I hate February. :P
Anyway, here's what's been happening both work-wise and otherwise.
So, around November I decided it would be a marvellous idea to try and finish (and, in fact, start) a story that had been in the pipeline for a while in order to send it to commoncomitatus for Christmas.
As the deadline loomed imminently, obviously I ran out of time to finish it, so instead I tried to get it done for her birthday (which is today). cloudsinvenice had also agreed, quite helpfully, to go through it for me and make sure it made some modicum of sense. Thankfully, January and February always seems to be my Epic Writing Period, which meant that after Christmas I was able to get quite a lot of it done. My evenings and weekends have been taken up with trying to battle the bloody thing into submission, however, and last week it suffered from Imminent Deadline Syndrome and simply refused to cooperate.
The last time this happened, with the Creekmas story last year, my brain threw unrelated plot bunnies at me which demanded my attention, and as soon as I gave them what they wanted they immediately fizzled out on me. This time there were no plot bunnies (except one, I think, but I managed to sit on it), just a complete lack of momentum. I'm actually not sure which is more irritating...
Luckily, on Sunday night I finally managed to finish it - or rather, it finished itself by unexpectedly providing me with a perfect final line. There was actually supposed to be an entire extra chapter but I didn't want to mess with it after that, so now I just need to work on an Epilogue to get the final few mental images out of my head and bring it to a proper sense of completion.
The final word count was something in the region of 53k, which was unexpected, to say the least! A lot of that wasn't even the original plot, either, as there were certain points where the story ran away with me. I love it when stories surprise me. :)
I think the ending is rushed - in fact, I know it is. But at least I finished it, so that's the main thing. :) Hopefully cloudsinvenice's patience will be rewarded and commoncomitatus will enjoy it as much as I hope.
Now that my evenings are free again I can get back to embroidery, playing Assassin's Creed (in fairness I've been doing a bit of that lately as well), continuing with the Frasier and Farscape rewarches - and indeed kickstarting the Grand Jonathan Creek Watchathon at some point soon - and catching up on the ridiculous backlog of EastEnders episodes I seem to have racked up on Sky+ since January...
I had deliberately been putting off the Fraser rewatch in particular because we are halfway through season 7 and I have an idea for a post-season 7 story which I knew full well would immediately take over my brain the second we watched the finale, and I did not want any distractions from the Secret Fic.
I still can't reveal what it was, by the way, as at the time of writing I have yet to actually email it over to the birthday girl. :P No spoilers here, thank you.
In other news, however, work is... having issues, shall we say.
It was just as well I did finish the story on Sunday night, as after my day yesterday I would have been in no fit state to carry on.
I was on leave on Thursday/Friday, as it was Valentine's Day on Saturday. The original plan was to go to the Sea Life Centre on Friday and back home via the markets to get ingredients for our three-course dinner, but I was too tired so we just went to Asda instead. On the Thursday I basically did nothing; I had intended to do some writing but instead I watched Malecifent, a few episodes of EastEnders and played Assassin's Creed. (Paul got an X-Box One with his new phone contract, incidentally...)
For our three-course meal we did tomato crumble (made by me), beef and sweet potato tagine (made by Paul) and triple chocolate cheesecake (made by me). The cheesecake had an accident involving the oven shelf taking off the entire top layer, as I had only half-realised there was in fact a third shelf in the oven and panicked when I opened the door - what I should have done was let it cool down so it could shrink back into the tin, rather than attempt to remove the shelf. Despite that, it tasted very nice. If I made it again I would use a deeper tin, as there was also some spillage...
Anyway, when I got into work on Monday and checked the minuting list, it transpired I was supposed to be at New Aston House that morning. I probably might have had time to go straight out the door and make my way there from Lifford, but I wouldn't have had time to print anything off when I got there - and indeed, the last time I attempted that on a Monday morning, every single printer in the building was broken.
So I emailed the Chair and apologised for the oversight, then called NAH to see if anyone could cover in my absense. As it was a Review and not an Initial Conference I was not too concerned. mostly because I was pissed off nobody had let me know where I was supposed to be. Usually in South we text each other when the minuting list comes in, as we have a lot of part-time / term-time workers and it's just as a matter of courtesy.
As it transpired they managed to swap me with a minute-taker from that office who was supposed to be sent to minute a South conference (logic fail strikes again), which subsequently ended up getting cancelled so in fact I saved her a wasted journey. Unfortunately, as a result of the Chairperson then copying the team leaders into her response to me, I then got an arsey email off the team leader from North/West/Central (who used to manage me when I worked at Ladywood all those years ago), saying that the expectation is for me to ring in on a Friday if I'm on leave to find out where I am.
I responded diplomatically by saying I had intended to (which was true, when I realised nobody had texted me) but I was busy on Friday and didn't realise until 4.30, by which point there would be nobody in the office. I also pointed out that I did in fact attempt to sort out the problem myself by informing the Chair and asking for cover, rather than just not turning up.
The thing is... this is not an expectation of our job. It's not in our job description anywhere that we should be "on call" or have to call into the office during our leave to find out where we're going to be. I mean, what if you're on holiday, on a plane, driving back from somewhere? Do they still expect you to call in then?
As it happened, I had been minuting at Margaret Street (which I will talk about in a moment) so had taken my laptop home on Wednesday night, meaning I would have been able to go to NAH if I'd known... but if I'd minuted on South on Wednesday, or even not at all, I wouldn't have been able to do that meeting anyway. You cannot just assume everyone takes their laptop home - in fact, we're not even supposed to as a general rule.
Basically, it was an oversight on my team's part by not informing me (the onus falls on one individual to contact people, which isn't fair anyway; when I'm in I will also text people though in fairness, we're not supposed to do that, either), and an oversight by me for not calling up when I'd realised that. But that's beside the point, really, and the whole thing got blown out of proportion.
This is just the tip of the iceberg at the moment, quite frankly.
I mentioned Margaret Street, i.e. the Council House Extension. This is our new "central" location for holding meetings, as they decided that St Andrew's Centre in Bordesley Green wasn't fit for purpose due to the rooms not being soundproofed. (They are now soundproofing them.) They (by which I mean upper management) identified four rooms at Margaret Street to use for conferencing, plus an agile working room which we have affectionately termed "the dungeon"...
That should give you a fairly good idea of how awful it is. :P
Yvette, our Unison colleague, has completed a risk assessment of the conference rooms and agile working room, which is pretty damning to say the least. There are H&S violations galore, not least of which include Lone Working Regulations (there are generally only two or three people in the Dungeon at any one time, occasionally just one on their own) and all manner of H&S issues for families and professionals alike. The risk assessment has been provided to the Head and Assistant Head and we are currently awaiting a response, though I heard from a Chair this morning that apparently "all the feedback" they've received has been "positive".
Back in December we had some so-called "minute-taking training" which we had asked for because despite the Strengthening Families Framework coming into effect from April last year, we had never received any formal guidance on minuting under the new model. (Different areas had different guidance in any event prior to that, and on South we were just muddling through using our old information.) This traning was completely without point, as it transpired, mostly involving a rehash of the original SFF training, useless "brainstorming" exercises which were more frustrating than helpful (due to minute-takers on other areas with less experience raising really stupid issues), and the final 30 minutes being about what information should go where.
At one point one of the trainers also suggested that we (the minute-takers) needed to re-attend the SFF training again because we didn't understand the process, and we were very quick to tell him to piss off. Clearly, all the problems we're having are because we don't understand - it's all so obvious now!! /sarcasm
Anyway, the main point - I think in fact the very first point - that came out of the brainstorming sessions was that the one thing we wanted was better communication, because everything we hear about anything is hearsay / rumour from Chairs. Obviously, since December everything has only gotten worse. It seems to me that the Assistant Head (who does not understand either our job or the job of the Chairs - or her own job, quite frankly) basically has an idea, tells someone that idea, then has another idea and tells someone else that idea, without any of these ideas actually being solid or followed through. So all we get is drips and drabs of information from different sources.
It's actually horrendous right now. Nobody is being listened to at any level - not just our concerns about Margaret Street (we're "being negative, obvs) but our feedback about processes. It's just really frustrating. We could be a really excellent service - there is such a wealth of experience within the Chairs and the minute-takers - but we are constantly fighting an unwinnable battle.
As an example: back when we had our first "training" on SFF by the Head of Service, she gave us a hand-out with an example of how to take minutes under the new model, and both she and the Assistant Head clearly stated during that meeting that we needed to take short, succinct bullet points. The other group did not get to keep their hand-out. Everyone started taking minutes as we were told to do - short, one-line bullet points with very little detail. (Admittedly, other areas took this advice rather too literally...) We immediately got reprimanded for not putting in enough detail. Since then, the Head and Assistant Head have categorically denied ever telling us to use bullet points, and implied that we're all lying.
This is what we have to contend with. I swear to God, one day I will write a book about my various experiences at BCC and nobody would believe it wasn't fiction.
It also doesn't help that convening of Initial Conferences has gone to the central team based at Margaret Street, which comprises precisely one experienced member of staff and a high turnaround of temps. Initial Conferences are pretty much always overdue now, we've had new Chairs start and subsequently leave within a month or so, and CP Admin on the areas are completely out of the loop. Like, when Social Workers come to us with queries we have to refer them on to Central because we have literally no idea what's going on. LOL WE JUST MINUTE.
There is a risk that child protection services could become privatised if we cannot be seen to be improving, which would obviously be a really terrible thing to happen... but to be quite honest, at this juncture, BRING IT. If we are privatised they will not stand for any of this shit - those terrible managers will be out at the drop of a hat. If that's what it takes to make this service work again, as sad as it may be, maybe that's what needs to happen. I'm not the only one who thinks this, either.
All that aside... I still like my job, even though it's driving me barmy right now. :P Everyone is stressed, and I think that's the key point. It's not like at Legal where I was the only person who gave a damn, where every little tiny issue became a massive blow-out. We are all stressed here because we care, because we want to do a good job and we're being thwarted at every turn.
There is so much else going on but I think this is long enough already. The entire CP service is a shambles right now. We're supposed to be turning around last year's "Inadequate" Ofsted rating, and at this rate... is there even anything below "Inadequate"? Because there's absolutely no way we've improved. :P
Anywaaaaay, yes, TL;DR: work is poo but still better than before.
I think I might have a couple of embroidery updates I forgot to post, but I'll wait until I've done another one. Embroidery has been put on hold of late anyway as it's far too cold, but I have three racked up in the footstool now and about six more on my Amazon wishlist. I blame Vicky (from uni) for this as she's gotten into cross-stitch and her updates on Instagram just make me want to get back to my own.
I would promise not to leave it so late next time but... yeah, that would be a lie. :P
Over and out.