Pack It In

18564946-british-castle

This time two weeks ago I was frantically trying to pack for five people and a dog to go to Norfolk for a week.  As any of you who have undertaken this task (and it seems that at the moment we are a nation of people undertaking this task), this is not something you come to on the day of departure hoping to chuck a pair of knickers and a toothbrush into a bag and be on your merry way.  I had been washing and getting stuff ready for weeks.

After trying to count out the necessary number of pants and socks, I then started trying to gather the items of clothing that I had been secretly stockpiling.  That would be all of the clothing necessary for every possible type of weather that could be encountered on the east coast of England.  Rainy, obviously.  Windy,  undoubtedly.  Sunny, possibly.  Just the selection of footwear was enough to fill a skip.  Toiletries for cleaning unwilling children were essential.  A bizarre first aid kit was required because when you’re seven and you don’t want to go to bed you simply do not know what previously unknown ailment may strike.  And it could be a different one each and every night for a week.  Then I had the Hound to consider.   Apparently he would want feeding and generally tending to as well.  Damn him!  And let us not forget that I also had a size restriction in that I had to fit it all into a car along with five humans and said Hound.

My thoughts started to run away with me.  What if there was a freak hurricane and we needed special weights in our shoes? Would I have the right type of pants for an unexpected Summer fete? What if we happened upon some morris dancing  – was I prepared with a sufficient number of hankies?  Things were starting to get out of hand.

Did I mention that I was also trying to exchange contracts on the pre-school project before 3pm that day or all bets were off this Summer?  (See Abacus blog if you missed it). And collect and deliver sold raffle tickets and tombola prizes for our village fete to a neighbour at the bottom of the village at a time when she was in because she would need them ready for before we got back? Oh, and I was packing stuff from the lounge into boxes so it could be decorated while we were away.  Apparently it is easier to decorate a room without three kids and a dog in it as well.  Who knew?

Man of the House arrived back from work and announced that he had been rushed off his feet all morning but if he could possibly just have a sandwich, as soon as he had eaten he would be ready to “load the car”.   I see some of you have raised an eyebrow there and have muttered “would he?”  Yes, he would.  If I could just pop and get the kids from school, then by the time I got back he would have finished and we would be ready to go.  I was a donkey on the edge.  He took one look at my face and knew that I was a donkey on the edge. He drove all the way to Norfolk.

In the end I resolved that we were remaining in the UK.  Not venturing into the Amazon rainforest (although I have had a bottle of Coca Cola in the Amazon Rainforest) and not foraying into rural India (where I was still able to buy a banana).  But Norfolk, England.  And if for some reason I had omitted to pack a sufficient number of knotted hankies or emergency cravats, then we would just have to buy it when we were there or go without.

Since my return, it has occurred to me from the white-faced and starey-eyed look I have observed on several people’s faces that I am not alone in experiencing the horror of “packing for holiday”.  One friend told me that he had been ironing the children’s clothes at ten o’clock at night (no, I don’t know what he’s doing ironing the children’s clothes for holiday either, his standards must be infinitely higher than mine) whilst his wife (also a friend) was working.  Wife is a beauty therapist and apparently the minute she announces she’s going on holiday, all of her clients have to book in a treatment.  I have heard of people getting themselves waxed and buffed ready for their own holidays, but I must admit that having to rush in an intimate wax at ten o’clock at night before your therapist goes away had completely passed me by.

Meanwhile, across the county, another friend is also preparing for her annual week of ice-cream testing.  As he keeps on growing (how selfish!) she had purchased her son some shorts and invited him to try them for size.  They were returned to her a few minutes later with a declaration that they were too small.  Son had already removed the labels thus making an exchange questionable in an already tight timescale before the off.  When she raised this with him, my friend was treated to being shouted at and a slammed bedroom door.  I bet he’s looking forward to a beach holiday with his family.  In his pants.

Finally, another friend is also undertaking the clothes gathering exercise prior to cramming it all into a selection of bags and sitting on them to get the zips done up.  She was opining as to the reason why her Man of the House had not yet produced any clothes to pack.  Was it a) he wasn’t intending to join his family on holiday b) he was intending to join them but had already washed everything ready or c) he would hand her the clothes he needed to take the day before departure and mumble something about them needing a bit of a wash?

Oh the joy.  The sheer middle class horror of it all.  The bickering in the car.  The being two miles down the road and someone needing a wee.  The dropped Mr Whippy.  The sand.  The bloody sand.  And let us not forget the enormous pile of washing when you get back.

Have a lovely holiday.

 

 

 

 

 

No

peacock-1973546_640

Interesting article online this week about a woman called Cheryl Yeoh.  Ms Yeoh is a tech entrepeneur who has gone public in respect of the sexual harassment that she was subjected to by a man she was working with.  Working in the tech industry, it is notoriously male-dominated, but I should like to say that her allegations relate specifically to one man only.

She alleges as follows:

1. She was sent a text by this man prior to a meeting, inviting her to his hotel room.

2. There was a meeting in her hotel room (Ms Yeoh states that this was not unusual in her industry) to brainstorm ideas.  The other people at the meeting (male – it is a male-dominated industry so that is not unusual either) brought alcohol and kept pouring whiskey into her glass before it was empty, which she found “a little weird.”

3. Then later on everyone left, but this particular man did not seem to want to leave.  She asked him if he wanted to leave and he said “no”, at which point she offered him her guest room as she thought he was too drunk to get back to his hotel.

4. He then came into her room and told her that he wanted to sleep with her.  She told him that she had a boyfriend and asked him to leave.

5. Ms Yeoh showed him to the door and on the way out he backed her up against a wall and tried to kiss her.  Ms Yeoh then pushed him out and shut the door.  She has commented that she was very pleased that she hadn’t had more to drink and that she was strong enough to be able to do this.

The sad thing is that this incident wasn’t news to me.  Nor, I suspect, is it news to any woman reading this.  And I am equally sorry to say that to some of the men reading this, it probably isn’t news, but they are as appalled as any of the women.

There are numerous accounts of sexual harassment that I can think of from my own life, or those of my friends which show that the attitude of some males to females is changing at a snail’s pace, if it is changing at all.  Examples, off the top of my head:

1. I know of two women who have been raped and who did not take it to the police.

2. A friend of mine was escorted back to her room by a colleague after a work party, and when she emerged from the loo expecting to be alone, found a naked colleague in her bed inviting her to join him.  She invited him to leave.

3. A man I knew quite well at university offered to walk me to somewhere slightly off campus (it was early evening in Winter and therefore dark).  My instinct was to refuse, although I couldn’t put my finger on quite why, so I told myself I was being silly and accepted.  As soon as we reached the dark section of the walk, he grabbed me and pulled me towards him.  I remember spinning round and round to try and get away from him and the tussle ended up with me facing him, him holding both of my wrists.  I debated whether to knee him; he let me go.  As soon as I could get away from him, I telephoned my housemate (who happened to be a man); he collected me from the bus stop and took me home.

4. A man I knew, a good friend at the time, drunkenly asked to feel my breasts one evening and acted as if I was the one being unreasonable when I refused.

5. I have had a hand put up my skirt by a man in a nightclub.  As soon as I turned around to see what the hell was going on, he immediately removed his hand and put it up my friend’s skirt.  A male friend went to punch him, and another stood inbetween them to stop a brawl breaking out.

6. A former boss made repeated and open references to me being “fair game” when he found out I was going out with someone in the office, and asked the person I was dating if I was a “good shag.” Yes, he really wanted to know.  And, yes, he was a prick.

7. A former boss of Man of the House attempted to persuade him to go to a Christmas party by saying that if he played his cards right, he might be able to feel up some of the women there.  When Man of the House advised that he didn’t want to go to parties and sexually assault women, his then boss said that it was absolutely fine to grope a woman’s breasts, because if a woman didn’t like it, then she would slap you.  Yes, he was a prick too.

8. A friend was literally cornered in the office by a male superior to her (in rank only) who congratulated her left breast very warmly, and for a number of minutes, on its recent exam results.

9. Every single woman reading this will know that moment when a man wants to touch, or has touched you, but presents it to you as either a mistake, or friendship and would therefore make you appear the unreasonable one if you were to say anything.

There are four things that are telling about these examples.  The first is that half of them are about me, and I am not trying very hard to think of them.  I am just an ordinary woman going about her day.  There is absolutely nothing so irresistible about me that men can’t control themselves, I assure you.  And even if I did look like Beyonce, I am yet to grasp how that would constitute justification.  So on that basis, I know that most women reading this would have similar stories to tell if you asked them, assuming that they were willing to share.

Secondly, these incidents are over a range of twenty five years, and not just involving “men of a certain age”.  Five of the eight specific examples that I have given relating to me involved men of a similar age to me.  I do not believe that Ms Yeoh’s experience involved a particularly aged male.  This is particularly saddening.

Thirdly, nothing formal happened in respect of any of these incidents.  If we must put aside the first example, then what can you do?  I’m a lawyer and I am really not sure, in formal and legal terms, what you do unless you are feeling particularly brave and are prepared to stake your job and your reputation on it – which is presumably what men who behave like this rely on.

Finally, on several of these occasions, for every man behaving like a Neanderthal, whatever his age, there was another man pointing out that that is not how we treat women.  To the three men who were there when the examples given occurred to me, you may not even remember what you did, but thank goodness for you. I know that two of the three of you are now fathers.  This gives me both comfort and hope for our children.

Photograph courtesy of Pixabay

Abacus

untitled

This morning I have a new-found respect for the postman.  The Hound is already quite keen on the postman.  The postman brings him a biscuit everyday, which he knows that if he sits nicely for, will be all his, along with an ear scrumble.  Although this makes the postman very popular with the canine residents of the village, it does render him very unpopular with colleagues covering his holidays.  As soon as the red van turns up, should the house have a dog, then that dog goes nuts expecting a biscuit and an ear scrumble and pursues the unfortunate colleague enthusiastically, wondering why the human is not responding in the appropriate manner with a treat.  Dog thinks that maybe the Human in the Red Van is not understanding that they are pleased to see them and becomes even more frenzied.  Human in the Red Van just wants to deliver the post and then preferably slobber-free, be on their way.

Please understand that I haven’t ever disrespected the postman; neither overtly nor muttered under my breath. But doing a little bit of something akin to someone’s job can always help to educate you in what it actually involves, which is no bad thing.  The Hound and I have been delivering leaflets around our village for our pre-school. And me and the Hound do not live in a big village. Oh my goodness.

First, finding some of the houses was interesting.  And once the house had been uncovered and checked for squirrels, locating the letterbox was even more fun.  Getting the leaflet through the letterbox proved to be a challenge on some occasions.  I believe that more than one of the leaflets may have been eaten as soon as it got through the letterbox.  Either that or the houseowner was sat behind door, poised to immediately snatch our delivery.  Gates.  They come in a wide variety of different shapes, sizes, bolts, latches and ranges of squeakiness don’t they? Steps.  Giant, tiny, mossy, slippery.  Residents.  Friendly: “hello, are you trying to deliver something, can I help you?” (“yes, please I’m a bit confused”); not so friendly “Yes, I was watching you…”  (“Were you? Yikes!”) And all with the Hound who wanted to sniff everything.

It took us over two hours.  In the rain.  And the Hound has been upside down on his bed with all four legs in the air ever since we got back.  I’ve had a cup of tea and some chocolate and I’m still done in.  I’ve heard people say that when they slow down they want to become a postie.  You’re out of your minds.

So my leaflet delivery was for my pre-school, a charity of which I am a trustee and have been for nearly six years.  I thought that if I volunteered to help out with my local pre-school that it would be a noble and worthy thing to do; make a few cakes and sell a few bacon sandwiches.  I was right.  I have made a few cakes and sold a few bacon sandwiches over the years.  I have also made some friends.  My baking repertoire has expanded greatly.  On one occasion, I had been asked to make a pudding for a fundraising event. I turned up at what I thought was the right address with my best culinary effort, but I wasn’t quite sure.  I rang the doorbell hoping to clarify that I was at the right house.  The door opened, a gentleman appeared, exclaimed with delight at my offering, thanked me warmly, took my pudding and shut the door. As I hadn’t established whether it was the right house, I tried to decide whether that was how you would react if you were expecting a pudding or if you weren’t. I decided that it was probably both.  When my dish was returned to me a few days later, I knew that the gentleman was in the first category on that day, but probably in the second as well.

In addition to catering, little did I know that I would also be helping to run a business and replace a building.  This is a building that all things being equal, the State should be replacing.  As we all know, there is no money.  There has been no money.   There will be no money and it’s getting worse.  However, what was news to me and might well be news to you is that primary aged children are the priority for local authorities; that is not a bad thing.  However, the absence of there being any kind of priority for pre-school children is the interesting point.  A building that is deemed to be unacceptable for primary aged children and would have to be replaced if they were in it is not even on the radar as far as the local authority are concerned for pre-school children.; they are under no obligation to replace it. That is not to point the finger at the local authority – that is the policy that they are required to follow.  I didn’t know that until I started talking to the Council about replacing this building.  I can’t imagine it is something that the government want to advertise.

The building has needed replacing for years.  It was being talked about when I joined six years ago.  And it had been talked about long before that.  We (and I mean everyone involved locally with the pre-school) has worked for years to fundraise for what has happened this week.  Years.  Raffle tickets sold, cakes consumed, eggs hunted in gardens, ducks chased down streams.  Bunting.  There has been so much bunting.  And tea.  So many cups of tea. This week we put a deposit down on a building. It is not a posh building.  It is not an expensive building as far as buildings go.  But it is all that we have, and any amount of money is a lot of money when it is all that you have.

In three weeks we are going for it.  We have to build over the Summer holidays so we don’t disrupt the business. We’ve still so much to do. Not only do five people’s jobs rest on us getting it right, so do the jobs of the parents who rely on us for their childcare and the future of the children who come to us.  I now know how Frodo felt carrying that damned ring when Galadriel said to him: “This task was appointed to you, if you don’t find a way, no one will.” If we don’t find a way, we will lose our pre-school; that much is certain.  No one will step in to save us if we get it wrong.  There is no more money, so we have to get it on time and on budget.  That utterly desolate possibility, and what it would mean for the people we employ, the families who come to us and signify for the future of our children, makes me feel so sad I don’t want to think about it, even though we have to when making every single decision from whether we can afford coat pegs or a sink.  Like the song says, on a worldwide scale, we are just another Winter’s Tale.  But it is our Winter’s Tale, and it means a lot to all of us. As we stare at the blank, final page, anything other than a happy ending is not something that I, or my co-trustees can bare to contemplate.  However, it remains, as yet, unwritten.

I’ll let you know how it ends.

http://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Abacus

Carpe Diem

Caroline Aherne

 

There is nothing the British like better than talking about the weather.  It doesn’t matter what sort of weather it is; rain,wind, snow, or wall to wall sunshine, we like to talk about it and we enjoy a good whinge.  When it rains we wish it would stop, when it’s windy, we complain that we can’t use an umbrella because it is too blustery or it makes our hair go pouffy.  We don’t mind snow because much to the amusement of some of our European and American friends, the entire country grinds to a halt if we have snow.  Really.  I have no idea why but we seem to be entirely unequipped to deal with a bit of snow.  Probably because we only ever have a little bit of snow. However, in spite of being unequipped to deal with it, we do have specific criteria for how we like to receive our snow; heavy snow for twenty four hours only so we can all have a day off work, kids a day off school, a bit of a sledge, snowball fight and make a snowman, and then it can all go away please and be of no further inconvenience, thank you.

At the moment in England at least (and I say that because that is where my bottom is sat), we have the wall to wall sunshine option.  And it is roasting hot.  Very warm indeed for England.  As I look out of one window, I see sunshine. The other window, sunshine. And a large paddling pool that my children will no doubt launch themselves into the moment that they get home from school that I bought yesterday.  Even the dog had a dip yesterday –  Man of the House turned his back and he was in, having a whale of a time.

Now when we get this sort of weather in England, strange things do happen. For some men who insist on dressing for the body they want rather than the body they have, it is the time to disrobe and walk the streets half naked and usually sun burnt. For mothers it is to plaster your child in suncream and insist on a sun hat.  If your child is really small you can play that hilarious game when you put the hat on your child and they immediately take it off.  And you can do it all afternoon.  That is when they are not demanding a cuddle, which is what you want in oppressive heat.  Old people will insist on wearing a cardigan and whilst you open a window in desperation, they will reprimand you for creating an Arctic-like draft. However, even if we keep our tops and hats on, but our cardys off , the one thing that most of us will become involved with in some capacity is a barbecue.

Immediately the weather gets warmer, everyone, or perhaps more specifically, men, have an uncontrollable urge to cook outside. And it is often men who don’t really cook that this happens to.  Men who have shown no interest whatsoever in the happenings in the kitchen suddenly decide that they want to cook.  In a manly and primal way.  Meat.  Outside.  On an open fire.  Possibly in an amusing pinny. Clutching a beer.  At the hottest time of the day.  On the hottest day of the year.

On the morning of such a day, particularly if it falls over a weekend, the supermarkets are seething with people stacking their trollies up with food. Burgers, sausages, steak….you name it.  I was in there yesterday, beating my way through the masses, (my excuse being that my fridge had chosen the hottest day of the year so far to break and I had had to throw everything away) and I can attest to the empty shelves.  I always wondered why on earth supermarkets limit some special offers to “twenty promotional items per customer.” Now I know. So in spite of being a serial over-caterer, I was a small fish in a big pond.  My mother is also a serial over-caterer and her mother, my grandmother, was before her.  If you invite someone round for food and they don’t have to have a lie down on the floor after lunch, then you haven’t done your job properly as far as my family is concerned.  But we ain’t got nothing on pretty much everyone frequenting the supemarket yesterday.

Most people were purchasing an amount of food which suggested that not only friends and family were coming round for a bite.  They were also expecting friends and family to bring everyone they know as well, and in addition, at some point, the host was fully expecting their house, garden and everyone in it to be under siege from some hitherto unknown army, for at least a week and utterly incapable of rescue. Which also explains the mass purchase of the Nerf guns.

Once food is purchased, it is customary for people all over the country to pile up charcoal briquettes over an enormous number of firelighters, and mutter under their breath that they can’t get the damned thing to light.   It will take so long to light that by the time it does everyone will be so ravenously hungry, there will only be one deeply unappetising sausage ready and that will have fallen through the grill onto the briquettes.  It is usually the sausage that you give to the dog.  However, someone will have burnt their fingers retrieving that sausage and in desperation will eat it anyway.  As people are getting really rather hungry now, some of the women present will rashly suggest using the oven inside the house that is perfectly acceptable, or even superior, on any other day of the year. Naturally, their suggestions will be spurned whilst the water guns are brought out in readiness for the siege by the army of unknowns.  By the time that everyone has eaten and everything has been cooked, the barbecue is going really well.  Now, the day after, all that will remain is for us to spend an hour cleaning the grill, eat a strange combination of cold food for three days and also spend quite a lot of time finishing off random bits of pudding.

And when the sun comes out again, we’ll do it all again because we’re British, and when it comes down to it, we’re nothing if not hopelessly optimistic and a bit odd.

Fly Maybe

The Rescuers

I expect that Flybe are hoping that today might be a good day to bury bad news.  If you can negotiate your way through all of General Election gubbins, you may stumble across an article that says that Flybe is promising an overhaul after posting a twenty million pound loss. That’s a big number isn’t it?  It is reported that they are going to turn the business around by reducing the size of their fleet due to a slowing growth in consumer demand. That sounds measured and sensible.  I might be able to help them with some suggestions because I had the misfortune of flying with Flybe for the first time last week.

It was a week last Saturday, which was also on a day that was a good day to bury bad news because whilst me and a hundred or so other people were sat twiddling our thumbs at Birmingham Airport, thousands of people were ensnared in the BA balls up.  Our delay had nothing to do with the BA thing.  Nothing.  Our delay, both outbound and inbound was due to complete and utter incompetence. Not that the BA thing wasn’t.  It is just that this incompetence was not related to that.  So before you book your holiday avoiding BA but plumping for Flybe, just read to the end.  Please.

Our flight was due to take off at 11.15am.  The plane was on the tarmac.  Later than expected, but nothing too awful, we boarded a bus to be taken to the plane.  The doors were closed.  And we were kept on the bus for half an hour.  The doors then opened and we were deposited back at the gate.  For five hours. For about four hours, we were told nothing.  The screens were not updated (although they kept taunting us with promises to update) and not one member of staff appeared.  In desperation I took to Twitter, and was told a load of rubbish by whoever picks up their messages. My travel agent was trying to obtain information and was also told a load of piffle.  I asked via Twitter for everyone to be updated.  Nothing.  When it all became too taxing for them, I mean, we were only customers; radio silence.

After about four and a half hours, a Member of Staff appeared at a desk and was deluged.  A lot of people had drifted away from the gate, so were not a party to what was being said, and no one appeared to have thought that updating all passengers was important, so only those within earshot got the information.  Member of Staff then walked down the gate and Man of the House stopped her asked her what was going on. She advised that thirty four people were not able to get on the plane.  She had asked people to queue up (those in the siege who had heard this had indeed already done so) and the last thirty four people to do so would not be leaving Birmingham on that flight.  Man of the House queried this and asked if she was seriously suggesting that people fight their way to the front, children fighting adults for their place.  Her response?  Without pausing for breath she confirmed that was the case and that was why she had asked the police to attend.  She then gestured to two police officers.  And we all know that police officers have absolutely nothing better to do at the moment, so I imagine that they were particularly pleased to be there. It is difficult to describe the expression of Man of the House at this point, but I suspect that it is the same as yours right now.

When it came to boarding (bearing in mind that only those people who had already formed the queue and Man of the House because he had made a direct enquiry had a clue what was going on), Member of Staff announced to those within earshot that those with ferry connections and (possibly after having had the opportunity to reflect) those with children, were permitted onto the plane first.  I am not able to comment on the scene after that as I was fortunate enough to be on the plane, trying to calm my now near-hysterical daughter.  I did, however, speak to the last person to get on the plane.  She said that seeing that the plane was boarding, people had started to queue up.  The Member of Staff had then put her hand behind her back and told the people behind her to stop.  The last lady on the plane had no idea why that had happened until she got on the plane, the people behind her had no idea why either.

When we got on the plane we were told the truth. The crew had been told that twenty or so people would be getting on the plane that morning.  All the weight/fuel calculations were done on that basis. The crew were then told it was over one hundred people and at that point the plane would be too heavy to have everyone on, even just to be on the tarmac.  Apparently the people who could remove the necessary amount of fuel from the plane at Birmingham Airport don’t work weekends, and it would seem that Flybe were fresh out of ideas, not that they had any in the first place.

So, we took off five and a half hours late.  But we were the lucky ones.  Thirty four people were left in the terminal.  I understand that they left Birmingham Airport at ten o’clock at night.  Thirteen hours after they were supposed to.  They were twenty minutes from their destination when the destination airport advised that they closed at midnight and the plane could not land.  They were diverted to Athens.  Seven hours away from their destination by road.  Checking even the most basic of information and procedures does not seem to be a priority for Flybe.

Hoping for the best but expecting the worst, we were also delayed on the inbound flight.  Three and a half hours this time.  I knew when we checked in because a fellow passenger had ascertained that the flight coming from Birmingham hadn’t even taken off.  Back I went to Twitter.  Apparently staff sickness was the issue.  Is Flybe so thin on the ground for staff that if someone calls in sick they have no plan to deal with it?  We were given no other information in the airport, except from holiday reps desperately trying to find things out, just as we were, and none of the information they were given was accurate.  Feeling every so slightly tetchy, my sarcasm was now getting the better of me and I suggested to Flybe on Twitter that perhaps we should just have a passenger sweepstake on guessing a time for take off, given that they had no idea when their own plane would be arriving.

Eventually we did leave.  Turns out that that staff sickness crap, was just that, crap.  The plane had gone in for its service and came out late to the crew, hence it being late taking off from Birmingham and that being the knock-on effect.

Flybe, I would suggest that the decrease in your customer demand is because the dreadful way you treat your customers is causing them to shop elsewhere.  Your routes are loss-making because of the vast amount of compensation that you have to pay out to people due to your inability to organise your own schedule, a steadfast refusal to communicate with your customers and the way in which you insult their intelligence with “the dog ate my homework” types of excuses on the occasions when you do.  If you have profit-making routes, I suspect it is because they are sufficiently short distances for the compensation to be in the lower band provided for by the EU legislation for you to financially get away with paying the compensation and still make a profit.  However, if you don’t put your house in order, and sharpish, you won’t survive because all of your routes will be loss-making.  People work hard for their money; their time and their holidays are precious to them and they will choose not to spend it with your company.  If you continue to treat your customers with such contempt when they are simply expecting the service that they have paid for, and which you have promised, your business will not, and does not deserve, to survive.

 

 

 

 

 

Picture: The Rescuers – Walt Disney Animated Classics

 

 

All the King’s Horses

xhumpty4.jpg.pagespeed.ic.UtByU7c4nz

Billy Connolly once said that the desire to be a politician should forever exclude someone from actually being a politician; he had a very good point.  I wonder what kind of Parliament we would have if it was made up of MP’s who when first asked if they wanted to get into politics responded with “Hell, no” and made a run for it.  I wonder if we might have a better government and a better democracy, rather than the well-sauced gravy train that we seem to have at the moment.

Mr Connolly also said that we shouldn’t vote, because it encourages the politicians.  Again, given our ridiculous voting system, and the selection of votees currently on offer, I also have sympathy with that point of view.  I suspect that most of us would agree that encouraging politicians in any capacity other than to learn how to answer the damned question being put to them, should be positively discouraged.  It’s a bit like celebrating there being more estate agents in the world or being pleased about the increasing number of solicitors on the roll.  No one is ever happy about those things.  However, although I can see the point,  I cannot subscribe to it.

Before the term was bastardised for a day when people disgrace themselves buying things they don’t need, for prices that are not really discounted, the real Black Friday was on 18 November 1910.  Women who were protesting were removed from the Houses of Parliament and many were seriously injured in their removal.  On 4 June 1913, nearly three years later, things had not improved for women and Emily Davison famously died after having thrown herself under Anmer, the King’s Horse at the Epsom Derby.  She died four days later on 8 June 1913.  I write the words describing it now.  Everyone knows about the woman who threw herself under the King’s horse.  Her life reduced to one sentence. Can you imagine what a horrific death it must have been to have been trampled to death by a horse and then taking four long days to die?  All she wanted was to be treated equally and have the same rights to vote as men.   It seems a tad harsh to me.

After Emily died, in order to try and beat the women who were on hunger strike into submission, the government (all male) introduced what is known as the Cat and Mouse Act, because of how cats play with their prey before they kill them.  Women were imprisoned.  They went on hunger strike.  Emily Davison was force fed forty nine times.  When the women were sufficiently ill, they were let out of gaol until they were well enough to serve the rest of their sentence. Then they were returned to gaol where they went on hunger strike.  And so the cycle continued.

Of course, as well as Emily Davison, we’ve all heard of the Pankhursts.  There is also another suffragette called Sophia Duleep Singh, of whom you may not have heard.  She was such a pain in the arse that apparently King George V declared “Have we no hold on her?”  I fervently hope not.  Sophia died at the age of seventy two having dedicated her life to women’s rights.

It is easy for us to speak of these women with our mouths, and to forget with our heads what it must have been like for them.  To be arrested and imprisoned for wanting to be treated equally.  Equal treatment is not shocking today, but only because those women and the necessity of two World Wars beat the government into submission. Would I be prepared to give my life for it?  Would I be prepared to be beaten up, or go on hunger strike for the rights that I now have?  I’d like to think that I would.  But it is not something that I have ever had, or will ever have to seriously consider; those women lived it.  Some of them died for it.

No one really likes politicians do they?  I was incandescent when Nick Clegg said he wouldn’t vote to raise tuition fees and the minute his feet were under the table, he voted to raise tuition fees.  If Theresa May says “strong and stable” one more time in one of those ridiculously staged public appearances, I will think that she is really a robot whose programming has hit a glitch.  And Diane Abbott’s grasp of figures is worse than mine, which I didn’t think was humanly possible; life is full of surprises.

Considering the selection, I really do think that we have come to the time in our political history when a box “None of the Above” should be included on the ballot paper. Things would get really interesting when “None of the Above” get in.  I suppose that’s when we start rounding up all those people who don’t want to be politicians, to be politicians.  But until that day, even if you just spoil your ballot paper, please register to vote and then vote.  Not for your country, not because the Press told you who to vote for, but because what is now your right was once considered a privilege.  On the 8th June, it will be one hundred and four years to the day that Emily Davison died, never having lived to see her dream come to fruition. Putting a cross on a piece of paper or a scribble through it is the only way I can think of to best honour her sacrifice.

Tea and Cake

Tea now, gin later.jpg

Afternoon tea is very in at the moment isn’t it?  Or it certainly seems so.  Not that it ever really went out of fashion.  The idea of tea and cake becoming unfashionable seems to me to be very odd indeed.  Perhaps with the advent of ‘Friends’ and the rise of the Starbucks and Costas of this world, the unthinkable happened and the popularity of tea wained slightly in England.  Well I am pleased to see that it is back, and so is gin apparently.  Yippee! I need to do more research on the gin before I am able to write with any authority on that particular subject.  And I also suspect that you might also need to do some more research before you are able to see whether or not you agree with my views on gin whenever I come to express them.  So let’s agree to re-group on that one in the future.

Yes, so afternoon tea.  Imagine my friend’s delight when she was invited to afternoon tea with a group of friends.  This is my friend who openly admits to never having met a cake she didn’t like, so she was very happy indeed.  I am not sure she has met a gin she didn’t like either.  Nevertheless, she womanfully presses on with trying to find either a cake or a gin she isn’t keen on.

Unfortunately the date of the afternoon tea fell on a day when her significant other had to go to work, and she was going to have to take her (very well behaved and older) children with her.  I’ve been both in and out with these children on many occasions, not only are they very well-behaved, they also entertain the other children, which is a win-win situation as far as I am concerned.  In the meantime, my cake/gin loving friend had another friend get in touch with her who was having a childcare nightmare on that day; she and her partner had to work and there was no one who could look after her child.  My friend agreed to help out, because that is the sort of person she is. The child happens to have a severe food allergy.  My friend checked it out with her parents, the restaurant where the afternoon tea was to be taken and also happens to be trained in the use of an epipen.  All was in hand.  Everyone who needed to could go to work.  And everyone else was having cake.  Marvellous.

I need to declare an interest here.  My son has a food allergy. Several actually.  Thankfully none of them are life threatening, but if he has an allergic reaction it is pretty unpleasant for him.  He gets hives on his hands and his face, his lips swell, he can find it hard to breath and eventually he throws up.  He usually feels rather ill for the rest of the day.  He has medicine, which he usually throws up as well.  I discovered his food allergy when he was eight months’ old.  I won’t bore you with the details, but after about six months’ of carefully noting what I had prepared and a process of elimination, I had nailed it.  The hospital confirmed that which I already knew.  My son is pretty wonderful about it – he has never let it put him off trying new foods or eating out.  And I know that many many children have so many more serious things to worry about.  Most people have daily shadows lurking in the back of their mind when it comes to their children, that is one of mine.

Back to the story.  After having taken every precaution, my friend then notified the afternoon tea organiser of the additional child.  Down to the last exclamation mark, this was the response she received:

“Seriously!!!! I thought she had a severe allergy!!! Don’t want to put you off but it’s not a risk I would take!!!! I’m there to have a giggle with friends not stressing about someone’s allergy!! Sorry if that sounds harsh but I do panic about these things 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 (: (: (: (: ”

My friend asked me if I thought this rude.  I thought it exceptionally rude and told her so.  In addition, I have a few comments in response because my friend is far too polite to say them, nor does she have a blog:

  1. Yes, you do want to put her off.
  2. You’re not stressing about anyone’s allergy, you don’t want the child there.
  3. It doesn’t sound harsh, it is harsh. Couching it with a ‘sorry’ at the start does not make it less so.  Besides, you’re not sorry. And you don’t panic either.  You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.
  4. A sarcastic person might suggest that it must be very difficult for you spending your days stressing about the food allergies of other people who are not in your care.

Now we all know what is really going on here.  And I agree with what is the main thrust of the women’s response is that children can be a pain, particularly one’s with allergies. But that’s life.   It very rarely fits neatly into boxes.  Children certainly don’t.  Suck it up.

We don’t really get to choose many things in life – our looks, our intelligence, who we fall in love with – all of these things are outside of our control, however much we like to think that they’re not.  But there two things that we can choose.  The first is that we are sufficiently privileged in this country to be able to choose to have children.  For me, having children meant that however they were to come to me, they were mine to care for, come what may, until the day I die.  And when our friends have children, they become part of our lives too.  And the second, for which I am grateful every single day, is that we can choose our friends. The one who will be pissed off if my son happens to be ill in spite of carefully checking everything?  Or the one who will hold my son’s head whilst he is sick on her shoes?  Hmmm…tricky….The one with the barf-spattered trainers please. I choose that one.  But I promise faithfully to replace the shoes.

 

 

 

Photograph courtesy of OneManOneShed on etsy.com/uk 

 

 

Please

 

MakatonI have turned into Enraged of Tunbridge Wells. This is not a good thing.  There have been some roadworks around where I live recently and various road closures etcetera to accommodate these.  Not a problem. Happens all over the country when the weather warms up and is very necessary to keep the roads and us all safe. We all know that.

Yesterday I was driving down a road whilst the workmen were in the process of closing it.  One of the workmen gestured to me and I wound down my window – he took the time to explain how long the work was going to take them, what time he thought that they would be finished, and whether I would be able to go back that way for the school run – he was lovely.  Really quite lovely. On the way back later in the day, just as the work was completed, but the signs were not down, I spoke to a colleague of his, who was equally polite and helpful, and said that it was fine for me to go down the road to collect my children, but please could I do so slowly and with my hazard lights on.  Don’t tell Man of the House this, but I did as I was told.

Today, I went down the road towards school and half way down it was a sign “Road Closed.”  As I was half way down the road and there was no way of turning off I thought “oh well, maybe it’s like yesterday and they are just putting the signs up.”  I got further down the road and the road was most definitely closed.  There was a barrier across one half of the road and a van across the other.  In the van was a man.  I raised my hands to see if there was a possibility of him letting me through as I clearly had children to get to school as evidenced by my son sat in the seat next to me.  He folded his arms and stared at me.  Entirely expressionless.  And he continued to stare.  In fact, he didn’t take his eyes off me.  And I don’t think it was because he was beguiled by my stunning beauty.

I do not believe that I am a person who is backwards in coming forwards, and I was very cross at his behaviour.  Particularly at such behaviour in front of my children, and I could tell that my son was getting quite anxious.  However, at this point I had to make a judgement, as I expect that all women have had to make, and has probably never entered the heads of their male counterparts or peers.  Did I get out of the car and suggest to this man that his people skills needed some work?  I considered it as he continued to stare at me from his van. I decided that all I was probably going to get was a load of abuse, or worse, which was presumably the desired effect of the staring.  So in fairness to him, it worked.  Whilst I did not find his behaviour in any way acceptable, I didn’t want a row and I didn’t want my children to see it.  So I turned the car around.  As I drove away, I wondered to myself if he would have done such a thing had Man of the House been on the school run?  I suspect not.

After the kids were safely as school, as there were a number of workmen around, and being a stroppy madam, I considered locating this man’s superior and making a complaint in person.  Due to the nature of the staring, and already being quite upset about it, I didn’t want to risk being shouted at by several men.  I should like to apologise to these men for judging them by their colleague’s woeful standards, but that is how I felt.  Instead, I took a mental note of their company and telephoned them when I got home.  The lady to whom I spoke was perfectly pleasant and assured me that he would be spoken to.  I wonder if my car happens to be keyed at any point over the next twenty four hours if it will be a coincidence.

Although as it happens, there will be a second candidate for the car keying.  After I got back from taking the Hound out for his morning constitutional, a man delivering something to my neighbour seemed to find no issue whatsoever with not only parking across my drive, but also blocking my car in.  He must have been the passive aggressive twin of Man in Van Starer  because he did not look at me at all.  Even though I was sat in my front window on my computer, which is entirely and wholly visible from where he had parked.  He did not look up.  He did not turn to face me.  He kept his sunglasses on which presumably meant that if I couldn’t see his eyes, he wasn’t really there.

If I could just pause – I have no problem with him parking there if it makes his life easier – I didn’t need to go out – not that he knew that. Equally, he could have parked across the road which would have been safer all round for him and for other road users.  However, his poor safety choices aside, a few words to say that he wasn’t going to be long and to ask if I minded would not have gone amiss. It would also have not required him to lift a small roll of gaffer tape onto his shoulder like he was carrying a newly felled tree as if to emphasize the arduous nature of his delivery to me.

When it became apparent that he was going park for as long as he damned well wanted, I considered the question again for the second time in a morning.  Did I tackle him and his colleague direct?  Yes, there were two of them, both ignoring the fact one of them was blocking me in by parking on my land.  I considered it.  But then again, I live in a quiet village and they could, if so minded, make my life thoroughly unpleasant and really upset me in that moment if they chose to.  So I decided against it and fumed quietly.  Well not very quietly.  I have emailed his company to ask if in future, their drivers wouldn’t mind just asking homeowners if they object to their drives being used and cars being blocked in?  All the time I wonder, would they have done that if Man of the House had been in and not me?

I know that all women often have to make such judgements when faced with a man acting like a toddler.  It makes me so bloody angry because we know, all women know, as do their male partners and friends, that these men would not behave in such a way to them.  Which obviously means that they should not be behaving that way at all, if the only thing stopping them from doing so is the prospect of a smack in the gob.

So as I continue to fume, I shall leave you with this.  My son and daughter are learning karate.  Their Sensei is a second dan black belt and also happens to be a woman.  She is an unassuming but quite brilliant woman, and you would never know to look at her that she could, if she chose to, down with you one flick of her hand.  When she was nineteen and had not been driving long, someone rear-ended her at a roundabout.  Her first, and hopefully her last, bump.  She got out of the car expecting to be faced with an enraged driver.  Now you may ultimately conclude that I am doing this man a disservice, but apparently he was charm personified.  She said that he checked her car for the scratches and whether it was safe for her to drive.  He made sure she was okay and not too shaken up.  They exchanged insurance details and went their separate ways.  Sensei got back into her car, surprised at how pleasant the whole incident had been.  Then she looked down.  She was on her way to training.  In her gi.  She was a brown belt at the time.  Oh how I wish that I had had her with me this morning.

Stop!

stopsign

 

Another week, another opportunity for me to be enraged about something.  You may have seen Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP and Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Tories being furious with each other over what has become known as The Rape Clause.  Ms Sturgeon wants it scrapped and Ms Davidson thinks it is a good idea and has been misunderstood.  Twitter has had the hashtag #scraptherapeclause doing the rounds.

As a woman, mother and solicitor, I thought that I probably ought to know more about this so I looked it up.  Less-than-gorgeous George announced the government’s intention to introduce the Welfare Reform and Work Act in the 2015 Budget and it came into effect on 6 April 2017. An Act that the government claims is “incentivising work”.  Previously the Child Tax Credit may have been claimed by families for children under sixteen or up to aged twenty if they are in eligible training.  This is being phased out and replaced by the Universal Credit.  There is a Child Element to the Universal Credit, which is now limited to a claim for two children subject to certain exceptions.  I knew about the two children, I didn’t know the specifics of the exceptions and in particular the rape exception.  You didn’t either?  Well that might be because the government’s response to concerns over the rape exception that had been raised were published on 20 January 2017, which was the day that President Fart was inaugurated.  From what I can gather, essentially the government’s response was “very interesting, we’re doing it anyway” and the legislation was quietly amended without parliamentary debate.  Nothing like a good day to bury bad news.

A woman may claim the Child Element for a third or subsequent child if the child concerned was conceived “as a result of a sexual act which you didn’t or couldn’t consent to” or “at a time when you were in an abusive relationship under ongoing control or coercion by the other parent of the child.”  A woman cannot claim if she lives with the co-parent.  But she can “qualify” if there has been a court case or a criminal conviction. The woman concerned should send a form to the DWP that she may complete with the help of “an approved third party professional”, but no one seems to know who that is, or has trained anyone at the DWP.  That is probably because there are no figures for how many women will be affected by this exception and no one knows just how many children are conceived as a result of rape, a lack of a statistic that tells its own story.

A government spokesperson has been quoted as saying that the exceptions were “consulted on widely.” Given the concerns voiced by many charities and people who work with abused women and their children, I am wondering who was consulted “widely” because it appears not to have been anyone who might have been able to assist.  The Equality and Human Rights Commission has described the legislation as “regressive.”  Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Woman Coalition has said “this whole policy betrays a lack of understanding about domestic and sexual abuse.”  The DWP and HMRC have justified their stance by saying that the handling of the exceptions is “sensitive” but “it is important to have an exception in place to support claimants in these circumstances.”  The Child Element of the Universal Credit, which could be worth up to £7,000 per annum for a disabled child, so, yes, I can see why that money could be vital for some women. It has been clarified that neither DWP nor HMRC staff will question the claimant about the incident other than to take the claim and receive the supporting evidence from the third party professional. “We propose that the assurance required from third party professionals be based solely on evidence that the claimant has made contact with the third party and demonstrated that their circumstances are consistent with those of a person whose child has been conceived as a result of non-consensual sex.”

First, this exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of abusive relationships and their ongoing damage.  The rights and wrongs of rape cases and trials is an entire other issue that I cannot tackle here.  However, research has repeatedly shown that rape victims do not report the crime because they feel that they will not be believed and rape is notoriously difficult to prove in court.  Some women would never talk about it.  If they have managed to get away from such a partner, it is probably all and everything that they have done to survive and go on.  Those women who may feel able to talk about it, I strongly suspect don’t want to relive it in the re-telling.  And the notion that they would be coaxed into doing so to a “third party professional” to get some additional money that they are entitled to and most likely desperately need is so appalling that I don’t even know where to begin; they just wouldn’t.   Particularly if it meant that there was a possibility that their child would find out, or at least wonder at some point between their birth and the age of twenty why their mother gets some extra money for them, when their friend’s mother does not.  I suspect that most women would rather starve than risk that damage to their child.

Secondly, what about the men involved in this?  They could be named on a piece of paper and that piece of paper is sent to the DWP, processed and the exception is granted, essentially because “a third party professional” is satisfied that their former partner was raped by them.  And even if they are not named, but are on the child’s birth certificate as their father, or known as the child’s father, assumptions, founded or not, can and will inevitably be made.  People find things out.  People talk.  As I mention above, there are a number of issues with rape cases being brought to trial that are for another piece on another day.  However, rape is a serious crime and it should be treated as such. It is wholly unjust that men could be labelled in this way.  Everyone has a right to a fair trial, and this side-steps the entire criminal justice system.

Thirdly, I should like to bring up the child.  Section 1(1) of the Children Act 1989 is unequivocal that in all of their dealings with children “the child’s welfare should be the Court’s paramount consideration.”  Now the government have side-stepped the courts with this legislation and dumped it on the “third party professionals” to decide what constitutes rape.  However, should not the child’s welfare be the paramount consideration to all of us full stop?  In what world does the government think that a child being a risk of discovering that they were conceived as a result of non-consensual sex makes their welfare paramount?

Finally, “third party professionals”  are to be the gatekeepers of the exception. This is not just a financial transaction.  It is not a tick box and then the money goes into your account each month.  The third party professional will need to be persuaded that the woman is telling the truth in order to tell the DWP that the claim can be processed – look at the language I have quoted above. Women need to “demonstrate” in order to “qualify” – the implication that there is a standard to be reached by providing evidence of some sort. This is asking a woman, a survivor, to come forward and say to a stranger that she was raped and that the child whom she adores was conceived as a result of that rape, and that stranger will need to be persuaded that that is the case in order to release the cash.  That woman will then live everyday at risk of that child finding that out because she needed some money to survive. Now that child may already know, or their mother may plan to tell them, but that is not for the government to decide, or risk, if the child’s welfare is truly paramount.  That child could have their entire world shattered by happening upon a bank statement or the realisation from a conversation with a friend. Essentially men are to be labelled rapists without the accusation being put to them and without being given any opportunity, as is their fundamental legal right, to a defence.  And “third party professionals” are being asked to make that call.  That is a burden that would keep me awake at night, and it is not one that I could bear.

I would like to be able to give the government the benefit of the doubt on this and to try and believe that their intentions were honourable, even if the outcome is an utter disgrace. If Ms Davidson is right and it is misunderstood then I should like her to explain it to me so I can grasp what it is she thinks that I and everyone else have missed.  As it stands, there seems to be a potentially devastating effect on parents and children to be brought about by this monstrously ill-thought out legislation, and an indeterminate amount of money saved.  In short, government, you have fucked up.  Big time.  And not for the first time. Go away and have a re-think.  And when you have had your re-think, ask the people who know about the subject matter and who are likely to disagree with you for their input.  Then have another think. Finally, at the end of that process you will then stand a cat in hell’s chance of having some legislation that is worth the paper it is written on.

 

 

 

Picture by epennington523

Codebreakers

image003

My sister is a complete nerd – a total and utter spod.  Computer Scientist. “Ah!” you all say, immediately understanding.  She tried to explain computers to me once: “it’s ones and zeros Natalie, it’s either right or wrong.”  Of course it is, don’t I feel a fool?  Thank goodness she cleared that up for me.  As far as computers are concerned, rather like my car; I own one; I use one and I know who to call to fix it when it goes wrong. I am sure that the reason my sister does so well with her students is because the subject is so bloody boring that they are bright enough to realise that if they don’t listen to what she is teaching them the first time round there is a very real and present danger that she will repeat it and frankly, life is too short.

About twenty five years ago, and long before the Hollywood spotlight rested briefly upon it, my sister told me about a place called Bletchley Park, which now needs no introduction.  My sister had read about it and it has captivated her ever since.  She knew about the project to restore Bletchley and has taken her students on trips there to teach them first-hand and also to support the restoration project.  She even admitted to standing in the National Museum of Computing getting sweaty palmed and giddy because she was so excited about seeing Collosus.  I always listened and made encouraging and supportive noises, all the time making a mental note to intervene and get her some professional help when she was really going over the edge.

Bletchley Park Estate was purchased by the British government in 1938 to house the codebreaking and intelligence work of the Government Code and Cypher School.  At its peak, ten thousand people worked there and women outnumbered men three to one.  The most famous of these men was Alan Turing, whose treatment after the war was so spectacularly shameful it is hard to comprehend.   The names of the majority of people who worked there, women, we will never know. The site changed owners until it was purchased by the Bletchley Park Trust in 1992 whose object is to preserve the site for the nation.

I went to Bletchley Park with my children for the first time today.  After fielding a barrage of questions that I was entirely unequipped to answer, I felt confident that a number of these stinkers would be answered by our visit.   There is a lot of interactive stuff, which the children enjoyed poking and prodding, ironically taking it all for granted but borne out of the work that took place at Bletchley.   It explained to me in short words, but without being patronising, how computers came to be. I went a bit cross-eyed trying to understand some of it, but I have a basic grasp now.  Many of the huts have been restored so you can wander around them to see what they were like, to understand the conditions that people worked in and to see what looks like a lot of typewriters, some of them actual typewriters and some of them cipher machines.   You can imagine just what it looked like in the war because it wasn’t that different to how it looks today.    Spend a few hours there and you can begin to understand the long, often tedious, yet painstaking and vital work that was carried out.  In shifts for twenty four hours a day.  And my guess is that it was not the sort of job where you knocked off on time – if you were in the middle of something you couldn’t just think to yourself “Ah, I’ll finish that off tomorrow.”  Tomorrow the Nazis could have been on the doorstep.  The actual doorstep.  With tanks.

Let me not overstate it; you are not going to be blown away by all of the bells and whistles, for there really aren’t any because it was all so secret.  It’s quiet and understated.  You can stand there and feel, not just see, but feel what those people did. And you can see entirely how no one knew it was there except the people who worked there.  I am sure that day to day there were gripes and annoyances as everyone who has ever worked with anyone has, but fundamentally, everyone had a job to do and they got on with it because they knew the survival of the nation depended on it.  After the war, all of those people went away and never spoke about what they did.  Or how they contributed so much to saving us.  Can you imagine that happening today?  Ten thousand people being asked to keep a national secret for the rest of their lives and it actually happening?

We face an uncertain future in a post Brexit world. The US and North Korea are arguing about who has the biggest nuclear warheads, whilst Syria and its people seem to be being used as the most brutal of testing grounds.  If we’re not scared, we damned well should be.  I wonder how long it will be before some of us may be asked to do what will be our generation’s equivalent work of Bletchley Park.  We all need to know that should that time come, we will try to be as brave and as unconditional as those at Bletchley were.  Even though, like them, our names will be forever unknown to history.

……-.—….