One of the things I no longer have to do is to go through an annual appraisal cycle. This involved writing something called a Personal Development Plan, where you set out your personal and professional goals for the year, and then measure yourself against it at the end of the year. The deadline for having this all laid out was usually March, and was habitually left to the last minute. It was very much a case of going through the motions though, and after ten years there, I was pretty good at rolling out stock phrases like "I will seek to influence others' decision-making and thereby reduce risk" and "I will leverage my internal networks and understanding of derivative products in order to help traders make pots of money", and could generally bash out something that read well but in fact meant that I just needed to do my job. Very happily I got the axe before I needed to go through all this again for 2009, so "Ensure that the trading desk is ready for the roll-out of Basle II" (professional goal) and "Try not to die of boredom before bonus day" (personal goal) were replaced by "Become a Domestic Goddess" and "Go birding a lot".
GOAL: Become a Domestic Goddess
*note that this is a self-appraisal and that my manager's opinion may vary.
Shopping: Once a mystery to me, I can now competently go shopping. My first shopping trip way back when resulted in 10kg of rice and some shampoo. This was deemed a failure by Mrs L for some reason. Nowadays I come back with complete meals, and generally keep us well stocked. I still can't plan more than about two days in advance, so I have to go shopping a lot, but the key points are that we're all still alive and we have never run out of toilet paper.
Cooking. I do all the cooking, well, all the cooking in the week. My meals are mostly basic, but I am slowly raising the complexity stakes. For example we have recently dined on Coq au Vin, on Boeuf Bourguignon, and on a jumbo Cornish Pasty. I am also capable of Roast Chicken, and I baked a cake. I know how to make white sauce, thus opening up the world of pasta bakes and casseroles, and I no longer buy frozen chips - no, I actually peel and chop up potatoes. Fishfingers do feature quite a lot, but the children like them, and they are always on special. There I was thinking fish stocks were declining, but clearly the vast North Atlantic shoals of small rectangular fish are still doing well. There have been zero incidents of food-poisoning, nor of me forgetting that we all need to eat. Dinner is generally on the table as Mrs L gets home from work. I know my place.
Cleaning. Erm, well, the house looks quite clean. Just don't look behind or under anything. I admit it, I am not very good at cleaning. I have short bursts of zooming around, usually when Mrs L works from home and I can be seen doing it, interspersed with long periods of inactivity. I am good at the sinks and shower, as I have that lovely pink brush. I am also pretty good at the toilets - with three children I need to be. I am not very good at cleaning the bath for some reason - one for 2010 perhaps. I am also ace at vacuuming. Most other things I am less good at. Dusting is one of them, particularly DAMP dusting (which if you believe everything you are told is the ONLY type of dusting that is effective). I am also no good at cleaning the cooker, or wiping down cupboards. Or mopping. Or cleaning the windows. In fact the list could go on for a very long time. But again, if you were to come and visit, unless you are Shaun, you're not going to gag when you come in the front door. It looks ok, it smells ok, and by and large is ok. A small amount of dirt is good for children anyway.
Washing. A mixed result. I have not ruined too many knitted items, thus my marriage remains safe, but the complexity can sometimes be overwhelming. I tend to concentrate on blue loads as there are fewer pitfalls. I am also able to wash towels and sheets of any colour, provided they have been removed from the beds first. I am able to erect the airer, and hang clean wet washing up on it. Some days I am so productive at washing that I have also learned to drape it over all the doors and radiators, which has resulted in several white sheets getting long straight stains on them. My responsibility for washing ends once it is clean and dry - I take it upstairs and dump it on the landing. A fairy then irons it and puts it away.
General Presentation: Personally I wear whatever is on the top of the pile. My scruffiness knows no bounds. The older children dress themselves, and I get the little one dressed. We get full marks for originality, if not for coordination. I don't know how to brush hair. Lined up at the front door, waiting to greet Mrs L as she comes home from work, it is hardly a scene from Mary Poppins. I am sure that the £77 haircut Mums at school must talk about how dishevelled and absurd we all look, but this is trivial in the grand scheme of things and I care not. We are going birding, and the scruffier, the better.
GOAL: Go Birding a lot
*definitely a self-appraisal...
Become a Better Birder: I don't think it's possible to go out birding and regress. You're constantly learning. Especially in my case. "Ooh look, a Kingfisher!" "Er no, it's a Robin" - this conversation actually happened. So, getting there. A long way to go, but getting there. This for me is one of the principal attractions of birding - constant learning. A couple of highlights this year were finding my own Caspian Gull, and picking up a Yellow-browed Warbler on call. The only thing is that it all falls to pieces when I'm out with other people. Am I the only one to experience this? Either I'm not confident enough to call things (correctly as it happens) and thus miss out opportunities to prove to the world that I'm getting better, or I do call something, but it's a howler. On my own I am INFALLIBLE! Hmmm, what could it be? Joking aside, I am getting better and it really is rather pleasing, but I know my limitations. There is no substitute for hours in the field, be it patch birding or twitching something further afield. One argument is that you need to go on the odd far-flung mission so that you get to know vagrants and rarer passage migrants better. For instance, I've seen three Hoopoes this year, and I reckon that if one now turned up in Wanstead, I'd probably recognise it straight away.
Patch Birding: I did not spend as much time on the patch as I said I would. This is due mainly to year-listing, but also a genuine lazy streak on my part. Throughout most of this year I found it desperately hard to get off my arse and go on the patch. Despite this, I saw thirteen new species in Wanstead, and blew my 2008 total of 83 out of the water, which was one target. The other was to get to 100 species on the patch, which was achieved with a Coal Tit in Reservoir Wood in November. Whilst Stuart found all the really good stuff, I was responsible for finding a Ring-Ouzel, a couple of Redstarts, the Red-crested Pochards, a Wood Sandpiper, and the first Treecreeper for like, ages. Despite this, I must try harder in 2010.
Life List: I actually set myself a goal of three new birds a month during 2009, which meant my target was 330. I stayed ahead of the curve all year, and am currently on 338. Worthy of mention (yes, again!) are Fea's Petrel, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, and Eastern Crowned Warbler. All three Pratincoles in just over three weeks was pretty special too. Mega rarities included Crested Lark, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Collared Flycatcher, Fan-tailed Warbler and Brown Shrike, and honourable mentions must go to the Snowy Owl and Pallid Harrier. Also memorable was a magical eighteen minutes at Dunge where I ticked first Melodious, and then Icterine.
Year List: Well, it was OK I suppose, didn't go too badly..... I had one goal, a ridiculous and futile goal - to see 300 species. The key to a decent year list is to start early and see as much as possible as soon as possible, especially rarities. One look at how poor, relatively speaking, this autumn was shows the merits of this strategy. I started off in Scotland, and ended January 1st on 87 species including Surf Scoter and King Eider. By the end of January I had reached 152, and I hit 200 on April 10th. 250 was notched up by the end of May, and 300 on the 11th October. Objective met.
Various other Lists: I keep a couple of lists, not very many. I like hitting nice round numbers, numbers divisble by 50, though as that becomes harder, I may move to 25, then 10. Besides the above, a number of targets presented themselves this year, and I comfortably made them all.
Essex 198 → 220
London 181 → 206
Rainham 141 → 156
They say objectives need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and have a set time period for achievement. Listing goals are perfect in this respect. Sad and anoraky? Not a bit, SMART. Though "Become a Better Birder" is pretty wishy-washy. And anoraky. "Hello, my goal this year is to become a better birder. Would you like to come back to my place and look at my BWP?"
So there you have it, my 2009 self-appraisal. I still need to become a better birder, and I am some way from being a fully fledged Domestic Goddess. In particular, certain elements of my cleaning repertoire leave a lot to be desired. However, given the monumental shift in direction that occured in February, I don't think I am doing too badly. Where I used to work, goals were always like this - you're not supposed to meet them all. You can always do better, always improve, always aim for 110% - and thus never get there. Of course it's all a load of nonsense, as so much of what I did was. See points 1 & 2 here. Nonetheless, next up, my 2010 Goals. Mrs L has declared an interest in helping to set them. Uh-oh.