Life From A Window : Our London

Keira’s school recently had a ‘Take Your Daughter To Work’ day, which we managed to coincide with an experimental day of live painting at the London offices of AECOM. We were invited to explore the theme of ‘Our London’ for the day, and we duly headed into town on the Overground train during rush hour (I was keen to give Keira the full commuting experience!) to get to work.

We set up in the main reception area on the 16th floor, overlooking the city of London. The view from the window is spectacular – even on a wet cloudy day like the one we had. Keira and I were keen to contrast the wide panoramic view of a wealthy city as seen from the window, with a more close up view of the streets immediately surrounding the building we worked in. We also wanted to involve other people in our work.

People began to show curiosity in what we were doing, so we engaged them in conversations about the view, and about their experiences of London and the local area. We spoke about how the view changes according to time of day, seasons, weather etc. Several folk suggested a series of works to reflect these changes. The view at night came up a few times, and we sought to represent that in a painting. We also invited people to take photographs out of the window, without being any more specific than that.

People also spoke with us about the streets of London, and transport came up a fair bit so we made a street scene using paint for the ‘map’ and polaroids taken by Keira at street level, to represent some of what we heard in the conversations.

We made some geometric abstractions of buildings/cityscape – and experimented with some tracing overlays too, as a way of acknowledging the different ways people described ‘Our London’.

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We had planned to turn everyone’s photographs into a collage cityscape, and we ran into some technical printing difficulties on the day, so that part of the project remains a work in progress.

Life From A Window

The idea was to invite people to engage, thank you to the many people who responded to that invitation. We used what we learned to inform and conduct some small experiments, and we observed how we and others responded to what was going on.

We had a really interesting time. There was no grand plan at this stage, just an opportunity to drop something different into the working day, a small stone which set off a series of ripples.


This work would not have been possible without Keira, and the support of Malcolm, Hilary, and Sharon at AECOM, thank you all. The team at reception supported us well, and encouraged folk to interact with us, thank you. Thanks to everyone who took time to speak with us, suggest ideas, and take photographs.

An Apology

Last week I answered a call from a friend who wanted my help. Would I step in to a conference slot and give a short talk on resilience? I agreed unhesitatingly, a friend in need and all that, and since then I’ve been preparing and practicing, preparing and practicing. Focused on the task at hand.

Today’s the day, the big event. I’m off to London soon, nervous as I always am before speaking in front of an audience. Yet something much bigger than the event has stopped me in my tracks. Today is International Women’s Day, and even though as a card carrying member of the Women’s Equality Party, I like to think I keep equality in mind at all times – my awareness is heightened…

I’m staring at the speaker line up for today’s event. It is overwhelmingly male. Of the seventeen people listed, including chairs, panellists etc, two are female. Yes – you read that correctly. Two. Awkward.

Usually when I am asked to speak, I make enquiries about the line up and specifically how I will complement and contrast. This time, win all my haste to get ready, I forgot. Today, of all days, on one level I am simply adding to the white maleness. Sorry. I promise to look harder next time, and do better in my endeavours to develop and sustain greater equality.



Ready To Work?

1998 just called, it wants you to hand over your personality

In 1998 I applied for a promotion at my place of work. During the interview I was asked for my home phone number, as well as my office number and mobile, so I could be easily contacted with the results of the interview. I was successful in my quest and my new boss phoned me at home to give me the news. I wasn’t in – so he left a voice mail. He confirmed I’d got the job, and in a rather confused tone, asked me to call him. I rang back and my new boss told me he wasn’t happy with my answer phone message, and I’d have to change it. The message was a short, cheesy tune I’d recorded using a keyboard for a simple backing track, with me singing over it. I can still remember it, word for word.

We’re not here to take your call
So leave a message cos we love you (love you) all

Such strong composition, it really should have been a hit. Hey ho. I was surprised by the request, and politely refused, this is my personal, home phone number after all. My new boss was adamant, so I lied and said I would change it. I worked for him for about two and a half years. He never called that number again, and because it was our home phone number, neither did any other colleagues or customers. A few months after the incident I did change the message, but only because I got fed up with so many people ringing just to hear the song! Though the memory of the song remains in my head, I got on with my life, and figured that people nowadays would see beyond little quirks like this, to the real person. As anyone who pops by here regularly will know, I’m often wrong…

2016 just called, it says the song remains the same

I recently spotted an advertisement by Barclays Bank about being ‘Ready To Work’. It’s basically a staged vox pop where a bunch of younger people are speaking to camera, talking about, and revealing their ’embarrassing’ email addresses.

The advert is one of a series. Here’s another, where the same group agonise over their social media profiles.

Maybe it’s just me, but this campaign feels distinctly at odds with the much talked about ideals of authenticity, vulnerability, (insert your preferred …icity here) which we are encouraged to embrace in the new world of work.

Seemingly, it doesn’t get much better once you’re offered the job. A quick Google for things to do on your first day at work yields the following gems:

  • Blend in, learn your coworkers’ names quickly.
  • Learn and make the tea round, it’ll make a great impression.
  • Be on time, come in early, stay a little later.
  • Stay positive! It can be daunting being the new person (especially if you’re getting bombarded with awful advice like this).

The conferences I attend and tune into are stuffed full of promises of an exciting future of freedom and wholeheartedness, of purpose and values. If the future of work is about these sometimes edgy, often exciting human interactions, then why do we persist in coercing the next generation of people to cover their tracks in this way? What’s authentic about that?

‘Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss’

Update. I had a request to rerecord the answerphone message. I prefer the original but here you go.