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Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Storm Before the Calm

For the past fortnight, I have been reading a somewhat different book for me entitled The Storm Before the Calm by Neale Donald Walsh. Neale is of course the author of the Conversations with God series of books. I have read most if not all of his works, and met him in person during one of his visits to London several years ago. It has though been a while since I picked up a book of this genre, mostly because so few of them seem to resonate with the way in which I have evolved. This one though is different, as it speaks directly to my soul about so many of the things that I have felt instinctively for so long, but have until now been unable to put into words.

I found the book purely by accident, as one does, browsing online for information about the recent protests which began as the Occupy Wall Street movement and have since spread throughout the world. Boris Johnson, the Lord Mayor of London said earlier this week that it was time for the London protestors to reliniquish their base near St Paul's Cathedral, as they had "made their point". To my mind, the fact that he even says this is proof to me that he has not begun to understand the point that they are trying to make. That is that the world as we know it, or more specifically, our beliefs about the world in general, are fundamentally flawed and are no longer (if they ever did) serving humanity's best interests. This too is the basic tenet of The Storm Before the Calm.

It is no secret that within the United States (and for that matter the rest of the world at large), 99 percent of the wealth is controlled by 1 percent of the population. Like Neale, I have nothing against the rich (he is after all one of them). I have tasted myself what it felt like, after my mother died and left me a six figure sum (most of it has since been spent). No, it is the systems that they represent, which are designed to oppress the masses and keep them in their place, so that the rich can maintain theirs. This is not necessarily the fault of the rich, but they nevertheless help to maintain this system and this way of thinking by their inertia and their failure to change this.

What is needed, says Neale, is a change from our current way of thinking, from a dyad (two centred approach where politics and economics rule) to a triad where culture, that is to say everything that is not politics or economics, takes centre stage. At the moment we live in a society where economics are King, where the first consideration is always the cost. The first consideration should however be, whatever is in the best interests of the population, the majority of the population being ordinary working class citizens. It is then not a a question of redistribution of wealth, but more a question of a change of beliefs, for it is our beliefs about life, and more specifically about God (the terms life and God are in fact interchangeable, as God is life manifesting itself through us) that create our thoughts, and those thoughts that give rise to action.

The way to create this change says Neale, and I am inclined to agree, is to start a global conversation based around seven core questions - the most fundamental of which are 1) Who am I, 2) Where am I, 3) What do I intend to do about that. The answers will be personal to each and every one of us, and we have to find out for ourselves what they are to us, by putting the mind to one side, and seeing what lies in the silence that lies beyond. This takes practise and patience, but the rewards are inevitable, but once we are able to achieve this and put this into practise, a global shift will occur, the like of which we have never seen before. All it takes for us to achieve this is to converse with others on the matters mentioned in this most remarkable book. This can be done in any way and in any form that you choose with anyone that you choose, whether in person or on the Internet. I would encourage everyone to try. It is easier than you might think, and what have you got to lose? You may be surprised to find that others have been thinking and feeling the exact same as you, without you even being aware, for that is usually what happens. Someone has to start somewhere, so it might as well be you.

For more information, and to join the discussions go to

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

High Hopes for 2012!

I don't make a habit of listening to the news (too depressing), but can't help hearing the odd snippet during the time that I have the radio on during my early morning drives to work. Apart from the death of Colonel Gadaffi, the story that most caught my ear this week was that regarding the protests about what has been termed "corporate greed". This is a term that many are familiar with, but many are unsure as to exactly what it means.

According to the Dictionary, greed can be defined as the obsessive compulsion for food, wealth or power, while the term corporation can be defined as a group of indivuals who are in business, and act as one unit setting their own rules and agenda. Thus it is that corporations act with little regard for those whom they are supposed to serve (their clients, employees and the world at large), with the sole aim of accumalating more wealth and power for themselves. One of the things that the protestors have been particularly vociferous about is the fact that one percent of the global population own 99 percent of the global wealth - the word own can be used loosely here since less than 3 percent of the money in circulation is "true money" in the form of coins and bank notes, but merely numbers on a screen that exist in a virtual reality world similar to the "friends" that we know online rather than in our real lives. Nevertheless these figures are startling.

The Occupy Wall Street website where the protests began, features pictures of various Americans holding placards stating their experiences of being one of the so-called 99 percent (that is the 99 percent who collectively own around 1 percent of the worlds wealth). My own experience is perhaps not as serious as theirs, since unlike my US counterparts I live in a country which offers free healthcare and do not have to choose between this and eating. In the past few weeks though I have learnt that the man who owns the nursing home where I work, rather than investing in the business that he already has, has chosen to invest in another home, where he expects staff in his other existing business (where I work) to do overtime so that he does not have to pay for agency staff. Thankfully I am not one of these individuals. In the scheme of life of course, none of this really matters, for these issues do not concern me directly. Those individuals who are affected by this have to make their own choices as to what they wish to do, and for the most part they have. What does concern me in a good way are the changes that our new Manager is making.

I have often written about my work on this blog and how hard the housekeepers (this is the job that I choose to do) are expected to work, but when I had the chance to fill in a questionaire earlier this year regarding staff satisfaction which found its way to the Directors, I had little idea how quickly the universe would respond to my requests. I wrote words to the effect that the Directors appeared to have little concept of the workload that the housekeepers are expected to shoulder and that I believed it was time for a complete reapprasisal as to how this Department was run. I added that in order to take a load off our shoulders, the Directors needed to recruit seperate staff for both the kitchen and the laundry, so that we, the housekeepers could concentrate on our real role, that of keeping the home clean and tidy. I have no idea as to whether our new Manager saw what I wrote (she started work long after the forms were sent back) but she appears to share my sentiment, for this week I heard via our staff meeting that a new Kitchen Assistant has already been recruited - without the knowledge of the Directors! This then will be very interesting indeed.

For the moment only one Kitchen Assistant has been recruited, who will work four days a week (Thursday to Sunday) from 10am to 5pm. This has come about under the guise of infection control, rather than a desire to lighten our workload, although that will be the end result. Since there are three housekeepers, for the remaining three days of the week (Monday through to Wednesday) we will each spend one day working soley in the kitchen with the remaining four days of our working week on our housekeeping duties. Whether this will mean that we change our working hours from our existing 7am to 2pm on this day remains to be seen, but that would be very good indeed. It seems then that our job role is about to change quite considerably, and the Director has finally met his match, for he appear to be a fine example of those greedy corporate bosses that the protestors have been so vociferous about. At his heart he is of course a being of love and compassion, but he has lost sight of that part of himself and needs to be shown a different way of doing things. It seems that our new Manager is the person to do that. There will though be interesting times ahead.

At the same time this week, I have booked two holidays - a week on Lundy in March, and 2 weeks on the Isles of Scilly in June. I am staying at my usual haunt, the Old Light Cottage on Lundy and have found the perfect little flat to rent on Scilly, which is one mile from Hugh Town and surrounded by walks and beautiful countryside in all directions. I predict then great things for the coming months, and have high hopes for 2012.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Checking out my past

It is not often that I review books on this blog, but every so often one comes along that makes such a big impact on you that you feel compelled to do so. Usually this is because the book in question tells a good story that resonates with you in a particular way, and I suppose that is true of this one, even though the book in question is non-fiction, for this book, entitled The Checkout Girl in many ways tells the story of my life, my life that is during the period that I too did this job.

Tazeen Ahmad is an Indian born British Muslim working as a television reporter and broadcaster and in 2009 published her first book entitled The Checkout Girl. This is an undercover expose of her time spent working on a frontline as a checkout girl (otherwise known as COG - a most fitting term, since these underpaid employees are indeed the COG's that keep everything, and not just the conveyer belt moving) in Sainsbury's. I too worked for Sainsbury's for 2 years between 2003 and 2005, at one of their larger branches in the southeast. Ahmad does not state which branch she worked in, and this does not matter, for the book is really about the people with whom she worked - this is their story, and as the book says, by the time who you have finished reading it, I can guarantee that you won't ever shop in the same way again. I certainly changed my own habits after I started working there, and like Ahmad, am thoroughly glad that I left.

The relentless grind of this job is enough to drag anyone down - contrary to popular opinion it is a skilled job that not everyone can do. One has to perfect the art of doing about ten things at once (this is the main reason why I suspect the majority of COG’s are women, for men are by tradition useless at multi-tasking), all the while engaging with the customer in what Sainsbury's refer to as a 'meaningful manner.' While it is true that if you stay in this job for any length of time, relationships can develop with customers, the majority of this banter is take it from me, far from meaningful, but enough to put most ordinary people to sleep.

As COG's every move you make is monitored, with hidden cameras everywhere. Those at the top instantly know if a COG has short changed customers, accepted an out of date coupon, forgotten someone's cash back, or heaven forbid, spoken back to a rude and argumentative customer, of which there are many. Their rudeness and arrogance is sometimes breath taking, treating you as little more than paid robots, and robots who are not that well paid at that. This is mirrored by the behaviour of the checkout supervisors - like Ahmad I know all about lack of bag packers, wonky chairs, unanswered call bells, and late reliefs. This for me was the greatest bugbear of all - the fact that if you as a COG are even one minute late for your shift, they deduct 15 minutes from your wages, yet if you are late out, which you are almost every day, you are not paid. Sainsbury's (and no doubt other supermarkets too) must be getting hours of unpaid labour from their COG's held captive at their checkouts, every day. Other staff after all, can simply leave the shop floor and go home, but not COG's who are completely at the mercy of late reliefs, forgetful supervisors and customers with huge trolleys who are unable to comprehend that a closing sign means just that.

These things may sound trivial to some, but when they happen repeatedly every single day, they begin to get more than a little wearing. Ahmad worked just 2 days a week, so you can imagine what it was like for me, working full time.

In the end I went stir crazy - I looked around at some of my colleagues who had been there so long that they were afraid to leave, and knew that if I didn't do something to rectify my own situation, I would end up institutionalised just like them. The day I gave my notice was the day they left me sitting on that checkout for over an hour calling to say I needed the toilet - that gave a whole new meaning to the term pissed off I can tell you, and I haven't looked back.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. I still work in the service sector, but in a job that offers more meaning than sitting at a moving conveyer belt watching food whizz by could ever offer. Reading this book has though made me think back to those days and remember all the reasons why I had to leave, and also I suppose evaluate how far I have come. When I worked at Sainsbury's all those years ago, I would not have dared stand up to the supervisors or the customers in the way that I should have, keeping stum until the anger and frustration boiled over. Not so now. I have learned to communicate properly and with confidence so that these little things do not become larger issues. I am glad that I have changed, and I thank Sainsbury's for the time I spent working there, but I am still glad that I escaped, as most of their customers are too by the time they have finished their shop. It may be stressful for them, but they are the lucky ones for they can take their custom elsewhere, for the COG’s it is not so easy during a recession, when jobs are scarce. Next time you go shopping then, spare a thought for the beleaguered cashier, remember that a few niceties go a long way, and there is no need to be rude, they are after all just like you, only human, and trying to do the best that they can in difficult and very trying circumstances.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Turning up the heat

Well, I certainly picked the right time to go away last week, as during that time off, and for the first part of this week, Britain experienced a heatwave, with temperatures of up to 29 degrees. They have dropped back since to 21 or 22, which is still warm for the time of year, but much more pleasant to work in. It was lovely though while I was away, to spend time on the beach lazing around in the sun and the surf and the spray. On the final day of my holiday, I walked for 2 miles down the beach from Westward Ho! where I was staying, to Northam Burrows, all in the way in the sea, and back again just as the sun was going down. The waves were tremendous. It was exhilerating to say the least, and a grand way to finish off the week. I returned to work on Saturday with my levels of Prana well and truly topped up.

While I was away, I had an important decision to make as to whether I wish to undertake an NVQ in housekeeping. The reason why I say it was and is important is be because to a large extent, my future in the job really does depend on it. When I say this, I mean that if I choose to do it, it would mean that I will definately for the foreseeable future at least, stay there, as my employer will be jointly sponsoring it along with funding from central Government.

The decision was made all the harder as we have a new Manager, who joined us the week before I left for my holiday. My first thoughts about her were that she came across as very austere and business like - she is a large lady, who despite her position as Manager of a nursing home, chooses to wear her own clothes rather than a nursing uniform.

Now I have got to know her a little better, I find that the more time I spend around her, the more I like her. Far from being austere and unapproachable, she is very grounded, and has the Directors very much sussed out. The day I heard her commenting to her Deputy that she could not stand the Director, was the day I knew that we were going to get on like a house on fire! I commented to my own boss, the Head Housekeeper, that it is good to know that the three of us have at least one thing in common!

I have then decided that I will do the NVQ, and the Assessor is coming to see me at work on Monday at 9am to get the ball rolling, fill in all the forms and assess the form (and pace) of learning that will best suit my needs. I expect that I will have to agree to stay at the home for a certain period of time after the NVQ is complete, since my employer will be partly funding it, but as long as it is not ridiculously long (more than a year), that is fine. It will be good for me to know that I do have to stay there, as it will encourage me to get the best from the job, instead of stressing over the small and mostly insignificant details. It will also serve as a signal to them that I am committed to them, and hopefuilly encourage them to give me the pay rise that after 2 1/2 years is long overdue.