Category Archives: Work


When I had just turned 16, I got my first job. It was a 4 hours a week (ish) Saturday job at one of the pubs in the village, just waiting tables. From the moment I started I was on my way out, because the manager just didn’t like me. I learned later that they turned over waiting staff almost every six weeks – the length of their probation period – and I just think that they couldn’t find anyone who was a good fit with the manager.

There were two staff who had worked at the pub much longer, who were basically the full time waiting staff, and then there were a few bar staff who were on the more permanent end of things. One of the two waiting staff was the “maitre d'” though I think he’d given himself the title and really was taking it a bit far. He talked a lot and I learned absolutely nothing from him.

The other member of staff was a tiny woman nicknamed “Magpie”. She was totally lovely, about 5’3″ and as far as I remember had blonde curly hair. She was called Magpie because if we cleared a table and someone hadn’t finished their chips they went into a bowl and Magpie would snack on them for the rest of the night. Waste not want not. Everyone else clearly looked down on her for it, but I think I know where she was coming from.

She taught me how to pour out the huge bottles of ketchup without getting them everywhere, how to put together a plate of bread and oil and vinegar for dipping. She almost taught me how to carry more than two plates, and she helped me keep track of which table was which number. She was cheery and charming, and everyone who came into the pub really liked her (which was notably not the case for any of the other staff. The pub closed a few years later, and I don’t think it came as a shock to anyone).

One week, maybe about three weeks into my time working there (which as I mentioned was not long, maybe seven weeks in total) Magpie commented on how young I was. At the time I remember being a bit shocked, because of course to 16-year-old me, being 16 was being an adult. But I was also shocked because I hadn’t really considered that Magpie was much older than me herself, maybe 18 or 19. As we chatted it came out that she was actually in her late 20s, married with two children.

The thing which she noticed, she said, was my hands. We had been washing up cutlery (I think) and she pointed out that my hands looked “unused”.

I think about that conversation a lot. I remember looking down at her hands and seeing her age for the first time – because it’s true, especially when your job involves carrying burning plates, washing up in caustic detergents and going in and out of walk-in freezers, your hands do begin to show that you’ve worked. It wasn’t Magpie, but someone else in the kitchen chimed in about me keeping my hands nice for longer than “the rest of us”. There was a lot of classism at work in that kitchen, which at 16 I didn’t really comprehend. Looking back I know I was being singled out as the posh girl, who didn’t exactly need the Saturday job or to be slumming it with all of them. They were not-so-subtly pointing out that I wouldn’t ever need to “get my hands dirty”.

Of course despite the fact that I only stayed there for seven weeks, I did feel I needed that job. Being sacked (badly, by being left on the phone for 15 minutes as I tried to quit after yet another last-minute shift cancellation) was an experience I didn’t want to repeat in a hurry and so I waited a few months before my next job, but I can’t be accused of being work-shy. At one point when I was in my upper sixth year I was working two different jobs each weekend, volunteering at a youth centre, and babysitting on the side. The cruel comments from the pub kitchen weren’t necessary, and they weren’t accurate.

I didn’t work for the first year of my undergraduate degree. I was very worried about my academic performance, preparing myself for living abroad (10 years ago now, doesn’t time fly), and my dad in particular was very keen that I understand I didn’t need to work.

By the end of my year abroad I was itching though. I got a summer internship with the British Council, and realised that for all my resistance after my year 10 work experience visit, I could cope with working in an office. When I moved back to Leeds I got a job teaching science at primary schools, and then another as office manager for a web development firm. There are all kinds of stories about my various jobs strewn across this blog, though work isn’t something I write about often (after all, you never know who might be reading it).

I have done a lot of jobs, now. I’ve used my hands a lot, even when my job might not have naturally required it. My job now doesn’t require me to take apart steel deck, or count cash, or answer queries posed by concerned Spanish women. But I do all of those things anyway, when they are needed, and I think that my hands show it. I have always taken a lot of pride in my hands – I have nice fingers, and strong fingernails which are always painted, and I look good in jewellery. But underneath that, I do think my hands are starting to show my age and my story. It’s a decent story though, so maybe I don’t mind.

8 posts

In 2019, I posted 8 things on this blog.

That’s less than 1 a month (for those of you who are gregorianly-challenged).

This year, I absolutely don’t promise to do better.

It’s not that I have lost a love of writing – far from it – it’s just that I lack time, and brain power. As my job has changed and progressed over the past 5 years, I have found myself doing less meeting arrangement, and more report and document writing, and while fascinating, it’s somewhat tiring.

The other thing is, I’m doing so much. I’ve always done a lot, don’t get me wrong, but at the moment I am working to get things done in my spare minutes, not even my spare hours. And I have plans for this year. So here’s a rundown of some stuff I might be doing –

  1. Getting a qualification in Charity Law 
    I’m already working on this one, and my exam is in June. I should be spending much more time revising than I have been, but assuming it all goes well I’m even considering doing another course starting from September #learning
  2. Going to a festival
    Ok this one is a bit pie-in-the-sky because we still don’t have tickets, but the aim is to go to Glastonbury. As someone who has never been interested in festivals I am finding it hard to get excited, but if we actually make it I’m sure it’ll be great
  3. Being involved with a production of “Annie” 20 years after I last was in it
    I don’t know if I’ll be in the cast (wish my luck for my audition) but there’s no way I’m not getting involved in the next LIDOS production. I was the orphan ‘Kate’ when I was 9, and it was my first full-length musical.
  4. Visiting Thailand
    I got a lot of travelling done before I was 15 years old, and as a consequence I haven’t really done that much since (living in Morocco and Spain notwithstanding). The Man wants to visit Thailand and show it to me, and so this year may well be the year
  5. Going back to Spain!
    Let’s not even joke about how long it is since I lived in Spain. But as a big birthday present to a friend, we want to go back. The only issue at the moment is finding a time which actually works for us both
  6. Attending 5 weddings (currently)
    I say currently because I would not be shocked if more appear. I remember turning 23 and people telling me I was about to go into wedding madness- cue years of very minimal activity, but it turns out it’s all kicking off this year

So there’s plenty going on. Will I keep this blog updated? It seems unlikely, but I’ll honestly try. Writing and keeping a diary in this way is still a massive highlight of any day for me, and so while my posts may be few and far between, SallyTalks will live on for a little while yet.

True, Necessary, Kind

I am privileged to work with some really fantastic people, and I genuinely do learn something new every day. Sometimes my job is complicated and I wonder if maybe I could do something “easier”, and then something happens to remind me why I value my workplace and my colleagues so much.

Earlier this week a colleague taught me something I’d never heard before. It’s a set of questions to ask yourself before you say something to someone else and it goes like this. Before you speak, ask yourself:

  1. is it true?
  2. is it necessary?
  3. is it kind?

Three simple rules. If the answer isn’t yes to all three, then don’t say it.

Will I live by these rules? Almost certainly not. That’s a high mental load to tax yourself with every time a comment comes to mind. I’ll almost certainly fail. But, it will help me to be a kinder, better person sometimes now that I know that the method exists.

Plus, it’s an amazing way to assess your own reaction. Today, a person said something to me and I found myself feeling hurt and angry. And I knew it was an overreaction to a small comment which shouldn’t have bothered me. It took me a second, but when I thought about it I realised what had gotten to me – it was the fact that to me, the comment felt unnecessary.

Once I’d realised that, I realised that there are two possible options. Either, that person thought their comment was necessary, so I need to work on showing more outwardly that it isn’t, and that I know what I’m doing. Or, that person didn’t think about the potential impact of their comment on me, and that’s cool too because I get that it’s a big mental load, and that people don’t always interrogate what they say before they say it, and it wasn’t said in malice.

And now I feel better, and I’ve learned something too. And it’s only Wednesday.


Let’s talk about equity. The conversation we still apparently have to have once a year on International Women’s Day.

It was a few days ago that I began to hear the rumblings. And the rumblings turned into murmurings, and the murmurings turned into whinings, and suddenly I find myself here and now, deafened by the outraged brigades of people shouting their mantra as loudly as possible –

“We should be working towards equality, not feminism”

And listen. I get it. You think you’re on the right side of history. So once again, let me just explain why equality doesn’t work how you want it to, and feminism isn’t a dirty word. The criticism is often that feminism is too woman-centric (hah) and that to have a truly fair society, we should be blind to the differences created by gender.

But here’s the thing y’all. Those differences exist whether you like it or not, and so just treating everyone equally doesn’t fix the problems. And feminism is very woman-centric. Because it’s about women. This is important, so I’ll say it again for the self-defining men in the back. It’s not about you.

Today at work, to mark International Women’s Day, we ran a campaign where self-defining women could get a cup of tea or coffee with a 22.5% reduction, to highlight the gender pay gap at the University of Leeds (our parent institution). And immediately, the rumblings began. It’s discrimination, it’s not fair, you’re doing more harm than good. Why don’t you just treat people equally?

Well. Can we just unpick this a second. Referring back to my earlier point, let’s start with the fact that it’s not about you. Self-defining men are in no way disadvantaged by this campaign. It’s the same hot drink you bought yesterday with no quibble, and the same hot drink is available to you tomorrow. Your conditions have not been altered in the slightest, and in fact, it’s a very reasonably priced product to begin with.

All that has happened is that (in a relatively tokenistic way), we have highlighted the fact that a woman on the University of Leeds campus is likely (according to the statistics) to have on average 22.5% less money to spend on a given product.

The equitable response, therefore, is to make products 22.5% cheaper for women, right?

Now, of course on a large scale, that’s wrong (I’ve seen this referred to as deficit thinking – masking the root cause of the inequitable situation by providing equity through a solution rather than resolving the underlying problem). Products cost what they cost, and they don’t discriminate by gender, or by any other protected characteristic for that matter. Coffee beans are not inherently sexist.

The important thing about this campaign is that it is just influencing on the level we are able to influence, by providing a level of equity between men and women on Leeds campus, and highlighting an existing disparity in their financial positions. If it is successful, it will help highlight to key people the importance of working on reducing the gender pay gap, and creating greater equity for women*. The logic behind the gender pay gap still isn’t widely understood and a lot of people still cite equal pay legislation as a reason that the GPG just “doesn’t exist”,  so to back up my points I thought I’d share a handy video on the subject.

So, what does all of this actually mean? It means if you want to claim that other people getting discounted coffee is discrimination against you, despite the fact that absolutely nothing about your situation has changed in any way, you need to spend some more time considering why you’re so angry about an organisation trying to support people who are not being treated equitably by the system.

Because that is about you, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing.

Elite Pastry

I tried to call this post “cake or death?” but it turns out I’ve used that one before. The problem with writing a sporadic blog over an 8 year period is that occasionally you have the same thoughts twice.

Also 8 years. Let’s just all take that in a bit shall we. I have been wittering on the internet for 8 years, and people have been reading it. I had 18 views today. From who? Who knows? It’s all very exciting.

The length of time I’ve spent writing this blog was highlighted to me today because one of my former colleagues graduated from her undergraduate English degree today, and it reminded me that I graduated from my first degree five years ago. Which feels like a mix of no time and just a huge expansive amount of time ago.

But Sally, wasn’t this going to be about cake?

Yes it was, but I sidetracked myself with nostalgia, you’re welcome.

For the uninitiated, I love baking. One of the greatest joys of owning a house has been the ability to bake almost every weekend, and sometimes mid-week as well. I bake cakes mostly, and buns, sometimes scones. I’ve yet to do bread, but have big plans for later in the summer.

I am ashamed to say I have not seen the most recent season of GBBO Professionals (I have sworn off normal GBBO since the Channel 4 move, but Creme de la creme was too good to miss) but I do plan on going back to it. I’ve seen all of Nailed It (if you haven’t then get yourself over to Netflix NOW).

But my new hobby and secret passion is watching baking montage videos on Instagram. In particular I’m a fan of an account called pastry_academy_of_elite (and no, not just for the name). The account reposts the most amazing baking, stunning mirror glazes, and just insanely detailed and beautiful pastries. As you’d probably expect really. I find myself just scrolling through on autopilot now, admiring all their beautiful creations.

As for me – some of my baking is moderately pretty, but there’s a way to go. All tastes nice though.

Twenty Eighteen

What can I say about 2017. It has been a horrible year. Not all of it, of course, in fact a great deal of it has been wonderful. Sometimes it just feels like the bad overshadows the good. I’m very optimistic that 2018 will go the other way.

I don’t *do* New Years’ resolutions, because I fundamentally disbelieve the idea that you can begin new things in January. It’s cold, and horrible, and all normal people should want to be constantly wrapped in blankets and fed cheese.

That therefore means that these aren’t resolutions, they are just aspirations for my 2018.

  • I would like to smile more. I am irrepressibly optimistic (it’s frankly quite annoying) but I am not sure I really smile very often. This year I’d like to smile more, and find lots of reasons to smile.
  • I’d like to improve my overall health. I’m still very prone to illness (misc) and I still have achey joints, and I definitely believe these are fixable things, with a little work.
  • For years I’ve been trying to learn German, and Greek, and a whole variety of other languages. I’m not sure I’ll ever really learn them (despite the 6 years of university, I’m not a natural linguist) but I would like to try and use them, by going to more places.
  • Lastly, I’d like to learn how to rest. It seems so easy when other people do it, but my brain just buzzes away and won’t let me stop, and actually that’s probably causing the lack of smiling, and the illness, and probably the inability to focus on learning a language to be quite honest. So learning to rest is my final aspiration.

Resolutions are a lot of pressure. It’s ok to leave them for a while (I totally stand by April Resolutions) and just begin the year with a few nice aspirations.

After all, the one big positive of having a horrible time is that from here, the only way is up.

Next Steps

I’m going to get a promotion and buy a house.

Easy to say when it’s just in letters, on a back-end-of-the-internet blog. But that is what I’m going to do.

The promotion is already happening, a bit. Not in a permanent way, but in a very definite we-can-work-on-this way. In a moving forward productively way.

The house thing is happening as well, in that I have looked at a lot of houses on the internet, and one in person, and I’ve talked to an adviser about mortgages, and googled “the best place to live in Leeds”.

It’s all terrifying.

I’ve made a bit of a significance out of always moving forward, and always bettering myself in small ways every day. Right now I have a lot of times where I feel like there is no possible way of climbing the enormous mountain of life, or even the enormous mountain of getting out of bed in the morning. But I also have a few times where all these things feel achievable, and like things that I have watched other people do with great success.

And like things that will not end the world even if they don’t pan out perfectly.

So here I go, taking steps.

Brave New World

(Two asides to begin with – If you haven’t read the book ‘Brave New World’ I really recommend it. Also this is my 497th post, and since I’ll totally miss whenever I hit 500 I’m celebrating now. Look at me and all my fancy internet writing)

Anyone who read my last post, or who knows me, or really has interacted with me in the vaguest way, knows I am a nerd through and through. So it is of no surprise that I’m very excited about Leeds Digital Festival. Aside from anything, I know it is happening, which is often a challenge for me – I hear about all the most exciting theatre shows as they close, or academic talks just the final ticket sells. I’m generally bad at “keeping up”.

Other reasons for my excitement about the Digital Festival revolve around the thrilling world of data protection law, and data in general. Not to mention WordPress, cybersecurity, and people doing cool things with code. I’m a big fan all round to be honest.

My previous job was heavily involved in digital, from web content and plugins through to data processing and SEO. I fell into it (as one does), and for me it’s been down the rabbit-hole of digital ever since. It’s a brand new language to explore, not just in terms of actual coding languages (which are a mystery to me, just like most other languages, see the origins of this blog for context) but in terms of the entire world of digital culture. Timeframes are different, the landscape is new, and the risks and rewards are somewhat crazy, but diverse and exciting.

I’m lucky, because I’ve managed to take a passing interest in digital and turn it into something that impacts my whole life, from this blog (which needs a new theme, I know, I know) through to embedding data analysis into my job (where it probably never belonged, but hey ho). And so the idea of getting together with the other digital nerds who like pretty graphs and confusing algorithms and the whole of our brave new world of digital, is slightly my idea of heaven.

Only friendly nerd comments welcome today, please and thankyou.

Know Your Limits

What a tightrope of a phrase.

There’s a big difference between knowing your limits and never pushing your limits. But there’s a very small difference between pushing your limits and breaking them, and as we know from *the law*, breaking limits is never good.

Yesterday I learnt a little more about my own limits when I went to the OperaSoc fundraiser. My limits include not being capable of reaching the bar spend on my own, though apparently I tried. I’m very thankful for my good friend, without whom I honestly think I might not have made it home.

[Incidentally, OperaSoc are performing Don Giovanni next week. It’s the first opera I took part in at Leeds, and I absolutely urge anyone local to go and check it out because it’s set to be A-M-A-Z-I-N-G]

To return to the point, learning that personal limit was a good experience, even though it didn’t necessarily feel like it at the time. I know a new thing, and I can manage myself better now in that knowledge. That’s the thing about knowing your limits. It doesn’t have to be limiting unless you let it be. Knowing your limits means you know when you can push harder and achieve greater things, but it also helps you know when something is out of reach, or might harm you more than do you good (see: bottles of white wine and me in the example above)

What I’m trying to say, because everything has a moral except when it doesn’t, is that you should push your boundaries without pushing yourself. Broaden your horizons.

Maybe go see your first opera? Just a suggestion.

When I grow up

The great thing about not being a student any more, is that I can do what I like with my spare time. Where I used to spend my extra hours reading, or writing my thesis, or hating everything and guilt eating to try and distract myself, now I spend hours and hours playing computer games and that’s totally fine, because I’m a grown up.

Today I made candles.

I’m not really sure what all of that means, because I had a lot of visions of what I would be when I grew up, but none of them involved coffee, ripped jeans, Skyrim, 30 Rock, and incense, which have been the main themes of today. I wanted to be a doctor, and own a shop, and paint. Then when I got older I wanted to be a traveller, and a writer. Now, I think I might want to learn loads about charity governance and manage a team of people. At any rate, I’m not quite there with what being a grown up means to me.

I also get the impression that very few people do. We go through childhood revering adults as these amazing beings who have life totally figured out, and at times I trick myself into thinking that my friends and colleagues are like that. And maybe some of them are, but the majority still don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, and like me, will spend a day eating sweets for lunch and not wearing a bra whenever they can get away with it.

There isn’t really a point to this except to share that it’s fine (I think) to not know exactly how you want to be when you’re grown up.

Though one thing I do know is that when I grow up, I’m going to arrange to go see Matilda (finally).