Sunday, January 28, 2007

Thank God for Common Sense

The staff were out in force at my local train station last Friday to catch fare dodgers.

It's great, I think. Such people are making other passengers pay for their free rides.

But it was rather inconvenient for me, and could have been worse, as I use the station as a short cut.

When I need to walk to church some 25 minutes away, the station is a convenient short cut as I can keep to paths with low traffic and although I need to use lots of steps instead of walk up and over the railway bridge on the road, I prefer the cleaner air.

I was asked for my ticket as I entered and I explained that I was only passing through the station. I was told I needed a pass or they would charge me when I exited the station. They gave me a pass and I was grateful and exited the station with no bother.

It was a different story on the return journey.

I was at the other entrance. I explained that I was only walking through the station. The guys refused to let me through. I said I had a pass a couple of hours earlier and it was OK.

Guess what? These guys did not have those passes.

I talked to the man who looked like he was in charge. He explained that everyone had been told to walk around the station (which would add another five minutes to my journey, in bad air).

I somehow stubbornly stood there and looked desperate. (In fact I had injured my ankle the previous week and was still bruised.) The man said they would be gone in a few minutes, but I was tired.

I said, truthfully, I had walked through in the morning, I had gone to do some voluntary work, and the least they could do was let me walk through.

He expressed sympathy but said they would charge me a £20 fine at the other exit.

Deep breaths and more desperate looks.

'Ray' finally took his phone out of his pocket and said, "Alright then, you go through, tell the man at the exit that 'Ray' said you could go through."

Yay! Thank God for common sense!

But the other staff around him did not realize I'd been given special dispensation and wanted to check my Oyster pass, etc. After further questioning I was finally allowed to proceed, dropping 'Ray's' name.

At the other exit/entrance, the tall guy who let me through earlier in the morning stopped me briefly, "Can I help you ma'am?"

"Ray said I could walk through."

"OK, ma'am. Just checking."

I like it when people use their brains and are flexible.

So I trudged home with my still sore ankle.

I supposed I could have walked the long way. It wouldn't have killed me. But given the fact that I was tired and cold and had only been to do unpaid work for the community state, it was such a blessing to be able to walk my usual route home, steps and all.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

I forget

Wanted to say something about son's achievement at school yesterday in my other blog. But there was such a kafuffle getting onto the blog -- because Google decided to switch us bloggers all over to Beta whether we liked it or not, after which I couldn't log back on -- I've forgotten what I was doing to say.

There must be a reason for 'Old Blogger', for bloggers who are old and short on memory power and who want life kept simple.

Digital clocks are OK so long as the instructions on the display aren't so small I can't read them, for example. My son's clock-CD player-radio was broken and we bought him a new one. The writing is so small on the display and the buttons so minute for my fat fingers I find it very difficult to get it to do what I want.

There's the trouble these days with young prime ministers, young politicians, young designers, they don't realize what life is like -- going to be like for them in years to come -- when life, vision and touch all get a bit fuzzy.

And you know, those letters they make you identify before adding a comment on a blog like this, it's hellish difficult to make out sometimes. Padding things out here. Still can't remember the idea behind my original post!

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Windy Day

Gales.

I'm nervous.

I have visions of objects falling on me. Our water feature in the garden has fallen over. The doors in a shed had blown open. I managed to secure them temporarily.

Just heard the news about fifteen (15!!) lorries being blown over.

Planned to take son to the dentist by bus, both for the experience of travelling by bus, and for green reasons. But roadworks meant there was zero chance of us getting to the dentist on time as I had hoped.

So I had no choice but to take the car. Even then I expected fallen objects to cause delays.

Well, typical of a post-rugby lesson Thursday afternoon, the boys were late in being released. Just managed to get to the dentist in time.

Driving back, the car was acting strangely as it was buffetted by wind.

So I am really pleased to be home, well and safe now.

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More selfish behaviour

I was at Marks for some fresh bread rolls. Woman beside me decided to forgo the tongs provided to pick up the bread and other goodies. She decided to use her fingers instead.

That I didn't mind as she only picked out the buns she wanted. But instead of replacing the tongs -- putting them back in the holder provided -- she let them drop on its 'leash' so that they touched the floor.

She wasn't even remotely apologetic.

Immediately I alerted the staff working behind the counter about the situation. He cleaned the tongs immediately. Top marks to him. He even thanked me for bringing this to his notice.

I think I spoke loudly enough for woman to realize that I did not approve of her behaviour.

Back home and emptying my kitchen waste into the Council Brown Bin, dog-walker walked past and the dog decided to stop. There right in front of my house, just inside the boundary of our drive, the dog did a wee.

I said to the dog-walker, "Thank you very much!"

She had the audacity to reply, "It's only pee."

"Yes," I said, "And when my guests arrive they would have to step into it," as indeed we were expecting guests.

No word of apology. She just walked away.

To those people who believe in evolution: What is the human race going to evolve into next? I dread to think.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

A failing mother? A story of selfishness

OK, I am not a perfect mother.

But what would you do if you were at a nice restaurant/cafe and your 18-month-old is screaming for attention because she's been left in the pushchair too long while you have been reading your Sunday papers?

Would you:

(a) stop reading and give your daughter a cuddle?
(b) give her a new toy to entertain herself?
(c) say, "Wait! You have to wait another five minutes."

While waiting for my son to finish his golf lessons, I sit in the cafe area of this restaurant and I cannot remember the number of times my quiet, supposedly relaxing afternoons have been ruined by this toddler who screams at the top of her shrill, sharp voice as toddlers are able to do.

Mum does not care. Dad, if he's there, does not care. Every one else in the restaurant/cafe -- and we pay for food and drinks -- have to endure her screaming.

Today Mum was heard to say several times, "No, you're not getting out (of the pushchair) yet," and "No, you have to wait a few more minutes ...."

Poor mite! She does not know what "few more minutes" mean.

What sort of mother is it who thinks that reading her newspaper is more important than picking up a distressed/bored/hungry baby?

Even after she was released from her pushchair prison and playing with her brother, she was running around screaming at the top of her voice.

Why is it that some parents can bring up children without them screaming in public places and others cannot?

If this mother cannot manage a screaming baby when she's (about) 18 months old, how is she going to cope when the baby is three years, or five, 13 and 17?

Is it too much to expect parents to vacate an otherwise nice quiet restaurant (or cinema, theatre, etc) if their babies fuss too much and/or emit piercing screams so that other patrons can have a peaceful time?

Well, as far as this particular mother is concerned, a screaming toddler is not her problem. Her newspaper reading time is too precious and little one can wait.

Should I complain to the management, the mother, or both?

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

An invite ... to make an outpatient appointment!!!

I recently got back in touch with a school friend. I remember us fondly as -- amongst other memories -- wearers of tooth-braces. It was like a badge of honour back then.

I had my regular visits with the orthodontist and was told after each visit when I should next visit. Then I'd go to the nurse with her big diary and she'd flip the pages to four weeks or six months after and we'd fix an appointment, making sure that it did not clash with a band practice.

She would write the date and time on my appointment card and I went home to note that date on my own calendar, diary, whatever.

If, for whatever reason, I could not make the appointment, I rang to say, "Please could you re-schedule?" That way my slot was freed up for other people (especially emergencies) and I could rest assured that nobody's time was being wasted.

Today my husband received a letter "An Invitation to make an Outpatient Appointment in --- Department" it said.

My husband has a chronic disease and is under constant medical surveillance, having to go for numerous tests of every kind periodically to make sure his medication regime is still optimal. (For this we are grateful that our exhorbitant tax bill is giving us some (even if undesirable) 'returns'.)

But can you imagine the amount of correspondence that has crossed our desk whenever a follow-up appointment is required?

"Why don't they let you make an appointment while you're at the clinic?" I asked.

"Their computer system does not work beyond six weeks (or somefink like that)."

So if the consultant needed to see him in eight weeks (say), he gets a letter a week or two after his previous consultation dictating a date and time.

Once, the date given coincided with a holiday. He had been very ill and this was a first family holiday in some time. I rang up to notify the hospital.

We received a letter telling us that I had notified them that he could not make the appointment and that an alternative date would be given.

Another letter then arrived giving him the next date, but this was no good for him either due to work commitment. I rang and they sent another letter with another date.

I rang to say they were wasting our time and demanded we sorted the time out while I was on the phone. It was sorted.

The next day the postman brought -- yes, you guessed it -- another letter confirming that a date had been given.

How many hands does it take to change a light-bulb?

How many clerks (they are not called clerks these days) were involved in confirming that one appointment for my husband? I dread to think.

This is not the only time that it has happened.

I just saw Tony Blair (The Right Honourable) on TV telling the House of Commons that the Labour government have employed 85,000 more nurses, etc. Well, Mr Blair, yesterday a mother at son's school told me she might not have a job in a month's time, thanks to the local PCT cutting two-thirds of the community nursing staff. And they gave them this news just before Christmas.

How are they going to afford to keep two sons at an independent school? Why are their sons in an independent school, Mr Blair might wish to ask? Because the state school they were in just completely failed their boys. When the older boy joined at seven, he could not read. (He has since more than caught up.)

My husband's "Invitation to make ..." is completely unnecessary.

So much of the work of the clerical staff at NHS hospitals make not a jot of difference to patients' lives, other than making their wives and carers call on the phone to make complicated arrangements for a simple appointment.

This mother makes a clinical difference to the life for patients. But she's more expensive to employ than the person sending out those "Invitations to make ... ". What complete rubbish!

What's wrong with using a great big book to let patients book a subsequent appointment six weeks, two months, six months into the future? It has worked very well in the past before computers came into existence.

What's wrong with dealing with a real patient who would have his diary and knows his holiday dates and work schedule IN PERSON rather than have some office minion sending out "Invitations to make appointments".

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Whose rubbish is it anyway?

I was measuring out washing powder to put into the washing machine and I thought: why on earth do manufacturers have to package some washing powder or liquids into tablets or gel sachets, every one of which is encased in some form of pl-st-c?

The answer seems to be: because we are either too lazy to measure out the right amounts of washing powder/liquid, or too stupid to do so.

I remember washing powder as my mum used it came in big cardboard boxes. In fact everything came packaged in cardboard boxes of different weights. She would measure out the amount of powder she needed for each wash.

If those boxes were put into landfills, they biodegraded in due course. Or if they were incinerated (which is more likely the case in Singapore), it just broke down into ashes.

It is interesting to read: Me pay? I didn’t ask to be buried in bubble wrap by Martin Samuel in The Times.

Basically he is saying: why should I be paying to dispose the rubbish I did not ask for?

"We did not ask for green beans from Zambia to be available 12 months a year, cased in two layers of Cellophane and a black plastic tray. We did not ask for 20 opportunities to open new credit accounts to be delivered weekly. We did not ask for every single item of furniture to arrive requiring assembly and swaddled in polystyrene, bubble wrap and enough Sellotape to gag a busload of hostages for six months."

"We did not ask for the small high street shops to be slowly murdered by exorbitant council rents and prohibitive parking schemes that played into the hands of out-of-town supermarkets and spelt the end of daily small-scale grocery shopping, as exists in continental Europe. "

"We did not ask for half the workforce to be laid off to cut costs, so that manufactured items are now sent out in pieces, each individually protected in layer upon layer of unnecessary packaging. We actually liked it when we ordered a wardrobe and it turned up looking like a wardrobe ...."

He's right, of course. These days when I consider buying furniture, I avoid the 'self-assembly required' ones. I prefer to buy furniture that has been fully assembled on the basis that (a) I normally would need my husband's help to put any of these items together because at least two adults are needed for the said assembly, and (b) my husband's time at home is far too precious and valuable to be putting together cheap furniture.

Recently we had to buy a couple of larger items that came packaged in gigantic cardboard boxes. They do not sell these items assembled. While the assembly was easy, we are now left with mountains of cardboard. So, next week, I would have to hire a skip to throw out this rubbish (and that of several of my neighbours, it goes without saying).

Meanwhile, we've stopped shopping at a certain supermarket chain known to squeeze its producers worldwide. We've stopped buying green beans from Zambia or mangetout from Kenya. We've stopped buying strawberries except when they are in season, and try to buy local as much as possible. (I didn't realize so much of our potatoes come from Israel.)

We also annoy checkout stuff by telling them "We do not need bags" because we always bring our own (except on rare occasions when stopping at a shop was unplanned). We also carry loose fruit and vegetables to the counter and insist that they do not attempt to put it in a pl-st-c bag.

Recently I asked a young 'manager' at 'Marcus Pencer' (as my son used to call this chain), "Why are these organic vegetables wrapped twice?" He gave me a blank look.

I volunteered, "Customers who choose organic do not want over-packaged food."

Still the same blank look.

"Could you please let your management know?"

He muttered some response I did not comprehend as I marched off.

Whose fault is it that we are paying for rubbish?

We CAN do something. So let us do.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Beauty of reusable whatever

1st April 2016 Update: We do not stock Hankettes Cosmetic Squares any more, but have made-in-UK ones here.

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The customer is always right.

So give them what they want, not what the shopowner wants.

Because I do not use make-up now, I didn't even think of selling the washable reusable cosmetic pads on the Organic-Ally business site. When I took the risk and imported my first batch, I was pleasantly surprised to find these quickly becoming very popular.

So it was a bit of a shock when I received an email from a prospective customer who told me that she liked the idea but does not like the pl-st-c packaging.

Immediately I had a quick pow-wow with my supplier and we now have the same soft reusable cosmetic pads packaged in an organic cotton gauze bag. The bag with a twine tie doubles as a 'wash bag', to stop these pads being lost in the washing machine.



We are proud to present reusable washable organic cotton cosmetic pads in new packaging.

Whatever helps to reduce the amount of disposable we use must be good for the environment, I think.

Please tell your friends about us.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year Scramble

Usually we host a lunch at Christmas and New Year. The Christmas crowd consists mainly of people who are either new to the country or just visiting, those who live on their own, or one or two who have no where else to go at Christmas.

Since we were away for Christmas, it was only New Year lunch this time. Our usual 'select' crowd gathered, mainly friends whom we've known for a long time and family who live further afield.

We had a lovely time. Food was OK but simple. Company was fine. Son was not as anti-social as he often is. In fact, after the Christmas pudding (which apparently was generously laced with cognac) he was definitely on a high.

I do not usually like Christmas pudding, by the way. But we managed to get our hands on an organic version, packed "in an earthenware basin with cloth" and it was delicious. Unlike other Christmas puds I've tasted, this was very light in texture.

We were also impressed that there was not a bit of pl-st-c packaging in sight, and it was "hand finished and packed" by someone who signed himself/herself as "Des".

We had a few more visitors later for coffee and cake, and then everyone (bar one) left.

I was ready, after watching a comedy on TV, to turn in when I checked my website and realized that something had gone wrong with one of the pages I had just uploaded.

Clearly some of the code has been scrambled. I felt a shiver go down my spine. It reminded me of when I was coding a computer-based training programme and a simple mistake (saving over a file) meant that I had wiped out three whole days of work.

How was I to correct this page now so that customers do not get cross when they visit the site?

I was tired. My eyelids were struggling to stay apart. But I managed somehow to detect a basic flaw in the codes. They seemed to have referenced (erroneously) all the links to files on my laptop (I was working on the laptop while at mum-in-law's). Little wonder that the system would come to a halt when a link is clicked.

Midnight now, and very groggy, I managed to copy and paste as much of the codes as was needed to get the page going. Still, some 'cosmetic features' (colour-changing arrows) were not working.

Tough! I was not going to comb through the code at that point. My brains had packed up for the day two hours before (hence I was watching a comedy, remember?). The cosmetics would have to wait.

That was my first day of the year 2007: a scramble to unscramble some scrambled code.

I am pleased to say that I had a brainwave while still awake that night/early morning. The cosmetics were reinstated the following morning before breakfast.

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