Friday, August 19, 2005

You've got (junk) mail

This date was etched on my mind: 4th August 2005.

It wasn’t the birthday, wedding anniversary, death anniversary, party, etc. of anybody I know. It was the day I received my first Christmas shopping catalogue for the year.

August? Some of us haven’t even tasted summer weather!

In the event that I do return to academia (when my son is happy for me to work outside the home), I plan to carve out my own sub-discipline in anthropology. I would like to establish ‘anthropology of junk’ as a must-have in any decent anthropology department.

I can picture it now at my funeral: friends and colleagues would say, ‘Siew Peng will be forever remembered for her rubbish.’

Paper, plastic, food, music, toys, gadgets, consumer goods, why is there so much of what we don’t need around us?

Look in some shopping catalogues and you would find: tea bag squeezer, and used tea bag holder. Fact is I actually had to order one of these for uhm, mother-in-law. She was on her way to getting a tea bag holder when I offered her one of my old swing-top bins that could fit on her counter top.

What’s wrong with a spoon against the side of a cup/mug? Or any old dish for the bags to go into? They make tea in a pot any way. So does it really matter?

It’s an advertising mantra, I guess. If there isn’t a need, create one.

It is the junk mail that gets me down. We have a box by the door into which all apparent junk mail goes, including the ‘You have been selected ….’ types. Every two weeks, before the recycling truck comes to empty the recycling box, I would have to sit for half an hour sorting the plastics from the envelopes from the paper from the paper on which they have printed our personal details.

This last category has to be shredded. Even more work. Some of us are paranoid about identity theft. It happened to a friend, and it is a nightmare.

The paper: if they can afford to send out so much stuff with beautiful models advertising their wares, the mark-ups must be excessive. Or worse, the actual producers of the goods might not be paid a fair wage. I avoid buying from such.

What I cannot understand is why companies send multiple copies of catalogues to husband and wife at the same address. I went through one surname and two title changes in the last few years and we get catalogues addressed to me as a ‘Miss’, ‘Mrs’ and ‘Dr’ with a combination of maiden and married names. Don’t these companies ever do a cull of their mailing lists?

Even when we only buy online, some retailers insist on sending us print catalogues. It is mad.

The envelopes: return envelopes with no stamps are kept for recycling (eg when sending notes to parents/teachers at school). The prepaid ones I use to write messages to the sender (see below**).

As for plastics, these days so much junk mail come encased in plastics. It is SO depressing, knowing that manufacturers of everything plastic are whizzing around in their fuel-guzzling cars ….

All this despite my diligently ticking or un-ticking the box in printed or online forms that say ‘I DO NOT wish to receive unsolicited mail’.

We’ve come to the point of not buying from new catalogues for fear of being snowed under by yet more catalogues.

It appears that if you bought once from a retailer, they have the right to keep sending you stuff. Even the Mail Preferences Service won’t stop them. But do they also have the right to decide which other retailers might be of interest to me?

I would like to propose a new ‘Source of Information’ Law (which conveniently spells 'SOIL'): When Company (A) mails out unsolicited mail to a new recipient, the law should require that they include details on the Company/Retailer/Organization (B) which had provided or sold on these details to Company A.

The recipient can then either choose to (1) lodge an official complaint with Company B, or (2) stop buying from Company B altogether, but only after lodging the complaint anyway.

Perhaps this would force retailers - at last - to be more discriminate about divulging their customers' details to others. What do you think?

**Meanwhile, I am copying part of an email making the rounds:

When you get “ads” enclosed with your phone or utility bill, return these “ads” with your payment. Let the sending companies throw their own junk mail away.

When you get those “pre-approved” letters in the mail for everything from credit cards to 2nd mortgages and similar type junk, do not throw away the return envelope.

Most of these come with postage-paid return envelopes, right? It costs them more than the regular 24p postage “IF” and when they receive them back.

It costs them nothing if you throw them away! The postage was around 29p before the last increase and it is according to the weight. In that case, why not get rid of some of your other junk mail and put it in their postage-paid return envelopes.

For example; send an ad for your local chimney cleaner to [name of credit card company – can’t repeat it for legal reasons]. Send a pizza coupon to [name of bank]. If you didn’t get anything else that day, then just send them their blank application back! If you want to remain anonymous, just make sure your name isn’t on anything you send them. You can even send the envelope back empty if you want to just to keep them guessing! It still costs them 24p.

The banks and credit card companies are currently getting a lot of their own junk back in the mail, but folks, we need to overwhelm them. Let’s let them know what it’s like to get lots of junk mail, and best of all they’re paying for it...Twice!

Let’s help keep our postal service busy since they are saying that e-mail is cutting into their business profits, and that’s why they need to increase postage costs again. You get the idea?

If enough people follow these tips, it will work!

Back to Organic-Ally.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Thoughts on the school run

Writing in the Times recently, Mary Ann Sieghart praised the use of buses to ferry children to and from school. Not only are they more environmentally-friendly, it could – potentially – mean that children might think about applying to schools more suited to their needs even when they are further away.

I have a particular aversion to doing the school run by car.

I have the unusual experience of being ‘taxi-ed’ to and from my primary school. Being the youngest of six children, the only school that my parents could get me into without the hassle of balloting and endless finger-biting, etc, was the school my older siblings went to, on the basis of sibling connections.

However, while we used to live about a minute’s walk from the school, my family had to move several miles away before I started school. So father had to arrange for a private taxi to ferry me to and from school. The first driver proved to be unreliable and father stepped in for the rest of the year, but this was too much of a hassle for him.

He then managed to find another taxi driver. This taxi driver picked up, let’s see, about eight or nine of us, squashed in both the front and back of the taxi which could officially take four adults, Mondays to Fridays. Sometimes he would even picked and delivered us for extra-curricular activities on Saturdays.

The downside was we had to be picked up very early for him to make the rounds, and then we were dropped home late. No way around that, I’m afraid.

I felt very out of place. All my classmates lived within walking distance. If not, they had carers who pick them up and went home by bus or by car. I was the only one who had an unrelated ‘chauffeur’.

Imagine my joy when my son got into the school a minute’s walk away from our front door. I enjoy walking him to and from school.

If given a choice between a private car and a school bus, I'd vote for school buses any time, which I used when I went to secondary school. In fact when I think about my son’s next school, I am also taking into account whether these schools have a bus transport system in place.

There were distinct advantages to taking the school bus. The long rounds meant I had time to prepare for my tests, etc on the way to school.

Besides as the area around my school was prone to flooding, we looked forward to heavy rain in the evening – and the deputy head teacher’s announcement over the PA system: ‘Girls who go home on school bus number 3 please go to your bus now.’

Incidentally the girls who had to rely on public transport would have gone by then. Only the few girls who had to wait for parents to pick them up had to stay.

I understand that the flooding once got so bad they had to send in army trucks to rescue the girls. Sadly, my dream of being rescued by one of those men in uniform – ah! to be lifted into a three-tonner by strong arms – remained, sigh, a dream.

Back to Organic-Ally.