Thursday, 31 January 2013

Be my Valentine…

I’ve never been the romantic type, so Valentine’s Day comes as a bit of a shock to the system every year. Few experiences are more painful to me than standing in Clinton Cards trying to pick something out that doesn’t make me want to spew… which is why the ones I choose normally say things like “Resistance is Futile” (I actually sent this once) rather than “I love you more than life itself, snookums”.

One year I absolutely excelled myself. I had been seeing someone for a month or two and thought Valentine’s would be a fairly low-key affair. We were having dinner together, but I felt it was too early for cards or any of that kind of carry-on.

On the way to the venue, I bought him a Cadbury’s Creme Egg. Because to me, there’s no better way of telling someone you like them than by producing that delightful piece of chocolaty goodness. The only problem was, I had to get the bus… and by the time I had trekked to the bus stop, I was hungry.

I turned up to find that my beloved had been rather more considerate than I; his thoughtful gifts were laid out beautifully, and not one of them had even the tiniest of nibble marks. I guiltily handed over the scraps of Creme Egg foil, muttering something about the thought counting. It wasn’t my finest moment – although he later revealed that he didn’t like Creme Eggs (???!), so I felt slightly vindicated.

Perhaps, like me, you are a little romantically challenged… Do you leave it till the last minute and then grab the first card you see, triumphantly scooping up a manky rose at the counter as a special bonus? Have you had any Valentine’s disasters you’d like to share with us? We’d love to hear them!

Anyway, if you struggle every February 14 to find something romantic to do, we might have a little idea up our sleeves for you. Pixengo has launched a new iPhone app that allows you to add a personal recorded message to a still image. You could use it to record a funny message, whisper sweet nothings to your Valentine or even propose! (It’s only a personal opinion, but popping the question by recorded message may not fulfil all her proposal dreams.)

If you’ve already bought a gift, the free app allows you to personalise it in a modern, thoughtful way. For example, you could book a table at your Valentine’s favourite restaurant, take a picture of the venue and then use the app to invite her there for a romantic meal. It’s a small gesture, but we women love the personal touch.

There is even scope for you to send silly messages: the example Pixengo gives on its website is of a man in a mankini accompanied by a cheeky message. Of course, you can make it as fun or as serious as you like.

Now I’m not encouraging you to be lazy or forgetful; it’s good to show the people that we love exactly what they mean to us at least once a year. But this ingenious little app could act as a get-out-of-jail-free card if you are a little less organised than you had planned to be. 

If you didn’t quite get round to ordering that necklace or picking up that special box of chocolates, take a funny picture of something else and let her know that the real gift is on its way! And if you do send a Pixengo message, let us know what you sent and how it was received!

Click here to download the free app from iTunes… and Happy Valentine’s to you all.
(PS you can’t say you forgot now, because we just reminded you!)

Read more from Joy in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

If only someone in China could do my job for me…

Wouldn’t it be nice to get paid a decent salary without having to lift a finger? No doubt that’s what went through the mind of a US software developer when he decided to outsource his job to a company based in Shenyang, China.

The 40-something American was reportedly paid a six-figure salary but spent his day surfing the internet while the Chinese company did his work for a fifth of the price. My first thought was, ‘What a genius idea!’

I mean, we already wear clothes that are made in China and sit on furniture from the Far East. So why shouldn’t we take advantage of the cheaper labour offered by its ever-growing workplace?  

1.    It’s dishonest. If someone is paying you to do a job and you are palming off someone else’s efforts as your own, you are lying to them. This also applies if you are in management and take the credit for someone else’s work or ideas. Or if you plagiarise someone else’s research for a university assignment and pretend it is your own endeavour.
2.    It’s exploitative. If the person providing the work is producing a product or service that is of the same standard you would, then they deserve more than 20% of your salary. Whether it is someone in the Orient or a member of your own workforce, we should value people as highly as we value ourselves and ensure that they are paid accordingly.
3.    It’s lazy. If you’ve been given a job to do, you should do it to the best of your ability. This guy was obviously capable of doing the work he was given, but instead he chose to sit around watching YouTube videos. Instead of reaching and even exceeding his potential, he was happy to just ‘get away with it’. There's no pride in an easy ride.

The Bible says a number of things about work: 
  • Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men”
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat”
  • Proverbs 16:3: “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established”
  • 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”

So even if your job is tiring or mundane, you should do it to the best of your abilities; not looking for plaudits or a pat on the back, but knowing that God sees and honours what you’re doing. 

It’s also worth remembering that the American chap got fired for his little scam if still you’re tempted to follow suit!

Anyway, that’s my cue to get back to proofreading the latest issue of Sorted

Featuring an exclusive interviews with Sir Anthony Hopkins, you’re in for a real treat! Just imagine if he or one of your other heroes had sat around with his feet up rather than fulfilling his potential!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The real daddy day care

Neil Sinclair has served as a Royal Engineer Commando, a PE teacher, a security guard for the UN in New York and a PCSO in the Metropolitan Police Service. 

So what's the most difficult role he’s ever undertaken? Fatherhood, by a long stretch! According to Neil, bringing his first son home from the hospital for the first time was the scariest thing he had ever done.

Neil joined the army straight from school, serving for six years in total. The training was vigorous and the work itself – which included tours in Norway, Iraq and Belize – presented daily challenges.

When he joined the forces, Neil had hoped to become a Physical Training Instructor (PTI), but unfortunately about 50% of the recruits had the same idea and positions were limited. So when he left, he decided to do “the next best thing”; to teach physical exercise. “When I got into schools I really enjoyed it and had a good rapport with the kids,” recalls Neil.

And he obviously had a good rapport with his fellow teachers, too, because he met his wife, Tara, at his first teaching post. When Tara was offered an interview with Burson-Marsteller in New York, they were both excited. Neil was able to get a job as a security officer at the UN and the couple settled in New York and had their first two children – Samuel and Jude – across the pond. But fatherhood didn’t come as naturally to Neil as he had hoped; an experience shared by many new parents.

“I put my little boy down hoping my wife had visited the stork of knowledge,” he says. “I had no clue. We had two degrees between us but no idea about being parents. I could have delivered my own son, I knew so much about childbirth, but I hadn’t given much thought to actually having a child at home. If someone offered me £1 million to redo the first six weeks, I’d say no chance! It was a nightmare.”

Having returned to the UK before their daughter Liberty was born, Neil started training as a childminder. This enabled him to spend plenty of time with his own three but also to look after other people’s children. There was a financial benefit, but it was also great for his daughter to have children her age to play with.

Neil has been childminding for around 11 years now, and when he started out there was good deal of suspicion about guys that wanted to be stay-at-home dads, not to mention childminders. “It still goes on today,” he claims, “but there are far more stay-at-home dads now. I was an oddity when I started dropping the kids off at school. Also when I became a childminder. It’s still very rare to see a male in that environment.

It was while he was still childminding that Neil wrote his first book, Commando Dad: BasicTraining, the content of which is based on his own experience of fatherhood, particularly the first time around.  “The idea came out of fear and ignorance,” Neil explains.

“What underpins Commando Dad is being prepared,” Neil explains. “I’ve written the book I wish I’d had when I was a first-time dad.” The book deals with the ‘due to deploy’ period – six weeks prior to the birth, ‘base camp’ – the feeding station and a range of other critical issues such as bulky item storage, and what dads need to take to hospital when their wives or partners go into labour.

Unlike many other parenting books, which tell you what you should be doing at precisely 11am on the third day of the fifth week, Commando Dad isn’t prescriptive. It simply offers tips and advice on how to handle the issues that arise and how to prepare for them. The only section that specifically tells readers what they must do is the first aid segment. “All the rest is based on my experience as a stay-at-home dad and a childminder. There are no case studies or statistics.”

If you’re about to become a dad or know someone is, make sure you get hold of Commando Dad! Read the full story in the March-April issue of Sorted magazine - now available in WH Smith and Sainsbury's, as well as online.