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Flexible vs Structured Working

blog flexiAs my work pattern enters another period of change I find myself comparing the pros and cons of flexible vs structured working. I have a good bit of experience at both extremes as well as with various hybrid versions that fall somewhere in between, and I continue to battle with which is better and, indeed, whether one even is better than the other.

For the sake of this post I’ll be comparing the two extremes – flexible working hours do not necessarily mean working from home, just as rigid working hours don’t necessarily mean being in an office; however my personal opinion is that, combined, they epitomise two polarised ways of working so I’ll be talking about them in this context.

I’ve always enjoyed (funnily enough…) the flexibility of flexible work patterns. I am disciplined enough to happily work from home without any issues, and in several of my jobs it’s been about delivering a project rather than being present at particular times or for a particular number of hours. These roles have not required me to be on site or available to provide a service but instead mean I’m in the office and working when I need to be, and am not when I’m not.

I often find working from home more efficient compared to being in the office, particularly when I have something specific to get written/designed/whatever. Though I enjoy interaction with colleagues, personal relationships can sometimes be distracting and it’s not difficult to get sidetracked by chit-chat or pulled into meetings without a certain amount of discipline. A flexible work pattern also means you can have the plumber round for a boiler service at most any time, or you can pop out during the day to run some errands without feeling guilty or have it impact your working hours, because some work can be completed regardless of whether it’s 2pm or 2am. That flexibility does take discipline but is really useful. I don’t have a family so working at 9pm doesn’t really impact my life in any major way but clearly it’s not for everyone.

And for every positive there is inevitably a negative. With flexible working I, without a shadow of a doubt, put in more hours than I would if I had a more rigid work pattern. You find yourself checking and replying to emails at all times, regardless of the hour or whether it’s the weekend (or even whether you’re on holiday in some instances). And lunch breaks? What are lunch breaks? On busy days I can go 12hrs straight with barely a bathroom break, and that isn’t healthy – not for your sanity and not for your body. Flexible work patterns can mean that no time is really sacred – what you gain in flexibility you lose in dedicated downtime. Working from home can also be isolating and it’s hard to build relationships or retain any kind of team spirit from a distance. I have also worked in roles where I’ve been able to take as much annual leave as I desire. But as great as that sounds I personally always found myself taking less than I might have otherwise. That said, one challenge to this is that you need less when you don’t have to take time off to hang around for tradesmen and so on, but I don’t think that that’s the whole reason. So that’s some of the pay-offs, but the higher price worth it for the myriad benefits gained elsewhere?

So what about structured work patterns? Well, even with a healthy dose of overtime thrown in, on the whole you have a much clearer demarcation of what is work time and what is personal time, and that’s a powerful tool for switching off. The social aspect can enhance the quality of your work as well – the information, feedback or quick questions discussed with colleagues are invaluable, as is knowing when and where you can find someone to physically pop by and resolve a problem or make a decision in person. Conversations are inevitably much more straightforward than the often sensitive wording an email requires when you don’t have the body language and facial expressions to back it up. For some people, structured work patterns are the only option and this absolutely makes sense if you’re in, for example, a customer service role. Regardless of where you are based, in order to ensure sufficient service, staff need to be present. I’m on the fence about whether structured working increases your chances of a lunch break – in my experience they still get missed fairly regularly, however at least you have more of an option to take one and are more inclined to factor a little free time into your diary.

Structured working is a nightmare for all those bits and bobs though. The guilt people often feel about having to take a couple of hours off to go to the doctors/dentist can lead to the excessive making up of hours, and annual leave is frittered all so you can sit at home for half a day waiting for that pesky electrician to arrive. Unless you have a long lunch break or are based particularly close to some decent shopping, popping out to pick up some emergency supplies has to wait until after work as well. And forget having anything delivered to your home by courier – you either need a Saturday delivery or a kindly neighbour. Preferably one who never leaves the house…

Does the cost of either option outweigh the benefits? Well that’s a very personal question. Everyone’s circumstances are different and what’s right for one isn’t necessarily right for another. Although it’s becoming increasingly popular I do think it’s a shame more companies don’t embrace a more flexible culture where employees can choose what is right for them. But I’ve seen it not work and I understand the concerns and the risks.

And what’s the right option for me? Actually, writing this blog has helped me realise that my preference is a hybrid. I think neither extreme is ideal but a combination of the two can give you the best of both worlds and provides a healthy dose of variety. I find flexible working sometimes puts my personal life on hold altogether and working from home all the time is very isolating. Equally I often feel quite constrained being stuck in an office all day and the distractions really get to me sometimes to the point where I just want to be by myself. But to be honest I’m pretty flexible and will suck it up whatever’s thrown at me. My work pattern seems to change constantly anyway so there’s never an opportunity to get bored 🙂

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Talking yourself into it

blog pic Feb 14Yesterday I noted with some amusement how easily Mr J and I can talk ourselves into something when we really want it. I guess this is true of a lot of people generally; everyone has their weakness, whether that’s swapping your car every year or so, constantly redecorating, or regularly buying the latest tech. For us it’s holidays.

As I got ready for bed I looked back on the day and realised we’d done what we always do when it comes to holidays. And even though I’ve known for ages that it’s something we fall foul of, and I’m very aware of it, the whole thing just makes me smile. I make no effort to change the outcome or break the pattern because, ultimately, I’m getting what I want.

This is how holiday hunting goes in our house. The destinations may change but the format rarely does:

Me: Wouldn’t it be nice to get away for a few days. We haven’t had a holiday in ages.

This is blatantly not true however I conveniently don’t count long weekends or UK breaks as holidays. In reality we probably haven’t been away for three months tops. Probably less.

Mr J: Yes it’s been ages [because I’ve brainwashed him into my way of thinking…] Why don’t we do a city break somewhere?

This is fatal mistake number one. We always start our holiday negotiations with this line but in reality we’ve done the majority of Europe and what’s left we’re probably not that fussed about. I also have a “don’t go anywhere twice” rule on account of still having so much of the world to see before I die so, stubbornly, can very rarely be convinced to revisit a place.

So now the Internet search starts…

Me: There’s nowhere I want to go in Europe. The only possible options are the Italian lakes or [insert somewhere incredibly obscure and eastern European which is probably only accessible by a flight, two buses and a donkey ride here].

Again, this is a preposterous claim. Though I have been lucky enough to visit many countries I have not been to all 50 countries in Europe and there is certainly more than one decent destination in most countries too…

Mr J: Well the lakes would be nice. Look, we can go quite cheaply for 3 nights. It’s under budget.

Me: Ohhh but look at the flight times. We’d have virtually no time there [the fact it’s a short city break being completely ignored…] and would spend so much time travelling that we wouldn’t get a chance to relax at all.

Mr J: You’re right. How about this 3 night mini cruise instead? We can just relax and be waited on. It’s twice the price but will be worth it.

Me: That’s a great choice but the dates aren’t quite right. How about this five night one instead? It’s longer than we planned but a complete bargain.

Fatal mistake number two: being sucked in by a bargain. By now the budget is blown.

Mr J: My only issue with that is that it will be cold. We should go somewhere warm.

Temperature being completely irrelevant when the first mini cruise was suggested just moments prior…

Me: So where is hot this time of year? The Canaries will be freezing [lie], as will Turkey [lie also]. How about Africa or the Middle East…?

Mr J: Yeah they would be good for sun. But we’ll have to go for a week if we’re going that far. No point going for less with all that travelling.

All that additional couple of hours… More Internet research being done. Budget now disregarded altogether.

Mr J: I dunno. A week in the sun would be great but I don’t fancy any of the destinations in those regions [Africa being tiny and all…]. What about Florida or the Caribbean?

Me: Ohhh YES! That would be awesome. But we probably need to go for nearer two weeks if we’re going that far.

Mr J: Well that’s ok. We should do it properly. And if we’re going to do it properly we should stay somewhere really nice too. Here’s the perfect thing – let’s book it!

Me: I love it! Book it straight away so we don’t miss out!

And lo! In the space of a couple of hours we’ve gone from a £300pp city break in Europe to a £2000pp fortnight holiday in somewhere like the Americas. Just like that! And only at the expense of delaying the kitchen refurbishment for another few months, too!

We have the power to talk ourselves into many things but we tend to do it selectively. Rather than aiming high in everyday life we talk ourselves down, tell ourselves that it isn’t possible, and don’t make that extra effort. Problem solving is not always easy, but where there’s a will there’s a way and, while there may need to be some sacrifices or give and take along the way, that’s surely a small price to pay for something you really want. When you take things one step at a time you don’t notice the extent of the change or what you’ve achieved until you can look back on what you’ve done and see how great the overall impact of that step change really was. Other people can have an impact on our success as well – a negative comment or conflicting opinion can be really demotivating, even where it was well meant. But having someone to coax you along is incredibly powerful and that, combined with the right attitude, can really lift the ceiling on your aspirations, whatever they may be.

It’s quite remarkable what we’re capable of talking ourselves into with enough motivation. But don’t worry ladies and gents! I’ve been to this country before so it doesn’t really count as a holiday. We’ll have our “real” holiday later in the year and will splash out properly on something then. This is just a mini break after all……… 😉

About a Boy

I know, I know… I haven’t blogged for ages. I’m debating taking it up again but we shall see. In the meantime, here’s a little something Christmas related 🙂

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I think most everyone has at least one year in their lives that stands out as being incredibly difficult from start to finish. My year was 2011. It was a year of loss, job woes and a whole raft of health concerns (mine and others) that left a black cloud hanging over me pretty much from start to finish.

One of the most upsetting features of the year was the death of my grandmother. Many people don’t understand my level of devastation from losing her but my grandma lived with us for 20 years of my life so it was like losing a member of my immediate family. I didn’t realise until a while after she’d gone just to what extent she’d left a hole in my life. I took to calling it my “Grandma shaped hole” and it represented all the time I’d have otherwise spent with her – talking on the phone every week, playing board games, taking her shopping (she was wheelchair bound in later years), and just generally spending time with her.

When you enjoy doing something you don’t notice the amount of time it takes up in your life, and when that time suddenly frees up it can be quite astonishing. I decided I wanted to do something else now she was gone. Something to fill the Grandma shaped hole; another way to spend my time with someone who could do with a little extra love and company in their life. My initial thought was to other old folk. There are so many of them alone with so little company and comfort and I was quite used to their needs. But my grandparents are irreplaceable and after all the recent losses I didn’t feel emotionally strong enough to put myself in a position where I might lose someone I came to love yet again. And when I spoke to a local charity about the level of commitment they asked for I was disappointed at their lack of flexibility, something which was an important factor for a full time worker with a big commute and irregular hours. So while I still believe it was the right decision for me at the time, I decided I couldn’t go the old folk route, but in all honesty I’m a little ashamed of myself for it. I don’t have any children of my own and there’s a very good chance I’ll end up as one of those lovely but lonely people one day, and I’d like to think that someone would do the same for me. I hope in a few years I find enough strength to re-evaluate my choice and walk that path.

So next on the hit list was animals. My husband was the first to try and talk me out of this option. Knowing my weakness for any animal in need of some love he had visions of me turning into a Dr Dolittle, bringing home all sorts of random and raggedy animals, or getting too attached and being upset when they were homed (or worse…). A friend of ours volunteers in a shelter and she told me how hard it was plus, yet again, it meant a very rigid commitment. So another choice off the table.

I had originally omitted children from my research because, frankly, I don’t know an awful lot about them. At the time not many of my friends had them (this has since changed – I think 95% of everyone I know on Facebook has had a baby in the last couple of years – something which throws up its own separate challenges) and I thought that, of all the options, it would probably require the most commitment. But I decided to research it nonetheless, particularly when, through work, I met an inspiring man from a charity called Norwood and one of the children they supported. My research brought me to several organisations, one called NYAS, who were looking for Independent Visitors (IVs) and who I ultimately decided to go with. IVs are a bit like the US big brother programme I suppose. You are matched with a child in the care system and simply spend time with them and act as a good, stable influence on their lives. Unlike most kinds of volunteering, working with children requires an epic amount of training and checks. It took the better part of 8 months to be trained and cleared to work as an IV. Eventually though, I was matched with a boy.

For obvious reasons I can’t tell you much about The Boy. But I can tell you he’s a fantastic character who I love spending time with. He’s done nothing to deserve being where he is today; his situation is entirely a consequence of other people’s actions and his life is not always an easy one. In the six or so months since I met him he’s been moved homes, moved schools twice, had a new key worker, had a new social worker… You name it. NOTHING stays the same in these children’s lives.

So my blog post today is about a boy. It’s about a boy who showed me that, for some children, Christmas can be a challenging and sometimes sad time. It’s about a boy who has very little stability in his life and yet still manages to bounce back every time and make do with the situation. He inspires me constantly and has a truly profound and positive impact on my life.

Christmas is a wonderful, happy time for most people, but not for everyone. So my cheesy Christmas wish is that you spare a thought for those who won’t be laughing and fighting round the dinner table this year, but who are unable to spend it with their families, who are homeless, who are alone, who are giving their time to others, or who are unwell and having a really tough time of it.

And if you are able to do more than spare a thought then please also think about sparing some of your time. My commitment is 4hrs a month plus the odd text message and phone call. It’s tiny in terms of time (and incredibly flexible) but big in terms of impact. And if you can’t do something regularly then help at a Christmas shelter or even just ring up that great aunt who’s on her own and invite her round for dinner. Your time is so very much more valuable than your money and, while money will of course help any charity, the rewards you reap from giving your time are ten fold and the impact so much greater.

I hope your 2013 has not been my 2011. For some of you it will have been and for some of you it won’t have been the first awful year you’ve made it through either. There is always so much to be grateful for though, so however your year has been I hope your Christmas is a happy one and wish you all the best for the new year.

Merry Christmas!

-Wendy

I want it all, and I want it NOW!

So for the last couple of days I have been coveting something that will never be mine. I’ve been doing this a lot recently. It’s becoming somewhat of a trait!

There are so many things I want…

  • To win the lottery (I don’t even play)
  • To live forever (but strictly not on my own, you understand)
  • To be married to Johnny Depp (sorry Mr J!)
  • To travel the world (in luxury, no less)
  • To time travel (in a non-impactive way)
…Too much to list!
But is this normal? Does everyone daydream of fanciful things that will never be theirs? And if they were theirs, would they really be grateful that they had them?
I’ve already travelled the world a fair bit and, if there’s one thing I learned from the experience, it’s that the same sh*t happens in our lives wherever we are and however scenic the backdrop.
I also like to shop – there’re lots of things other people have which I want desperately until I have them, at which point they suddenly become as boring as my next possession and a new want takes it’s place. I remember even at school the same thing happening – I wanted to be friends with the cool girl, but once we were friends she turned out to not be that cool at all really. Definitely high maintenance though! Which always makes me think of the saying that no matter how good looking or cool or funny a person may appear on the outside, someone somewhere is sick and tired of putting up with their crap! So true.
So maybe it’s better if I get nothing I want, and then I can just dream on about how amazing my life would be if I had all these things and more. Even though my life is pretty damned amazing as it is, thankyouverymuch. I always joke that for every dream I have there is a parallel university where it actually happens, and maybe it’s better that it stays that way. Because if I had everything I wanted, what kind of person would I be? And what kind of life would I have?
I don’t suppose I’ll ever stop coveting my neighbour’s oxen (or whatever the commandment is), but I can try. So I won’t tell you what it is I want right now, because it will probably have changed by tomorrow anyway and because, all things considered, I’m a very lucky woman.
Here endeth the sermon 😉

Three Little Words

I don’t usually write personal blogs, but today I’m going to. I feel like I need to remove everything from my head and put it down somewhere.

Mr J and I often joke that my family are like the Waltons. My parents live in between my father’s two brothers and they share a semi-communal garden. My grandad lives up the same road and my grandma (mum’s mum) moved in with us over 15yrs ago after my grandpa died of the Big C. My grandparents have always been a huge part of my life.

I don’t really know when it started, but maybe 10yrs ago or so I made a pact with myself to tell everyone who I love that I love them on a regular basis. It’s been met with mixed reactions. Though I know they do, neither my dad or grandad have ever said it back. My grandma never says “I love you” but instead says “lots of love”. My sister occasionally mumbles something about love and my mum (a similarly emotional type to myself) embraced it wholeheartedly and says it back constantly. I say it less often to my friends for fear of looking like a weirdo, but I say it nonetheless.

Growing up, mum also taught us never to go to bed on an argument. I’m not entirely sure she takes her own advice, but I always do. In fact, Mr J and I (while we certainly have our moments) rarely argue what I would call properly and always talk things through, even if we do end up having to agree to disagree.

I’m not really sure what’s made all this so important to me. I’m not sure how much I do it for myself and how much I do it for other people. But I’m glad I do.

On Saturday my grandma had a major stroke. My parents were out of the country on vacation and had to get an emergency flight back after my sister found her. After a barrage of tests in A&E, grandma was put in the same ward my granny was put on three years ago when she had her stroke. Actually in the same bed too, which is painful at best. When granny had her stroke, she could still talk some and was quite alert, but after 4mths of struggle and unhappiness she passed away. Grandma’s stroke seems to be a lot worse. She can’t speak at all and is mostly out of consciousness.

When my granny had her stroke, my family rallied. Every day the family was there; they bought food, flowers, cards, read to her, did puzzles with her, wheeled her outside for fresh air and so on. The staff on the stroke ward said they’d never seen anything quite like it. Though mum’s side of the family is smaller, we will do the same. No-one wants her to be alone.

I hope with all my heart that grandma doesn’t have to go through the four months of hell my granny went through. I hope it is quick and peaceful. I want her to wake up enough again so that I can tell her I love her one more time, but I know she knows.

You never know what’s around the corner. You never know when something or someone might be lost to you before you are ready. We get one short life and I’m a firm believer that if you really want to do something then you should absolutely make it happen; no excuses. Don’t waste time arguing over petty, unimportant things and don’t go to bed angry and unhappy with someone. It’s ok to disagree. Just make sure they know you love them. It’s only three little words.

Carry on Glamping

There’s already been a lot written about #SocRecCamp and I’m sure those of you who didn’t attend are probably bored to tears of it by now. What it is/represents doesn’t really matter, IMO, it was fundamentally a fun weekend with friends. Nonetheless, I felt the need to reignite my blogging with a post about it, so this is my version of events. I’m not big on concise summaries so I will tell you a story instead…

The weekend started for me on Thursday night when I drove down to my parents’ for an overnight stop. I’m not great at driving anything over 4hrs and, while The HRD had offered me a ride, I hadn’t met him previously and decided that 4+hrs in a car was perhaps a rather extreme way to meet. Not to mention (if I’m perfectly honest) he may have turned out to be an axe murderer… Or I may have, though that’s yet to be proven…

So after a night of carrying out various IT-related support tasks for my technologically challenged parents and having breakfast with my BFF, I headed off to Gary Franklin’s. Gary was to be my chauffer for the remainder of the journey, and a sterling job he did too! For the record, Gary also has a car the size of a small flat. The sheer volume of camping equipment, food and supplies that went into that car was awe inspiring! At one point, I thought I saw him putting one of those tabletop dishwashers in there, but I have no photographic evidence to back this up, and it never materialised from the car once we hit the camp site, so…

The journey down was uneventful. Gary was fantastic company (no surprise there) and, after a minor and very scenic detour, we found the Secret Spot camping site which, for those who care, was somewhere near Croyde. Hot on our heels were Andy Headworth, Sara Headworth and James Mayes, as chauffeured by Matt Jessop. James was to be my camping saviour for the weekend – his vast amounts of camping equipment and technology allowed me (a self-confessed [read as: wannabe] snob) to have as comfortable a camping weekend as one can have, and limited (but didn’t stop) my moaning. Mayes Mansions was a god send – I couldn’t even reach the ceiling with an outstretched hand in the Living Room, and I am almost 5ft 9ins sans shoes.

The HRD was next to arrive and I’m going to devote a whole paragraph to him now. His arrival was as every day as you could imagine – no helicopters, balaclavas, body guards or blacked out limos… Just him and a car. He seemed remarkably held together for someone who was under pressure (only from himself, of course) to maintain his man of mystery persona all weekend, not to mention he’d hardly met any of us before! We called him Theo, but his failure to answer to this name on multiple occasions leads me to believe it is not his real name (surprise, surprise)! All in all, he was a lovely chap and it was an honour to meet him in person. I have to say though that I struggled to talk to him a bit. Though the anonymity didn’t matter in many respects, every time I opened my mouth to start a conversation I ended up shutting it again because most everything I wanted to ask or chat about was personal and I realised he wouldn’t answer it. I didn’t really want to make him feel uncomfortable by my asking and his then having to lie or fob me off, so all in all, it seemed safer just to shut up really. Though, with hindsight, I hope that didn’t come across as stand-offish.

The rest of the Friday night crew (Stephen O’Donnell and Matt Alder) arrived shortly after and we then headed into town to kick off the drinking (what am I saying – the drinking started 5mins after we arrived!) and for our first curry of the weekend. The first night was great – chilled and personal. There were a few diva moments in the pub due to lack of mobile reception, but on the whole it was kind of nice to have a few less of us on the first day and to ramp up to the Big Event on Saturday.

My first night’s sleep in Mayes Mansions (I was in the East Wing) was sullied only by the fact I was underdressed (and, therefore, cold) and had parked James’ super-deluxe mattress the wrong way round on a slope so I spent the night falling off. Apart from the lack of sleep hours-wise, it was quite tolerable!

Saturday kicked off early with people arriving in dribs and drabs throughout the morning. Sarah Knight, Alex Hens, Lisa Scales and Peter Gold all pretty much arrived together, and Gareth Jones, Mervyn Dinnen and Charlie Duff rocked up a little later. Big credit goes to Sarah at this point as she was the only person on the weekend who had met absolutely no-one in person prior to the event! Though, of course, it felt like we’d all known her forever! 🙂

Drinking, for most people, started prior to the surfing, though I managed to abstain as I was already nursing a small hangover (and a bit of a sulk from lack of sleep). Getting the wet suits sorted has to be one of the funniest moments of the weekend for me though! Being the blonde that I am, I inadvertently started putting mine on back to front, only to have to strip it off again. It actually went on quite easily the first time, but by the second attempt I was tired and hot (fatal when it comes to putting a wet suit on!) and I ended up having to brace myself against a wall while being levered into it by Sarah and Charlie, who valiantly came to my rescue and manhandled parts of me that, well, should probably only be handled by men! 😉

Surfing was THE BEST THING IN THE WORLD EVER and I totally enjoyed it despite the various injuries sustained (or renewed) and my inability to stand up. I can’t wait to try it again! Well done to all those who managed to stand up and, to those who wimped out: Your loss!

Saturday night was a rowdier version of Friday with more curry and booze. I sat next to the lovely Charlie at curry and we talked the night away with Sara, putting the world to rights about various, incredibly meaningful matters. Charlie’s ability to speak more than me left me quite gobsmacked, but I love her dearly for it – she is a truly inspiring and dedicated young woman, even if she did pip me to the post as youngest attendee (b!tch… 😉 )

Saturday night ended with various campfire laughs and a revolting amount of farting (lead by James). Matt (Alder) wore a head lamp and did an impersonation of a lighthouse, The HRD’s sense of humour showed it’s true colours, Lisa somehow ended up on Gary’s knee, James revealed his scary stalker side, body piercings and tattoos were discussed in more detail than is healthy to re-live, Andy and Gary fell asleep in their chairs and, well… You had to be there to appreciate it. It was a fantastic night.

The morning after the night before was subdued and we all left for home pretty quickly. I think it’s safe to say that everyone had a fantastic weekend! The only thing I was a bit sorry about was that I got to spend a little time with everyone but not a lot of time with anyone! Next time…

There is no-one who does not deserve thanks, but my personal special mentions go:

  • To Lisa for organising the whole event
  • To Gary for a) driving me, b) cooking for us both mornings and c) buying all the breakfast food we could possibly require
  • To James for looking after me on the camping front and for putting up Mayes Mansions single handedly while I drank cider and sat on my lazy butt.
  • To The HRD and Alex for lending me their blankets when I failed to take trousers (Pah! I laugh in the face of trousers!) and was both cold and being eaten alive my mossies.
  • And finally to Sarah, without whom the weekend might never have happened. After all, this was meant to be a girlie weekend, once-upon-a-time! 🙂

N.B. For those who are interested: 1 attendee (6%) was a Nokia user, 2 (12.5%) were predominantly BlackBerry users, 2 (12.5%) were on Android and the rest (69%) were varying versions of the iPhone. Meaningful statistics indeed…! Hahahah!

A Weekend of Underground Restaurants

This week’s blog is totally off-topic, so be warned, okay! I’ve been to an underground restaurant (AKA supperclub, AKA restaurant in your livingroom, AKA Come Dine With Me – but on a larger scale) before, but last weekend I did two back to back, and they were so good that I thought I’d blog about them!

Sheen Suppers

So my weekend started early on Friday night at Lara Newman’s restaurant: Sheen Suppers which is, unsurprisingly, in Sheen! For those of you who read my blog with any regularity, you will know that Lara is the first person I met on Twitter who I met in real life, so I’ve been to Sheen Suppers a couple of times before, and it is always good and always great value for money!

Supperclubs all work differently and, as I am learning, are all totally unique! Sheen Suppers is more like a traditional restaurant – you book a table for your party of however many and sit with your friends. There’s a suggested donation of £25 per person which gets you four courses (five if you count the tea and coffee) of divine food, a glass of excellent, paired wine (and from the massive EuroCave in the living room you know they know wine!) with each course (or port for the cheese course) and a fantastic atmosphere.

Lara’s house is the kind of place you could spend all day in and still not see everything. The attention to detail is just phenomenal – from the books in the fireplace to the decoupage in the bathroom, to the pink knitted animals in the (pink) kitchen. It’s delightful! The dining room seats up to around 18, and we were a full house. It was cosy without being cramped.

As I say, this was my third meal at Sheen Suppers and I’ve yet to be served something I didn’t like. The menu was as follows and was 100% home-made, from the gnocci to the crostini:

Starter

Pinenut Crostini with Prawns, Mozzarella and Basil

Main Course

Gnocci with Shin of Beef Ragu, Courgette and Parmesan Salad

Cheese Course

Grand Rustique Brie, Denhay Vintage Cheddar, Cropwell Bishop Stilton

Dessert

Ginger Blondie with Ginger Mascarpone Cream, White Chocolate and Ginger Truffle

The starter was a safe bet for me – I lurrrve prawns! But for those who prefer to avoid seafood there was something similar with some rather nice looking ham instead. Likewise, the main course was fantastic and the homemade gnocci were particularly light and delicious. I also loved the courgette and parmesan salad as it ticked the garlic box big time! Mmmm! Cheese is never my favourite course (I swap out anything blue with anyone who will trade with me!) but the port somehow makes it nicer… In fact, I really don’t know why I don’t drink more port?!

But the Ginger Blondie… Ohhh the Ginger Blondie! That has got to be the single nicest dessert I have ever eaten in the world ever! I’ve never heard such a noisy table fall so silent so quickly! Now it’s not for those shy of sugar, I’ll concede, but ohhh it was so good! Lara has been kind enough to post the recipe and I cannot wait to try and make it for myself!

Things start to wind down from about 10.30pm onwards (it starts at 7.30pm) but inevetably there’s a few stragglers and those who stay for a chit-chat afterwards! Such a great night!

And so, from one great night to another! After a late night of singing and one too many glasses of Prince’s Ginger Liqueur I was, err, a little delicate on the Saturday, but undeterred all the same…

Lex Eat

Supperclub number two was Lex Eat, which is run by the lovely Alexis! So forget all the pre-conceived ideas I may have given you from Sheen Suppers – apart from the divine food, Lex Eat is nothing like it! For a start, you book your number but the dining is communal – so we were a two on a shared table of eight. You’re not split up from your friends / other halves or anything hideous like that, but you can expect to make polite conversation with your neighbours! The suggested donation here is £20 for an array of courses which I’ll talk about more shortly. It’s BYO booze but in actuality there was some booze included, which was a lovely surprise.

Alexis’s house is equally divine as Lara’s but in a totally different way. Imagine a clean, modern, minimalistic apartment with an amazing mezzanine floor, a vintage record player, and reviews and thank you letters pegged around the downstairs bathroom. It’s like something out of a magazine – really beautiful!

I have to say; I was wary of the communal dining concept, even though it’s quite popular at underground restaurants. It still wouldn’t be my first choice, but it was very cleverly done. On arrival we were introduced to other people on our table and encouraged to mingle. Then, at the table itself, the tablecloth (which was actually brown paper – very clever!) had notes all over it explaining the menu… But naturally you couldn’t see the whole table so you had to talk and share what was on and around your place setting. A really excellent way to get everyone talking!

So onto the food! Again, everything was home cooked…

On Arrival

A glass of bubbly moscato

Nibbles

Hot & spicy popcorn

Starter

Mushroom risotto with thinly shaved pear & amaretti biscuit crumbs

Main Course

Slow cooked pork belly with salsa verde, roasted butternut squash, bean salad + freshly baked foccacia

Palate Cleanser

Little spoon of coconut milk & lemongrass sorbet

Dessert

Almond tart with poached figs + orange & cardamom ice cream with a sprinkling of almond praline

(Plus the usual tea and coffee shenanigans, of course!)

Yet again there was nothing I didn’t like. The spicy popcorn was the find of the night for me – Lex kindly emailed me the recipe afterwards and I’ve made it twice since. Sooo good! Contrary to my initial expectation, the amaretti buscuits and pear worked really well with the mushroom risotto (I’m a bit of a mushroom risotto purist) and it was a great start to the meal. The pork for the course was also divine, though I have to say that I don’t think we really needed the foccacia – I did try some (and it was lush) but there was really plenty of food without it and I wasn’t totally sure it went with everything else. The sorbet palate cleanser was a fantastic idea – it was served on little spoons and was a really nice addition to the meal – very impressive! Dessert was another sugar-fest. The Almond Tart (served on very cool tiles!) was absolutely delicious and the ice cream cut into it really well.

Sadly, we had to leave a bit early (10pm – again, it started at 7.30pm) from Lex Eat because I had a train to catch, but I imagine the merriment continued for a good while after our departure!

So two fantastic nights all in all! Though both underground restaurants worked on the same principles you can’t even compare the two – they are such different experiences! And it’s really spurred me on to try and find some more. It was interesting to speak to the other guests at Lex Eat who had been to other places and had good and bad experiences. I guess we have chosen well so far!

If you want to find out more about supperclubs hen there is a Ning Network you can check out. I highly recommend everyone go to one – you will not get such good food at such great prices anywhere else, and it’s such a fun night! 🙂


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About Me

Over ten years’ recruitment, employability, HR and sales experience in both the private and public sectors. I've worked in construction recruitment, FMCG headhunting, and in higher education on the employability agenda.

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