Unusual hobbies: How do human resources professionals occupy their spare time?

Just what do HR professionals do when they’re not working? Personnel Today asked readers how they occupy their evenings, weekends and spare time. We got some very interesting (and curious) replies. Here’s just a selection…

Tiplady the Tuba player

The Metropolitan Police’s human resources director Martin Tiplady regularly features in Personnel Today’s Top 40 Power Players list. He says he first got involved in his hobby – playing the tuba in a Salvation Army band – when he was eight years old.

“I started to learn the tenor horn and French horn when I was a boy, but I was pretty ordinary,” he says. “Then someone suggested I try the tuba.”

Tiplady is a member of two bands – one is his branch band, the other a composite band generally regarded as the finest in the Salvation Army. The band tours, records and has a fairly full engagement list. “It is a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate my faith while doing something I love – playing music,” he says.

Playing in a band can be fairly time consuming, Tiplady (top left) says, with two rehearsals a week in London plus regular engagements. However, he thinks he gains a lot from it.

“The benefit is immense musical satisfaction – surprising when you think I am blowing my brains out on a tuba,” he says. “But it is something so different from anything else I do.”

Tiplady admits his tuba playing is not good enough to win any personal awards, but says the busy bookings for both bands are proof they are well regarded. “I can say that I have played my tuba in most of the world’s leading concert halls, including the Royal Albert Hall, Royal Festival Hall and the Barbican in London.”

Despite his success outside work, Tiplady attempts to keep his extra-curricular activities hidden from his colleagues. “I never talk about it – the team would probably take the mickey. A combination of my surname and playing the tuba generates a fair amount of nicknaming as it is. Often people think I play my tuba on every street corner in London – especially at Christmas, because that is what they see the Salvation Army band doing.”

Tuba theft

Tiplady’s role at the Met Police did come back to haunt him once when someone lifted his tuba from the band’s van and he had to report it to the police as stolen.

“That was a very embarrassing crime report,” he says. “I never recovered the tuba.It’s probably sitting in someone’s lounge with plants growing out of it.”

Tiplady says he has met some of his closest friends through playing in the band, and also a couple of famous faces. Former prime minister Ted Heath once conducted the band, as well as Last of the Summer Wine actress Thora Hird.

However, despite his love of the tuba, Tiplady’s first commitment is still to his day job. “Playing in a band doesn’t pay well enough to give up work – and I don’t play well enough,” he says.

Davani’s terrier instincts

The origins of Genesis Housing Group corporate director Cara Davani’s (left) passion for showing dogs started at a very young age, and she has photos of her as a baby with her family’s Kerry Blue terrier.

“My aunt lived next door to us and showed Airedale and Kerry Blue terriers, and I used to look after her dogs when she went to shows,” she says.

“From the age of about eight I was involved in junior handling competitions, with some level of success. When I was a teenager, I convinced everyone that I should have my own show dog – I now have 13,” she says.

According to Davani, showing dogs involves a huge amount of preparation and training. “You need the correct facilities for the dogs and lots of space. Fortunately, I live in Suffolk and have six acres of land for the dogs.”

Davani has full-time help looking after her dogs and spends the majority of her free time with them walking, training, trimming and showing them. She is also chair of the Kerry Blue Terrier Association, and joint owner of a successful kennels called Arkama. “We are proud that we breed champion dogs for ourselves and others. We have a number of overseas champions and recently sent dogs to Italy, Belgium and the US. This year we are having a fabulous year, and one of my dogs is top Kerry for 2007,” she explains.

The world of dog showing is very competitive and one that requires a long apprenticeship and dedication, says Davani.

“I show dogs all over the UK and in Ireland and we do a lot of travelling. Needless to say, my dogs are very well-mannered hotel guests,” she says.

Davani’s colleagues show a great interest in her hobby and even help name any new puppies. “We also have a laugh when I say that I have a mating to do that evening,” she adds.

Don’t work with dogs

Actors are often told never to work with animals for fear of embarrassment, and it’s a sentiment that Davani has good reason to agree with. “I was staying in a hotel the evening before a show and it was a hot evening. I was on the second floor and had the windows open and had just got out of the bath when I saw my dog Harvey climbing out of the window.

“I ran across the room to grab his tail but it was too late. I could only watch him fall through the air and land – on all four paws – on the grass below. Harvey had jumped because he saw a man walking another dog and I had to yell at the man to grab my dog, run down through the restaurant in my nightdress and collect him. The man said he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw a dog flying through the air.”

Harvey is now owned by Carol Schleip, head of HR at Tendring District Council. “Carol remains convinced that he is the most accident-prone dog she has ever known. A few weeks ago he managed to get stung on the testicles by a wasp,” says Davani.

She has a few more professional ambitions to achieve before giving up the day job, however. “There is always the risk of feeling differently about a hobby if you become reliant on it for income. But I have no doubt that eventually I will do this full-time, as I get a huge amount of satisfaction from it,” she says.

Model efforts

Mike Race, assistant director of HR, Gloucestershire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, recognised that he needed a new way to fill his spare time after one too many nights at punk gigs.

“I realised I was getting too old to be down the front listening to bands like The Damned, Stiff Little Fingers and Buzzcocks. I needed to do something more sedate,” he says.

You probably couldn’t get more placid that what Race eventually chose – building radio-controlled boats.

“It basically involves building a boat from a variety of different materials and installing radio equipment to control different functions,” he explains. “Boats can vary in size, from very small to about nine feet in length. Anyone thinking of the old Airfix kits is a long way off the mark.”

Race says the boats can be pretty complex and time-consuming to build – in some cases taking up to a year or more. “If I wanted to I could spend every night in my shed or garage and every weekend going to a show or a regatta,” he says.

Sound effects

“Most of my boats are about three to four feet long and are just right for fitting into the car,” he says. “My last completed boat was a patrol boat from the Vietnam War era, and has an MP3 sound system installed that plays a number of sound effects and clips from the film Apocalypse Now.”

Race says he attends several exhibitions and about 10 regattas a year. “It’s good to get out of the house, away from work and just do something that is a good de-stresser. It’s amazing how enjoyable attacking a piece of plywood with a saw can be after a really bad day at work,” he says.

According to Race, building radio-controlled boats attracts a mix of different people. “I enjoy being able to discuss things after work like electronic speed controllers and glass fibre hulls rather than change management and key performance indicators,” he says.

Race’s HR colleagues are aware of his hobby. “They just think ‘old man playing with a toy boat’,” he says.

Despite his hobby’s apparent sedateness, things have the potential to go haywire. “Electronics can go wrong and when they do it involves bangs, melting plastic or burning wood,” Race says. However, he does admit to a touch of schadenfreude when someone else’s boat sinks. “It can bring a smile to your face in a perverse way,” he says.

Race has become something of an authority on the subject. “I had an article on the Brown Water Navy in Vietnam published in Marine Modelling International, a modelling magazine sold worldwide,” he says proudly.

Race says he has even considered giving up the day job and exploring his pastime as a business opportunity, but only to a point. “The CEO indoors wouldn’t be too keen on that idea,” he admits ruefully.

Dance fever

Alison Price and Company HR manager David Naish (pictured with dancing partner) stumbled upon his hobby 15 years ago when he was invited by a female friend to a local church to have a go at Ceroc dancing. “As it was on the way home from work and there was nothing on TV, I thought I would give it a try,” he says.

Ceroc is a ‘social’ dance style based on modern jive and is abbreviated from the French phrase C’est Rock.

Naish has become such an expert that as well as dancing once or twice a week, he now teaches beginners at his club.

“I get a buzz from being with people and I also develop a useful social skill and keep my hand in with training,” he says. “It helps me keep fit and enhances my networking.”

Although he has yet to meet anyone famous through his hobby, he did meet his future wife. “I have made many friends through Ceroc – from the DJ and photographer who helped out at our wedding, to people I work with,” he says.

Seriously moving

He did take a while to convince his colleagues that it was a serious hobby. “Most people start off laughing, but as I explain what happens there they often seem interested and some come along to try it out,” he says. “One of my colleagues is learning some dance moves for her forthcoming wedding and thoroughly loves it. I also had a colleague from a previous workplace who danced with me, and we put on a demonstration at a company social and brought the dance floor to a standstill.”

According to Naish, couples often come along to the sessions to practise a first dance for their wedding. Seeing this makes it all worthwhile, he says. “Every evening I am working I get a sense of satisfaction when beginners move on to better things.”

Naish hopes in the future that more and more people start to enjoy Ceroc. “I couldn’t recommend it enough,” he says.

Other hobbies Personnel Today readers take part in:

  • Skydiving
  • Jet-skiing
  • Scottish country dancing
  • Equine sports massage
  • Tae-Kwon-Do
  • Triathlon
  • Life studies painting

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