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Monday, 28 September 2009

Monday morning blues

I seem to have a sense of melancholy on Monday mornings, caused not by the return to work (for my longest days are at the weekends), but rather, by lack of it. I know that to a lot of people this does not make sense, for they would give their eye teeth to be in my position, but I can't help feeling bored and restless at times like this. I have the whole week ahead of me, and nothing to fill it with.

Actually this is not true -there are lots of things I can do. I can go to the gym, I can go food shopping, I can tidy the house (a bit too much like work perhaps - I work as a housekeeper), I can read, I can blog, I can write some more of my book, I can play Farmville, I can watch television, I can sit in the garden; there are lots of things I can do to fill the time, and later on, I can go to work ...

Sunday, 27 September 2009

A week of contrasts

It has been a week of contrasts for me, with 3 letters from my sister, each following in quick succession and each getting progressively more demanding and aggressive than the last. Some time ago, my brother made the mistake of agreeing to look after some money on my sister's behalf. It wasn't a great deal, but now that her inheritance is gone and she has to live on benefits alone (she should try working for a living if she thinks that's tough), she says that she needs this money, to no doubt squander on cigarettes ...

I have done my best to contact my brother and get him to send her the money (she has lost his contact details and he has asked me not to let her have them), but to no avail, and she keeps hassling me. I wish she would get it through her thick head that any problems she has with my brother are nothing to do with me, and I cannot get involved, but she doesn't seem to get it.

In her last letter she said that while she realises I have to work, it would be nice if Coran and I put her first for a change. Does the time that Coran spent the night with her in casualty count for nothing? Or what about the time that I called an ambulance and dashed to her house after she attemped suicide (it turned out to be a false alarm)? Or the time that she fractured her neck in a car accident and I visited her every night, the time that her fiance attempted suicide, or the time that she set fire (by accident) to her flat. I could go on, for this is just the tip of the iceberg, but it all falls on deaf ears. I am beginning to regret allowing her back into my life if this is the thanks I get ...

On a happier note, I had an email over the weekend from Shirley Henderson, the Vicar of Hartland, Welcombe and Lundy, to ask whether she could use some words from this blog at a service at the island's church conducted yesterday to mark the 40th anniversary of Landmark taking over the island's administration. Naturally I said yes, and considered it a real honour to be asked. I wish I could have been there.

Despite my decision not to return to the island for a while, with the beautiful weather we have been having (temperatures of around 20 degrees with wall to wall sunshine), I have found myself thinking about the island a lot. I get these thoughts from time to time, so know it will pass, and don't dwell on it too much. This is the time of year when I would normally be booking for the winter months as the boats season comes to an end. I have a week off soon, and a few nights booked at the Chalice Well in Glastonbury to look forward to, but other than that have no more concrete plans.

I hope to go to Iceland next summer, and trust that the funds will be there. After a few weeks of basic hours, the overtime is starting to come back, as my colleagues take their holidays, and the exam season will soon be once again in full swing with mocks and re-takes to invigilate.

What with my sister and the Church service on the island yesterday, it has then been a week of contrasts. But you know that they say, they can't be light without darkness, and personally I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Down on the farm

Can it really be over a week since I posted on this blog? Where has the time gone? I can't even remember much of what I did last week. I can remember what I was doing a year ago though, I was signed off from work as sick due to stress, following a Stevie Wonder concert and a very traumatic night in hospital in Croydon after my partner had a suspected heart attack. Thankfully it turned out to be a panic attack, but it proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back as far as the job that I was in at that time was concerned. All water under the bridge, and I can look back on those times and smile to see how far I have changed and moved on since those times. Anthony who runs the Inner Journey group that we attend each Wednesday commented the other night about the changes that he has seen in me since the start of this year when it all kicked off, and he is right, I feel and behave like a different person, and for the first time in a very long time I actually like what I see.

So, where has the past week gone? I am ashamed to say that I have spent an extraordinary amount of time on Facebook playing what has been a very addictive game called Farmville. I made the fatal mistake of joining (both Facebook and Farmville) following an invite from a friend, whom I am now wondering is a true friend at all ... Joking aside, it was my choice to join and it will be my choice to stop playing if I so choose, but actually I find it quite good fun, and a very good time to waste a ridiculous amount of time. I used to criticise people who were addicted to games (such as X-Box and so on), but am beginning to see that there is really little difference between what I do and what they also do. Well, on the surface anyway.

Actually there is a world of difference - many of the games which are played on these consoles are filled with violence and other forms of anti social behaviour, but Farmville is a peaceful game where no one gets hurt - a harmless bit of fantasy. The aim is basically to make as much money as you can - not real money unfortunately. The key is to have as many neighbours as possible, as your neighbours send you free gifts which can either be traded in for cash, or can be added to your orchard or zoo and harvested every few days. You can also earn points by visiting your neighbours farms and helping to remove weeds, scare away crows etc, and can get bonuses every time one of your neighbours moves up a notch to the next level of the game. The money that you earn can be used to buy more crops, trees and animals for your farm, which in turn can be harvested when ready for cash, or to buy buildings and other farm equipment. I have earned nearly 47,000 coins in a week and am already on level 10!

Of course playing Farmville is the perfect excuse not to knuckle down to writing that children's book that has been in the back of my head for the last few years, and also the perfect excuse not to wash up ...

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Do staff have the right for extra pay on Sundays?

It cannot have escaped people's notice (unless you live on Nibiru, and even then not) that rail operator London Midland has been forced to continue paying their workers double time on Sundays in order to avoid the cancellation of Sunday services operating to Liverpool and the West Midlands.

Last Sunday the operator was forced to cancel the majority of these services when staff refused to work following the ending of a temporary agreement to pay double time on Sundays which ended on August 30th. The company has since announced that it has come to an agreement with staff to continue with these payments for an "extended period".

Not surprisingly this led to a flurry of protests and comments from both passengers and the media, most of whom seemed to be against the action taken by London Midland employees. Having weighed up all the facts, I am surprised to find that I agree with this view. After all, it is not as if it were a permanent agreement, the staff knew that this would soon be coming to an end, and they also know that their employers wealth is not limitless. Yes, they have got used to these extra payments, but they do not appear to be a contractual right, and they knew that they would only continue until the end of August, so I do not see what the fuss is about.

Contrary to popular opinion, workers do not have the right to extra pay for working unsocial hours. Whether they should is not a matter for me to debate, but for them to debate with their employers. I have to work Sundays in my job, as do millions of other workers in many different industries, and I do not get double time, but time and a quarter, which I am more than happy with. The one right that Sunday workers do have however is the right to opt out, and also the right not to be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs (if they refuse to work on Sundays for example because they are Christian).

In fact, the right to opt out of Sunday working only applies to retail and betting shop workers - other industries such as nursing, security and yes, transport are not covered, as those in these jobs have always had to accept that they will be a certain amount of Sunday work - it goes with the territory. If you are not prepared to do this, then don't apply for this type of work (unless you are a Christian). The other thing with regard to Sunday working if you are a a retail or betting shop employee, is that rather than opting out, you have to opt in. When I think about it, I never did do this with my previous employer, it was just taken for granted that I didn't object. I obviously didn't, as I turned up for work (without I add extra pay - although we were paid for a 8 hour day when we only worked for 6).

If you are a retail or betting shop worker, and object to working on Sundays, you must give your employer three months written notice of this (some employers only require one months notice, so check your handbook carefully). If you choose to opt in, it is up to you to agree with your employer exactly what work you are prepared to do on a Sunday, and its frequency. You have the right to opt out at a later date after you have opted in should you so choose, as long as you give the required notice, and cannot be discriminated against (passed over for promotion etc) because of this.

The regulations do not apply in Scotland or to those who are contracted to work on Sundays only.

I cannot help feeling that London Midland are making a big mistake with this in giving in to their staff and their demands, but at the same time, can see that they have been placed in a very awkward situation. The only alternative they appear to have is to sack their entire staff and replace them with other workers - but the strike would have to continue for a long time before they could justify this, and not just one day. Is wasn't a strike anyway, since Sunday working has always been voluntary, and you cannot sack someone for failing to volunteer. Even if they could sack them all, in a skilled job like this it is not that simple. They need trained staff to operate these trains and these do not come out of thin air. You cannot just walk in off the street and drive a train like you can operate a till.

What then is the solution - for the union and the employer to negotiate - it is the only solution that there is - I just hope that the union this time is sensible and does not make unreasonable demands that cannot be met.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Men, especially when they want to be women !

Coran and I seem to be getting very frustrated of late, not just with life, but also with each other, which is I suspect, a symptom of other frustrations anyway. Life is less than perfect for both of us, but as always, we do not see what we have, only what we have not.

There seems to be this sense of restlessness which is in part linked to the change in seasons, but runs much deeper than that. I am frustrated about many things, but the main problem is boredom - there is just not enough happening in my life right now to keep me occupied. What this is really about is lack of work. The lack of work also means lack of funds to do the things I want - and the hours I do (5 to 7pm four nights a week, plus 8am to 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays) also means that it is difficult to arrange days out, without an awful lot of pre-planning, which Coran and I have never been good at. Yes I pre-plan holidays, but days out are different, these are done on the spur of the moment, and to get home in order for me to go to work means leaving early, which needs pre-planning, nice as it is to be spontaneous.

Of course Coran being the one I love, and being close to hand, working from home, bears the brunt of these frustrations, which I know is unfair, but I am not sure what to do about. It is obvious that I need to find other interests in which to fill my time, and perhaps another source of income - but what and how? Most part time jobs are five days a week, which would leave me in the position of having no days off at all, and those that are less than this are not the type of jobs that would interest me - working in a supermarket for example or market research, knocking on people's doors (I have a fear of dogs). What then to do? It is true that I have the school job as an exam invigilator, but there are no exams scheduled (as far as I know) until November. As for overtime in my existing job, there has been some this month, but there is unlikely to be more until the end of October when my colleagues take their holidays.

Following a quarrel this morning, I have returned from a routine Doctors appointment to find that the furniture in Coran's room (and our carpet) has borne the brunt of his own frustrations. The man himself is meanwhile nowhere to be found. He can't have gone far, as his car is in the garage for it's annual service. It is a waste of time though trying to telephone, as his mobile phone is rarely used, so I guess I shall have to sit it out at home and wait for his return. If it doesn't come by a certain time, I suppose I shall be cooking lunch for one ... Men, especially when they want to be women !

Monday, 7 September 2009

The mysteries of the supermarket trolley

I worked as a cashier for a major supermarket for 2 years from 2003-2005, and since then have been fascinated by the food that other people buy and eat. I find it hard to understand why people moan about the size of their food bill when they insist on buying so much expensive junk - it seems to me that there are three (four in fact) things that make food bills expensive - meat, alcohol, ready meals and buying branded goods. Since we do not eat meat and very rarely drink, that takes care of the first two. Being wheat free takes care of the third one, since most ready meals are swimming in the stuff, and as for the branded goods - apart from Green and Blacks chocolate, the cheaper stuff is in my opinion just as good.

People tell me that the reason they buy ready meals is convenience and because they don't have time to cook. More often it is because they don't know how to cook. When you have unusual dietary needs as Coran and I do, you are forced to cook for yourself from scratch, as there are no or very little convenience foods that are suitable, apart from the odd curry, most of which I find too hot anyway. As for the frozen roast potatoes and the like which some people like to buy - that's just being lazy! These things cost a fortune, so being lazy and not bothering to learn how to cook is an expensive habit. It's not one that I could afford, for the sake of my health or my bank balance, but each to their own.

People are so used to relying on wheat and convenience foods that they cannot imagine what people in our position live on - the answer is really quite simple - everything except meat and wheat! Tesco and Sainsburys (I prefer Tesco, as there isn't a large Sainsbury's close enough to home, and I am used to their store layouts), do an excellent range of wheat free foods, including delicious cakes and puddings, and occasionally we like to treat ourselves. We rarely buy wheat free bread, except when travelling, as it extremely expensive and mostly white without the goodness of wholemeal, so we tend to buy things like rice cakes and Ryvitas instead, which are cheaper and more nourishing. We have these for lunch with cheese, hummus or some other vegetarian pate with salad or in the winter when it gets cold, with a nice bowl of soup (Baxters do a very good range of wheat free, vegetarian soups, but the Tesco own label fresh ones are not too bad).

For our main meal, which during the week we eat at lunch time, we rely heavily on rice and pasta with occasional eggs and jacket spuds. On Sundays we have the traditional roast with veggie burgers or sausages, both of which are delicious, with all trimmings. Some of our favourite dishes include stuffed courgettes with cherry tomatoes, goats cheese and black olives, coconut rice and stir fries with either soy sauce or sweet and sour (occasionally as a treat with Pesto).

On an average week we spend between £40 and £45, around two thirds of what most of our couple friends spend, who do eat meat and wheat. This diet and lifestyle are then definitely cheaper.

Last week I bought:

Plum tomato soup, vegetable soup, 3 cartons of rice milk, oat cereal, porridge oats, washing powder, cheese and chive crisps, 2 packs of fish cakes, sweet and sour sauce, asparagus, broccoli, a fresh stir fry, organic eggs, multi grain Ryvitas, TV guide, Daily Mail, a bag of mixed salad, carrots, cheddar cheese, Quorn ham, pasta sauce with garlic and roasted vegetables, tomato and basil hummus, coleslaw, potato salad, apples, cherries, a pack of 3 pens, cherry tomatoes, baking potatoes, Ibuprofen, baked beans, Basmati rice, soya desserts, red onions and new potatoes.

In the freezer we have frozen chips, veggie sausages and frozen peas. See if you can guess what we ate? Bet you can't !

Yesterday we sent to see my sister

Yesterday afternoon after work, Coran and I went to see my sister who has been in the local psychiatric hospital for the past month or so. I only found this out when I had a letter from her informing me of this - the hospital did not bother to let me know, even though I am her next of kin. When I telephoned I was told that they could not contact me as she had given them an incorrect telephone number, which sounds about right. In fact I thought she had lost our number, as I have not spoken to her since Christmas, when she told me to f*** off (she always did have a way with words). Anyway, yesterday we went to see her and it was not the best experience of my life.

It could have been a lot worse in many ways, but spending time with someone who talks incessantly about themselves and chain smokes for the entire one hour period of your visit is extremely tiring and mentally draining. To some extent her illness (she was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1988) encourages this, or to be more accurate, the mental health system encourages this, as it all about the needs of the client, and not the needs of their family.

In my sisters case she has had to pay for much of her care, due to an inheritance, and also her rent, receiving no help from the state at all other than incapacity benefit or whatever they call it these days (this is not means tested). It makes me cross when I think about how Coran and I have had to scrimp by for the past few years, with his pension and my own relatively low earnings (I am earning little more now than I was 20 years ago). Having said this, one should focus on what one does have rather than what one doesn't have, as what you focus on you attract. If my sister could understand this, she would be a lot better off.

Her money is of course all gone, frittered away on useless things she doesn't need and on hangers on who are only interested in her for what they can get. She is so desperate for affection that these people gravitate towards her like moths to a flame, and doesn't see their true motives until it is too late.

In terms of behaviour and lifestyle we are poles apart, but people do say that we look alike. I suppose if I had hair like rats tails, stopped wearing my glasses, stopped shaving my legs, smoked, and bought my clothes from jumble sales I might look her like. Thankfully I don't. Such is life.

She has always maintained that her behaviour is dictated by her illness, as if she were some sort of robot with no conscious control, but Coran and I disagree with this and feel that she knows exactly what she is doing and knows exactly how to wind people around her little finger to get what she wants. My brother for this part agrees with this analysis - others may disagree, but they don't know her as well as we do. This analysis is borne out by the fact that she remembered almost word for word our conversation at Christmas when we last spoke, and spent the best part of 15 minutes reminiscing on her words and saying how sorry she was. If she did not know what she was doing, she would unable to remember anything of this at all. Needless to say, I have learnt not to challenge her on such things, as it only results in more tears and more tantrums, and to be honest, it is not worth the grief.

She is back in my life because despite it all, I do her love her. She is the only sister I have, and I would feel terrible if we were to lose touch completely, or if something happened to her and I did not know. That said, I do not feel I can cope with seeing her more than once a month. Thankfully she has agreed (she suggested in fact) that we keep in touch by letter rather than phone, and seems to understand that Coran and I need space, away from her troubles and traumas, which in the scheme of life are minor anyway.

Friday, 4 September 2009

As summer turns to autumn

I have been feeling very restless these past few days, unable to settle into much at all. The shifting seasons seem to be reflecting my own mood, as summer gives way to autumn and a chill starts to descend. Condensation has been forming on our windows and car windscreens for the past few weeks, and the temperature seems to have suddenly dropped to what seems like a rather chilly 18 to 20 degrees. Of course this is not really chilly, but because the temperature has dropped so suddenly, and with the added wind chill factor that we get up here on the hill (the village where I live is over 1000 metres high at the summit of three mile winding road), it seems very cold indeed. By mid morning it is usually warm enough to don shorts and go about with bare legs, but it won't be for much longer. Once again, the warm summer we were promised does not seem to have materialised, although it was the warmest one yet since we moved here.

Of course were I an Icelander this would be quite normal, in fact very warm for the time of year. When I checked the other day the temperature in Reykjavik was 10 degrees. Summer weather is more normally about 16 or 17 degrees, with slightly higher temperatures and more sunshine in the eastern fjords and around Lake Myvatn in the north east. I have not yet decided where I will be going when I visit next summer, but am determined that I will be visiting.

It is difficult at the moment to see where the funds will come from (I had a £344 repair bill for my car yesterday, as it was in for its annual service and MOT and needed 3 new tyres at the same time), but I am trying not to focus on that, knowing that the funds will come from somewhere and a lot can change in 10 months. When I think back to where I was 10 months ago it hardly bears thinking about. I was in it up to my eyes working five, sometimes six days a week in a job that was challenging in all the wrong ways. I have to admit though I did enjoy the company (if not the company).

It was difficult for me being the only female in a male dominated environment, but I did the best I could. Given the circumstances and everything else that was happening in my life, I am amazed that I managed as well as I did. Of course when that store eventually closed and I transferred to a larger and busier one, it all fell apart. Looking back I am glad that it happened in the way that it did, for it gave me the opportunity to do an awful lot of clearing, and let go of years of emotional baggage which had been weighing me down. I don't suppose my ex boss at the new store would understand any of that, but maybe I would be surprised.

I came across a picture of the two ex colleagues who 'grassed me up' the other day, and was surprised at my reaction. Instead of feeling angry, which I thought I would, I actually felt compassion, compassion for the fact that they are still where they are while I have moved on. It was a strange feeling, that took me by surprise, but I was pleased as it shows how much I have moved on. It took me years to recover from the shock when a previous employer closed the kitchen showroom I managed without consultation, but this time it has taken a matter of months.

Things are moving so rapidly now that we don't have the time to pussy foot around feeling sorry for ourselves anymore - we are the ones who suffer anyway, not the ones who have committed these 'wrongs'. In the end it all a learning curve and life has to move on, and so it does.

The sun is out today on one of those spectacular late summer/early autumn days, with a slight chill in the air and clear blue skies. A nice bracing walk to the bottom of the hill is in order to blow those cobwebs away and get the blood racing, followed by a hot cup of tea and a cuddle up on the settee with the one I love.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Over to you

Every so often you meet someone who seems to trigger something in you and whom you recognise in unseen ways from perhaps times past. This happened to me tonight with a new member of the Inner Journey group that Coran and I attend each Wednesday night.

The lady in question relayed a long and interesting tale about the spiritual work she has undertaken over the past 10 or so years, the details of which I will not go into here.

I have not done much promotional work on my book Genesis of Man in recent months, in fact there has been very little for over a year now. Each time I have picked it up myself and tried to read, the words have not taken shape in my mind, as I can no longer relate to the words that it contains, many of which were written over eight years ago. Still I get the feeling that this lady needs to read this book. A postcard has been given so the rest is up to her.