped. I took a powerful sip on my strong coffee and gave my response to these comments. Graeme’s eyebrow lifted as he leaned back in his chair.

‘Ok, so what do you propose?’

I came away from the meeting with a splitting headache but feeling as pumped as David Cameron. The firm handshake and broad smile of Graeme said what Hannah readily exclaimed. ‘I am so glad to have met you! We must meet again!’

All said and done I really need to stop emailing Joe Garner.

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2017 – A Chinese New Year in Review

It has just dawned on me I never got round to doing a write up for 2017. Oh how you poor souls must have struggled to survive these past ten weeks. Well good news, it’s the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dog in fact (why do I say that like it’s that big a deal?) which automatically gives me an excuse to do the yearly review in February.

I’ll keep this short and sweet because I’m multitasking this between a conversation of Papa Bennett’s new Volvo and Mumma Bennett discussing ISAs and investments. There’s also a crumble in the oven which I need to keep an eye on (did I ever tell you how middle class my family is?)

Anyway, a quick update on 2017.

Important Stuff Kicking Off:

  • Trump / Brexit (use as headline news where appropriate)
  • Bruce Forsyth, Adam West, Peter Sallis, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and, most painfully, Keith Chegwin died this year. According to The Sun (look, it came top of the Google search) more men died than women. Not sure if this means more famous women are needed, more famous female deaths are impending, or The Sun is sexist (or all three)..
  • Meanwhile, in Ireland…
  • Meanwhile, in London…

 

Personal Stuff Kicking Off

  • In March 2017 – bought a house (no biggie) and started a mini-series on my website documenting the process of buying and doing it up. You can access the series via the link on the top bar or here: The First Time Buyer Diaries (TFTBD)
  • June – builders moved in for a week and took off the back of my house to increase the size of the downstairs bedroom. Given the back of the property was protected only by a sheet of plastic for several days sleeping didn’t come too easily on those nights. Spoiler – I survived. (I’ll write more about this as part of TFTBD at some point.)
  • August – went on a mini-break to Prague. (Why Prague? Because it’s the cheapest place a skint homeowner can visit within the EU, that’s why.) Booked a hotel room in the centre of the historic capital which meant easy access after all the tourist hoards had left (although FYI the bars close early!) Particular elements to call out were a Gerhard Richter exhibition and a classical music concert. Found both experiences very emotive.
  • August – Bought a car. Still recovering from the expense of buying a house and paying for a holiday, my lovely blue Fiat 500 (and all associated costs) quite literally broke me. For all of about two weeks I had hardly two pennies to rub together. That was fun…
  • In September I started a new job in the glamorously corporate world of finance, working in project governance (haven’t you seen 50 Shades? Control is sexy). This job is wonderful because a) it pays more b) all the men have to wear suits and c) the support, development and progression networks are vastly superior compared to where I was before. Oddly enough A and B were not articulated in my original job interview.
  • October – discovered my new job is nothing like Wolf of Wall Street.
  • Technically it happened in January 2018 but I’m going to tell you anyway. Long story short, I’m now single. I’m fine, that is unless you’re offering to buy me chocolate, wine or coffee. In which case I’m a mess.

In Other News

  • I created this masterpiece for my sister’s birthday, putting together my two all time loves: Windows Movie Maker and Phil Collins.

(Ridley Scott should be afraid is all I’m saying.)

  • Swindon 18-30 breeched 600 member mark.
  • Writing stuff stagnated somewhat, but looking to revitalise this for 2018.

 

So overall a busy year for the world (Trump, Brexit, need I say more?) And for me (house, car, job, at this rate I’m going to run out of things to spend my money on, hah-hah as if I just typed that!)

Happy New Chinese Year everyone!

The Holburne Museum and Art Gallery, Bath Spa (An Unofficial Guide)

With a frontage like this…

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…You wouldn’t think the Holburne Museum and Art Gallery was located just off the centre of Bath Spa (Somerset, England). And yet, quite a literal stone’s throw from the beating heart of the city is this little gem of a place. All you need to do is cross the river and follow the dead straight road and you’ll reach this at the end (gotta love a Georgian straight road, it’s as if they predicted the advent of Sat Navs and thought ‘nah, why bother. Just make all the roads straight instead.’)

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View from within looking out.

Originally a grand Georgian hotel, the building now houses the personal collection of Sir Thomas William Holburne and a great number of 17th and 18th Century artworks. Now, even though I studied History for three years, the only things it got me were £30,000 worth of debt and a couple of fun facts about executions, Victorian death rituals and lynch mobs. In short, I’m probably the last person on Earth to be providing a potted history for this place. For a timeline click here.

History aside, lets get onto the bit which 95% of my readership care about; how Alice’s brain has interpreted the contents of this museum (the other 5% Google searched ‘mermaids’ and are now bitterly disappointed by the contents of this site).

On the first floor is a room (and mezzanine above) which showcases the artefacts collected by Sir Thomas Holburne as well as family treasures.

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There is more to it than this, trust me.

Whenever I see a good deal of random antiquities in a room, all laid out and nicely presented I think about the condition such priceless items would have been kept in before the advent of museums. I mean, when you watch documentaries of hoarders in Cheshire you don’t think ‘oh, I wonder if there’s a cheeky Faberge Egg under that newspaper pile?’

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‘Now, where did I leave my 16th Century tapestry?’

See if I had a time machine that’s probably where I’d go, to the hoarding museums of the future. (I know right, why is this girl single?)

Funnily, when I went to the Holburne on a half day off I never expected to get home interior inspiration.

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I mean a quick reckie around Swindon’s charity shops and some suspension cable and you’re away. In my house it would be life affirming – if you manage a flight of stairs without a vase landing on your head then you know you’re going to have a good day. If not…well you’re probably getting a day or two off work (=good day!)

Moving onto the art exhibitions in the other rooms, on the same level I was reminded that throughout history the same statement rings true; if it’s done in the name of ‘art’ then anything goes. For example, do you know that feeling when you get turned into a stag by the Goddess of animals and then killed by your own hounds whilst meanwhile everyone is too wrapped up in the Lapith/Centaur battle to care?

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And you thought you were having a bad day.

In that sense you can’t really be too heavily critical about art because if you look at things through a sceptical eye it seems that everyone was/is on some form of hallucinogenic.

In the same room I felt equally reassured that I’m not the only one to have struggled with the perils of a dignified wet wipe wash.

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If Venus can do it, so can I.

There were also a number of nice portraits in the room which didn’t inspire any wit from me at the time so didn’t get photographed. In my defence I was too busy chuckling at people reacting to the massive piece of contemporary art in the room. Needless to say most people weren’t getting it.

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Michael Petry, A Line Lives in the Past and the Future

Upstairs then and on the second level was, you’ve guessed it, more pieces of priceless art. In a side room at the top of the stairs was a temporary exhibition on art of stage actors which gave me many a chuckle. This guy for instance could be relatable to any workplace environment…

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‘What overtime for free? Say what now?’ / ‘You want me to deliver Wembley stadium in four months? Are you actually kidding me?’ / ‘Mate, what the hell are you wearing?’ – the list goes on.

And I doubt anyone has spotted it but me, but there was a weird love triangle taking place on the wall opposite.

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‘This distance between us, it’s too much!’

(Directly below…)

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‘Just get a exhibition room already.’

Unfortunately one of the galleries was temporarily closed whilst a new exhibition was being fitted, which took me therefore into the last available gallery on my visit. It was an exhibit of stuffed exotic birds, hah, just kidding, it was another art gallery.

Now it could be just me, but do you ever find it trippy when there’s a painting in a painting? And you’re being invited to look at that said painting in a painting by the painted figures as if there’s deeper meaning in the painting’s painting? That if you stare at it long enough you’re expected to understand? And then you don’t get it so you read the description by the side of the painting and think ‘ah, ok’ then look back at the painting and still don’t get it? And then you question your intelligence, take a moment to remind yourself you have a degree in the Arts, before looking back at the painting and wondering why you wasted your time trying to understand something which, at best, is a fairly average painting and doesn’t make that much sense?

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It’s historic inception if you ask me.

In this gallery there were a number of very nice pieces of art work. The room steward and I had a lovely conversation about over a particular portrait. ‘He was well known for his ability to paint women. They used to say he was good with the wives of gentry.’ (The thirteen year old in me was making so many smirky comments it’s a wonder none of them got blurted out .)

Also, the lady in that particular exhibition dashed out after me and complimented me on the way I viewed the collection. Middle class win. Set me up right rosy for the afternoon that did.

After I viewed all the art I could handle, I stopped off in the café on the ground floor which for the record was really pleasurable. Art and coffee are the perfect mix anyway, but the coffee shop has been very stylishly done, with a glass backed wall facing the parks located at the back of the museum.

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First floor view of the back.

Also, nice toilets.

After I’d completed my wander round the Holburne I strolled the grounds to the back of the old grand hotel. This area had originally been billed as the luxury pleasure gardens for the hotel’s guests and as I walked over regal bridges that crossed the railway line and ambled up to various pieces of Georgian architecture, I could see why. It was the perfect way to finish my visit.

I came away from the Holburne thinking myself as a sophisticated individual (I didn’t spill any coffee on me that day = proof) and given the Holburne is a free to enter, privately run, establishment I’d certainly say it was worth an hour of anyone’s time, even if it’s just for the cake and 18th Century banter.

More information on the Holburne Museum and Art Gallery can be found here (external website).

Waterfall vs Agile Project Management Models

Waterfall Project Management

When you complete each stage of a project in isolation. You can’t move onto the next stage until the previous one has been completed.

Teams may have frequent meetings in the form of monthly boards, where decisions are made by stakeholders, or dial in meetings with team members who may not work in the same office location (e.g. a Tester who works offshore).

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Waterfall Methodology

A project example would be upgrades to multiple interlinked computer servers. Server one must first be upgraded first before server two can be looked at.

Pros

  • Methodical and the traditional method of running projects.
  • Works well for projects where there’s one end goal and nothing in between.
  • Enables clear investment decision points and reviews at stage ends and also ensures everything is completed before progressing to the next stage.
  • (Pro or con!) results in stricter levels of governance as projects need to fulfil specific criteria before being allowed to develop and implement.

Cons

  • Slow. A hold up at one stage affects the rest of the chain for the project.
  • This also includes potential impacts on dependant projects who rely on other projects for meeting their deadlines.
  • This in turn can lead to resource inefficiencies, project overspend and failure to meet to time scales.

 

SELRES_18becb00-8b2c-49eb-bb78-305b4e1cf3bdSELRES_a42bbdd4-aaaf-44c1-801a-95ab1f7d3246SELRES_a92ed792-ef54-4bda-9325-efc9bfdaab93AgileSELRES_a92ed792-ef54-4bda-9325-efc9bfdaab93SELRES_a42bbdd4-aaaf-44c1-801a-95ab1f7d3246SELRES_18becb00-8b2c-49eb-bb78-305b4e1cf3bd Project Management

Instead of aiming to complete whole stages in isolation, Agile projects take a more cyclonic approach, tackling a project delivery in multiple smaller stages (or sprints). Sprints tend to last between two and four weeks.

Teams keep each other informed via stand up Kanban/scrum meetings. An appointed scrum master leads discussions to enable the different teams working on the project provide updates. A) with what they are going to tackle during each sprint (at the start), B) progress updates (during) and C) what they have achieved (at the end). Meetings tend to be more informal and visual compared to Waterfall and the use of whiteboards with post its and/or dedicated software are adopted more frequently to enable updates in a quicker paced project.

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Agile Project Methodology

An example of an Agile project would be the development of a App. Over the course of multiple sprints teams are able to gradually build and test the App, first with the basic code, then the functionality, then finally adding in user appeal – pictures, sounds etc.

Pros

  • Fast moving. Enables teams to quickly identify any faults and either fix or ‘drop’ them before too much money and time is invested.
  • Deliveries grow over time, a project leader can start to see formation much earlier into a project, where in Waterfall the change is sudden.
  • Considered to be a more resource efficient model and allows for greater collaboration.

Cons

  • Agile is not a suitable method for all projects. A single delivery can’t be built over time (for example, the delivery outcome ‘running a marathon’ cannot be done in separate sprints. You sign up, train, then run it. An Agile approach would be useless in this instance – you cannot gradually run bits of the marathon over twelve weeks!)
  • The working environment must contain all persons on the project (project lead, governance, software architects, testers, accountants, etc.) to enable collaboration. These resources can only be dedicated to one project or sprint. If resources are split between multiple projects (as they can be on Waterfall) then the sprint may fail to meet its delivery.
  • As sprints are quite short and projects adopting Agile are quicker paced, the project lead must ensure that suitable investment and project governance/review points are put in place as the cycle system doesn’t naturally allow for any sudden or prolonged stops.
  • As it’s a new methodology of project working, team members may require additional support and/or training.

 

 

And there you have it. A (very) quick overview of the two main methods of running projects. I want to add here that I am by no means an expert on either approach, having only started a career in business project management and governance three months ago(!) but hopefully for that reason it will help any new starters in the world get to grips with the basics.

(Also, I hope that doing this will stop Mumma Bennett getting into hysterics when I talk about my job- ‘Waterfall? Ha, ha, haah! What’s Waterfall?! I don’t understand, what’s water got to do with technology upgrades? You’re so corporate!’ and so on and so forth…)

 

And who says you don’t learn awesome things from this blog?

Line!

Evoking emotion in me is like filling a massive man-made dam. You keep pushing and pushing to go further, to fill it higher, until suddenly the walls break and water goes everywhere. Many lives and friendships lost, terrible mess, nightmare insurance claim.

Problem is I often don’t know when to stop. It’s like the world is challenging me to tip toe over the thick red boundary, to see the signs and ignore the warnings. To step over “the line”.

Within our family we’re pretty good at keeping each other in check. A slip of the tongue and down the phone you’ll hear me dryly saying “line! Line!” As if I’m  voicing a submarine siren or hitting a desk buzzer. I used to mimic the action, that was until people in public places started expressing concern that I was having a some kind of seizure.

“Line! Line! Line!”

Outside of family there’s no such restriction on what I say. Now obviously I never say anything offensive or plain stupid, I’m not Donald Trump, but that doesn’t stop me saying things that are a bit kooky and classically Alice. A throwaway comment that develops into a very strange trail of thought, carrying on and on until I look up and realise that, at best, no one is listening or, at worst, I get “a look” which says it all; “must remove from LinkedIn.”

Only recently have I discovered that I’m not alone in evoking stupid thoughts. Someone at work is equally resilient to being unable to locate the line. At first I thought “oh my God, another one exists! Yay!” now I’m thinking “oh my God, how does this end? Will the world implode if we share one pun too many?”

I’ll spare you the full detailed story that has developed between us because honestly it’s pretty weird (I know, even by my standards). This fictional life started with an innocent accidental wave on Facebook – 30 minutes later and it had become all kinds of Mighty Boosh.

To make matters worse, the colourful (and ongoing) contents were inadvertently brought from the safe confines of social media and into the office today. You can only imagine the looks (or non-looks) the pair of us were getting. I may have discovered the older, more ‘out there’ version of me, but I’m also discovering why “you can never have too much of a bad thing” isn’t a common saying amongst sensible people. The banter is wonderful, but the confused looks and hole-digging explanations? Hmm, that’s harder to put up with on a day-to-day.

Where is my conversation controller, my stupid stopper, my tame talker? Where is my internal, one word, monologue when I need it the most?

“Line! Line! Line!”

 

Written in response to the WordPress prompt Evoke

Things Are Going To Change Around Here

You’re lying on a beach, the warm Mediterranean sun kissing your sun cream-sheen body. There’s a Pina Colada in hand (it could be the second or third, but who’s counting anyway?) And you think to yourself, “yes, this is pure bliss”. Suddenly, out of nowhere…

“Things are going to change around here!”

You’re sat in an English beer garden in summer, holding a pint of ale that comes recommended by the landlord himself. There’s a gentle breeze flowing through your hair as you idly watch dog walkers stroll by. It could just as easily be Devon or as it could be Suffolk (but who’s reading the map anyway?) And you think to yourself, “can’t go far wrong”. Then…

“Things are going to change around here!”

You’re stood by a roaring fire, munching down on festive treats. Outside it’s dark and cold, but inside you worship only the primitive flames. The wine is pouring a plenty and the boxes of mince pies are never ending. You don’t care much for the brand (who’s checking the price tag anyway?) And you soon find yourself curling up into a ball and drifting off by the glowing embers. As your eyelids slowly lower, with loving family all around, you think to yourself “life doesn’t get much better than this.”…

“Things are going to change around here!”

***

All three of the above are, give or take a few juicy words, all scenarios I’ve shared in the company of my beloved Papa Bennett. It’s basically a family tradition, when you reach a sweet spot in life he will almost always cry out those seven words. “Things are going to change around here!”

Usually the statement will be followed by something that he feels is currently out of balance. These fall into two categories and you can usually pin point what he’s going to say and when he’ll say it down to a T. For example, Christmas time after eating four mince pies in one sitting = health, three days into a beach holiday = work balance. And every time we tell him “work less hours!” Or “eat less junk!” all we get is a look of horror. “I couldn’t possibly do that!” he says.

Papa Bennett aside, used in the right way the statement does have weighting to it. I think to myself, wouldn’t it be better to, instead of pledging resolutions at New Year, instead say TAGTCAH? (Does that read like a Lord of the Rings character? Or a nasty throat infection?)

Without going into the potted year of the Alice Bennett show, 2017 has been so unbelievably busy. New house, new car, new job (and everything else in between). I’ve dealt with busy builders, evil energy suppliers and a mortgage provider who tried to fob me off with a blank cheque. Swindon stays the same, sure, but everything else has changed.

What’s going to change around here in 2018? Well, things I hope for:

Life to calm down (at least the things I can control)
I received a Christmas card this year with the added note “hoping 2018 is just as thrilling as the one before!” Well no, no I really hope it isn’t. I’ve invested enough time and money on the power three (house, car, job) in the past year, I welcome a break!

Stop worrying over the little things.
Recently someone gave me a piece of written feedback. I highly paraphrase, but it went something like “you’re doing great, but you’ve seriously got to stop worrying and overanalysing everything.” (So I’m going to stop fussing so much over the little things.)

Learn how to read electronic messages.
…My knee jerk reaction to the above email was to heavily defend why I cared so much about my job. I reread heir comments a week later and realised that I’d completely misread what they were trying to say. They’d written the comment in good humour as part of a longer email as a gentle nudge to relax a little. And yet I latched onto one slightly negative thing. That was silly and I wish I could take it back and not given out the Alice Bennett sob story. So as a writer I also need to learn how to read (hah, how ironic).

Stop overanalysing emails. (See above.) Because colleagues will think it weird and will be scared that they’ll appear on blogs, like they’re working with some kind of corporate Taylor Swift.

Write something awesome
Like truly awesome

Grow nails, preferably by finding something/one as actual motivation.
Because nothing else is working and I hate my hands and want nails so bad. I’m thinking like The Rock or Channing Tatum as personal trainers, Richard Branson staring me down from the other side of the office, and/or a naggy Martin Freeman? Not fussy, whichever comes easiest to hand (eh, see what I did there? Pun Goddess.)

Be you Alice because when you’re not spilling coffee everywhere you pass off for a decent human being. And you need to damn well appreciate it more.

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(Also because Oscar Wilde’s people called. Turns out he’s already taken.)

So there’s my ‘things are going to change around here’ list for 2018. Comment below any of yours, in the meantime I’m off to take on the new year.

Lets do this.

Is This What Becomes of Love?

Picture a young couple sat on a romantic table for two in the prized window location. Outside, the hum of life acts out its natural course whilst inside the firmly fixed table presents an array of steaming dishes all the colours of the rainbow. But the beautiful pair remain silent. The buzz of life is not as loud as the buzz of technology. Eyes locked on laps the lovers sit in silence, unable to exchange more than a grunt towards each other.

Is this what becomes of love?

Now imagine on the ground below a family. A gathering stood in unity on the very streets which not a week ago cradled their darling as she drifted into a long, deep, sleep. The cracked cement barely clean, the group scroll through comments of condolence and pixelated shouts. The invisible vocals scream for the head of a man they do not know in repayment for a corpse they do not know. Unable to change fate and human emotion, the huddled unit desperately make a plea to the man in the cloud. They beg him to remove their daughter from public memory, but the man says he can’t. What he giveth he cannot taketh away.

Is this what becomes of death?

Take a snapshot of the young woman tottering past the stained tiles in high heels. She joins a group of friends at the town’s third classiest bar on a table laden with overpriced toxic juice. Talk is cheap but photos might equal fame, so they ignore deep conversation in favour of recording every second of this meeting in pictorial form. Every angle in a multitude of colours and effects, it is no wonder that their untouched beverages overflow with melted ice. Who said the world is in a constant state of movement when it can be fixed and recorded in a hundred sepia selfies.

Is this what becomes of life?

Widen the lens and tucked away you find my lone figure in the shadows. The painted ladies momentarily glance in my direction before carrying on as before. Averting my gaze, I shuffle past to an attractive window display at the end of the street, but instead of venturing in I choose to remain external. I photo the object of my desires and walk on before I’m caught in the act. Later I will enable a computer to put another man on the streets from the comfort of my living room sofa. I see you and feel moved to take a secondary snap to share with strangers in Vancouver, Paris and Jerusalem. No model release form needed, I will happily take your pain and use it to claim one second of fame. Anything to get a virtual gratification hit.

Is this what becomes of me?