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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Things can only get better - A look back on 2013

This year was the first for several years that I haven't written this blog on Christmas Day - not because we were without power, unlike many in the Southeast, but because somehow I lacked the impetus to do so.

It was a strange Christmas this year, and as it turned out, the first in five years when I did not go to work. It wasn't planned that way, but the weather had other ideas.

We knew a storm was brewing several days in advance, but had little idea as to just how bad it would be. I was at work as normal on 23rd December, the eve of the holidays, when the wind started to pick up. It was at that point that I began to grow concerned, and I must admit that I was glad to be leaving before it got dark. That evening after we went to bed, the wind began to howl and prance about the village of Box Hill where I live, which luckily as it turned out given its proximity to the River Mole, is the second highest point in Surrey. I had very little sleep that night and awoke expecting half of our fence to be down. Amazingly it was not.

I got up for work on Christmas Eve then as normal, and immediately switched on BBC Radio Surrey. The news was not good with many roads closed, including the A24 which skirts the bottom of the hill, between the 2 towns of Dorking and Leatherhead. This was not disastrous though, as there are other ways off the Hill. I set out then as normal, but before I got out of the car park, I was stopped by another resident coming the other way who informed me that roads in and out of the village were blocked by fallen trees at both ends. I accordingly went straight home and rang work to inform them that I would be unable to come in.

A bit later on after it became light Coran and I drove through the village to see what the damage had been done. We were stopped about halfway along the road by two men removing a fallen tree. Managing to squeeze past, we proceeded a bit further up the road where we were greeted by a procession of tail lights and two feet of flood water. We immediately turned round and went back the other way! I continued on through the village to the top of the ZigZag where the road becomes National Trust, only to be greeted by a parade of cones blocking the road. I was forced then to return home.

A little later on after listening to BBC Surrey some more, we ventured out some more to find that the fallen trees which had been blocking the ZigZag had now ben cleared. We managed to get to the bottom of the road, and parked in Mickleham near Rykas Café, which we were surprised to find was also under several feet of flood water. Worst of all though was the Burford Bridge Hotel which was completely flooded,  with water halfway up the door. Several fire engines were in evidence with fire fighters helping marooned staff and their guests into boats. I have never seen anything like this in my life, but worse was to come.

When the announcement was made late on Christmas Eve that the Mole was on a severe flood warning we began to get really concerned. Not for our safety, for we are too high up here to get flooded here, but for the safety of others, with as it turned out, good reason. The previous day we had managed to drive through Mickleham to the junction with the A24, where we scrambled across the road to the bridge at Norbury Park - the water at that point was beyond the height of the footbridge and flooding across the road. I knew then from this that on Christmas Day worse was to come, as indeed it was, with half of nearby Leatherhead town centre under water, and many homes and businesses evacuated.

All is well though that ends well, for on Christmas Day the Fire Service came and pumped the water out, restoring access for villagers enabling them to get off the Hill. Sadly it was too late for me to return to work until Boxing Day, and I lost a considerable amount of money, but as I said to Coran, at least we had electricity, Internet and each other. There were many who did not.

Everything is back to normal then now, as we await the next lashing. Hopefully this time it will be confined to other parts of the country.

And so a New Year tomorrow will dawn. 2013 has not been a bad one all told. We said goodbye to  several influential world leaders in the form of Margaret Thatcher and of course Nelson Mandella, and welcomed several more to the fray in countries far removed. There has of course been much unrest - in Africa and the Middle East mainly, in particular Syria with the use of chemical weapons, and of course Egypt. Closer to home we saw the murder of Lee Rigby, the solider stationed at Woolwich Barracks. This was the one event that I shall remember from this year, plus of course Andy Murray winning Wimbledon. It is good to remember both the good and the bad - or as I prefer to say, the light and dark, knowing that the dark ultimately serves the light. It is hard sometimes to see this when in the midst of all of this angst, but it is true as we shall no doubt see in time.

On  a personal note I started the year off with a new job which has of  course not been without its challenges. I had hoped to start 2014 with another job still, but this has proved not to be for reasons
best known to those who would have been my new employers. They never did give me a satisfactory explanation, and almost one month after writing to them asking for one, I am no closer to a resolution. Many changes are afoot at work which will hopefully improve the way in which I work, so for the moment at least, I shall sit these out and see what happens.

My twin passions of reading and travel were both indulged with a passion during 2013 - in the case of books to the tune of 90 titles - a record for me. I also enjoyed several holidays, some for a few nights, others for much longer, including two trips to Lundy and a visit to Iceland in October to see the Northern Lights and experience the lighting of the Imagine Peace Tower.

Perhaps though my greatest joy has been the reconciliation with my sister. It remains early days, but I am hopeful that our relationship has turned the corner, and we have finally, with the aid of her wonderful social worker and Doctor, found some common ground.

Coran as always has remained my constant companion and support through all the trials and adversity, holding both my hand and my spirit with her love and gentleness, which she exudes in such copious amounts. I am grateful for every single day that I wake up by her side, despite the challenges of our relationship, which have also been many, and look forward to many more by her side. 2014 can now only get better.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Ringing the changes

A lot has happened as usual in the past few weeks, and sadly it looks as if I may be in my current job for a while yet.

Three weeks ago my CRB arrived. I immediately rang the new company to let them know, and it was then that they dropped the bombshell - do not resign until we have arranged your training. I thought this was slightly strange and alarm bells began to ring, but I held tight, waiting to hear back. A few days later I did - could I do my training the following week on Monday and Wednesday. The answer was, I very much doubt it, as I will be at work, and I cannot see my current employer giving me time off. Sure enough, they said no, so it was back to the drawing board once again, where I have remained ever since, growing more frustrated by the day.

In the meantime, the change machine in my current job continues to rumble on. I must admit that I am in two minds about these changes. On the one hand, having help at the weekends will be beneficial and greatly lessen my stress levels, but on the other, the way that certain of my colleagues have been treated is truly appalling and shocks me to the core. I can see why they are trying to do what they are doing, but there seems to be no compassion and no leeway for those who either can't or do not wish to go along with these changes. Not everyone after all can work weekends - one of my colleagues has custody arrangements to see her grandchildren at those times which have been awarded by the courts and cannot be changed, so she at least will be forced to leave.

With the consultation process due to end on December 18th, time is of the essence, yet the company seem hell bent on steam rolling these changes through. They have offered everyone who wants one, a one to one meeting with the Home Manager in order to discuss their concerns, so as it looks increasingly likely that I will be staying, I have arranged mine for Thursday afternoon. I have a list of questions which seems to be increasing by the day, the most pertinent of which is why are the Managers not being asked to work weekends when everyone else is, and who, after our own Line Manager has been made redundant will take her place, as no one else there understands the issues that us housekeepers face.

I am sure that it will all eventually come out in the wash, as things are rarely as bad as they seem, but no one seems comfortable or happy with this transition. Given the circumstances, I felt it best to seek advice from my Union on both issues, the new company and the existing one. They said what I already suspected, that the training should form part of my induction, and as such, take place after I begin work there and not before. I have then written the basis of an email which will be sent in due course. As for the restructuring that is going on, sadly my employer is not Unionised, and so they will be unable to offer direct representation, all they can do is offer advice, which was basically to be honest about my concerns and make sure that everything is written down and signed. It goes without saying that I intend to also make my own notes.

I am a little nervous about the meeting, as my experience of this particular Manager has been chequered to say the least - sometimes she seems okay, sometimes less so. I have to then hope that on Thursday she will have a good day. She might change her mind though after what I have to say. Such is life.

In the meantime, just over a week ago (was it really that long ago), we went to see my favourite rock group in the whole wide world - Sigur Ros. For those who are not in the know (what planet have you been living on), Sigur Ros are an experimental rock band from Iceland, who formed in 1994, and are best known for their ethereal music which in their own words, "plays the Icelandic landscape". Their trademark are the breathy falsetto vocals of their frontman Jon Pal Brigasson, otherwise known as Jonsi, and his use of the cello bow to play his guitar. It is hard to describe their music to someone who is not familiar with it, or indeed, is not familiar with their homeland, but it definitely has a spiritual resonance which is experienced differently for each person that hears it. This is heightened by the fact that many of their songs are sung in a made up language which is a mixture of Icelandic and nonsense, whereby Jonsi's voice is used as an instrument in its own right - you can hear and see in their music anything that it means to you, and for each person that is different.

As you can imagine, both Coran and I were hugely excited by this opportunity to see them live. As the big night approached, we booked a room at the Premier Inn near Wembley Park tube, knowing that it was a 2 to 2 1/2 journey from home,  and that we had no wish to leave early in order to get back safely. I also booked a few days off from work, in order to relax both before and after the show. I am so glad that I did.

To say that the show was spectacular was an understatement of one of the grandest proportions. One of the things that impressed me the most was how their music which although live, sounded so much like the recorded songs I am so familiar with - it is rare to find musicians who have this ability. The play list was a mix of older and more recent material with as expected, several songs from their most recent offering, and three encores. The drums on that last song could be felt right through my body - by the end of that piece every single cell was vibrating and it did not stop for at least 24 hours. I have never experienced anything like that in my entire life and cannot wait to see them again - preferably in Iceland, although I am not fussy - London will do just as well.

I am hoping go to Iceland yet again next summer - another reason why the situation with this new job is peeing me off, for the longer this goes on, the more difficult it becomes to make plans, especially when you are part of a small department and others also want their time off. We cannot after all have more than one of us off at the same time. Iceland has a short summer, and so opportunities are limited for me to get to the places that I wish to get to - namely, some of the wilderness areas in the northwest. This is challenging territory and isolated in the extreme, being well off the beaten track, but I have always loved a challenge and this is one that I would relish.

It seems then that once again I am finishing this year as the last one also came to an end - looking into the future with  reticence and uncertainty. I hope that by the time Thursday comes to a close, things will be at least a little clearer, but matters are really out of my hands. The only thing I can control is my own reaction to it all.         

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Reconstructive surgery

If I had any doubts as to whether I was doing the right thing in leaving my current job, then they have most definitely been swept aside by the revelations of the past few days.

On Wednesday of last week, I began to hear rumours of other staff receiving letters from the Home Manager about a series of meetings to be held this week regarding staff rotas and shift times. These letters I was told, informed practically all staff apart from the domestic and catering teams that they were invited to attend one of three meetings to be held at different times. I thought little of it at the time, assuming that since all roles other than mine were invited, whatever it was that was to be discussed did not relate to me. On Thursday though when I got home from work, I found such a letter waiting for me. I immediately rang the home back to query whether I needed to attend, and was told that the domestic team had been left off the list of roles due to an "oversight", in other words, we were deemed too unimportant to even remember.

When I looked at the letter in more detail it said that both the District Manager and a representative from Employee Relations were to be present. These are the people who act as a liaison between staff and management when important changes are in the offing, taking the place of the Unions in companies that do not have Union representation, so I knew that it would not be good news, and how right I was.  

The first of these meetings took place on Monday (yesterday) at 10am, with the second which was the one that I attended, at 2.30pm and a third later one at 6pm, primarily for those who work nights. I was happy in some ways to be attending the second one, as I knew that I could pump those who attended the first meeting, which included most of my housekeeping colleagues, for information. This is what I and the majority of other staff did, and we were shocked to the core with what we were told.    
What they are proposing are a range of wide sweeping changes that will affect as usual everyone it seems except the Managers. Us Housekeepers will predictably be among the worst affected. My Line Manager, who has been with the company for 26 years was told 10 minutes before the meeting that her role is to be "removed", in other words, she is facing redundancy. My immediate Manager, the Head Housekeeper was not even given this courtesy, as she was told during the meeting, in front of all her colleagues that her own role is to be incorporated into the role of General Housekeeper. In addition to this, laundry duties will also be incorporated into the role of Housekeeper, meaning that we will no longer have separate Laundry Assistants. They have been trying to get rid of the lady who currently does this role for a variety of different reasons, and I suspect that this is the latest in their long line of rouses to achieve these ends, as they know full well that she will unwilling to undertake a more general housekeeping role. What they don't as yet know is that she has already secured a position at the same home that I am going to work at. It was her in fact that told me about this home in the first place. 

As if all of this were not bad enough, they have also proposed to cut the hours of the Housekeepers who are currently on 40 hour contracts to 37.5, and those on 22.5 hour contracts, of which my friend the Laundry Assistant is one, to 20 hours. The duties of the Head Housekeeper will not though disappear, as someone still needs to check that standards are being maintained, show prospective new clients around the home and order the stores, so what this means in practise is that the person who is currently doing this job will still be doing it, but for less money and less hours.

In addition to all of this, they have also proposed that everyone work alternate weekends and varied shifts, covering the hours of between 8am and 6pm. At the moment we work either 8-3.30 or 4.30pm, so this will be a major change, especially for those without cars.

While I can see that the change to weekend working is very much needed, and needs to take place, the fact remains that for many, weekend working is just not viable, due to family commitments, and the logistics of non existing public transport.

The ironic thing is that if I were to stay here, these changes would probably, barring the introduction of these late shifts, be quite a positive thing, as I would no longer be working alone at the weekends, but I am leaving, and despite this change, the way in which these other changes have been proposed has made me even more determined than ever to leave. To treat people in the way they have treated my two Managers, not to mention my friend the Laundry Assistant who was unable to attend either meeting due to car trouble, in the way that they have, leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. They think that she does not know about any of these proposed changes, but she had in fact been pre-warned  of at least some of them by her Union, and the remainder by myself when I telephoned her last night. When she returns to work  tomorrow, she is under strict instructions to feign ignorance.

Because though there is no Union recognition in this company, they need to set up a panel of employees to represent each of the job roles that is affected. In many ways I would be ideal for this,
given my experience in representing myself through both a grievance and disciplinary hearing with a former employer, but the fact remains that I am leaving, and these changes, which are due to be implemented at the end of March next year, will not directly affect me. The preliminary meeting for this panel will also be held on a day that I have booked off from work in order to attend a concert at Wembley Arena. Quite apart from this, it is not for me to fight other peoples battles, they have to do this for themselves. I can though offer my support and guidance, and this I have already begun to do during lengthy discussions today.

All of this though has been pressing my buttons like mad, as it represents all those uncleared and undealt with issues from my own past - issues to do with fairness, victimisation and bullying among others, but most of all issues to do with communication and respect. Helping my colleagues will then I hope enable me to clear and deal with much of this before I move on. Time is of the essence as the first of these meetings is a mere three weeks from now, and there are elections to be held, deciding who is to represent each of the relevant job roles first.

I get the feeling though that by the time all of this is over, I will not be the only one to have left, and that this company may very soon be waking up to realise that more than a few of their chickens are coming home to roost.  

Friday, 18 October 2013

An extraordinary week of change

This time last week I was emerging from the Green Channel at Gatwick airport into the arms of my beloved to be whisked back home following five wonderful days in the equally wonderful country of Iceland. This was my seventh visit to Iceland, the first being made in 1984 at the tender age of nineteen (the first time indeed that I left the country), and the most recent before this being in the summer of 2010.

As the date for my October holiday approached I wondered where I could go - back to the West Country perhaps, or to the Channel Islands, but then I hit upon the idea of Iceland, and once the idea had entered into my thoughts I found I could not let it go. All of my previous visits have been during the short summer season, so for me this was a little bit different, yet familiar at the same time. The main reason of course for travelling at this time of year is the Northern Lights, which are said to be at their peak of activity during this year. The trip though also coincided with the annual lighting of the Imagine Peace Tower.

I landed then at Keflavik airport on a chilly Monday afternoon, stepping out of the terminus into temperatures of 4 degrees, a sharp contrast to the 16 or so degrees I had left behind at home. Once I had found the bus that was to transfer me to the hotel were I was booked to stay (really more of a hostel - for £8 a night you can't complain), I was whisked away to Reykjavik city centre. The first thing I did after bagging a bed in the shared dorm that was to be my home for the next four nights was to find the nearest supermarket, where I shopped for essentials for the next four days.

That same evening, a mere five hours after landing, I was due to go on the Northern Lights tour, but sadly the conditions were considered unfavourable, and it was cancelled for that night, so I went for a walk around the city instead, with my trusty tripod, taking pictures of the Viking Ship sculpture down at the shoreline and the lake, among other things.

I awoke to a blanket of snow - the first snow of this winter, which was a surprise and so I set off with a spring in my step, wrapped in all the warm clothing I possessed to explore the city. I found a lovely raw food vegetarian restaurant in which to have lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the city's excellent outdoor swimming pool, moving backwards and forwards between the various hot pots and the steam room.

The Northern Lights I was informed was very much on for that night, and so it was that I was picked up from outside of my hotel, filled with anticipation. Once the bus was full and we drove off, the guide informed us that the forecast was indeed looking very good, and they were to take us down to the south coast. As we drove along, a message came through from a different bus some 200 kms away to say that at 8.30pm they were already seeing Lights, which is most unusual, so I was hopeful indeed. Then as we got closer to our destination still, we started to see signs of flickerings through the window from the right hand side of the bus.

We ended up at a café down at the seafront near a small town called Selfoss in the south. It was completely pitch black but my eyes soon adjusted to the dark. Tripod and camera at the ready, I and about 200 other people emerged from a convoy of 4 buses to be greeted by the most eerie yet spectacular sight which was truly awe inspiring. It certainly helps you put your own place in the universe into perspective. The lights continued to glow with all their different colours for a whole 2 hours, which is very rare indeed. I really did then feel extremely privileged to be out on this particular night. It was cold but so very worth it.

When it got to around 11.30 it was though time to get back on the bus. We were still seeing more Lights as we drove back with various private cars in laybys watching the spectacle. I was back at my hotel by around 12.30am for a very good nights sleep.

On Wednesday it was a visit to the Blue Lagoon followed by lunch at one of my favourite restaurants - Icelandic Fish and Chips in downtown Reykjavik. Since this was close to the harbour I decided to walk the coastal path around the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula and I was so glad that I did. It was a perfect afternoon to be out, sunny with a slight chill in the air, with excellent views of Videy island out to the east, and the Imagine Peace Tower which was to be lit that night.

After a quick sandwich back at the hostel, I made my way to Hlemmur bus station intending to catch the first of the free buses which was laid on by Yoko Ono for those wishing to attend the ceremony. I was accompanied by Thomas, a German man who was staying in the same dorm as myself, with whom I shared many interesting philosophical conversations. When the bus came it was packed to capacity with people speaking in many different languages. When we got to the quayside for the equally free ferries we were dismayed to find that the queue was already round the block, but with convoys of ferries brought into service for this very special evening, the queue moved quickly and we were soon on our way.

While Thomas opted to sit inside the tent, I made my way to the monument itself to find a space in which to sit and watch the proceedings. I had taken the tripod with me once again, but found it too cumbersome and soon gave up, opting instead to use the night time photography mode, which worked reasonably well.

The weather may have been chilly, but there was real warmth in the hearts of all those who attended, including the wonderful team of stewards and other staff, not forgetting the bus and ferry operators. To see those beams shooting up into the night sky and again the following evening back in the city was an experience I am not likely to forget. The crowds, the choir and of course Yoko Ono herself all made for a most memorable evening. It took over an hour to wait in line and get back on the boat for the return journey, and I was chilled to the bone after several hours in what felt like sub zero temperatures, but the hotel was just a short walk from the bus station and I was very soon tucked back up in bed. It was for me then a very special evening and something that I am not likely to forget. It was made all the more special by the knowledge that Coran was sitting at home watching the proceedings via a live webcam.

Thursday then was the last day, and time for the almost obligatory Golden Circle tour - I chose Netbus for all of my excursions this time around, being a smaller operator with a much smaller fleet of mini buses, which made for a more personal experience with much more time at the sights of importance. I don't think though that any amount of time at Thingvellir would be enough for me. By the time we got to this, my favourite place in Iceland, it was drizzling with rain and dull and overcast, a real shame as I had hoped to see the autumn colours in all their glory. I guess though this provides me with another excuse to go back at this time of year, as if I needed one.

Thursday evening was then a brief stroll around the city to see the lights of the Peace Tower shooting up into the sky, followed by one last visit to the swimming pool on Friday morning, before being collected and whisked back once again to Keflavik for a delicious vegetarian pizza.

The flight was on time, and went very quickly, and as I stated at the beginning of this post, by 8.30pm I was back in the arms of my beloved.

I had the following day off work, but it was back to work on Sunday and straight back into the fray. Some things had evidently not changed, as it took me a full 45 minutes in the laundry before I was able to sort out the heaps of mess - red bags thrown untied all over the place their stinking contents pervading the air, with piles of damp sheets screwed up and thrown on the ironing board. As a result, it was 8.45am before I even started to clean any rooms, but my boss decided that she wanted me to do both cleaning and laundry, so she has to live with the consequences of that, and one of those consequences is that I was and will be for every weekend that this continues, be unable to clean the house properly. That is their choice to make.

Since then things have continued pretty much along that vein - I will not be there for much longer now anyway, as on Tuesday I had an interview for another job, as housekeeper in a new, much more modern home, a little further from home, and I am delighted to say that they offered me the job. The salary is just 15 pence per hour short of a proper living wage and so represents a significant increase on what I get here, with I sincerely hope, a significant decrease on stress levels. My friend from work, who works in the laundry and has an ongoing grievance to do with health and safety is also to go and work there - initially only at the weekends, as the Union feel they have a better chance of winning her case if she remains working there, at least for the time being. She was told off again this week for supposedly recruiting people into the Union, but if our employer had not acted with such heavy handedness in the first place, this would not have been necessary.

It is upsetting to see her being treated in this way, and it offers much sustenance for my pain body, which feeds off  both hers and my own negativity, so I am hoping that this will be a new start for both of us, where we can finally be seen as the people that we are and be treated with the dignity and respect that they say the residents deserve, but does not seem to transfer itself to the treatment  of their own staff. This is nothing less than both of us deserve. I can but hope, but the signs are very good..

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Imagine Peace

I have nine days off from work now with my usual three day long weekend followed by a week's annual leave. I will have a lot to think about during this time and plenty of time in which to do it. for on Monday, I am off to Iceland for five whole days. It will be the first time I have visited outside the summer season, after six previous visits, so this be a little different for me. I normally visit the West Country at this time of year, but felt like a drastic change instead, so knowing that this is the peak time for the Northern Lights and that there were at the moment some very good deals, decided to go here instead.

With a little help from my friends at Trivago, I have managed to find a very cheap room for £8 a night, which can't be bad. It is only a sleeping bag place, but this will do me just fine. I will have to take checked baggage anyway as you are no longer allowed to carry a tripod on board a plane - something about them deemed an offensive weapon - ridiculous I know. A tripod will however be a necessity for photographing those lights.

The Lights are the main reason for this visit, but by happy coincidence, the Imagine Peace Tower is also being activated during my trip. This is a marble monument located on Videy Island out in Reykjavik Bay which serves as a beacon of light and testament to John Lennon, inaugurated by his widow Yoko Ono some years previously. The words "Imagine Peace" are inscribed around the base of the monument in many different languages, and beneath it, hidden within are prisms of light which when activated light up the Reykjavik skyline for many miles around. The tower is activated each year on John's birthday of October 9th where it remains lighting up the sky until his death date two months later. Yoko Ono normally travels to Iceland for the ceremony which is a highlight of the Reykjavik calendar at this time of year - free buses and ferries are laid on for this very special event.

My trip then is perfectly timed to coincide with both this and the New Moon - generally considered to be the best time for Northern Lights, since this is when the sky is darkest. A lot of course depends on the weather and the amount of cloud cover, but the forecast is good for most of the week, so I am hopeful that I will be able to see something.

No trip to Iceland would be complete with a visit to the Blue Lagoon, and of course the Golden Circle - Thingvellir is beautiful at this time of year with the autumn colours, and so both of these have also been booked. All in all then it should be a good week.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Until next time ...

Following the events of earlier last week, I have naturally been feeling tearful and emotional, after all no one likes to feel threatened even if that wasn't the intention. It goes without saying that the resident in question forgot the whole incident almost as soon as it happened, and I only wish it were that easy for me. Almost a week has gone by now, and I have only just let go of the anger, thanks to a day off and some healing.

The fact that I was the only housekeeper in all weekend did not exactly help. It is difficult enough to all the cleaning and laundry on my own, but when you add to the mix a washing machine whose door refused to budge and a tumble dryer that seemed to stop whenever it felt like it, it was not a good few days. Of course I reported these problems, but nothing was done. Same old. That though was then and this is now.

What is happening now is that I sitting at home writing this blog after taken the day off - a day of which I might add was very much needed. I got up as usual intending to go to work, but Coran had had a bad night with acid reflux and breathing problems. She was in no fit state to drive, so I had to take her to the doctors surgery. They said that they needed to do a breath test in order to test for the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers, and by the time we got back home it was midday. The waves of tiredness just washed over me, and I knew that it was futile by then going to work, as I would not be productive and would only be there for a few hours anyway, so I rang and told them that I would definitely not be coming in. In the meantime, I tried not to feel guilty.

While we were waiting for the appointment though I finally managed to get through to the Union and this time they phoned me back, just after 11am. The man I spoke to listened and while he empathised with what I had to say, said that there was very little I could do, as the law had recently been changed so that you can no longer sue to almost anything until you have been in a job for two years. In other words, they can do pretty much what they want and get away with it until that point. The thing to do then is to make a note of everything that happens - names, times, what was said, who was present and so on, and then email it to yourself thereby establishing the date and time that it was sent. This is not really a solution, but seems for the moment at least all I can really do.

I do wonder though how much of this is me. There is no denying that I do take things very much to heart and seen through other peoples' eyes, have a tendency to over react. I is almost as if I have a need to be right and prove others wrong. Of course the reason I am like this is because so much of the time bosses seem to have told me the opposite - that they are right and I therefore must be wrong. The subtle message that this contains is of course that I have no rights, and this is the thing more than anything that it so hard to take.

I also though understand and have to accept responsibility for my part in much of this - I should not have reacted in the way that I did, that is a fact and a truth and cannot be changed. Stress has a habit of creeping up on you, it becomes such a normal part of your life to live with that you get to the point that do not realise it is a problem at all, until you have a situation like this and instinct and pain body take over with the inevitable results. I have to then learn ways to manage and recognise the stress so that it does not become a problem. Hopefully my forthcoming nine days off (and five days in Iceland) will help, as it will enable me to take a step back and see things from a different perspective, until the next drama arises ...  

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The thin red line

If you are in any doubt as to why I posted a Monty Python video from You tube a moment ago, listen to the words of that song close to the end "You'd better hope there is other intelligent life in the Universe, for there's bugger all down here on Earth".  That bugger all in my case refers as always to my boss - suffice to say that lately I have been wondering whether or not her parents were married ...

It seems that the only time I post on here is when I have problems at work, but there has as always been a lot more going on behind the scenes - various issues in the news, such as the discussions by the Labour party to change their relationship with the unions have piqued my interest. I recently joined a union myself - GMB, which is I believe the third largest in the country. I chose them as several others at my workplace are also members, and I know they have and continue to help at least of my colleagues who has an on going grievance.

As always though I digress. Things have been stressful there of late due mostly to chronic staff shortages. We had a situation a while ago where it looked like one of the housekeepers might be about to join the care team - only I hasten to add as bank staff. What this though would have meant was that every time the care team were short staffed (and this is most of the time) she could be taken off housekeeping and asked to do care work instead. We then would not know from one day to the next whether she would be housekeeping or not. Our Manager informed the rest of the housekeepers that she would not be replaced, as according to the Home Manager, we were already overstaffed, and so we would have to manage with two full time housekeepers and one part time (goodness knows what would happen when one of them was on holiday or off sick). Luckily this housekeeper decided not to do care work after all, and so the crisis was averted, but not before the damage was done - most of all to the Home Managers reputation, for it became clear where her loyalties lay, and they were most definitely not with us.

What has happened though these past few days leaves this in the shade, and if there were any remaining doubts regarding those loyalties they have laid bare for all now to see.

We have a lady on my unit, who has been with us in the home as a resident for maybe three months now. She is a sweet lady (when she wants to be) but very demanding indeed, and extremely difficult to deal with. I won't go into details for this is not the place, but suffice to say that we all there, without exception, find her quite a challenge. Even her daughter admits this.

Yesterday this lady and I had words - it is not important what it was about. One of the carers who was on duty at the time heard what was going on and came out to back me up, and the lady consequently got quite upset. I do not know what made either of us react in the way that we did, and I know and accept that it was unprofessional, but what happened next has left me quite literally reeling and really very upset.

Another of the carers overheard what was happening and the next thing I knew I was being summoned to the training room and asked what had gone on. I explained in the best way that I knew how and half an hour after that received a phone call asking me to go downstairs and see the Home Manager and her Deputy. I can only describe what happened as a thorough grilling - I felt as if I had been served on toast! It is not so much what was said that upset me, more the way in which it was said. It transpired that this lady has dementia. Being the housekeeper, I was not of course aware of this, and had I been this may have affected the way that I treated and dealt with this lady. This knowledge would have helped me to understand her behaviour a lot better. They then asked me if I understood how serious this could be and whether I understood the potential consequences - they were basically trying to threaten me with disciplinary action, which I do not necessarily think is fair. It seemed to me that as always, this had been blown right out of proportion.

The meeting ended with them stating that they had not decided whether or not they would be taking this further, and that I was to go and apologise to the lady in question. They had the same conversation with the carer, who was also asked to apologise. We both did this, and nothing more was said. It has though left a very nasty taste.

I was thinking about this for the rest of the day, and most of last night. It is not nice to have this hanging over you not having been resolved or to be threatened in this way, and so I was still upset when I got to work today. I am not sure how I even got to work, I was crying so much. When I got there, the Senior Carer took one look at me and knew that something was wrong. The moment she ushered me into the office to talk. the floodgates opened and it all came tumbling out. This is you see, the latest in a long line of incidents, the first of which took place just three days after I began work here, when I was told off for carrying a bottle of  water around with me - apparently staff are not allowed to do this, for reasons which never have been made clear to me. I gave up trying to get them to explain, when I was told in no uncertain terms. that compliance was in their words "non negotiable".

Then there was the bra issue, and being told off for going to the staff room a minute early (even though all their clocks say different things). My own Manager has also had a go at me for various things, and just the other day the Home Manager asked me why my partner was walking around the home, when she had come to visit one of the residents. The Manager thought we were walking around the home and accused me of shirking. Bear in mind as I write this, that my partner gave up a day and half of her own time, time away from her own business to help them organise a sponsored walk for a local charity and help raise the profile of the home. She would not have bothered had she known that this would have happened.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is, that the Senior Carer promised to speak to the Home Manager on my behalf as soon as she came in, and get back to me with what was said. She also informed me that the Area Manager was visiting that day, and I hoped that I may have an opportunity to speak to them both and clear the air. This though was not to be, as three hours later, the Senior Carer finally got back to me, and informed me that they would not be taking things further and that yesterdays threats were made "only to scare me". You could have knocked me down with a feather. If this is an appropriate way for a boss to behave, then Mary was a virgin after all ...

The fact though that the Home Manager did not see fit and come and see me in person knowing the state I was in speaks volumes and told me everything that I needed to know about where her priorities lie. The carer was just as upset as I was and was seen crying in the staff room during her own break. When you have two valued members of staff feeling this way then as far as I am concerned, something is seriously wrong, and I don't think it is with either of us two.

When I got home, I tried to get through to the Union, but kept getting the engaged signal. I will try again tomorrow, as I really feel that I need some advice on this, as it is verging on bullying and I would like to know where I stand. I do not though at this moment in time feel that I want to remain with this company for any more time than I need to. I am going to Iceland in a little under 2 weeks to hopefully see the Northern Lights so will use that time to mull things over and decide what if anything I can do. This time though, as far as I am concerned, they have well and truly crossed the line.

Galaxy Song

Monday, 5 August 2013

The Nature of the Beast

Eight short or perhaps very long days have gone by since I returned from the beautiful island of Lundy, where for the first time in four years, I spent my annual summer holiday. There was a time, not that long ago, when I visited the island three or sometimes more times each year, but lately my visits have been confined more to early spring - around February or March. I have observed over the years that the more stressful my life becomes the more I feel the pull to visit the island - with this being my second visit this year, does this then mean that my life is becoming stressful once more? At the time that I made these bookings, probably yes, for at that time I was working through my notice in my previous job, something that was very stressful indeed. Since then the stress has for the most part melted away, and so I noticed a different feel to my visit this time around. My relationship with the island seems to have changed to something which is based on want rather than need - that is to say that I want to go to the island rather than actually needing to. This can only be a good thing.

It was as always a glorious two weeks, made all the better by the fantastic weather - I had blue sunny skies from dawn to dusk on most days, with temperatures soaring into the lower 30's. It was on the wind free days if anything too hot, which meant that horror of horrors I was forced to sit in my little yard in the deckchair instead reading a book - I got through no less than 10 books in total during those 16 days (a day at either end of the holiday for travelling too and from the ports).

Of course I acclimatised to the heat quite quickly, and so by the end of the first week I was walking my usual average of around 8 miles each day - with visits to the North and South Ends, and trips down to The Pyramid and Brazen Ward for birds and seals respectively. My not so new camera, which is the only one on the market to boast an aperture of F2.8 throughout the zoom range proved its worth, as the pictures are truly spectacular. It is amazing what a bit of extra light can do. It was well worth the (for me at least) somewhat hefty price tag.

Since returning to work I have been right back into the fray. With us housekeepers away on our respective holidays back to back, it has been weeks since I had a whole day on my own unit. Despite the fact that I work an hour less than everyone else, I am the one who is it seems expected to do the bulk of the extra work., by cleaning the units of those who are on their own holidays, in addition to my own. The last housekeeper to have her holiday returns next week, so hopefully it will be back to normal then.

When I was cleaning the Head Housekeepers' unit though last week (I think it was Wednesday - that was the day we had a visit from Head Office that kept her in meetings throughout the morning), I noticed that several other housekeepers had booked holidays for the autumn, and so thinking that I ought to book mine, the following day I went and requested a holiday form. The reaction from my boss was puzzling to say the least - she stated that things like that needed to be dealt with during your morning tea beak rather than when you had just started work (I had actually started half an hour earlier), and that I should not be booking another holiday anyway when I had only just returned from one. She didn't just say this, she actually shouted, and I have to say I was slightly taken aback. Thankfully I had a spare form at home, so that night, I made a copy of it (so that I don't have to ask her again) and filled it in. When I got to work the following day I just left it on her desk without even telling her. I really do not know what her problem was, but I do not expect to be spoken to in that way, as per usual though, when I came to informing her of this, I completely chickened out.

The next person who had a go at me was not so lucky. On Saturday I was walking between different parts of the house when I saw four of the carers sitting down and gossiping. One of them was saying that various things appear to be going wrong in the home and that the Manager needs to be aware of these, and so I stated that I simply did  my own job and let them worry about that. She really bit my head off, stating "this is nothing to do with you, leave your nose out of it" or words to that affect, and this time I saw red. I tore her off a strip, and made it clear that she has no right to speak to me in that way. If she does not wish me to overhear these things then she should not sit around gossiping. If I see people doing this, then I consider it is my business, as I work there just the same as they do, and to be honest, if they consider that the home really does have problems, then rather than sitting around talking about it, they should be administering that care that they are paid to carry out. That very morning I as housekeeper, had spent thirty minutes talking to a very distressed resident and calming her down - something which strictly speaking is their job and not mine. I did it though as she wanted to talk and also because I was there. This is that I mean when I say that carers sitting around gossiping is my business, for it affects the way that I also do my job - they forget that.

Once I had calmed down and thought about all of this, it became clear that the reason this had happened was of course to show me that in actual fact, I can stand up to people and ask them to show me respect. This lady, like my own boss can be very volatile, for she is nice one minute and nasty the next. If then I can find the courage and the wherewithal to stand up to her, then I can also do this with my boss. Of course the other reason why these things have happened, for these are far from isolated incidents, is because I did not deal with it properly in my previous job. If you had met my boss there then you would know why and just how difficult that would have been - for he was not just the Manager, but actually owned the home - he was the Director. Because I failed to deal with it there, it now means that I created a similar experience again. This time then I have resolved that I will not run away and I will face things out, for the more that I fail to do this, the more that this will continue to happen, and that is something that I do not want.  It is it seems, the nature of the beast.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Things that bump in the day ...

Well, I telephoned Head Office at 9am just I said I would and got put through to a very sympathetic lady who listened and went away to discuss this in more detail with her colleagues. She then came back and informed me that this was a matter for my Area Manager, sadly a man (how much easier it would be to discuss this with another female). She gave me his telephone number and advised me to contact him.

All I got was an answerphone, so I left what I considered to be a nice and friendly message stating that I needed clarification re the dress code, went out shopping and left it at that.

When I got home I hoped that there would be a message from him, but there was none, and four hours later it has still not been forthcoming. I doubt at this stage that it will be. Anyway, in desperation I phoned Head Office again, and asked if there might be a female Manager I could speak to instead, feeling by now quite upset. Five minutes later that call finally came. 

I don't remember the woman's name, and it would in any case be inappropriate to mention here. If I would not be  stupid enough to mention my employers name, or the location of the home where I work, then I be even more foolish to mention employees names. Suffice to say that she was not sympathetic to my cause, stating instead that if this had happened in her home, she too would be insisting that I wear a bra. I pulled all the punches I could, mentioning Coran's situation and asked whether they would require him to wear a bra. The answer was probably yes. I also mentioned that I suspected they found out by looking down my own top as I bent over to pick up the bin bag, and it was therefore not an issue until I had put my clothes on and taken theirs off. It cut no ice, but instead elicited the opposite. It became clear that I was not going to get anywhere, and rather than being sympathetic to my cause, she was in fact the opposite, not what you would expect from someone of the same sex, who must surely have encountered similar issues herself.

She did say that I could if I wish follow the grievance procedure, but I doubt if that would make a difference, as they have made their feelings abundantly clear. There does however appear to be a double standard, whereby one of the female Managers who was waiting outside the staff room that day, and I suspect may have had a hand in this, was sitting in reception the other day wearing a sleeveless vest herself with a large tattoo clearly visible on her arm. This too is against the dress code, yet nothing was said to her. When I pointed this out, I was informed that I had the right to raise this. If I see this again, then I most certainly will.

I hate the way though that this has turned staff against each other, and created an atmosphere of fear and oppression, whereby I and others no doubt too, once this gets round the home, as it surely will, means that women no longer have control over their own bodies and what they can and cannot wear. No matter how I look at this, despite all their assertions to the contrary, I just do not think that this is right. It is clear however that this is one argument that I am not going to win, so I have to now question whether I want to remain.   

Was this really all worth it because of a few bumps on my chest - and trust me, they are small.

A Storm in a B Cup ...

Just as I thought I was settling into my job (I have been here for five months now), getting to know everyone and enjoying the routine, along comes yet more challenges to be dealt with. This time at least one of them, to my mind at least is highly personal in nature and could even be construed as sexist. The Managers seem to be having a bit of a crackdown on everybody at the moment, so I know it isn't just me, but knowing this does not help the situation, when you feel as a result of this that you have to walk on eggshells and watch everything you do in case it is misconstrued. This does nothing for staff morale or confidence and actually hinders our ability to do our job.

Tuesday was the warmest day of the year so far, when temperatures in the home I would say reached almost 90 degrees (bear in mind that in a care home environment, a lot of the radiators are not just kept on year round, but physically cannot be switched off) . The sweat was literally running my back, and a few other places as well. So, I went to the staff room and took off my bra. It is not the first time I had done this, and this is not the first workplace where I have done this either. I did it all the time during the summer in my previous job, and I had never had an issue with it at all.

I finished work at my usual time of 3.30pm, having taken my keys back upstairs to the other housekeepers who finish an hour later than myself (different contracts) and left my rubbish bag outside the staff room while I went to get changed. Two of the Managers were stood outside by the chairs talking about something, I did not really take that much notice. I came out of the staffroom probably three minutes later, wearing a blue strappy top and still no bra. In hindsight this may have been a bit revealing, but I did not think it mattered, as all I was doing was walking back to my car via the rubbish bins. Anyway, the two Managers were still outside talking, standing right by the bin bag that I had left, so I apologised as I picked it up and said that I was taking it outside to the bins on my way home. I then went downstairs to reception and signed out. The time on the clock, and the time that I wrote in the book was 15.34.

The following morning, I was hovering the residents lounge when the Head Housekeeper came and found me and informed me that she had been asked by my Line Manager to talk to me about the fact that I had been seen entering the staff room for the second time (they spoke to me about this about two weeks previously as well) to get changed before my official finish time of 3.30pm. I naturally disputed this, and said that I wanted to see the Line Manager in person to talk about this properly. Ten or so minutes later, she came upstairs and the three of us sat down together, in the same lounge. I cannot recall specifics about the conversation other than the fact that she said we were not to enter the staff room before our finish time, and it was also at this time that our keys should be returned. Needless to say I continued to strenuously deny this charge. The conversation became heated on both sides, and voices were raised. She seemed to be saying that it was impossible to hand keys in, go back to the staff room, get changed and down the stairs in the four minutes that I did, and so rising to the challenge of showing them just how ridiculous this all now was, I challenged her to come and time me doing all these things.

I naturally felt extremely angry about this whole affair, and wondered who it was who had passed this information on. I had my suspicions that it was the two Managers who had been outside the staff room, as not only were they both there at the time I went in and came back out, but one of them does have a reputation for this sort of thing (she obviously has nothing better to do). This though is hearsay, and cannot be proven. In the end it probably does not matter who it was, although it would help me to know who I can and cannot trust, as I now suspect everyone.

As if this wasn't bad enough, half an hour after that, the Head Housekeeper came upstairs again, and told me that I was wanted (again), this time in the so-called Quiet Room. So, I put my cleaning trolley away and went there (via the toilet) to see what it was all about. The same Line Manager was sitting there waiting for me, with as is customary in this meetings, the Head Housekeeper as note taker.

The Line Manager then proceeded to tell me that it is company policy that staff have to wear a bra while at work. My eyes rolled back in my head, as I tried to think about who could possibly have known. I do not exactly shout about the fact that I do this after all (I have mentioned it to the other housekeepers and  the Activities Organiser but no one else that I can recall), and you certainly wouldn't be able to tell under the uniform that I wear; a size too big polo shirt that closely resembles a tent. I can only imagine that those same Managers saw me leaving the staff room without one, and put two and two together and complained, but again this is hearsay and I do not know for sure. I must admit though that it is suspicious. I think to be honest, the Line Manager was more embarrassed about this than I was. If it hadn't have been so serious, I would have found it funny.

The long and short of it is though that I reluctantly went and put my bra on, and spent the rest of the day (which was hotter still) sweating like that something that resembled a pig and feeling so hot as a result that I really felt at one point that I was going to pass out. The rest of the staff all said the same thing, so again, I know that this isn't me. They also gave me a copy of the dress guidelines which the more I studied it, makes no mention about wearing a bra, only that clothes must not be "revealing". It then mentions specific examples of mini skirts, tops that show midriffs, and strappy tops (my "who was outside the staff room and could have seen me radar" went off when I read that bit). It also crucially said that underwear "must not be visible", but how do they know you are wearing any if they can't see it !

The more I thought about this, the more unfair I think it is, To be honest, I think it is a diabolical liberty. It left me wondering what they going to do next, and whether they will start checking our knickers (I actually said this as well, and they wrote it down !). Knickers to them I would say, but sadly I have to work here and for the moment at least, until I can check certain things, do as they say. I also though feel that this is sexist and discriminating against women, as plenty of men have boobs (moobs) and I am pretty sure they wouldn't be told to wear a bra. It is not as if you can even see anything at least no more than you can when I do wear a bra, so I really cannot see that they have a leg to stand on. This morning then, being my day off, as soon as Head Office opens at 9am I plan to telephone the Personnel Department and have it out with them, We will see what they have to say about this whole sorry affair.

As for the timekeeping, after four attempts that spanned an hour, I finally got to see the Home Manager, with whom I had a fruitless 20 minute discussion that went round and round in circles. It finished with her refusing to make a decision, even though she said she could see where I am coming from, with her basically placing the responsibility back on us housekeepers whereby we had to get together with our own Line Manager and work out our own procedures for what she termed "leaving the building". I have never heard such rubbish in my life. That though has now been done, and nothing has changed from what I have doing already, underlining just how petty and pointless this whole thing was.

The problem is that all the clocks in the house say different things, and all of them are different to the BBC on my car radio - the BBC don't lie ! I have though been told that I have to synchronise my watch to the one in reception (which one, as there are two which both say different things) and go by that. I pointed out though that I work upstairs, so at the end of each day, in case my watch loses time, and to prevent being unfairly accused again, I would effectively have to go downstairs to check the time before going back upstairs to get my keys, and then go back upstairs again to get changed. Quite apart from the absurdity of this situation, by the time I have done all of this, they would be owing me overtime! None of this though made a difference and despite my assertions to the contrary, backed up by at least one other member of staff, they maintain that this clock is right, and what they say goes.

Coran suggested that I go out and buy a peephole bra that tells the time as the Managers walk past, perhaps even in different languages, but of course I jest. As for the timekeeping, I fear that there is no solution to that one, except perhaps to change the clock when no one is there. I guess though I will have to speak to Head Office an hour from now and have it out with them.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Genesis of Man no longer available via book stores

Eight years ago this week (yesterday in fact), I published my first and so far only book, Genesis of Man. The arrival of the paper proof was eagerly anticipated after five long years of writing, and when it was finally unwrapped I cried for 10 minutes such was the emotional attachment. A year later, a second updated version was released with brand new cover (this was of course the version that should have been published all along), and sales finally began to take off. Genesis of Man became one of the few (at that time) print on demand titles to be available through Gardner's, Britain's largest book wholesaler, as a stocked item, after I telephoned every branch of Waterstones and most British libraries in turn, persuading more than 100 to stock it.

Times though change - the sales have now dwindled to an extent that it is no longer viable to pay the bi annual print free, so as from today Genesis of Man is unofficially out of print. I say unofficially because all that has really changed is that you will no longer be able to order it via book stores and online retailers. Anyone who wants a paper copy will have to order it direct from me, via my own website, or from the publisher, Authors OnLine Ltd.

It is better this way, as I can control the price and earn more money - those annoying discounters who pop up on Amazon offering "used" copies, which in reality are brand new, for ridiculous prices as a loss leader, will be taken out of the equation. If you want a paper copy you will then have to pay full price. This is only fair considering that I did all the work of writing and promoting it, using my money - not anyone else's but mine.

The Kindle version, which I uploaded some time ago, will of course still be available, which is also better for me, since I earn more again (70 percent of the selling price as opposed to about 15 percent for the paper version when ordered via publisher, even without the wholesalers), and I can make as many changes to the text as I want without incurring extra fees. I intend to do a re-write at some point, as much of the information has changed, such as the discovery of Akhenaten's mummy, not to mention my own views, which have mellowed over the years. I also hope to issue four smaller books - publishing each of the four sections as a book in its own right, giving people the option of reading it in smaller chunks. My writing buddy Tracy always said she thought it was really two books after all.

This is though for me the end of an era. When I think back to how I felt the first time I held a printed copy (I cried for about 10 minutes) in my hands, it is strange that I feel so little at its almost demise. I have to remind myself though that it not the end, and it does not mean that Genesis of Man is dead, for I doubt that it ever will be. The technology though has changed, and with it all that publishing is about - I then need to change with it and this I have done.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Rites of Life and Death - The Symbolism of Thatcher's Funeral

Since the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a little over ten days ago (is that really all it is), Britain seems to have existed in an almost no mans land, with some in mourning but plenty more it seems rejoicing. Rejoicing may in fact be the wrong word to use, for it is really more about turning their backs on what has been and looking forward to what is and what will be. What will be is as always down to us.

The funeral then being today brought Britons and foreigners out on to the streets in droves. While I was unable to attend myself and would not really have wanted to, I did feel it was important to view at least bits of it, and tune in to the energy field that was created. This was easier for me perhaps than most, being spiritually sensitive as I am. The environment in which I work also played a part, for as one would expect, many of the residents of the care home where I work wanted very much to view the procession and the service that followed. The Activities Organiser then duly went around the home, which is divided into five self contained units, switching on the televisions as she went, and spending time with various residents in turn who were affected by what they saw.

It was difficult then given these circumstances not to feel the energy field that was created, and which will I suspect remain in London if not the home where I work, for a while. The music echoed throughout the house, as did the televisions in various residents rooms, for some chose to remain in their own space rather than watching in the communal lounges on the big screen. These smaller televisions when combined in close range with a much larger one, created a strange echo effect whereby the sound could be heard in tandem, but with a slight time delay, almost like a faint echo. I guess that Maggie herself will also leave somewhat of an echo, a harking back for some to the "good old days", but a warning perhaps for more of what should not have been and should for them not transpire again.

Maggie was always going to a controversial figure and it would be fair to say that she created as much controversy in death as she did in life. While I have the greatest empathy with her family and those who were close to her (I have lost both of my own parents and so know exactly what it feels like), I also have empathy with those who suffered as a result of her policies. I know that there are plenty who benefited from what she did through the ability to buy their council houses and so on, but there were also plenty who suffered as a result of the other things that she did, closing the mines for example and taking power away from the unions, which has led to a gradual erosion of workers rights. In the final analysis though, what we have to look at is whether the numbers who suffered outweigh those that benefited. While it is impossible to say for sure, I suspect very much that the former does indeed outweigh the latter.

Of course what matters now is to look to the future rather than the past, and this for me is what the funeral was really about. I was aware from various forms of social media and of course the mainstream press that protesters planned to turn their backs to the coffin as it was paraded through the streets, which at first glance would seem a highly disrespectful thing to do, but when one looks at the symbolism of this one can see this act in an altogether different light. I feel that it was important to both face the coffin and turn our backs, for the front and back of the body represent both the past and the present. By facing the coffin we were symbolically paying our respects and acknowledging at the same time the grief which was felt by many. By turning our backs as well we were also acknowledging the suffering of those who bore the brunt of the dark side of her policies, but also saying that that is now behind us, and we no longer have to experience the shadow of this pain. It is time now to move forwards away from this pain and into a new era of light, where everything changes, and change of course it will, for in politics as in life, that is the nature of the beast. Politics is after all, if nothing else about life itself and our highest ideals as to what life should be and is about, in two words, equality and fairness. In order though to create that fairness, we first needed to experience its opposite - inequality and injustice. Thatcherism was thus the means through this will be achieved, a necessary part of our own evolution.

This is then not a time for complacency, and neither is it a time for silence, the communication around these issues needs though to be done in the right way, through peaceful protest and honest, reasoned and intelligent debate. The winds of change are blowing across Britain and there is nothing that those who choose to cling on to the old ways can do to stop that, no matter how much they try to convince themselves otherwise.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

An opportunity for change

As usual, several weeks have gone by since I last wrote this blog. I always start the New Year with good intentions of wanting to write more, but somehow life always seems to get in the way. In  my case though it is really more a question of laziness, for there has been in the way of news that I could have written about (the death of transsexual teacher Lucy Meadows - when will people stop hoisting their own views on their kids while pretending to call it something that it isn't), our atrocious weather, the welfare reforms and of course the death of Margaret Thatcher. These last two for me at least, are inextricably linked, for like it or not, it was Maggie and later Tony Blair, who sowed the seeds for all of this to happen.

No matter which way you look at it, Maggie was always going to be a controversial figure, that like marmite, you either loved or hated. There does and did not seem to be any middle ground. I am not though going to sit here and have a debate about the rights and wrongs of death parties or any of her policies, for it is not the past that matters, what matters as always is what is in front of us now, so what we have to concentrate is dealing with what we have now - which are arguably the results of at least some of those policies.

The anti Thatcher brigade are calling for a return to the left, but what do they mean by that and does it matter? Well I guess it matters to them. For me it is not a question of left or right, but more about what is right and beneficial for the majority of the populace. A world where 1 percent of the population hold 99 percent of the wealth cannot be considered to be in the interests of the majority of the populace. Don't get me wrong, I am not averse to the accumulation of wealth for those who work hard and use that wealth wisely, but from what I have seen very few people actually do that. Those who say that the benefit system needs reform and that work should pay are of course correct, but I can't help but feel they are missing the point. Cutting or freezing benefits in order to achieve this is not the answer, as those on benefits like everyone else, still deserve to maintain a basic standard of living. The answer is to introduce a proper living wage so that those in work no longer need to claim benefits in the first place. It is not rocket science but common sense. For me then it is not about returning to a specific state of living or even being, but about treating people with compassion and fairness.

The welfare reforms then are an opportunity for real change, in the long term. I realise that it is hard for most to see them in that light, particularly those who are directly affected, but we should not lose sight of the fact that they as guinea pigs volunteered for this role (on a soul level that is). In time, probably sooner than we think, it will become clear that these polices simply do not work, and instead of helping people out of poverty and back into better paid work, have created more poverty and more unrest. When this becomes clear then it will also become clear that a rethink is necessary, and that is when the real change will occur. Out of this, like a phoenix rising from the ashes will come the reforms that are so desperately needed - a simpler and fairer tax system, better pay and working conditions for all, and most importantly of all, the idea that everyone regardless of their lifestyle choices is entitled to at least a basic standard of living.    

Monday, 4 March 2013

A Lundy diary - and what follows ....

The posts that follow on from this are my diary of  the past 11 nights on the beautiful and bountiful island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel, which those who know me both on the Internet and in real life will know I like to visit at least once each year. The visits have been a bit less frequent since my "mid life crisis" in 2009, when I lost my job in less than ideal circumstances, and in a fit of madness perhaps, applied for a seasonal position on the island. That though is all water under the bridge, as I have moved on considerably since then. So it seems has the island.

I returned then to the mainland on the 2nd helicopter of the day on Friday 1st March after an eventful if somewhat chilly 11 nights, with one night either end in Barnstaple and Taunton respectively. As I was on an early helicopter, I decided to go into Bideford for fish and chips, where I shared a table with the Uncle of the Island Manager's former wife (she sadly died around 8 years ago). It was interesting then to reminisce about past times and past lives in this way.

After a nice lunch it was back on the road to Taunton and the Premier Inn near Ruishton where I spent the night. It was not perhaps the best hotel I have stayed in, but it certainly was not the worst. The following morning it was a nice long lie in before going back to the big Sainsburys at Taunton for a meat free breakfast and a big mug of tea and back home via the M3 and A303. I was home by around 2.30pm and then it was the usual round of washing clothes and unpacking etc.

Now I am back the island as always feels a million miles away, which in some ways it is. The way of life is as different and remote from mainland and indeed mainstream living as you could find. That is what makes it though more of a fantasy for me at least than reality, for nice as it is, one has to come home and back to reality or some stage. Lundy as in all holidays can only ever be a respite. A very nice one at that.

The letter to my ex boss is finally complete and hopefully put to bed, like the island herself at least, for the next five months. On the way to work this morning, I was thinking about the old job again, and I realised that there has been a fundamental shift these past two weeks, in that I have finally accepted that that chapter of my life is over. It was until now that I was able to accept and acknowledge that that is what has been going on - it was not about the anger or any of that, but about me not accepting that I had made the choice to leave. In the end though there was no choice to make, it was my sanity or my job, and faced with a choice like that, there is no choice at all. I wanted to blame others though for that choice, so that I did not have to take responsibility, and now that I have I am also free to accept, truly accept the new job and the fact that things have changed.

While I was away, at least 2 of the residents said they had missed me, and, my uniform finally arrived, so at long last I really do feel part of the team. Things then are looking up nicely at long last.        

Thursday 28th February

Well the letter has for the moment been put to one side, as the thoughts that precipitated it have gone with it. No doubt at some point they will come back, as the anger too comes and goes, but that will dealt with as and when it happens. For the moment at least, this is my last full day on Lundy and I intend to make the most of it.

I certainly made the most of yesterday – I set out nice and early (for me at least), intending to walk through what used to be the rhododendrons (sadly they are now all but gone) to The Quarries and then back via The Castle to look for those illusive goats. Instead I got it the other way around (still no goats), managing to get to The Quarries by about 1pm. There I found a nice comfortable rock to sit on to eat my Quorn Ham sandwich and drink my cauliflower and  broccoli soup before deciding that actually I did not want to go home and read, but would rather keep on walking – and so kept on walking I did.
Before I knew what had happened I had walked all the way to the North End. From all directions as I began to walk, people appeared as dots on the horizon. This week has been gloriously quiet on that front, and I intended to keep it that way, and so walked briskly in the opposite direction, since most of them seemed to be making their way back. One couple though were not, and as I got to the North End they asked me where I could find the beach, as they had heard of some steps that took them all the way down to the sea. I soon put them right, pointing out that it was not a beach, but more of a platform, and that if they wanted to know where it was they should follow me, as I was heading that way myself. Instead they toddled back up to The Lighthouse, so leaving them to it, I made my way gingerly down the steps, all the way to the bottom. The rail is a lot more eroded that it used to be, blown to bits I guess by the ever incessant wind (the weather that is and not mine, which makes a change).

Anyway, once at the bottom I found a dry place in which to sit and watch and listen to the sea. My arrival had been timed to coincide with low tide, so most of the rocks were exposed and with the north easterly winds, the sea was giving those rocks a good pounding, with spray surging up into the air. A solitary seal was bobbing about and kept sticking his head out of the water every so often, no doubt wondering what I was up to. I managed a few photographs before he disappeared. This is not really the time of year for them to be honest – like us they like the warmer weather so that they can haul themselves out on the rocks and sing. I have that then to look forward to in July.
Eventually the couple did join me at the bottom, where they sat looking very cosy snuggled up under a big fleece blanket. I took a picture of them when they weren’t looking! I must admit that I sometimes do get a bit envious of couples having someone to share this glorious place with, but I also feel (having been here in the company now of Coran) that you get more from being here on your own, both in terms of the solitude and the benefits that that brings, and also in terms of seeing more. Somehow the solitude seems to deepen the experience and make it all the more special. Not everyone though likes their own company as I do, and can spend this amount of time on their own. That much I understand, although I have my own theories as to why.

By about 3.30pm I was starting to get a little chilly anyway and back I slowly trudged, back up all those steps and the well trodden path, once again via the west coast path all the way home. When I got towards Quarterwall a little past the Earthquake Zone, the Kitchen Manager was there, hopping from foot to foot looking a little lost. He asked me if I was going back to the pub, and then explained that he and the rest of the islanders were taking part in a coastguard exercise, whereby he was the “casualty” and they all had to find him. I said that if I saw anyone in yellow trousers I would let them know where I had seen him.
An hour and a half later, I was just sitting down to dinner when I heard a radio crackling outside and saw torches shining in the distance. I rushed outside to be greeted by a man in yellow trousers searching for him. I informed him then where he had been and he and his companions with their torches aglow set off once again in search. It was getting quite cold by then, so I hope they found him quickly, although he has not long returned from Antarctica where I sure it was a lot colder than this.

Talking though of cold, once again my morning coffee is getting that way, and the island beckons. The sunshine that awoke me has for the moment done, but the skies are only part covered in cloud, so I am hopeful that it may yet return.
Onwards as they say and upwards. In this case, upwards and out of my chair.

It’s now 5pm and the sun is just beginning to snake its way slowly across the landscape, as it does in the hour or so before it dips beyond the horizon. It has once again been an eventful day. I walked all the way again the Lower East Side Path, where I once again encountered the group of deer with young stags, all the way on to Gannets Combe and back via the main path. Part of me wanted to continue walking on what I knew was my last full day, but the part that wanted to go home and rest proved stronger, or so I thought. When I got back to Quarterwall, instead of walking straight across Acklands Moor and back home, I kept on going through the village, taking photographs as I went. It was a hive of activity with the Oldenburg in dock, and various tractors and trailers trundling backwards and forwards with supplies – mostly from what I saw, bags of animal feed. Then it was up to The Castle to check whether the Oldenburg was indeed still here, and eventually by 4pm home via the Southwest field and the lovely pig pen near the heliport.
Now I am back, I feel a headache coming on with an ache in my shoulder and neck muscles.  I guess I have been carrying a heavy rucksack all week, not to mention the camera which seems to have been a permanent fixture around my neck. I must buy a proper bag for it when I get home, to keep it properly protected. The birds are soaring into the sky as I write, and as the sun begins to dip slowly ever more closer to the horizon. Once she is gone, I know that I will not see the island again until the morning and my final walk to the Tavern.

This week as ever has prompted much musing as to the nature of my relationship with Lundy.  I am not sure if I am any closer to reaching a conclusion, but I do know that it is is an intensely personal relationship which rivals sometimes even with Coran for my affections. Coran is of course a permanent fixture, whom I live with every day, whereas my relationship with Lundy is more transitory. It is almost one of those can’t live with, can’t live without things. I have tried to cut back on the amount of visits that I have, but somehow I always feel the need to come back. I know that there are other places out there to be seen and explored, and I have seen and explored more in recent years, but somehow it is not the same. Lundy is such a special place, that is so hard to define, and try as I might I don’t think I can ever bring it justice.
One thing that I do know is that the island is a very intense place, a place that seems to act almost like a mirror, bringing everything to the surface for us to look at – all the joy, all the fear, all the drama and all the deception, for we all like to deceive ourselves. Are we truly happy in our lives, or it is all just an illusion – most of life I have to conclude is, and it is us that gives it the meaning that it has for us. I guess then that I give Lundy all the meaning that it has for me too.

So, this time tomorrow I shall be back on the mainland, sitting in my hotel room near Taunton and wondering what lucky person has a week of Lundy adventures to look forward to. I have as always enjoyed my time here, despite the relentless cold and the somewhat lack of sunshine. Lundy is though beautiful in all weathers, from the howling westerly gales to those brilliant sunlit summer days. I know that I have two more weeks to look forward to in the summer, when hopefully I shall experience those long summer days once more.
For the moment though, it will be back to reality and tonight’s packing. I hope I am not too late getting home tomorrow, as I hate the hanging around, much as I love to also spend the time here. Once I know I am going, I want to do just that, leaving behind nothing but memories – memories and dreams.

Tuesday 26th February

The time has gone so quickly that it hardly seems possible I have been here a week already. This time last week I was looking forward to 11 days of adventures – walking in all weathers, against the elements, or sometimes without them at all. The first day certainly felt like that. I walked all the way down to The Pyramid where I scrambled halfway down that chunk of jagged rock and lay sprawled up facing the sun – the first time I believe that I have actually lain on the rock itself. One day I keep telling myself, I will make it all the way to the bottom.

As the weather worsened, and we have had some atrocious conditions this week, with icy cold south easterly winds that go right through you, I seem to have settled into a routine – wake up, take breakfast back to bed, coffee (or tea), shower, lounge around and then finally, walk. The only day I have been out for what I would call a substantial amount of time was I think Saturday when I walked all around the island – that and the first day, one week today when I went down to the Pyramid. As a result, I do not really feel that I have gained everything from this holiday that I hoped, but then again, I am not sure what I hoped to gain.
Peace and solitude – well if that is correct, then I have gained both of these in abundance. For some reason though, the mind does not seem to have switched off. I am not sure why that is. It is quieter for sure than when I got here, and the body too has relaxed, but it does not have that same quality as when I first began to come to Lundy all those years ago. It has been eighteen years this summer, and after 34 visits I still find new things to see – like the hut circles that I stumbled into out of nowhere and probably will never be able to find again. When you start to see them properly you suddenly start to see them everywhere I find.

Why though I ask myself have I found it so hard to completely switch off? Maybe it is because as I get older I spend more time indoors with the mind for company, or maybe it is the weather that has forced me to do this. No, I do not think this is true, for I have been out and about most days, and the mind has continued to wander even then. It is like an endless stream of anxiety and discontent that I am vaguely aware of, always there just on the periphery of my vision – like something you catch out of the corner of your eye. Whispering away in dark corners, in all the recesses trying to grab your attention and divert you from being in the now. And in that one brief statement, I have probably answered my own question. It is the ego that seeks to distract, by finding ways to keep your mind constantly going over the past and the future, in order to keep you from the now, for it knows that should you hit that golden moment, then in that moment the ego and therefore the mind, in which it dwells will cease to exist. Since we equate our mind with ourselves (I think, therefore I am), we subconsciously feel that if the mind goes still, then we ourselves no longer exist, and so we learn to equate this stillness with death. The irony is that when the mind is allowed to completely go still, then time itself stands still, and we are the most alive that we have ever been.
What though does it take to reach this state if a week on a half on Lundy fails? All it takes is one minute, one second even to glimpse infinity, for once we have reached that moment even once, there is no going back, and I have reached that moment for seconds at least most days if I am honest and really look for them. I have just not been able to maintain them - not for more than a few hours on that Saturday that I spoke of. Then the mind was back, chattering away as usual with all the endless internal babble about what to have for dinner and about what I needed to bring with me when I return in five months time – ridiculous I know, but that too has become a habit.

My coffee in the meantime continues to get cold, but the wind howls and rattles the windows outside. The sun is trying to poke its way through, so we will see what the day decides to bring and where I deice to walk today. The rhododendron walk is calling – the one place I have not got to since I arrived, and perhaps a sit in The Ugly admiring that views that I never tire of. Whatever I decide, I will make the most of t, for it will be over all too soon.
In the end I spent most of the morning holed up in the cottage with a book for company – one about a midwife in Mali, West Africa and her American Peace Corps companions – the fifth book I have read since I arrived. After a quick lunch of toasted cheese and quorn ham sandwich with cauliflower and broccoli cup soup, I finally made it outside just before 2pm.

I was intending to walk only as far as Halfway Wall and then back via The Castle to try and see the goats, but decided to go down to The Battery, where I sat in the wind behind the wall at the old ammunition store for half an hour just enjoying the silence. Then it was back up to Halfway Wall and on The Pyramid, where despite the wind and the overcast skies, I decided to walk down, knowing perhaps that I may not have the chance again before the summer. It was a brief visit just to take some more pictures of the rocks below, warmed by the slightly reddish hues of my sunset mode.
The new camera I bought a few months back has more than provided its worth during this trip, with the slightly wider lens and even longer zoom, not to mention the exceptionally wide aperture – f2.8 even at the extreme end of the zoom – unheard of in even an old film camera. Pictures that I have been seeing in my mind’s eye for several years now have finally been captured to good effect.
Anyway, it was while I was sitting at The Battery that the mind began to wander again – back to the old job and everything that transpired. The tears began to fall as I finally gave in to those emotions that I felt were gone for good  - all the anger and frustration of being forced to leave a job that I loved, and I felt was rather good at, due to the behaviour of a selfish and arrogant man. I knew in that moment that when I got home, back to the cottage I had to write those feelings down in the form of a letter to him, not for him to see but rather for me, so that I could finally let it go, and so when I got back shortly after 5pm that it what I did.

The beginnings of the letter have been written, telling the story as I see it, from the beginning with no holds barred. I know that a lot of it has been said before, but I never did have the chance to speak to him, and this is my way of finally doing this, so I can put the whole thing to bed. There is more that needs to be said, and the words will come in time, but for now I have made a good start. The only thing I need to start now is tonight’s dinner.