Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I'm a busybody

I was just walking along minding my own business going over in my mind my plans for the rest of the day when I noticed something being dropped from a window across the road.

Little boy had thrown a toy out from his first floor window.

The ground was strewn with soft toys and books. Next a framed photograph was hurled out.

I thought his mum is not going to like that.

Maybe she does not know that this is happening. So I crossed the road and rang the bell, and knocked.

It was a house that had been converted into two flats so maybe no one heard me.

I asked the boy in blue pyjamas where his mum was, was she asleep, was she not well, etc.

He attempted to give answers but they were not very coherent.

Maybe she's lying unconscious and needed help.

The boy indicated that he wanted back something he had thrown out. The window was not secured at all and there was every possibility that he would climb out.

Immediately my training on child protection, etc. kicked in.

I told him to stay where he was and I would get someone to get the stuff back to him.

Rushed home (about 50 yards away), rang the police (while putting my shopping in the fridge) and decided I must get back to the boy.

I nearly died: He was now standing full length/height on the window sill.

"Sit down! Get down from there! Someone is coming to help you."

He seemed pleased to see me. Very friendly.

Meanwhile I tried getting information about his mum. Again incoherently she had taken the car out over there ... Didn't make sense.

"You have lots of books," I said, "You like reading?"

No answer.

My objective was keep his feet on the floor as I heard police siren approaching.

Saw the patrol car and waved it down.

Two young male officers (men in uniform!) arrived. One stepped out immediately and I said I was the one who reported the case. Immediately he spoke to the boy to reassure him and then checked for an open window on the ground floor.

Did I say 'open window'? It looked like an open window several feet above ground, nose height for me. In fact there were no hinges. The officer simply removed the 'window'.

He decided (being the "slim one") to stick his head (much of his upper body) in and managed to open the front door.

But we were then confronted by two locked doors and we did not know which one it was.

Meanwhile a supporting police van had arrived. Officer said he had the equipment to bash the door down.

No need for that. I don't think the neighbours will be pleased.

After a lot of shouting (talking to the boy) and banging on doors, and checking the back garden, finally an adult face appeared at the window.

Then minutes later a woman finally answered the door and sounded surprised at the mess in the front of her flat.

I didn't see her face. I did not wish to see her face. She was not aggressive or anything, but I know this case (if the police are doing their job) will be passed on to Social Services. And she's not going to like that.

Why did it take so long to rouse her? How often has this kid been sitting/standing by the unsecured window unsupervised? There was a fold-up walker in the porch area. Is there another baby who is also at risk?

I stood behind the bushes where I hoped she had not seen me. The officer from the van shouted to the other two if they might wish to take details of "the doctor".

I replied that his colleague on the phone already has the details.

I am a bit distressed that that little boy might have been distressed. (You should see his face when the police car drew up. But the officers were very good at reassuring him.) And I hope and pray that his mother is not prone to leaving him to his own devices like that.

I hope, for the sake of the boy, the police officers had entered the house to check its condition to suss how the two (or three or more) are living in there. I hope somebody would fix that window fast or the next time the boy might be in real danger.

Little children deserve better than that.

This is your busybody blogger signing off.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Repairs and Renewals

We were very late in getting our accounts to the accountant for tax purposes this year, largely due to husband's drawn-out illness.

I really hate the time of year when we have to do the trial balance for the business. As my friend, who's really more into these matters than I, says they don't call it a TRIAL balance for nothing.

One item that came up was "Repairs and Renewals".

It got me thinking as we've had so many this year in the house.

Son tore a large-ish hole in his pyjamas, "But they are my favourite!" So Mum (ie me) ended up mending (ie repairing) it.

There was one week several items of textile (I can't remember what now) needed either repairs or buttons sewn back on, etc.

I was actually quite proud of myself: instead of chucking these items out, we (ie I) repaired those.

The washing machine went wonky. Do we buy a new one or have it repaired? It turned out that husband has bought insurance cover on its repair. Great! One phonecall was all it took to arrange for someone to come sort it.

Meanwhile we had to re-acquaint ourselves with the workings of a launderette. (Eg. it is useful to have lots of change, and please bring your own soap powder, and a good book.)

Someone came and replaced a part. Sorted. We did not need a new machine after all.

Next up, the dishwasher. It had been making funny noises and we realized that the hot steam that is supposed to escape was not doing so and we opened it each morning to water pouring out of these ventilators. No problem. We learned to place a bowl strategically.

Then we found yukky water at the bottom of the machine. It was not draining properly. Then it would not start.

Do we buy a new washing machine or have it repaired? It turned out that husband has bought insurance cover on its repair. It's the same policy, actually. How very useful.

One phonecall and the visit was scheduled.

They found a cherry stone blocking some tube and something else was clogged up with limescale. Anyway the dishwasher is now sorted.

The conservatory roof was letting rain water in. Ah! Do we install new roof or have it repaired?

More crucially, whom could we get to repair it. Folks are quick to sell you windows and conservatories, but few are inclined to do repairs.

One company actually sent out a person who looked and said he'd send me a quote, but didn't, despite my chasing him up.

It was not a serious leak so do we just put another bowl in place to catch the drips?

Eventually we found one company who were keen to install laminates on our roof. It is a south facing conservatory which is baking hot in the summer and stone cold in winter.

This chap came, brought out his mountaineering gear, climbed onto the roof, took photos and told us we needed to have some bits cleared out. The people who built the conservatory did not do the best possible job and yes, he is happy to have the leaks seen to and put right whilst his men are installing the laminates.


Weeks later, we had a cool conservatory. (It became so cool my clothes would not dry, but that is another problem.)

Some months later, it rained, and it leaked again, somewhere else. Phoned the company who sent someone out. He climbed up on the roof, sussed that something had slipped and needed a filler, sorted it on the spot, and that was that. No charge. (Well, alright, we had already paid for the repairs. But some dodgey businesses won't bother once they've got the cheque.)

Yay! So no new roof required.

If you need the name of this company, drop me a note. Otherwise there are people who provide repairs for white goods and they use a repairman near you. Eg:

We are pleased that we have avoided adding to the landfill. Choosing the repairs route also means we are keeping alive the skills of many more people and small traders in the country.

Many won't find employment MAKING washing machines and dishwashers in this country. But if we at least give them a chance, they can be gainfully employed to repair these machines.

Meanwhile I am looking forward to some repair and renewal come Christmas and New Year.

A butler for Christmas, please. Actually a butler is not only for Christmas. Is it?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Story of Tuit

Recently I received some information from Janne, founder of Tabitha, and read this story. I'm copying and pasting the lot to show how we can make a real difference in the lives of those, often far away from us, who only want a chance to help themselves.

November 2009

Dear friends and partners,

This week marks the end of the first UN held Khmer Rouge trial of Duch – the infamous head of Toul Sleng – a torture and death chamber of more than 14,000 Khmers. Duch has said he is guilty and he has said he is sorry, but these words have little meaning for the survivors for he also says “I was just following orders”. There is no remorse.

When I started Tabitha Cambodia back in October of 1994, the wounds of this brutal regime were still open and raw. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were still active in many parts of the country. People were struggling to make sense out of their losses – losses which included family, homes, education and their very fabric of society, their faith. We had decided to start cottage industry, a program that focused on providing work and incomes for families who had lost so very much. I decided that we needed to focus on traditional skills inherent in this society. Silk weaving was one such skill.

One of our first weavers was a very old lady, named Tuit. When I first met Tuit, she lived in a thatched hut. She was bent over double – she could no longer straighten her back. Tuit was raising 4 grandchildren – at 78 she should have had the luxury of resting her weary bones and enjoying her family – but her family were mostly gone – her husband and her 4 birth children had been executed by a regime that was only following orders. Her one surviving son had gotten married and had 4 children – the son and his wife died of AIDS – Tuit was raising the 4 grandchildren – 16 years old and younger at that time.

We talked of the threads of her life – raised in a happy home, learning weaving skills that created beauty – getting married and having a good home - and then it all ended with the brutality of the Khmer Rouge. Tuit revived her weaving skills – and the silk thread she wove became the income that helped her grandchildren to survive. The silk thread spoke of better times; times when life was normal and good, time when wearing silk spoke of the daily events that people were living. Each silk piece bespoke of the married status of women, of special events being celebrated, of a society that had customs and beliefs.

Several years later, a housebuilding team came and built her home. Tuit was so very touched – in Cambodia it means so much to have a home to die in. She was so very tired and wanted to move on. I asked her not to die but to live – to live for her grandchildren – to stretch the thread of life a little longer.

Over the next several years, Tuit taught the oldest child to weave and the income of the family was secured. The children graduated from school and all got married – the oldest one still weaving today. She is passing on her skills to her three children. The weaving allowed Tuit to live out her life with dignity and beauty. Tuit passed away three years ago at the age of ninety. She was surrounded by her grandchildren and their children. The thread of life continues – the thread of silk her burial shroud. For a few years, this silk weaver regained some degree of comfort in her troubled life – for a few short years – she could be what she was meant to be – a woman of beauty comforted by a thread of silk that bound her family together.

Tuit’s story is but one story of so very many – women and men who have gone through unspeakable horror – the silk thread has given them the strength to carry on, the strength to live for a while longer, the strength to regain their meaning in life, the strength to dare believe in life itself.

For each of you who have purchased an item of Tabitha’s cottage industry – each of you have carried that thread of life one step further. You have given life to so many for whom life was nothing but a thread. I thank my God for each of you – this Christmas season, may each of you give a piece of the thread of life – to those whom are attached to your personal thread of life. May the joy and peace given by each item suffuse you with the joy and the peace you have granted to others.

Tabitha Cambodia#239, St 51,Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Please remember that we continue to offer a number of alternative gift ideas for your loved ones which enable you to support our partnership programmes. These gifts include a well for £60 which provides clean water for 5 families as well as our 'Gifts of Life' starting at £5 for school supplies, a gift that can make all the difference to children struggling to afford school. These unique gifts can be ordered using the form available on our website.

Tabitha Cambodia
Tabitha Australia
Tabitha USA
Tabitha UK
Tabitha Singapore
Tabitha New Zealand

Silk Wine Gift Bags from our own Organic-Ally site at just £3.50.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Get the adrenaline going

Husband was back at work yesterday, the first time in five weeks.

He had taken two weeks off to coincide with son's half-term break so that we could do all sorts.

A visit to granny had to be cancelled because I had put my back out two weeks before, and granny herself had had her wrist in a cast.

OK, so we booked tickets for the special exhibition at the British Museum.

Of course son had to manifest another cold on that Wednesday morning. He recovered after a couple of days of rest, as usual. But husband copped it.

Friday he struggled to get to the hospital for his ultra-sound scan because his consultants wanted to be sure that his liver was OK. He came home exhausted. Ironically liver was OK but he was exhausted from the cold symptoms.

He was in bed most of the weekend.

Monday, we thought his cold was over. Tuesday it was my turn to get this cold.

Wednesday husband was at the clinic because his cough was bad, his temperature was fluctuating and he was not in very good nick.

Pleurisy, said the GP (#1). Antibiotics and off to the hospital for an x-ray.

Son had some respite with a sleepover at his mate's.

Two days later (Friday) and no sleep, back at GP (#2, a different one, locum, but good one): no improvement. What do we do?

Continue with antibiotics. Honey and lemon.

Fraught weekend. This was perhaps the lowest point of his illness. He just could not find a comfortable position to be in. Moan, groan, moan, groan.

For our poor son, Daddy was physically in the house, but not quite there, it seemed. He just could not do "Daddy" things and Mum was both mum and dad (a not very good one, I'm afraid).

Monday: son returned to school.

Wednesday: husband at GP (#3, the GP who normally sorts out his long-term medication). Cough slightly better but now acquired flu symptoms. X-ray shows pneumonia. More and stronger antibiotics. Signed off work for two weeks.

Hissing, moaning, grumpy old husband.

Eventually, he showed signs of improvement, the coughing eased and he managed to sleep at night. But still came downstairs in the morning and was slumped in the sofa after breakfast, exhausted from showering and eating!

On the Saturday just before the end of his two weeks of antibiotics he managed to 'crack' this sleep/less cycle; managed to stay awake throughout the day. Tried to find things for him to do to kick-start the adrenaline.

Sunday he volunteered to do a 'supervised walk'. I wanted son to go to the shop, or to learn to do so, crossing two roads there and two roads back, buying the goods, paying and getting the right change, etc. I normally keep a distance behind him when he does this.

Husband decided he would do the supervision. Came back and complained his legs were killing him.

Of course they were, he had not used those walking muscles much for weeks. If anyone has had an experience of a fire drill walking 33 (or even just 20, 15) floors down an office block, you will know how this feels.

Midweek, back at the GP (#4, yet another one, the big cheese in this practice) who pronounced him fit for work and that he had "old-fashioned pneumonia". (A friend had use the term "new-moan-ia" previously. There certainly was a lot of "moan".) We figured he might have picked it up when he was at the hospital for his scan.

Any way he made great improvement since, and spent the rest of the week doing slightly more every day to get back into the swing of things. He was back at work yesterday in his new woolly coat and woolly scarf.

Many thanks to our friends and family for prayers and kind wishes during this time. I am especially grateful that my back had recovered sufficiently to take on those extra nursing duties. My cold symptoms lingered for some time, but I was spared a tickly cough which I dreaded the most. And husband's employer and colleagues were all so kind and understanding.

Just 2500 emails to clear on his first morning back at work!

We are NOT looking forward to the swine flu jab he has to take. This is recommended for those who are either pregnant (which he is not), immuno-suppressed (which he is) or had had a chest infection (that's him again).

Could it be after Christmas? we begged.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Tough Love: Look at my Face! (Part 2)

Chatting with husband at lunch (still recovering ever so slowly from pneumonia) it transpired that our son had been smacked not once -- as I thought -- but twice.

Husband recounted how he had to smack son when he was much younger after doing exactly what he had been warned not to do.

It's like, "You do that one more time and you will be smacked."

Son did it one more time and immediately -- smacking is only effective if it's immediate -- and was smacked on the back of his hand.

"I had to do it only once. Never had to do it again," he said.

And of course there is this other thing about "always carry out your threat". It must have been something quite serious to warrant a smack.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tough Love: Look at my Face!

This morning at breakfast, husband still off sick, asked son due for a History exam this morning: "What is the middle name of Alexander the Great?"

Son: Uh, uhm, "the"!

So delightful he is now. Yet there was a time before he was out of nappies when he would keep pushing the boundaries. Well, he still does, actually.

For reasons I cannot remember he was told he was not to cross the line between the hall and the living room. Maybe it's the staircase that we thought could pose some danger.

What did our young man do? He walked up to the line/boundary and threw his toy into the forbidden area.

Would Mum let me go out there to retrieve my toy? He looked at us and waited for a reaction from us. Can't remember what we did, probably ignored him. And he learned when mum and dad set boundaries, those remain as boundaries.

Once while he was still toddling he took to biting, purely out of mischief. He was told off sternly, "Do not bite!" And every time he approached me and started acting suspiciously, I would be on my guard and said, "Don't you even think of biting."

Then one day while I was at the kitchen sink he crept up behind me and sank his teeth into the back of my thigh.

In pain I turned round, stooped to his level ("stooped" being the operative word) and smacked him really hard on his hand.

First the shock, and then he realized there was some pain. Tears.

"That is what it feels like when you bite! PAIN."

Then when he had calmed down, we had a cuddle.

He never bit again. Not me, nor anyone else.

I've never had to hit him again.

I had used my "cane". Once.

Up to that point he had no idea what pain meant; that certain behaviour of his (eg biting, hitting, head-butting) could cause pain on another human being was a totally foreign concept.

Recently I recalled how my father used to hit us on the head: He would place his left hand, palm down on our head, and then hit his own hand with his right hand. (And should any social worker query, he was only hitting himself, really.)

Everytime he 'hit' us, he had to hit himself first. This was a 'Chinese' way of gentle discipline. It was almost done in a loving way, never out of anger. That was not very respectful ... smack!

Then he would say that every time parents hit their children, they themselves feel the hurt, just as his own hand had to take the force of the smack.

"Fathers [and mothers, too], do not exasperate your children!" so the Bible advises.

I can recall how I had done exactly that. It was a futile exercise. We both just got angrier and angrier. Never again.

I also learned that I must give him 'face' and 'space'. If I pushed him into a corner where he could not show remorse with some dignity, it becomes a downward spiral. When I had made my point and backed off ... he'd come round to it ... eventually.

Still we have many boundaries. Computer and TV times are restricted. Twenty-minute slots on the computer (he sets either the oven clock or some other timer) and a total of 90 minutes a day on the TV. If he fails to use up the 90 minutes due to school activities or homework, tough! He gets a bit more TV on the weekend. But he is required to be "sensible".

Sometimes when I get extremely tired and need a lie-down I would give him free rein. On those occasions he has proven that he could be sensible, resting between 'screen activities' and never exceeding his 20 minute computer slots.

Years ago someone mentioned that there are some mothers who could control their children just by raising their eyebrows. Just one eyebrow, actually. Their children understand "the look" and refrain from whatever.

These days when son gets a bit carried away -- as nine-year-olds often do -- I find myself saying, "Look at Dad's face," or when Dad is not around, "Look at my face," and immediately son knows what is best for him.

If all else fails, I would say, "That's why God give human children mums and dads. We are not like animals who are expected to look after themselves hours after we were born."

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tough love: do your children a favour

I stole this from The Telegraph.

I've found myself saying to my husband what joy our silly-stage nine-year-old is bringing us. Every day.

The proof of the pudding is when he turns 13, 15, etc, really. Meanwhile I am finding great joy in watching him grow up slowly but surely in learning to be more and more independent and learning greater responsibility with each passing day.

This article reminded me of "the cane".

When growing up in Singapore, "the cane" was ubiquitous in households with young children.

This was usually hung up high on a hook on a wall in the living room.

Do/Did parents use the cane?

Of course.

But only once.

The cane, when properly used, needs to be used only once, if at all, in the life-time of a child.

Before that, parents and carers would point and say, if you misbehave, disobey or did something that might endanger yourself or someone else, the cane will be used.

After it had been used -- once, if at all -- parents point at the cane and say, "Remember that cane? We don't want to have to use it again."

Did I use the cane on my nine-year-old?

I'll elaborate in my next post. I am too tired to write at the moment.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

No respect, no morals, no trust - welcome to modern Britain

No time to think (cold symptoms linger, husband has pneumonia and flu, bah!), so only this to support what I think (when I have time and energy to think).

No respect, no morals, no trust - welcome to modern Britain


Saturday, October 24, 2009

(Butt) Out of Africa

Sometimes we feel guilty even thinking such thoughts: People in Africa are starving from famine. But giving them food and money alone is not going to help them.

Why is it that knowing that famines will occur they do nothing about it?

Why is it that governance and infrastructure remain so bad in so many countries on that continent that the people cannot help themselves?

Why are women still treated as bearers of children and objects for sex?

Why don't they start educating their people and women especially in order that they could reduce their population issues?

How is it that for countries which are supposed to be so poor they cannot feed themselves every time there is drought, leading to famine, leading to displacement, leading to atrocities, etc, etc. that the governments (or some sort of ruling elite) have money to go to war? That their wives and children can afford the best clothes and shop in the most expensive stores in London, Paris, etc?

I have written about women, education, etc elsewhere (click on links for an example). I was surprised to find this article in the Times yesterday:

Do starving Africans a favour. Don’t feed them

It encapsulates what I had been thinking for some time but did not have the courage to say in print.

Throwing food and money at Africa will never solve the long-standing problems they have. The UK welfare system demonstrates well how feeding, clothing and housing the feckless alone won't make them aspire to do any better.

Where Africa is concerned, where loyalties are so marked by tribal boundaries, the solutionS are not simple. But just giving them lots and lots of money -- which get stolen by those in power -- does not help.

Charities and NGOs are well-meaning, but they are in danger too of engendering a culture of dependency. Why work so hard to harvest those few crops when foreign aid would feed us? What would these NGO and charity workers do when there are no known crises?

Charities and NGOs should have only one over-arching aim: to work themselves out of a job.

That means the agenda is not to jump on a plane and go to a site of crisis or give TV interviews to encourage people to give.

It means finding out the long and tedious way how an individual, a family, a village, a community can be helped. Giving micro-loans (not hand-outs) to train, learn a skill, start a business, husband the land, that would have more long-term positive impact than giving money.

The wonderful thing is there ARE people already doing this. I have trading links with two:

Bishopston Trading has done much in KV Kuppam, training men and women to retain and learn skills, helping them make a viable living. They have also started a school which will make a huge difference in years to come.

Tabitha have worked in Cambodia by turning their traditional skills into profit-making endeavours and returning these profits to the people so that many more could benefit from the training, micro-loans, house-building and well-digging projects.

No, we must not completely butt out of Africa, but let us be wise as to how these people can be served. History has shown that the likes of BandAid is nothing more than that: a sticky plaster.

We need people who are willing to do the hard grind. Create and design projects that really make a difference.

We need trade agreements that would support these countries, not penalize them.

We need corruption to be dealt with, and the sickness removed from its core.

And if we should look around us, we probably already know someone who knows someone who is actually at the coalface, doing this work day in and day out outside the focus of TV networks. Write out a cheque to support their work.

14/03/2010: Half of all food sent to Somalia is stolen, says UN report

Even Band Aid is not above criticism

Bob Geldof: My rage at this World Service calumny

Suzanne Franks: You can't take the politics out of humanitarian aid

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Granny Smith loves her Postie (part 2)

What a relief I saw my postie this morning! It's the same guy.

Last week I had the privilege of receiving a proper letter. Not a bill, not a statement, not a flyer to the "Office Products Buyer" with an offer, but a letter.

It's from a women's charity helping women suffering domestic violence. It was asking for a donation for a November fund-raising event.

Since I had also been very much involved with the local women's centre I really wanted to do my part. I decided to send on two new sets of Hemp Table Napkins embroidered with my original designs for their raffle.

When I say 'original' I mean I use either my own or a non-copyrighted idea/concept and then digitize it using my embroidery software, going into the tiny details of the stitchwork to get the 'picture' right. This usually involves hours and hours of painstaking and finger-squeezing mouse-work.

The two sets of colour-co-ordinated Christmas theme Table Napkins are as follows:

(Unfortunately my photography skills are not great.)

I sent these off yesterday by Recorded Delivery (First Class) with the hope that it would get to its destination before the postal strike begins. "First Class" means it should, normally, get there the next day.

Guess what? The last time I checked, the parcel had not arrived. (In fact another parcel I posted First Class by Recorded Delivery last Friday has not arrived either.)

Which means it would be caught in the backlog of the strike action. Not a happy bunny.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

This Granny Smith loves her postie but ....

Earlier this year I found myself running to catch up with my postie to give him some Divine Easter Eggs, the dark chocolate ones. He accepted those with a great smile on his face.

Then I realized that that was the second time I'd given him Easter eggs. I've had the same postie for TWO years. That is quite a record around here.

Every time I get used to one face he/she goes on another walk.

The impending postal strike is very frustrating. Last week someone from Business Link rang to find out how my business was doing.

Well, apart from the fact that:
  • they closed the sub-post office which means I have to drive to the next nearest post office, thus having to limit my despatch to twice a week
  • the unabated rise of postage costs without a corresponding rise in customer service
  • I could weigh and buy the correct postage online and stick it on my parcels but I still have to queue to get proof of posting just in case my parcels get lost*
  • Royal Mail losing my orders and sending me at least five letters with a ludicrous list of excuses (you haven't done this, you haven't done that -- when I had) before they would agree to pay me compensation, and not paying the cost of replacing the lost goods which has gone up 20% in price
  • the economic downturn
  • the sterling exchange rate going against me
  • my suppliers putting their prices up 20%
  • swine flu and the government telling people not to use handkerchiefs
  • and intermittent, random, unannounced regional postal strikes
I am doing alright. Am I? The business suffered a 50% drop in sales in one month and is just picking up again, and then this strike.

Every time I get news of a strike I run out to talk to my postie: you're not going on strike, are you?

No, he says, it's central London post offices.

I haven't seen him for weeks now. Where has he gone?

I have been going: where do I go to demonstrate against these useless striking postal workers?

Then by chance, thanks to Twitter, I read this written by a postal worker.

He/She details how Royal Mail has been piling more and more work on them; that the 10% drop in the volume of mail is not reflected in their actual workload; that there is a disparity between the ethos of the traditional postal worker and that of management; that there is clearly a lack of skill in their negotiation of contracts such that the postal worker on the walks have to bear the brunt while the likes of A. Crozier gets the bonus.

(NB: I've been there before as a junior rank management consultant when the partners promised the clients the heaven and worked us like hell.)

What I like most is the statement that "[T]here’s a feeling that we are being provoked, and that this isn’t coming from the managers in our office – who aren’t all that bright, and who don’t have all that much powerbut from somewhere higher up". (Emphasis is mine.)

Why on earth, for example, are postal workers not allowed to leave their sorting offices before 8am (or is it 9am?) in our local sorting office? My mail does not get delivered till after 12 noon these days.

So if this write-up is true then the problem, as I have suspected for some time, reading between the lines of what the different parties are saying in the media, and from my own (ill-)treatment by the Royal Mail, it is the management (middle? senior?) that needs our attention.

Time to send in the corporate anthropologist.

There is something very wrong with the set-up. There is a lot left unsaid or "unsayable" (is there such a word? If not, I just made it up. It is different from "unspeakable".) People are not seeing the whole picture, or are simply refusing to do so.

The result of these strikes is everyone: the Granny Smiths, home-based self-employed folk like myself, the postal workers and the Royal Mail as a business, suffer.

Send in the social anthropologists, I say. They will lurk, observe, participate and breathe in the same air. They will smell the antagonism and ask the relevant questions. They will be able to delineate where the invisible (sub)cultural boundaries are. And they will be able to suss out the issues. They have the knack of seeing just below the surface, in a holistic manner.

Trust me. I am a social anthropologist.

We may not have the solutions, but we can ascertain the real issues. Maybe (maybe not?) beginning with Adam Crozier's pay packet.

*Today I saw that they have installed two new machines at a post office where I could weigh, buy the correct postage for a parcel, get a receipt for the postage (paying by cash or card), and drop it into a special box. (Previously at this post office you have to queue just to get someone to open the hatch to drop off a parcel.) But I would still need to queue up just to get a proof of posting. Why can't they design a machine that could issue a proof of posting as well? How stupid is that?

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Back Out

I was just trying to sit down and it went.

Went where? What went?

Gone walkabout. My back.

I heard a sound that resembled something being crunched, "crrrck," and I could not stand up.

Then the memory was only of pain.

I must not fall down, I must not fall down, I said to myself.

If I fell here and lose consciousness, no one would find me for another, hmm, ten hours.

Managed to get to the computer to send a couple of messages, then thought that lying down would help.

It helped only insofar as Radio Four sent me to sleep and I forgot the pain for a while.

Then I managed to have a phone conversation with husband.

Until that point my fear was how do I get my son home from school? Do I call the school and ask them to ask another parent to send him home?

Do I request a staff member to make sure he got across the road safely?

Then what happens when he gets home? Could I get to the door to open it?

What a relief it was that husband said he would come home to pick the son up. Meanwhile I was told to get a doctor's appointment.

By this time I was in tears and when the GP's receptionist spoke to me she knew I had to be seen to, "It's either I saw the doctor or the doctor would have to make a house call."

"Could you drive?"

Too much pain, no.

"Could you get a taxi?"

A taxi? Ah! Good idea. So managed to get to the GP in a taxi.

Forgot to request for a vehicle that has a high seat because I just could not get down to there.

Driver saw that I was in pain and offered me a seat at the front of his MPV. Ouch, ouch, ouch! Took me ages to get into the car.

And then when we got to the GP it took me ages to get out. En route the driver was telling me what drug I should take.

How do you know these things? I asked.

It turned out he used to be a pharmacist!!

While doing my electronic check-in I dropped my walking stick. A much older lady bent over to pick it up for me. Cool! Not. Truth is there was no way I could bend over to retrieve the stick.

Doctor decided I had pulled a muscle. Medication needed to help me get past the pain barrier. The last thing I must do -- it seemed -- was to lie down and do nothing.

I must keep doing things, the normal day-to-day things, pain or no pain.

A week later I am about 90% back to healthy life. There is still an occasional spasm, but no where close to the agony I was in.

People comment on my 'funky stick'. Bought it in Devon some time ago. Thought it looked nice and it came in useful when the snow was ground into ice. And now I use it to give me some confidence when the spasms come and I feel like toppling.

Husband has been doing a lot of what I normally do. And then complained that he was also getting a backache. Proof: mothering is back-breaking work. QED. Quite Enough Said.

Office workers and professionals carry piles of papers and files, etc, about. Mothers are always bending over: load the washing machine, unload the washing machine, lift a basket of wet laundry, carry the wet laundry to the line, hang up the wet washing, stretching and bending with each sock, shirt and whatever else, retrieve the dry washing, carry the dry washing somewhere else, fold the dry washing, carry a full basket of clean clothes to the various rooms, return the clean clothes to their respective receptacles, in low drawers and high shelves. And then start on another load of washing.

Load the dishwasher, bending over for each item of crockery or cutlery, put in the washing tablet, unload the dishwasher (but I am lazy housewife and tries not to do this), return crockery to cupboard in a kitchen built for Europeans, not tiny Singaporean Chinese. Stretch, get on my toes.

I suffered RSI when working in an office, (and still do as I also do a lot of work at the computer at home) but not backache to the extent that I had been suffering since I became Mum.

Those of you who have never shown appreciation to the person who does these back-breaking chores in your household, please do so. And please help out whenever possible.


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Monday, September 21, 2009

Another new shop

Having been messed around by the Royal Mail a lot recently, selling to outside the UK has been even more difficult.

So I'm trying to find another marketplace by opening another shop:

Let's see if this works.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Children (and parents) again

This morning I woke to the end of the an interview with Mr Martin Narey. What he said is basically: 'More babies should be taken into care to protect them from poor parents'.

I don't think the sub-editor meant "poor parents" as in financially poor, but parents with "poor" parenting skills.

This comment was raised following the awful, awful case of two brothers who pleaded guilty of torturing two other young boys. The previous post was referring to this case.

Martin Narey speaks the unspeakable. Remember the furore he last raised about 'feral children'?

Husband and I discussed this case at length and we said exactly that: take the babies away and put them up for adoption.

Yesterday I witnessed two incidents which left me wondering what sort of people become parents.

At a busy shopping centre a little girl, perhaps two years old was lying prone on the floor, having a tantrum. The parents -- big people, both bulky six foot something -- and another friend or family member just stood by and smiled.

I think their strategy was to let her get tired from whatever she was doing and calm down -- in her own time.

Why they did not just scoop her up, that little body, tell her off in no uncertain terms and take her home?

When my son was little and we could still physically restrain him, it was a matter of strapping him into the pushchair and heading home.

Never mind if the shopping did not get done. Never mind if he didn't get what/where he thought he was going to get.

A two-year-old needs to know who is in charge. Maybe they feel most secure when they are reassured over and over again that their parents are in charge.

In fact I've come to the conclusion that God gave us terrible two's tantrums to force parents to 'bond', to get us used to "being in charge".

It comes at a stage when the children are physically much less fragile than when they were infants, but before they are too large for us to manhandle.

I am not advocating violence. Far from it. But every child benefits from the firm REASSURING hold of a parent or carer.

The more he throws a tantrum, the more he is assured that the carer is always there. The same hands that pick up the child after a fall are the same hands that will also restrain a child to make sure he/she does not run into danger.

I think the 'terrible two's' is a period that young mobile children first test their ground, not only to see how far they could push the boundaries, but also how much they are loved.

At that age I guess they feel most loved when they are held. A bit of stern talking to is also not going to hurt.

Incident #2: Then further along I saw a young mother shoving chips into her son's face.

The boy, again, was probably no more than two years old and a small bit, strapped into his pushchair. Mum was feeding him burger and chips and she had the most earnest look on her face.

It was not an evil face. It was not a "I could not care less" or "I prefer to have fun" face. It was an anxious determined face. It looked more like she was finally able to get some food and she must first feed her child.

Let's face it: burger and chips are a cheaper alternative to a proper meal.

I only hope she does not feed burger and chips to this boy at every meal.

There was a time when I also survived on those cheap supermarket meals. When every penny counted I decided that it was far more economical to buy a ready-meal than to attempt to cook the same from scratch.

The cost of utilities did not justify my cooking a proper meal. Isn't that sad?

At one point I discovered potato waffles. They were cheap. They were much needed carbohydrates and fast to cook on the grill. I ate them ... a lot.

And I became quite ill.

Only then did I study the ingredients and decided that there were too many artificial this and artificial that to be good for any one. I stopped eating those and returned to more robust health.

Was this young mother poor like me and felt she did not have a choice? Or did she not realize that burger and chips do not a healthy child diet make?

Either way, there is little wonder why we are producing an obese, irreverant and quite hopeless generation.

As always, my question is: what can I, as an individual, do to help?

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Friday, September 04, 2009

IDS: Save the mother

Iain Duncan Smith -- not so good at leading the Conservative Party, but makes a lot of sense, maybe too much sense for other spineless politicians -- suggests:

Save the mother, and you will save the generations to come

Quote: One successful programme in the UK, "Save the Family", believes in taking mothers and children into care so that they can be assisted together as a unit: as they say, save the mother and you save the child.

Is there something I could do to help in a programme such as this?

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Binding Religion?

Recently I came across posts which seem to be coming down hard on Christians in Singapore. One that caught my eye was the displeasure voiced by netizens on the suitability of the principal of a church-based junior college, Mrs Belinda Charles, to speak at a Christian conference.

It touched me because though Mrs Charles never actually taught me, she was the person who handed me my 'A' Level results many, many years ago. I don't recall her trying to convert anyone to any faith.

I penned the following letter to Straits Times, but it was never published. So I am reproducing the contents of the letter here.



My Dutch friend Sheila once said, "Only in my car do I feel safe. Then I have the freedom to go any where."

Sheila’s freedom comes from all motorists, including herself, obeying the Highway Code, a set of rules. Imagine someone insisting on driving on the wrong side of the road "because it is my right".

Likewise when whole communities subscribed to the Ten Commandments they have found their freedom to worship, work (and rest), own property, live and love.

Sceptics have added an eleventh commandment: "Thou shall not be found out", played out in all its glory in the expenses scandal of the members of both Houses of Parliament in Britain.

Jesus’s own "new" commandment: Love your neighbour as yourself.

Clearly the young men in Britain who stab another love their neighbours little. Perhaps they love themselves even less*.

Having not related to a father, or watch a father relate as a husband and son, many such young men have no notion of family. When there is no sense of family honour, there is no sense of (family) shame.

When "churchianity" still provided the social glue in Britain people observed boundaries.

The welfare state – designed with good intentions to care for the orphaned and the widowed – has suffered a "mission creep" by removing the stigma of illegitimacy.

Where once women looked for husbands who could protect them and their children, and men looked for wives who would help support their careers, the decline of the church coupled with the expansion of the welfare state have led to the rise and rise of an underprivileged class.

On one hand people who do not believe in God champion "the survival of the fittest". On another they build a comprehensive counter-Darwinist system that "selects in" the weakest, encouraging those who are least able to look after themselves to procreate.

Britain is broken because the family (where one might "Honour your father and mother") is broken.

Take away the family and the young man who stabs another is no different from the City banker who gambles away someone else’s money. They cannot extrapolate, envisage, the consequences of their reckless actions (violence, greed, selfishness) on their "neighbours": sons and daughters, fathers and mothers.

Harriet Harman (British Deputy PM) asked if Lehman Brothers would be different if it were Lehman Sisters.

What if Lehman Brothers were "Lehman Brethren"?

Take away the freedom for people with religious convictions to comment on the state of society, and particularly the state of the family – whether these be as doctors, accountants or politicians, Christian or otherwise – one takes away the potential for ideas, suggestions and solutions on how society could be (re)built, improved and sustained.

Happy birthday, Singapore!


Does religion bind us or does it free us? Do we wish to bind religion or free it?

*See this post as well.

Just for fun, read this.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

He who has been stealing ... Ephesians 4:28

Oooh ah! Harrow boy Michael Portillo has something interesting to say here in:

Idle young should be entitled to nothing

"In Britain — maybe throughout western Europe — belief in work, vocation, community, family and God have declined together. "

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. (Ephesians 4:28)

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Laziest Housewife I might be, but ...

When we take our kid out, we make sure he behaves himself.

I remember my sister-in-law saying of her children (now grown up), "Rather they behave badly at home than they behave badly in public."

Us Chinese have this notion called jiajiao (literally "education by/in your family" which can be translated roughly as "parenting" or as I prefer "family honour"). So if a child behaves badly, a grandparent is likely to mutter, "Don't do that. No jiajiao."

Those words alone were often enough to stop most young children from misbehaving.

So when we go out with son to an event we make sure he is polite. We also help him with his food when he was much younger, and wipe up any spills, etc. to ensure that we do not trouble the hosts too much.

Last Friday was a very emotional day for me. I was in tears a lot in the morning. I was finding it hard to get over how our neighbours' eldest son had died so suddenly, and it was his funeral. This death also brought to the fore the sudden death of my father-in-law almost exactly ten years ago.

N and I were married in September 1998. In May 1999 I was in Singapore when I lost my mum. When I came back to London, my in-laws were quick to visit and greeted me with, "We are your only parents now."

August 11th was the total eclipse of the sun in Cornwall and Devon. We discovered with great joy only the day before that I was pregnant. But because it was early days we had not told anyone about the pregnancy.

On the evening of 11th August, I got a call from M, who's now our son's godfather. M had gone down to stay with my in-laws in order to watch the eclipse. M said that P had collapsed while ordering drinks at a pub, and it didn't look good. Could we come to Devon immediately?

I was at a loss. Husband had gone to church to help with moving a piano, and had left his mobile phone at home.

A few minutes later M rang again to say, sorry, P had died.

I managed to get in touch with the church secretary who drove to church to locate my husband who was already on his way home. Paul followed him home in the car and stood at the door to make sure we were OK as I delivered the news to husband.

So within three months I had lost my mum and my father-in-law, both very, very dear to me.

The next couple of weeks were a blur. What was most difficult was that we had such good news, a baby was on the way, but we didn't dare celebrate. We had to give mum-in-law and everyone else -- all in a desperate state of shock -- time to grieve and mourn the totally unexpected passing of a man who was so, so dear to us.

So the death of John-next-door was tough on me. Their family runs a business from an office in their back garden. John was next door every day. He knocked on our door often to ask to park in our drive. I also go to them for help sometimes when I needed, eg. photocopying for my research projects and they were always kind to me.

I could not bring myself to go to the funeral service because I would make a fool of myself, I know. Besides, the house needed cleaning as we were having this open house thing for the church. I was suffering from mouth ulcers (probably as a result of all that stress) and was in some pain.

Then round about 6.45pm I found myself suddenly surrounded by eight and then ten little children. Only one of these was being carefully watched by his parents.

Then they were going, "I want this [pointing to food]" or "I want that [pointing to drinks] or "I need the toilet", and there was I, one woman who was coping with both physical and emotional pain, trying to tend to several young children (not her own) all at once.

Then someone decided it was funny to spill his brother's food. Someone accidentally dropped food on the floor. (These things happen.) Another spilled half a cup of sweet red juice. (These things happen.) As I was clearing and mopping up I thought, "Hang on a minute. Where are their parents?"

And gave up.

Got the husband to bring out the picnic mat and sent the children out to eat. Ah! Why didn't I think of that earlier? There they could mess as much as they like and I didn't need to mop up (to prevent others from slipping on a hard floor). The foxes will be happy tonight.

After exhausting himself in the garden first with playing and then with tidying up, our son decided he was going to bed. He had had a very long day, doing sports at holiday club, and he was required at someone's birthday party early the following day. He went upstairs and got himself ready for bed.

Then someone decided to fill a water pistol with apple juice. All the water pistols were confiscated (they weren't meant to be used at all) and someone else was not happy.

The children continued to play in the dark in the garden. Whoever said children should be seen and not heard?

Our garden lights had stopped working for some time and we were happy that they were out of our hair. We could hear them playing outside although we could not see what they were up to ...

Until the following morning when we realized that they had wrenched the swing ball stake out of the ground, leaving a very ugly hole right in the middle of the lawn.

Husband had hammered this into the ground as deep as a washing line. One or more of these children must have used a considerable amount of force to dislodge it.

Thankfully nobody was hurt in the course of removing this quite substantial stake and they hadn't tried to break anything else with the stake that now lies in the garden.

At breakfast I was furious. Why did they have to do this? This is vandalism, criminal damage, I fumed.

Then I turned to my son, "Do you think Mum is being petty or do I have the right to be angry?"

"Well, " he said very calmly and in as diplomatic a tone as he could muster, "At this moment, I personally think you are being petty."

It is great to learn that son has learned he does not need to appease his mum all the time.

Still, maybe it is a cultural difference, maybe it is an age thing, maybe I am being a parent at a different age from these other parents.

I may be a lazy housewife but personally (such a redundant word) I think children should learn to respect other people's property. There is a difference being having fun and doing something they had been told (by our son, earlier, as he later told me) not to do.

I may be a lazy housewife but I do not abandon completely my duties as a parent when I visit other families.

I may be a lazy housewife but I did spend two days cleaning up the house so that, uhm, there was room for people to enjoy their food and chat.

So maybe I was, as my son thought, being petty. Or maybe my excuse is it is just that time of month. That time of the decade. That I am in between two hospital visits and feeling the stress. Whatever.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

NHS - Putting Patients Last

Is it coincidental that on this Saturday morning, me groggy from last night's responsibility of hosting an "open house" to members of my church, that I should receive an update from Civitas with reviews of their recent publication Putting Patients Last? (See eg this.)

Earlier this week I had phoned two hospitals to try to re-schedule two appointments. I had been given really awkward times during this summer break when I am a full-time carer for my young son.

No, they cannot re-schedule, because it would mess up their six-week targets.

In other words, if I don't accept the appointment given, then we all suffer.

So I had to make some rather complicated childcare arrangements.

Could this policy be a good thing?

Last Thursday I turned up just before my appointed 6.05pm and found that I had gone to the wrong hospital. Yes, I felt like a complete idiot.

This was because I was seen at one hospital and expected the MRI to be done at the same hospital. It didn't occur to me, nor my husband who also read the letter, that the MRI scan was at their "sister" hospital 20 minutes drive away.

As I did not know how I would be feeling after being put into a noisy tube, I opted to take the bus to the hospital. When I discovered that I was at the wrong place I rang the required hospital and they asked if I could get there.

I didn't have a clue. I am well known to be rather directionally-challenged.

Thankfully there was a shuttle service between these two hospitals. One was leaving at 6.30pm and the scanning people told me that if I got there by 6.50pm they would see to me. The staff were also very concerned that I was able to find my way home.

I got there by 6.49pm, thanks to a very sympathetic driver. When they finished with me, I was asked again if I could find my way home. (I had ordered my taxi, thanks.)

NHS staff are really very nice people. Once you got past the appointment making business they are the most competent, most caring professionals. Really.

But I have lost count of the number of times I had been reduced to tears trying to make an appointment on my husband's behalf.

He has a chronic illness and is immuno-suppressed. It is very testing trying to get him an appointment to see the GP to sort out his prescription if he isn't on the verge of collapse. In which case I should be ringing for an ambulance instead.

For those who are unfamiliar, this is how it works for him.

He is under the care of a team of consultants at one of the best, if not THE best, colo-rectal hospitals in the country. But it is the GP who issues his monthly prescriptions, often in response to changes in his regular blood test results.

Sometimes husband suffers a relapse of sorts, or side-effects from the drugs, and he knows his body well enough to know that the prescription should be tweaked. But could he get a GP appointment to advise?

They tell you to ring at 8.30am in the morning for an appointment the same day. I have never been able to get through at this time. It is also, inconveniently, school run time for me. If I needed to see the GP myself, ringing after the school run means no appointments are left.

In reality it is a lottery. You ring at 8.30am and HOPE you may get to be seen on that day.

I tried explaining that husband -- who runs a busy IT department -- cannot expect to stay at home and HOPE to get an appointment.

"I'm sorry. That's the way it works."

I am often tempted to say, "But do you realize that he works to pay the taxes that pay your salary?" Then of course, he could be struck off the list by this surgery for abusing the staff. To that extent, we live at the mercy of the GP surgery's receptionists.

Try booking an appointment with the GP who knows his case? You must be joking.

The wait is usually AT LEAST two weeks. So now I tell him to book at appointment with the GP every time he has a blood test so that when the test results come back in two weeks' time, he has an appointment ready. If he didn't need to see the GP, he could cancel it.

Why do they have such a system?

One reason, I figure, is because patients miss appointments without informing the surgery. Because no payment changes hands, everything seems "free" (it is not, we taxpayers pay), it does not occur to some types of patients that their no-shows mean other patients cannot be seen. How do you correct such ingrained selfish behaviour?

Second reason, targets. Patients have to be seen within 48 hours. So if you stop them from being able to make an appointment other than on the same day, they will be seen withing 24 hours. Target met.

At our surgery you could also phone in the evening after 6.30pm the day before you wish to be seen.

Two problems here. One, I am often cooking the evening meal, trying to get son to bed, etc. Tired. So on both accounts of the 8.30am school run time and the 6.30pm cooking time, my surgery is discriminating against women, housewives, people with caring responsibilities.

Second, if I tried using this system to book for my husband for the end of the day -- so that he could get to work, come back on an earlier train and get to the surgery for the last appointment -- I have to be on the phone pressing "1" for "the next appointment" for about 20 minutes to get to the last appointment.

I don't kid you. I've done that before.

All these just so that targets are met. So is this a case for "putting patients last"?

The truth is, as truth must also be told, we do get very, very good professional care once we get past these gate-keepers of targets aka the receptionists.

During times when the husband had been too ill to get out of bed and I'd rung for a GP to visit, they often come as soon possible to make sure that he was OK.

If one were so ill that one needed emergency treatment, there is A&E. The only difficulty is when you are a conscientious non-acute patient who needs medical advice to make sure that your condition does not deteriorate to the extent that you need A&E, ambulance, etc.

Is this short-termism or what?

Yet millions of pounds are spent every Friday night looking after drunks for free, possibly of people who don't pay much tax at all.

The issue is not just one of putting patients last or first, or somewhere in between. There needs to be a massive re-think on the relationship between a health service and an individual.

These days there is such a divide between the ethos of a universal health service and the notion of being entitled to a universal health service that supply will always not be able to meet the demand.

Take for example the case of fertility treatment. On one hand we do not stop practices that could increase infertility (eg smoking and drinking that could result in cancer, and/or indiscriminate sex that leads to STDs with long-term effects on fertility, etc) and on the other we are spending massive amounts of money helping people get pregnant.

Then there is the anomaly of treating patients who neither qualify for, nor require, a free service.

My friend from Singapore came to see his daughter graduate from university. He fell seriously ill with heart problems and needed hospital treatment and hospital stay. Now he was fully covered by his insurance. Yet when he asked about payment, he was told, "Not to worry. Everything is being taken care of." [update: compare Obama's stepmother's case, see below.]

Why, in this situation, was a foreign non-taxpayer given free treatment? Why was there no attempt to recover the cost of his hospital stay from his insurers?

I have seen TV interviews where medical staff say that it is not their duty to screen foreigners out of the system. If someone needs care, NHS provides it. They are medical professionals. Very good ones, too.

But we hear also of people flying into Heathrow with serious heart trouble or needing an organ transplant, etc. and they, too, are treated for free and we wonder if, along the line, someone has become far too generous (spending our money).

No such thing as a free lunch. Why should I pay for other people who do nothing to contribute to the same system which (presumably) would look after me when I need the service?

And then I keep getting this questionnaire about whether I am happy with the service I get at the GP. Well, I know a thing or two about questionnaire survey design. I have designed several of these in my own professional life.

Guess what? There is not a question about how easy or difficult it is to book an appointment. Lots of questions about whether we are seen to within certain time limits, the decor and comfort of the surgery, the speed with which phone calls are answered, etc, but NOT a single question on my experience of trying to get an appointment at a time that suits my circumstances.

Was it: very easy, easy, OK/average, difficult, very difficult?

The Civitas report suggests that the NHS begins to treat patients as customers. By coincidence I worked on a project for a private hospital in Singapore where they were trying precisely to teach the same: the patient as a customer.

They did not stop there, they wanted all staff to treat other staff members as customers, too.

Not just a digit, not just a hospital or NHS number, not just someone in the system who must be pushed through the relevant numbercrunching gateways with the result "target met".

I live in hope.

For an example of the NHS's creaking bureaucracy, read this post.

Should we have paid for Obama's stepmother's healthcare?

Apparently Daniel Hannan prefers a version of healthcare system akin to that of Singapore.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Sunday Philosophy Club (not a book review!)

This time last year we were in sunny Singapore.

I often borrow some crime fiction books from our local library to take away on such home visits. It helps to settle the jet lag.

Last Saturday I took our son to the library so that he could pick up more books for his "reading challenge". Asked absent-mindedly if they have books on the "#1 Detective Agency". I first heard this on radio and was fascinated.

The librarian -- maybe she's on HRT now -- said, "Alexander McCall Smith, isn't it?" and then bounced over to the shelf, "Let me show you where they are." "Bounced" is the operative word.

I felt obliged to borrow a book or two after this. The Sunday Philosophy Club took my fancy (why? later ...).

I started reading this on Sunday evening. I was really chuffed because the author has allowed the heroine Isabel Dalhousie to sprinkle the book with philosophical musings. As I twittered on Monday morning:

"Loving the Alexander McCall Smith The Sunday Philosophy Club. Time to read (of, about) philosophy in any form is a treat to me."

Then I googled AMS (Alexander McCall Smith) before breakfast and found more information about this series.

Chuckled over the critics' comments, like:

The New York Times sees her [Isabel's] philosophical musings as “less than riveting”.

According to : “the tone is a bit daunting for readers who never progressed beyond Philosophy 101 in college”.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch calls Isabel “the anti-Precious” and suggests that the novel will “delight McCall Smith's existing fans and win him some new ones”.

The USA Today's reviewer commended Isabel’s penchant for philosophical self-examination and saw the novel as a “painless introduction to philosophical questions”.

I guess I am one of those "new" fans of AMS. I find the Philosophy painless rather than daunting. I was, after all, chided by Cedric Pan (one of my Philsophy professors) when, in my final year at university, I asked if I could put his name down as an academic/character referee in my CV.

"Aren't you staying to do your Honours degree?"

Fact is I would have loved to do an Hons. degree in Philosophy but didn't think I was good enough. Although I knew for a fact that my second-year essay on Kierkegaard was being circulated and studied by the third-year students reading Existential Philosophy (I wasn't, having opted for "Modern Philosophy" with "cowboy" Dr Patterson instead) I didn't think I was clever enough to read Philosophy any further.

Cedric's remark spurred me on. I studied very hard for my finals. But, as I have recounted to my son at least twice, I forgot to turn my exam question paper over in my final final "Buddhistic Philosophy" paper.

I found myself giving the same content twice in my answers and wondered why the questions were so limited in scope.

Then fifteen minutes before the end of my three-year undergraduate life I realized that HAD I -- "if only" is such a poignant phrase, isn't it?, if only I had -- turned the question paper over, I would have found not one but TWO other questions I could have answered with relative ease.

After all I knew "everything" required to argue over karma, dukkha and nibbhana. No, I didn't want to be reborn as a cockroach. Thank you very much.

And so -- no "if's" -- I was marked down for using the same material twice in completing that final final exam.

I failed miserably in getting into that very elitist Philosophy Honours Class. Few wanted to read Philosophy in my time. It was not a "marketable" subject. They wouldn't even let you into teachers' training with a Philosophy degree.

To rub salt into the wound, not only did all those who opted for Dr Patterson's paper fail to make the cut (his paper was so tough one of my mates walked out of the exam), many of my friends who had been regurgitating my Kierkegaard paper were offered a place -- which they rejected!

It transpired that these friends were practically told what questions to expect at their Existential Philosophy "revision class" by the lecturer whose name escapes me. (Lucky him.)

There were some 200+ students fighting for 20 places in the Sociology Honours class. I found myself -- most unexpectedly -- offered a place in "Sociology Honours" instead. ("Sociology" was made up of Sociology and Social Anthropology and to this day my social science still straddles both.)

And because of that mistake in my Buddhistic Philosophy 306 (or whatever, sorry Mr Goh, you have been such an inspiration since you introduced me to Logic in PH101) I am now a PhD in Social Anthropology. Not Philosophy.

Got that?

So I chuckled even more when I read more information about the AMS books I haven't read. Wikipedia does spoil some of the fun that way by revealing the plots.

Apparently in a sequel, says that "the interjections of philosophical and high-brow intellectual reasoning ... can seem snobbish and isolating to the average reader, ie those without a PhD."

I shared this with my son at breakfast and had a good laugh. My young son enjoys reading Philosophy for Kids and we often have protracted philosophical discussions.

Well, I have yet to finish reading this book. Last night I read about Isabel receiving an article from someone in the Philosophy Department of the (wait for it) National University of Singapore (NUS).

Well, what do you know? As I sometimes peer-review journal articles as well and have in fact reviewed one from NUS (the articles come to me "anonymized" but you only have to turn to the Bibliography, note whose name is listed repeatedly to guess who had submitted the paper) I can identify with Isabel's job.

Especially when I used to be a full-time editor (of a Christian magazine) and had recently considered offering my services for free to a journal desperate to find an editorial team. After all I am the inspiration behind SOAg (Sociologists Outside Academia Group).

But alas, unlike Isabel, I am not in my early forties (any more), live in a large house with a summer house (hmm a garden office will be nice), nor have the services of a very amicable and efficient housekeeper. (A butler has been the only item on my Christmas list for some years.)

I was also fascinated by the author's reference to the (lack of) use of handkerchiefs. As you know I rather fancy myself as the #1 Hankies Agency. The very positive response to my recent addition of handmade organic cotton lawn hankies has taken me by surprise.

I also play the trombone and flute (not terribly but not as well as I would like to) and love the idea of the RTO -- Really Terrible Orchestra.

Must go load the dishwasher now and perhaps finish reading the book tonight?? Must leave the hankie-sewing till tomorrow.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Six inches of time and 20 centimetres of parenting left

Son's piano teacher tells us that he has "lazy fingers" and should consider playing the organ. Is he joking or what? Dunno.

But some time back he brought to my notice my son's tendency to "swap fingers" and I blogged about it here.

Then he organized for us to go to his church where he is organist for son to try out the organ (here). The conclusion was son is a 'natural' on the organ.

Okay. What do we do? It's good news, but let us not be rash about anything. My feeling then was: thankfully we still have six inches of time. Son was too short to reach the pedals and we will just carry on with his piano and clarinet.

He's had a growth spurt. First he was tall enough for us to despatch with the car booster seat. (We highly recommend Freecycle.)

Then last week even other parents started telling us that he had "shot up". His mate who has been much the same height as him suddenly looked small.

I measured him a couple of days ago and he is 20 cm short of my own height.

That means, O yes!, I have a mere 20cm of parenting left to do.

While discussing parenting teenagers, etc, with my ex-RGS girls in Singapore and elsewhere in the world, I came to the conclusion that a mother's parenting duties should be completed by the time a child is her height.

I cannot imagine looking up to a stroppy teenager a head taller than me, myself with a finger wagging, going, "Now, you listen!"

What if you are short?

Short mothers have short children, so short mothers do not necessarily have a shorter time to "parent". Don't fret.

In my case I have a tall husband and so our son seems to be growing tall at a much faster rate that I did. Then how? (As we would say in Singlish.)

Husband steps in. He would still be towering over the son for some time. But son will probably overtake him in due course.

Which, if you have been following my posts inspired by Steve Biddulph, fits in with the idea that fathers must take over as the 'main parent' at some point as sons grow up.

What about parenting daughters?

Girls tend to grow slower, according to my little red book issued at the birth of my son. So mothers can parent daughters for a little bit longer. Including those crucial puberty years when they get self-conscious about their body, their first bra, etc.

Then -- I imagine, so don't quote me -- it is very nice to have dad around to show them how boys (men) view the world -- girls, women, sex, marriage, etc -- which is also much needed by a teenage girl.

That, I think, is why God designed children to be made by both male and female. Unlike some animals which become more or less independent soon after birth, human babies require an extraordinarily long period to learn about being adult.

It is us parents who must help them into their adult years.

What if children only have one parent?

I think one way around this is to seek the help of good friends, a brother, a sister, to help play the part of the missing parent.

So I have 20cm of parenting left. So help me God.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

I can stand up straight!!

This morning I meditated on the goodness of my Lord.

This time last week I could not stand up straight. I was walking around bent over.

We figure it was my attempt to put the washing on the line first thing in the morning that did it. A basket of wet laundry is quite heavy after all, for me at least.

That is why I once went into an awful strop at Toddlers when there were effectively just two people putting out all the toys and equipment. I could not stand back and not help, but I knew that if I did I would have massive problems the following day.

For months we could not understand why I found it so painful to get out of bed on Saturday mornings. We decided that it was the lifting and bending over, etc, on Friday Toddlers that did it.

Any way, so I was at CenterParcs, OK with cycling bent over, but walking rather awkwardly.

We brought our microwave wheatbag/hot water bottle. It was there on my back pretty much the whole day. Then I slept on it.

Tuesday morning I had this fear: what if I put my feet on the floor and there is still massive pain?

I put my feet gingerly on the floor, and stood up, s-l-o-w-ly, and then shouted, "I can stand up straight! Praise the Lord!"

There was still some pain but I could stand up straight. I am not going to be the Hunchback of Nibthwaite Road. Yo! That's mighty good news.

Back home now and received a cc copy of my consultant neurologist's letter to my GP. He found that I was pretty much normal on most counts, but there was wasting of abductor pollicis brevis on the left, but weakness was worse on the right.

It's scary when your consultant says your muscles have shown some 'wasting'. Is it going to get worse? Could it get better? What has caused the wasting?

Also not very nice when he described that part of my palm as being 'podgey'. Me? Podgey?

In the end he tells me that he is almost certain that it was bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. Most people have this problem on one side. I must be one of those he said are "wired differently" and have to have this on both left and right.

But he wants an MRI scan on the neck to rule out the worst.

Me: It's not a degenerative nerve disease then?

Consultant: I don't think so.

The letter tells me now that I am also required to undergo a neurophysiological study at Charing Cross. I feel like I had been scratched, poked and prodded quite enough. So not looking forward to another of those pokey tests.

Well I do have extremely tiny wrists. I think I have to lay off the dumb-bell work in my aqua-aerobics. (But how else do I get those toned upper arms???)

The thing is of course I do the aqua to reduce the creaking in my knees and to keep the arthritis at bay, not for vanity. (The creaking knees are from running and basketball in my youth, I think.)

So when you are skirting 50, different bits of the body call time, it seems.

Apparently Tom Watson nearly (nearly) won the (British) Open after a hip replacement. There is hope for me yet.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

She's only two (Part 2)

This blog post refers:

Last Toddlers session this morning for this school year. My son came along to help with the 'money-changing'. He's very good at this.

I was wondering if Mum-without-a-clue ("G") would turn up. Childminder ("J") was there and said, "O dear! Maybe she won't come again. But her girl needs to keep coming here."

Mum with blonde hair (let's call her "B") arrived. She told me that we have better watch out for "that little girl" ("M"). She could see her, she said.

"Where?" I asked. My responsibility was to check in parents and toddlers and any visitors. I need to account for every person who is in the building for health and safety reasons. In the event of a fire I am to blow the whistle, lead the folk to safety. Most importantly I must grab all the attendance cards with me so that I could account for everyone.

I hadn't seen M.

"There she is in that blue dress."

"That's not her."

B saw the back of a little Asian girl with jet black hair and assumed that that was M. Immediately a bell rang in my head: Wait. You did not even bother to see the little girl's face and you are making an assumption.

When things quietened down and my son and I had a breather from checking folk in, signing out parking permits, collecting money and giving the correct change, registering new families, etc. Mum G turned up with M.

I was really pleased to see her. But as usual, she did not wait for me to check them in properly and plonked down £1 coin on the desk. First of all it's £1.50 please. Secondly, please do not just slap the coin down on the desk. Please give it to my son, who's the 'treasurer' today.

Anyway I then talked to her about my plan. J has agreed to shadow G for the morning and quietly give her pointers on how to control M. That is, if G would agree to that.

She checked that it was to take place at the session, not at home, etc.

I introduced the two ladies and assured G that J will never touch her child and left them.

Some time later J came along and said "the mum's not listening", but proceeded to write her contact details for G to contact her, just in case.

On further probing it appears that the Mum IS trying. But she is totally unaware that she could use different 'voices' to indicate her feelings to her child. When J told her to say something to M, she did, but in a voice that does not reflect her own authority.

J was certain that little girl M is a very jealous girl and the mum would be in trouble when the baby arrives. UNLESS she gets some help. Mum assumes that she would be able to cope with baby arrives.

I was going, "O no! If she blows and the child is hurt Social Services will remove her, and the baby ...."

At the end of the session I was able to have a brief chat with G. She did not indicate any negative feelings about the morning except that "the other mothers angry".

I assured her that the other mothers are not angry with the child, but felt that for her own good, her own safety, she had to be controlled.

We were standing on the road. I said our children know, for example, to come to the end of the road/pavement and stop and not run off. For their own safety they must learn this. Her reaction seems to suggest that she had never even thought of this aspect of discipline.

I also noted that she could use a different tone of voice. I turned to M who was all smiles and friendly with me now. She waved goodbye to me.

I said, "Look, this is my son. Say goodbye to him." Mum translated. M waved another energetic wave. All smiles.

I was surprised. I could possibly be the first person outside the family who was firm with her, told her exactly what to do, etc., and today she was 'my friend'.

What was good to see was there was no argument between mum and daughter. I think G is making some progress.

The surprise of the morning really was J (the childminder) telling me that B (mum with blonde hair) is "not very nice".

Another sad observation today was that another mum told me that she discovered a mark on her son's chin and it appears that one of the bigger boys had squashed his chin last week. If these incidents are not reported to us immediately, there is nothing we could do.

This mum described the boy as "the foreign boy", to which B added , "that Somali boy?"

Today was the "that Somali boy's" last day and I did not want to make a fuss of it. He is actually one of our success stories. When he first came he could not sit still. Now he sits down to have his juice and biscuit as he is supposed to. He is generally polite to me. When I tell him off (eg 'driving' into the babies area), he responds.

Last week when I saw that he was very sad while his mum and sister were still at singing session I took hold of his hand and said, "Mum will be with you in two minutes."

Of course he had no idea what two minutes meant. "Count one to sixty two times and they will be finished. Could you do that?"

I sat him on a chair. He started counting, using his fingers. When mum and sister finished he was a happy bunny.

The big question is, why did mum not witness the incident herself? Parents are supposed to supervise their children AT ALL TIMES.

So I, foreigner #1, am getting nervous about people making assumptions about others on the basis of colour of skin, clothing, etc. It does not give me a good feeling.

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