‘It’s definitely a lifestyle choice and not just a job’: Publican on her early starts and industry changes

“It’s definitely a lifestyle choice and not just a job,” says Sian Smith, licensee of The Bull Inn – an historic Fuller’s-owned pub and hotel in Sonning, Berkshire. After almost 30 years in hospitality – and 23 as a publican – Sian has kept up with consumer habits, withstood downturns in the economy and adapted to ever-changing food and drink trends.

But one thing that has remained constant, she says, is the importance of engaging with her clientele. “It’s the biggest part of my job. You have to know a little bit about everything in order to hold conversations, so people aren’t just sat on their phones at the bar.

“It could be with Bob, who is having a pint of Peroni at the bar; or Jim, who I haven’t seen for a few days because he’s been visiting family in Newcastle, so I’ll ask him about his trip. Being able to do that en masse with regulars is a skill.”

Located in a village with an estimated population of 1,600, The Bull has a tight-knit clientele –and also attracts local celebrities including George and Amal Clooney. “As a licensee, you feel protective of them,” says Sian. “You don’t want anyone to bother them. It’s about having that level of respect for them [as] they’re out with their family or friends, in an environment where they feel safe and comfortable.”

While 3,000 pubs have closed in the past two years, many locals are loved by their regulars (Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
While 3,000 pubs have closed in the past two years, many locals are loved by their regulars (Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty)

From the front line

The 47-year-old, who took over The Bull in 2016 after running pubs in Surrey, Hampshire and Gloucestershire, says no two days are the same.

She is used to being an early riser – which is good, because breakfast for those staying in the pub’s rooms starts at 6.30am. “I sleep with an out-of-hours phone beside my bed; if someone walks through the wrong door and sets off the alarm, that’s me up and out… It can be long days.”

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Pub landlords ‘must serve better beer’ and stop boorish behaviour to save the Great British boozer

Sian works alongside her husband, Jason, who is head chef. “We’ve worked together since I was old enough to work behind a bar. I think it helps that sometimes one is in the kitchen and the other is out the front,” she says.

Sian leads a team of 25, from kitchen staff to bar cellarmen. “I couldn’t do this if it wasn’t for the people who support me,” she says.

And they’ve supported Sian as she has reacted to changes in the market; for example, the shift from three-hour, alcohol-soaked business lunches to deals being hashed out over single courses and soft drinks.

“We’ve had to flex our menus to capture different people. Five years ago, we maybe had one vegan dish, but now we have vegan starters, mains and desserts,” she explains. “Even in a little village pub, people want to know what craft beers we have and they don’t want just Gordon’s gin.

“People will look for quality over price, but they still want value for money. It’s our job to cater to that.”

This week…

Pub landlords should avoid serving poor-quality beer and permitting boorish behaviour if they want to retain their clientele, campaigners have warned. On Thursday, i reported how a poor pub experience puts off drinkers from returning, according to the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra). Last year, 18 pubs closed every week. Camra’s national director, Ben Wilkinson, said: “One bad pint of cask ale can put someone off for life, but perhaps we’re less ready to consider the equivalent risk with pubs.”

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Friday the 13th: Forget it — Safety experts say Tuesday the 8th is now more dangerous

Superstitious souls who have spent a lifetime expecting bad luck on Friday the 13th may have misplaced their worries, according to an analysis of workplace accidents.

Tomorrow’s date is thought to have been considered unlucky since the Middle Ages, although it only developed into an irrational fear in the nineteenth century. But now safety experts who have carried out a study using a decade of workplace deaths data believe it may not be the unluckiest day after all.

The study by CE Safety found that people are likely to die at work on Tuesday the 8th. Some 373 people have died at work on a Tuesday in the UK and 84 workplace deaths occurred on the 8th of the month, while 327 people have died on a Friday and there were 80 deaths on the 13th.

The report says: “Friday the 13th isn’t as deadly as you think. Tuesday the 8th is the date to be extra cautious.”

People are also suspicious about black cats. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
People are also suspicious about black cats (Photo: Gareth Copley/Getty)

Deaths from cattle

Construction was found to be the deadliest industry, with 451 people dying in the last 10 years. It means builders, roofers and scaffolders face a higher death rate than service personnel including soldiers, firefighters and the police.

The third most dangerous professions were in agriculture, with 300 deaths. They included 36 deaths involving cattle and 31 from freak accidents with agricultural machinery.

The Scottish Highlands had the highest rate of deaths – most of them caused by cattle – followed by Glasgow and Aberdeenshire. Cornwall, Birmingham and Sheffield had the next highest deaths.

Gary Ellis, senior consultant at CE Safety, said: “Workplace accidents often occur as a result of fatigue.
“Employers are ultimately responsible for the safety of their employees, and the many regulations and training available should be enough to start seeing these rates decline.

”Unfortunately, the statistics show that they remain the same – and in our opinion, means not enough is being done.“

More work

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Vegan alternatives to meat: How team focus on creating environmentally-friendly and nutritional products

Frank Lewis is head of innovation – also known as a “plantologist” – at The Meatless Farm Co. Based in Leeds, the company, which launched last year, uses plant protein to make vegetarian and vegan alternatives to meat. Its burgers, sausages and mince are made from pea, soya and rice proteins, chicory root and caramelised carrot. They are a source of protein and fibre, and are gluten-free.

Mr Lewis, who has worked in food for 32 years, is responsible for coming up with new products and tweaking them in the test kitchen. “At the moment, we’re taking natural ingredients, such as beetroots, tomatoes and radishes and seeing how they affect the colour of the ‘meat’,” he says. “We look at how they react when they are raw and cooked, and are constantly comparing it to real meat, thinking about the eating experience, the texture, the flavour, the colours.”

The plant-based market is growing rapidly, he says, “as more people make the switch to plant-based food, even if it’s just one meal a week. As products are constantly introduced to the market, the quality is being significantly improved. The three main drivers for choosing a plant-based diet are the environment, animal welfare and health concerns.

“This job has really opened my eyes to the ethical and environmental consequences of meat production,” he adds. “These days, I eat a lot of our, and our rivals’, products.”

Frank Lewis is head of innovation – also known as a 'plantologist' – at The Meatless Farm Co in Leeds
Frank Lewis is head of innovation – also known as a ‘plantologist’ – at The Meatless Farm Co in Leeds

Innovative products

Mr Lewis is always looking for ways to renovate lines and improve the eating experience, while keeping levels of salt and fat to a minimum. “I am also looking into alternative proteins that will improve the texture and succulence of our products and, of course, looking at new variants to add to our portfolio.”

Recently, he has been testing chickpeas, fava beans, pumpkin and hemp seed. “We’re trying to match or improve the nutritional value of meat.”

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Mr Lewis says his job, which is a marriage of cooking and science, would be almost impossible without the decade he spent as a chef. “I was lucky enough to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York when I was 17. I then worked as a chef in Hawaii and North Carolina for many years, until I moved to the UK in 1996.

“Here I started work as a development chef for a food manufacturer, creating ready meals for M&S, I then progressed through various companies, mostly as head of innovation. This led me to meet Morten Toft Bech, founder of The Meatless Farm Co.”

With his team of chefs, he identifies gaps in the market and then starts coming up with recipes. “We then test the best way to blend the ingredients to give us the optimum product structure. Throughout the process, my role is to work with the team to add the culinary side, which largely translates to the depth of flavour, texture and succulence.”

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Career podcasts: The five best for your commute from Safe For Work to The Broad Experience

Safe For Work

This podcast is all about finding work/life balance. Career experts Liz Dolan and Rico Gagliano offer advice on topics from avoiding burnout to how to fake illness when calling in sick, as well as helpful tips on how to progress in your career healthily and happily. wondery.com

How to Be Awesome at Your Job

Having worked with organisations from Google to Goldman Sachs, the United Nations to Amazon, American “trainer-in-chief” Pete Mockaitis here interviews life coaches, such as Pamela McLean of the Hudson Institute, about subjects including how to improve your leadership, and productivity experts such as Erik Fisher on how to avoid distractions in the workplace. awesomeatyourjob.com

Host Morra Aarons-Mele talks to women from the worlds of politics, business and psychology
Host Morra Aarons-Mele talks to women from the worlds of politics, business and psychology (Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty)

Hiding in the Bathroom

Host Morra Aarons-Mele talks to women from the worlds of politics, business and psychology, and asks them how they created the careers they wanted. Guests have included Lisa Sugar, who turned her personal blog into global lifestyle media company PopSugar, and Fertility IQ founder Deborah Anderson-Bialis. forbes.com

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How Did You Get Into That?

Grant Baldwin – who quit his job as a youth pastor when his wife was five months pregnant with the first of their three children, with little idea of what to do next – asks people from all walks of life about how they got into their careers, from small business owners and musicians to photographers and teachers. stitcher.com

The Broad Experience

Tackles some of the biggest problems facing women in the workplace, from race and class to the menopause and ageism, incompetent bosses and sexual harassment to the hell of networking and the power of negotiation. Enlightening – not just for women. thebroadexperience.com

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Working at Chernobyl becomes surprisingly normal

Colin Ross never expected to find himself working at the site of a nuclear disaster. But, then, who would? Ross is a quantity surveyor who leads international efforts to contain radioactivity and spent nuclear fuel at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.

Although anniversaries remind him why he is there, it has become like any other place of work. “To be honest, visits are now very normal.

“The security checks, military-style checkpoints, the special clothing, the gloves and respirators, the dosimeters to check how much radiation we have been exposed to, the scanners to check for radiation on our clothing and footwear – it was all a little disconcerting at first. But after five years, they stopped phasing me. You become sort of desensitised to it.”

Ross first went to Ukraine in 1997 – 11 years after the disaster – to work on projects for the Dutch embassy, Coca-Cola and the Church of Latter Day Saints.

His company, London-based property and construction consultancy Thomas & Adamson, was appointed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in 2015 to become a monitoring consultant at Chernobyl.

Daily radiation

In some parts of the site, workers can be present for only 10 minutes a day before reaching their maximum daily radiation dose of radiation.“

Colin Ross first went to Ukraine in 1997

At first, I was concerned about radiation, as were my family” – Ross is married to a Ukrainian, with whom he has two children. “But following safety training, I quickly understood the risks more clearly.

“This doesn’t make me complacent, however, as we are constantly reminded of the danger through signage and the dosimeters we carry around. If we take the necessary precautions, it is highly unlikely we will have an issue, so I make sure I take them.”

Chernobyl disaster: how radiation affected the UK, and which parts of Britain are the most radioactive today

There are two projects he works on at Chernobyl. “The first is to contain the radioactivity with the largest movable steel structure ever designed, big enough to house five Airbus A380s. The second is to build the facilities to extract and safely store spent nuclear fuel from reactors 1, 2 and 3.

“The exclusion zone, which extends about 30km from the Chernobyl reactors, but is much greater in certain areas, is very beautiful. Flora and fauna are beginning to reclaim the land due to the lack of interference by humans. It is a wonderful place to watch the seasons change.

“I have been lucky enough to see eagles, wolves, foxes, deer, elk and Przewalski’s horses. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any wild boar, although we know they are out there.

“There are now many tourists visiting the area – too many, in my opinion. However, while most will visit in the warmer months, I believe that winter is the best time to visit. With the trees having lost their leaves, and snow on the ground, it is much easier to see how extensive the villages and settlements are that were evacuated after the accident.”

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Can you carry over your work holiday pay to next year? Annual leave entitlement laws explained

The working year is a long stretch, but those precious days of annual leave help to break up the tough slog for a bit of well-earned rest.

With annual leave being restricted to just a small number of days, it’s natural to want to hang on to them for as long as possible – but can they be carried over into the next year?

Unused allowance

If you don’t get around to using up all of your annual holiday allowance by the end of the year, it raises the question as to whether these days can be carried over and taken in the following year instead.

But is it legally allowed?

Employment expert Alan Price told The Mirror, “Although staff typically use the summer months to take the majority of their annual leave, there may be employees who still have a considerable amount of annual leave remaining as we head into autumn.

“Some staff may be under the impression they can carry over any unused annual leave into the next year of annual leave.

“However, unfortunately, this is not the case and employers can determine the extend to which individuals can carry over any unused annual leave entitlement.”

Some workers are entitled to carry over their annual leave irrespective of where they work (Photo: Shutterstock)
Some workers are entitled to carry over their annual leave irrespective of where they work (Photo: Shutterstock)

Dependent on company policy

Many companies will only permit any unused annual leave to be carried over in exceptional circumstances, which will usually be outlined in your employment contract.

This means the decision will rest on company policy, or at your manager’s discretion.

“Their decision may vary depending on the size of the organisation and smaller employers may struggle to accommodate this,” added Price.

“The prospect of extended time off in the next leave year could leave them short-staffed and unable to meet customer demand.

“That said, certain employers may be inclined to show a degree of flexibility when it comes to carrying over a small amount of annual leave, especially if staff plan to use them soon after the start of the next year of annual leave.”

A different rule for some

While most workers don’t have the right to carry over their annual leave into the following year, some are entitled to do so, irrespective of where they work.

Price explained, “The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that employees should be entitled to carry forward to the next annual leave year if they have been unable to take them due to sickness.

“However, this will only apply to the first four weeks of an employee’s 5.6 weeks’ statutory leave entitlement, as this is the minimum amount stated under the European Working Time Directive.”

This article originally appeared on our sister site, Lancashire Evening Post

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Ryan Bourne: In America, public spending conservatism is being lost. It could happen in Britain.

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Austerity is over. Theresa May told us so after the 2017 election, and again at the Conservative Party Conference last year. Philip Hammond tried restraining her from a blitz of high-profile spending announcements. Yet Team Johnson has now picked up the baton anyway. The spending review due today from Sajid Javid will reportedly confirm significant money injections for schools, hospitals and the police. The Prime Minister said Monday it will be “the most ambitious spending round for more than a decade.”

Restraining government spending was always said to be a temporary deficit repair tool, of course. Those “tough choices,” added to net tax hikes, have helped bring down the budget deficit to just 1.3 per cent of GDP, from a gargantuan 9.9 per cent in 2010. Once near-balance, a spending squeeze was never envisaged to continue year after year. Despite Nick Timothy’s fear of libertarians under the bed, no recent Conservative leader has been ideologically committed to shrink the size and scope of government. Absent “thinking the unthinkable,” one eventually must release the spending grip given voter demands for high-quality services.

And yet…the zeal with which the Tories have turned heel on their spending narrative is surprising. Whatever one’s view on the efficacy or composition of “cuts”, they were central to the party’s offer through 2016, including the 2015 election win. Balancing the books was said to be about unburdening the next generation from dumping more debt on top of the iceberg associated with an ageing population. Any intergenerational justice message has now gone the way of the Titanic.

For the Government is not promising gradual targeted spending increases in these areas – a natural uplift from a reset baseline after years of restraint. No, proposed hikes in education funding would virtually reverse any real schools’ spending cuts over the past decade. May’s extra money for the NHS is a big step-change too. The spending review is celebrated as the “biggest, most generous spending review since the height of Tony Blair’s New Labour,” no less – a far cry from denouncing that era’s profligacy. In one swoop, the Treasury has undercut its long-held opposition to raising borrowing and junked the idea that public service reform trumps showering public services with money.

Javid attempts to thread the needle by arguing that more spending is still consistent with keeping the debt-to-GDP ratio on a shallow downward path. That maybe true. But a stated goal of policy was always to balance the books overall, even if George Osborne and David Cameron continually pushed back the deadline. A former Treasury fiscal policy director now says that borrowing will in fact start rising again, and soon be above two per cent of GDP. Manageable, yes – but a clear change in direction.

The public discourse effects of this reversal should worry fiscal conservatives. Cameron and Osborne’s consistent messaging helped entrench two crucial contours in discussions about government spending. First, that there was no free lunch (every Labour proposal for years was met with the question “how will you pay for it?”) Second, that what you did with the money (the organisation of public services) was as important as spending levels. After years of Tony Blair’s money throwing, the public were receptive to such apparently grown-up thinking. Now, both those claims-cum-restraints that ensnared Labour have been removed.

If large, real increases in education funding are synonymous with better schools, as Tories imply, Labour can coherently ask “why did you cut real funding beforehand?” Such corrective spending hikes look an admission of a past mistake. Doubly so if funded through borrowing that was previously considered intolerable.

Couching this as “an end to austerity” brings similar peril. These particular decisions don’t imply “we are going to return to affordable spending increases consistent with a low deficit.” If large spending hikes for education are seen as reversing austerity, then obvious questions arise: what about local authority funding? Prisons? Criminal justice? Have these not suffered more from the pain you admit was damaging?

Of course, Brexit is the important context here. It is sucking oxygen from normal economic debates – one reason why the logjam needs to be broken. A slowing economy, induced in part by uncertainty, means an obsessive near-term public finance focus is probably unwise. The very process of extrication requires budget flexibility, not least because the underlying public finances could look very different when future trade relations crystallise.

But all this would be a case for relaxing or suspending fiscal targets through the choppy Brexit seas, not bold new announcements.

No, it’s difficult not to conclude there’s not something bigger happening here. Much of the party has embraced a simplistic “left behind” narrative of the Brexit vote – that it was a cry for investment in public services. They are egged on by former government advisors, armed with polling, who see an opportunity to steer the party towards a “bigger government” vision for the party they’ve always spoiled for.

Academic evidence in fact shows new Brexit voters affiliating with the Tories quickly adopt traditional Tory views on other issues. There’s no need to pander. Yet when you see John Redwood railing against austerity, you realise how strong this view about the changing party voter base has set.

Whether Johnson shares that interpretation is less clear. Perhaps he sees funding boosts now in three major non-Brexit policy areas as short-term deck clearing before an election. Polling strength from these “good news stories” might even firm up pressure on the EU and rebel MPs on his central task. If it helps finally deliver Brexit, many of us will accept fiscal jam tomorrow.

I want to believe this, but the noises aren’t encouraging. And living in the US, where Republicans have gone from a Tea Party anti-spending force to delivering unprecedented deficits for peacetime, in just a decade, I’ve observed just how easily spending conservatism is lost.

Here, it started with big spending increases on priorities too. Republicans cut taxes, yes, but huge cash increases for defence were delivered, greased by money for some Democrat priorities. Once that dam opened though, the money poured. July’s budget deal threw off the last vestiges of spending caps delivered by the Tea Party Congress. Promises of Republican spending restraint in Donald Trump’s potential second term ring as hollow as claims he’s using tariffs as a path to freer trade.

Here’s the worrying consequence. As US conservatives have learned to love deficits, or at least use them, the left’s spending demands have only gotten more extreme. With constraints stripped away, Democratic Presidential candidates feel liberated to propose mammoth programmes and spending hikes – the Green New Deal, a jobs guarantee, universal childcare and more. When asked how the country can afford this, they point out to the red ink spilled for Republican priorities. There is no answer.

UK Conservatives are far from the Republican point of no return on spending, as yet. But the mood music has changed dramatically. America shows that when conservatives abandon spending constraint, they legitimise the left’s spending wild demands, to taxpayers’ detriment.

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James Frayne: An election is coming. Here are the messages – beyond Brexit – that the Conservatives need to win it.

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Let’s assume an election soon. While the Conservatives are surely finished if they don’t go into the campaign as the clear choice for Brexit voters, this won’t be enough to secure a majority. The next election will not be a re-run of the referendum: people will be make their final decision on a broad range of issues. It’ll fundamentally be like any other election.

Last time around, the Conservatives slipped up badly with prospective voters. This has been endlessly discussed but three mistakes still stand out: firstly, they made no effort to own the “change” narrative even though public demands for change must have been clearly audible in their focus groups; secondly, they angered vast numbers of people by suggesting those that had lived a careful and modest life – owning a house with savings – should be punished with massive social care costs; and, thirdly, the threat to raise people’s taxes was mad. Brexit aside, there was comparatively little to attract working class and lower middle class swing voters – which explains the party’s patchy performance amongst them.

Politics is so volatile it’s hard to predict where the Conservatives’ relative strengths and weaknesses will be in a week, let alone two months. As I write, the weakness of Corbyn’s Labour and the lack of a powerful and credible anti-Brexit party means the prospects for the Conservatives look good. However, the Party still has vulnerabilities it must address fast. I won’t dwell on the obvious – like the NHS (and the text on that bus) – and instead look at those areas that haven’t received the political attention they deserve. And I’ll look at vulnerabilities amongst the working class and lower middle class of provincial England – who the Party needs to turn out in massive numbers and where this column has always focused.

Everyday life in England’s towns. In focus groups I’ve moderated in recent times, I’ve been struck by how people across provincial England are in despair about the state and prospects of their towns and suburbs. We’re a country that enjoys self-deprecation about our own backyards. But pessimism has intensified recently. People have come to terms with industrial decline as time has passed, but bad memories are returning now they’re witnessing the rapid decline of their town centres – as shops, pubs and services close, as anti-social behaviour and crime increase, as aggressive begging comes to small towns from cities, as visible drug use rises, and as more and more kids leave school and college with few local career prospects.

The Conservatives recently pledged new funds to support British high streets. This shows they’re hearing something. But they need to be careful not to misread or underplay what’s really being said. People don’t look at their town centres and just think: “we need more shops”; in fact, many people think high street shops are a rip-off, open at stupidly inconvenient times, and have a tiny range of interesting or useful goods. Rather, above all, the residents of these towns want to feel like they live in a proper community. They want safe and clean streets, integrated populations, free and cheap leisure facilities and parks, buzzing high streets and nice, affordable local pubs. The question the Conservatives need to answer is not “how do you save the high street?”, but “how do you improve everyday life in provincial towns?” It’s a completely different question. (And the Party’s approach to crime should be framed partly through improving communities, not just, say, dealing with serious violence).

People know the answer does not lie in simply throwing huge amounts of cash at these places. But, in the absence of ideas, the Conservatives are highly vulnerable to a Labour offer of vast new spending on things like public transport, libraries, parks, leisure centres, social housing, homeless shelters, drug rehabilitation programmes, community integration programmes, youth clubs, CCTV, policing and security guards and so on. The Conservatives need to think about the challenges of living happily in these towns, not narrowly around simply more shops or more police.

The party of the rich. When the audiences we’re thinking about here are asked about the Conservatives, one thing always comes up: “they’re the party of the rich, while Labour are the party of the working class”. This perception has been widespread for years, and the recent defection of working class voters from Labour to the Conservatives has barely changed this fact. Boris Johnson’s only mis-step in his leadership campaign was to give disproportionate attention to tax paid by higher earners and he is lucky this was barely noticed by the electorate. The Conservatives need to ensure they do everything possible to avoid looking like they’re a party of the rich, for the rich. (Incidentally, it doesn’t matter necessarily that Boris Johnson is rich and posh).

What does this mean in practice? A few obvious ones, which they surely won’t get wrong: target tax cuts on working class and lower middle class voters and don’t talk about helping higher earners; don’t ever talk about the benefits of private education; and ensure there are enough spokespeople from ordinary backgrounds.

But there are some less obvious ones, too: don’t focus economic and social policies purely on the poorest, which sends the message to working class and lower middle class audiences that they in turn must be rich; be careful about how you talk about aspiration, which can seem you’re saying their lives are substandard; and carve out some specific tax cuts directly targeted on the lives of working class and lower middle class voters (tax is really rising up the public’s list of priorities, incidentally, which I will write about in more detail here soon).

Education for all. (I should point out that my agency Public First has worked for many clients in the education world. Here, our work for Pearson and Universities UK is relevant.) The Conservatives’ reputation as the party of the rich is usually undeserved, but there are times, because relatively few of their senior team come from ordinary backgrounds, where they unintentionally make it look like they live on another planet. Two issues stand out, one specific and one general.

Firstly, in an act of breath-taking political stupidity, the Department for Education is consulting on the de-funding of the best known and respected vocational qualification, the BTEC. To be clear, this would mean telling the vast numbers of young people currently studying for BTECs that their courses are essentially worthless and introducing a new system that would make many of their chosen careers impossible. (James Kirkup of the Social Market Foundation wrote about this for the Spectator recently). Secondly, more generally, the Party still gives off the sense that it considers the expansion of universities to have been a mistake and that most students of newer universities are wasting their time.

The Conservatives should certainly be promoting academic excellence and indeed elite education where appropriate. In fact, I believe they should do this far more explicitly than they ever have done. But this does not mean they should not be promoting education for all – high quality education for those with differing interests and with different levels of academic ability. They should be on the side of educational progress and achievement full stop. Working class and lower middle class audiences will not mind if the Government promotes elite education for those that will thrive in such institutions (they have no hostility to these people) but they will mind if it looks like the Party wilfully opposes or misunderstands those institutions and courses that enable them to improve their children’s lives. (Personally, I would have focused on this way more than on things like teachers’ pay, which never comes up amongst ordinary voters).

Rewarding hard work. Over the last decade, and particularly under George Osborne’s time as Chancellor, the Conservatives began to establish a lead over Labour as the party that rewarded hard work. In focus groups I’ve run in the last few years, working class and lower middle class voters have consistently fumed at Labour’s excessively generous attitude to welfare and talked positively about Conservative welfare reforms (yes, including Universal Credit). Such is the strength of feeling on this issue, the Conservatives emphatically must not consider their lead secure and their reforms effectively banked with the public. And they must not confuse media criticism of UC with public opposition; the two are different. They must look at how to double down on their recent progress and take this further. The most obvious place to look is at introducing a much greater contributory element to the welfare state (another declaration of interest: Public First is working for the Centre for Policy Studies on creating such a system).

Ownership of the change narrative. Last time around, it seems likely that the Conservatives underplayed the change narrative because Theresa May was a new Prime Minister that theoretically embodied change. That wasn’t enough and it won’t be enough for the Conservatives this time around. Boris Johnson is seen as a different sort of politician and his early start has sent shockwaves through the political system. But, again, it’s vital that the Conservatives keep up the pace. Johnson has been around now on the frontline of British politics for over a decade and the Conservatives have been in power for nearly a decade. Many of their most visible politicians have also been around a long time. As a Government and Party, they look comparatively new but not absolutely so. They should be rolling out new faces consistently in coming weeks. Their general rhetoric – and how they package both fights and positive announcements – should focus on how they’re changing the political system as we know it. Before I bored everyone to death about the importance of lower middle class and working class voters, I used to bore people about the need to harness anti-politics as a force for change. Now is the time to do this in earnest.

In very difficult circumstances over the last few weeks, Johnson’s Government has not put a foot wrong politically. His team know the path to political and electoral success is extremely narrow, though, and it will be hard to deliver. In the next few weeks they’ll need to raise their game even further.

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7 best ergonomic office chairs to take care of your back

You might not realise it but sitting for upwards of eight hours a day in your office chair could be slowly affecting your posture, which could in turn create back and neck problems further down the line. It may be of no major consequence now, but come retirement time you might wish you had invested in an ergonomic chair and followed expert advice on how best to sit in it.

The sole purpose of the ergonomic office chair is to coax the body into a position that doesn’t impact on spinal ligaments, discs and surrounding tissue.

Ergonomic chairs aren’t as attractive as standard office chairs, mostly because they’re constructed around a frame that has the appearance of an old-fashioned dentist chair, but they are unquestionably the best option for encouraging correct posture, which in turn improves breathing and helps reduce fatigue.

Choosing an office chair – things to consider

The first thing to look for in an office chair is height adjustment. Some chairs don’t go down low enough to accommodate someone below 5’6” while others may not go high enough. When seated, your upper legs should be close to parallel with the floor so the lower back isn’t put under any strain and the blood flow isn’t restricted in the base of the upper leg behind the knee.

Any ergonomic office chair worth its salt will come with an adjustable lumbar support, which can normally be tightened or loosened using a dial on the rear. Some chairs also let you move the lumbar support up and down a few inches for optimum comfort.

Lumbar supports do take a while to get used to. In fact, they can initially cause the lower back to ache a little while the lower spine is coaxed into optimum position. You just need to give them a few days to start working their magic.

Seat pitch is also an important factor when choosing a chair. Most chairs have a lever below the seat that provides a backrest pitch of between 15˚ and 45˚ from neutral. This allows the user to recline back in the chair when stretching or even catching a few winks. The tension of the chair’s reclination can also be adjusted for the individual’s body weight, though be mindful that some models have a spring that’s too stiff for comfortable and effortless use by featherweights. Once you’ve found a comfortable pitch, simply flick a lever to lock the backrest into position.

If possible, opt for an ergonomic chair with adjustable arms so you can rest your forearms while using a computer keyboard and mouse. The forearms should be roughly in line with the keyboard and mouse pad to prevent unnecessary strain on the wrists.

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Ergonomic chairs come in a variety of material combinations. Mesh is one of the most popular materials because it allows the skin to breathe and helps prevent perspiration on hot days, especially if there is no air-con available. Some chairs use a combination of mesh for the backrest and padded man-made textile for the seat. Of course, the most attractive and desirable material of all is leather, so opt for this type of upholstery if looks and tactile appeal are defining factors.

One major detail that distinguishes the ergonomic office chair from a bog-standard one is the firmness of the seat pad. All the models on test here come with firm seats to hold the pelvis properly in position. Compared to your old plush office chair, they often feel almost too hard at first but we can guarantee that you’ll soon come to love that firmness every time you sit down.

Although not essential, a headrest is another addition you may wish to consider. It won’t come into effect while you’re sitting upright using a keyboard but it’ll make a lot of difference when you lean back for a stretch or a sneaky post-lunch nap.

Office Furniture Online Ergo-Tek Mesh Manager Chair

£146, Office Furniture Online
Best for: Overall value


Key specs – Seat height: 40-50cm; Lumbar support: Yes; Adjustable arms: Yes; Headrest: Yes; Estimated recline: 45˚; Materials: Mesh, padding; Colour options: 4

This model is proof that you don’t need to fork out a fortune for a good ergonomic office chair. Like so many other models, the Ergo-Tek isn’t the most attractive but, for the price, it’s exceptionally well designed and uses decent quality metals, plastics and fabrics.

It also comes equipped with features you’d expect from a much more expensive model, including rear lumbar support that can be adjusted two inches up or down and tightened or loosened while sitting in the chair, a lockable spring-loaded lean-back function adjustable for all body weights, padded arms that can be lowered and raised or extended an inch outwards for those of a wider girth, and an adjustable headrest.

The telescopic seat range on this model (40cm to 50cm) makes it ideal for practically all body heights and our skinny, lightweight tester appreciated the gentle spring action of the adjustable reclining function – it took little effort to tilt the back rest to what seemed like a phenomenal 45˚ maximum pitch. In fact, if you’re not careful you easily could doze off in this model.

The firm but comfortable foam seat pad features a waterfall-style front end that pitches gently downwards to help increase circulation to the upper legs, while the long-life Elasti-Mesh backrest provides ventilation for hot days in the saddle.

Tested for weights up to 154kgs and supported by five strong polished metal legs attached to smooth running castors, this model is brilliant value given that it covers all the main characteristics required of this category of chair.

Steelcase Leap

From £1,002, Steelcase
Best for: Comfort and adjustability

steelcase leap

Key specs – Seat height: 43-58cm; Lumbar support: Yes; Adjustable arms: Yes; Headrest: Yes (optional); Estimated recline: 30˚; Materials: Padding; Colour options: 8

This attractive but pricey model from office ergonomics specialist Steelcase has it all and then some. In fact, few office chairs provide such a wide range of adjustment. For starters, the seat’s 43cm to 58cm vertical travel will accommodate a very broad range of heights and it can even be shifted forwards or backwards by several inches for both long- and short-legged users.

Moving over to the lumbar support, this one is hidden from view and adjustable for both tension and a vertical movement of at least five inches (13cm). The armrests, too, can be moved in an amazingly wide variety of ways, including inwards and outwards up to an angle of about 30 degrees.

However, one of its very best features is the way it reclines. Normally, a little muscle effort is required to hold a specific angle of pitch when reclining, but with this model you simply lean back (tension is easily adjustable via a knob under the seat) and a loose ratchet system gently holds the seat back in position, automatically releasing as you move forward again.

Moreover, as you tilt back, the seat pad cleverly articulates forward a few inches like some posh aircraft seats. Naturally, you can also lock the degree of inclination – in this case four positions up to around 30 degrees from neutral. The whole package is topped off with the springiest headrest in office land.

The Steelcase Leap came fitted with an ultra-comfy but firm foam padding covered in a pleasing polyester-type mesh material. It is, however, also available in eight colours of high-quality leather.

The Leap isn’t readily available online so you may need to visit your nearest Steelcase showroom where you can try it out and choose your favourite material and colour combination. This is the best high-end choice.

Humanscale Freedom Office Chair with Headrest

£1,240, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Quality and comfort

humanscale freedom office chair

Key specs – Seat height: 41-51cm; Lumbar support: Yes; Adjustable arms: Yes; Headrest: Yes; Estimated recline: 30˚; Materials: Leather padding; Colour options: 2

If cost isn’t an issue, consider this model from York-based Humanscale. Clad in high-quality vellum (prepared calf skin) replete with special concave channels for the coccyx area and the spine, this model takes office chair comfort to a whole new level. The seat and back pads are firm but they’re also plush enough for many hours of office tasking.

The feature-filled Freedom comes with adjustable lumbar support (operated by a small lever on the back), a telescopic gas piston that provides a very wide span of adjustment to accommodate a full range of heights, a widely adjustable articulated headrest and well-designed arms with about four inches of vertical travel (simply pull them up and forwards to release the latch). Seat pitch is about 30˚ from neutral and easily adjustable using the barrelled tension nub located beneath the seat.

Granted, this is a lot to spend on an office chair but it does offer superior value for money given the quality of the materials used and its many attractive design flourishes. It certainly looks the business and there’s no contesting the comfort and support it provides.

Herman Miller Aeron

£1,030, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Comfort and support

herman miller aeron chair

Key specs – Seat height: 36-58cm (3 chair sizes); Lumbar support: Yes; Adjustable arms: Yes; Headrest: No; Estimated recline: 20˚; Materials: Mesh; Colour options: 1

The Aeron is available in three different sizes with seat heights ranging from a low 36cm to a lofty 58cm. Despite the surfeit of mesh, this chair is stupendously comfortable and features a steeply tapered front end for upper leg comfort, the obligatory adjustable lumbar support and the smoothest and springiest reclining system of all. Indeed, you could spend all day on this thing just rocking back and forth.

Impeccable metal work is evident throughout, though the jury’s out on the hard mottled plastic seat frame and rubbery armrests; they somehow look out of place on a chair at this price. On a positive note, the bevelled armrests adjust for both horizontal and vertical positioning: you get about eight inches of vertical travel using a leaver on each arm and both arms can be swivelled inwards or outwards by about 20 degrees.

Despite the lack of a headrest, the Aeron is a commendably functional entry into the pantheon of office ergonomics (it is, after all, the model that can lay claim to having started the whole move towards ergonomic office chairs) but it’s just pipped by the Humanscale Freedom, which offers similar comfort and features without looking quite so outlandishly modern.

HÅG Capisco 8106

£697, Office Furniture Online
Best for: Variety of seating positions

hag capisco chair

Key specs – Seat height: 41-81cm (3 models); Lumbar support: Yes; Adjustable arms: No; Headrest: No; Estimated recline: 15˚; Materials: Fabric or leather; Colour options: 20

This one’s definitely an acquired taste since it looks and behaves completely differently to any other office chair. Modelled on the horse riding position, the HÅG Capisco is comprised of a narrow saddle-like seat with short, stubby arms that aren’t of much use if operating a computer mouse. However, it does feel extraordinarily comfortable when you lean back and rest the elbows on the substantially comfy arm pads.

The nature of the Capisco’s deep but firm hump-like seat encourages the user to sit with legs apart so there’s little chance you’ll be able to cross your legs (not that you should). However, this unique design does provide a few alternative seating positions, including sitting in reverse with the chair back against your chest or standing up in a seated position (there are three different seat height models available). The Capisco provides a range of adjustments including super-smooth spring-loaded tilting up to 15˚, adjustable seat depth and adjustable back height.

According to HÅG (part of the Norwegian Flokk empire), this chair is “designed to follow body movement and encourage positive healthy posture while promoting good blood circulation”. It’s certainly different to anything else on the market but whether or not it’s a bit too left field is open to debate.

John Lewis & Partners Murray Ergonomic Office Chair

£250, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Breathable mesh on a budget

john lewis murray chair

Key specs – Seat height: 45-54cm; Lumbar support: Yes; Adjustable arms: Yes; Headrest: No; Estimated recline: 20˚; Materials: Mesh; Colour options: 1

This own-brand John Lewis model has an attractive profile that doesn’t look as “out there” as some of its more expensive competitors. Like the Herman Miller, this is a full mesh chair with adjustable arms that raise and lower about four inches and swivel inwards or outwards in three steps; a useful feature to have for resting the elbows when using a computer keyboard and mouse. Wide-shouldered users can also extend the arms outwards by an inch or two for a little more breadth.

We found the slightly raised padding near the front lip of the seat pad added a little too much pressure to the underside of the leg, and the fixed lumbar support is made out of cheap-looking plastic, even if it does work quite well. The Murray’s seat height range isn’t as good as the Humanscale or Herman Miller either, but it does go low enough for someone in the 5’7” range and high enough for six footers. It also tilts back about 20 degrees from neutral.

The whole package is topped off with easy-running castors on a chromium five-legged plinth. Ultimately, the Murray isn’t quite as well equipped as the winning Ergo-Tek but it’s still a worthy contender.

Ikea Markus

£179, Ikea
Best for: Budget

ikea markus

Key specs – Seat height: 45-55cm; Lumbar support: Yes; Adjustable arms: No; Headrest: No; Estimated recline: 30˚; Materials: Padding and mesh; Colour options: 1

You may not find a cheaper ergonomic-style office chair than this Ikea offering. As you might expect, the Markus arrived flat packed but it only took about 30 minutes to build.

The seat is thinly padded and firm but strangely comfortable (rather like a Recaro sports car seat) and the mesh back is so tall there’s no need for a headrest. However, there are a few caveats with this chair, which means it’s not suitable for every height and weight.

Firstly, the seat height range is limited to between 45cm and 55cm, meaning it won’t be suitable for anyone less than, say, 5’7” inches in height. Similarly, the adjustable reclining spring is too stiff for featherweight users to pitch backwards without excessive muscular effort. Finally, the arms are 69cm tall and can’t be adjusted so they may not fit under the lip of some work desks, especially those with a slide-out keyboard shelf. The seat does have lumber support but, again, it’s non-adjustable.

There’s nothing intrinsically poor about this chair but you just need to be made aware of its shortcomings and, more importantly, whether it will suit your body dimensions and weight. Luckily, there are so many branches of Ikea in the UK that you shouldn’t need to travel too far to try one out for yourself.

Given its ultra-low price, good comfort levels and overall build quality, the Markus is still very much worthy of a position in this roundup. But if you can stretch the budget a little further, then the Ergo-Tek is a much more accomplished model that will suit a much wider range of body statistics.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in January 2019.

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How three career-changers made the brave decision to switch their professional paths

What would you do if you didn’t do what you do? Or, to put it more elegantly, if you were to change careers, how would you earn a crust and spend your days? In today’s i, there are three great stories of people switching professional paths.

Sir Bradley Wiggins is set to train as a social worker while Chloe Hamilton, formerly of this parish, is heading into the classroom next month to learn to teach. Meanwhile, Bucks Fizz alumna Jay Aston has been making her mind up to stand as an MP for the Brexit Party.

Run for your life, would be my response to the latter, although I take my hat off to Bradley and Chloe for their new ventures.

Typically, when three or more journalists get together, it’s only a matter of time before they start looking for the nearest bar or talking about what they’re going to do once they leave the news-gathering game.

Bradley Wiggins posing on the podium after the men's Team Pursuit finals track cycling event during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. (Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty)
Bradley Wiggins posing on the podium after the men’s Team Pursuit finals track cycling event during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 (Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty)

I have spent hours with colleagues discussing what my back-up career is. I’ve seen former comrades become novelists, flooring magnates, PR masterminds, copywriters, therapists and lecturers. One had a stint managing a swanky ice cream parlour, another has a sideline in bricklaying.

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I’m filled to the brim with admiration for their versatility and imagination, humbled by their gusto and guts in starting out in a new field. I’m also horribly jealous of their fresh starts – all I’ve ever really wanted to do is what I do now, and will have to be poked out of the door with a broom handle before I’d ever leave willingly. So please keep reading – I don’t have a plan B.

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Why I’m going back to school to learn to be a teacher after years of interviewing celebrities, election nights and a long commute

I’m standing at the front of a classroom, my heart beating madly. I feel ever so slightly light-headed. A couple of metres away, six Year Eight students are facing me, waiting for me to speak. I take a deep breath, and say, for the first time: “Hello, I’m Ms Hamilton.”

I’m in a micro-lesson, which forms part of my teacher-training interview. Every future trainee is asked to prepare a 15-minute session which they then deliver in front of a small group of students and an interviewer. For someone who hasn’t been in a classroom since the last bell rang on my secondary school education 10 years ago, it’s a daunting task – a bit like finding yourself on the start line of the Olympic 100m final. Wearing flippers.

It has seldom been more important that people are persuaded to retrain as teachers. With new trainees leaving the profession in their droves (the National Education Union warned earlier this year that one-fifth of newly qualified teachers plan to leave within the first two years), the Department for Education is doing everything it can to coax career-changers into the classroom. Large, tax-free bursaries, funded subject knowledge-refresher courses, and some canny adverts that claim teachers earn “more than you think” are all being used to persuade professionals to retrain.

Schemes such as Now Teach, set up by former journalist Lucy Kellaway, who had been at the Financial Times for 31 years when she decided to become a maths teacher, are designed to help those with years of work experience in other fields make the move into teaching. Kellaway herself is a big advocate of the patchwork career. “The finishing line is being stretched outwards, too, because we’re all living so much longer and because people’s pensions are rubbish,” she says, “so it makes it even more imperative that we have at least two if not three or four completely different careers in the course of our lives.”

Why I decided to embark on a second career

The decision to embark on my second career was one that crept up on me. I started work as a journalist straight out of university and the newsroom felt like the most glamorous place in the world. I loved the thrill of an approaching deadline and the adrenaline rush that comes with watching live news break. I once spent a day on the trail of a man who had spent five years dodging train fares worth £43,000. I slept in a portaledge, dangling from a cliff-face; was drawn naked for a feature; met and interviewed A-list celebrities; and covered election nights.

Chloe Hamilton with one of her A-list interviewees, Sir David Attenborough

But then I started to get the seven-year itch. It scary, admitting that you might not be entirely happy with a job many would scramble over hot coals for. But I found myself longing to immerse myself in real life, rather than peer at it from the outside with a notebook and pen in hand. A move out of London and a new long and expensive daily commute (no fare dodging for me), nudged me closer to my decision.

I looked into teaching while on my commute, almost daring myself to imagine another career. As a profession, it wasn’t completely unknown: my mum is a teacher and so was my grandmother. A good friend had left a job in marketing the previous year to retrain as a primary school teacher and she raved about it – although, crucially, without sugarcoating the very real challenges the job presents. Her reason for retraining was that she wanted to do something proactive.

‘Before I was a teacher I made zero difference to anyone’s life’

“I was struggling to reconcile receiving my wage at the end of the month knowing I’ve made zero difference to anyone’s life while working myself into the ground,” she told me. “I was fine with working in a stressful environment but I wasn’t fine with knowing things wouldn’t be any different if I didn’t turn up to work.”

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I also wanted to feel useful. Kellaway agrees, saying: “Even after a day when lessons haven’t gone very well, I’ve been scrambling to keep up all day, and I walk home feeling really tired, I still think I’ve done an honest day’s work. Which I don’t think you ever feel as a journalist, particularly.”

So earlier this year, I applied to do School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT). This is designed to give new teachers the chance to learn on the job. At the end of the academic year I will, all being well, gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) as well as a PGCE.

What if people at dinner parties aren’t interested in my job?

Some things worry me about my new career. What if I can’t control a classroom or keep on top of the marking? What if I’m asked a question I don’t know the answer to? I worry disproportionately about being called “Miss” by students when I’ve always been a “Ms”. I don’t know what shoes to wear or how to handle staff-room politics. And for almost a decade, being a journalist has defined me. What if, in giving that up, I lose a part of myself? What if people at dinner parties aren’t as interested in my job? Vain, I know, but I’ve always relished telling strangers what I do for a living.

According to Lara Agnew, who left a career as a documentary film-maker two years ago to train as an English teacher with Now Teach, I needn’t worry. Agnew explains that people are actually much more interested in what she does now that she is a teacher. “It’s a bit like saying ‘I jumped out of an aeroplane aged 50’,” she says. “I think it’s the glamour of the unknown and probably the daring element [of retraining to teach] that people are quite curious about.”

The most common response to my career change has been people telling me, in hushed tones, how brave I am. Brave not only to step into the classroom in front of 30 unruly teenagers but to step out of the newsroom. I don’t feel brave at all, although maybe ask me again in a couple of weeks when I suspect I will be summoning up every ounce of courage before setting foot in my new school.

More people are building up a compilation of careers

The biggest thing I’ve realised during this process is that careers are not fixed. When I first started working, I thought a person had to choose a job and stick to it, for ever. In reality, more and more people are building up a compilation of careers, using their experiences in one field to propel them into another. In this way, I hope I can bring my journalism into my teaching – even if only by instilling in my students an interest in news and narratives. I hope to still write, but there’s a real thrill in adding another string to my bow.

More than anything, though, I can’t wait to learn again. Next month I will become both a student and a teacher, roles that I suspect I will play throughout my teaching career. Because I’m not sure you ever stop learning in the classroom, no matter which way you’re facing.

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Sir Bradley Wiggins reveals he is studying for a degree in social work

Sir Bradley Wiggins has revealed he is studying to become a social worker in an effort to redefine himself after retiring from cycling.

The Olympic gold medal winner – who became the first Briton to win the Tour de France in 2012 – said he wants to find ways to help people and not be defined solely by his sporting career. Wiggins, 39, announced his retirement in 2016 and has since found success as a pundit for Eurosport after briefly attempting to become an elite rower.

However, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year winner has said he now wants “to help people” and has enrolled in a social work degree course through the Open University.

“When I was offered a TV role I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it,” he told The Big Issue magazine. “It took me a while to find myself, redefine myself, and come back to cycling without an ego. So now I can do the TV job, but I’ve also enrolled to do an open university degree in social work. I want to help people.

Wiggins at Lee Valley VeloPark, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, in October 2018. (Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters)
Wiggins at Lee Valley VeloPark, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, in October 2018 (Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters)

“Those horrific things I saw when I was growing up… nothing can shock me now and I want to use that mental toughness working as a social worker.

“And when people say, ‘Oh, you’re that cyclist’, I’ll say, ‘No, that was a few years ago. I’m a social worker now’.”

The interview in The Big Issue will appear a few days after it was announced that Team Wiggins Le Col, the professional development team Wiggins formed in 2015, will close at the end of the season.

The organisation has helped a number of young British riders reach the WorldTour.

‘I’m happy in my own skin’

“I don’t give a s**t about my cycling career now,” Wiggins added. “I’m just detached from it, I don’t want to live off the back of it.

“I live off of being me, and I’m happy in my own skin.”

Wiggins’ Tour success if credited with helping transform the popularity of British cycling and his pose on a throne in front of Hampton Court Palace after his Olympic gold became a defining image.

The sportsman also became known for his late night celebrations during the London Games but said he had put those days behind him.

“It’s nice to be remembered but I can’t keep waltzing in with a rock’n’roll haircut and a suede suit on, drunk,” he said. “I’ve moved on from that person. Everything ends, everything has to end.”

Additional reporting from Press Association. 

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‘Smallest babies that survive are around 600g’: Meet neonatal sister who cares for premature babies with life-saving treatment

“I never stop being surprised by how small premature babies can be,“ says Jane Lafferty, a neonatal sister at Kettering General Hospital. “The smallest babies that I see that survive are around 600g. Due to advances in technology, machinery and medication we have today there is a far greater chance of a premature baby surviving – but it’s still one of the most remarkable things about my job.”

She was recently caring for a baby that weighed 870g. “She came in an ambulance because she had been born down the toilet – the mother hadn’t realised she was pregnant and what she thought was stomach pains and bleeding turned out to be early labour.

“The baby was really cold and had a very poor prognosis. She was in intensive care for a few weeks, where she stopped breathing several times and had several invasive lines with various infusions running. We had to gradually introduce enteral feeds slowly. Luckily, she started to get better and go from strength to strength, getting bigger and stronger every day.

“The baby was with us for approximately 10 weeks. As well as caring for her, we also had to offer social and emotional support to the mother and work out how we could help her going forward. She wasn’t expecting a baby so had had no antenatal or midwifery care.”

Jane Lafferty is a neonatal sister at Kettering General Hospital
Jane Lafferty is a neonatal sister at Kettering General Hospital (Photo: supplied)

Lafferty started working at the hospital in August 2016, when she was 31. She now manages an 18-bed neonatal unit, which includes four intensive care beds and six high dependency beds and a team of 45 nurses. She works from 7am until 8pm three or four days a week.

When she arrives, she allocates patients to the other nurses and meets the patients she will be looking after, checks equipment and drugs.

“I attend a maternity safety huddle with the doctors and midwives at 8.30am and again at 5.30pm to discuss any potential deliveries that may occur that day, requiring admission on to the neonatal unit. At 9am I attend the doctor’s handover with the night and day team doctors to go through all the patients on the unit and then at 9.30am accompany the doctors on the ward round. The afternoons tend to be a bit calmer. I oversee the ward, deal with my patients and check staff rotas and cover if staff are off sick.”

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Lafferty wanted to become a children’s nurse from a young age. “I loved looking after other children at school and I decided at primary school I wanted to become a children’s nurse. I never really deviated from this, although I did consider midwifery at one stage. All my exam subjects were chosen with a nursing career in mind and I decided to do a nursing degree in paediatric nursing.” She graduated from Northampton University with a BSc in paediatric nursing in 2006 and joined Kettering General Hospital in 2007 as a staff paediatric nurse.

“Looking after a premature baby that has been born at 26 or 27 weeks, and watching them get better and stronger until they eventually leave hospital is one of the best things about my job.

“Supporting the whole family through this journey is immensely rewarding. We often see them again when they come to visit as the team builds up a close relationship with the baby and their families, which is really special.”

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From four-day weeks to doing the job from home – is flexible working the way forward?

The traditional office nine-to-five day is on its way out. Advances in technology mean that, for many of us, a computer and reliable broadband are all we need to work flexibly or remotely.

Even London’s City firms are looking at the idea. Lobby groups have begun discussions with the financial services sector, including banks and investors, about the possibility of reducing stock market trading hours in a move aimed at helping working parents.

The benefits of flexible working can include everything from boosting morale to helping the environment. Whether it’s a four-day week or working from home, many employees have already made the switch.

Work-life balance

A firm in Bristol said this week that it would be changing to a four-day week in order to give its employees a better work-life balance.

According to the Bristol Post, employees at marketing and branding agency Cre8ion will continue to be paid for five working days.

Darrell Irwin, the agency’s founder and CEO, told the newspaper: “Today’s workforce doesn’t want work to dominate at the expense of what is being worked for.”

But not everyone is in favour of the concept. Councillors in Shropshire last month rejected a “bonkers” motion calling for the authority to consider such a move .

Could the traditional nine-to-five shift at the office be on its way out? (Photo: Lauren Hurley/PA)
Could the traditional nine-to-five shift at the office be on its way out? (Photo: Lauren Hurley/PA)

Research from the University of Reading’s Henley Business School suggested that switching to a four-day operation could save UK businesses an estimated £104bn every year.

The study found that a shorter working week on full pay increased staff productivity and physical and mental health, resulting in fewer sick days.

Two-thirds of almost 250 firms which have already implemented the change have reported an increase in staff productivity, according to the findings.

André Spicer, professor of organisational behaviour at the Cass Business School in London, said policymakers were now considering the idea as a possible solution to a range of workplace challenges including mental health and poor productivity.

Shifting technology

“Four-day weeks will probably do a reasonable amount of good with much less harm than we might expect,” he told i.

And as well as a shorter working week, some employees are choosing to work fewer hours or to work remotely.

Last month Helen Whately, the Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, introduced a Flexible Working Bill in Parliament.

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She argued that flexible working should be the default position for all employees, rather than something they have to ask for.

For Phil Flaxton, chief executive of Work Wise UK, a not-for-profit group which advocates “smarter” working practices, the introduction of four-day weeks by some firms shows that things are changing.

“Technology is shifting the need for traditional nine-to-five work patterns – replaced by a more flexible approach. This will continue as more of us embrace new, smarter ways of working.”

Working from home: ‘I will never go back to a proper job’

Harriet Shortt, 39, splits her working week between the office and home.

Ms Shortt, an associate professor in organisation studies at the University of West England in Bristol, works two to three days a week at the university and the rest of the time from her home in Bath, Somerset.

Harriet Shortt splits her time working between her home and the office. (Photo: Harriet Shortt)
Harriet Shortt splits her time working between her home and the office. (Photo: Harriet Shortt)

She balances her hours with the childcare responsibilities that come with having a four-year-old daughter.

Ms Shortt – whose husband works from home on a full-time basis – said the flexibility afforded by home working had been hugely beneficial.

It can take anything from 45 minutes to two hours for her to drive to the campus, depending on the traffic. “I started working at home when I started my PhD,” she explained.

“I had four years of being a PhD student at the University of Bath and that was my induction to working from home.

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“Then I got a job as a lecturer at UWE and I was in maybe four days a week. The university is amazing for people who want to work flexibly.”

Her job involves tasks such as reading, writing, reviewing and marking, which she said can all be easily done beyond the office.

Ms Shortt added that home working had also been good for her husband as he would have seen a lot less of their daughter if he worked at an office.

“If he was still commuting like he used to, he would barely see her,” she said. “The fact he’s had these really early years with her is priceless for developing that relationship.”

The couple both work from a studio in their garden but they are considering reevaluating how they will divide their working days as their daughter grows.

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“The boundaries need to be made clearer so that when I’m home we are at home with her; I’m mummy and I’m not working,” said Ms Shortt.

“It’s really difficult having one eye on your emails and one eye on your child in the garden. I find that really stressful.”

Nevertheless she would never give up her flexible working routine, she said.

“I had a spell outside academia working in a ‘proper’ job where you have to be in on time and stay all day and not in a million years would I ever go back to that,” she said. “The flexibility is priceless.”

Living far away: ‘Instant messaging is vital for talking to the office’

Julie Dudley, 61, works from home in Surrey for a charity based in Yorkshire.

Julie Dudley has worked from home for almost 20 years after the organisation relocated and visits the office once every two or three months.

Julie Dudley only visits her office every couple of months. (Photo: Julie Dudley)
Julie Dudley only visits her office every couple of months. (Photo: Julie Dudley)

Ms Dudley works from around 8.30am until 5pm from an office set up in one of her family home’s bedrooms. Thanks to the internet, she said it is easy to stay in contact with the rest of her colleagues.

“Instant messaging is vital,” she said. “I have it with certain members of staff but not others because they are in different teams. If you have a question it’s easier to message than to pick up the phone and go through all the channels.”

She said the switch from office to home working also helped with bringing up her two sons, who were young children at the time.

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“It was extremely convenient,” she went on. “We were hot-desking anyway so I said to my husband can we buy a computer so I can work from home. In those days the internet was cranky but it did exist.”

She added that keeping lines of communication open with the office could have been the biggest challenge but that advances in technology had largely helped to avoid this.

“I know some people say they couldn’t work from home, that they wouldn’t be able to concentrate – but I’d rather be working than doing anything around the house, which makes it much easier,” she said.

Four-day week: ‘It’s a much better quality of life’

Neil Knowles, 50, introduced a three-day weekend for his staff several months ago

Mr Knowles is the founder and director of Elektra Lighting, a London-based design consultancy.

Neil Knowles's lighting company has switched to a four-day operation. (Photo: Neil Knowles)
Neil Knowles’s lighting company has switched to a four-day operation. (Photo: Neil Knowles)

The firm has been trialling a four-day week for several months. To make up for the lost time, staff work an extra hour from Monday to Thursday.

“We are only effectively losing Friday afternoon,” he said. “The difference between a three-day weekend and a two-day weekend is enormous.

“Friday for me is a day I have off and I don’t have to look after the kids so I can do stuff I want to do.”

The idea came about after the company first moved its hours back to make the most of the light when the clocks went back, which “everyone loved”.

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Mr Knowles said he did not know of any other companies doing the same, but that he had read up on it before taking the plunge.

Having Friday off more than made up for the extra hour on the other days, he added.

“It’s a much better quality of life – it is the way forward. There are some companies that have Friday afternoons off… we just went the whole way.

“From a business point of view, it doesn’t seem to have affected our turnover. We still invoice the same amount.”

Side hustle: ‘It sounds a lot but it never  feels like work’

Neha Belgrave, 41, has found the right balance between a day job, her coaching and a side venture.

Ms Belgrave balances her day job as a senior executive in the charity sector with development coaching and a side venture called the Insight Collective.

Neha Belgrave runs The Insight Collective on the side of her day job in the charity sector. (Photo: Neha Belgrave)
Neha Belgrave runs The Insight Collective on the side of her day job in the charity sector. (Photo: Neha Belgrave)

She co-founded the initiative with her friend, Christina Clark, to offer professionals – largely London-based – the chance to be part of a community.

The project offers a range of services including workshops, panel discussions, networking events and masterclasses. “We bring professionals together,” she said.

Ms Belgrave said she worked between 35 and 40 hours a week in her day job, five to 10 hours a week coaching and around five hours a week on the collective.

“It sounds a lot, but Insight Collective never feels like work,” she said. “It’s fun. If something gets too difficult, we let it go. It’s not like my nine-to-five job where I have targets and things to deliver.

It’s a lot more fluid – we work at our own pace.”

But she added that it was crucial to strike a balance between work commitments and personal or social pursuits.

“I meditate daily, I see friends a few times a week and I have lots of holidays booked in the year,” she said. “If I didn’t have those things I wouldn’t be able to do the work that I do.”

She said that questions about setting up a “side hustle” were frequent among her coaching clients.

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UK bosses earn 117 times the average full-time worker despite drop in salaries at the top

The average pay of a CEO in Britain has declined in the past year, but bosses are still earning 117 times that of the average UK worker, new research has shown.

The latest CIPD and High Pay Centre analysis shows that chief executives at FTSE 100 companies were paid 13 per cent less in 2018, earning £3.46m on a median basis, compared to £3.97m the previous year. In mean terms, the average pay package was £4.7 million, down 16 per cent on last year.

But despite the drop in earnings, CEOs still earned more than 100 times that of an average full-time worker, who makes £29,574 a year.

‘Unacceptably wide’ gap

Peter Cheese, CIPD chief executive said: ‘The gulf between the pay at the top and the bottom ends of companies… is still unacceptably wide’ Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Researchers who compiled the report made several recommendations to close the gap, including disclosing pay for the top one per cent of earners, simplifying chief executive’s rewards packages, and considering wider workforce reward practices.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said: “The gulf between the pay at the top and the bottom ends of companies is slightly smaller this year but it’s still unacceptably wide and undermines public trust in business.

“We must question if CEOs are overly focused on financial measures and are being incentivised to keep share prices high rather than focusing on the long-term health of their business.”

Luke Hildyard, director of the High Pay Centre, said: “There is still more to be done to align pay practices with the interests of wider society and give the public confidence that our biggest businesses are working for the good of the economy as a whole rather than the enrichment of a few people at the top.”

Bosses more likely to be named David than be a woman

The average full-time worker earns £29,574 per year (Photo: Pexels)
Bosses are still more likely to be called Stephen or David than be a woman (Photo: Pexels)

The research noted that while the decline may show greater restraint on high pay, it could also be linked to a lull in the cycle of payouts from long-term incentive plans (LTIPs).

Executives can make money from LTIPs, a form of performance shares or matching shares of the company.

But shareholders appear to have challenged excessive pay to chief executives, seeing it fall from 13 per cent to seven per cent in 2018, Sky News reported.

The reductions could also be a consequence of the regulatory changes under the new UK Corporate Governance Code, which sets out standards of good practice for listed companies on board composition and development, remuneration, shareholder relations, accountability and audit.

Of the 100 bosses at the top of the FTSE, 43 saw their pay increase last year, with LTIPs accounting for the largest component of executive remuneration.

Meanwhile, gender diversity efforts appear to have yielded little in terms of results, with bosses still more likely to be called Stephen or David than be a woman.

Female chief executives are also taking home less of the £465.4 million total payout to FTSE 100 bosses than their some of their male counterparts.

Women made up six per cent of blue-chip CEOs but earned just 4.2 per cent of the total pay.

Additional reporting by Press Association 

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State pension age: Amber Rudd says Government will not consider proposal to raise retirement threshold to 75

Amber Rudd has said the Government is not considering proposals to increase the state pension age to 75.

It comes after a think tank published a controversial recommendation to accelerate the state pension age to 70 by 2028 and 75 by 2035 for both men and women.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), which was founded by former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, said the idea could be a solution to the economic challenges Britain faces because of its ageing population.

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Condemned proposal

However, it has been widely condemned with Tory former pensions secretary Baroness Ros Altmann calling it “immoral”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called it a policy “that discriminates against working class people – especially those in manual jobs”.

Following the outcry, Ms Rudd, Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “I’ve been clear that this Government is not and will not consider or implement proposals to raise the state pension age.”

Speaking at a women’s centre in Plymouth, Ms Rudd reiterated the CSJ’s idea was not Government policy.

“The Government policy is set at young people entering the workforce to retire at 68, and there’s no prospect of raising that age to 75. I would rule it out, yes,” she said, according to the Plymouth Herald.

The threshold for receiving the state pension is currently in the process of moving to 66 for both men and women. It is set to increase to 67 by 2028 and to 68 between 2044 and 2046.

“We all live longer and so it’s right, given that taxpayers have to pay for pensions, that we ask people to work a little longer in order to enjoy the rest of their long life, we hope, with a secure income,” said Ms Rudd.

A piggy bank on a pile of coins
A think tank has recommended moving the state pension age to 75 by 2035 (Photo: PA)

Idea defended

The CSJ, a centre-right, independent think tank, first proposed the new benefits system Universal Credit, which is currently being rolled out across the country.

It its Ageing Confidently – Supporting an Ageing Workforce report, it argued that raising the state pension age could boost the UK’s economy.

It defended its proposals against criticism. “The notion that we are asking for people to work until they drop is unfounded.

“When the state pension age of 65 was introduced in the forties, life expectancy was 66. Men and women can now expect to live into their 80s, we only ask that the state pension age reflects that longer life expectancy. There is nothing just and moral about being unable to fund a social security system,” said Patrick Spencer, head of work and welfare at the CSJ, told i.

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How army’s survival strategies could be just as useful in the office as they are in war zones

I’m writing this in a part of the world where I’m nearer to the North Pole than to a tree. The sun will come back above our white horizon in this part of the Arctic next week. Recently the temperatures here were lower than those on Mars.

It feels like another world too. The snow even sounds different when you move on it; it’s frozen hard and squeaks just like polystyrene as you take a step. The freezing air feels different in my nostrils as I breathe it in, the little hairs freeze rigid as the air passes them, making my nose feel sticky inside.

The reason I’m here is that it’s part of my job, as the Chief Survival Instructor to the UK military.

Every serviceman and woman in the armed forces is taught how to survive by specialists who were trained by me. And to give them the best chance, I travel the world seeking out the newest ideas and technologies, learning how they might be applied in extreme environments.

Stories of survival

I’ve trekked through the world’s driest deserts and its remotest jungles. I’ve been dumped into freezing water, trudged across barren tundra and been hunted through forests.

Over the past 20 years I’ve also been collecting survival stories and attempting to essentialise what survival is and how we do it. A great truism is that a wise person learns from their mistakes; a wiser one learns from the mistakes of others.

Although our culture is full of disaster and survival stories, from Homer’s Odyssey, to Robinson Crusoe, to Titanic (one piece of advice I’d definitely have given Jack was that there was easily enough room for them both on the bit of wood), we rarely properly analyse why some people survive and some don’t.

A member of 40 Commando on patrol in Belize
A member of 40 Commando on patrol in Belize (Photo: MoD/Crown ©2017)

The small things that make a big difference

Little things can make a big difference. Here, for example, I’ve left my snow machine running outside, its headlights forming a pool of yellow in the cool blue twilight of midday. Engines are hard to start when it’s really cold so it’s better and safer not to turn them off once they’re going.

When reaching for a door’s metal handle, I leave my gloves on even though it’s warm on the other side, centimetres away. Touching metal at these temperatures with bare skin can cause frostbite – flash-freezing your flesh.

The door is unlocked like all the others round here; you don’t want to have to fumble through many layers of warm clothing for keys if you’re being followed by a hungry polar bear. In conditions like these, being absent-minded can get you killed quickly; prioritisation isn’t an optional extra.

The survival triangle

This is a distillation of every successful survival story I’ve studied – my personal unpicking of how people cope in the direst circumstances.

Essentially it states: “If I can do anything to change my situation, I will begin to feel in control of it; if I feel in control of my situation then I can sustain hope; with hope I can form a plan; with a plan my efforts are directed most efficiently to my goals.”

Combined with a few practical skills, this planning template can jumpstart the whole survival process.

Through my research into historical cases, I’ve found that if one of the three corners of the triangle is missing, then survival is unlikely. If two are missing, it’s almost impossible.

As a caveat, the only thing I know of that can replace one of the Survival Triangle’s corners is luck. Luck, however, is a factor that is beyond our control; expecting it is a risky strategy.

Using survival skills in everyday life

I’ve spent years communicating that lesson to people of all sorts of abilities from all sorts of different backgrounds, because simple, memorable and multi-purpose survival principles can be very useful in everyday life.

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We are all forced to make choices constantly, to try and deal with setbacks, to react to shocking news, to prioritise tasks and face things that seem insurmountable. We will probably all face moments when our spirit is tested, including at work.

Getting through these involves working out what’s important and what isn’t, and what you can do to give yourself the best chance of success.

The key principles of survival

Learning survival skills doesn’t mean memorising checklists – I hate them. But we should absorb some key principles in how to tackle problems, appreciating how the human body and most importantly the mind functions, and using that understanding to increase your performance under pressure.

In all likelihood, you won’t ever need to use them in a life-threatening situation – thank goodness – but their ethos can be applied to any situation where we have to make decisions under pressure.

Survival story: the woman who survived a plane crash

Juliane Koepcke, who survived a plane crash aged 17 in 1971 (Photo: AFP/Getty)

On Christmas Eve 1971, a small propeller-driven plane – Lansa Flight 508, with 92 people on board – was flying through a violent thunderstorm above the Peruvian Amazon. One of the engines was struck by lightning and the aircraft was ripped apart in mid-air.

Eleven days later, a 17-year-old girl crawled out of the jungle. She was the only survivor. Her name was Juliane Koepcke.

That Juliane survived falling for two miles without a parachute could be described as miraculous. She was seatbelted into a row of three seats which spun around like a sycamore seed as it fell, finally slowed in the last few metres by the branches of the tall trees themselves.

When she came to on the forest floor, she had cuts, bumps, bruises, a broken collarbone and eyes swollen half-closed from the force of the impact.

She had been belted in a seat next to her mother, but there was no sign of her now. After she had managed to stand and after searching for her mother for an entire day with no success, she had to decide what to do.

She kept going, dragging herself along a metre at a time

The normal advice in any survival situation is to stay at the site of the incident if you can. But Juiliane knew that the jungle canopy was too thick for rescuers to see her where she was lying, and that she had no means to signal to them.

She heard the sound of a stream, and remembered her father’s tip that following water would lead you to people. So that’s what she did.

Hardly able to see anything without her glasses and with only one shoe, she limped and crawled along the stream, which eventually became a river, for over 200 hours.

She had to put her one-shoed foot tentatively forwards each time to avoid the jungle’s many thorns and fangs. The only food she had was a single bag of sweets she’d found after the crash.

The temptation to give in must have been enormous, but she kept going, dragging herself along, one metre at a time.

What helped her survive

After a week or so one of her wounds became infested with maggots, but she kept going and was eventually able to get them out by dousing them in petrol she found in a hut used by loggers. Ultimately, it was those workers who found her, semiconscious in their hut, and were able to take her on the 10-hour boat trip to the nearest village.

Juliane wasn’t a superwoman. What she was able to do, after the initial luck that gave her the opportunity, was to prioritise, utilise specific knowledge and fundamental principles and apply them to her situation in a flexible way.

She didn’t freeze, she remembered one piece of crucial advice, prioritised correctly, was adaptable, and then didn’t let anything stop her, task by task, inch by inch, in spite of every mental and physical hurdle put in front of her.

Six tips on how to thrive in hard times

1 — You can be a hero

One of the most popular misconceptions about extreme events is that some people just naturally or instinctively know what to do, or how to survive, in any situation – while others don’t and never will.

Time after time, we see the hero act while everyone else panics or freezes. The myth gets repeated, instilling in the rest of us a “why bother even trying” mindset when confronted with seemingly impossible tasks.

But I can tell you, categorically, there is no survival gene that some people have while others don’t.

Of course, some people bring different skills or experiences that give them a head start in a new challenge. But while we may not all get gold medals in the race, we could all cross the finish line.

2 — Motivation is important

Whenever I’ve given survival training to people who work in offices, I’ve noticed the satisfaction they get from a small task, well done, with a clear purpose and which clearly contributes to the good of the whole group.

That’s because for most of them, their jobs involve a kind of endless mediated chain of emails in which a personal sense of ownership and completion of tasks has become blurry and indistinct, and shared goals less recognisable.

In my world, if you make the fire right, it lights, if you construct a shelter correctly, you stay dry. As a species, we are innately drawn to fundamentals like these – we’ve been dealing with them for most of our existence as a species – so we should try to bring goal-directed rewards back into everyday life.

3 — Hard work is worth it

Survival stories remind us that if something is difficult then we have two choices: try harder or stop trying. Staying alive often comes down to your ability to keep putting in effort even when you’re feeling discomfort.

When it’s getting dark and you’re soaking wet and you have to get over the next ridge before you can make a shelter, you quickly realise the universe doesn’t owe you anything. The survival mindset has no room for entitlement.

The lessons from survival training involve working hard and accepting temporary hardship. But they lead to an increased ability to deal with whatever life can throw at you.

4 — Plan ahead

To tackle any problem effectively I need a plan with a series of smaller goals as waypoints en route. Once I know that my next small goal is achievable, I can start to work at reaching it.

Most of us would react with horror to the news that we have been chosen to write an important 90-page report, due in a month. We’d probably stick it on the bottom of our to-do list and ignore it guiltily until we had two weeks left, then one.

But if we plan properly and prioritise this report, break it down into writing three pages a day, we’re much more likely to start. Then it’s about making sure you do write three pages a day with focused effort.

As you get each three-page chunk in the bag, you’ll get the satisfaction of progress each day, of controlling your situation. Flooded with realistic optimism, you’ll drive onwards with a far greater chance of executing your plan.

5 — Your most important kit

I’m often asked what the best piece of survival kit is. It’s not a fancy knife, or a geo-location device. The most important tool is a well-stocked brain.

Unfortunately it doesn’t come with a user manual and subsequently many of us aren’t using ours in the best way.

Many people spend their lives frantically checking their emails, cycling from one app on their smartphone to the next. We now get the same sense of having solved a problem by making that little unread messages number on our phone disappear as from solving a real problem – and it’s exhausting us.

At the same time, we never have to remember a phone number, or use a map – and our attention spans are shot to pieces. It’s like we’re only training one muscle in the gym and leaving everything else to wither away.

We’re carrying all this extra equipment that we think is essential – it isn’t – and we’re constantly weighed down by it. We’ve stopped solving actual problems for ourselves, so when a problem occurs, we don’t know how to go back to first principles.

What survival teaches us is to essentialise, to carry only what we need. When we travel lighter, we travel faster and cover greater distances.

6 — Expect the unexpected

The foundation underlying all the survival training that I deliver is an understanding of how we initially respond to any bad situation.

The vast majority of us will tend to be stunned by a life-changing event that we have absolutely no frame of reference for – but that immediate reaction is normal.

Knowing that it’s OK to be shaken, but remembering that if we take a moment to adjust we can still react positively by following some basic principles, is key to overcoming adversity.

How to Survive: Lessons for Everyday Life from the Extreme World‘ by John Hudson (Pan Macmillan, £14.99) is out now

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Leicester City groundsman admits you have to ‘nurture the pitch like it’s your baby’ as he completes 35,000 steps a day

John Ledwidge always wanted to work on a football pitch. But rather than dreaming about becoming a star striker, he a wrote a letter to his local club, Coventry City, to ask about gaining work experience as a groundsman when he was just 13.

The 28-year-old is now head of sports turf and grounds at Leicester City Football Club (LCFC) and says there is a lot more to being a groundsman than he first thought. “It’s often stereotyped as men in flat caps and ride-on mowers, which is completely off the mark,” he says.

“In reality, we’re scientists, horticulturalists and project managers all rolled into one. You nurture the pitch like it’s your baby. It becomes an obsession to have everything from the markers to the pH balance of the soil pitch perfect.”

Mr Ledwidge left school at 16, against the advice of a careers advisor, and started working full time at Coventry City, having volunteered at the grounds for the previous three years. He later moved to LCFC and decided he wanted to be a groundsman at a Premier League club by the time he was 30. That happened for him when LCFC were promoted from the Championship when he was 24.

John Ledwidge is is now head of sports turf and grounds at Leicester City Football Club
John Ledwidge is is now head of sports turf and grounds at Leicester City Football Club

‘It becomes an obsession’

“The standout moment of my career, and that of the entire club, was winning the Premier League in 2016. We stood together at the sidelines and watched the team lift the trophy from what we felt was the best seat in the house. Of course, this meant that Leicester City were in the Champions League the following year too.

“We had to act as the players in pre-match rehearsals and lined up in the tunnel and walked out to the iconic music. It was a dream for anyone who loves the game.”

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Before a 3pm kick-off, Mr Ledwidge arrives at the grounds at 6.30am for pitch preparation. He works with a team of 14 others, and hopes to take on more people next season through the club’s apprenticeship scheme.

The first task of that day is to brush the pitch to remove the dew that settled on it overnight. Grounds staff monitor moisture levels every day. Afterwards, the grass is cut to 22mm with a pedestrian mower for a high-quality, even surface.

Keeping fit

Brendan Rodgers has a chance to prove he belongs in the Premier League’s top six (Photo: Getty)

“Accuracy is more important than ever with this year’s introduction of video assistant referees (VAR) and marking perfect white lines is integral for the calibration,” he says. “This is a big part of goal line technology too. High standards are key with almost 10 million people watching worldwide.”

Every groundsperson stays fit by walking about 35,000 steps a day ahead of a match and 25,000 on a regular day.

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“Once the referee test is complete, we’ll give the pitch a final water to give the ball the speed and slickness required for a Premier League game. Finally, before kick-off, I relay test results and conditions to coaching team and sports scientists, so the players know what to expect.”

He is not just based in Leicester. A surprising amount of time is spent travelling the world, he says. “Grounds staff and volunteers have a great network with international clubs, so we’ll visit one another to share knowledge and help boost the quality of professional and grassroots grounds. This month, we’re going to Thailand to help educate local communities in turf care and management at a grassroots level.”

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